Power-up your e-biking.
Love them or loathe them, e-bikes are on the charge: here’s how to get the most from your motor and the best out of your battery.
Even taking into account the state of global politics and the threat of nuclear Armageddon, literally nothing causes more mouth-frothing, blood-boiling anger than the mention of e-bikes.
But, despite the risk of being ostracised from society and pelted with rotten eggs as you purr up a climb, their popularity is definitely growing.
Every week we see more and more electric mountain bikes hitting the trails. So, if you’re one of those converts, here’s how to get the most from your motor and the best out of your battery.
We’d recommend running higher pressures in your suspension fork and shock compared to a regular suspension bike to take account of an e-bike’s extra mass. Around 15 per cent front and 20-25 per cent rear seems to work well in our experience.
The same goes for the tyres. You’ll be working those sidewalls much harder on an e-bike, due to that extra weight, and because the back wheel is so much harder to get off the ground you’ll be slamming it into rocks and roots with much more force.
To avoid squirming sidewalls and frequent punctures go for higher pressures (as much as 30 per cent extra) and heavy-duty tyres. After all, the weight isn’t really an issue with all that power on tap. Size is everything, too, so go for the biggest volume tyre you can get away with. This will generate a bigger footprint on the ground, and really open up the possibilities when it comes to steep, technical, hillclimb challenges.
To manhandle all that extra mass, go for the widest handlebar that will fit through your local trees. We’re a talking 780mm at a minimum really. The extra leverage will help you lean the bike over in corners and keep the front wheel tracking on steep climbs.
Dinner plate rotors are essential on an e-bike to keep all that extra weight in check. Go for a 200mm up front and 180mm at the rear. It’s also worth frequently checking you brake pads for wear before, during and after riding. And always have spare pads with you.
A dropper post is incredibly useful components on an e-bike. With so much power and torque from the motor, you’ll find yourself sitting down a lot more. You only need to stand up when the trail gets really rough, or when descending. As a result, you’ll constantly find yourself adjusting your saddle height to give you the best body position on the bike. Make sure your remote is easy to access on the bars.
That motor puts a huge strain on the drivetrain, particularly the chain when changing gear uphill. Make sure you check it regularly for wear, keep it well-lubricated and replace with genuine SRAM or Shimano parts.
How to ride
Riding an e-bike is a very different experience to riding a normal mountain bike, so you’ll need to adapt your technique to make the most of them…
It takes a lot more muscle to get an e-bike leant over into a turn, but once you’re set-up, the weight of the bike will keep traction consistent, and even if the tyres do start to let go, they’ll do so slowly, so you can get a foot off and dab.
Don’t try to flick the bike between turns – take a more measured approach and play the long game. On mellow turns that are slightly uphill or flat, try to pedal around the corner and keep the motor engaged. Drag the back brake if you feel you’re running wide, but keep the cranks turning.
Find a stable seated position that lets you weight the back wheel. The front end is much less likely to lift on an e-bike, so you can sit more upright and focus on traction. Keep your cadence high, and the motor working, by shifting down through the gears. Look ahead – don’t try to worry too much about the smoothest line and just focus on keeping momentum.
Forget about sharp accelerations once you’ve exceeded the speed limiter (25kph/15.5mph). Instead, get into a steady rhythm and try to maintain momentum around corners. Pump for speed rather than pedalling, because without that assistance the bike won’t want to accelerate.
Remember to brake harder and earlier than normal, and don’t worry too much about trying to hop over roots and rocks – you’ll struggle to get the bike off the ground and it will eat them up anyway.
With the Bosch Performance CX motor – by far the most prevalent system on the market – there’s a choice of four modes: Eco, Tour, Sport and Turbo.
For pootling around and conserving power, stick to Eco and Tour, but get stuck in to proper trails and you’ll need to toggle between Sport and Turbo. Sport is normally spot on, delivering 210 per cent assistance and 60nm of torque. In our experience this is the smoother mode, whereas Turbo tends to surge a bit too much unless you’re really tackling a steep pitch. Remember to keep your range displayed on the screen and switch between modes to maximise battery life.
British Cycling makes a good point: “At high levels of power assistance, even a short pedal stroke can result in a significant boost of speed. This factor could result in technical features being negotiated at a higher velocity than the rider intended, with the consequences potentially being serious. For this reason, it is advisable to quickly confirm a power setting before tackling a technical section.”
To keep the motor delivering peak power, you’ll need to spin rather than grind. Keep twirling the cranks and you’ll maximise assistance. Start to stall and the motor will wind down – particularly infuriating on a steep climb. Wide-range 1x drivetrains are perfect for an e-bike, and you’ll need to shift regularly to optimise your cadence.
Lifting e-bikes over obstacles
Sometimes trees have fallen across trails. Sometimes even legal trails get blocked by meanies. Electric mountain bikes are considerably heavier than regular mountain bikes and some people will struggle to lift their e-bike off the ground to get it over a tree or locked gate. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. It’s well worth asking a riding buddy to help rather than try to do it yourself and end up damaging your bike or yourself.