My biggest problem with these voices of resistance is they often come from people who got into cycling before these new technologies or design philosophies existed. They shout loud and far about things that aren’t necessarily designed for people like them, or aren't what 'riding really is'. In doing so, they can have a very negative impact on the experiences and confidence of others.
I was recently invited to test ride Specialized’s new pedal assisted trail bike, the Turbo Levo. The company wanted people from local riding communities to experience this new pedal-assisted bike to see for themselves how fun it can be, and to dispel some of the rampant e-hate going around at the moment. Over three days in Sydney, and other days elsewhere, they reached out to shop staff, trail builders, media and local frothers.
As I rode, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who are most likely to buy a bike like this in the next couple of years. People who, for a whole series of reasons aren’t part of the sport right now – whether they’re injured, have a disability, are feeling the changes that come about with ageing or they just don’t have the time or desire to reach the level of fitness that makes riding a pleasure. Basically, people who want to experience cycling but don’t have the time or fitness to enjoy the sport in ways I take for granted.
There was no obligation to write an article, but I woke up the next morning wanting to write one anyway. I enjoyed the experience, but I felt sad that so many riders in the broader cycling community are so short sighted about the range of opportunities various bikes open up for different people. While sales are obviously important, and we’re seeing e-mountain bikes emerge as important part of the range for a lot of brands heading into 2017, I can’t help but respect Specialized for their hands-on approach to creating an attitude change at a community level.
Turbo Levo basics
The Levo is designed around the popular Stumpjumper FSR 29er and 27.5+ geometry with a few crucial changes to fit in a motor and a removable battery. It weighs about 22kg, but dumping the battery makes it easier to charge and to lift in and out of the car.
The power cuts out at 25km an hour so you can’t go too crazy. The women’s bikes feature modified contact points and a suspension tune aimed at riders of a lower average weight, like the Rhyme trail bike. A Bluetooth enabled app lets you play with the e-settings to tailor the extra pick up.
Out on the trails the Levo behaves in a lot of ways like a standard trail bike but necessitates a different riding style to work with its enhancements and associated limitations. I tended to straight line technical ups more and soft pedal to keep the motor going. In this way, it cleaned even the loosest, lumpiest climbs effortlessly, despite my regular riding style of manipulating and muscling the bike up these sections requiring extra effort with the bonus weight.
The descending feel was very planted, also in part due to the wide tyres on the 27.5+ model. People say you don’t look for lines so much on 27.5+ as it rolls over anything. I had the opposite experience.
I kept seeking out rougher and rougher lines just to see what would happen. Nothing apparently. I felt like even the big, loose rocks weren’t shifting around under the tyres on much-loved sketchy descents. There was traction for days.
If you’re interested in a more detailed, ‘switched on’ review, have a read of this article by David Rome, there’s no point in me repeating it here. If it’s questions about expectations and concerns vs the reality and the experience that you’re most curious about, Flow Mountain Bike have done a great job of addressing these.
E-bikes, and e-mountain bikes in particular, are coming into their own. As the marketing of this bike targets the more mainstream mountain bikers, it does two crucial things: it creates a culture of excitement and acceptance on the trails for the broader audience that these bikes are aimed at. And it puts a stop to people mouthing off about e-bikes due to a lack of awareness or confusion between superstition and fact.
Over the next few years, we’ll see a lot of e-nnovation. Batteries will get smaller, the pedal assist will feel more intuitive and the bikes will get lighter. As these innovations continue, we’ll see more people choosing them the same way most mountain bikers pick dual suspension now, rather than a hard rear end. The idea of using one instead of shuttles for downhill runs is particularly appealing.
Riding through a local loop on the Levo, having spent three months away from the trails with an injury, I felt like the bike’s target audience. I savoured the speed, I relished every corner, I laughed out loud on the climbs and felt my whole body relax as I flew through the wind on the descents. I caught up with friends and I could ride along with them.
I could experience something I love that has recently been out of reach. For me, that’s the real power of an e-bike. It allows people to enjoy the feelings that other types of cyclists crave every day.
Cyclists can be so judgy. But my feeling is in most of those cases, they’re judging something that isn’t for people like them. At least in the very short term given the pace of innovation and change. It really wouldn’t hurt them to open their minds a bit and consider the experiences people other than themselves might crave.
We ride because we love it. Innovation, done well, allows other people to share in those experiences. In all seriousness, why would you want to hold someone else back from enjoying that too?