E-MTB’s always cause a stir on the trail, questions start with ‘How much does is weigh?’ and ‘can I have a go?’ closely followed by ‘so, how far can you go on one battery charge?’ We decided to answer the final question on a big day fueled with one battery, a snickers bar and a desire to make it home without pushing.
E-MTB’s are developing so fast, with new e-bike specific drive trains, tyres and heavy duty suspension, there isn’t much you can’t ride. But, there is a limit as to how far you can ride with one. Can you use one for all day uplifting on DH trails? Can you use one for a 2 day epic adventure ride? Can you enjoy a full day’s cycling around a trail centre without the fear that you’ll grind to a halt and have to engage in a ‘push of shame’ to get home? It’s time to find out.
How far could we ride on one charge?
We decided Glentress would be the perfect venue to test out whether we could ride all the way-marked trails in one day, on just one battery charge. Glentress, in the Scottish Borders, is a mountain biking haven welcoming around 385,000 people a year. Waymarked trails take in all sorts of terrain and views and is fun for riders of any level. It’s a great way to get into fun riding without the need for maps and all in the relative proximity of coffee and cake. Just like skiing, the trails are graded starting with Green for beginners up to Black as the most technical option.
Many choices, but will we go too far?
The website gives the trail lengths as 29km (Black), 18km (Red) and 16km (Blue) totalling 63 km which seems like a good day out for anyone. I would ride them in order, from the hardest and most demanding to the easiest, but the numbers only just added up. Fully charged the Scott E-Contessa Genius 720 Plus bike gives a predicted range of 69 km in eco mode which doesn’t take into account the 1860m of climbing ahead – it was going to be a close call, would it even possible?
To help me achieve this feat, I am equipped with the Scott E-Contessa Genius 720 Plus which is perfect for the task. It’s a women’s specific E-MTB with 27.5 mm plus wheels, 140/130 mm travel and a Bosch Performance CX system with 500wh battery. It is comfortable on the trail centre descents with the confidence inspiring 2.8” wide tyres rolling over any rock or root. It weighs it at around 21.5 kg, so, well, that answers one of your questions.
The Black route, starting with the toughest!
Leaving the trail centre hub (alright, the cafe), I turned on the battery and reluctantly switched the motor to ‘eco’ mode, giving me about 50% extra assistance on each pedal stroke. Efficient on battery life but not as much fun as a ‘turbo’ mode sprint which would be more fun, but ultimately kill my chances. Eco mode sometimes doesn’t feel like you’re getting a lot of assistance until you encounter other riders and realise you are, in fact, smoking them without really trying. Opting to take on the longer ‘Black’ route first, I forged on up the hill, heading for the highest point on the course with the motor whirring gently beneath me.
To help over the more technical features on the climb, I treated myself to a blast of ‘sport’’ mode forgetting quite how much power that puts through the pedals, careening off in the wrong direction. Onwards and upwards I climbed through wind and rain, rocks and roots, fighting on towards my goal with only a Snickers bar to sustain me through the trials and tribulations – an hour later, I’d ticked off the biggest climb of the day and clocked up nearly 14km. A quick glance at the battery display to see how I’m getting on, one bar of battery gone and, hold on a second, 18km predicted range left! I’ve got 49km left to go…..
The predicted range on the monitor bases its calculation on continuing to ride in the same mode with the same demands on the motor – my use of ‘tour’ mode on the last stretch of the climb had taken its toll on the reading but it was OK, I’m at the top, the only way is down (this is of course not true, there is a lot of up left).
The First Descent Is The Sweetest
As I start to roll down the hill, the range mercifully eeeks upwards and the additional weight of the bike means I roar down the rocky trails of the black descent. With occasional mini-climbs within the descent, I keep the motor on to keep the momentum and fun factor high, the bike rails the turns and confidently rolls over anything in its path. Speed, weight and momentum combine to make ‘getting air’ terrifyingly easy but the landings feel solid and my confidence grows.
Down the ‘Deliverance’ descent and back up the ‘Redemption climb’ the motor whirr, not the sound of banjos, keeps me company in these remote feeling woodlands. After 2.13 hours, I roll back to base, black route completed in a significantly longer time than the course record on Strava for non e-bikes but still feeling fresh and ready to go again!
Could I Ride The Red Too?
The Red route is much shorter than the Black but mostly as technical on the descents, so upwards I head into the hills with the battery ticking down the charge. In order to conserve a bit of power, I start to turn off the battery for descents opting to forgo the extra power out of corners in favour of completing my challenge and making it home without having to phone for help from the middle of the forest. At the highest point of the red graded route, I check my power levels – only 2 bars from 5 remain and 14 km left on the range – I start to question whether I can start another loop, let alone finish it, but that’s a concern for the bottom of the hill, right now I have some prime singletrack ahead of me, berms, drops, jumps and all-round fun times as I point downwards and drop my saddle for the goodness.
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blue
Back to the bottom and again the ‘range’ has increased making the blue route within my grasp, just once more up the climb and I’ll have completed my mission. Onwards and upwards I head watching the numbers dwindle towards single figures, a short descent then another climb and suddenly, a moment of madness! 12 km flashes up on the range but surely, there is nowhere near that amount of climbing left and all I need the power for are the climbs so maybe, just maybe, I can click the battery up a mode, put it into sweet, sweet ‘tour’ mode and enjoy a bit of cruising.
I put the engine into ‘tour’ and pick up speed, the range drops to 6 km but that’s ok – that’s, well, miles! In my new rapid mode I razz up the trail loving the rocks and corners and start catching up with another trail user – oh the guilty pleasure of overtaking on an E-MTB! I see him glancing towards me, trying to make out how someone (a girl) on a trail bike, is catching at such a pace, I close the gap without catching a breath and overtake as the trail widens – and then I see his relief, “it’s OK…. It’s an E-MTB, I’m not being smashed on a climb by a plus bike”.
After the overtake, I’m obliged to keep up the pace to show that I wasn’t just showing off so I push on in ‘tour’. At the top of the trail I come to my senses, there is a fair bit more climbing to do and the battery is struggling so I put it down to ‘Eco’, and the range barely budges. So close! I spin carefully upwards, feeling like I’m hardly moving but still leaving other riders struggling in my wake, each glancing sideways subtly wondering how I’m pulling off this feat of climbing excellence. With one last steep section on the climb I click up to ‘tour’ one last time before trundling to the start of the descent. I have 1km left on the range and the battery light is flashing in the darkness of the trees.
She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My E-MTB
I nurse the bike towards home, motor off on descents and in Eco to help me up the small climbs. I reach the top of the final descent where I stand on my pedals one last time to return home – but no,I forgot.. there is an extra bit of the blue, rarely ridden partly because of its easiness but mostly, because of the tiny climb to the start when you feel like you’ve already finished. The battery is done, all I have is a very heavy bike but to not complete the loop is to fail so I turn away from home, stand on the pedals and use the gears not the motor to climb, I pump the bike through the gentle descent trying to maximise my momentum rather than pedal out of corners and finally, I make it, I freewheel towards the trail centre hub and to the end of my ride.
The Winner Takes It All!
Strava tells me I have ridden 59.6 km in 4.31 hours, 1,861 metres of ascent with a maximum heart rate of 156 bpm. I hadn’t been out of breath but my legs are heavy and my arms are tired from wielding the heavy bike. I had made it around my route but it was not easy, I had to take care to conserve power at every opportunity.
So I had answered my question, even just using the Eco mode it had been possible to ride (nearly) every trail in a trail centre on one charge. E-MTB’s are still an unusual sight in the UK, but I had ridden more trails in the last four hours than most people ride in a whole weekend!
Words: Catherine Smith Photos: Trev Worsey