One of the phenomena that really became obvious in 2020 is the surge in the use of e-bikes by mountain bikers.
Shops sell as many as they can get, and all sorts of people are jumping on to them. From experienced and fit riders to complete newbies, e-bikes are the flavour of the year.
The multi-year development curve required by most people before they can really enjoy mountain biking is short-circuited, with an extra 250 watts virtually anybody can get very mobile. That is a two-edged sword, anecdotally a chopper pilot told me that 90% of the people he is rescuing from bike related incidents got themselves into trouble with electrical assistance.
In the primitive pre-electric era, riders developed skills while they slowly got fit enough to venture anywhere much - not so today. Anybody can get out in the boonies, or to the top of that Grade 5 they shouldn’t have.
I have been on the fence. The few e-outings I have had in the local trails were definitely fun, but not enough to make me go and invest in another bike. On Monday I got to experience a completely different application of the national grid to back-country pedalling: a trip through the Moerangi Trail.
Three of us took Trek Rails on a ride that is hard, remote, and scenically spectacular.
I have ridden the trail many times, and it never fails to please. It also leaves me smashed. Three decent climbs and lots of big exposures to danger make for an exhausting day - it doesn’t seem to matter whether we are in cruise mode on a one-way trip, loaded down for an overnighter, or riding out and back over double the normal distance, the end of the day is always the same. Happily and completely spent.
On the e-bikes, it was the same but different.
The initial round log staircase I rode up once about ten years ago, usually beats me hollow: easy as.
The first climb: only a kilometre long, but it gains 100m in altitude and usually hurts a lot because you hit it cold. Got to the top in complete amazement, are we here already?
The run down the valley to Skips Hut felt much like it would on my analogue bike, they really have got the e-sleds sorted for trail riding.
The climb after is a desperate thing. I don’t care who you are, if you don’t reckon it is tough you are not being honest. It is stupidly steep, and long. Generally requires a couple of stops, to gather oxygen and thoughts. On this trip the only problem was wheelspin, we were even chatting as we climbed.
On the downhill to Rogers Hut one of our number tore his derailleur off on a trailside obstacle - that left two options. Walk back to the start, or render the bike rideable and keep going.
There were still over twenty hilly kilometres to cover, so walking the bike out that way wasn’t really much of an option - the Achilles heel of e-bikes is their heft. The same thing that makes them hard to get into a truck makes them hard to push up a hill.
Jamie and Damian set to, and got it semi-sorted on the trail. Further experimentation continued at the historic Rogers Hut, and eventually the bike would run, and the chain would stay on, as a singlespeed in about the 4th smallest sprocket. With the e-assistance that was workable, even if the very high gear meant Damian looked like half the e-bikers in the bike park - pedalling very slowly because the extra grunt on tap means they don’t have to learn to use their gears.
We didn’t seriously expect the chain to survive the indignities being performed on it, but it did. The Mickey-moused drivetrain lasted all the way to the finish and Damian rode 98% of it.
That e-bike porkiness was evident one more time before it was time to test the strength of Jamie’s bike rack: a fallen tree blocking the trail had to be climbed over. It was well over a metre through, and was elevated by the angle it had fallen. The three of us could wrestle the bikes over it, but honestly, it was very difficult. A big fallen tree is a common enough obstacle. It would be an inconvenience for regular bike riders, but it may have been a catastrophe for an e-bike gang that were not pretty agile and strong.
All in all, riding the Moerangi on an e-bike was almost too much fun. If I hadn’t had that one crash, and had avoided bashing into those two things that tore a divot out of one forearm and made a big swelling on an ankle, I would have felt a bit short-changed. I would have completed a back-country epic in relative comfort, without really trying that hard.
But that crash did happen, and I do have various contusions to remember the day by. The trailside repair probably chopped out most of the time we saved by motoring up the hills, and the big downhills were still big downhills.
So all in all, still epic.