Living with an e-bike – Part One

by 53

In it for the long haul – A journey into e-bike ownership. Here’s Sanny’s first instalment of a multi-part series of features detailing life with an electric mountain bike.

Part One – The Gathering

E-bikes have been on my radar ever since they broke into the UK market a good number of years ago. The concept of something that is more than a bike, which gives you the means to keep riding long after you’ve reached the point when you would be well and truly done, that allows you to get up climbs that you had long since consigned to the impossible pile or to ride when lack of fitness, illness or injury would be a barrier to riding, is of clear appeal to many folk.

If you are reading this in the expectation of some philosophical treatise on the validity or otherwise of the very existence of e-bikes, you’ve come to the wrong place. That is the preserve of forums and real life rides with friends. The debate has been had ad nauseam and will no doubt continue to do so for years to come. Two wheels are better than four in my book. If you are riding, you aren’t driving and that to me is a gold-plated good thing.

All this being said, my experience with e-bikes has been hitherto a bit on the underwhelming side. That is not to say that I have ridden lots of e-bikes and not thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Au contraire. I have had a whale of a time on them. Whether dragging Mark of this parish and Nick Craig round the Four Passes in the Lakes on 55 pound behemoths or zipping around the mountains above Nice, I’ve never come away from a ride on one and regretted it.

Truth be told, they are brilliant fun. However, when it comes to actually considering owning one, I am very much in the camp of keeping my money in my pocket and watching as the technology develops to the point at which e-bikes are being designed that suit my riding needs.

Weight has always been an issue for me. I like a bike that feels like a bike to ride. I don’t like the feeling of compromise when riding a bike that can weigh up to twenty pounds more than my own bikes. Having to brake early on technical descents to slow down sufficiently or having to have biceps like Popeye as you try to manhandle your bike on technical terrain is not exactly a positive selling point.

Nor do I like the feeling of riding through treacle when you exceed the 15.5 mph limit or by just turning the motor off. Check out any online forum and you can frighten yourselves with horror stories of motor failure, range anxiety, batteries exploding (although to be fair the issue seems to be with ill-advised homebrew kits as opposed to bikes from any of the recognised bike brands) and not forgetting electrical and wiring failures.

To date, no e-bike has floated my boat sufficiently to make me consider committing to one as my only bike. When I am not riding test bikes, I split my time between a really rather lovely Surly Ice Cream Truck fat bike and a 12 year old Turner Sultan 29er. They are neither long nor low (nor, indeed, slack) and they have double chainsets – remember those? However, both see regular use, whether riding locally or going further afield such as in the Highlands of Scotland or the Lake and Peak Districts, as well as the Alps and Dolomites.

I suspect this makes me like a lot of you; riding bikes that have been owned and loved for several years and which would take a lot to make me want to invest in something new.

However, my curiosity was piqued when manufacturers started down the route of producing lightweight e bikes. Orbea, Specialized and Scott came early to the party with some offerings that intrigued me but it was when the Pivot Shuttle SL was launched that I realized that e-bikes might finally be becoming a viable option for me. Thus a plan was hatched.

If I am a bell weather for readers who have a curiosity in owning an e-bike but are unsure whether they actually want to invest what can be a frankly eye watering amount in buying one, why not ride one for a minimum of a year as a genuinely long term test? Sure, riding a bike on test for a month can tell you a lot but what it doesn’t do is give insight on what it is like to own the darn thing, warts and all. If shortcomings are going to come to light, you can be pretty sure that they will do so when subjected to rigorous long term testing as opposed to the first few weeks of riding. In a similar vein, only after an extended period riding a bike can you become truly familiar with how capable it is and the adventures you can take it on.

What better way to find out what it is like to live with an e-bike than riding it for a year?

But why the Pivot Shuttle?

A lot of my riding falls into what may be considered to be a niche category and not to everyone’s taste. I love being and riding in the mountains. Trails that are rocky and steep really float my boat. While I do enjoy a good blast with friends around the likes of Glentress, it is when I am out riding where phone reception is limited and evidence of man’s existence is limited to the trail in front of me that I am at my most content. Sinewy singletrack writ large against a backdrop of soaring peaks and deep valleys floats my boat.

As such, not all trails are necessarily rideable up and occasionally not down either. Consider me a seasoned practitioner in the art of the hike-a-bike. Something to not just endure but actually enjoy.

With this in mind, any choice of e-bike for me has for meet non-negotiable criteria.

  • Weight – it has to be light enough to carry. On the Four Passes adventure on e-bikes, we were carrying north of 25kg of bike each. Doable but not pleasant. Knocking several kilograms off that has to be a pre-requisite.
  • Battery capacity – it has to be sufficient that I am not constantly fretting about running out of power at the furthest point from home in the backcountry.
  • Reliability – no one likes it when their bike suffers a mechanical but adding a motor and electronics to the equation increases the scope for failure. As such, I am looking for technology that is tried and tested.
  • Handling – now this is a tricky one. It has to feel like a normal bike, both with the motor on and off. If I exceed the limiter, I want it to feel like a subtle transition from power to no power. Likewise, if I want or have to ride with the motor off, I don’t want to be regretting my bike choice.

Barely a couple of years ago, it is fair to say that this was moon-on-a-stick territory but the Pivot Shuttle SL has been the catalyst for me to committing to an e-bike as my bike of choice, albeit with one caveat – the cost. It is the elephant in the room so let me tackle it at the very outset.

£11,250 is a truly eye watering amount of money for a bike and I believe it is fair to say that it puts it out of reach of the vast majority of readers and riders, myself included. By way of comparison, I drive a top of the range Volvo XC60 that cost considerably less than that when I bought it at the start of lockdown with less than 60,000 miles on the clock.

Every time I ride the Pivot, that little thought pops into my head. For the same money, I could be riding a brand new Ducati motor bike or even a KTM electric motorbike. As a former Finance Director, that is an awfully hard sell to me. However, the Pivot is arguably at the cutting edge of e-bike technology and as with anything new and innovative, there is a significant premium to pay.

Fundamentally, it is a showcase for what is possible going forward and there is no doubt in my mind that the technology it delivers in terms of power, battery life, weight and handling will most assuredly trickle down to the extent that today’s superbike becomes tomorrow’s norm.

As such, when you are reading this series of articles over the coming year, what I want you to reflect upon is that this is not just a bike test but hopefully a useful insight into what most of us could be riding in the future. Tests of superbikes are easy to dismiss – expensive bike in nice to ride shocker – who knew eh?

To be blunt, if an expensive bike isn’t amazing, something has gone very wrong somewhere. I would be genuinely disappointed if the Pivot does not wow me. The price tag carries with it an expectation of brilliance. That is only part of the story. It is what it points to going forward and what we can hope to benefit from at the mass market level that interests and excites me in equal measure.

What does £11,250 buy you?

As you would expect, carbon is the material of choice for the frameset which contributes to its sub-19kg weight (with pedals), while suspension design is taken care of by tried and trusted DW Link technology. As a long-time DW Link user on a venerable Turner Sultan, I am familiar with the design and how it works so I will be intrigued to see how it translates into e-bike usage.

Travel out back is 132mm with up and down duties taken care of by a Fox Float X factory shock while 150mm of travel out front is handled by a Fox 36 Factory GRIP 2 fork. Both look bling in their Kashima coating finery and are topped off with an equally fancy looking 175mm Fox Transfer Factory Series dropper post.

For those who like to fettle, there is a flip chip in the seat stay pivot which allows you to drop the bottom bracket by 6mm and slacken the seat and head angles by half a degree. The seat angle is 76.5° while the head angle is 65.5°. On my Large frame, reach comes in at 482mm and stack at 626mm.

The beating heart of the Shuttle SL is the Fazua Ride 60 motor which, unsurprisingly, offers 60Nm of peak torque and 450W of peak power. It is matched with a 430Wh Fazua Energy battery which is built into the frame. Riders who like to remove their battery for charging look away now as that is not an option.

The power display comes in the form of a five LED display which is integrated into the top tube. Popping it up allows you to charge devices with a USB-C connector. In profile, you would be hard pushed to discern that the Shuttle SL is an e-bike. Along with the Scott Lumen, I reckon it is the least e-bike looking e-bike out there.

The drivetrain comprises a SRAM X01 Eagle 12 speed rear derailleur, shifter and 10-51t cassette while the cranks are a particularly smart looking ROTOR EKAPIC number with 34t ring. Braking is taken care of by Shimano XT M8120 four pot calipers paired with Galfer 180mm/203mm 6 bolt rotors.

A supremely comfortable (well, for my shape of bottom anyway) WTB Volt pro saddle takes care of the rear while steering is handled by Pivot’s own brand Phoenix Team Low Rise carbon handlebar and Enduro/Trail stem.

To keep things rolling, my test bike came fitted with NEWMEN EVOLUTION SL A.30 Alloy wheelset with 6 bolt adaptor while a tubeless set up of 2.4 Maxxis Dissector tyres in EXO casing with MaxxTerra rubber compound round (boom and indeed tisch!) things off nicely. The catalogue spec led me to expect a DT Swiss XM1700 wheelset but given past experience with some DT rims being on the, shall we say, soft side, I was not disappointed by the change of spec.

Finally, mine came in a Blue Denim with red highlights palette although there is also a rather fetching Desert Sage Green available which would be my preferred choice.

Initial impressions

Having already putting a lot of miles in the electric tank, I’ll leave a fuller discussion of the Shuttle SL for the next article in the series. Instead, let me share my initial impressions from the first few weeks of riding.

First and foremost, it rides like a normal bike. It’s difficult for me to overstate quite how important this is to me. As I alluded to earlier, my experience of e-bikes has hitherto been tainted by the need to brake a little earlier than I would do on a regular bike and try and counteract the added momentum that those additional kilogrammes impart.

While a bit of added heft can be advantage when trails get chunky and gnarly, there is a definite point at which the poundage translates into a feeling of you having to tame the bike rather you and it acting together for a common purpose. With the Shuttle SL, there is feeling of planted surefootedness without a corresponding requirement to counter any unwelcome handling foibles.

Compared to my similarly DW Link Turner, the suspension feels even more smooth and progressive while travel feels greater than the 132mm on offer. It may not have enduro sled numbers but it is a very fun and engaging ride with a capability I am looking forward to exploiting.

What are my plans for it going forward?

Riding the hell out of it for starters! It sounds obvious but getting the miles in is key to this being a proper long term test. I don’t know about you but when I read e bike reviews where the bikes have only been ridden a couple of hundred kilometres, I’m always left wondering how the bikes perform long after the test period has finished. It’s not a criticism of short term tests but just a recognition that there is an appetite to take a deeper dive into the reality of owning an e bike in the long term. The sums involved can be really chunky and by necessity, short term tests can only tell you so much.

Being a lightweight e-bike, I want to see how it performs on big days out in the mountains. Is it a viable option to take into the mountains on a multi hour epic? What is it like to carry when the trail turns upwards and riding is replaced by carrying? I enjoyed/endured the hike-a-bike mini epic when I rode the Four Passes in the Lake District with Nick Craig and Mark of this parish a couple of years back while riding/pushing/cursing full fat e-bikes. Nick and I had a thoroughly enjoyable albeit tough day out, Mark somewhat less so.

A full fat e-bike on hike-a -ike trails would fall into the category of being perhaps a niche too far for most but what about taking a lightweight e bike instead? Just how far and how high can you ride it in a day? When the batteries are exhausted, what then? Does the bike feel like a boat anchor when you ride with the motor off or is it a doable and indeed enjoyable experience?

Another consideration is reliability and repairability. Look at any forum posting on e-bikes and you will inevitably come across issues. E-bikes by their very nature are more complicated than normal bikes. I refuse to use the phrase analogue bikes and anyone who does shall be confined to a small darkened room until they see the error of their ways, in the unlikely event that I become Supreme Leader. Throw in a CPU, wiring looms and a motor and you add new points of potential failure.

It is not a thinly veiled criticism of e-bikes, it is just the nature of the beast. If things don’t go according to plan and there are technical issues, what I want to determine is how easily and quickly they are overcome so that I can get riding again. Will I be stuck in limbo without a ride for several weeks or months or will the process be a pain free one?

Fitness comes into play too. As someone who rides a variety of bikes (gravel, mountain and fat) and regularly rotates between them depending on the mood I am in, I want to determine if there is a discernible impact upon my fitness from riding an e-bike. Will I become overly used to the extra power on tap or will it act as a catalyst to ride further and more frequently? Will I use it for more than just mountain biking or will it become a viable alternative to shorter car journeys? Ultimately, will my fitness be adversely impacted by riding one?

Finally, there is the question of upgrade paths. Every bike I have ever ridden has had components revised and upgraded as things wear out. What are the options like for ebikes? Does adding a battery extender make a big difference in terms of range and handling? Does the rolling mass of a wheelset play as big a role in how an e-bike rides and feels as it does on a normal bike? Is it possible to trim some weight in the quest for improving the ride experience? Is it even necessary?

So there you have it. Lots of questions to be answered and things to ponder. Will I become a fully paid up member of the e-bike evangelists or will it leave me with more questions than answers? Who knows but here’s to the fun of finding out.

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Viewing 13 posts - 41 through 53 (of 53 total)
  • Living with an e-bike – Part One
  • julians
    Free Member

    holy crap thats the “nice” bit of Manchester?

    apparently it is – Bramhall. Not all those things happened in bramhall though, the car jacking was at chill factore near the trafford centre, and the mugging was on a bus from manchester to didsbury. The car thefts and burglary (two burglaries actually ) were all in bramhall.

    julians
    Free Member

    I also had a car written off when a joy rider crashed their stolen car into it while being chased by the police, plus other more minor crimes (bike theft from back garden), but I digress…….

    When I write it all down I think I’ve had a pretty bad run of it, since I moved to manchester in 1996.

    nickc
    Full Member

    holy crap thats the “nice” bit of Manchester?

    I’m Chorlton; last week the cops descended on a house round the corner from me as part of a drugs bust, and the same thing happened a few months ago on the street I live on…I don’t think its unusual for large cities TBH.

    Sanny
    Free Member

    To be fair to Manchester, in my street there have been seven cars from JLR stolen in the last nine months. Given that nothing says entitled ****t quite like a Range Rover, my sympathies are limited. If one was being kind, the scallies are probably doing folk a favour given how woeful the reliability of anything with a Jaguar or Land / Range Rover badge is. I had to laugh at the boss of JLR angrily proclaiming that his brand were not the most stolen in the UK.

    Meanwhile, back on e bikes, any questions about the Pivot, please just ask.

    Cheers

    Sanny

    nxgater
    Full Member

    Whoa – you’re not seriously suggesting anyone deserves to have their car stolen? If so I’ll look forward to your being mugged for the 11 grand ebike you’re pedalling around. But seriously- I’m not sure I care much about the **** Pivot any longer.

    Sanny
    Free Member

    @nxgater

    Apologies but my tongue was firmly in my cheek there. Clearly that did not come across. I will use a smiley next time to make that clear.

    The comment about Range Rovers and Jaguars having woeful reliability reflects the dreadful experience several of my friends have had – blown engines, gearboxes tearing themselves apart, exhaust gas devices going phut, electrics failing, car dying on a dual carriageway leaving them stranded in the inside lane, blown turbo……all in new cars. A couple of them even joked they wished their cars had been stolen and were only half kidding. One mate had his car stolen, got it back only to have it stolen again a month later.

    Cheers!😉

     

    tomhoward
    Full Member

    Whoa –

    Indeed…

    alpin
    Free Member

    reality is that e-mtbs have very little to do – or not to do – with whether people also drive cars.

    This I think only really the case of you’ve a cargo bike.

    crossed
    Full Member

    Given that nothing says entitled ****t quite like a Range Rover

    And an £11,250 bicycle doesn’t?

    zomg
    Full Member

    And an £11,250 bicycle doesn’t?

    At £11,250 it’s more like a bridleway-legal dirt bike.

    At least there’s utility in an e-bike and there’s a fitness for purpose in an expensive e-mountain bike. A Range Rover has no utility that a Dacia doesn’t, except as a status symbol and wealth signifier.

    Duggan
    Full Member

    Good lord, I have a £1400 TCR and I wouldn’t even dream of riding it to the shops and I still wince if I’m out riding it in the rain.

    bigrich
    Full Member

    Its like buying a holiday house. Costs loads, Only really does one thing,  limits you to doing the same thing regularly to justify it.

    FunkyDunc
    Free Member

    A Range Rover has no utility that a Dacia doesn’t, except as a status symbol and wealth signifier.

    in your jealous opinion.  People buy nice cars because they can afford them and because they are better than a Dacia.

    When Danny Hart bought his LR I bet he didn’t do it to show all the othe mountain bikers that he was richer than them

Viewing 13 posts - 41 through 53 (of 53 total)

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