“Can you get these on prescription?” What is mountain biking to you? Fitness, work, relaxation, friendship, adventure, sanity?! How would you feel if it all stopped?

Until very recently, I was always up for adventure. I was at my happiest with damp feet up on a mountain, crouched behind a rock sheltering myself from the wind as I munched whatever was in my bag. Holidays were about packing up a big waterproof duffle bag, checking the bikes, and tracing contours on a map with anticipation, heading off to somewhere new. That all changed very quickly last year. I went from quietly grumbling about how far I was going to have to carry my bike to needing help to get up the stairs to our first floor flat. I was sick, but nobody could tell me why…

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“My head was filled with questions about whether I would be well enough to take part in the fun.”

It started one New Year. Just like any other holiday, we were off to stay in the Lake District with some friends, but this year the rules had very much changed. After a bout of food poisoning caught skiing, various viruses, and glandular fever, I had been struggling to look after myself for the best part of a year. The year had a very different landscape to the last, but all the tests had failed to show reason for my extreme fatigue. The doctor eventually diagnosed me with M.E. / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, something that even the medical profession doesn’t really understand. My head was filled with questions about whether I would be well enough to take part in the fun. How would I explain my apparent ‘lazy’ demeanour to the group, and could I get my activity levels right so I didn’t become ill whilst away?

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I wasn’t comfortable with who I was anymore, and joining in recounting past tales of the North Shore in Vancouver or carrying my bike up Munros almost felt fraudulent, like a fantasy world. I knew I had to accept the situation and just do what I could, but taking it easy and sitting about is not in my nature. I had not given up biking altogether; with some careful planning and very cautious route choices, I had now been on my bike three times in the last year – but it just wasn’t enough! I was slowly increasing my activity, but was under instruction from the specialists not to overexert myself, so normal biking was simply out of the question. Then everything changed: a chance encounter with a Cube Sting WLS E-MTB led me to consider giving an E-MTB a go…

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I’d never really given E-MTBs much thought before. Of course, I was aware the technology was moving forward, but had always considered them to be something for commuting without breaking a sweat, or even for when I’m older and not so able. I had no strong opinions on them as long as they were used responsibly and within the guidelines of a pedal-assist setup. But what about now? The opportunity presented was very different, as an E-MTB potentially spelled freedom.

It was a warm sunny day in the Tweed Valley. I’d collected the Cube Sting WLS, and the air was thick with anticipation of what was to come. The van was full of some of my old riding pals and (of course) my long-suffering ‘other half’ Chris, all keen to see what the contraption could do. For me the aim of the day was clear: I simply wanted to ride a bike with my friends. If I am honest, both Chris and I quietly harboured low expectations regarding the handling of the bike. Having ridden for a good few years, I’d invested in some good bikes, and had recently lovingly built myself a very light hardtail from scratch. Surely all the extra weight from the battery and motor were going to hamper performance on the trail?

„Es war mir sogar gelungen, eine steile, verblockte Passage hochzujagen, während ich kicherte und Witze darüber machte, dass es diese Dinger eigentlich auf Rezept geben müsste.“
“I’d even managed to boost it up the steep, rocky, technical section on the climb, giggling and joking that they should give these things out on prescription.”

For me, this day wasn’t just about riding a bike, but being part of the group again… being me again. Chris and I agreed that we would try to ride a bit with the others and peel off, just the two of us, when needed. With the bike out of the van and the guys swarming round investigating, tweaking, and checking it, before I knew it we were ready. With some warning words of “Be careful” and “Don’t overdo it” we were off, heading for somewhere so familiar, but for me, it felt like a great adventure. It was really easy to get the hang of the controls, and with the comforting hum of the motor willing me on, I trundled along happily amongst my friends, casually eating up the trail ahead as we climbed further and further up through Glentress forest. I cheerfully chirruped away in my friends’ ears all the way to the highest point of the forest. I’d been there many times before, but on that day if felt like the top of the world. Things had gone well, and the bike was comfortable and intuitive, responding much better than anticipated to changes in gradient and terrain. I’d even managed to boost it up the steep, rocky, technical section on the climb, giggling and joking that they should give these things out on prescription.

“For me, this day wasn’t just about riding a bike, but being part of the group again… being me again.”

As we turned and headed down the trail, within a few quick turns I was feeling centred and more confident, with the bike carrying speed confidently downwards. The additional weight adds a stability and sureness that I was not expecting, urging me on, willing me to push a bit further and easily clearing the table tops on the well-known Spooky Wood trail. The promise I’d made myself to be careful and take it easy was left well behind me; I’d left it catching its breath somewhere after the first corner, as too much fun was available to be had.

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The Cube Sting was living up to its looks. The power was ‘electric,’ anything but ‘eco’ mode, and going down steep technical sections boosted me into Narnia with no time to talk to Mr Tumnus. Twisting and turning through the forest and heading whichever way I fancied, I was mindful of my energy levels, but elated at the possibilities this bike could bring. The return to the car park that day didn’t have the usual feeling of ‘signing off’ that a good day can give you. Instead, I was full of the buzz of possibilities. Days out, trips away, testing of how far batteries (mine and the bike’s) would go. Most importantly, I once again wanted to get out and do an activity I love. With kit like this behind me, it seems the road to recovery can just be a bit gnarlier than expected!

Mein Versprechen an mich selbst, vorsichtig zu sein, es langsam angehen zu lassen, hatte ich weit hinter mir gelassen, es lag irgendwo hinter der ersten Kurve und japste nach Luft, das hier machte einfach viel zu viel Spaß!
“The promise I’d made myself to be careful and take it easy was left well behind me; I’d left it catching its breath somewhere after the first corner, as too much fun was available to be had.”

The Cube Sting was living up to its looks. The power was ‘electric,’ anything but ‘eco’ mode, and going down steep technical sections boosted me into Narnia with no time to talk to Mr Tumnus. Twisting and turning through the forest and heading whichever way I fancied, I was mindful of my energy levels, but elated at the possibilities this bike could bring. The return to the car park that day didn’t have the usual feeling of ‘signing off’ that a good day can give you. Instead, I was full of the buzz of possibilities. Days out, trips away, testing of how far batteries (mine and the bike’s) would go. Most importantly, I once again wanted to get out and do an activity I love. With kit like this behind me, it seems the road to recovery can just be a bit gnarlier than expected!

Auf jeder Ausfahrt fühle ich mich wie Superwoman.
“Every ride I feel like Superwoman… biking isn’t all about fitness, Strava, and prowess!”

Over time, I hope to use the Cube as a tool. Reducing the power used and increasing the length of ride I can do, I now have the confidence to go out with friends without apprehension of how far we are going or how steep the terrain is. The E-MTB has transported me back to a life of damp feet and down jackets, a life that I love. I can again dream of exploring special places with oil under my fingernails and midges in my tea.

While this illness has got me for now, slowly I’m winning. Every ride I feel like Superwoman… biking isn’t all about fitness, Strava, and prowess! E-bikes aren’t all about “cheating,” instead they allow me to get out and have fun, not to mention the boost to mental health and wellbeing it has brought me. Most importantly, with an E-MTB I can get back to planning my next adventure, with one rule: I won’t be carrying the bike!

Words: Aileen Brand Photos: Trev Worsey