Love ‘em or hate ‘em e-bikes are here to stay, just in the last year or so the prevalence of motor assisted bikes on the trails has increased ten fold it appears, it certainly seems like that in my locality anyway. I was lucky enough to be invited out on an e-bike press trip earlier this year, which provided the usual experience of fun and games in the sun, this time on bikes that were undeniably unsuited to the terrain we were riding! It also gave me cause to think about my riding experience with an e-bike, or should I say, more precisely, a group of e-bikers and my mental struggle with ‘the purpose of the e-bike’.
Liv Cycling was my host for the press camp and as a female cyclist I was keen to find out more about how Liv proposed to pitch this new e-bike, the first female specific e-bike in their line-up. Sitting down to a presentation from the Liv team I was surprised to hear words such as ‘keeping up with a partner’ used alongside the more acceptable ‘go further for longer’ motto’s seeping out of their mouths. The thoughts from Liv that as a female rider, some might need or want a motor to keep up with our male riding counterparts was a little strange. Here were ladies that ride, one that worked for a company who propose to give female riders great kit to go out and slay trails and appear to want to empower women, yet here they were proposing that female riders might need a motorised boost to ride with the men. I'm sure there are some riders out there, female or not that need help to keep up with their buddies, but surely that, as a target market isn't all that large. Given the tenacious attitude of most bikers I know, ones that strive to get fitter, have goals to be faster and take great pride in finally matching or even beating that 'fast guy/gal' up the hill!
I understand and have witnessed first hand the abilities of an e-bike to help injured or older riders from all walks of life to get out riding where they might not necessarily have done before. I also note the great ability of an e-bike to enable these riders to go for longer and tougher adventures which before 'pedal assisted bikes' were out of reach. Hey, I’ve even got an e-road bike to help my pins with the daily commute, so I’m no e-bike hater, saving my legs on the weekdays so I can blast out trails on my regular bike at the weekend! I hadn’t however before come face to face with the suggestion that just because I’m female I might need a motor to keep up. In fact, the ladies I bike with regularly are the type that would rather max out at the red line for an entire ride than be prepared to use mechanical help. Not because they are super stubborn feminist types, but because they strive to be better, fitter and more skilled on their bikes and want to ride fully under their own steam.
Hopping aboard my Vall E+, a hardtail E-bike from Liv the sister brand of Giant, I geared up to go riding with eight other ladies who I’d met only hours previously. Like most other groups of riders, there was a range of abilities and fitness levels but with e-bikes beneath us, it all began to make sense, this is where I realised where the e-bike has its forte.
Half a day into the riding and up the second, long hot mountain climb it dawned on me that the group of eight of us were still nose to tail and side by side, chatting laughing and consumed in each other's dust as we powered up the gravelly mountain pass. Usually, at such a point in a ride, the group would have been strung out with up to several kilometres between us, those with strong legs guiltily powering away up front, through to lonely stragglers at the back just hoping the group takes a break to recollect soon. I’ve been in both positions and neither are enviable.
Amidst the whirr of motor’s, it dawned on me that e-biking is quite possibly the most sociable form of mountain biking to date, it allows riders to ride together over any terrain, the rough and the smooth, the steep and the flat, with choices in power modes plugging the gaps in rider strength and fitness. It brought me to think Liv may have chosen their marketing terms incorrectly, e-biking shouldn’t be seen as a helpful aid, proposing that one party is weaker than another. It should be seen as ‘a great leveller’, a tool that transports every rider to the same playing field and allows them to enjoy an experience together.
To this date, I have never and don’t expect I ever will, ride regular bikes with a group that are all of exactly matched in of terms riding fitness and skills, but with e-bikes on hand I got to spend all day in the company of eight fantastic ladies. A ride where no-one was made to feel despondent as the riders stretched away up the hill in front of them and one where no-one felt the need to apologise for being too fast or too slow and that I think is worth it’s e-bike weight in gold. We are often all too quick to feel that we aren’t good enough in sport, leaving a bad taste in the mouth. A ride without these apologies, without unnecessary stresses or anxious moments, was a happy and very healthy ride to be on, both physically and mentally. To be able to ride on a level with your peers, where all riders experience the same physical and emotional adventure is one to embrace.
Whilst I wouldn’t want e-biking to be ‘my norm’, I can certainly see its place, no longer do I see an e-bike as only for those less capable and certainly not just a boost for women wanting to keep up. It’s a tool for all, an instrument to set us all at the same level, from where we can take off and enjoy the elements of mountain biking that keeps us coming back for more time and time again – the friendships and bonds formed through the adventure of a great ride.
Photos - Sterling Lornence / Liv Cycling