An electric mountain bike – surely that’s cheating?
Were you to rock up at the pub with a pricey electric town bike, no-one would bat an eyelid. But with mountain bikes it's different - if you were to roll out this electric mountain bike down at the forest car park, indignant eyelids would probably bat ferociously enough to lift your riding buddies clean off the ground… with only the weight of their many questions to stop them disappearing off over the Welsh mountains.
The first question will almost certainly be “What the hell is that?”
Lapierre is a French bike company (you’d explain) that makes all sorts of bikes for all sorts of applications. This, however, is their Overvolt full-suspension electric mountain bike. It has Rock Shox Revelation forks and it’s own-brand rear shock for 140mm of travel at either end. It has proper mountain bike components, including a 10-speed Shimano XT rear derailleur, Formula hydraulic disk brakes and lightweight 27.5in wheels. Now the jury’s still out on whether 27.5in wheels are really a decent compromise between traditional 26in mountain bike wheels and the fast-rolling 29in wheels that the racers love…
“That”, they’d interject, rudely, “That is an electric bike.” Which is a statement, not a question, but you don’t bring this up. Instead agreeing that it is electric. It has the latest Bosch Performance electric kit providing up to 275% assistance to your pedalling and 60nm of torque. The four modes of assistance and the 400Wh battery pack let you choose between a range of 30-110 miles, but only if you’re pedalling as well, of course. This isn’t an entirely free ride. The battery is removable for charging via a proprietary charger that plugs into a standard three-pin mains socket.
Gears: Shimano XT Shadow Plus 10-speed
Brakes: Formula The One hydraulic disk
Battery: Lithium Ion 400Wh
Motor: Bosch Performance 250W
Range: 30-110 miles (claimed)
They’re waving their hands to get your attention: “But what makes you think we’ll let you ride that thing with us on our normal bikes? It’s not fair.”
To this, you agree again. Because it is true. The Overvolt, especially in full-assistance Sport mode, fairly fires up hills. There’s a hardtail version in existence, but this being the rear suspension model means that on tricky, technical climbs you can just stay sat on the saddle and power-pedal your way to the top – the suspension absorbing rocks and roots and the Bosch serving out torque to keep you rolling where a leg-powered rider might stall or spin out.
Even in it’s lowest, longest-lasting ‘Eco’ mode it’s still giving you 50% assistance, a less obvious advantage that you won’t notice until you look behind you and see the hateful looks your biopowered mates are giving you.
But before you’re forfeited by the team into buying all the post-ride tea and cakes for your laziness, you can point out that there are significant downfalls to the Overvolt’s electric dreams.
For one, despite being a mountain bike, it is still EU-regulated – like all electric bikes – to a 15mph maximum speed. Barrelling along on a fire road or even fast singletrack trails, the motor assistance will cut out once you hit that speed and only leg power will convince it to go quicker. At which point, physics will reveal how hard it is to pedal a bike that weighs almost 50lb: twice that of a decent non-electric mountain bike. And psychology will convince you that the bike weighs even more than that.
Which, you point out, means that even on the downhills you’d have a job not to be overtaken by your buddies as you manhandle a bike that weighs twice what theirs does round fast corners and over obstacles.
That said, the Bosch motor’s placement down at the bottom bracket does keep the handling manageable and centred – it just has a lot of momentum. And lugging it over a bridleway gate isn’t fun.
The final part of your measured justification session: price. £3800 would buy you an awful lot of non-electric mountain bike; something light and clever enough to climb with aplomb and certainly fast enough to take on the Overvolt on the flats and downs.
Your riding buddies are steaming gently in the Welsh morning chill by this point. “But why did you bring that thing, then, if it’s not awesome for group riding?”
At which you stand aside to let them see your conventional steed, still parked up in the back of your sportsvan. Because you’re not planning to ride the Overvolt on the group ride, as mootly advantageous as that might be. But later, when the rest of the group are exhausted and slathering themselves in Irish tea and muffins, you’re going to take the Lapierre out to get in another trail before home time. Then, riding on your own and with failing energy levels, does the bike’s electrical assistance make real sense.
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Lapierre Overvolt verdict
The market for a bike like the Overvolt is far from huge. As suggested above, riding it within eyeshot of other mountain bikers will bring down a rain of derision and there's already some disquiet about the erosive effect that electric mountain bikes might have on the trails.
Nonetheless, riders of advancing years, or those suffering from an injury of some kind, might find that the extra assistance lets them rip up the hills rather than give it all up and call the local lawn bowls club.
Or you might want a super-comfy, rugged town bike. And let’s not dispel the idea that you might just be a lazy, and that's ok.
But on-road or off it, the 15mph speed limiter is a problem – though there are rumours of plug-in derestriction devices that can be bought online, albeit at some cost and detriment to the bike’s battery stamina.
With that in mind, whether or not you buy this hill-levelling bike depends on your usage, your ability to justify it to yourself (and others) and, of course, your budget.
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