Alf Alderson, long sceptical of e-bikes, hits the trails of Les Arcs on one of the dreaded beasts; will he be converted?

Route 66 is, amongst other things, a very fine and very varied enduro route in Les Arcs. It’s 26.4-km long and involves 1937-metres of descent and relatively little uphill, but the steepest section is at the very end, when you’re most knackered, and I often end up losing traction on the loose surface (that’s my excuse, anyway) and getting off my bike to push up it.

Not today though – in fact I ride past my mate Allan laughing at his futile attempt to keep up with me, for I am aboard an all-singing, all-dancing Giant Full-E+1; the ‘E’ refers to the fact that this is an electric bike, so despite it weighing a hefty 54 lbs you can pretty much ride it up the side of a house if you pop it into ‘Power’ mode - hence this mere 20 per cent slope of loose pack poses no problems at all.
Allan Verdon

Like most long-time mountain bikers, I was pretty scathing when I first saw e-bikes on the slopes a few years back, but having worked on a feature on electric bike technology last year, which made it apparent how much it has moved on, I decided to take the chance to rent one for a couple of days from Precision Ski in Bourg St. Maurice.

Apart from anything else it would give me the opportunity to make a direct comparison between a regular mountain bike (my tried, tested and thoroughly trusted Orange Five) and these new-fangled machines, since I’ve spent the last four summers riding the lift-accessed trails in Les Arcs on my Orange.

Alf Alderson

So, how would the Giant Full-E+1 compare?

Well, first off, I thought “Not so well – this bloody thing weighs a ton”. Collecting it from the hire shop gave me the chance to ride it the short, flat distance to the funicular before accessing the dirt on the peaks above, and it really did feel like a lumbering beast in comparison to my relatively nimble Orange.

Likewise, after reaching Arc 1600 on the funicular I had to load the bike onto the Cachette chair – not easy given its weight (although to be fair the lifties will help you with loading if you need it). So, I was astounded to find that once I actually began riding ‘properly’, on the ‘Legend’ trail down to Arc 1800, the bike felt – well, great.

This isn’t a bike mag so I won’t bore you with lots of technical details about the Full-E+1, but the combination of high quality Fox suspension front and rear along with a motor that gave a choice of ‘Eco’, ‘Normal’ and ‘Power’ modes meant that the ride was remarkably smooth.

The Legend trail consists of the kind of well-designed, undulating single track for which Les Arcs is renowned – lots of berms, lots of opportunities to get your bike airborne if you like that kind of thing, but nothing too daunting, and you couldn’t find a better start to a day’s riding.

And what few uphill sections there were could be tackled with ease thanks to the bike’s electric motor – and usually in ‘Eco’ mode, which has the lowest drain on the battery.

A mix of Shimano Deore XT and Deore gears provided quick and efficient changes and to be honest I didn’t use them that much as the extra push provided by the motor, which engages once you start pedalling, is often enough to get you up small inclines. The bike also came with a dropper post, so you could attain a comfortable rising position whether going uphill or down, although because of the assistance provided by the motor, pedalling with the saddle set low was a lot easier than it is on a ‘normal’ mountain bike so I didn’t always bother to readjust it after a descent.

Allan Verdon

Riding the Giant actually reminded me of being a kid – not just because the riding was fun, with Les Arcs offering an array of dry, dusty single track and more open fire road trails to suit every kind of rider – but because when the power from the electric motor kicked in it was like being given a push by your dad when you’re learning to ride your first bike.

Allan also noticed the difference, remarking on how much further ahead I’d get, and how much more quickly, than I did when riding a regular mountain bike (I’ve been riding longer and more often than him so am usually in front); this, I assume, was also partly due to the added momentum of all that extra weight.

So, after that first run down to Arc 1800 Allan and I spent a hot, sunny August afternoon blasting around much of what Les Arcs has to offer. The trails here have been designed so that there’s something for everyone from families to hard core downhillers – the combination of generally warm and sunny weather, dusty dry singletrack, and terrain that varies from open, alpine rock gardens and meadows to shady forests and alpine villages, often with a backdrop of Mont Blanc, is world class.

We finished our day with a second descent of Route 66 since it goes right past my apartment in Le Pre, where cold beer was on offer. As we stopped off to enjoy a warm evening, a cold beer and the satisfying aches that come from a day well spent on a mountain bike, Allan asked “Well, will you be getting an e-bike then, or are you still too much of a purist?”.

“I’m about having fun on a bike more than being a purist,” I replied. “And it seems to me that an e-bike is also about that. If you’re a decent rider it just means you can ride harder and longer, and there’s nowt wrong with that – it just gives you more fun.

“And if you’re not that fit, or are new to mountain biking – well, it makes it easier so you’re more likely to stick with it. Maybe I’m just getting old…

“You are!”

“OK wise ass – I am getting old – so anything that gives me the chance to ride longer and more often – well, I’ll take it. I won’t be getting an e-bike yet, partly ‘cos I don’t have a spare four grand kicking around, but I reckon we’ll be seeing a lot more of them everywhere in the future simply because they’re fun if nothing else”.

And surely that’s what riding a bike should be all about?

Allan Verdon

battery life

A concern for many who haven’t ridden an e-bike is how long the battery will last. The estimated maximum mileage for the battery on the Giant Full-E+1 is 80 miles, but I assume this is with the motor running all the time since I did just over 40 miles and still had 85 per cent charge left; since most of the riding had been downhill and hadn’t engaged the motor this is no doubt the reason for the high level of the remaining charge, but it does indicate that you could potentially do a few days of downhill/enduro riding without the need to recharge the battery.

Recharge time is 4.5 hours and since you ask, the motor has a maximum speed of 20mph so you can’t just keep pedalling like a lunatic until you’re overtaking Ferraris on the autoroute.