Test Ride: Haibike XDuro All Mountain RC & SDuro Fullnine RC E-Bikes. May 13 2015

Here at Burkes Cycles we sell and support the growing demand for E-bikes most commonly in a commuter/utility context.  These bikes are typified by hub driven motors on a relaxed comfort orientated bike.  They offer a genuine option for those considering an alternative to cars for their everyday use.  They also serve to get folks out on bikes when injury, age, time or simply the need to turn up for work without a change of clothes might limit their ability to ride a traditional bike.  More recently, however, brands like Haibike and Specialized have introduced E-bike options that also appeal to the bicycle enthusiast, while still ticking some of the above boxes, and now the final frontier: off road E-bikes.

There’s been a lot said about E-bikes, especially in an off road context, recently.  The riding community and the powers that be seem at once divided and simultaneously extremely passionate about the potential and pitfalls of this new technology.  Everybody’s got an opinion but in all truth there’s just not that many of these bikes in the country, let alone out on the trails.  How do off road E-bikes handle?  Is the E-bike rider likely to damage our hard earned trail network?  Do trail users need to fear warp speed E-bike riders silently blasting around the corner and, of course, the most common question from the E-bike curious; how far can an average rider expect to go on a single charge off road?

We set out to answer some of these questions for ourselves away from the comments box vitriol and knee jerk assumptions.  Let’s go ride!  We chose the Waihaha to Waihora segment of the Taupo Great Lake trail with the Kaiwaikawa to Kinloch segment ready and waiting, assuming that the E-bike batteries do what they say on the packet.  Neil, at New Zealand Luxury Ltd provided the bikes, a Bosch equipped Haibike XDuro All Mountain RC(27.5, 150mm full susser) and the recently released  Yamaha powered Haibike SDuro Fullnine RC(29r, 100mm travel).  A big shout out to Mark and the staff at Top Gear cycles for help with the bikes and letting our guys use the workshop to swap over those disc brakes(America: you scary!).  We were on our way. 

We set off with a mixed group of riders(fitness, skill and age) and a few conventional bikes for comparison.  If you haven’t ridden on the Great Lake Trail then you’re missing out.  Stunning views, well designed singletrack flowing through native bush makes for a great experience for anyone who appreciates riding in our beautiful country. 

The Haibike’s certainly hit the climbs with gusto.  A crucial and often overlooked element to these bikes the fact that the power goes down from a centrally mounted motor through the traditional drivetrain of the bicycle.  This means no throttle, no roosting just a cunning gearbox and motor mounted low and central to add additional torque dictated by the riders input at the crankset.  The bikes cease to assist at 25kph.  So, while a rider can look to smashing their mates on the way up, heading down the bike rolls like any other (albeit with a little more weight, aprox 9kgs).  The Haibikes ride very naturally.  Even in the slick corners of the trail our testers never felt like the bike was getting away from them.  If you want to stop the assist then simply stop pedalling.  This system also allows Haibike to spec well known mountain bike components (or owners to upgrade) without for need to integrate electronics, the drive train stands alone. 

A small whine that increases in pitch as the motor cranks up is the only disturbance heard, although any bike with this much extra gear hanging off it is a little more prone to rattles and creaks and ours were no exception.  The assist is most noticeable in sharp switchbacks as the bike pulls away from what would usually be grunt time at the cranks.  If you keep them turning then the motor will step up to fill the gap.  There’s not really any need to stomp.  Keep your cadence smooth and the climb will fly by leaving you fresh for the fun part. 

The downhill’s gave us a chance to assess the Haibike like we would any other Mountain bike, that said, the added weight is always a factor.  The SDuro 29r’s 100mm travel is an ideal set up for a lot of the riders we anticipate being excited by this bike.  The bike steps over the rough stuff and the 100mms of travel is very welcome when the braking bumps and roots start to chop up the lines.   Tektro brakes and XC32 Rockshox fork are solid reliable performers but on the SDuro 29r the added weight leaves the bike feeling a little out of depth and under braked at times.  On the smooth, flowing Waihora trail this was not a huge concern, however, an experienced or more aggressive rider will more likely enjoy the step up to the Reba fork and Deore XT’s that adorn the higher spec’d RC.  The same can be said for the All Mountain RC.  A Fox 32 is a marginal choice for any 150mm travel bike and with the heavier E-bike the point where the rider will start to flex the fork is just that much closer.

When our customers ride E-bikes the grin factor is a very reliable effect.  Don’t listen to the trolls, even the most basic commuter can be a revelation and 9 times out of 10 the first experience of electric assist is accompanied by a big old smile.  The same applies off road.  These bikes are simply a blast to ride.  The ability to snap quickly away from a switchback that would have previously robbed you of your momentum makes for big fun climbing and descending.  I was stoked to find myself up on the pedals, sprinting out of the turns, fresh as a daisy on the final downhill of our 40km day.  That is simply thrilling for this type 1 Diabetic and something that I had previously thought beyond me. 

On this trip we were also taking time to compare the performance of the older Bosch motor of the XDuro against Yamaha’s recent offering on the SDuro.  Given the length of the trail we used the modes of the bikes conservatively.  Most of the time was spent in the surprisingly capable Eco mode on both bikes.  In truth the only time I used the standard mode was on one climb when I went head to head with one of the stronger pedalers in the group and promptly dropped him.  Then it was back down to Eco for the rest of the climb and a little alone time at the top waiting on the group. Did I mention there is a more powerful mode after that?  Cool. 

Both bikes made it over the 40kms including the Kaiwaikawa to Kinloch leg.  Our Bosch rider, however, was constantly aware of the limits of his battery.  Each bike offers a figure on the CPU as to how much more distance is left in the battery in the current mode.  This left Mark a little paranoid and tending to nurse his bike to avoid the system running low.   At the end of the trail the Bosch was reading 2kms left in ‘tour’ mode while the Yamaha had a whopping great 27kms left ‘in the tank’.  Yamaha wins!!!  In the Bosch’s defense, however, I’m a little wiry and Mark probably has a good 20kg’s on me (no offence buddy).  It is also interesting to note that the Yamaha is the only Haibike to allow the use of two chainrings as well.  For Welly’s steep terrain we feel that this is a big plus.

One other bonus of riding with E-bikes in the group was that despite the range of fitness, age and affliction we all kept a lot closer together.  Not only is this fun (if a little annoying for the normies to have to listen to the E-bike boys waffling on about the scenery as we scale another climb!) but it is also much safer for a group out in the bush.  We all get to ride in train, aware of everyone’s lines, falls, whoops and hollers.  Great fun when you’re out with your mates.

So there you have it.  An epic blast on the most polarizing gizmo in cycling today and, frankly, it was a big old barrel of laughs.  We see these machines appealing to a huge range of riders.  If we are truly serious about promoting cycling and cycle tourism in New Zealand, then this is the device to show off our sport, terrain and scenery to novices, tourists or the bike curious.  Anyone, really, who might want to enjoy the thrill of Mountain Biking in this awesome land before they commit to the grind.   The other thought going through my mind while I rode is that here is a way to get another ten years of riding beyond what I previously thought possible.  Simply put, the potential is awesome.

Let’s go ride!

 

 

Big shout out to the following businesses for making our weekend epic as enjoyable as possible;

Peter @ Great Lake Shuttles

Simon and Anna @ Chris Jolly Outdoors