The first e-MTB world champion, South Africa’s Alan Hatherly, says he is already seeing the massive impact of e-bikes out on the trails and roads as people increasingly switch over to the new discipline.
Hatherly won the inaugural e-MTB cross-country race at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada, at the end of August. The victory came just a month after he was first fully introduced to this type of racing.
“As for the future, I’m not really sure as it’s completely new to racing. But I’d like to see e-MTB make it to the world cup circuit in the next few years,” said the 23-year-old Specialized rider.
“I think it will be really exciting for the sport and with more races [held] the more seriously it will be taken.”
Hatherly, who was crowned the U23 cross-country world champ last year, already has his eye on the next e-MTB world champs.
“I know I’ll be at the Albstadt e-MTB world champs to try to defend my title,” he said.
Hatherly, who won his race in Canada in 1:04:53 – one minute and 10 seconds ahead of Frenchman Jerome Gilloux – said it was a “pretty strange” feeling to win the inaugural title.
“I was forced into taking some time off the bike about a month before the world champs in Canada. During this time Specialized asked if I’d be interested in racing the e-MTB world champs, which worked out perfectly for me.
“I rode the e-bike for two weeks while on ‘rest’ and really got used to it. I could feel I had some speed and pace going on the bike, but I had no idea what to expect when it came to racing it.
“The team worked around the clock to get me up to speed and set up – but to win was unreal. To win the first ever e-MTB worlds definitely makes it that much sweeter and I’m really proud and stoked about how everything came together.”
Hatherly said the start of the race was “really intense”, with the riders all sprinting to get a good position for the first climb.
“It was way over the speed limiter – meaning we were sprinting without the motor. I managed to make my way to the front on the first climb and from the first descent I got a small gap of around three seconds.
“From there I just kept it as fast as I possibly could, managing to chip away at my time buffer. My gap grew lap by lap, but I knew one mistake or a mechanical could throw the race away. So I took no chances and pushed for the biggest gap possible.
“It was one of the toughest XCO races I’ve probably ever done and with it being an hour long it made the pace much higher.”
He added that the bike was also around double the weight of his normal XCO bike, which made it hard work to manoeuvre and lift the Levo up and over the tricky technical sections.
“My average heart rate was 184bpm, which was my highest ever from a XCO lap race.”
Hatherly said there were a lot of strict rules and regulations put in place by the UCI for the e-MTB worlds to be official, such as a 25km/h speed limit and motor limitations to no more than 250w of continuous output.
Batteries were also not allowed to be swapped during the race.
There were engineers and a secure bike area where the bikes had to be checked in three hours before the start for the engineers to plug PCs in to check the software and limitations.
They also had to do physical battery, motor and wheel checks, as size affected the speed if the wheels were changed.
“The same checks were repeated for the podium riders after the race, where our bikes were immediately taken from us. It was really incredible to see the UCI treating e-MTB the way they did and definitely made it worthy of a world title.”
With regards to him controlling his speed throughout, Hatherly said it was all just about going as fast as possible.
“When you’re pedalling the same as a normal XCO race and climbing at 400w+ the battery also doesn’t get drained that fast, so there was no need to drop from turbo mode.
“The course was insanely technical, with the climbs being similar to enduro motorbike-type obstacles and the main descent being similar to the downhill course.
“Momentum and speed was definitely your friend. My average speed was 16km/h, which shows how technical the course was, and I only hit the speed limiter briefly twice on each lap.”
He added that the gears were the same as on a normal bike, but shifting needed to be a little smoother since there was extra power going through the drive train and the risk of snapping a chain was much higher.
“Cadence is your friend. The motor (and battery) really likes the higher cadence and accelerates much smoother, which is how I raced the world champs.”
Hatherly felt the main advantage of e-bike racing was that one could go way faster than before.
“It also allows you to ride up terrain that was thought not possible before.
“Also having that extra suspension travel – 150mm front and rear for my bike – definitely gave me much more confidence to hit the descents without hesitation.
“For the general rider I do believe it has a perfect place in bridging the gap to stronger riders, which allows you to join and ride with more people – the point of social cycling.
“Also, the fact that the bikes are insanely capable is also beneficial in getting everyone to expand their technical ability without having to compromise on the climbs to get the bike to the top of the trail.”
He added that e-bike racing added a new element to cycling, which he really enjoyed.
“You can get out on the trails on rest days and pedal with full assist, making it a really easy day, but still being able to enjoy the trail networks.
“Or, if you want to get some proper training in, all you do is drop the assistance or find some steep climbs and you’ll have a proper session.
“It’s really an all-rounder bike in my eyes and an essential training tool at today’s international level.”