Crossing to the dark side – testing Bosch’s newest electric mountain bike tech

Electrically assisted mountain bikes – sometimes called e-mtbs for short – are here, and that’s the long and short of it. There is a lot of angst and derision out in the general mountain bike populace about their arrival… some justified, and some not.

Personally, I had expected to absolutely hate the Bosch-equipped electric mountain bike I was assigned to test. Given I’d actually never ridden one, though, it’s basically an attitude born of both ignorance and prejudice, personally justified by the fact that I’ve been riding mountain bikes for 25 years, and so what I know must be right.

I guess I was used to talking on a telephone that was attached to the wall by a cord, too…

In many ways, I’m actually a prime candidate for an e-mtb. I’m approaching a big milestone birthday, a busy career means I can’t keep – or hold – the fitness levels that that proper all-day mountain biking demands, and niggling injuries mean that a full day out in the saddle is doable, but not necessarily enjoyable.

On the flip side is the way – for me, at least – the concept of a motorised bicycle tramples roughshod over the very essence of mountain biking that attracted me in the first place. A typical e-mtb is outrageously expensive even with only a half-decent spec, they are unfeasibly heavy and fiendishly complex, and - when in the wrong hands - they arguably put their operators and other trail users in greater danger, thanks in part to the extra speeds attainable, as well as that extra mass.

Putting aside these discussion points for the moment, Bosch had extended an invitation to ride an updated version of its system that incorporates a new mode – also called e-mtb – on a Haibike SDURO AllMtn 7.0 around Sydney’s short but tricky Manly Dam complex, and given my rookie status with electron-powered bikes, I was definitely e-curious…

A firmware upgrade adds an extra mode to Bosch’s own control system, and it essentially works and with a rider and the electric motor at the bottom bracket to better replicate the way a human tackles terrain, rather than simply providing a set amount of motive force to supplement the rider’s pedalling.

The bike basically tries to add a seamless layer of assistance to the ride, rather than a ‘dumb’ amount of forward propulsion that might be at odds with your own pedal inputs.

By the time I crest the first super steep, rutted and rocky climb, I’m already wavering – and not in the legs or chest. Not a natural climber at the best of times, I would have been on shank’s pony two-thirds of the way up, but on board the e-mtb… it wasn’t easy, per se, but it certainly ripped 70 per cent of the effort out of it.

And right there is a key advantage for keen but unable riders; the Bosch system instantly adds something to the experience by taking the sting out of the worst climbs on a longer ride. Let’s face it… while a few of us love the torture, for the vast majority, climbing is a means to an end.

Covering undulating trail, too, is a lot easier with torque underfoot. There is no throttle; it’s still down to your pedalling speed, but the underlying help lets you make the most of the trail.

Technical climbing, too, is a doddle for the most part, once you stop trying to ride the bike like a traditional mtb.

Its biggest disadvantage is the loss of agility that comes with the extra weight of the ebike. Put simply, they are porkers, with weights in the 23-26kg range for a medium travel 27.5-inch wheel-equipped alloy duallie. With a range of between 70km and 100km depending on battery size, it’s unlikely you’ll need to push an e-mtb too far… but woe betide if you do.

This weight also affects decisions like how to transport it. Battling to plonk a 25kg bike onto the roof racks of an SUV, for instance, will not be easy.

On balance, though, the story of the e-mtb will continue to evolve, and it’s a story that MBA needs to stay across. The concept itself is sound, and the technology will continue to develop… but it’s more about acceptance of a new technology from a broader audience that will determine how e-mtbs fare in Australia.

You can read more about our time with the Bosch e-mtb system in the next issue of MBA, and we’ll keep discussing the concept and testing bikes as they come through. We’d also love to hear your thoughts, too, via our email or Facebook page.

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