E-bikes are a very popular mode of transport in Switzerland. Visit the country and you won’t go far before the first electric bike comes flying past you. Because they are seen everywhere over there, most Swiss cyclists don’t even turn their heads anymore, as an 80-year-old overtakes you on a climb as if it were Chris Froome, just double the size. I was surprised, however, by how long it took to see the first e-mountain bike in Switzerland.
Although, it must be said, the age group seen the most on e-bikes isn’t much older than Froome. For obvious reasons, e-bikes are a major hit with Swiss commuters who want to get to work as quickly as possible. For them, it’s all about efficiency. And that’s exactly what the e-bike delivers: It’s quicker, saves money on train tickets and they even get the daily workout done without having to waste time with a shower afterwards. It’s got it all in one and that makes it at least as functional as a Swiss Army knife …
The biggest reason for the slow introduction of e-mountain bikes is the complexity of creating a battery-powered mountain bike that still handles the trails as well as a normal mountain bike. Specialized took its time to develop its version of an e-mountain bike for exactly that reason – it didn’t want to make any compromise in how the bike would feel on the trail. It was actually a team in Switzerland that developed the final product, the Turbo Levo. Levo means lift in Latin. I guess the Swiss were again looking for an option to save time and money by finding an alternative to the rather expensive cable cars for going up the mountains. And isn’t it more fun to get a lift from a battery on your bike instead of being squeezed into a stinky gondola to climb 1500m a bit faster?
I am biased, being Swiss and a Specialized-sponsored athlete, but since I took the Turbo Levo for a proper ride at the Specialized media launch late last year, I have fallen in love with this bike. Riding it just puts a smile on my face. Riding the bike around the fun trails in Stellenbosch’s G-spot and Eden got me convinced that this bike would add value to my training for the Absa Cape Epic. Training for a gruelling endurance event on an e-mountain bike? How would that help? Let me explain.
‘The advantages of a heavy bike’ or ‘resistance training’
A battery adds a lot of weight to a bike and makes the Levo a considerably heavier machine than the lightweight Epic S-Works I normally ride. While weight usually makes a bike less enjoyable to ride uphill, this is obviously no issue with the Levo. Thanks to the pedal assist I can just enjoy the advantages of a heavy bike. The first advantage is that moving a heavy bike around corners is much harder work than flipping an Epic S-works through turns. The added resistance forces me to exaggerate my cornering movements which improves my feeling for this motion at the same time. For those who have ever spent time working on their freestyle swimming technique, it’s like swimming with paddles: you get a better feeling for the catch due to the higher resistance. The increased resistance has another obvious advantage – it makes you stronger. After a day on the Levo I feel pretty stiff in my upper body the next day. I am amazed how riding trails on my Epic later on was less tiring, having developed upper body strength on the e-bike. This is no secret to downhill racers. Many of them ride motocross to up their skills and specific strength without having to pedal everywhere.
Riding the black trail
Another advantage of a heavy bike is its stability. Gravity keeps it rolling over a trail blocked with big boulders as you’ll find on the black route in Jonkershoek. This trail, in my favourite bike park, has always been something I’ve wanted to ride down. I half-rode-half-walked it once with my Era while trail builders were still busy finishing the trail. But since then I haven’t dared to ride it again. I was too scared of crashing and hurting myself. I must admit I was pretty nervous when I finally entered the trail on the Levo. But the weight of the bike – and a dropper seat post – made it so much easier than I thought it would be. I admit, I still didn’t take the big jumps, but I was quite proud to have ridden all of this challenging trail while keeping my collarbones intact!
More trails in less time
Rest day rides are often something I dread. As soon as my body goes into rest mode, it really doesn’t want to move anymore. Whenever I do one of my rest rides on my Epic mountain or Amira road bike, I feel like a tortoise crawling around. Although I appreciate the fact that these top end bikes roll faster than many of yours, for me, it feels like I am standing still in comparison to my intensity training. I hate feeling this slow and I often become negative. Yet, not when I ride the Turbo Levo. I don’t just feel happy as soon as I turn the pedals and get that extra boost from the battery but, I actually ride farther and get to enjoy more trails even in a 90-minute ride.
No pain, more stoke
When I have hard days of training, suffering most of the time, a day on the bike without feeling any pain is a true blessing. It’s the days when I get to enjoy the scenery and company of a friend again. It’s the days when I’m taken away from the racing side of the sport, and I don’t care about heart rate or watts and just get to enjoy this sport for what it is for all of us – being in the beautiful outdoors on fun trails with a mate. Yes, I could do that on a normal bike too, but really, go ride a Turbo Levo and you’ll understand how this bike keeps the stoke level extra high.
By improving my cornering technique, strengthening my upper body, getting more technically demanding trail riding in and, last but not least, conjuring a smile on my face on my dreaded rest day rides, I truly believe the Turbo Levo adds great value to my preparation for the Cape Epic.
I’m looking forward to be putting all this into practice at the race in March. But you know what I’m looking forward to more? Being able to take my mom, who is coming all the way from Switzerland to watch me race, for a ride on a Levo in Jonkershoek the week after. You’ve got to know, that my mother is the only person in our family who knows sport solely from watching it from the sidelines. I can’t wait to see that smile on her face.