Race Report Dec / Jan 2020: W2W on E!

Words and Images by: Stirling Koetze Snr.

When I first got wind of the news that the 11th edition of the iconic three-day W2W was introducing an e-bike category in the Pinotage event (Monday to Wednesday ride) my eyes lit up, my ears buzzed and my heart palpitated! I had already e-xperienced the two-day Origin of Trails event on my e-bike so I sort of knew what to expect and how much fun it would be.

Priority One: Stay on the bridge

Back in 2015 I was introduced to the e-bike experience in and around Leogang, Austria. Riding pedal-assist e-bikes on the road and gravel and then given the chance to ride the original Turbo Levo e-MTB at the Leogang Bike Park on the enduro runs and the middle and lower section of the World Cup Series Downhill runs – epic! My son, SJ and I extended our stay by three days and we were generously granted access to the dealer launch test fleet. Three more days of self-shuttling and shredding on the Levo and my journey as an e-MTB pioneer had begun.

I have un-e-quivocally become an e-MTB e-vangelist preaching to e-theists with a smile on my face and passion in my delivery. With an abundance of sales success and happy customers I might add. Quite simply e-bikes have changed my life and renewed my desire to be on the mountains riding with anybody I want to – slow or fast, unfit or super fit, young or old, fat or thin – put it this way: I have become an e-born mountain biker!

Thankfully, Full Sus, along with the W2W organisers were as e-nthusiastic as I was and approved my media accreditation for Full Sus so I could add more voice to the e-MTB revolution and share my e-xperience with thousands of readers. Naturally, I was very inquisitive as to how the organisers were going to integrate e-MTBs into the event given the potential discord between competitive riders and e-bikers. I’m talking purely at a practical level. Full Sus extensively covered the emotional side such as prejudices, etiquette and attitude between E and in normally-aspirated riders in the previous issue (volume 61).

Once our Revolution Cycles Team (Stirling Kotze 94-1 and Raimondo Napoli 94-2) was officially registered,
we downloaded and signed the E-Bike indemnity form (enough to put the fear of the e-gods into us) and the E-Bike Tour information sheet which clearly explained we were on a TOUR and definitely not in a RACE! Our initial testosterone induced competitive streaks had us questioning our decision to enter a TOUR!

After a careful read of what turned out be a very useful set of guidelines, advice and accommodation of such a unique category our trepidation was mostly alleviated and our e-xcitement reignited. After all, we were about to be the e-bike pioneers for e-MTB participation at one of the country’s foremost three-day stage events. We were making W2W history if not the podium!

Day 3 meant no more rain jackets

Lining up at the start in Lourensford, Gerald de Kock announced and pointed to our guide who then verbalised the rules of e-ngagement. Between the e-xcitement, the chilly weather and a threatening rain cloud I listened with half an ear and thought “What the heck, let’s see how this tour guide thing pans out”. It was required that the e-bikes had to stay behind the “guide” but this quietly fell away as it became clear the e-bike group would in no way interfere with the competitive part of the event. Off we went!

By the time we got to the top of the Vergelegen Climb, drenched by a deluge of rain, our bunch had separated and we were in full race mode but within the reduced pedal assist limits we had set for optimum
battery efficiency for a 65 km day and 1700 meters of climbing. Given that we e-bikers elected not to portage heavy e-MTBs up the Gantouw Pass (following the sage advice of the organisers) we chose not to do a battery swap on day one as we had sufficient charge left.

This article is not a blow by blow report on the W2W ride but rather about the challenges faced on an e-MTB. After a long, cold wait at Idiom water point we were transported, four to six bikes at time, to recommence our ride after the Gantouw Pass. This process took a long time due to fairly extreme weather (rain, wind, thunder and lightning) conditions and delayed logistic implementation and riders jumping the queue.

Muddy bike

Standing water was a constant threat to e-bikes during the entire three days. Day three saw us having to cross a vlei that is usually ankle deep but had risen to chest height with a slippery wooden “bridge” floating well below the water’s surface. Many self-propelled riders slid or fell off into the water. However, this simply was not an option for an e-bike as the resultant water damage would almost certainly be terminal. I have never been this apprehensive in 30 years of mountain biking about a stretch of just 100 meters of riding. Pure relief getting to the other side. Phew!

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