Uncle Dave went to Croatia and you're really not going to like it - Part 2
Uncle Dave and the (gasp!) 2019 Turbo Levo
All photos are by Harookz...if you couldn't already tell that a professional was involved.
As I plunged into this project, things got longer and longer as I got more defensive. In the end, like a 15-legged table, it didn't seem like something that would stand if I chopped any one section away. Instead, I've broken this in to 3 partially digestible chunks that will roll out on some sort of unpredictable schedule over the next few days. My one request is that before you dust off your yellin'-at-some-guy-on-the-Internet pants (you will probably have to), please wait until after you've consumed all 3 parts. I'd hate for you to get all riled up only to discover that you're even more riled up after part 3. Rather than getting all worked up twice, it's probably better to save it all up. And just remember...I'm as unhappy as you are about having to talk about all this stuff! Life is much easier if you can just tuck yourself away in a corner and ignore what everybody else is doing.
So...we put off the inevitable from yesterday. The embargo is over, and we can finally talk about the business at hand. The bike that we rode in Croatia? It was carbon fibered. It had 150mm of travel. It was a 29er. It had relatively fat and aggressive tires. Its geometry wasn't exactly the longest and slackest in the world, but it fit firmly into the category of "aggressive 29er". We good so far? Okay then...
It also had a battery and a motor.
I know, I know. I was skeptical too. I saw the inevitable shitstorm coming from miles off and it was very nearly enough to convince me not to go on this trip. I went so far as to approach a few people and seek their opinions on the matter before committing. But, for numerous reasons, I went ahead with the plan. Mostly because it began to seem a little crazy for me not to go do something because certain other people might not like it. Part of me wondered why Cam was willing to wade back into this minefield, but it seemed foolish for me to back away from the challenge if he was up for it.
So. I went to Europe and I rode an e-bike on trails where e-bikes are legal. Which, when pushed, even the hardiest of e-bike haters will sometimes admit is borderline acceptable. But is this like driving down to Washington State to smoke pot, or is it like flying to Iceland to eat whale meat? Some will shrug their shoulders. Others definitely will not.
The actual bike
Now we move on to the part of the article where we talk specifics about the product. Unfortunately, this thing...this specific e-bike...comes as close as I've ever seen to being that mythical beast that people on the internet have warned us about. The one that will trick the world into thinking it's just a regular bike and get every bike banned from every trail everywhere. It's simple and clean and if it zipped by on the trail and you didn't know what you were looking for you'd swear it was a regular Stumpjumper.
But it's not. A regular Stumpjumper, that is. This one comes with a 250 W motor and a 700 W*h battery. And this is where things start to slip away somewhat. The European journalists all seem to speak e-bike, and like a Neanderthal at a smart phone convention, I was left puzzled by many of the conversations that took place. Based on what is going on over in Europe, anybody who thinks this is a passing fad and hopes it will die on the vine is bound to be disappointed. The numerous e-bike devoted magazines and the sales figures thrown around by Specialized suggest that these things are not going anywhere. The people picking them up don't seem to be putting them down.
So, back to the machine. Some of the bigger picture things my non-e-bike brain was able to grasp are as follows:
- The battery is guaranteed to have 65% capacity at the end of 2 years or 500 full charging cycles...it will cost you around 1000 Euros for a new one...motor warranty is 2 years as well.
- Specialized is supporting all parts for 10 years after the last available model year. So if your proprietary battery catches on fire in 2028, you should still be fine.
- Complete bike weight for a Medium S-Works model is less than 20 kg. Which is just over 44 pounds when you plug that meaningless number into Google.
- Expected range is 40% more than the outgoing model, and it will probably go as far as you need it to go before severe crotch chafe grinds things to a halt.
There were hundreds more things that dozens of Specialized employees talked about, but you people are not here for accurate specs on the latest e-bikes, so I won't dwell on that too much (google "Specialized Turbo Levo" for a hotter, more accurate take). What I will say is that whether you love or hate e-bikes, it's hard to deny that this is an impressive piece of design. The controls are slick and intuitive. The battery is as stealthy as is possible with current technology. This is a beautiful machine, especially compared to some of the other bulky monstrosities on the market, and you should be a tiny bit impressed by what has been accomplished here, even if you hate it.
Riding the beast - Day One
After the timeshare sales presentation, our free gift from Specialized was the experience of spending the rest of the day riding around our home base of Rabac. Which sounds great, but conditions in Croatia were not terribly conducive to riding. Temperatures were well above 30 C, and we first hit the trails at the height of mid-day. If there was no motor involved, I most likely would have dug deep into my bag of excuses and stuck to lounging by the ocean. But, onwards we went with hardly any concern for the scorching temperature, save for a tiny water bottle and the impulse to dive for the smallest piece of nearby shade anytime we stopped. The electrical assistance was the only thing that made this somewhat bearable.
Many of the climbs were heinous monstrosities, devoid of shade but rich with large rocks and dust. Numerous times I would have been walking on a normal bike, but the e-bike let you power through things with no problem. Indeed, Specialized placed a lot of emphasis on the amount of tuning and work they put in to making all of their systems work together in harmony, and this seemed apparent during climbs. Climbing felt fairly natural, with the bike responding the way you thought it would, just with a lot more enthusiasm. The sole adjustment becomes learning to keep spinning on the way up, and to use your brakes to finesse your way around obstacles.
Things were quite seamless on the way down as well. This bike is as comfortable charging down things as any wide-tired, 150mm travel, 29er that I've ridden. This is not me blowing smoke. A couple of the trails we rode were long, straight, steep shots filled with (even more!) loose rocks and dirt. We were riding everything blind, and trying our best to impress Harookz. A couple of times I caught myself thinking that I probably shouldn't be going so fast but the bike seemed to have absolutely no problems eating things up so why not just let it continue to do so? It felt stable, balanced and planted. It seemed unshakable and it was an absolute blast to ride really fast down a hill.
The only place I felt the weight was when it got really steep and technical. After stopping trailside to cuddle a baby goat (seriously), we dropped into a boulder filled slab of awful that made me a bit homesick. I felt a bit held back on this 50 feet of trail, which by my calculation was about 0.06% of the distance covered over the day. It's definitely a sledgehammer and not a scalpel, but many of you will probably never ride down the type of trail where this becomes an actual problem.
All of the transitions that you typically keep your head down and power through were transformed as well. We rode village to village, along roadways and through farms. We climbed hills that had been far off in the distance. We rode for hours, and then we rode some more when the light got good and we needed to take photos. It was all remarkably pleasant, and there was no worry about maximizing pleasure per pedalstroke. If you took a wrong turn, you just turned around and found your way back. If Harookz wanted another take, you just pedaled back up and gave it a go. If a baby goat showed up, you just stopped and cuddled it and then caught up with the group.
And all of this was done with a massive group, filled with all sorts of skill and fitness levels. Normally this is a recipe for fractured groups and hours of waiting. Sure we scattered and waited our fair share, but for the most part, we kept things pretty tight. The electronic assistance is a definite equalizer. Us lazy bastards can make use of Turbo when we need a little hand, and the smug, fit types can gloat about how much battery they have left because they kept it in Eco all day. Between the heat, the distances, the trail conditions, and the massive group, what we did that day wouldn't have been possible on a regular bike. Honestly. Impossible. I would have collapsed at some point during hour two. Because of this, I can't help but feel positively towards the technology that enabled such an awesome day to take place. And that was only the first of two!
Riding the Beast - Day Two
Day two was a bit more of an adventure. I had to cut my morning swim a bit short and then rush through my fresh croissant at breakfast, as we were all hopping on a bus bright and early for an hour-and-a-half ride north to the mountain top village of Groznjan, where all of our bikes and gear had magically transported themselves overnight.
This zone is something most of us would be more comfortable with. A ridge stretches in either direction from the village and trails drop from along that ridge and collect at the bottom. In Canada the easy road access an loads of trails would have attracted hordes of shuttlers, but we had the place to ourselves.
The dirt and the scenery was completely different than the day before. Gone were the loose rocks and dirt, all replaced with loose pine needles. The trails were tight and steep and many people (mostly Specialized employees, somehow) found themselves in the trees at one point in the day.
Once again, the bikes impressed on the way down. It was hard to feel like you were on anything other than a really capable mountain bike. Only on the tightest switchbacks, where I was tricked into attempts to nose wheelie through them, did the bike not really want to cooperate. As my dad would say "Just don't do that, then", and with that adjustment made, things sorted themselves out pretty well.
And then you'd point yourself up that same hill and have your idea of "climbable" re-aligned.
Anybody who regularly reads what I write, knows that I like to complain about climbing. Really, it's a means to an end, and I generally source out the easiest and gentlest way to the top. Technical climbs are not something that I seek out, but at the same time, riding on the North Shore, my technical climbing skills are probably above average.
This bike lets you climb things that would not be possible on a regular bike. This bike lets you climb things that you might struggle to push your regular bike up. Some of the hills we climbed were beyond steep, as well as ridiculously loose and rocky (the pine needles were reserved for the downhill trails, I guess). "Unrideable" doesn't even begin to describe them. We stopped at the bottom of one of them and one sorry bastard who had a voice really similar to mine called out "we're not riding up that!" And we did! And it got worse! And we kept climbing! And it's not like you're not working while you're doing this. You get to the top and you're short of breath and you feel like crap. But you're accomplishing impossible things with that energy.
And that was just lap one! Of six! The day just went on and on. Up and down and up and down. We'd stop for a drink and a bite to eat, and then we'd ride some more. And then god saw how much fun we were having and decided to punish us with a biblical torrent of rain, lightning and thunder. So we hid out on the porch of a nice Belgian family, and then the rain stopped so we rode some more. And then we climbed up again and plunged down a hill that I was certain was going to kill at least one member of the party but everybody made it! And we were going to keep going but then god was like "seriously guys...stop doing that" and sent in some more rain so we went and drank wine and ate truffles and played with kittens and fell on our faces until it was time to go home. And once again this day was so fantastic and unexpected and impossible and boosted by technology and it's going to take a lot from you to convince me that this is a bad thing.
Don't fret! We're getting closer to the part where people yell at me in the comments section. Just hold on a tiny bit longer. If I could just manage to wrap things up now, I could probably escape with only a few dozen "WHY IS NSMB TALKING ABOUT MOTORBIKES!!!" cast in my direction. I know I'm already pushing my luck and it would be the irresponsible actions of a true sadist to continue any further.
For part 3, where Dave explains himself, click here...