a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday 24 November 2019

A revelation: E bikes give you really great legs ... FACT ! In collaboration with The Bike Rack, Yarm.

I have wanted to write something on E bikes for a while but the fact that I had never actually ridden one presented a bit of a snag. Problem solved during a casual chat about the current cycling market with my good friends at my favourite local bike shop The Bike Rack, Yarm and an offer to take one of their Giant E bikes on loan ... I couldn't say yes quickly enough.

My original plan was to do a simple comparison between a pedal assisted E MTB and my own MTB over the same circuit including a favourite gravel climb that I have tackled many times, simply to find out how much easier and quicker I could get up it on an E Bike. I will come clean at this point and confess that I also chose this segment to see if I could take the Strava KOM currently held by my son and coach Jack (@ensocycling on Instagram) and as an added bonus the second and third fastest times were owned by two old friends and training partners Shaun and Chris, so just a bit of fun that I thought the lads would enjoy ... or maybe not ?

That was my original plan and I did the comparison (results later in the blog) but riding the E bike was such a brilliant, eye-opening experience that it caused me to think a lot more broadly about the implications for cycling in the not too distant future. So please bare with me while I share a few thoughts that came to me during and after my first E bike experience.

Although I only rode the Giant Fathom E+ 3 for a couple of hours I realised almost immediately that the fun in E bike riding is off the scale, especially if you consider some of the best things about cycling, freedom, escape, exploration ... the cafe ! On an E bike you don't have to be concerned abut hills which means you can ride for longer without getting fatigued and it also means you can go where you want, when you want and work as hard as you want and as a result you can cover the miles without noticing.

Regular blog readers will know that I like to race and to be able to do that I train quite hard (My Strava) but I have also come to realise that not every ride can be or has to be about PRs and accumulating maximum TSS no matter what age you are. (Training Stress Score - explained in a blog post HERE Training Peaks)  Have a ride on an E bike and you will smile I guarantee it, that's because they are absolutely brilliant fun and even if you are a 'serious cyclists' as I consider myself to be not every ride has to be a pure athletic performance.

Above (top) my Giant TCX carbon twentyniner, not new by any means but still a great ride. Below the Giant Fathom E+ 3 from The Bike Rack, Yarm lightweight AlUXX SL frame with a SyncDrive Sport motor. The Fathom is currently priced at £1899 which when you consider that you can easily pay three or even four times that for a conventional MTB is a real bargain. I did the 'test' on a Strava segment that I have ridden over ninety times and although the rides were two days apart conditions were almost identical, very little wind, very wet and very cold. The climb is about half an hours ride from The Bike Rack in Yarm and by the time I got there I felt like I was already used to the E bike.

The Fulthorpe/Grindon climb is 1.2 miles long with an average gradient of 2.3% although the first third is considerably steeper with the middle third (above) probably around 4% and the final third flat/undulating, the surface is loose gravel throughout. During the Giant Fathom E bike effort I didn't have any rear wheel slip on the climb and I always felt in control of the front end, on the short descending bits it felt really planted and stable, probably because of the extra weight. I have virtually zero experience of motorbikes or mopeds so I came to the E bike with an open mind as to what riding it compared to and I was delighted to find that rather than feeling like you are hanging on to a self propelled machine it just feels like you have suddenly developed really good legs which is an awesome sensation !

While I was washing the Fathom before returning it to The Bike Rack I was wondering why E bikes are frowned upon in certain quarters. It may be because E bikes have been around in Europe for a lot longer than they have been available here and have been primarily used by older people who were dependant on bikes as a form of transport (think the Netherlands) As a result E bikes extended cycling participation for many more years for a lot of people so this is perhaps why E bikes picked up the unfortunate reputation of being for the older generation, thankfully this is now changing.

Looking to the future the impact of E bikes will be huge as they are increasingly adopted as energy efficient, emission free transport transport with health and physical well being benefits thrown in. E bikes in the future will replace a lot of short car journeys and they have the potential to transform  transport more generally as they are likely to be the first major shift towards electrically powered low cost mass transportation.
The weight of E bikes will come down rapidly as motor and battery technology advances and bike design will be revolutionised. The E bikes of the not too distant future will be packed with technology which will be totally integrated, Bluetooth connectivity, GPS and mapping will all be standard features and the motors will be automatically linked to both the riders heart rate and the bikes suspension inputs to ensure a super smooth ride experience.

So much for the future but now the bit you really want to know, did I get the KOM and by how much ? well the answer is YES ... and NO !

My Strava PB for the FULL climb was 5 min 30 secs - set in August 2016, probably on a CX bike, probably with a tail wind.

Friday 1st Nov 2019 - My Strava effort on the Fathom E + 3 was 4 min 25 secs a PB by over a minute and just 15 secs short of Jack's KOM

Monday 4th Nov 2019 - My Strava effort on my carbon Giant XTC 29er was a 'slow' 7 min 41 secs  although I was definitely trying hard but I had also done two decent rides over the weekend that I could feel in my legs.

So over the full climb in virtually identical conditions just two days apart I was over three minutes quicker on the Fathom which really surprised me, especially when you take in to account that the pedal assist probably only helped for half the climb. 

Up the steep first section of the climb I posted 2 min 08 secs on the Fathom setting a new KOM by a whopping 2 seconds - RESULT ! and a 56 sec improvement on my PR set way back in December 2014.

As I said earlier the climb has three distinct sections of varying gradient and taking the KOM from Jack by 2 secs for the first short but steep section may not sound much of an improvement but bear in mind he set the KOM on a feather light carbon gravel bike, probably in dry conditions and he is an Elite rider after all. The pedal assist on the Fathom (and all UK E bikes) only operates below 15 mph so the steeper the incline the greater the benefit. Unfortunately as the climb got flatter toward the top up to date technology ceased to be a benefit and of date legs held me back and Jack retained his KOM for the full climb.

Just to clarify and in case anybody from the 'Strava Police' is reading this I know I could and should have uploaded my Strava ride on the Fathom as an E Bike ride but where's the fun in that ! I have however now made the ride private so it no longer appears on any leader boards and I am back in my rightful place a little bit further down the local 'pecking order'. 
If you use Strava and are interested in some of the sociology behind it's use here are some links to some of my previous posts based on the research I did for my PhD on the Technological Fetishism of Strava that affects us all, Strava Prison is all about surveillance and KUDOS Explained answers the question is it a gift or a bribe?

Thanks to Simon at the The Bike Rack for the loan of the Fathom and Mark @thebikerackyarm the man I rely on to look after all of my bikes and who knows everything there is to know about E bikes ... and the future of cycling. 
As for me, an E bike is definitely in my future 100% !


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