E-bikes - exhilaration without the exhaustion!
If you are a super fit, ‘lean mean pedalling machine’ clad in lycra, then this blog is probably not for you! However, for the rest of us, all I can say is ……e-bikes are brilliant and if you haven’t tried one yet, then you must. It will completely change your experience on two wheels, and you will be eating mountain gradients for breakfast!
Having recently gone through the whole process of trying, deciding and buying e-bikes for my wife and I, I thought I would pass on some useful information to whet your appetite. You don’t have to rush out and buy one, as there are plenty of bike shops in town offering them for rental or even lending them for a free demo trial for an hour or two. But if you do have one, then you will never again have to rely on the lift system again to get around the Portes du Soleil with ease. This also means you can visit Les Gets outside the normal summer season and still enjoy all the mountain trails while it is quieter.
Riding an e-bike is no different than what you are used to, other than selecting the appropriate level of assist. Changing levels is done smoothly through the motor by pressing the + or – button on the handlebar controls. The assist levels normally range from Off, ECO, Tour, EMTB, and Turbo (although different manufacturers might name the levels differently). As one would expect, the steeper the incline, the more you need to select a higher assist level. Turbo will take you up even the steepest mountain road – provided you keep pedalling! (Yes, you do have to pedal, otherwise it would be a moped!) Interestingly, there are specific laws regarding e-bikes, and all manufacturers have to abide by them. The motor can only assist you up to a maximum speed of 25km/h (15mph), otherwise it would have to be licenced as a motorcycle, and you would need a licence and insurance to ride one. However, you can still go downhill as fast as you like (just gravity assisted)! The controls on most of the bikes are very easy to operate, and the little screen will tell you the assist level, how fast you are going, how far on this ride and you total mileage, etc.
If you decide to buy one, then there is a huge choice of makes and models, ranging from those designed for the city commuter wanting up to 40km on paved roads, to those designed for the serious mountain biker wanting to cover 100+km on mountain trails, with full suspension to rival the best downhill and enduro bikes. Of course, like all things the price tag matches the specification and capability, where they range from 500 to 6000+ euros. The type of terrain and distance you are likely to ride will point you towards a particular type of bike, and your budget will likely determine the make and model.
Here in Les Gets and the surrounding region you have a vast selection of mountain roads and trails on offer, most of which have considerable gradients. This is no longer a problem if you have an e-bike, but those bikes designed for the city commuter will limit your range and restrict you to paved roads. If you want to access a good selection of mountain trails as well, but you are not interested in anything more challenging than a green or blue downhill run, then there are plenty of bikes in the mid-price range. If you are looking for anything more than this, then you probably already know more about the bikes than I do! Similarly, there are ‘e’ versions of serious road bikes, but these tend to be much more expensive as they are designed with carbon fibre frames to keep the weight down. If you are a serious cyclist then you probably don’t want, or need, an e-bike anyway!
Choosing a make of e-bike very much depends on where you live and where you will mainly use it. It is no good getting a UK bike and using it predominantly in France, as it may be difficult to get the bike parts without waiting days or weeks for them to arrive. This is also true of the warrantees on major parts such as the motors. E-bikes are fitted with motors from one of four or five manufacturers, which include Bosch, Shimano, Yamaha and those developed by certain bike manufacturers. The leading makes and models tend to use Bosch or Shimano motors, which is great, as most of shops in Les Gets (and generally in France) will service these. However, I understand getting warrantee support for Yamaha motors might be difficult locally. Any e-bike with a Bosch 500 Watt or Shimano E8000 motor will cope very well with getting you around all the main mountain passes and trails in the area. Our bikes have the Bosch 500 Watt, which gives us a range of at least 60 to 80km, where half of that is on 6% to 8% gradient ascents. If you wish to go further then take the battery charger with you, which is very light but it does take up space in the backpack. You can ask to put the battery on charge when you stop for lunch and in about an hour it will have topped it up by about 50% to 60% (a full charge takes about 3 hours).
Other features to consider are the brakes, tyres, hard tail or full suspension, the amount of suspension travel, and then extra features such as: telescopic seat posts, remote suspension lockouts, etc. It is worth noting that French bikes (in fact almost all European bikes) have the rear brake connected to the right brake lever. You only have to make the mistake of pulling the wrong lever once on a gravel track to learn not to do it again! Most brake cables can be swapped over if you insist on sticking to the UK configuration.
Tyre types and sizes will determine what terrain you can and can’t ride on safely. The type of tyre needed will be governed by the roughest terrain you are likely to want ride. Unlike a normal road bike, on an e-bike you will not notice any difficulty going up steep roads on wider tyres. However, you will feel a lot safer going downhill with them. There are also some bikes specifically designed for women, but most of the bikes for off road use tend to be unisex with a size range that caters for women, or they are often more expensive.
E-bikes are generally heavier than their equivalent without a motor, and on average an e-MTB is at least 22 Kg. This is not an issue when you are riding it, but it might be when you come to lift it on and off a bike rack, and your bike rack might not be designed to carry one or more of them. For more information research the many on-line reviews of the current makes and models. You will find the local shops very helpful, particularly for makes such as, Scott, Lapierre, Cube, Specialized, Pivot, Moustache and Giant.
Without doubt, deciding to buy e-bikes has proved to be one of our best decisions and we hope you enjoy the experience too.
David Underhill – 22 August 2018