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To E or not to E?

To E or not to E?

PUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION FROM NEW ZEALAND MOUNTAIN BIKER Magazine. Author/Illustrator: Gaz @ Nzo

Elsewhere in this very magazine (er, blog), I wrote a piece about my time aboard the Trek EX e, my first extended period atop an electric-assist machine.

I finished by saying “when I get one”.

Going trail riding on the e-bike is ridiculous fun. The e-assist can provide the buzz of riding a mountain bike fast almost anywhere. The speed available on a flattish trail makes the chore of climbing to the top of a downhill run almost unnecessary. And of course, if you do want a downhill run or three, they are easier to get to.

Surely that is what we look for when we go mountain biking? 

It is hard to express exactly why we ride. Sometimes it is for that endorphin payoff available when a difficult task is performed as well as we can do it. Everybody has their own little envelope of bike riding ability, and being out there in the woods doing your best is part of why we go out. The desire to do that more often, to make more of your bike time inhabiting that zone is what has driven the whole phenomenon of shuttling, and for that matter, adding electricity.

A pile of watts that can’t be delivered personally gets us more of that sweet spot we look for.

Well, maybe.

Meanwhile, the Luddite in me has been quietly niggling away in the back of my mind. 

I really like the simplicity of basic bikes. I like steel frames, five of the six rideable bikes in my stable are ferrous. I like bikes I can work on myself, which means they have to be simple. I can dismantle and reassemble any of my steel bikes without needing assistance or therapy afterwards.

My carbon, fully-suspended mountain bike with hydraulic brakes and tubeless tyres is bristling with things I don’t feel qualified to mess around with. Yes, I know, these are personal shortcomings I could address, but adding electronics, several batteries and a motor won’t help.

I like going out on my bike with no fixed plan, and riding until I can’t. Having a digital readout on the top tube telling me how much range I have left is a different experience. After a dozen rides I have figured out how much of the battery is required to get me up various hills, in various power modes. Because I know my patch pretty well, I can wring the thing dry most rides. I took great pleasure in arriving home with the readout showing less than ten percent. Several times it was two, and on one occasion, one. How that would work out in unknown territory is something I have yet to experience.

Part of bike riding is also sort of masochistic. People say that getting fitter doesn’t make things easier, just faster. I like to feel how I feel… hard to explain to the outsider, but getting to a particular part of a certain ride and feeling slightly less discomfort than the previous episode in that place is a good thing. Adding an external power source doesn’t remove that possibility, but it makes it harder to judge. 

Maybe that is the niggling thought I have. When I am on the E, hooning up the climbing section of the jungle trail that is my favourite five kilometres in our local patch, the most accurate description of what I am feeling is probably guilt. 

Like, this should be harder. I can make it harder, by buttoning down the power. But I don’t, because the power is what makes this section with the diagonal roots across the trail so much fun. 

And leaving the power setting on high makes me feel both good and bad at the same time.

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