Fishy Fingers and Ebikes

Today we went back to Wolftrax, our favourite bike park in… well actually I’m happy to just say it’s my favourite. Aimi agrees with whatever I say… 

It’s only a small bike park with 2 red routes and a black route, but they are all top quality and long. Of course this means the climb to the top is long. After several solid days biking, the ebikers were feeling smug as they wafted up the hill in turbo mode. Us analogue bikers panted our way to the start of the Upper Red route and got there in a sweaty mess.

The Upper Red route starts off with a lot more uphill, but it’s very cross country style, snaking around the terrain, climbing over sections of rocks and up steep inclines. It’s a really good test of your skill on a bike because at several places, you round a corner slowly to be confronted with a couple rock steps up. You have to really dig deep and balance your way up them if you want to complete the route without putting your feet down. Its especially hard after already climbing up to the start on the fire roads, but you eventually reach the top of the mountain and get rewarded with a great view while you catch your breath.

From this rocky mountain crown, you plunge down into the trees down twisty tracks that are all really well maintained and consistently Red graded. Personally I think its been done really well, with plenty to keep you entertained, just enough to keep it interesting and challenged without being scary. And to my mind, that’s what a Red graded route should be. All features can be approached blind and rolled over slowly for less confident riders, but people like me who like going fast and are reasonably good with a bike, can play around and really trash down the hill at speed. The final section of the Upper Red route finishes along a swoopy break in the trees where you need to pedal a bit, but its like a big dipper roller coaster where you can control how fast and jumpy you want it to be. Great fun!

You end up back on the fire road just up from the visitor centre and we chose to go back up and tackle the Black Route. Everyone else was going to take a look at the Orange Jump Line and then get lunch, but Jord, Edd and I fancied a challenge. Both of them were on Ebikes, so they blitzed off up the fire road again while I pumped away. Ebikes definitely have an advantage in these types of parks. It’s tempting to see about getting one myself, but for 4 reasons I’m holding off. 

  1. They are MONEY. Any decent ebike is about £5000-8000 and I just can’t bring myself to drop that much on a bike. I could afford one, but mountain bikes are already ludicrously expensive to maintain, and I want to put my money where its useful. That amount of money is a quarter of the way to a decent deposit on a house!
  2. The tech is still relatively new, and evolving so quickly that more powerful bikes, better motors, longer range batteries are coming out all the time. So if I got a second hand one today (to minimise the resistance posed by point 1 above) it would have to be one from 2-3 years ago. This means it would already be old tech and the longer I kept it the more out of date it would get and less comparatively competitive. 
  3. The bikes motors just aren’t strong or robust enough yet for someone of my power (and weight) who enjoys riding relatively hard. There are a couple chaps who ride around Oakamoor with ebikes, and having spoken with them, they told me they get thru 2 motors per year – at £500 a go. That’s rubbish reliability, especially combined with point 1 and 2 above and that a second hand bike would almost certainly be outside the warranty period so I would have to cough up, if I wanted to keep using the bike… Bare in mind, you can get a motocross (petrol) bike for £2000 that doesn’t EVER need its motor changing, and you can see why this irks me.
  4. And the main reason is that while I enjoy biking, I’m doing it because it’s a fun way of exercising hard. I HATE going to the gym, it’s just something that I can’t face. I don’t want to spend 3 days a week doing something I hate, only to get 1 or 2 days at the weekend doing the activity I enjoy. I’d rather do the activity I enjoy all week long even if that means I’ll never reach as high an ability or fitness level, I’ll enjoy myself vastly more along the way. If I got myself an ebike, my enjoyment would go up, because pumping uphill is definitely the downside of an analogue bike, but my overall fitness would go down which would impact other areas of my life.

But I have decided that as far as fitness goes, when it gets to the point where my old knee injury restricts the amount of riding I can do, then I’ll be sufffering the lack of excersise anyway. At this point, an ebike will get me out more often and less painfully, so it will make sense – this is assuming I win the lottery and can afford a £500 a month biking habit… Cocaine would be cheaper…

I’m also really waiting for a bike company to come along with an ethos something like:

“We are a bit lardy, but we won’t break”

I want strong sturdy bikes, with overpowered, but under utilised motors, big batteries that can be upgraded over time, something reliable that I can really work hard without fear of it breaking and costing a fortune, or at least replaceable and serviceable parts to maintain it easily and cost effectively. Edds bike has a problem where there is lateral play in the crank bearings and the only way to fix it is to swap out the whole motor and crank assembly… thats a £500-700 integral part of the ebike. Why cant the bearings just be replaced?! They literally cost between £5-15 for a bearing, its just design laziness that they cant be replaced! (Or, the cynic in me murmurs, more like designed obsolescence…)

Anyway – back to Wolftrax and we pick up at the top of the Black route. I was bravely volunteered to ice break the route for the others and found immediately the route was a step up from the Red. Most things down here were roll-able, but they were all steeper and slippier and more intense. The majority of the features were exposed bedrock lumps with a few boulders tucked into nooks to prevent them swallowing the front wheel. It was intense all the way down where the challenges forced you to pedal up over rocks and then immediately into a rocky steep descent. The transition from pedalling up to descending required careful line choice and balance right at the point where it was most difficult to put a foot down if you messed it up. Very rewarding to conquer!

After lunch we tackled the Lower Red route and enjoyed another example of cross country style biking to the top of a different hill, followed by a rocky and fast descent. I had Jord’s GoPro on my chest to chase him and Edd down the hill, but only managed to take 2 photos… I was clearly on the wrong mode or hadn’t clicked record – dammit!

The major feature on this route is a HUGE rock slab at what feels close to vertical. You get a couple rocky lumps to off balance you before the precipice and then you have to just commit yourself and ride the wall to the bottom. Luckily it’s actually very grippy and a straight and smooth shot. The most technical part is the landing onto a packed trail covered in gravel. You pick up a fair amount of speed and then you have to scrub it off before diving straight into a right hand corner that could do with being berm’ed a little higher.

Following this, Aimi and I were spent. Analogue biking almost every day for a week had worn us out, we needed some alone time and an early night. Also, having come thru Kinlochleven a few times now, we passed a seafood restaurant that looked really nice. No one else really likes shellfish like we do, so tonight we had a nice evening meal out. It was expensive, but incredible food and the freshest you could have ever asked for.