Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Tough Enough

One excursion after the long ride down, just to snap my campsite.

One excursion after the long ride down, just to snap my campsite.

I decided to wring out the Evelo Aurora e-bike yesterday after a 6-mile trash run to a dumpster. There are trails here and there that climb some of the peaks around camp here at Bonneville, so I figured, why not do a little exploring at the one closest to my camp? These trails in no way resemble the “working” trails I expect to revisit over the coming winter, the trails that connect me with towns and their resources. Today’s ride just kinda falls into the “exploration” category.

This is the trail as it looks from camp. Nice, smooth, and gentle.

This is the trail as it looks from camp. Nice, smooth, and gentle.

Well, I found out why not explore the trail closest to camp. I expected the aggressive slope, but recent heavy rains chose the trail to drain down, and very consistently. The rain tore out deep ruts, and formed abrupt shoulders that trapped you once your tire fell into one. Where the ruts weren’t, sand and fine gravel were, several inches deep.

Once around the bend, this is a nice uphill climb, taking from 350 to 500 watts at about 4.5 MPH.

Once around the bend, this is a nice uphill climb, taking from 350 to 500 watts at about 4.5 MPH.

Struggle uphill, and two things happened. The slope was steep enough to throw all weight onto the rear tire, which sunk it into the inescapable sand, and tremendously increased rolling resistance. Second, so little weight remaining on the front tire made steering just go away. No front tire traction. At such low climbing speeds at max power, you need steering to pick the best path and to correct for any balance problems at the low climb speeds. Now, I used to be able to win “slow races”, and maintain balance even when barely moving at all, maybe half an inch a second. I also used to be able to stand on the pedals and force things along, leaning forward in a decidedly gung-ho manner. That was then, and this is now. Pedaling moderately at 3.5 MPH is going to affect balance, and steering is needed to fix it. But I was whipping the handlebar from side to side to steer on that slope, and not a whole lot of directional change was resulting from it. That made it easy to dive back into the ruts and sand, or into the bushes at the side. Good thing the Aurora’s disk brakes work in reverse, unlike some older caliper types, where the rubber friction pads just popped right out when rolling backwards.

A little farther up, washed-in sand starts coming into play, and picking a path is necessary.

A little farther up, washed-in sand starts coming into play, and picking a path is necessary.

It was just a bad, torn-up trail, and at least the Aurora took me up it much, much farther than my beloved old Raleigh mountain bike could have. Add the same steering problems onto my wheezing along in the Raleigh’s crawler gear, and I’d have gone 100 yards and had to give up because of those ruts. Heck, the trail’s slope alone was enough to make me stop for breath during the 100-foot section that I had to give up and walk. I had the Aurora in its lowest gear ratio, and was still topping 850 watts even though I was pedaling. And that’s using the smaller 44-tooth chainring for extra hillclimbing leverage. Just shows to go you just how bad the combination of slope and soft sand was. No doubt an even smaller chainring would allow it to crawl up by brute force, with me duckwalking to maintain balance. But there’s no point in specializing the bike to that extent, for my purposes. I don’t need it to be able to handle nasty, radical trails like this.

This is starting to get bad. The sand is deep. At at about 4 MPH,  staying on a path is difficult to do accurately. There's not enough traction to climb a shoulder to get on solid ground. The left shoulder held out for awhile.

This is starting to get bad. The sand is deep. At at about 4 MPH, staying on a path is difficult to do accurately. There’s not enough traction to climb a shoulder to get on solid ground. The left shoulder held out for awhile.

With me off it and walking, at least I didn’t have to push the bike. A slight twist of the throttle made it roll itself along beside me, although there never was a point when there wasn’t wheelspin and hop doing this. It’s the slope and lack of weight on the seat. But it moved along.

This was pretty bad despite the tame look in this photo. Deep gullies and poor enough traction even with the aggressive Maxxum tires that wheelspin became a problem. 3.5 MPH at 800-900 watts. A lot of that power was absorbed simply by the rear tire digging for traction and sinking into the sand.

This was pretty bad despite the tame look in this photo. Deep gullies, and poor enough traction even with the aggressive Maxxis tires that wheelspin became a problem. 3.5 MPH at 800-900 watts. A lot of that power was absorbed simply by the rear tire digging for traction and sinking into the sand.

Eventually, I had to give up, not because the e-bike wasn’t game for it, but because the trail got so bad that there was no path to pick that wouldn’t make me have to put my foot down for balance, or send me off into the bushes. I was getting rear wheelspin with me on it, for cry-eye, and that’s with the highly aggressive Maxxis tires I pulled off the Raleigh. By the time I gave it up, we’d climbed 635 feet over about 1 mile of bad road. I know the elevation change because I popped my GPS into its mount on the handlebar. The distance came from the Aurora’s onboard display.

Stripped down to basics, the Evelo Aurora went way past the point that I'd have to give up on my more radically-geared old Raleigh mountain bike.

Stripped down to basics, the Evelo Aurora went way past the point that I’d have to give up on my more radically-geared old Raleigh mountain bike.

The descent was at the same speed I’d come up, because of those ruts. I came to trust the Aurora’s disk brakes, which allowed me to do maximum braking without skidding in the loose stuff on the way down. Excellent control, and no unevenness as the wheel rotated. By the time I reached bottom to take a snap of my campsite here at Bonneville, I was pretty impressed with what the Aurora had put up with. I wouldn’t have expected a 500-watt rated motor to just keep forcing its way up at the much higher meter readings I was seeing. Starting from rest, bogged down in deep sand, the controller momentarily threw its safety at 847 watts stall. Rolling, it never blinked. And this was no two-minute fun run. It was more like twenty minutes of torture test. Once on the climb, there was no “easy” section for it to cool down on. Considering little stunts like this, and the full-time weather exposure that my Aurora has to suffer, its day-in, day-out ability to just keep rolling has me impressed and hopeful for the long term. Looks like it’s going to do the job just fine.

With a steep slope consisting of deep sand, weight on the front tire was so slight that even on the more solid shoulders, steering to stay on a path became useless because there was simply no front traction. The bike stalled in this slop at a peak of about 940 watts. I walked from here, but at least I didn't have to push the bike - a touch of throttle made it push itself up alongside me, albeit with wheelspin.

With a steep slope consisting of deep sand, weight on the front tire was so slight that even on the more solid shoulders, steering to stay on a path became useless because there was simply no front traction. The bike stalled in this slop at a peak of about 940 watts. I walked from here, but at least I didn’t have to push the bike – a touch of throttle made it push itself up alongside me, albeit with wheelspin.

As an aside, the adjoining town of West Wendover, NV has some watt-sucking long grades in its paved grid of streets. About a week ago, I noticed a resident zooming around town on a bicycle equipped with a very decent-looking gas engine conversion kit. Despite their small 50cc displacement, these gasoline-powered conversions can easily outrun any electric bike simply because of the greatly increased power available for top speed. It so happened that I was biking with the loaded Ibex trailer, and was about to begin a long, climbing grade that he was already halfway up. He had started it with as much speed as a turning intersection would allow, and had it wide open all the way, so as not to lose momentum on the constant slope. I was impressed that he made it, and also impressed by how close he came to not making it. The engine steadily lost RPM all the way up, and without any gearbox to gain any leverage, it was do or die. It was close. Had the steady grade been just 100 feet longer, he wouldn’t have made it. Had he not gotten a flying start at the bottom, he’d be walking it nearly all the way up.

Rotten trail, nice view downhill. Drop a tire into a sandy gully, and you'll never get out.

Rotten trail, nice view downhill. Drop a tire into a sandy gully, and you’ll never get out.

In my mind, this underscored the value of the Evelo’s mid-drive setup, compared to both the gas bike and your typical direct-drive hub-motor e-bike. The advantage of being able to use the full range of the bike’s available gear ratios means that you will be riding up nearly any hill, even given a standing start and a loaded trailer behind, all without compromising the bike’s top speed on the flats. It may not be sexy, and you may not be climbing fast, but you will make it without trauma or strain, even without pedaling. Particularly with the NuVinci 360 gearhub, you can simply adjust it on the fly so that the motor can pull you up the hill in the manner you choose, and change that manner at any time. Crawl to save battery capacity and range, or use all available motor power to go as quickly as physics allows. Me, I needed to conserve power so that I could lug the trailer back the 9.3 miles to camp as quickly as possible, cutting the total trip time down to a minimum. A few miles per hour difference on a 200-yard hill would make little difference in trip time. Whenever I return to camp, I just swap out batteries and put today’s pack on the charger, and that’s that.

Traction at last, but look at the increased slope around that drainage mini-ditch.

Traction at last, but look at the increased slope around that drainage mini-ditch.

People inherently tend to like whatever major product they purchase, in order to validate their choice. It reinforces the correctness of their decision, and makes them feel better. The result is brand loyalty, at least until the thing turns south on them, or fails to meet their needs sometime later. I have the same tendency, same as anyone else. But, it’s events like last week’s hillclimb in West Wendover and yesterday’s torture extravaganza up the impossible trail that point out to me that, hey, this thing really works as a reliable transportation device that will do its job when the going gets tough. And, at times, it is tough going out here. I’ll be heading into Wendover today on a necessary mail run, and again tomorrow to have my coiffeur shortened by appointment. No need to start up the Mighty Furd and watch the dollars disappear. I’ll just be hopping on the Aurora and getting my needed exercise, and all in a politically correct, save-the earth manner! Does it get any better than this?

Traction and a wide-enough path at last.

Traction and a wide-enough path at last.

I had to stop and give it up here, because I was walking again, and the trail ahead was so chopped up that there was no path to pick. Even the "good" center was choppy, steering was ineffective, and traction was still on the edge.

I had to stop and give it up here, because I was walking again, and the trail ahead was so chopped up that there was no path to pick. Even the “good” center was choppy, steering was ineffective, and traction was still on the edge.

The view to the rear gives a hint of how far I came. Camp is behind and below that hill on the left. I was thankful for the twin disk brakes on the descent, since traction was iffy at times, even on the long coast down. I wouldn't have trusted rim-squeeze calipers with their rubber friction pads, due to heat buildup.

The view to the rear gives a hint of how far I came. Camp is behind and below that hill on the left. I was thankful for the twin disk brakes on the descent, since traction was iffy at times, even on the long coast down. I wouldn’t have trusted rim-squeeze calipers with their rubber friction pads, due to heat buildup.

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2 thoughts on “Tough Enough

  1. Rod Duell on said:

    Your bike and trailer combo is a wizard economical transport solution. I feel we will be seeing many similar rigs abroad in the land over the coming years as we edge further into a cheap resource constrained future. And while I’m still able to huff along on my hybrid bike for a while, I’m quite sure I’ll be seeking a boost enhanced conveyance before too long.

    • Thanks, Rod. Your comment reminded me of two things – neither of which is directly related to the points you’re making! First was that, being “resource-constrained” in terms of a fixed income now, I simply can’t afford to replace the F-250 pickup, and the Aurora can potentially stretch its service life quite a bit. So I don’t need to wait for $10/gallon fuel to push me to consider radical alternatives in transport. There’s “the world” and “my world”.

      The second unrelated thing was that many avid mountain bikers decry e-bikes as cheating devices for the elderly and injured infirm who no longer have the manhood to hack challenging trails. Their view is condescendingly dismissive. Yet the few hale and hardy riders who try sport e-bikes just to experiment like that they generally decrease the ordeal aspect of difficult conditions, often making the impossible possible. They decrease the needless agony factor.

      For me, the proper e-bike can keep me riding, which not only gives me the controlled exercise I need in a way that I find enjoyable and engaging, but can do it while getting me from point A to B on a practical mission, too. The latter is simply a way to make the thing eventually pay its own way, but I’d be on an e-bike anyway, simply because I enjoy bicycling in different locales and I can’t stand the thought of not having that option while I’m still upright and breathing. Even us decrepit elderly and infirm cyclists deserve to be able to stay in the saddle too, if we like.

      Like you, I think I’d be sticking with my good old Raleigh if it did all I wanted it to do, but I’ve simply hit the point now that I need it to do considerably more in terms of distance and terrain – at the same time that I can do less to help it – and that’s where the Aurora comes in. I’d much rather ride than drive, given an open choice. An e-bike keeps that choice open for me much, much more of the time. Health issues aside, the Raleigh wasn’t cutting the mustard because it couldn’t be modified for an upright riding position, and its derailleurs could not deal with the dust and weather exposure. I modified it as far as I could, but realized it just had to be replaced with something. An e-bike simply opened up possibilities beyond pleasure riding and handy little errands.

      In your case, there’s currently no need to trade in your hybrid, so why bother? I see myself not so much as a “hey, jump on the e-bike bandwagon” person, as a “e-bikes can now do more than you think” guy. I’m not breaking any new ground here, so much as simply feeling hyped about discovering how e-bikes can open up riding and duty choices that didn’t exist before, at least in any halfway practical way. I get all wiggly about Evelo’s hardware specifically, simply because it is a very good value for dollar, is reliable, and is one of the very few e-bikes that can handle all that I throw at it. And I throw a lot.

      This “answer” is what you get for making a comment that just happens to jog my memory and get me thinkin’!

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