Sunday, January 29, 2017

The way of the Cheat? eClimbing Mount Climie

Wairarapa from Climie, scars of Siberia to the left
"That's cheating!" said the lady powering up Tunnel Gully with her trekking poles, followed by "Can I hop on the back?"

I'd thought for a while that Mt Climie would be a good eBike ride - a steep 4WD track where the power assistance would come in handy. I'd done it with friends a few winters ago, when I'd been somewhat fitter but still had to push the bike. Now that I'm an old age pensioner, couldn't I just cheat? I pictured myself breezing up the road, my Bosch power leaving ordinary mortals in the dust. Of course, power assistance is only one dimension of cheating. To quote the rider who must not be named, "it's not about the bike": drugs are also obligatory for the true cycling cheat.

Fortunately my multiple myeloma treatment includes dexamethasone, a known performance enhancer for climbing, which made that side of the cheating programme reasonably straightforward. My weekly dose coincided with a fine day, so from the hospital I headed to the station, and a Gold Card train to Upper Hutt.

By the time I got to Tunnel Gully, the battery was already down to 80%, so I had to decline the trekking lady's request for a lift. I've found that around 700m of climbing is about the limit for the eBike on one charge, so Mt Climie's 830m was going to be a challenge. At the carpark, I slipped past the gates, dropped into the lowest gear and cranked up the highest power level, and headed up.

At first, it was good. The quiet hum of the motor was drowned out by the occasional kereru and cuckoo call. A curiosity was the small green bags deposited at regular intervals along the trail. This turned out to be from a professional dog walker, who I later met descending with her friendly charges, collecting the poop bags as they went. I stopped for a muesli bar, admiring the ferns that formed the underlayer of the moss covered cloudforest trees.

Fern, Mt Climie
Climie Cloud Forest
But soon the track steepened, and my cadence dropped. And a curious thing happened. The bars indicating the amount of power assistance also dropped. Despite the alluring promise of "uphill flow", the Bosch algorithm had seen through my cheating ways. If I couldn't keep up a regular 60 turns a minute, I wasn't deserving of full electrical assistance. For a moment I thought the Energiser Bunny effect of the Dex would keep the pedals turning, but soon I had to admit defeat. Paradoxically, in order to eBike Mt Climie, I'd have to be a lot fitter!

A cheat's selfie
I was faced with a dilemma. The logical thing was to leave the bike behind, and walk to the top. But I'd set out to eBike Mt Climie, and walking seemed like a come down. Hadn't Scott carried on man hauling to the Pole, eschewing the less purist but more efficient dog teams? Besides, the map contours indicated that if I made it to around 600m, the gradient eased off, and I'd be able to ride again.

Fortunately the Bosch system includes an extra cheat feature: a "walk" button that grudgingly provides a modicum of power to help push the bike up hill. We slowly walked up together, my finger glued to the walk button. Eventually, we passed the 600m contour, and riding became possible again. I reached the cluster of transmission towers on the first summit, dropped down into the dip and up to the higher second summit.
The eBike waits for me to return from the last summit
The Wairarapa lay out to the east, glimpses of Lake Wairarapa between the ridges enclosing the Rimutaka Rail Trail. On the other side the urban ribbon of the Hutt flowed down to the great harbour of Tara, enshrouded in cloud along with Wellington city and the South Island.
Towers and tussock on Climie
Back on the bike, I was able to drop the power level and wish for regenerative breaking - interestingly not a feature on many eBikes, probably because apart from outliers like the Mt Climie road, most bike descents involve a fair bit of air braking. But the disc brakes did their work, and we arrived back at Tunnel Gully unscathed. By this time it was getting close to the 3pm Gold Card cutoff, and the battery was showing around 20%, so I took the main road to Upper Hutt rather than the more pleasant but less energy efficient Hutt River Trail. Back in Wellington, I nursed the bike up Victoria St watching the rapidly decreasing battery level. There was enough power left for the final climb up from the Aro Valley, depositing the bike back at the garage door with 1km of eco level range.

So my cheat's day out worked - after a fashion. The big lesson is that even with electrical assistance, you need mountain bike gearing to climb steep trails - the Alfine hub on my Scott e-Sub is geared for city streets. A modicum of fitness also helps: although eBikes are a gift for age challenged cyclists, we can't expect to do everything with them. But that's OK.