The power and the glory?

E-bike racing: fun, challenging and competitive, or dull, easy and pointless? We sent mbr designer and e-sceptic Ben Smith to Scotland to decide.

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E-bike racing: the power and the glory?

Until recently I thought e-bikes were good for a bit of fun, and a great solution for the injured or the elderly, but not as credible as riding a proper bike. Racing one up a Scottish downhill track, however, with my heart rate in the red and the motor maxed out, soon changed my mind.

e-bike racing

Tracy Moseley charges uphill on her way to victory

I’ve been racing bikes off and on for decades now, I love the rush that comes from pitting myself against the clock; it’s a feeling that can be replicated any other way. But I’d never tried an e-bike race, a format that’s been growing in popularity in recent years.I got my chance at the UK’s inaugural Bosch E-Mtb Challenge at the Tweedlove Transcend Bike Festival in the Scottish Borders. the question I wanted to answer was, could it be anything like as much fun and as challenging as a regular enduro?

Turns out, they’re different in many ways… and pretty similar too. We’ve all got used to enduros and their timed stages, and the Bosch race had plenty of them, but e-bike enduros feature — you’ve guessed it — timed climbs as well. Within these timed climbs were ‘no-dab’ sections where an errant foot-down would result in a 10-second penalty. The trickiest element for me was keeping something in reserve for the no-dab sections. Lo and behold, I cocked up every one, and took away maximum time penalties.

e-bike racing

Art editor Ben caught in a fleeting ‘feet-up’ moment

Further penalties were awarded for getting lost en route and missing the various compulsory checkpoints. And then of course there was battery management – riding flat out uphill eats battery life, so getting to end of the 30km loop with some charge left in the battery provided a further challenge.

The stages were a mixture of pure downhill, pure uphill and mixed up/downhill, and with all stages ridden ‘blind’ it was tricky to meter my effort. Arriving at the start of the penultimate stage – a tough, muddy and rocky climb with two bars of battery remaining – I decided to go all out in Turbo mode and use as much power as I could, as all that remained was one descent and the ride back to the arena, and it worked out perfectly — as I rolled back through the finish gate I had just one mile showing on my range indicator.

I’d gone into this event wondering if e-bike enduros could be as rewarding as their non-assisted versions, and I can honestly say yes they are. For those who that think e-bikes are cheating (until recently, I was one of them) I challenge you to have a go at an event like this and come away feeling like it’s easy or boring. It tested my technical skills, forced me to ride tactically and I was totally wasted at the finish. I’ll be back next year for sure.

  • Thanks to Trek for the loan of a Powerfly for the weekend, and also to Bosch or the entry and hospitality.