With the rise in popularity of e-bikes it was only a matter of time before we’d start seeing races with an e-bike specific format and unique challenges. We all know that e-bikes are faster on the climbs, but what are they capable of on the trails? What are the advantages of riding one over a regular bike? And are there any changes in your technique between a regular bike and an e-bike?
When the Enduro World Series race was in town in October, Andy took a Santa Cruz Bullit on some of the more challenging parts of the race course to see what all the fuss was about. We talked to our coaching expert to find out his initial thoughts on this new discipline...
Before you even get on one the extra weight is noticeable. Swing your leg over it and start pedaling though and the weight seems to disappear. It’s almost like the extra power from the motor completely cancels out the additional weight of the components. This is part of what makes e bikes an attractive choice for a lot of people. It’s like having your own bike but with a Tour de France rider’s legs and lungs powering it on the climbs. Once you spend time on one, all of that extra weight that was initially so noticeable feel as if it has vanished.
If you are a regular client of Dirt School’s, or you read our regular skills articles in MBR, you’ll know that we always promote the idea of staying close to your bike and driving your weight back into the trail with your legs. This technique is particularly relevant on e bikes because the extra weight can actually work with you rather than against you! Just look for the same places that you’re used to doing this on a trail and be confident that you can rely on the additional weight to do some of that push for you. This can also give you more stability on choppy ground as it tends to settle the bike in a way that feels similar to having a bit more suspension travel.
The weight of an e bike will work for and against you when it comes to accelerating and decelerating. You’ll need to be a bit more patient on the brakes to overcome this because on the way into things the bike will want to keep on going. This will mean slowing down early and picking safe places to apply your brakes. The weight will also mean that you will accelerate on any downslope, so you can be confident that you’ll be up to speed out the other side.
Pacing on Descents
This different pace takes some getting used to, but once you settle into it it’s completely different than a regular bike. Brake early on the way in, let the additional weight settle the bike and drive for grip, then hang on as it accelerates out the other side and start all over again on the next feature. The quick set-ups or mistakes that you can recover from quickly on a regular bike are harder to do here, but play it patiently and you can really notice the difference.
Cornering on an e bike in general is made better by all of that additional weight working for you in the turn. You can really feel it driving against the trail for more grip. Again, set your turn up deliberately wide and be patient, and the bike will behave like it’s on rails. That extra weight pushes against the trail as you carve to create more weight right where you need it - down low and onto the ground.
Technical climbs are a completely different challenge that e bikes allow you to really enjoy. Normally a slippery technical ascent would be one for the XC bike, or even one to get off and push up, but on an e bike you can open up a whole world of challenges and satisfaction. This is one area where e bike racing has really surprised a few people. It’s hard to explain, but you are basically turning the pedals, letting the motor provide all the drive, and tuning in on the balance, steering and lines as if you are on a trials bike. The grip points that you’d normally be looking for on a DH are now replaced by areas where you can apply the pedals and trust the traction at your back wheel for forward momentum. It will take some getting used to as there is a slight delay in the drive at the rear wheel, but you’ll find yourself riding back down for another go if you don’t make it up. Switching into Turbo might seem like the way through things like this, but you might find that the delivery of power from some of the other lower settings might strike a balance with the traction available.
Your dropper post will come in handy on technical climbs as all of that bike movement and slippage on roots and rocks will require you to stand up out of the saddle. Stand up too much though and you’ve lost all of the grip at your rear wheel. There’s a definite balance to be struck here and staying mostly seated at a lower saddle height is a good place to start.
There’s a lot more to riding an e bike than making the climbs easier. The speed at which you can get up the hills is impressive, and you’ll find yourself almost doubling the amount of distance you can cover as you’ll be at the top of every climb before you know it. We know a few people that measure their e bike rides in metres of descent because the amount of climbing that you’ve done becomes irrelevant! You can also handle much steeper climbs, so you’ll find yourself turning onto a steep fire break to get back up just so you can do that section of trail again. Under normal circumstances you’d be all the way to the bottom of the hill and cutting your ride short at the thought of climbing all the way back up again.
If you think that riding an e-bike is just for those wanting an easier life and that the motor does all the work for you, then you haven’t ridden an e-bike properly. You’ll be able to almost double what you’d normally get done in a few hours, and you might even start measuring your rides in the amount of descent you do instead of the amount of climbing. Three laps of your local trail will become six, and your arms and shoulders will be aching because you’re doing so much more riding. The technical climbs you can work your way up with the assistance from the motor opens up a new world of challenge and is brilliant fun as well as being a tough workout. All in all, riding an e-mtb is a whole new discipline in itself, and while all the technical skills of riding a standard bike apply, there's also a lot to learn that's e-specific too.
If you're interested in a Santa Cruz Bullit, the good news is we have stock arriving late January - availability is already limited though, so get in touch soon to reserve yours!