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LOCKDOWN

It's Lockdown, there's no dirt biking to be had. But cycling – with a motor – yes, Craig's a canny boy

I’ve tried to be stoic about the recommendation to not ride dirt bikes during the lockdown. We all know the reasons, and with the ACU – who I’ve a huge appreciation for after the efforts they’ve gone to over the years for my rally efforts with licences, insurances and admin – and one of my great supporters, the guys at RAW, both taking a very firm stance on whether we should be riding about on what are, if we’re honest, dangerous toys, then the dirt bikes are firmly parked up. It’s as noble a reason as we’ll hopefully ever see, and we can put up with what isn’t the worse hardship. It’s endurance of a different kind.

Where to get our fix though? Can man survive on bread and toilet roll alone? We’re luckier than some, in that we’ve a daily exercise allowance. Dare we suggest that an ebike can fill the void…?

I’m super ‘lucky’. (I use the quotation marks as it’s by design and hard work) I live rurally, have plenty of outdoor space and access to some great trails on my doorstep. I can roll out onto a greenlane or a bridleway on the mtb, or some beautiful quiet Lincolnshire lanes without ever seeing more than a tractor or the odd school run lunatic. So let’s get the ugly bit out of the way. As well as a paid up, dedicated dirt biker, I’m also a cyclist. A keen one. I’ve stayed in love with pushbikes even once having acquired bikes with motors in them. As a nipper I’d fly about on my bmx, complete with home made number plate, with a speedo on the back (I was always doing 70mph on that. Not sure they were 100% accurate). The freedom, the speed (70…) and the exhilaration of popping off a kerb, intentionally or otherwise, has taken a very firm grip on whatever part of the brain, soul or whatever it is that causes obsession. I have been obsessed ever since my first one. They quite often featured higher up the list than girls.

In the 275 fleet is a gaggle of bikes. Not too many, as that’s impossible, but plenty to go at. Today’s focus though is my ebike. They exist on the fringe of both cycling and moto society. ‘Proper’ cyclists consider them the reserve of the chubby old man – a modern day mid-life crisis Harley. ‘Proper’ motorcyclists consider them, and pushbikes in general as the folly of kids and skinny blokes who daren’t ride a man’s bike. There’s obviously some middle ground, though it’s narrow, and obviously the extremes are well and truly wrong. It’s not opinion that, it’s cold hard fact.

There’s not one moto rider anywhere, ever, that wouldn’t see the benefits to their moto riding of choice in being a bit fitter. Combine that with the motor skills and balance associated with piloting a pushbike and the benefits start to really manifold. Most of the motoGP grid are incredibly good cyclists, and lets face it, running is boring…

I’d thought about taking the same ride twice, first on my normal full suspension trail bike and then on my ebike, plotting the pace, calories etc as a comparator, but then I decided that was dull. What I can say, and I was focused in my research, just for you, is that on one of my favourite loops of tight, twisty trails I was quicker on the non ebike. By a decent bit. It’s lighter, thus much more flickable and precise. It’s also got a slightly stickier front tyre on it, so it’s not that true a test, BUT on the ebike I was much less accurate, carried a bit more pace where I maybe shouldn’t and just plain bashed through some of the tougher corners – over the tops of the little berms, through the soft fern brush and back onto the optimum line. That would have cost me a few seconds if it was all down to me to pedal, but with the extra 250w, I just mashed through it and probably made up time.

And it’s here where the beauty lies. If you’re handy, it will bring out your inner hooligan, if you’re chasing your handy mate, you can nearly keep up. This works both ways by the way, the ebike closes a group up, meaning the quicker riders can have more fun too. No waiting for the slower lads at the top of hills, the quicker ladies trying to prove they’re still quicker than a bloke with a motor, adding to the fabric of the excuses/reasoning for why someone gets up or down before you. When I’m out solo on my ebike, I still push at 100%. I don’t come home feeling like I’ve done nothing. In fact, I often push a bit harder and do a few more runs. When trying to get the shots for this blog I ran up and down the same trail five or six times – until I broke the bike. I’d not do that on my normal bike. I woke up with a stiff neck this morning. Likewise… 

I’ve heard so many times – I’ll join the gym once I’m fit. I’ll come out riding with you lads, but I need to get a bit fitter first, you’re all too quick for me. Etc. The ebike is in my garage for many reasons, and it’s a legitimate addition to a keen cyclists collection as it would be a solo bike in a moto garage.

I’ve raced most disciplines of pushbikes at some point. The last few years it’s been about moto fitness so it’s mostly been winter cyclocross racing, road bikes for focused fitness and mtb for fun and the soul, but I’ve a few dusty mtb trophies and an equally dusty certificate to allow me to guide you around the mountains. I’m a proficient peddler, a decent enough steerer, and been at it since the dawn of time, by rights I should sit firmly in the ‘ebikes are for fat lads’ camp. Bollocks. I got this particular ebike for my wife (or at least I dusted the purchase with this for some additional justification). She’s been resolute, despite my efforts, to not enjoy mountain bikes ever, so ‘we’ bought this one. Full power, big wheels and all of the suspension, all of the benefits, and none of the weight penalty (that you feel at least) Now I’m chasing her up the hills while she can happily pedal along looking at the scenery, we’re on different rides, but we’re out together. Perfect.

Today’s focus though is my ebike. They exist on the fringe of both cycling and moto society. ‘Proper’ cyclists consider them the reserve of the chubby old man – a modern day mid-life crisis Harley. ‘Proper’ motorcyclists consider them, and pushbikes in general, as the folly of kids and skinny blokes who daren’t ride a man’s bike.

I spent a good few seasons as a guide in the French Alps, this is why I feel quite justified in my white Oakleys, I’ve earned them as a seasonaire, but this aside I still love getting out there as much as I can. We have a little place there, and I like the off-season, when there are no lifts. Or people.

I can pedal up a mountain, I’ll not say no bother, as they’re mountains, but I can get up. I much prefer coming down, around and across. The ebike opens this right up. I’ve spent days on the ebike with the dog where we’ve done 50km of riding and not seen another human. Total bliss. In the same time we’d have done less than half of that on the normal bike. But here’s the real kicker, we’d probably not have gone out. It would have been a dedicated, well planned, organised and disciplined affair, booked in advance as part of the week’s family holiday itinerary, such that Mrs K can organise her own time. And then it would have rained. And the dog would have puked up his breakfast.

The ebike seems to open the door for more ad-hoc decision process. Let’s have a look up that trail… Far and away the biggest barrier to getting things done is yourself, and this takes away the excuse… They’re fabulous for a stolen hour at the end of a day, or a cheeky spin on a wet and boggy weekend afternoon. Instead of the prospect of slugging away through a mushy bridleway, you can blast through it to the good stuff. And if your enduro bike is locked down, you’ve a bike you can push on with skill and guile when the goings good, but can bail you out on the hills or the bog when perhaps you’re not as fit as you’d like to be – sound familiar?

I’m not going to attempt to convince you which one to buy, we’ll ignore the fact you can spend a cool £12K on some of the more hipster brands. My choice, on which I spent my own hard earned cash is a Focus bikes Jam2 6.8. It’s a mid to high spec bike with an aluminium frame and decent forks. A German brand, not so well known in the UK and owned by the same folk as own Santacruz. Not quite as pretty but in my mind a better riding bike. All of my non ebikes are carbon, but here’s another kicker, far and away the greatest weight penalty is the battery. They’re big, heavy and cumbersome. The carbon stuff is lovely, but the weight benefit is not worth the spend. The softness required to counter the battery weight means much more carbon…

Also, it’s easy to get carried away with battery capacity. Sure, if you’re doing massive days in the mountains, a bigger battery is better, but if you’re here reading this I’m probably convincing you to buy your first ebike, and you’ll go out for an hour or an hour and a half, so most will be fine. Typically range is 50 – 70km. You can also pedal it without assistance. Running out of battery mid trail is not the same as running out of fuel on a moto. You’re not off and pushing home, you’re just getting a bit fitter. And you’re out on the trails.

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5 Responses

  1. In the current circumstances it’s still not ethically correct to go out on a mountain bike and ride techy trails, it’s just as dangerous as riding a moto enduro bike !!
    Steady fitness rides only 🤨

    1. There’s definitely a fine line here – a fine line and a blurred edge. There’s also the contradiction that while the COVID wards are creaking people are urged to still go to A&E. So would Craig with say a cracked wrist be a burden? It’s that all new situation thing where we don’t have all the answers. Point taken though. Should see what Craig has to say about it…

  2. Great article.

    After rattling my commuter rigid single speed around the local woods in my daily excercise slot, after getting bored of the usual tow path and laps of the local lake route (roads hold no cycling fun for me), I realised I needed a mountain bike again. The terrain is just too rough for no suspension and road tyres, and way too much hard work with just one gear. The very real risk that leisure motorcycling and my unnecessary journeys by Moto may be off the cards potentially all year convinced me.

    That rattle around the woods was hard work, real xc riding with no big hills or technical stuff, but bizarrely an incredible amount of up gradients. Up gradients which would have been great fun at a bit more speed, that is, above walking pace, and if I wasn’t also blowing my lungs out of my arse. I see a few electric mountain bikes on my tow path commute and as I get older they appeal more and more, primarily for the big hill up to my house. I’d imagined as I get closer to retirement age that a push up that hill would be enough to keep me riding and getting some excercise daily. I’ve already sacked off the below zero rides, and also the worst weather rides, that bloody hill would sooner or later see me sacking off the push bike completely. While I’m not yet at that point, these days and now more so with some practice working from home, my commute isn’t and will not be daily in the future.

    So I quite like cycling, used to love mountain biking and BMX, but am just too old and lazy to get back into mountain biking, and I’m of an age when downhill antics are no longer my cup of tea, and I’ve been spoilt by having a motor. The electric mountain bike however, now that is a great idea to flatten out the trail for me. I’m picking up a decent hardtail one this week as soon as it gets into my local shop, and I’m hoping that it proves flexible and fun enough to become my new regular method of excercising. Certainly short term it will be my daily excercise tool, there are only so many ways of walking round the block and the trusty single speed just doesn’t make for enough fun to bother. That bloody hill up to my house is always there….

    Long term I’d like it to become a habit, and with the ability to quickly get to, around and back from the easy local trails with the flexibility in finding a weather window that home working offers, that shouldn’t be a chore. Given that these things only give power when you apply power, there’s no throttle, and they measure your torque before adding theirs means it’s not really cheating, you still have to pedal and the harder you do the harder they help, so you get a workout. A workout with an additional 70nm of torque applied up to a heady 15mph, then it’s down(hill) to you, no assistance beyond that speed. Sounds ideal to me. How much use it’ll really get once I can get back on the KTM I’m not so sure…

  3. Great writing Craig. I’ve been trying to convince my cycling buddies about these for years, with no joy whatsoever. Is it an English thing I wonder, to keep banging on about “cheating”? My friends across the channel swear by these and basically say that they open up roads (trails) that you just wouldn’t attempt, or get up, on a normal MTB. And the added benefit is that after some downhill fun you have the energy to do them again. And again. So I’m pretty sure I’ll be striking out on my own for now, but it’s a lot of cash for a ‘bike’ though… Mind you, there’s a mint 2013 CRF-250L that’s been sitting idle in my garage for 3 years (remember this one JB?) and, given the current circumstances, it would be the perfect swap for now.. Maybe I’ll see you out in the Lincolnshire Wolds yet mate!

  4. Some responses to the above:

    Alan,

    Everyone has a different steady. Rest assured I was at mine.

    Cheers Tony, glad you liked it. For sure you’ll feel the benefit.

    Andy, Nice to hear from you – give me a shout and you can borrow the bike as and when for a scoot about, or we can get you a genuine demo. Anything to help you avoid all that running – terrible business 😉

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