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Less Torquing, more riding

High up in the hills above Frejus, after three punishing days and with some 150+ kms of e-MTB trails in my legs, the penny finally dropped. E-MTBs, and e-bikes in general for that matter, are a whole heap of fun that mean you can ride further, faster, harder and in some cases longer than you can on a normal bike. Period.

As obvious as it might sound, beforehand I had always equated e-bikes with leveling the playing field, or compensating for an injury or lack of fitness. I'd never considered the possibility of a group of well-trained and technically skilled riders using them to have more fun and get more from their rides.

Rewinding three days previously, monsoon rains were lashing down on the Cote D'Azur and a thunder storm was rattling around the hills. It wasn't the best time to take out our new Merida E-OneTwenty eMTBs but we needed to check the route for our guests in the coming days and hey, personally I'd never fully experienced just how waterproof the system was, so this was as good a time as any!

The driving rain storm brought the temperature right down but we weren't cold from a lack of effort. In fact we were setting a strong pace and working hard on climbs even with motors beneath us. We didn't have too much time ride so we whacked the drive units into Boost mode and crossed through the bracken and thorn bushes of the Foret Domainiale de l'Esterel towards the crest, named Vinegar Mountain by the locals. Despite its name the climb was never going to leave us with a tangy taste in the mouth as 60Nm of torque coming from the E7000 drive unit took us swiftly over the rock gardens, yet the modulation also was spot on for tackling tight switch backs and technical sections where too much power would have been overkill.

If the uphill was the most fun we've had on a climb then the downhill section was just as much fun as it always is, which is quite a big statement considering e-MTBs could have the potential to handle differently with the extra weight of the battery and drive unit. With the SHIMANO STEPS system though, which has a compact drive unit, allowing for a normal Q-factor and normal chainstay length, handling was predictable and assured over the rocks and pebbles that littered the coast-facing slopes branching off the Carrefour de Roche Noire.

Descending through the clouds into the valley brought quite a chill in rain-soaked clothing so we switched to Eco mode and sped up, using more of our own power to generate some warmth on the return back to base.

A new dawn

By the next morning the biblical storm had passed leaving an azure blue sky to match the coast. Perfect weather for the first public test of the SHIMANO STEPS E-7000 MTB system.

With the system's focus on cost-effectiveness we were curious to see how the new drive unit, switch, and computer would be received. Rolling out of Roc D'Azur we already discovered some eager riders in our group looking to push the pace. Above 25km/h the drive units can't offer power, meaning you have to use your own leg strength. With the efficient Hollowtech II cranks and relatively lightweight drive unit and battery though the bikes were easy to push on for those keen to get started.

Our first morning was spent getting our group accustomed to the bike's handling and the key differences between the E8000 unit. Although the torque is less, we found this was mostly unnoticeable, especially as everyone was tackling sections at their own pace or in their own setting. Some preferred Eco mode so they had to do more of the work themselves, and some preferred Boost mode because for one thing it's very hangover-friendly!

Isn't e-biking a piece of cake?

After a few hours on the trail our riders and our e-bike batteries both needed some juice so we dropped into the valley and called in at a tranquil family restaurant in Saint Raphael. Everyone was pretty desperate to fuel up, all making the mistake of assuming e-MTB would be easier that normal biking - a piece of cake it certainly ain't! But after refueling on a delicious plate of local lamb parcels with baby potatoes, as many bread rolls as they were prepared to serve, followed by pancakes for dessert, our group was soon eager for more riding.

Riding the trails again also gave us the chance to spot sections that some added e-power might help us clear. The challenge was no longer just about picking the best lines on the descent but also climbing sections that would normally be unrideable. But that didn't mean always choosing Boost mode. Sometimes too much torque can overcook a corner so we were learning how best to modulate and control the power.

Talking of which, that power control is handled by a simple set of buttons on the left side of the handlebar on the new E7000 system, rather than the Firebolt gear lever that comes with the E8000 system.

This means that it can fit neatly with a dropper seat post, which came in handy throughout the ride. From getting a lower position for a descent to simply getting the seat post out of the way for more maneuverability, the use of our PRO Koryak dropper post lever and the handlebar fit with the E7000 drive unit controller made a noticeable difference to our confidence on the trail.

With great power comes great responsibility!

The following morning we rolled out to explore new grounds again but our legs were feeling the effects of the technical climbing we'd been doing. It was becoming evident that we weren't expanding much less energy than normal bikes; it wasn't getting much easier, we were simply covering the uphill sections much faster and harder. As well as that, before we tackled the trails again we literally needed to pull our socks up. The thickets of thorn bushes on the lower slopes had criss-crossed our shins making for some small but savage cuts. The e-bikes can power so well through all sections but as a rider you're more susceptible to the dangers of the speed. Of course a few scratches isn't much but one of our group also picked up some decent gravel rash from applying too much power in a technical section, yet again providing a cliched reminder straight out of a Marvel comic: with great power comes great responsibility!

Later that day we started to get strategic with the batteries. Trail and Boost mode can be customized to either give more torque or to save on battery power, so we calculated when we wanted to stop and chose the 'Explorer' greater battery conservation mode to ensure that everyone in our group could get another loop in and still get to the lunch stop without having to use the emergency battery we were carrying. This on-trail customisability felt like a neat trick to adjust the bikes to your preferred setting. We found it especially useful after riding the same trail several times because we could calculate what setting was best.

Must have been the dust in the air

With beautiful October sunshine it was easy to take our time in the afternoon to perfect our e-MTB's handling, trying old tricks on new bikes. Wheelies, jumps, whips and wall rides were all eventually mastered on the e-MTBs and the peaks of the Foret Domainiale de l'Esterel were crested several times more.

Our final ascent came in the late afternoon with the low sun peaking through the trees either side of the trail, casting the riders ahead in a luminescent light. We were already counting our lucky stars when we started the descent back towards the coast. With the setting sun ahead of us the group of riders ahead kicked up a cloud of dust that filtered hazily through the sunlight, creating one of those golden moments that make you incredibly grateful that you can ride your bike in such beautiful surroundings. By the time we reached the end of that trail, and the end of our trip, it was more than just the dust in the air that was making us misty-eyed!

The three days in Frejus taught us that nobody needs to make excuses for riding an e-bike anymore. E-bikes enable people of all types to perform way beyond their physical capabilities. In our case the bikes helped us quickly navigate the town roads to get to the trails, power up and over technical rooty sections and step-ups, blast the climbs so we could practice more skills on the downhills, and above all they allowed us to have an incredible amount of fun. The only excuse for an e-bike these days is why you haven't bought one yet!

For more on how SHIMANO STEPS E7000 rides you can you can watch the video review from GMBN below, or for detailed product information you can read more on shimano-steps.com

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