Editor’s Note: This post was written by Claudia Wasko, who is the general manager of Bosch eBikes Systems Americas.
Mark Weir, a veteran mountain bike racer and former all-mountain world champion, has never been satisfied with the status quo. During a 20-year race career that has spanned downhill, cross-country, road, and endurance racing, he became one of the first Americans to cross the pond and compete in French and Italian endurance races. Weir is also an eight-time winner of the Downieville Downhill – a 17-mile plunge with 5000 feet of vertical drop.“All of the racing I’ve done has been built around adventure,” Weir said.
When Weir stopped racing professionally in 2014, he kept busy creating unique new challenges for himself. One year, he climbed more than a million vertical feet on a trail bike; in other years, he’s led other riders on a mountain bike “sufferfest” called “Hell Ride” – a long trip in scorching heat while overcoming thousands of feet of climbing. Whoever could hang with Weir and make it to the end of the ride would win a complete bike from his bike sponsor.
Although Weir has given up racing and has had to deal with some personal health issues, he hasn’t stopped thrill-seeking. One of his favorite annual trips is tackling the Rubicon Trail, a 22-mile-long route located in the Sierra Nevada that’s part road and part 4×4 trail. Situated about 80 miles east of Sacramento, the Rubicon is one of the most famous 4×4 routes in the world, and is especially challenging because it’s almost nonstop rock.
“It’s something everyone aspires to do with a Jeep,” Weir said. “It’s a bucket-list item for a lot of people around the world.”
While Jeep hosts the official Jeep Jamboree at Rubicon each year, Weir and his closest friends have been doing their own trip each year. Weir’s group starts at the Loon Lake section of the trail and navigates custom-built Jeeps about four miles to Buck Island Lake, where they camp and fish.
“The Jeeps we use are super capable – they’re able to take people deep into places you can’t normally adventure to,” he said.
However, Jeeps aren’t the only off-road-ready vehicles they subject to the punishing terrain of the Rubicon. Weir’s team now brings their eBikes along for the adventure, and he says his Rubicon experience has changed a lot since their addition. “Adding eBikes to it changed everything,” he said. “They make us way more mobile.”
Tackling the initial four miles of trail requires between three and five hours to complete in a Jeep because the terrain is so rugged and rocky. With an eBike, it only takes 45 minutes.
“It cuts down the time it takes by three-quarters or more,” he said. “Plus, even Jeeps aren’t allowed on the certain parts of the trail and hiking would take all day, but the eBike can get there in 15 minutes.”
Indeed, eBikes have opened up whole new parts of the Rubicon to Weir and his friends. “We’ve gone fishing in lakes we had never been to before, and we compete in hill climb challenges on sections of the trail that would be almost impossible on a regular bike,” he said. “It’s so special to be able to cover that kind of ground with efficiency and with your friends, even if they’re not that fit. eBikes have created a whole new way to adventure.”
The Rubicon is just one way Weir uses his eBike – he’s been a passionate advocate of the technology for almost a decade. “I love riding bikes and, as I got older, I realized that an eBike was just another opportunity to do so,” Weir said.
Weir’s preferred ride is a Cannondale Moterra with a Bosch eBike Systems motor. “I’ve ridden all kinds of different platforms, and they’re all good, but the Bosch power transfer and ability to deliver power [over a wide pedaling cadence] range is excellent,” he said. “The way it delivers power to the ground means there isn’t a lot of traction loss – just smooth power – and the adjustments are on the handlebars, so you can easily control whether you’re in Eco, Tour, Sport or Turbo mode on the fly.”
“The system is intuitive and simple to use,” continued Weir. “Some systems aren’t ready right out of the box and you have to upgrade the factory model, but with Bosch, you just jump on the bike, start riding and it instantly feels as natural as a traditional bike. You don’t need to think about it.”
The accessibility eBikes create and their ease of use for riders of all levels has driven Weir to challenge people’s misconceptions about them, especially when it comes to trail access.
Because eBikes allow riders to adjust how much work they put into pedaling, users can ride further and faster without tiring as quickly, which creates opportunities for cyclists of all levels to get out and explore – especially to places they wouldn’t go on a traditional bicycle. Weir believes eBikes can be the catalyst that gets people to care about the need for bike-accessible trails and the importance of being good stewards of parks, forests and open land.
“They can bring a whole new group of people into the sport of cycling who can now become passionate about these causes,” he said. “Some people don’t realize the constraints placed on mountain bikers like me when we try to ride on trails and public lands. Once you ride an eBike, you become a big fan and want more places to ride. I believe this will create power in numbers.”
Education is important for helping people understand that eBikes are not destructive or loud, he added. “Some people are under the assumption it’s comparable to a motorcycle, but it’s not: It’s another tool for people of different levels of fitness or ability, or for those who just want to adventure in a different way,” he said. “You can go further and see more.”
For example, Weir recently rode eBikes with his 76-year-old father to the top of a mountain near Weir’s home after his father had been confined to the valley floor for the past 15 years.
“Bringing my old man to see those views – those are the things that eBikes allow us to do,” he said.
When it comes to education, true to his personality, Weir isn’t all talk and no action. In fall 2018, Cannondale gave Weir a demo fleet of five eBikes, and Bosch donated a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. Weir plans to transport the eBikes to locations around Northern California, where he lives, and schedule rides with national forest land managers to show them what eBiking is really all about.
“We have to work with and educate the land managers and others who make the rules,” he said. “If we give them a feel for what an eBike is, then they won’t draw any wrong conclusions, and we can create more solutions instead of preventing cyclists from using trails. If we don’t give people – especially kids, who will one day be running the world – a reason to steward and respect the land, no one will care enough to save it.”
Agree with Weir’s eBike take? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.