My Electric Return to the Race Circuit

Lessons learned from a novice e-MTBer.


I was up at sparrow’s fart o’clock, lugging my 25-kilo riding partner, a Merida eOne-Forty. Lifting an e-Bike onto the bike rack hanging off the tail of a Ford Ranger Wildtrak X is what I like to call a total body workout.

Some background; I haven’t competed in a bicycle race in ages, have since gone from an analogue MTB to digital and have entirely embraced my middle-agedness. Yet, here I was, about to participate in my first Trailseeker event. Ford South Africa, now a sponsor of the event, was gracious enough to invite me to experience this inaugural Banhoek event, hence the groovy gravel-grinding Wildtrak X at my disposal.

Right, the first thing you’ll notice as an e-MTBer is that many races categorise their electrified fields as Fun Rides, so no official time when you’re augmented I’m afraid. Those that do are few and far between, but when you’re competing on an electric bicycle, well let’s just say it’s complicated. Suddenly terms like electric doping come to mind, an obsession with battery capacity, range anxiety and more can rob you of one of the most fundamental purposes of riding a bicycle. Fun.

Bicycling contributor Calvin Fisher riding an e-bike at the Banhoek Trailseeker series


Ahead of the race, my training rides involved me fine-tuning my e-Bike’s three riding modes; Eco, Trail and Boost. I began min-maxing each, trying to determine which mode could carry me the total distance of 40km with the most amount of assist. It was a race after all, perhaps not officially but my brain insisted that if there were other riders, then it was serious. I settled on a setting that promised 45km with a good amount of assist. I was ready, and in my chute five minutes before we were meant to drop the hammer.

By my sums, at this rate, I’d be sans power in just 25kms

Then, it was go time and the motorised pack leapt forward, most of them away from me. I panicked and immediately dialed in the more aggressive Boost mode and I was back with the pack. This would ultimately lead to my downfall. Two things were happening, nobody was racing and EVERYBODY was racing. We had all got the silent memo, things got real. Not 5km later, my first battery bar evaporated into the digital ether, and I was left with four. By my sums, at this rate, I’d be sans power in just 25kms, yikes. It goes like this, the heaviest things in the universe in terms of density are Thor’s Hammer, gold ingots, an e-Bike with a flat battery, and then the rest. I knew I had to make a plan so I reverted to my lesser Trail mode but knew I now had a range of around 36-38km. Still not enough for the total distance, but my plan was to switch it to Eco mode on the flats and downhills. Ultimately, my strategy succeeded and I managed to complete the stunning circuit incorporating Plaisir Der Merle and Boschendal but nowhere near the pointy end of the pack.

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I am grateful for my opportunity to return to racing. I'm equally grateful that a benefactor such as Ford invited me to the event and furnished me with weekend wheels that could carry my bike and I along gorgeous Cape roads. But my heart was happiest when I was flowing along the trails, crushing rock gardens and scything through heavily forested single trail, not distracted by my range and fiddling with my buttons. Electrification makes riding tougher events so accessible, but if you're the type who over-obsesses about your settings, you can easily lose sight of what you love about the sport. My advice is simply stick it in Eco, enjoy the extra ability, and ride your little heart out.

Mountain bikers tackling the Ford Trailseeker Series


The Ford Trailseeker MTB Series is South Africa’s largest and most prestigious mountain bike series. Crafted by avid mountain bikers for enthusiasts of all levels, the series offers family-friendly venues around the country and world-class routes. Distances include the 70km, 40km, 20km and 10km rides, and yes, an e-Bike category.

Click here for more info.

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