E-bike revolution takes to single track Leave a comment


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The ‘whoops!’ and ‘whoas!’ said it all.

And while that in itself was a surprise for the hardcore North Shore mountain biker, that Tessa Black was making those exclamations going up a gnarly trail was a sure sign that something different was going on here. Typically, the grind up the trail — particularly on these world class single tracks — is just that: a grind, and one definitely not punctuated with “whoops!’ and ‘whoas!,’ but rather ‘ughs’ and ‘gasps.’ The selling point of a mountain e-bike is it gets you up the hills faster so you can spend more time on the fun downhill parts.

“I came it to it with the attitude that e-bikes aren’t for me, they’re for a different generation, for someone who either isn’t very fit or is recovering from an injury,” the 18-year old UBC student said following a test ride of a mountain e-bike last weekend in the North Shore mountains. “But wow, that was really fun.”

Her riding companion wasn’t that surprised by Black’s reaction, as it’s one he still gets every time he takes his e-bike out on the trails he knows like the back of his hand.

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“When I’m thinking about going for a Saturday trail ride, I’ll grab the e-bike and get way more trail time,” said Andreas Hestler. “More laps mean you get more time to work on your downhill riding. More practice time.”

That a two-time Canadian mountain bike champion, a two-time winner of the TransRockies Challenge, a three-time national series champ and a participant in the first-ever Olympic Games’ cross-country event still needs, and wants, practice tells you a little about the passion Hestler still has for a discipline he’s been at the forefront of since trading in his courier bike for a mountain bike way back in 1986.

And, to Black’s earlier point, ‘Dre’ is certainly fit and without injury, yet has embraced the electrification of the mountain bike. Granted, as a Rocky Mountain spokesperson you’d expect him to extoll the virtues of the bike he and Tessa are tearing it up with — the Rocky Mountain Altitude A70 Powerplay — but there’s no denying the fact that the extra assist its battery gives him getting to the top of his favourite trail heads is something he relishes. And further evidence that the battery-powered mountain bike segment isn’t simply a gimmick but instead an entirely new proposition that allows riders who might not have the fitness level to grind up to those epic downhills or are recovering from an injury — particularly concussions where exertion often derails the very thought of going for a ride.

Mountain biker Andreas Hestler leads Tessa Black down some North Shore terrain during her test ride of the Rocky Mountain Altitude A70 Powerplay.
Mountain biker Andreas Hestler leads Tessa Black down some North Shore terrain during her test ride of the Rocky Mountain Altitude A70 Powerplay. Photo by Andrew McCredie

For Dre, there was also something unexpected found along the way.

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His aha moment came in 2019, “when I was persuaded, at the ripe old age of 49” to compete in the first-ever e-cross country event in the world mountain bike championships.

“The course was super gnarly,” he said of the Mount St. Anne circuit. “Technical, steep up, super technical and gnarly down. A real mountain biking course.

“I found that engaging in a technical climb (on an e-bike) was so cerebral that I really enjoyed it. On a regular bike the uphill is typically very labourious and boring. And if you’re not having a good day it just sucks.”

“But having that electric power on a technical climb becomes really engaging — it just adds a new and fun experience to the race.”

That’s when the e-switch flipped for Hestler. When he returned from the championships — he placed 23rd, “Not bad for an old guy” – he threw himself into the new world of e-bikes.

“It was almost like going back to being a kid where mountain biking had given you that whole new experience,” he said. “I still ride the regular bikes, but when I’m feeling a little tired I take out the e-bike.”

He has a group of guys he rides e-bikes with, most of them having suffered injuries like concussions or just aren’t in top shape to grind it up the big hills.

“It expands your horizons and I get in more biking. “

The Rocky Mountain Altitude A70 Powerplay is one of the purpose-built pedal-assist e-bikes the Canadian company is producing.
The Rocky Mountain Altitude A70 Powerplay is one of the purpose-built pedal-assist e-bikes the Canadian company is producing. Photo by Andrew McCredie

Rocky Mountain has certainly expanded its horizons with its Powerplay series of e-bikes, investing $10 million and 80,000 engineering hours over the past decade to design from the ground up a pedal-assist mountain bike with the kind of trail bona fides synonymous with the brand. Instead of buying off the shelf parts, the company decided to engineer its own proprietary motor. The fresh-sheet beefier frame is designed with the motor and battery housing integrated into it, and bigger brakes were added to keep the heavier machine stable.

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That heavier point is the big trade-off in the e-bike equation — in addition to the $7,000 price tag — and the Powerplay model Black rode was tipping the Toledo at 50 pounds, about 20 pounds heavier than her own ride.

She said it did take some getting used to on the downhills, and while she admitted she won’t be trading in her bike for an e-bike anytime soon, she came away impressed. She noted both her mom and dad have e-bikes, and that has allowed the entire family to go out for big rides.

“And seeing a dad and his 30-year old son up on Fromme trails having a great time is awesome to see, and that’s what makes these mountain e-bikes so great,” said Black, a former provincial high school champion. “It let’s more people experience mountain biking, and opens up the sport to more people.”

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