Eternal Youth on two wheels
Confessions of a cyclist
I have a bit of a confession when it comes to cycling. Actually, I have two. The first is that as much as I love cycling (and I really do) I am one of those people that tend to reflect on what a wonderful time they’ve had after the ride is over. The anticipation bit, the sense of a great ride ahead is not, for me, the most motivating of things. I’m not sure why. I think it’s partly because I live in the Staffordshire Moorlands near the Peak District. Personally, I find the first 20 minutes of any ride a challenge to warm up ageing muscles, and since the lane that masquerades as the B-Road near our house quickly delivers a mini Alpe d’Huez after just 3 minutes (OK, I exaggerate a bit), I usually find the easiest thing is not to go out at all. Shame on me.
The second confession is that I am a really nervous descender. That’s definitely an age thing. I have found (recently to my cost) that as we get older it takes longer to repair self-inflicted injuries. I do run a lot since it only involves trainers, a pair of Skins and a running vest and I can usually organise that. Recently, on the morning of a long training run, I was multi-tasking trying to get an after run recovery shake into a bottle whilst eating a piece of toast and drinking an espresso, all simultaneously. I wasn’t taking any notice of my feet when suddenly my left foot decided to have a wholly unprovoked fight with our oak kitchen bench. The bench won and the whole episode put both a metaphorical dent in my marathon training and, as it turns out, a literal one in a metatarsal in my left foot. 6 weeks later and it still hurts like hell.
So for me, the perfect bike is one that feels really solid like its hewn out of solid granite, yet is lightweight on climbs, gentle on my joints during the ride and assured and confidence inspiring in any descent. Sadly, I’ve never really found one that does all that. Until now.
Infinito CV (the last bike)
But before I get to that, I must stop moaning and admit my last bike was a cracker in so many ways. Seriously, I really loved it. One of the joys of owning a bike shop is we do get to try out fantastic gear and then talk about it a lot. And this definitely applied to my last bike, a Bianchi Infinito CV. It was super light, super fast and the Countervail Carbon frame meant most of the shocks were dissipated long before they reached my bum and / or wrists. When you’re the wrong side of 50 and starting to creak a bit, that’s bliss, trust me.
However, two things were still a problem. Despite being light and having plenty enough gears, I still had to pedal the thing uphill. And since you now know a bit about where I live, you’ll understand I had to do that a lot. Plus, as much as I thought the brakes were terrific, I often had that sense on a fast descent that I was on a bike that was slightly twitchy with a nervous back end. And nobody likes to be slightly twitchy with a nervous back end.
Anyway, as is so often the way in my world, last October I got a call from my brother Paul (who is the expert when it comes to selling bikes) to give me both good news and ‘even more’ good news. The good news was that he had sold my Infinito to a customer who really wanted it, so hopefully that was OK but if it wasn’t it was tough because the customer already had the bike. It was with understandable trepidation therefore that I asked for the ‘even more’ good news. “Oh that’s easy” said Paul. “You can now get a new bike and I’ve got just the thing – the Bianchi E Road that I saw on the Bianchi dealer trip to Italy last summer”.
This was a surprise on two accounts. First, I never thought Paul would suggest an E-Bike for me and second, I was surprised he remembered anything from the Bianchi Dealer event in Italy. A well-known Danish beer brand often suggests in their ads that if they were to turn their hand to doing ‘something”, it would be the best ‘something’ ever done, if you get my drift. One can’t fault their self-confidence but even if they did go into the business of putting on bike dealer events, I’d be just as confident myself they still wouldn’t be as good as the one’s Bianchi do. However, what goes in Bergamo stays in Bergamo I suppose and since I digress, let’s get back to my new bike…..
“Seriously” said Paul, “it’s perfect for you. Fully Hydroformed aluminium frame, carbon fork and steerer, disc brakes with 12mm bolt thru axles that will really inspire confidence on descents (good) and of course a 250W Polini motor to help you up the hills”. I didn’t hear anything else after that. “A 250W motor? Are you kidding?” I said. “I’ll be flying past Steven Kruijswijk on his Oltre XR4 with that at my disposal”. “No you won’t” said Paul. “It’s good but it isn’t that good with your fat lump on it”. Then after the briefest of pauses; “it’s still brilliant though. LOL.” Feeling understandably slightly deflated but curious at the same time, I said “OK” and sat back to await the rival of my new uber bike…..
Bianchi E Road
Fast forward 6 months and here it is at last. On first look, I must admit I was very pleasantly surprised. I was expecting something ugly but whilst it’s still obviously an E-Bike with a battery unit mounted on the down tube and a substantial looking motor where the bottom bracket resides, it’s all done in a very stylish and thoughtful way. It is an imposing bit of kit certainly but the whole package is very well resolved and looks classy in its matt black finish with celeste highlights. From a design perspective, it’s clear Bianchi didn’t fall into the trap of the bike designer finishing his bit before handing it over to the electrical engineers with a cheery “Ciao” and whatever the Italian is for “over to you now, boys”. No, this one looks like the bike designer actually stayed in charge to the very end of the process.
This being the first of a number of blogs on this bike during its long term test, I’ll just give you an overview of the technical bits at this stage, although even at a summary level, the spec is impressive. By the way, if your eyes tend to glaze over at technical stuff, just skip the list and go straight to the next para.
- Fully Hydroformed aluminium frame in Bianchi Endurance Geometry with carbon forks and steerer
- Ultegra shifters, derailleurs and brakes (with Shimano Freeza rotors for superior heat dissipation)
- Bespoke FSA crank (to mate with the Polini 250W motor)
- Fulcrum wheelset with 12mm bolt thru axles, front and rear
- Vittoria Zaffiro Pro tyres (32 mm)
- Plenty of clearance for full length mudguards (which my bike is fitted with)
Now, if you are anything like me (middle aged and technically challenged) you’re probably thinking “Gosh, what an interesting list of stuff. But what I really want to know is what it’s like to ride and why I should I even think of buying one”. And if that is what you are thinking, then those are excellent questions. So here goes.
For a first ride I thought of something easy but with a couple of cheeky hills thrown in; Mini Alpe d’Huez and Froghall Hill. I mention Froghall because it’s a bit of a monster to throw in near the end of a ride. It’s not long, probably less than a mile in length, but it’s about 13.5% at its steepest and has a couple of nasty bends. You know the kind of bends where you are grinding away at 3 mile/h in the lowest gear you have left but behind you, some young chap in a cheap suit and a tragic haircut is hunched menacingly at the wheel of a Vauxhall Astra, almost nudging the rear wheel of your bike. He’s desperate to get past but he can’t quite see enough of the road ahead so he sits there brooding and impatient. Meanwhile, you feel terribly sweaty and threatened all of a sudden which makes you even more nervous. Well, Froghall is that kind of hill. Perfect for an E-Bike I thought.
The First Ride
I set off on a glorious April afternoon and first impressions were very positive indeed. Other than the aforementioned battery pack sitting flush on the down tube and that crank / motor, the only other really obvious sign this is an E-Bike is a triangular sort of control unit atop the bar that looks like it came straight out of the original Star Wars prop basket, in terms of design at least. It is in fact really simple to use, though for my first run purposes, I was only interested in the + and – buttons (and I wasn’t planning to use the – button all that much either). The LCD screen was backlit and clear and at no time during the ride was I unsure as to how much ‘motor power’ I was calling upon. I thought I’d start mid way through the power range and see how I got on. Halfway up mini Alpe d’Huez though, I cracked and turned it up to max. Instantly, the bike urged forward but the power delivery was fluid and just kept coming. Never hurried or snatchy, just constant and smooth, like someone very strong putting their hand on your back and pushing purposefully. It was, quite simply, brilliant and in no time at all we’d cleared the summit of mini Alpe d’Huez.
I wasn’t done with the hills though and by the time I got to the summit point (where I took the picture below) I had climbed 500 feet, all absolutely effortlessly. Remember though, you are still pedalling all the time. This is not a moped, it’s a bike with a motor assist. You are still cycling and you are still getting a good workout, just being helped when the help is most needed. Cycling along the ridge was also the only time I really thought about a slight downside of this particular E-Bike. Once above 25 km/h, the motor stops assisting (it’s a legal requirement for the motor to be speed limited to 25 km/h so that the bike remains a bike and not something else) and at that point, you do notice the weight of the bike a bit. This one weighs around 18 kg and I did notice it a little bit especially as I was cycling into a headwind at that point. But it’s a very small issue and of course, you are still cycling above 25 km/h so you’re hardly dawdling. And I forgot the point almost as soon as I had thought of it anyway.
Going downhill was a joy. I am, as previously indicated, a nervous descender but not on the Bianchi E Road. The Ultegra disc brakes with their Shimano Freeza rotors are brilliant. No noise, no fade, just dependable and confidence inspiring braking. I could almost say I enjoyed the downhill, not something I would normally ever contemplate saying!
But then (at around the 14km mark on the Strava screen grab below) it was time for the hill at Froghall. I didn’t really know what to expect but I put the power boost to max and set off. At no point did I drop below 25 km/h and I was almost disappointed that it was over when I reached the top. The white transit van that had followed me up was clearly very surprised and I smiled inwardly to myself as he whizzed by when it was safe for him to do so at the thought he was probably oblivious to the fact it was an E-Bike he’d just seen. Perhaps he had thought I might be Dan Martin’s older brother out for a leisurely afternoon ride. OK, probably not, but I could see he was still surprised.
I arrived back home all too quickly and as I dismounted asked myself for my overriding sense of what I had just experienced. That was easy. This bike is, quite simply, the most brilliant piece of new technology I have seen in years (and I include my iPhone when making that statement). It had put a genuine smile on my face without ever making me question whether the simple pleasure of cycling had been fatally compromised in the process. It had not. This is the best of both worlds, pure and simple.
So should you consider buying one of these? Well, I would and without a moment’s hesitation, even after just one ride. If I lived in a city, I’d sell the car. I wouldn’t even think of commuting any other way and the cost : benefit of that decision alone would make me very happy. And let’s be clear, this is a genuine alternative to a car. It’s that good. OK, I realise that statement works mainly if you are driving your car with just yourself in it but sadly, in 2018, that’s true of far too many of us. And if I lived in the country (which I do) I’d buy it just for the fact it makes the hills disappear. I still pedalled up them but with a feeling of pleasure, not dread. And for that, I love it.
I am nearly 52 and reasonably fit, thanks to plenty of running. But I know I am getting a little slower each year. I know this because my ten year old beat me in a sprint for the line at the Hanley Park Run on Christmas Day and still won’t let me forget it. My wife is a very good cyclist and more “bike fit” than me but no longer will I need to feign injury when she asks me if I want to go for a ride with her. I now know I have a fighting chance of keeping up. And that’s one of the real benefits of a bike like this. It’s a great leveller. It allows those of us who are older to keep up with those who are younger. It allows us to keep doing the things we love doing for longer and that makes it an absolutely brilliant, wonderful thing. It’s eternal youth on two wheels. Who would have thought that would be possible, even just a few years ago.
The E-Bike of 2018 is a very different proposition to just 5 years ago. Technology has come on in leaps and bounds. Not that long ago, a typical E-Bike would have had a really unreliable hub mounted motor, a battery pack the size of a breeze block but twice as heavy mounted on a pannier rack (thus making the bike unstable) and with a range to get you to the local village store but not back. Not now. In the same way that it is really very hard to buy a rubbish car these days, E-Bikes are also going through their own coming of age. The Bianchi E Road is not only great tech, it also looks great and it works. I’ll know more about the battery range over longer rides for instance but already the signs are good. I rode 19km on this first ride, climbing 411m at an average pace of 26.7 km/h. I didn’t hold back on the power and yet the battery still said it had around 75% charge left. That’s impressive in anyone’s book and something I’ll be studying more in the coming weeks and months.
E Bikes are not cheating. They are technological wonders that make things possible without compromising the purity of what cycling is; being able to get out, do something healthy, feel the wind on your face and enjoy the sensation of simply being alive. I am now likely to go riding far more regularly than I have been for a long time thanks to this bike.
That’s not cheating, it’s emancipation. Welcome to the revolution.
Criterium Cycles stocks an extensive range of E-Bikes from Bianchi and Trek starting from £2,000. The Bianchi E Road featured in this article starts from £4,000. For further information or enquiries, please do call Criterium Cycles on 0131 663 6220