Is an e-bike more fun in boost? We take the Canyon Neuron:ON to play fast and loose with battery life in search of as much fun as we can pack into a day.
Here we go again I hear you moan… another month, another article raving about e-bikes brought to you by those sad pathetic losers at Singletrack Magazine. Bring it on. Do your worst. Leave your finest trolls and put downs in the comments below, and tell me how all e-bikes are the work of the devil and that they should be tossed into a fiery pit along with anyone who’s ever looked at one. While you’re at it, please take a moment to remind me that e-bikes are single handedly responsible for every bit of trail erosion across the land as well as the senseless slaughter of millions of cute fluffy bunnies. Go on, let it out. Vent.
But before you send your blood pressure soaring and get overly worked up, I must warn you – regardless of how terrific your trolling or satisfying your slander is to you, it won’t matter to me. Not one jot. Not a sausage. Not even the tiniest little bit. It’ll be like water off a duck’s back. Sorry about that.
Because quite frankly, you’re going to need an angle grinder to wipe the grin off my face after the day I’ve just had.
Wait! Hear me out, let me explain. I get where you’re coming from, I really do. I too love those long rides to inaccessible places. I like nothing more than slowly and methodically carrying my bike to the top of a remote mountain pass before descending a sublime piece of technical singletrack that winds its way sinuously back down, skipping across contour lines with gay abandon. That’s where mountain biking started for me, and it’s what most of my riding looks like. And believe me when I tell you, I would much rather be on an acoustic bike in those situations. I’ve taken e-bikes to the mountains, and on exposed, steep and technical trails, I don’t like them. I prefer the agility that comes from the much lighter weight of an acoustic bike, especially when descending. And have you ever tried carrying an e-bike to the top of a Lake District pass that’s too rough and broken to even consider riding? No thanks!
But (and this is a big but)… not all my bike rides are big mountain epics. Sometimes, if I’ve only got a limited amount of time, I’ll head to a trail centre where I know I can pack as much fun into that time as possible, on a relatively safe trail that I know is totally rideable. Think of it as a mountain biking Happy Meal if you will. One where I don’t need to stress about whether a blind rock drop is rollable or if I’m going to bury my front wheel and go flying out the front door.
I’m lucky that from my front door I’ve got 4 of the 7 Stanes within an hour’s drive – Ae, Mabie, Newcastleton and Dalbeattie. Some of the UK’s greatest trail centres, they offer a great blend of swoopy descents, a mix of fireroad and technical singletrack climbs, sessionable jumps and rocky features, all wrapped up with great views across the Solway Firth. And thanks to the all weather nature of the trail surfaces, each one can each be ticked off in about 2 – 4 hours under your own steam – indeed, a few years back I remember beasting myself around the red loop at Mabie in just over an hour (swoon). Don’t get me wrong, it felt really good to go that fast, but it was also a rather antisocial solo experience with no time to enjoy the fun stuff or the views. Looking back, I can’t remember why I did it at the time, but I suspect Strava had a part to play in it. Now, I’m fully aware that you XC whippets will be able to smash out trail centre laps all day long without breaking a sweat, but I’ve never been blessed with the physique of a XC racer and after this one hero lap I was spent and barely had enough energy left to jump in the car and drive home. Plus when you think about it, this doesn’t really add up – I mean, nearly 2 hours driving for less than an hour and a half of riding?
So to redress the balance, I find myself heading north in a fully laden car alongside Tony and Hodgson, with a brace of Canyon Neuron:ON AL 7.0s on the bike rack, ready to pack in as much fun as possible round a handful of trail centres, in whatever daylight we could find. All hopefully with significantly more saddle time than driving time.
It’s at this point in the proceedings that you’d expect me to waffle on about battery spec and the distance we were expecting to cover before the batteries were exhausted, and how that was going to impact our route choice and other boring minutiae (yawn) etc, etc, etc… zzz. But not today, oh no. Today is not to be spent twiddling up climbs in Eco mode keeping half an eye on the power gauge. We don’t want to be concerned with efficiency or conserving energy. Nope. Today is all about having the most amount of fun possible and to hell with the consequences. And to assist with that we’ve got a boot load of fully charged spare batteries. Yup, you guessed it.
Our first stop is Dalbeattie – The Hardrock Trail is 15.5 miles of technical rocky singletrack, lush green forests and steep granite slabs, with optional black sections if we felt brave enough (spoiler alert, we did). After the obligatory wheelie round the car park test to check everything was working, we were straight into the skills loop for a bit of a warm up.
Additionally, it would help us get to grips with how the bikes handled, particularly with the extra weight from the batteries and added momentum from the motor. We quickly discovered that on the more trialsy sections (of which there are many at Dalbeattie), the Neuron:ONs required a significant amount of reigning in – although the Shimano Steps motors deliver power in a smooth and controlled manner, Boost mode is just too much when tackling a log skinny into an off camber slab (you don’t say), and a little more nuance is called for. It turns out that Eco mode is more than sufficient for slow speed maneuvering.
Hitting the red loop proper, we alternate between Boost and Trail modes, giggling like little kids on our first ever bike ride. Rounding a corner, we come across the first of the many rocky obstacles Dalbeattie has to offer – a relatively small but deceptively steep slab. Tony and Hodgson take turns sessioning it for my camera, eager to sprint back to the top, pushing each other to see who can nose manual furthest down the granite face (1-0 to Hodgson). A quick photo with the nearby Heart Stane, and it’s on with the trail. Diving into the woods, the bikes surprise us with their nimbleness, as we dart between the trees and nip over roots.
Keeping momentum high is definitely the key to success here, and with no sharp jagged rocks to hinder our progress, we can be light on the brakes and let the big wheels keep on turning. The first black option is soon upon us, Dalbeattie’s infamous Slab. A 35° hunk of moss covered granite, it makes for an imposing view from the top, and after briefly eyeing it up, Hodgson slides sketchily down into the void, his tyres scrabbling for grip. As a trail bike, the Neuron:ONs aren’t blessed with Schwalbe’s super grippy Addix soft compound, but have to make do with Addix trail front and rear. 9 times out of 10 the tyres are more than capable for the bikes intended purpose though, so it would be churlish of me to quibble. Having said that, neither Hodgson or Tony are eager to push back up for another shot this time – once is quite enough, especially with a fine layer of morning dew coating the slab and the most dubious run out this side of an Ashes Test Series lying in wait at the bottom.
All time fun time
Riding along the rest of the red route, I realise there’s another aspect to riding e-bikes that I’d not noticed before. Most proponents of e-bikes (myself included), focus on the ease with which they help you dispatch climbs. Whilst this is undeniably A Fun Thing, one of the most entertaining and mind bending facets of riding an e-bike, is the speed that you reach the start of a descent.
There’s no pausing for breath or need to compose yourself in readiness for what’s to come, you just change down a gear or two and keep on going. In fact, I found myself having the best of times on these rolling, contoured sections of trail with the short rises all but evened out, revelling in the fact that I’m just hitting stuff that much faster. It’s a completely different riding experience to an acoustic bike, and also in contrast to taking an e-bike to The Mountains, where the benefits are fewer in my opinion. Yes, you’ll climb quicker in the mountains on an e-bike, but rides are still defined by ‘climbs’ and ‘descents’. Take an e-bike round a trail centre though and you’re just ‘riding’. And ‘grinning’. And ‘laughing’. Lots and lots of laughing.
Time to recharge
Back to the car, we’ve got a short drive to Ae forest, and rather than ungracefully stuffing our faces with a hastily grabbed sandwich en route, we opt for a leisurely lunch in the cafe when we get there. We are classy riders, with nary a care in the world, unpressured by such frivolous constraints as time. Cake? Of course. Another coffee? Oh, go on then, if we must.
Having topped up our energy levels, it’s time to turn our attention to the bikes – thrashing round Dalbeattie on a heady mix of Boost and Trail has left the bikes batteries nearly empty. There’s no need to panic though, as switching to fresh batteries takes a matter of seconds, and before you know it we’re amped up and ready to go.
Altogether a tougher and more exposed proposition than Dalbeattie, I haven’t ridden at Ae for a number of years, and it sticks in my mind as lots of rough, rocky descents, interspersed with long sections of fireroad and barely rideable loose and steep climbs. It’s not really surprising that I’ve tended to visit nearby Mabie or head south to Whinlatter for my trail centre fix.
But it’s a different story today with our Canyon Neuron:ONs underneath us, and we sprint up the first few switchbacks into the forest, with a speed that belies the fact that we’re 18 miles deep into the day, our bellies are full of carbs and I’ve got a weighty camera bag on my back. Climbs are despatched rapidly, and the long fire roads are no longer a painful, blustery tour of the Ae Forest wind farm, but an opportunity to chat merrily and take in the expansive views.
We hit the wonderfully named Granny Greenlove at warp speed, and our excitement peaks as we zip between the trees. Bouncing along at around 15-16mph, we’re getting hardly any assistance from our motors as they max out, but it’s just enough and more than comes into its own on those short but savage rises that would otherwise sap your speed and drain the legs. It’s a similar story when we come to a fun little jump line – Tony and Hodgson are more than happy to hit things again and again for the camera, and even this late in the day don’t seem to be tiring.
Which, as we descend the super rocky Bran Burn Bash and splash through the water, is a blessed relief. The crossing marks the furthest point from home, and the elation of the descent fades rapidly as we’re faced with what seems like a vertical wall of loose rock and gravel rising up in front of us. Even with the might of the Shimano Steps motors, we’re slightly apprehensive about clearing it, as traction is most definitely going to be an issue on this surface. I go first to get some photos, and I’m pleasantly surprised by the climbing ability of the bike. It’s not simply a case of sticking the motor in Boost and mashing down on the pedals – a certain degree of finesse is required, constantly moving your body around to maximise what little traction there is and to keep the front end down.
First world problems
You see, uphill corners have become a particular problem on this ride, with each of us running wide at least once throughout the day – they’re just not designed for riding quickly. I feel like I’m teaching you all to suck eggs here, but for those of you who are unaware, downhill corners at trail centres are generally built up on the outside edge to give support when riding at speed. Conversely, the corners aren’t built up so much on climbs, as speeds are usually a fair bit lower and drifting front wheels isn’t so much of a problem. Chuck a motor into the equation though and it becomes a different story, and you start looking for any feature on the ground that’ll help you get round quicker.
Is this the end?
Before we know it, we’re at the top of the classic Omega Man descent, and it’s time for a cheesy shot in front of the Talking Head Stane. The light is fading fast, but we spend a good deal of time sessioning the final descent, enjoying making short work of riding up the push up path. I know I keep banging on about it, but these e-bikes really are something, and on trails such as these they make a hell of a lot of sense.
At the risk of repeating myself, I don’t think they’re suited to the wilderness presented by some trails, where you need to be more conscious of battery life and the additional heft of the associated electronic gubbins. On the flip side, within the relatively safe confines of a trail centre where you’re never actually that far from your boot load of batteries, they offer an insane level of fun – extended climbs are condensed, and the fun bits are intensified.
Cruising back to the car, the three of us think back over the ground we’ve covered today – we’ve done well over 30 miles of red routes, plus black additions not forgetting mucking about for photos, and we’ve had a right giggle while doing so. We’ve had time to stop for a leisurely lunch, and above all else we’ve somehow dodged the rain that begins to fall just as we finish loading the bikes onto the rack and head south across the border. I understand that you purists might well be up in arms over all this fun that we’ve had, but why fight it? E-bikes are here to stay, and you may as well embrace them. What’s the worst that could happen? You never know – you might actually enjoy yourself.
James And Friends Were Riding…The Canyon Neuron:ON AL 7.0
- FRAME// CANYON NEURON:ON
- REAR SHOCK// FOX FLOAT DPS PERFORMANCE
- FORK// FOX 34 PERFORMANCE
- MOTOR// SHIMANO STEPS E8000
- BATTERY// SHIMANO STEPS E8010
- REAR DERAILLEUR// SHIMANO DEORE XT
- SHIFTERS// SHIMANO DEORE XT
- BRAKES// SHIMANO DEORE XT
- CASSETTE// SHIMANO DEORE XT
- WHEELSET// ALEXRIMS EM30
- TYRES// SHWALBE NOBBY NIC 2.6 | SHEALBE HANSDAMPF 2.6
- CRANKS// SHIMANO E8000
- SADDLE// CANYON SD:ON
- SEAT POST// FOX TRANSFER PERFORMANCE ELITE
For more details check out the Canyon Neuron:ON range here.