“There’s an e-bike race at the Sea Otter Classic?!” was my surprised
response when I started reading over the event schedule that included
just about every other two-wheeled contraption you could imagine. I
have to say, the idea of an e-bike race was slightly amusing to me since I
couldn’t really wrap my mind around how such a format would even work,
but I have to give the folks at Sea Otter credit for coming up with such a
concept. In past years at the event I had raced mountain bikes and road
bikes, so I ;gured, why not add an e-bike to the list as well?
Rather than have the race be dictated simply by who had the most
powerful e-bike, guidelines were set to keep an even playing ;eld, with
500 watts being the biggest motor allowed. For me, I went with one of
the latest e-bikes to hit the market, the Specialized Turbo Levo hardtail.
A little bit of prep using the Mission Control app ensured I got the most
amount of power out of the motor without running out of battery during
the planned one-hour race.
As for the course, the folks at Sea Otter decided to throw everything
at us and run the race on a portion of the pro cross-country course,
where we would repeat two-mile laps over and over again, logging about
seven laps’ worth of hard racing. Following a practice lap I ;gured that
the course obstacles, which included an off-camber singletrack section
chock-full of braking bumps, would de;nitely weed out many riders, as
would the rock garden that gave me quite a fright when ;rst coming up
on it. These were things that no matter how powerful an e-bike you might
have, bike-handling skills and some ;tness would end up being just as
important of an advantage.
Over one hundred of us lined up at the start with most like me, not
quite knowing what the next 60 minutes would hold. Once the gun went
off it was the same as any other mountain bike race I’ve ever done—
choking dust from the riders up front and jockeying for position before
entering the singletrack. The short, punchy climbs undoubtedly had less
sting, thanks to the pedal assist, but any effort over the wattage output of
the motor was all on me. That’s when I realized that just because it’s an
e-bike doesn’t mean that you can’t get in a very, very hard workout! There
were also a number of sections where the bike’s top speed wasn’t quite
enough to get me around the rider in front, so once again I would need
to do another interval-like effort that would be repeated numerous times
throughout the race.
Through the technical terrain the Levo handled like a mountain bike
should and didn’t have any awkward
imbalance issues from the extra 20 pounds
added by the pedal assist. By race end
I was happy to roll across the ;nish line
without having crashed or suffered any
Thanks to a number of top cross-country pro riders who were also out there, I
was never in the mix to land on the podium, but that isn’t the reason I decided to
take part in the ;rst place. It was nice to
hear former cross-country world champions Christophe Sauser and Ruthie Matthes
both state that the e-bike race asked of
them as much effort and experience as any
legitimate non-assist mountain bike race.
Getting in on something so unique and different was the draw, and it ultimately ended
up being a hard workout and, most important, so much fun. I hope there are more
e-bike races to come.
Christoph Sauser powers
up the hill on his way to the
30–39 Men’s class.
COMES TO AMERICA
By Neil Shirley