Hooked on E!

Okay, I’m going to tackle a controversial subject.

E-bikes. More specifically, pedal-assist bikes. About three years ago while visiting Austria a group of fit roadies invited me on an Alpine road ride. I declined without hesitation. Not because I didn’t like road riding and not because I didn’t have any Lycra shorts. I declined because I knew I couldn’t keep up with them. Or even worse, I’d slow them down and completely frustrate their ambitions of a fast pace and a rapid ascent of a category one climb. There is nothing worse for me than being a lantern rouge spoiling everyone’s ride.

SJ, my son (also a regular contributor to Full Sus and co-owner of our bike shop), happily agreed to join  them. Unbeknown to me he’d organized two pedal-assist Specialized Turbo X bikes (hardtails with flat bars and short travel forks). Off we sped with baggies and full-faced helmets (something about Euro laws for E-bikes with top speeds in excess of 25 km/h). Okay, we didn’t need full-face helmets but they looked cool and VERY out of place in our mini peloton. We had so much fun keeping up with these accomplished roadies and 60 kilometres later we were drinking beers and marvelling about the incredible scenery, the challenging climbs and the fast pace home. I’d just experienced one of the most memorable road rides ever. Without an E-bike that day I would not be recounting this story.

A year later we were back in Austria for the European launch of the next model-year range of Specialized bicycles. The extent of this launch, the range of product and the size of this one brand exhibition is a story in itself. The star of the show for me was definitely the all-new, all-mountain Stumpjumper 6 Fattie Levo. Essentially it was ‘sold’ to us as a ski-lift up and an all-mountain bike down. Having owned and ridden a Levo for the past three months I agree completely with this description.  And when I ride my Levo I select rides that suit this description – Hoogekraal, Jonkershoek and Welvanpas – all up and down terrain.

When you own a well-designed full suspension pedal-assist MTB you need some serious self discipline. Initially it really was very difficult to go back to my ‘normally-aspirated’ Stumpy full-suspension. It’s like being married and having an affair. Initially, I felt so guilty riding my Levo. This feeling of guilt was exacerbated by my riding buddies giving me a hard time about my Levo. Now, more than four months later, I have seen a dramatic swing in attitude towards pedal-assist mountain bikes. Most guys on the trail are inquisitive and many are enthusiastic. Sure, some riders get pissed off – but it’s less to do with what you’re riding than how you’re behaving. Pedal-assist riders should be even more aware of their fellow trail users. Riders, hikers, trail runners – and especially walkers with dogs.

The Levo is a seriously fun bike to ride – from the hard tail model to the 650-plus big travel bike. The 6 fatty (3.0 650b/27.5 tires) can be quite a handful in tight, technical descending trails and requires concentrated and physical rider input. We have sold all the pedal-assist bikes we have been able to get our hands on.

Typical buyers? There is no such thing. Anybody who can afford one could/should buy one. And every buyer has had their reason to buy one. Whatever the reason, each rider is blown away by the sheer fun they are having on the bike and soon forget why they bought it in the first place.

Back to the self discipline – I have three bikes. A gravel grinder, an all-mountain full suspension and a Levo 6 fatty pedal-assist MTB. I alternate sequentially between each bike so that I get to ride each bike at least once a week. If I ride more than three times a week? You guessed it – I carry on with my love affair with the Levo.

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