Our Canberra-based cycling correspondent just had a whirl on Specialized’s new E-bike, the Turbo Levo SL. Now he’s got a message for the haters.
In the world of cycling, it used to be roadies vs mountain bikers. But these days there’s a new public enemy number one. Effortlessly riding into shot, like a desperado in a spaghetti western, E-bikers are the new outlaws, and the pedal-powered sheriffs aren’t happy.
‘An e-bike? Nah, not for me.’
‘Not while I’m young.’
‘Never. Never ever, ever!’
I must admit, like some of the friends I’ve spoken to this week, my initial reaction to electric bikes was very similar to the above. As a young (thirty-five’s still young right?!) and reasonably fit person, I just couldn’t see the need for the splurge of E-bikes that have entered the market over the past decade.
In my mind, the whole point of riding was the freedom of getting from A to B under your own steam, The ecstasy of finally reaching the summit after a long climb, the tired, dogged satisfaction of a ride out of town. Why would I ever want a motor to help me?
One Bike to Rule Them All
Living in London, I had one bike. An entry-level cyclocross bike that I’d bought under the advice of a cycling mad colleague at work. And I loved it. I went everywhere on that bike.
I’d ride around the big-city traffic, hooting and hollering. I’d take it through the woods, skidding and sliding through mud, and I even took it on a multi-day bike tour from London to Paris. I thought I’d found it, the only bike I’d ever want.
But then I visited my new Australian girlfriend in Canberra. Lurking in her shed was a steel-framed, singlespeed bike with skinny wheels. I was in love (sorry Karmin).
As great as the cyclocross was, I was infatuated by the simplicity and aesthetic beauty of the singlespeed. Suddenly, this was the bike I was riding everywhere, this was the only bike for me.
I rode that bike everywhere that I’d ridden the cyclocross. ‘Who needs gears?’, thought I, as I burnt around town, through the woods and throughout a bike tour in Belgium.
‘Gears are for chumps, singlespeed for life baby!’
Fast forward 6 weeks and I was on my second trip to Canberra, things were going well. But this time there was a highly-specced, dual-suspension mountain bike. Gamechanger.
Partly, it was the joy of discovering disc brakes that can stop you dead, then it was the lush comfort of 150mm travel front and back, but mostly, it was the first taste of truly purpose-built mountain bike trails that demanded more from a bike than my singlespeed could give.
But that wasn’t the end of my singlespeed, not yet. It was still far superior for road riding than the dually, suddenly I had a need for two bikes. My polygamous bike lifestyle was just beginning.
Fast forward another 6 weeks, I’m back in Canberra again, things are going really well, but this time there was a brand new carbon-framed roadie. Uh-oh!
Horses for Courses
Okay, so maybe I needed three different bikes. A road bike for long, fast, demanding rides. A mountain bike for hitting the trails, and my singlespeed for heading into town. Perfect, I’m done.
Turns out I wasn’t even close. You see, the thing about cycling and the cycling community, is that the more involved you become, the more niche elements of the sport you discover. Each different two-wheeled creation is a gateway to something new, something laying undiscovered.
There’s a wild world of bikes and bike riding styles out there, bikes made from steel, made from carbon, made from bamboo. There’s people racing road bikes, touring the world, gravel grinders, cyclocross, downhill, crit racers, and you know what, there’s a place in this world for all of them. Good onya cyclists for riding whatever the hell kinda bike how and where you want. And as for E-bikes, they’re just the latest part of the family.
E-bikes are just another type of bike that might be the perfect entry to the sport, or latest addition to the stable.
That being said, why are electric bikes still so hard to swallow for some people?
Pedal Power Is Dead, Long Live Pedal Power!
For many, the beauty of cycling is, in part, the effort and energy it takes to get from one place to another. There’s a joy and a pride in climbing that mountain or pedalling from this city to that, and maybe cyclists are worried that if people are out there doing it with the help of a motor, then somehow their achievements are lesser, perhaps they’re not achievements at all.
Or, perhaps, as a local bike-shop owner put it to me, ‘E-bikes are another form of cycling, like road, gravel, or cross country, it doesn’t really matter what bike, as long as they’re on one.’ E-bikes aren’t just bikes with a motor, riders still have to pedal, it’s just that the motor can enhance the effort you’re making. On Specialized’s new Turbo Levo SL, the pedal power is effectively doubled!
To me, thinking about E-bikes as a completely new genre is spot on. Complaining about or criticising E-bikes is like moaning about someone surfing on a foamie, or fussing over someone climbing the easy grades at the local gym in a pair of sneakers.
If you truly love a sport like cycling, then it’s time to hop down off your high horse and celebrate the pure joy and freedom that is a life on two wheels. So to all E-Bikes and riders, I say ‘Welcome to the family.’
And it turns out I’m not alone. Not everyone was dishing out electric hate:
‘Absolutely love them, power to ride more trails.’
‘Best thing ever.’
‘Love them!! Increased accessibility of bike riding = More people riding bikes = Win’
‘If it gets you pedalling, it’s got to be good.’
‘If I could afford one I’d get one.’
Would I Buy an E-Bike?
This week I was given my first taste of E-bike riding, the latest offering from Specialized, their Turbo Levo SL. I’ll happily admit that I had a hoot riding this bike; the feeling of pedal-assisted power that the motor creates is an unusual, but nonetheless impressive and enjoyable sensation.
The climbing was certainly easier and the bike handled well throughout the technical sections, berms and downhills of my local trails, despite its extra weight.
So would I buy one? For me, not right now. I’ve already got a few bikes knocking around that are giving me plenty of pleasure and I’ve got my eyes on the next bike already – a soon to be released Titanium framed Hunt Bikes bikepacking rig. But would I ride an electric bike again? Abso-bloody-lutely.
Then again, I’d say that about any type of bike.
‘Anyone got a penny-farthing I can borrow?’