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Laura Laker takes a Ribble CGR Al-e on a spin from one end of the country to the other

“Isn’t it beautiful?”.

We were pedalling through Cheddar Gorge – more specifically up it – on our way from Land’s End to John o’Groats, and it seemed remiss not to remark on the majesty of the towering rock faces surrounding us. 

The man I was overtaking, who was puffing considerably, evidently felt differently.

“I don’t have time to look,” he said. “I knew this bit would be painful”.

I rode on to the tune of the gently whirring motor. If ever there were a reply to the question, why e-bikes?, surely this was it. 

I’d just passed an older lady shaking with the effort of the climb. I couldn’t help but feel I’d got the better deal. 

Laura e-bike LEJOG-2.jpg

I was cycling LEJOG with the Deloitte Ride Across Britain event, the giant and phenomenally well organised annual sportive, which my colleague Tass also completed this year, and covered for road.cc. I was one of just two people out of 800 on an ebike; the organisers were considering it an experiment*.

For me it was an experiment born out of despair. Around ten weeks into training I had a dark weekend of the soul and decided I’d either have to ride the nine-day, 980-mile event by e-bike, or not at all. 

Cycling is something I do for fun, the bicycle a tool for adventure. For me this means enjoying the journey and minimising the pain and discomfort. I basically wanted to have a nice bike ride, and make it from one end of the country to the other without hurting myself. It felt like an e-bike would make this possible. And, spoiler alert: boy, did it.

It also showed me what e-bikes are capable of, and what they can help us achieve. 

Laura e-bike LEJOG-9.jpg

Accidental mystery tour

Ribble cycles kindly loaned me their CGR AL e, along with a range extender, a second (5kg) external battery, in addition to the internal down tube battery, which attaches to the bottle cage mount on the seat tube. The battery would last each day, Ribble told me; but I’d need to re-charge it each night. 

The truth was, when I set off, I really didn’t know what the bike was capable of, range-wise. Thanks to bad planning, I’d only ridden it 50 miles to Kent, once. This emptied the range extender – in theory, half of the combined battery power, which was worrying because my average mileage would be 108 miles a day, and on the longest day I’d need to get 120 miles out of the setup. 

Ribble assured me the power spikes needed for my stop-start ride out of London had done it, and that on a continuous ride, its combined battery power would last. 

I only knew if I ran out of juice I’d be pedalling a very heavy bike, and being a light rider, with a fairly measly power to weight ratio, this would be a problem. 

Laura e-bike LEJOG-3.jpg

Power tweaks

Luckily, as well as the bike’s three main power settings, selected via a single, subtle button on the top tube, there’s an app (ebikemotion), for finer power adjustments. I had the bike on the lowest of three settings on that first ride, but the app’s power bar at a default 100%. 

Setting out from Land’s End on the first cool, bright morning, I dialled it down to 75%, then after a bit less than half the ride, on a hill somewhere (in Cornwall there are a lot of steep hills), the range extender already showed empty on the app, so I went to 61% and pedalled a bit harder. 

Halfway through that day there were warning notifications from the app, and the power started cut out at random. Thankfully it was a loose cable connection between the battery and motor, on the chain stay, which was easily reconnected and the plugs holding the cable in place on the inside of the chain stay pushed back into place.

Laura e-bike LEJOG-6.jpg

After 40-odd miles of slower going, with 10 miles left I still had plenty of juice. Throwing caution to the wind I turned it up to the middle setting, whisking me up what was for everyone else a grinding false flat into Okehampton. I tried not to make it look too easy. 

Loaned ranger

Joyfully – thanks largely to luck, and blind, finger-in-the-air adjustments each day – Ribble weren’t wrong about the range. 

Laura e-bike LEJOG-15.jpg

On the longest, 120-mile day, I chose 65% assist; there were some hefty climbs ahead, namely the Lecht, and the small matter of a 45mph headwind. The Lecht ascends 2.6 miles to a ski resort, with an average gradient of 6% and a maximum of 20%. That was the only time I chose maximum power via the top tube button, and still almost didn’t make it up without dismounting. The extra weight meant I didn’t get blown off the bike that day, unlike some terrified lighter riders.

There were moments of mild peril on the 120 and 116-mile days as the warning light on the top tube button flashed red near journey’s end, but it never ran out. On stop-start segments through traffic I turned the power off. I’m fairly light, at around 60kg, which probably helped too.

Laura e-bike LEJOG-7.jpg

Though I was definitely working (aching particularly on my right side, the side I’d attached a water bottle cage to the fork in place of the mount occupied by the second battery), it was definitely a doable challenge – with the training I’d put in, copious stretching each day, some physio and the odd massage. It was definitely still a challenge, and there was definitely still pain. The power assist gave me a noticeable boost up the false flats and, of course, on steeper hills. 

I’d hazard, judging by some of the haunted faces of my fellow participants and the occasional cries of despair, it was a lot more enjoyable. Many of them looked on enviously, and at least one with hostility, while some seriously considered getting one for themselves. 

What goes up, goes along relatively slowly

There were trade-offs. One was on the flat or a slight downhill, beyond the point when the motor cuts out, at 15.5mph, it’s over to your legs to shift a heavy bike. I risked wearing out my legs trying to exceed this speed, and joining trains of faster riders was impossible – at least for my level of skill, and strength. 

Laura e-bike LEJOG-11.jpg

There was a big difference between 65% and 85% assist, so the longer days, with the assist dialled down, were harder from the start. Someone asked if the bike was broken; it wasn’t.  

With a decent downhill gradient, though, it flies; the extra weight helps. The disc brakes were a revelation, putting me in control on descents in a way I wasn’t used to with rim brakes. 

Charge!

I charged the bike in a gazebo each night, begging and borrowing sockets wherever I could: in the drying tent, the phone charging area, the VIP tent; even a stairwell in a racecourse building (from which it nearly didn’t escape after someone locked the door). 

I washed and re-oiled the bike after rainy days, and didn’t have a single mechanical, loose motor cable aside. The only fault was the range extender’s plastic cage was flimsy for the heavy battery and slowly fell apart, requiring copious cable ties, and moving around, but it was a prototype so no doubt later iterations will be sturdier.

Laura e-bike LEJOG-12.jpg

Overall, the experience was overwhelmingly positive. Importantly, it made the trip enjoyable. The Cheddar Gorge moment was repeated over and again. Leaving Bath on day three there was a stunning view as we climbed, a patchwork of fields far below in the early morning light. No-one else seemed to notice. On the penultimate morning, before the Lecht ascent, we passed enchanted-looking forests of pine. “Ooh look, fly agaric!” I yelled, to no-one in particular.

The e-bike made something possible that I might have been too terrified to do, or not strong enough. It felt like I’d levelled up. I can see how e-bikes make more and longer adventures possible for more people, and I for one have no regrets about my choice. 

*Deloitte RAB organisers decided not to allow ebikes for future years, as other riders perhaps understandably feel it detracts from the challenge, and the charging logistics are tricky on a large scale. 

Laura-e-bike-LEJOG-24.jpg

About the bike

I rode a Ribble CGR AL-e in a Shimano 105 build. The CGR Al-e range begins at £1,899 for a Shimano Tiagra build; the bike I rode retails at £2,299. The bike uses the ebikemotion X35 motor system with an internal battery in the down tube and a rear hub motor. The range extender battery, which attaches to the bottle cage mounts, is an optional extra at £550, bringing the total bike cost to £2,849.

Laura e-bike LEJOG-22.jpg

This article includes paid promotion by Ribble Cycles

34 comments

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dodgy [260 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes

"Deloitte RAB organisers decided not to allow ebikes for future years, as other riders perhaps understandably feel it detracts from the challenge, and the charging logistics are tricky on a large scale"

 

Must've been a much debated decision.

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paulrattew [307 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes

Threshold will only allow e-bikes now if the rider has a disability. I think that's probably an ok comprimise, given the limitations /logistical challenges. Enabling more riders to take on the challenge, while not 'lessening' that challenge. Personally, I love e-bikes and would be happy to see other riders using them on RAB next year (returning for my 3rd). Not everyone though shares that view i guess

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crazy-legs [1157 posts] 1 week ago
4 likes
dodgy wrote:

"Deloitte RAB organisers decided not to allow ebikes for future years, as other riders perhaps understandably feel it detracts from the challenge, and the charging logistics are tricky on a large scale"

 

Must've been a much debated decision.

There are already a LOT of people who turn up on Deloitte RAB who wildly underestimate the challenge. The first 2 days are pretty tough anyway (Cornwall and Devon having a fair few short sharp hills!) and inevitably, the broom wagon is very busy.

Usually at the end of Day 1, they do a show of hands to the question "who has just ridden their first ever century?" and there's a worryingly high number of people put their hand up whcih basically means they haven't done anywhere near enough preparation.

Guessing that with e-bikes, that proportion would be much higher with people fondly imagining that they can just turn up and the bike will do all the work. Add in the number of people who would run out of battery and need the broom wagon, the sheer number of power points needed every night to charge them up and I can see why they've said no.

Plus they're right - you only have to look at any e-bike thread on any bike forum going to see the number of people saying "it's cheating, it's not real cycling, blah blah" and you'd realise there'd be a two-tier ride in progress. One group massively smug on all the climbs, another group massively pissed off. Until the batteries ran out for Group 1 of course.

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Argus Tuft [84 posts] 1 week ago
2 likes

I don't get how someone else riding an ebike would detract from my challenge on a conventional bike. Are the English especially prone to the Mexican Crab syndrome?

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Bmblbzzz [359 posts] 1 week ago
3 likes

I don't think it would "detract from your challenge" in fact I can see it making the ride (any group ride) more challenging, by increasing the average pace, especially on climbs, thus encouraging people to overstretch themselves to keep up. Which is silly competitve behaviour in a non-competition, but hey, meet the human. But I can see it leading to people feeling pissed off because, as crazy-legs says, "They cheated!" and even worse "They finished first and ate all the cake when they didn't even deserve it!"

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handlebarcam [1330 posts] 1 week ago
3 likes

That's the modern attitude: anything which increases one's own personal enjoyment is a good thing. Nevermind that it wouldn't be practical or sustainable if everyone did the same, or that it would change the nature of the event or society if large numbers did so, while others couldn't afford it.

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jollygoodvelo [1892 posts] 1 week ago
6 likes

This is what ebikes are all about for me - going further and taking on challenges that you wouldn't have the confidence to do 'alone'.

Totally understand the organisers declining them in future though purely on the logistics consideration - must be enough of a faff as it is without organising a queue for the charging tent every day like Glastonbury, and there will always be someone's battery that didn't charge because the plug got knocked and then what do you do. 

People who think that anyone else's experience is detracting from theirs really need to pull the stick out of their arse though.  Should 7kg carbon bikes be banned because not everyone can afford one? Tubeless tyres, aero wheels, clothes that fit properly?  Ride your own ride.

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Rapha Nadal [1167 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes
jollygoodvelo wrote:

This is what ebikes are all about for me - going further and taking on challenges that you wouldn't have the confidence to do 'alone'.

This probably says more about you than the type of bike you use.

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Simon E [3863 posts] 1 week ago
1 like
Bmblbzzz wrote:

I don't think it would "detract from your challenge" in fact I can see it making the ride (any group ride) more challenging, by increasing the average pace, especially on climbs, thus encouraging people to overstretch themselves to keep up. Which is silly competitve behaviour in a non-competition, but hey, meet the human. But I can see it leading to people feeling pissed off because, as crazy-legs says, "They cheated!" and even worse "They finished first and ate all the cake when they didn't even deserve it!"

I learnt very early on that life isn't 'fair'. And it's full of people cheating, whether that's stealing, taking shortcuts or inventing tools, machines, software or other things to make life easier.

If someone doesn't like e-bike riders eating all the cake then either buy an e-bike or or get fitter and ride faster. They could shelter behind the e-bike riders (though isn't that also cheating?).

A clubmate rode the RAB a few years ago and was a bit shocked at how unprepared many of the participants were for the challenge.

Regarding the bike, I'd be interested to know how long Ribble intend to supply spare parts, particularly the motor, battery and electronics. I wouldn't want to spend a hefty wodge on an e-bike if it is scrap in 7 years time because "they don't make that part any more". This has happened with early Shimano Di parts, which are becoming very difficult to source secondhand and are not available new.

jollygoodvelo wrote:

People who think that anyone else's experience is detracting from theirs really need to pull the stick out of their arse though.

Was thinking much the same, they need to grow up a bit.

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Capt Sisko [11 posts] 1 week ago
3 likes
Rapha Nadal wrote:

This probably says more about you than the type of bike you use.

How sad it is that you feel you need to make a personal attack on someone making a perfectly valid point. Not everyone is young, fit & eager or confident in their riding ability. Or maybe they used to be, but illness or injury has forced a limit to their range. Ebikes have the ability to open doors, but comments like yours to those taking the step (or is that pedal) back to what a lot of others take for granted are an insult and you should be ashamed of yourself.

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Mungecrundle [1600 posts] 1 week ago
4 likes

Seems to me that you still have to spend many hours a day in the saddle. You are still out in the same elements as everyone else. You still have to actually pedal to go anywhere. The fact of some assistance seems exceedingly minor if the alternative is that you don't participate at all. And ultimately it is a sportive, a personal achievement, not a cat 1 championship race.

I say good luck to anyone taking on such a challenge.

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Argus Tuft [84 posts] 1 week ago
4 likes

 Ebikes are amazing-The only reason I don't use one is the endorphins from riding an unpowered bike improve my state of mind.YMMV of course.

If you think you're a better or more worthy person because you use muscle power alone I pity you.

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quiff [214 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes

Interesting, thanks Laura. I have to admit I had never really thought about the range anxiety issues with ebikes, and the fact that [x]% of the power assist is always just going into shifting the extra weight of the battery and motor (which in this case seems to be about 3.5kg over and above the non electric equivalent in Ribble's range, plus 5kg for the range extender) - weight which you then have to shift yourself if the battery dies.    

Personally it wouldn't have bothered me at all if e-bikes were allowed when I rode RAB. RAB is already (in some ways) a pretty diverse and inclusive event with a range of bikes, abilities and approaches, even if most are riding a pretty conventional road bike. When I rode it I saw for example someone riding a single speed, a couple of homemade bamboo frames, a guy riding with a prosthetic leg, a tandem (I think) and visually impaired paralympian Steve Bate MBE riding it on a fatbike. None of them made me feel I was cheating; everyone is there for their own challenge. The ethos of the event is to enjoy the journey, and I found it to be largely without ego.  It was however a bit of a struggle for me to manage to keep my Garmin, lights and phone all charged for the week, so I can see that logistically it would be very difficult to maintain large numbers of e-bikes in a tented village for a week.        

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CXR94Di2 [2761 posts] 1 week ago
6 likes

Before I made up an ebike for my wife, she was slow on climbs and felt annoyed with herself that she was impeding my speed. Now we ride alot more side by side and quite often I have to draft her on an incline especially if it has a headwind too. I just cant hold the pace she can(assisted). I find it a giggle I have to work really hard to stay with her.

Ebikes are a great leveller, we need more of them to get more folk on bikes

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Judge dreadful [431 posts] 1 week ago
3 likes
Argus Tuft wrote:

 Ebikes are amazing-The only reason I don't use one is the endorphins from riding an unpowered bike improve my state of mind.YMMV of course.

If you think you're a better or more worthy person because you use muscle power alone I pity you.

 

You will still be using your muscles on an E-bike. You have to brake / steer, and absorb the majority of the shock, using your body. This is quite a surprisingly large effort, if you analyse it. E-bikes are great, they enable people to get more of a work out, than most people bargain for, and allow people,  who may not be physically capable ( for a multitude of reasons )  of going for a decent ride, to go for a decent ride.

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Capt Sisko [11 posts] 6 days ago
1 like

As Bob Dylan once sung 'The times, they are a changin'. If organisers of events such as this want to keep their businesses running, and they are businesses, they have to adapt to what people want and market demands. People expect, no, need to charge their Garmins and LED lights every evening, they expect GPX files to be provided, and as ebike grow in popularity, they'll expect to be able to charge them. Yes, there will always be someone who didn't plug it in properly or some numpty who put the bike on full power and used up all the juice by the halfway point, but that's no different coping with someone who had an upset stomach from whatever they had to eat last night or they bonked from lack of water/food during the day. Put in measures to cope with it.

So, he's a simple message to the organisers, deal with it or you'll see the number of customers gradually dwindle and your business fail. 'The times, they are a changin'.

 

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Rapha Nadal [1167 posts] 6 days ago
0 likes
Capt Sisko wrote:
Rapha Nadal wrote:

This probably says more about you than the type of bike you use.

How sad it is that you feel you need to make a personal attack on someone making a perfectly valid point. Not everyone is young, fit & eager or confident in their riding ability. Or maybe they used to be, but illness or injury has forced a limit to their range. Ebikes have the ability to open doors, but comments like yours to those taking the step (or is that pedal) back to what a lot of others take for granted are an insult and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Not really, mate.  How does an e-bike enable you to do something alone that you wouldn't otherwise do alone?

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quiff [214 posts] 6 days ago
1 like
Rapha Nadal wrote:
Capt Sisko wrote:
Rapha Nadal wrote:

This probably says more about you than the type of bike you use.

How sad it is that you feel you need to make a personal attack on someone making a perfectly valid point. Not everyone is young, fit & eager or confident in their riding ability. Or maybe they used to be, but illness or injury has forced a limit to their range. Ebikes have the ability to open doors, but comments like yours to those taking the step (or is that pedal) back to what a lot of others take for granted are an insult and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Not really, mate.  How does an e-bike enable you to do something alone that you wouldn't otherwise do alone?

jollygoodvelo's original comment was: 

"This is what ebikes are all about for me - going further and taking on challenges that you wouldn't have the confidence to do 'alone'."

'Alone' was in inverted commas. I took it to mean that an e-bike might allow you to ride further / more demanding routes than you might be able to without electric assistance, giving you the confidence to take on challenges you wouldn't otherwise contemplate; not that riding an ebike allows you to ride solo if you wouldn't contemplate that on a conventional bike.         

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alansmurphy [2326 posts] 6 days ago
2 likes
Rapha Nadal wrote:
jollygoodvelo wrote:

This is what ebikes are all about for me - going further and taking on challenges that you wouldn't have the confidence to do 'alone'.

This probably says more about you than the type of bike you use.

 

And yet Martyn Ashton is still a billion times more talented on a bike than you'll ever be! 

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jollygoodvelo [1892 posts] 6 days ago
0 likes
Rapha Nadal wrote:
jollygoodvelo wrote:

This is what ebikes are all about for me - going further and taking on challenges that you wouldn't have the confidence to do 'alone'.

This probably says more about you than the type of bike you use.

It might, if I owned an ebike.

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slappop [90 posts] 6 days ago
0 likes
Simon E wrote:

If someone doesn't like e-bike riders eating all the cake then either buy an e-bike or or get fitter and ride faster. They could shelter behind the e-bike riders (though isn't that also cheating?).

Or buy a proper motorbike, leapfrog over everybody and eat the cake without even breaking sweat.

Where does it end? With the rules of course...

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Bmblbzzz [359 posts] 6 days ago
4 likes
Simon E wrote:
Bmblbzzz wrote:

I don't think it would "detract from your challenge" in fact I can see it making the ride (any group ride) more challenging, by increasing the average pace, especially on climbs, thus encouraging people to overstretch themselves to keep up. Which is silly competitve behaviour in a non-competition, but hey, meet the human. But I can see it leading to people feeling pissed off because, as crazy-legs says, "They cheated!" and even worse "They finished first and ate all the cake when they didn't even deserve it!"

I learnt very early on that life isn't 'fair'. And it's full of people cheating, whether that's stealing, taking shortcuts or inventing tools, machines, software or other things to make life easier.

If someone doesn't like e-bike riders eating all the cake then either buy an e-bike or or get fitter and ride faster. They could shelter behind the e-bike riders (though isn't that also cheating?).

Regardless of the bike you or others have or how fast you or they ride, the answer is the organisers should provide more cake. Always. And another cup of tea, please. 

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slappop [90 posts] 6 days ago
3 likes

I don't ride an e-bike (I'm far too young - not even 60), but I welcome them on the roads because they provide critical mass and are hardly a chore to overtake.

Especially welcome is when they overtake me while I'm struggling on a hill. Why? So I can get on their wheel.

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maviczap [392 posts] 6 days ago
4 likes

Ebike or conventional it's more bicycles on the roads, which is a good thing

In the Pyrenees this year I saw families cycling together, dad and his boys on normal bikes, mum sitting in on the back on a ebike.Not on the flat, but half way up the Tourmalet.
I'm getting one when I get too old and feeble ( soonish) so I can continue cycling in the high mountains and extend my pleasure.
My neighbour is over 80 and still cycling on his Swytch powered bike.
There's too much egotistical testosterone fuelled snobbery in cycling these days, and blind adherence to "The Rules" because Sean Kelly never rode an ebike

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Oldfatgit [13 posts] 6 days ago
8 likes

I got smashed up in an accident last year and have been left with significant damage to my knee ... And as a result cycling over 20 miles causes me great pain and difficulty walking the following day.

I borrowed a Focus Paralane e2 for a couple of days and was able to cycle 3 times as far without any major problems - I had some twitching and twinging afterwards, but I could still walk and didn't even need any pain relief.

There seem to be a misconception that the bike does all the work for you - it doesn't. It is assistance, and for me the difference between being stuck at home, watching shit on the TV, or being outside, getting exercise, fresh air and socialising with the club (and not calling 'pace' at the slightest rise).

I can't part with the cash for the e2 9.7, but I can kinda afford an e2 6.8, and I've one on order.

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phototext [10 posts] 6 days ago
0 likes

If loads of people turned up with ebikes there would be a major logistical problem charging them.

i have a similar ebike, a orbea gain, I’m surprised she needed to use such a high power assistance. I do pootle along but tend to leave it on a low 5 to 10% unless there is a steep hill or nasty headwind. A 65 to 80% setting wacks  the battery pretty quickly so I’m surprised she didn’t run out.

i think they are great, I’m getting old, it gets me out. The best bit is if I’m tired near the end of a ride I can turn it up and get home.

i hired an emtb in spain recently to get into the sierras, a different level of grunt, no way could I have coped on a mountain bike. 

However as they get more popular and more powerful I do think that more legislation will be needed, training and insurance especially on shared paths. 

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Argus Tuft [84 posts] 6 days ago
1 like
phototext wrote:

If loads of people turned up with ebikes there would be a major logistical problem charging them.

i have a similar ebike, a orbea gain, I’m surprised she needed to use such a high power assistance. I do pootle along but tend to leave it on a low 5 to 10% unless there is a steep hill or nasty headwind. A 65 to 80% setting wacks  the battery pretty quickly so I’m surprised she didn’t run out.

i think they are great, I’m getting old, it gets me out. The best bit is if I’m tired near the end of a ride I can turn it up and get home.

i hired an emtb in spain recently to get into the sierras, a different level of grunt, no way could I have coped on a mountain bike. 

However as they get more popular and more powerful I do think that more legislation will be needed, training and insurance especially on shared paths. 

If you were travelling any distance by ebike you'd be bringing a charger and double adapter along.

Are they getting more powerful? I thought the 250w pedelec thing was a given.

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TeresaDay [2 posts] 6 days ago
7 likes

I ride a bike with Cytrobex retrofit motor. I decided to do that as I can no longer get up the hills, but I've done plenty of long distance rides previously. I can certainly understand why they would not want to approve ebikes on a mass tour as organising charging would be madness. You'd also get a lot more people who are unfit and unprepared for the ride. Hubby and I recently rode LEJOG unsupported with me on my electric. We had no problems taking the battery off and charging in cafes, and my bike is not too heavy for me to ride when I run out of juice. I love it. Its keeping me riding much more mileage.

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Rapha Nadal [1167 posts] 5 days ago
0 likes
alansmurphy wrote:
Rapha Nadal wrote:
jollygoodvelo wrote:

This is what ebikes are all about for me - going further and taking on challenges that you wouldn't have the confidence to do 'alone'.

This probably says more about you than the type of bike you use.

 

And yet Martyn Ashton is still a billion times more talented on a bike than you'll ever be! 

Prove it.  

Avatar
jollygoodvelo [1892 posts] 5 days ago
0 likes
Argus Tuft wrote:

Are they getting more powerful? I thought the 250w pedelec thing was a given.

250W (power) is fixed in UK law, but torque isn't - different ebike power units have different torque characteristics (e.g the ebikemotion integrated ones are usually 40-50Nm, the big Bosch/Shimano mid-drives more like 80-90Nm).  More torque at the same power requires more amps from the battery, which will either need to be bigger or drain faster, it's all a balancing act.

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