If you missed the first post, you should probably go back and read it now. Most importantly, it details why we were riding e-bikes in the Downieville, CA area in the first place – their moto-legal trails are also complete legal for e-bikes. If you’re considering an e-bike, you’re probably wondering where the hell you can ride the thing, but it’s a pretty safe bet that if motorcycles are allowed, then e-bikes are too. And in the case of Downieville and Moab – there are some pretty epic trails that are already open to motorcycles.
Split into two days, our time on the Shimano STEPS E8000 system would start with a legendary climb up to the top of Packer Saddle to take on the Downieville downhill. Every other time I’ve ridden the Downieville downhill it has involved a shuttle ride (in a vehicle) up to the top. Yes, a number of people ride to the top for the annual Downieville Classic, but I think it’s fair to assume that far more people shuttle it.
The fact that we were pedaling (easliy) up a mountain that would typically be spent staring out the back window of a shuttle van instantly put a smile on my face.
It didn’t hurt that I was in the company of some extremely rad individuals like Hans Rey and Joe Lawill, but thanks to the ability to choose your own assist we all stayed close together on the climb.
After reaching the top in a surprisingly short period of time, it was time for the reward. Only, it’s not really fair to call it the reward since the climb up was hardly strenuous (and just as enjoyable). Unfortunately for me, this would be the end of my day since I was forced to take it easy due to breaking two metacarpals only a week prior. Those lucky enough to tackle the Downieville descent got pummeled by a thunderstorm, but had a great time threading their way back into town.
Day two found us in Quincy, CA to take on Mount Hough. In spite of the added assist, the climb to the 7,232′ peak was still a lung buster proving that, yes, you absolutely still get a work out on an e-bike. Mostly because the 26 mile ride would seriously test the range of the battery. While some of us made it back with one bar of juice, a number of riders depleted the battery at the top or on the way back down – fortunately it was mostly downhill from there. According to my GPS, this ride had 4,703 feet of elevation gain in only two hours and fourteen minutes of moving time, so we weren’t exactly taking it slow.
After having to sit out the first day’s descent due to my busted knuckles, the terrain was a little more tame coming down Mt. Hough which let me finally experience how the bike handled when descending. As a whole, most e-bikes that I’ve ridden haven’t been as much fun as a human powered bike on the descent because they are so heavy. The Shimano E8000 equipped bike was no different, but it’s a lot closer to the ride of a classic mountain bike. While it’s still considerably heavier, the improvements in geometry that the motor allows carry over to the trail in terms of vastly improved handling. The weight is still noticeable under braking, but when it comes to cornering, sending small lips, and just moving the bike around, this bike seemed like a huge improvement in the evolution of e-MTBs.
Equally important was how the power is delivered. Many e-bikes are kind of surge-y when it comes to the power delivery. That’s bad news when it comes to technical trail riding. Whether applying power when you don’t want it to, or cutting out and not assisting you when you need it most, getting the balance correct seems to be one of the hardest parts of e-bike design. Shimano seems to have nailed it. There wasn’t a single moment during either ride where the motor behaved in a way that was unexpected, and it’s also fairly quiet.
I was also surprised at how much I grew to love the ‘shifter’ for the mode control. Akin to a remote lockout switch, you’d never realize how much you’ll use it until you have that control at your fingertips. Being able to quickly shoot up to Boost for a steep punchy section of trail, or turn the motor off completely for an extended downhill section helped to not only maintain pace, but also to conserve battery life.
What better way to wrap up two days of riding than with some Trout fishing? At the end of the ride, we were able to test out some other Shimano products without batteries – their fishing poles and reels. We weren’t very successful (other than Francis who managed to snag the little trout above), but it was a great way to wrap up an epic day.
As for the e-bikes? They’re still not going to replace our pedal bikes any time soon, but for those looking for an e-MTB, the Shimano STEPS E8000 system seems to be the one to beat. Combining Shimano’s legendary engineering with smart features and impressive ride feel, Shimano is quickly setting the standard for off-road assist.