Past Experience / Why choose the Haibike FS SL?
I have been an avid mountain biker for the past circa 24 years and love the freedom and laugh with mates that mountain biking brings.
However for the last 21 years I've also been living with a degenerative heart condition which at times has really been a pain in the proverbial when I've been wanting to be out riding. Thankfully though continue riding I did up until May last year when the condition threw another spanner in the works and I decided MTBing was just too much of a strain on the heart, sold my bikes and became and!
Then I thought, "what I need is a pedelec MTB, I wonder if they exist...". That led me here, then there, then all over. I looked at so many promising bikes but then became aware that there were many companies offering "MTBs" that quite frankly would collapse in the rocky environments of Welsh mountains, Lakes, Gisburn etc. Ghost produce a good looking hub powered bike but, a) they aren't importing it and b) research pointed in the direction
that a crank drive system was best suited to MTBing with the quick changes required in torque necessary for MTBing and better weight distribution.
That kind of narrowed my personal choice down to the Haibike range, KTM Macina Race or Scott E-Aspect. Now one thing that made the decision easier amongst the three was the way Haibike have swung the motor up and within the frame out of harms way. The effective bottom bracket height of an underslung bosch motor is frankly a failure waiting to happen on a purpose built MTB that will be ridden on harsh terrain. Having lost a couple of teeth from the big ring on rock steps on my Cannondale the last time I was at Gisburn this was a non-starter for me. So that left me with the Haibike range.
After trialling a RC29 at Alton I knew the bosch system could keep me in the saddle for another few years at least As I only ride for pleasure and purely MTBing, I ruled out the RC29 as it is a very stiff frame (but beautifully manufactured) and settled for the FS SL which isn't a million miles away from the suspension set up I had on my Giant Anthem. The bikes are, as any MTBer will know, excellent quality bikes that have been well adapted to incorporate a drive system. Why is it always the Germans?! If by some miracle I was cured overnight, I'd be happy to just strip all the electrics off the bike and ride it as is.
Impression after first ride..
Having not been on a bike for nearly a year due to my pesky, badly behaved heart, I very optimistically thought as we are heading into spring I'd leave the mud tyres in the shed and throw on my maxxis advantage and high roller tyres on the bike as they are a personal favourite combination of mine. What wetness was on the trails will be hardened up with a bit of frost so they'll be fine was my thinking....! Err no!
Thanks to the crank drive system, swapping the tyres was a breeze and even easier than a quick release with the bolt through axles. Another bonus point for me when deciding which bike to buy. Anyone who mountain bikes will know a puncture can strike at any time so I didn't want my humour tested with having to change a tube (or more realistically mend a puncture) on a hub motor system in the middle of a muddy trail, in a gale, miles from home and with numb hands.
So early morning I headed out with friends and the nice mild weather meant no frost, instead of firm frosty ground I found mud and floods of biblical proportions. Now I've been riding these trails for a couple of decades and I simply can't remember a time they were as wet as they are now, just mental. Now I start to think "you idiot, why
did you put these fast rolling summer tyres on?!!" To help the situation a bit I dropped the pressures down to around 30-35psi which gave them some hope of gripping a bit.
The first section of really deep mud I came to was unrideable due to the damage from horses and sheer depth of the gloop. I knew this from experience and my mates attempt to get through underlined that when he ground to a halt, hopped off and sank almost to mid shin depth!! I however have a new toy and I was intent on using it. I did however have in my head that even with turbo setting I wouldn't make it, but I was curious to see if I could get as far as my mate. Oh how my faith was put in it's place! The bike just kept surging forward despite the depth of the mud and even with my terrible tyre choice the bosch system seemed to smoothly regulate the torque so the wheel hardly span up and the power just came in a very smooth yet very powerful manner. I emerged the other side with a grin that could be seen from space and to see my friends jaw sat in the mud. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would actually get through!
Now feeling enthused and very confident in the bike (after about 5 miles or so), I proceeded to start to aim for all the deep stuff to test it time and time again. Every time the same, just complimenting my input enough to give that extra boost to see the job done. I then realised that both Turbo and Sport levels are just incredible, so to ease off a bit, as I had no idea what range I would get, I started to ride mostly in Tour mode with the occasional Sport enabled for a really bad section. Tour mode dealt with most things very comfortably. I did however try to avoid flood water as best as possible but I did end up committed in a section that got to crank bolt depth and required rocking of the cranks to keep going through. I glanced down and realised if my motor was under slung it would have been completely submerged! Thankfully that was as deep as I got and managed to avoid the rest of the really deep water.
There is a long section through a field that leads to a woodland on the route we took. There is a section where cows congregate under the trees when its wet to shelter and the path runs right through this section. In conditions like yesterday it's hard to walk through let alone ride. If you were somehow able to muster the sheer force to ride through it you'd be maxxed out on the heart rate by the time you got to the woods, I know I've got the T shirt! My friends tried and failed, I would have also failed on my Giant Anthem. Yesterday I progressively made my way through, with some tactful track standing in the worst bits just to stay upright, got to the gate, checked my heart rate monitor and it said 104 Whilst waiting for my friends to catch up, I watched the rate drop down nicely into the 80's which showed how my body, and most importantly my heart, hadn't been placed under prolonged stress.
This is two weeks after my heart surgery and a year without cardiovascular exercise too so I was over the moon that the bike was doing everything I had hoped it would do but was doing it so much better than I thought it ever feasibly could.
To summarise we did a wee bit over 10 miles in the foulest ground conditions and with easily less than a mile of tarmac. As it was my first ride I was messing about with modes, playing with Turbo and Sport until I got a feel for the bike. In no means was I riding sympathetically regards the battery charge longevity. I returned with 3 lights remaining of the five on the battery. My friends said the 10 miler felt physically like a 30 mile ride.
Haibike have produced an excellent mountain bike that would stand it's ground easily on the trail amongst many "normal" mountain bikes costing significantly more. It rides like a normal bike (a very good one), weight distribution is very good and at no time did the bike feel unsettled. Coming from an 11kg bike to a 21kg bike I had hang ups about how it would ride in the rough. I needn't have bothered as once moving there is little perceivable difference. The suspension is great, the Rockshox Recon performed much better than anticipated and was nice and stiff (I'm a long time Fox fork fan), the Fox CTD rear shock was as you'd expect from Fox and flawless. SLX does exactly as it says on the tin and Haibike finishing kit of bars, grips, stem and seatpost are all good quality. After test riding though I did put their saddle out to pasture as it's probably the worst I've tried! Don't know what they were thinking with that one. Saddles are a very personal thing but there was no way that was staying on mine so my Cannondale saddle was put back into service. As for the Bosch system all I can say really is wow. It performed way beyond my expectations and I simply just raise my hat to the Bosch engineers (need a clappy hand icon!)
So to summarise I'm over the moon. Only mechanical failure would dampen my new found lust but only time will tell regards that.....
I was so glum that it appeared my MTBing days were over and the disease had wrecked my chances of continuing the one thing I have loved for many years. I felt an electric MTB would at best be a compromise but hey ho, if it meant I was still out, enjoying time with friends, then that's the way I would go. Instead I've found the bike has offered a breath of fresh air and excitement that a "normal" MTB just can't do. It's like starting the sport all over again and that is a very exciting prospect.
So good points - all of the above and the grin that comes with it.
Bad points - saddle and not been able to rotate the chain backwards with the cranks to use the chain scrubber after the ride. Oh and the fact that your friends now want to steal your bike!