E-Bike Evolution

A new way to get outside in Idaho's great outdoors

Published in the December 2018 Issue Published online: Feb 08, 2019 Articles, East Idaho Outdoors Ryan Harris
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“How’s this even possible?!”

Halfway up a 23-degree incline in a cold drizzle that slowly turned to snow, Devin Hess was pedaling––and laughing out loud.

It was Hess’s first ride on an electric-assisted mountain bike. And what a ride it was. In 70 minutes, we had climbed 1,950 feet of elevation on a single track trail east of Idaho Falls on the Idaho/Wyoming border.

An hour and ten minutes.

On a mountain bike.

Well, an e-mountain bike.

Specifically, a 2019 Specialized Turbo Levo FSR. Known as an e-bike, the Turbo Levo sports a 250W motor and 500Wh integrated battery with three modes of electric pedal assist. A charge lasts a full day’s ride in mountain terrain.

Don’t jump to conclusions – an e-bike is not a motorcycle, and it doesn’t pedal up a mountain for you. There’s no throttle. It just helps you do work. As long as your legs keep moving the pedals, it keeps kicking in some crank power.

What it eliminates is the verge-of-physical-collapse, over-exertion moments when you drain your leg power and lung capacity on a hard climb. And it re-defines a hard climb. The Turbo Levo FSR will climb. And climb. And climb.

You burn calories like mad. Granted, the hard-core mountain bike athletes on non-electric-assisted bikes burn more in the same distance, but they’re also hard core mountain bike athletes. They have hours and days on end to train and condition and ride. The rest of us? We don’t. We have conference calls. We have deadlines. We have kids who have sports to be driven to. We have limited outdoor recreation time.

And we have e-bikes.

“This thing is so capable,” Hess says, reaching the high point of the trail and cruising through a beautiful clearing in the trees. “I seriously just went up Mt. Everest. On a bike. It’s freaking steep!”

Shifting Gears

Personally, I’ve done cross-country and all-mountain rides on regular mountain bikes enough to know. I’ve pedaled City Creek in Pocatello. I’ve pedaled (struggled) Phillips Ridge by Wilson, Wyoming. I’ve pedaled (struggled more) into Upper Palisades Lake. And I’ve spent days recovering from those types of rides. Sore at work, ornery at home, tired at meetings. All in the name of wanting to do those hard-core rides that MTB athletes do.

But the only way that was ever going to happen was if I could work 15 hours a week and live in Driggs. The harsh reality is I would never get over that hump of struggling out 12-mile, all-day rides.

Then everything changed.

I saw the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR e-bike one day inside Bill’s Bike and Run early in 2018. They offered a demo ride, which I did at Heise. Then again the next day on a trail near Palisades. Then again that afternoon on another trail at Kelly Canyon. Then again ever since.

Finally, I was doing rides that hard-core mountain bike athletes do. Covering miles. In minutes. I felt alive. I felt like a doer. I felt athletic. The rides were workouts, but with mellower max-outs and recoveries that didn’t impact the rest of my responsibilities. I was burning calories like a furnace (admittedly less than someone doing that same ride on a regular mountain bike, but much more than someone not doing a ride at all). And doing it more frequently than ever before.

All summer, I looked for new trails every week to explore. Half a morning here, half an afternoon there. Mountain bike trails, dirt bike trails... I threw the Turbo Levo in anytime I had to run to north, south, east or west for work. I could squeeze in a solid ride in as few as 45 minutes.

Because the e-bike lets me cover so much ground, I can do 10 miles of dirt in a cinch. 25 miles? No problem. Two-thousand feet elevation gain? Didn’t notice.

E = More Distance for your Time

My favorite part of all this is exactly what got me hooked on mountain biking years ago: downhills.

An hour of struggle peddling on a normal bike would get me a few hundred feet of elevation, and about five minutes of enjoyment going back downhill (too winded and lung-burned to enjoy it).

An hour on the Turbo Levo? That’s gotten me 1,500 to 2,500 feet elevation, miles of trail to cover, and a good 15-30 minutes of exhilarating downhill that rivals a lift run at my beloved Targhee bike park (which features 2,270-feet of elevation).

“These bikes are super capable of doing everything I wanted to do today,” Hess says. “You can seriously look up a hill and just go for it.”

E-mountain bikes aren’t a product designed to get die-hard mountain bikers to switch over. Why would they? They’re the riders the rest of us wish we had time to become. Instead, the e-bike movement is creating a segment out of thin air. It’s bringing people to a sport who haven’t done a whole lot of serious MTB single track before (if you can pedal a regular bicycle around the Freeman Park loop, you can pedal an e-bike uphill in the mountains). An alternative means to go exploring. Just another way to get out and enjoy southeast Idaho’s great outdoors. Because on these bikes... anything is possible.

See the full lineup of Specialized Turbo Levo FSR bikes at Bill’s Bike and Run at Snake River Landing.


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