Republished from E-Bike: A Guide to E-Bike Models, Technology & Riding Essentials by Martin Haussermann, with permission of VeloPress. Originally published on VeloNews.
Text by Lennard Zinn; photos by Brad Kaminski
For many, having the assistance of an electric motor makes a world of difference. The e-bike can give a rider a new chance at staying active, or it can become an alternative to a gasoline-burning, emissions-producing car. The e-bikers featured here would say their lives are clearly better with an e-bike.
A lifelong cyclist finds new life in an e-bike
About seven years ago, I developed a heart arrhythmia—an irregular heart rhythm caused by electrical problems in the heart. I’ve been coming to terms with it ever since. As a lifelong cyclist, the diagnosis placed me at a crossroads. Cycling (and cross-country skiing) is not only how I defined myself, how I challenged myself, and how I stayed fit—it also was my primary, and sometimes only, social outlet. Training with friends, going to races and racing with them, and guiding bike tours in Italy enhanced my life and reduced the isolation of my work, while bringing me a feeling of success and accomplishment.
Since I generally cannot ride or ski with others without going into cardiac arrhythmia anymore, these sports, which had comprised almost my entire social life, had become solitary pursuits during which I carefully monitor my energy expenditure to prevent my heart from going haywire. I have a wonderful family and a great life, but not riding and skiing in the mountains with friends left a void.
Before becoming an all-too-regular cardiac patient, I had ridden e-bikes a lot at industry events and demonstrations. (I’m a cycling journalist, book author, and bike designer and builder.) I even had owned a couple of them, both with rear hub motors, over the years, one of which I used as a shuttle vehicle for whitewater kayaking and the other I loaned to one of my daughters for a year as her commuting vehicle. However, I had never seen myself as a e-bike rider until my heart arrhythmia got to the point that I could not ride up any of the gorgeous climbs we have here in Boulder, Colorado, without my heart rate shooting up uncontrollably.
That all changed after discussing with Bosch the possibility of building a custom titanium road frame incorporating a Bosch motor and battery. I had ridden this system a lot and found its mid-bike placement, its high torque and long battery life, and its smooth, quiet operation to be very promising. It took some time and persistence on both ends to complete our agreement, as Bosch had not yet authorized any small-scale frame builders to use its pedal-assist systems.
During those months of designing and planning my e-bike, I had another unsuccessful operation on my heart, and my arrhythmia seemed to have only gotten worse. The value an e-bike could offer to me meant even more.
I built my first custom titanium e-bike in 2017 and immediately rode it more than any of my other bikes—I’ve ridden it almost exclusively, in fact.
The e-bike has been life-changing, as it gave back to me the mountain riding and group riding that I’d been missing.
Without the e-bike, I would have been completely grounded at home or creeping along in my lowest gear on one of my other bikes when my heart is sensitive. With the e-bike, I can still go riding while keeping the intensity low and minimizing arrhythmia incidents. Better yet, if I go into arrhythmia, I can put the bike in turbo mode and get home over hill and dale with a minimum of effort, keeping my heart rate as low as I need it to be—bringing it down to about 70 bpm—while the Bosch motor puts out 275 percent as much power as I do. Without the motor, I would either have to ride extremely slow and stop every time my heart rate spiked or I would have to call somebody to come and take me home.
The freedom my e-bike provides—to know that I can always get home if I have a heart problem—is worth an enormous amount to me.
For many years, I’d organized an annual “Zinn Fondo” ride with a large group of friends every year on my birthday in late June. It was famous for how long and hard it was. We rode from first light into the dark on one of the longest days of the year—generally around 200 miles with around 20,000 feet of climbing, often including a lot of dirt sections as well.
I used to love long, hard, all-day rides like that. Fortunately, the 85-mile range of the Bosch system with a 500 Wh battery on my e-bike makes it possible for me to once again join at least a portion of the epic rides undertaken by my buddies. I recently rode with about 20 friends up an unpaved, car-free road in Rocky Mountain National Park and then over and down Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the US, topping out at 12,182 feet (3,713 meters). It had been five years to the day since I was up over the top of Trail Ridge Road—I was riding my bike home to Boulder from Steamboat Springs that day, a great, 200-mile solo ride. A couple of weeks later, I did an epic (and final) Zinn Fondo, also riding from dawn to dusk and over very high passes, lots of it on dirt. Those were the last long, hard rides ever for me, as a month later I had my first heart arrhythmia, and I haven’t been able to do anything of the sort since.
I didn’t miss pushing my body hard to get up over 12,000 feet. I thoroughly enjoyed riding up with minimal effort, not even breaking a sweat (since I have to keep my heart rate from getting to 110 bpm). I completely enjoyed the entire experience, riding with a couple of friends going at a good pace, and I even took the time to talk to others and offer assistance where needed (I had enough extra battery power to push a buddy with serious leg cramps up the last section to the top), and I only needed a couple of sips from my water bottle. To get to the visitor’s center at the top of the unpaved climb and not be tired, hungry, and out of water—well, that’s the first time that’s ever happened to me when I got there by bike.
I also celebrate the fact that I can again ride the cyclocross courses I used to love racing on for so many years. As this bike has disc brakes and lots of mud clearance for cyclocross tires, it’s perfect! Cyclocross was always like being a kid again for me—riding around in the mud and horrible conditions with a bunch of good friends. And I feel like a kid again on my e-bike!
As I used to think of myself as being too big and tough to ride an e-bike, it is quite a transformation for me to be riding one. I’m grinning ear to ear most of the time, and I’m certainly feeling no shame when I’m on it. It gives me great freedom to enjoy all kinds of riding again, including (especially) with other people.
For more guidance on your next e-bike purchase, take a look at E-Bike: A Guide to E-Bike Models, Technology & Riding Essentials by Martin Haussermann.