Now in its 11th year, the FNB Wines2whales stage racing event has gone from strength to strength but the time came where the organisers started to ask themselves, “What’s next?”….
One of the answers to those questions came about as a result of the growing popularity of e-bikes and a demand to allow those bikes to do the event – and so the Wines2whales “e-bike tour” was born… Essentially it was decided that e-bikes would be allowed to be used by riders in the mid-week Pinotage event this year from 28-30 October but to split them out from the main field of riders by having them start an hour after the last seeded batch of riders had left the start line each day. An interesting idea but it posed a few challenges: How would the hefty e-bike manage the compulsory portage on Day 1? Could an e-bike manage the 55-69km each day on a single battery charge? How would teams manage to pace themselves if one team-mate was on a regular bike and the other was on an e-bike? And so it came to turn that Rupert von Tutschek and I, Thomas Rood, set out to answer these questions…
I opted to ride the 2019 Giant Trance-E+ Pro 2 e-bike whilst Rupert was on the 2019 Trance Advanced Pro 0 carbon trail bike. Of course, I relished the fact that I would be able to “put the hurt” on him over the 3 days of riding after he did it to me the year prior at this event; before e-bikes were allowed to compete. Gathering on the start line at a wet and cold Lourensford Wine Estate on Day 1 it became evident that the e-bike tour category had attracted a varied mix of riders – from ex-pro downhiller Andrew Neethling and SA downhill MTB champ Theo Erlangsen, to a group of the Trail Angels ladies and some riders doing their very first event.
The first day turned out to be a mud-bath with torrential run coming down within the first few minutes of our start and some riders even getting hailed on over the portage section further into the route. It became evident early on that even with very little assistance (50%) from the e-bike Rupert would struggle to maintain pace with the e-bikes and so the field split into those pairs that were both on e-bikes and the slower pairs that had 1 e-bike and 1 regular bike. Being labelled an “e-bike tour” meant that the riders in our group weren’t concerned with race times and we took the opportunity to enjoy being out in one of the most scenic parts of the Western Cape riding through farmland we would otherwise never have access to by bike.
The first real challenge came at waterpoint 2 where we were given the option of being shuttled by vehicle from the waterpoint over Sir Lowry’s pass to Grabouw or ride on to the compulsory portage. In order to avoid the poor weather that had led to hail on the pass and lugging a 24kg bike up the old wagon trail, most riders opted for the shuttle. There were a few suckers for punishment that pushed their bikes over the pass – respect to them for attempting it in those conditions with the e-bike walk-assist function being largely ineffectual over that terrain. Question 1 asked and answered.
From Grabouw it was plain sailing through to day 1 finish at Oak Valley and the end of a very wet and muddy day out. Unfortunately, the route was shortened due to flooding on most of the technical singletrack on the A to Z trails in Grabouw, which had to be cut out of the route for that day.
After a great breakfast, that is always a highlight at this event, and relaxed start time of 9 am for the e-bike tour, day 2 started the way day 1 had finished with some light rain and very wet trails but it was not plagued by the bad weather of day 1. The sweeping trails on the loop through Paul Cluver Estate, Lebanon and Oak Valley offered up a fun day of riding for everyone with no major incidents other than some soaked riders falling off the flooded bridge exiting Lebanon.
In order to answer the question of whether or not the e-bike would manage to get through each day on a single battery charge, e-bike tour riders could leave a second battery at waterpoint 2 each day in order to swop out batteries if needed. Each day was definitely manageable on a single 500Wh battery charge but it was comforting to know that the battery was waiting for us if we got a little enthusiastic with the power-assist in the first half of the day. Question 2 asked and answered.
The final day is always the fastest with the first 20km of the 69km day 3 route being predominantly downhill from Oak Valley over to Botrivier. It was definitely our favourite as the more skilled riders could surge ahead through the downhill sections and technical winding trails leading to the waterpoint at Botrivier and the Hemel and Aarde trails above Onrus offer high speed singletrack down to the finish at Onrus.
Combining a regular trail bike and an e-bike as partners in a stage event created some unique challenges but we soon worked out how to get the e-bike working for the trail bike by letting Rupert draft the e-bike on the faster flat sections and giving him a push up some of the climbs where our average speed would drop to around 10km/h. Be warned though, pushing a rider up a climb will deplete that battery twice as fast!! Question 3 asked and answered.
At the end of the 3 days of riding it became clear that most events will need to cater for e-bikes and there are certainly some bugs to iron out when it comes to including them in the same event with other riders, but rest assured – if it has a motor, it’s gonna get raced! For 2020, the FNB Wines2whales will run the route in the opposite direction for the first time and it’s being named the FNB Wines2whales Switchback. The race will start in Hermanus and finish at Lourensford with some new trails thrown in the mix. Hope to see you there; on whichever bike you choose. Braaaapppp! – Thomas Rood
| IMAGES: Rupert von Tutschek | STORY: Thomas Rood |
- 2020 Wines2whales Chardonnay: 30 October to 1 November
- 2020 Wines2whales Pinotage: 2-4 November
- 2020 Wines2whales Shiraz: 6-8 November
| Entry information: HERE |