The advancements made in ebike technology over the last decade, and their adoption into every cycling discipline, have meant that electric bicycles have become a common sight on our roads and pathways. However, the debate as to whether the electric bicycle gives greater freedom or is simply a tool to incentivise laziness and reduce exertion, rages on.
Never one to sit on the fence, I decided that I wanted to look into this phenomenon and reached out to a few ebike brands to see what all the fuss is about. Last week, I took delivery of the new flagship Wayfarer Mountain ebike from British brand, Wisper, who very kindly offered me a bike to test. The company has been making electrically powered bicycles since 2005, placing them as one of the longest serving ebike brands in the world. Wisper’s founder and CEO, David Miall, has been central to the ebike cause for the last 16 years, and has helped shape current legislation that governs the use of electric bicycles on Britains roads, as well as developing new technology to improve the experience of riding an electrically powered bike. I’m an avid cyclist myself, owning a few road and mountain bikes – despite my love for traditional cycling, I am determined to remain impartial throughout the test and give the ebike a fair trial.
I spoke to David about the task of getting electric bicycles accepted by the UK cycling population and whether he has faced any resistance from cyclists over the last 16 years. “There has always been resistance from the cycling purists, however we have maintained the view that there is room for both pedal-power and electric assistance in the market. Despite their current popularity, electric bicycles were initially treated with suspicion by some cyclists, who considered electrical assistance to be cheating! Many of those objectors have since come to realise that the extra assistance provided by an electric motor actually enabled them to achieve more mileage, riding further and getting more enjoyment than ever before. We now make electric bikes for every conceivable discipline – road, mountain and track – and their acceptance amongst the purists has increased too!”.
Its easy to get drawn into David’s view on electric bicycles – his enthusiasm for them is infectious and he points me toward their customer feedback. “Here’s a typical review we get from our customers” says David, pointing to a Trustpilot review. It’s from a lady called Yvonne, who claims to have always been a cyclist – now in her 70’s, Yvonne has taken the leap into owning an electric bike and is overwhelmed at the additional freedom the bike gives her – the review reads: “My first ebike and I’m over the moon with it! It is very easy to manoeuvre and simple to ride. I live at the top of a steep hill which was horrendous on my old pedal bike, but now it feels like I’m riding on a flat road!”. It’s clear from reading many of the company’s customer reviews that there is an obvious market for ebikes amongst those who are ‘beyond their physical peak’, shall we say, but I wanted to see whether their appeal could broaden.
There was only way to test this – it was time to don my helmet and head out to the hills on the Wisper Wayfarer, and see if this bike has mainstream cycling appeal.
The Wayfarer Mountain eBike Versus The Hills
I was pleasantly surprised when mounting the Wayfarer for the first time – the model I was riding had a mid-drive motor that provides power at the crank. I had expected this bike to be heavy and cumbersome, yet with an allow frame and lightweight components, the Wayfarer felt anything but. The motor is positioned comfortably within the crank housing and the 700Wh battery is secreted within the frame’s downtube so, to the untrained eye, there’s nothing to suggest this is an ebike at all.
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I rode from my home to the nearest hilly area, Rivington, which is home to miles of gravel pathways and even a small downhill mtb track. The approach to Rivington is reasonably flat so I spent a lot of time wondering whether I was using the bike correctly at all – there didn’t seem to be any assistance coming from the motor and the experience was indistinguishable from riding my normal MTB. I pulled over on more than one occasion to check whether I’d charged the battery correctly the night before or there was a problem with the motor. Finding nothing, I carried on. The answer came quicker than I expected as I started my first ascent. The mid-motor is designed to give assistance only when the rider needs it, providing and additional 4lbs of pressure through the crank to every 1lb you apply via the pedals. As I hit my first uphill section, I felt the bike take off with an unexpected fervour. This thing was keener to get up the hills than I was! Whereas the additional power was undetectable on the flat, the bike really comes into its own on the inclines. I powered up the first track as the bike’s electric mid-motor kicked in, flattening the uphill sections with ease. At this point, I should confess to feeling rather smug as I passed a group of pedal-powered mountain bikers on the path grunting their way up the hill – I can only assume they think I have an Olympic-level cycling ability. I shot past with a nonchalant “alight lads” and left the group in my wake.
Once at the top, and feeling far more fresh than I would normally, I decided to test the Wayfarer on one of the easier downhill sections. Before setting out, I was initially sceptical of the positioning of the mid-motor – hidden between the crank arms, the crank housing is different from a normal bike and I was concerned that this would create flexibility and a lack of rigidity in the frame. On the contrary, it appears Wisper have done a great job of strengthening this area and the bike remained as agile and responsive as my own beloved Santa Cruz. The only complaint I can think of is that I would have liked the headset geometry to be a little slacker, as I am used to a bike that is better suited to extreme downhill gradients. It took very little getting used to, though, and I adjusted my riding style to suit the frame set-up. My first downhill experience was a bit of learning experience. The bike calved easily through the wooded sections, making light work of the boulders, humps and burms, and I even caught quite a bit of air on the faster sections. I took a minute to reflect at the foot of the hill and, feeling invigorated, I decided to go again. Normally at this stage of a ride, having already completed one climb and a punishing descent, the climb back to the top can be a bit of a leg-punisher. I checked the battery level (it had barely moved) and started on the journey back to the summit of the hill. Immediately as I rounded a corner to start my ascent, the electric motor kicked in once more, reducing the strain on my legs and powering me up the hill. I felt very confident with the agility and set-up of the Wayfarer, as we made light work of tight twists and muddy trails, with the electric motor taking the majority of the strain away from my thighs.
I hit the downhills 6 times that day – twice more than I would normally do on my pedal powered mtb. On my final ascent, I noticed that the battery was getting toward 25%, so there was still plenty of juice left to do another couple of runs if I had wanted. Alas, it was getting toward the afternoon and my role as parent would need to take priority – today was my turn to collect our daughters from school. Had that not been the case, I would have felt quite comfortable staying out for another few hours on the Wayfarer.
After one final descent of the red run at Healy Nab, getting quicker each time as I became more comfortable with the frame geometry, I decided to head home. Back on the flat roads, the Wayfarer reverted to a normal mtb, providing a comfortable and enjoyable ride through the countryside with very little assistance required.
Converting an Electric Bike Sceptic
After picking up our daughters from school, I sat down to make a few notes on my experience. I’d achieved far more than I would have done on my pedal-powered bike, without question, and the ebike had certainly exceeded my expectations. The only negative I could find about the Wayfarer was the frame geometry – having a slacker-angled head-tube would benefit the bike immensely and make it a real contender with more renowned Mountain Ebike marques. That said, David did make it clear that the Wayfarer was not intended for this market, and is instead designed for more leisurely riders who wish to get off the beaten track when exploring the countryside. This bike is aimed at those who want to increase their freedom and expand their cycling capability and, for those riders, Wisper have created a great bike.
Having only tested one, I cannot speak for all ebikes, but my experience with the Wisper Wayfarer has definitely been an eye-opener. There is no doubt that electric motors do add benefit to the overall cycling experience – even for a purist like myself.
Would I buy an Ebike?
After considering my own bike collection, I definitely feel the Wayfarer has a place – its not a road bike, nor a downhill thrasher, but I would consider purchasing an ebike to fill the void in between. The Wisper Wayfarer is a very capable leisure bike that has mtb DNA running through every weld in its well-constructed alloy frame. The bar-mounted LCD screen is easy to use, and I found myself only altering the assistance level on a few occasions throughout the day as I pounded up and down the hills.
Off-road, the capable and responsive frame makes the Wayfarer a trusted companion and I would have no issue using this bike for cycling longer tours through rugged countryside. The 700 Wh battery keeps you exploring much further and far longer than pedal power alone, providing between 30 and 60 miles assisted range on a full charge, depending on how much assistance you require. Contrary to popular belief, the motor doesn’t actually do all of the work for you. Instead, the mid-drive motor can be set to provide as much (or as little) assistance as you need, adding power through the crank when it is needed most, and automatically dissipating when its no longer required. This means you only get assistance when the gradients are working against you. When you get home, you still feel that you’ve had a good ride – you’ve benefited from great core exercise, fresh air, and covered more distance than you would on a traditional pedal bike. If the ebike offers a way for less able cyclists to get out on the roads, then they certainly have their place on the towpaths and dirt tracks up and down the country.