Words by Adele Mitchell
As a long-term mountain biker who sees a demanding climb or riding for hours as a) lots of fun and b) a passport to future health, I had filed e-bikes in a cabinet marked ‘not for me’.
And while I have friends who are evangelistic about their e-bikes, I couldn’t help but feel that they were cheating themselves. Where’s the sense of achievement, being the best you can be, if you’ve had ‘assistance’ from a motor?
So when Bosch offered me the loan of a women’s specific Cube Sting full suspension e-trail bike to review it seemed like a good opportunity to find out what the fuss was about - or confirm my point of view.
But before we go ahead, here’s a little e-bike science...
E-bikes have a battery-powered engine that assists your pedalling (in this case a Bosch CX Drive Unit, with a range-topping Bosch PowerPack 500 battery). The drive unit only works when you pedal - and you still need to use the bike’s gears. Also, it is limited (by law!) to 25kph so if you want to go faster than that, then it's down to your legs to put the effort in!
There are five modes, ranging from barely-there Eco to the ‘wow’-inducing Turbo, on a push-button display on the handlebars. There’s also a Walk mode should you need extra assistance to push up an incline (because e-bikes are heavy – this one weighs in at 21.8 kg).
Battery life depends on several variables – rider weight, terrain, mode, for instance – I found there was more than enough power for four hours riding over hilly terrain. To recharge, you simply plug the bike into a power point (which takes four hours), or remove the battery and charge it separately. If the battery runs out mid-ride, you can still pedal home.
‘It’s not a toy…’
I took delivery of the bike over a weekend, which coincided with a visit from some local riders that I know. I’ve never had a bike that caused so much interest and it provoked exactly the same reaction in everyone who tried it: whooping with delight as they surged across the lawn, narrowly avoiding the daffodils.
Head for the hills
Initial thrill seeking over, I headed for one of the steepest local climbs and hit the turbo setting. The bike zoomed up it - I barely raised my heart rate. While it was a novel experience, it confirmed my initial belief: this was not why I ride a bike.
So I rode another climb but this time with the more minimal assistance of the Eco setting, which proved to be a lot more engaging. Now I was required to pedal hard, with my intense effort rewarded by reaching the top much more quickly than I would have on my usual bike.
And with the help of the extra speed, I found that technical features on subsequent climbs – roots, loose stones, natural steps – became easier to tackle. It was like being an ultra-fit version of myself, or borrowing Marianne Vos’ legs for while - which was a lot of fun! (E-bikes are not foolproof though – I had a bit of an ‘involuntary lie down’ when the front wheel slid on a loose rock during a climb and the bike fell sideways!).
What goes up…
Suitably out of breath after the climbs, it was time to point the bike downhill! Bearing in mind that the drive unit only works when you pedal, now the Sting got to show off its credentials as a 650b women’s trail bike.
It is fitted a full suspension 650b trail bike with 120mm Rock Shox Recon air forks, Fox Float DPS Performance shock, 1 x 11 Shimano XT cassette (11- 46 T, which is more than enough gears when you factor in the e-assistance) and Shimano Deore hydraulic disc brakes.
The women's specific compact chassis has shorter chainstays for improved handling and 148mm Boost hubs for greater wheel rigidity during fast cornering. Internal gear cables are another high-end touch - it would have been good to have a dropper post as standard too, though.
The ride is suitably quick and sure footed but I couldn’t help being aware that, if anything does go wrong, an e-bike is a heavy bit of kit to potentially get tangled up with.
Another thought on the weight – I was riding my local trails, which I can reach from home. If I had to travel I would struggle to load this bike into the back of a car or put it on the roof - so you’d definitely need a rear mounted bike rack.
The cake test
I did a three-hour hilly ride. If I’d done that ride on my usual trail bike I would have needed a bit longer to get round, and would definitely have been ‘need a large slab of cake, please’ tired at the end.
Instead, I got back on the e-bike an hour later to nip round to my friend, who lives four miles away. Riding a bike instead of getting in the car: that’s a big tick for the e-bike, then.
This bike costs £3000 – a lot of money for a bike but good value for an mtb when you factor in the spec, the top of the range drive unit, and the practicality it delivers as a means of transport.
And, of course, for anyone with, or recovering from, health issues then it can make exercise an option and the great outdoors accessible.
It is also a great option if you regularly ride with people who are faster than you and want to be able to keep up, and it will enable you to ride further and faster when you don’t have the time (or maybe the inclination!) to train harder, and still keep you fit if you put the effort in when you pedal.
When it comes to beginners, while I would hate anyone who is coming into the sport to think that tackling hills is beyond them and so an e-bike is their only option, it does make climbing a lot easier (descents are still descents though!!!).
In short, an e-mtb is also a lot of fun – and all mountain bikes should be fun: that’s what they’re designed for.
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