In recent times, I've been periodically heading out on Kerry's e-bike - a Merida eOne Sixty in its most basic form. In fact, some of you may have actually seen me zipping around on the e-bike out on the trails, possibly with raised eyebrows as you wonder why I'm "cheating"! After all, as a mountain bike coach, you might think that I should probably have the fitness to comfortably ride a "naturally aspirated" mountain bike.
I do actually have a genuine reason to be on an e-bike. With their ever increasing popularity out on the trails it's important that I understand the nuances of riding the trails with them to make sure that I take their unique characteristics into account while I'm coaching (more on that later).
But in truth, while I'm still probably comfortable riding (well, perhaps not so comfortably) managing a 30 to 40 km ride out on Nerang's trails, these days juggling an adult job, family life and a "side hustle" I think they call it now, I struggle to maintain the fitness level that I once had. In the meantime, the group that I've ridden the most with over the years seems to have become so fit and maintain a pace over distance that is so high that when I do head out with them on a regular mountain bike, I feel like dying.
It's a sad state of affairs.
After much soul searching I've resigned myself to the fact that with my life being a little bit on the busy side now, I have very little chance of regaining my former fitness levels without giving up some other activities. So from time to time, I've started heading out the e-bike instead of my own, especially when it's been with the fast riding group.
And I've been having so much fun!
While there are a few sadistic people in the world that love riding to the point where their leg muscles are cramping, their vision has begun to narrow as their head becomes fuzzy because their isn't quite enough oxygen flowing through their body and they feel like throwing up at each riding stop, I am not one of them. I've certainly been in that position plenty of times and I've watched others struggle as well. It's exercise for sure, but not what I would call enjoyable.
However, when I've taken the e-bike out with my riding group, not only can I enjoy going down hill because I'm no longer on the verge of collapse, I can actually enjoy pedalling uphill as well! And yes, if you search through my blogs and various posts around the place, you won't find "enjoy" and "pedalling" used in the same sentence, except in a negative context.
But at this point, if you're envisioning me screaming uphill on a trail at maximum e-bike speed, you would be incorrect. Actually, occasionally I might do that. For example, if we happen to be riding up a steep fire road and their is a fun trail beside it that comes back down. I might blast up the fire road and then come down the trail two or three times while the rest of the group crawls their way up once.
Did I mention fun?
Most of the time however, I'll be riding along with the group. Not necessarily out the front (unless we start heading downhill), but in the middle of the pack - mainly so I can make sure I get some exercise. What exercise, I hear you say?
The sort of exercise you get when you turn the power off and have to pedal a 22kg mountain bike on the trails.
Admittedly, when we get to a hill with even the slightest of inclines, the power does happen to come back on very quickly as my heart rate climbs. But not so much pedal assistance that riding becomes so easy that my pulse quickly comes back down. Instead, I use the minimum amount of power that makes it enough of a workout to keep my heart rate elevated (after riding around most of the time with your heart feeling like it's about to jump out of your chest you get a pretty good idea of when you've reached a sustainable heart rate!)
But when I'm riding on a flat section of trail as part of the group, the power goes off and the e-bike becomes a normal bike, albeit a rather heavy, normal bike. And besides, as soon as pedalling speeds hit more than 25 km/h, the motor cuts out anyway. Rather than having the motor cut in and out, it's much easier to ride with flow if you just leave the power off so you don't have this sensation of being helped, and then not. Admittedly, when you're trying to push a 22 kg bike to speeds of more than 30km/h on flat terrain, the thought of a little bit of help is nice. But it makes for a hell of a work out!
Have I mentioned what it's like to be throwing a 22kg bike into corners, over logs and up in the air? It's like you're weight lifting out on the trails.
Just because mountain bike has a motor attached, don't assume that the only way to ride it is in a way that you don't get a whole lot of exercise. In fact, in some ways riding an e-bike can give you even more exercise when you factor in the extra weight, providing you with a way to exercise your upper body and core muscles in a way that a lighter mountain bike can't.
And of course, with the extra power and endurance that an e-bike provides, you might be inclined to try some things that perhaps would be a little bit crazy on a normal mountain bike!