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What is it like to ride an ebike?

Reporter Steven Chua takes a ride on a Blazing Saddles Adventures ebike in Squamish to find out.

While Squamish has a reputation for being a mecca for some of the most hardcore mountain bikers on the planet, some people may not fancy the idea of spending most of the day huffing up a hill for an hour for every few minutes of downhill time.

Co-owners Brent Macdonald and Cristian Begin are the minds behind Blazing Saddles Adventures, which offers ebike rentals and tours, and have an alternative for those who want to get on a saddle but who may not quite be Iron Man material.

Macdonald said that Squamish generally has a reputation for "sending the gnar," which is great — and how he spent much of his outdoor days — but he realized that there hadn't been many options for those looking for a more casual adventure.

"I get a lot of couples and the husband wants to do it, the wife's maybe not so keen — and vice versa — right?" said Macdonald. "And I say to them, 'You'll still be married at the end of the day.'"

There's often fear about traversing up Squamish's many steep hills by bike, but going on an ebike helps take a lot of the pressure off.

The standard Blazing Saddles tour generally involves going for a two-to-three-hour loop around town that showcases the mountains, the ocean and the rainforest.

The business previously saw mostly international tourists — usually Americans and Europeans — but when pandemic restrictions shut the borders down, more people from Vancouver started to discover Squamish, and the clientele demographics shifted.

"There are more and more people coming to Squamish that are just kind of normal travellers," said Macdonald. "They're not moving here to camp on the Stawamus [Chief] and climb 5.12."

Ebikes work by giving a power assist to the rider whenever they pedal. They don't allow the user to get away without pedalling. If the rider doesn't turn the crank, the bike doesn't move.

"It's not like a moped," said Macdonald. "You can't push a button and have it go like a scooter. You have to pedal it, but what the engine does is it provides a little bit of a boost for every pedal stroke."

The bikes typically are a bit heavier as a result of the added weight of a battery and motor; however, when the power is engaged, the added weight is hardly noticeable at all.

There are also several power settings. Starting with the lowest, the eco-friendly setting is best at conserving battery power but offers the least boost. The high setting offers the most boost, but drains the power quickest.

Macdonald said that the bikes offer a great way for people with conditions, or older bikers who want to get back on the trails, to start riding again.

"It would be a shame to make fun of somebody for having an ebike, and you find out that they have a condition." he said.

But it's not just for people who may not be as athletically gifted as the average hardcore Squamish rider. Serious bikers use them too.

Macdonald said that some cyclists charge multiple batteries and keep them in a pack to turn epically long trips into a one-day or even hours-long affair.

There's also the advantage of getting in more training time.

"Instead of doing one lap of Full Nelson, you do three laps of Full Nelson," said Macdonald.

"A lot of high-end enduro athletes train on ebikes here, because they can do three laps, way more technical laps. And they're getting their heart rate up into that range and having it stay at that range."

He also noted that even people who eschew ebikes often end up trucking their bikes to the trailheads anyway. On the other hand, Ebike riders are able to hop on their rides from home and arrive at a trailhead without the aid of a vehicle to bring them up the Forest Service Road.

However, the main obstacle is the price tag, with top-end ebikes ranging from $8,000 to $15,000.

However, Macdonald said it's not uncommon in Squamish for many bikes to be worth more than cars, and it's also a town where you can find two Teslas in the driveway.

He also said that he tells ebikers to be sensitive to how they may come across on the trail, especially when people are huffing and puffing on a treacherous uphill section.

"When you pass somebody and they're struggling, you know, and you're laughing and telling a joke, we always are very cognizant of that fact," said Macdonald.

"I go, 'Cheater, you know, cheater coming through!' or you try to make light of the fact," he said with a chuckle.

 

Join a (shaky) Steven Chua on his ride: