As we were riding through Cheddar Gorge, or more precisely up it, on our way to Land’s
End and John o’Groats it seemed remiss to not make a comment on the majestic rock faces around us.
Evidently, the man I was taking over, who was clearly feeling different, was puffing a lot.
He said, « I don’t have the time to look. » « I knew that this part would be painful. »
I rode to the beat of the motor’s gentle whirring. This was the answer to the question « Why e-bikes? »
Just as I was about to pass an elderly lady, she was shaking from the effort of the climb. I felt like I had the better deal.
I was cycling LEJOG with the Deloitte Ride Across Britain event, the giant and phenomenally well organised annual sportive, which my colleague Tass also completed this year, and covered for road.cc. Only two people were able to ride an ebike among 800 others; organizers considered it an experiment.
It was an experiment that I made out of my despair. Around ten weeks into training I had a dark weekend of the soul(link is external) and decided I’d either have to ride the nine-day, 980-mile event by e-bike, or not at all.
Cycling is something that I enjoy, and the bike is a tool to adventure. This means that I enjoy the ride and minimize the discomfort. I wanted to enjoy a bike ride and get across the country without getting hurt. I felt that an ebike would make it possible. It worked, spoiler alert.
It also revealed what e-bikes can do and what they can do for us.
Unexpected mystery tour
Ribble cycles kindly loaned me their CGR AL e(link is external), along with a range extender, a second (5kg) external battery, in addition to the internal down tube battery, which attaches to the bottle cage mount on the seat tube. Ribble assured me that the battery would last for a day but that I would need to recharge it every night.
Truth be told, I didn’t really know the bike’s capabilities range-wise when I set out. Bad planning meant that I had only been able to ride it 50 miles from Kent once. The range extender was empty, meaning that half the battery power would have been used. This was concerning because I would only be able to ride it 50 miles to Kent on an average day of 108 miles, while 120 miles is the maximum distance the set can take me.
Ribble promised me that the power spikes required for my stop-start ride from London had been met and that it would continue to provide power on a continuous ride.
I didn’t know that if I ran out, I would be pedalling a heavy bike. This was a problem for me as a light rider with a low power to weight ratio.
There’s an app called ebikemotion that allows you to fine tune power settings. On my first ride, I had the bike set to the lowest setting of the three. However, the app defaulted to 100%.
On the first bright, cool morning I set off from Land’s End. I dialled it down at 75% and then, after about half the ride on a hill (in Cornwall, there are many steep hills), the range extender was empty so I increased my pedaling to 61%.
Halfway through the day, there were warning messages from the app and then the power went out randomly. It was actually a loose cable connection between battery and motor on the chain remain. This was easily fixed and the plugs that held the cable in place inside the chain stay were pushed back into their place.
With only 10 miles remaining, I still had plenty of juice after 40 miles of slower running. I decided to throw caution to the wind and turned it up to the middle setting. It took me to Okehampton, which was for most people a very slow false flat. It was not an easy task, but I did my best to keep it simple.
Joyfully, largely thanks to luck and blind, finger in-the-air adjustments every day – Ribble were right about the range.
I chose 65% assistance for the 120-mile longest day. There were steep climbs, including the Lecht and the slight matter of a 45mph wind. The Lecht climbs 2.6 miles to reach a ski resort. It has an average gradient between 6% and 20%. This was the first time I used the top tube button to select maximum power. I almost made it to the top without having to dismount. I was able to ride the bike without getting blown off, unlike other fearless lighter riders.
Although there were times of mild danger on the 120- and 116-mile days, the top tube button’s warning light flashed red at the end of the journey. However, it never ran out. The power was turned off during traffic stop-start segments. At 60kg, I am quite light. This probably helps too.
Although I was working, it was definitely hard. I was aching on my right side (where I attached a water bottle case to the fork to replace the mount occupied with the second battery). It was definitely doable, thanks to the training I had done, extensive stretching each day, physio, and occasional massage. Although it was still challenging, there was still pain. I felt a lot more confident on the false flats, and up steeper hills thanks to the power assist.
It was much more fun than I thought, as evident by the sad faces of my fellow participants, and occasional cries for help, Many of them watched in envy, with at least one showing hostility, while others seriously considered buying one.
The things that go up are the ones that move relatively slowly
There were trade-offs. There were two options. One was to ride on the flat, or downhill. After the motor cuts out at 15.5mph it is too difficult to shift heavy bikes with your legs. I was unable to reach this speed without putting my legs on the line. It was dangerous for me, at least, given my skill and my strength.
The difference in assist between 65%-85% was significant, so longer days with assist dialled down were more difficult from the beginning. One person asked if it was damaged.
It flies with a decent downhill gradient. The extra weight also helps. I found the disc brakes to be a great help on descents. They were so much easier than rim brakes.
There is a charge
I charged the bike in an open gazebo every night. I borrowed sockets from others, such as the dry tent, the phone charging area, and the VIP tent. I even used a staircase in a racecourse building to charge the bike (from which it almost escaped after the door was locked).
After rainy days, I washed the bike and re-oiled it. There wasn’t one loose motor cable. The range extender’s plastic enclosure was too fragile for the large battery. It slowly collapsed, which required many cable ties and movement. But, it was a prototype, so it is likely that future iterations will be stronger.
The overall experience was positive. It made the trip more enjoyable. It was a Cheddar Gorge moment that we repeated over and over. As we left Bath on day three, there was an amazing view of a patchwork field far below us in the early morning sunlight. Nobody else seemed to notice. We passed magical-looking pine forests on the penultimate day, just before the Lecht ascent. « Ooh, fly agaric! » I shouted to no one in particular.
The e-bike enabled me to do something that I was too scared or weak to do. It felt like I had risen to the top. It’s easy to see how ebikes can make longer and more adventurous adventures for more people. I have no regrets.
The organizers of *Deloitte RAB decided not to allow electric bikes for future years because other riders may feel it detracts form the challenge and the charging logistics can be tricky on a large-scale. __S.74__