Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room right off the bat. Most of us who have ridden bicycles, and particularly mountain bikes over the years, are kind of dyed-in-the-wool types. Somehow the idea of an E-bike is like cheating. South Africans have this hardcore “no pain no gain” mindset. We believe that our sport has got to beat the hell out of us, otherwise, it kinda doesn’t count.
The truth is it is sometimes difficult to put in the amount of consistent training effort to maintain a level of fitness to enjoy our cycling. Juggling family, career and other commitments often leaves us struggling to find time for our leisure activities. The activities that are supposed to chill us out end up becoming an additional source of stress. This has been my own experience. Could E-bikes provide a solution to this dilemma? We collected a couple of Husqvarna E-bikes from Sven Voigt at PIERER New Mobility SA to try and come up with some answers.
Bjorn was going to ride a medium framed Husqvarna Hard Cross HC4, an enduro spec E-bike weapon that is built and specced to conquer serious mountains and technical terrain. It sports a ‘mullet’ design, the phrase coined for a 29” front wheel and a 27,5” rear wheel. The 29” front rolls over obstacles whilst the 27,5” is more responsive to pedal input, giving a more agile and dynamic ride. The Hard Cross is a beast, sporting 180mm of front wheel travel and 170mm on the rear. The ride is so supple and plush that it absolutely annihilates trail irregularities uncannily.
E-bikes carry their weight low and have a longer wheelbase than conventional mountain bikes. As a result, they are incredibly stable, even when descending the gnarliest slopes. Both bikes have dropper posts as standard.
Top-level mountain bikers become mobile chicanes for the hard-charging Hard Cross. The first thing that blows your mind is this amazing suspension action. And then of course there is the electric motor. The Shimano EP801 motor churns out 250W of power and 85Nm of hill-flattening torque.
The bike offers three power modes. Eco gives a constant pedal assist, making pedalling just that bit easier everywhere, also negating the 25kg weight of the bike. Hit a hill and a touch on the mode up button on the left handlebar pops you into Trail (medium) mode. It feels like you just got a shove from behind. The torque overcomes the slope with ease. Here is the thing though. E-bikes thrive on maintaining a good pedalling cadence, so you need to ride it like you would your conventional bike.
If you have never ridden an e-bike, the electric motor assist brings a level of fun to your mountain biking that you cannot imagine—giving you an extra boost each time you pedal/shift through the gears.
Even if you are properly fit with your best race face on, you cannot match the shove of 85Nm of Shimano motor power. Bjorn is a real free-ride purist, so he was revelling in the adrenalin-inducing performance of the Hard Cross. When he wasn’t on the back wheel he was descending at fiendish speed or attacking every ascent with gusto. The third mode is ‘Boost’ which gives full power. Engaging boost had Bjorn cackling like a banshee.
I was on the large framed Light Cross LC2, which shares the Hard Cross’s mullet wheel sizes but has a way more conservative 120mm of wheel travel at both ends. Having said that, I never felt I needed more. Designed for less gnarly terrain, the Light Cross made mincemeat of everything I threw at it. Loose, rocky inclines that would have had me spitting blood on my carbon-framed Giant Anthem full susser, were smashed at warp speed on the Light Cross. Don’t for a moment think that you don’t get a workout though. I found myself maintaining a healthy cadence but never having to stomp the pedals with knee-shredding effort. It essentially ups the fun and reduces the pain whilst giving you a fantastic cardiovascular workout.
Bjorn and I rode for 40km on an outride through the plots in a very hilly area east of Pretoria. We probably had another 40km of power left ‘in the tank’. We had an absolute blast. I am not bike-fit at the moment, yet the electric motor assistance allowed me to enjoy the ride without compromise. This means I could ride with my tri-athlete son on his mountain bike training rides and stay in touch. Similarly, wives can ride with husbands and pace them up the hills and have them time trialling in their wake on the flats.
The thought of what I must go through to get to a level of fitness to enjoy my mountain biking has had me hesitating to get back on my bike. An E-bike would completely negate that issue. I would be on it at every opportunity, getting fit while I have fun. Bjorn on the other hand is reasonably fit, yet he too conceded that he had enjoyed the Hard Cross in a way that is just not possible on a conventional bicycle. We stopped for a coffee at a roadside spot and found ourselves talking about where we could ride these bikes with fresh levels of enjoyment. They really are that addictive.
To enjoy motorcycling to the full you need to maintain a degree of physical fitness. These E-bikes are just the ticket to attain that fitness. The hardcore and supremely capable Hard Cross will set you back R129,999, which gets you a bike with an extremely high level of specification. The Light Cross is maybe the better choice for people like me who cannot even come close to exploiting what the Hard Cross offers.
The Light Cross costs R89,999, which gives you an extremely capable bike, albeit at a lower spec level. Both bikes performed flawlessly throughout our ride. Shifts were precise and accurate; handling was brilliant and suspension action was better than you could ever expect. I am sold! The first prize is when your fitness regime is no effort at all, and you can’t wait to do it. That sums up what these bikes are about.
If you peruse the spec sheets you will see that the Hard Cross has top-quality components that contribute to and justify the significantly higher price. The Shimano motor and battery also give an enhanced range over the Light Cross. You must decide if your riding ability and preferences can justify the higher spec.
The Light Cross is all the bike that I need, but watching Bjorn on the Hard Cross made me realise why some would consider the higher-spec essential. Both these bikes are European spec which legislatively governs their maximum assisted speed to 25km/h, however future US spec bikes will set the speed at around 32km/h. For us it was a case of “no sweat, we’ll catch you on the uphills”.
For more information visit: www.husqvarna-bicycles.com