Krista Houghton
Latest posts by Krista Houghton (see all)

The only constant in life is change

Let me start by saying I’m probably going to buy one when I turn 50, which is a lot sooner than I’d like to admit — forever 44 is my jam. 

Okay, with that said, here’s what I’m thinking. I’m not a follower, I don’t do fads, I’m old school — pain does equal gain. My husband is even worse, one of the hard gristled tribe, reluctant, even suspicious, of technology. Bikes to him have always meant freedom. It’s as if technology is chewing away at what he holds sacred, so he’s not a fan. He voices to me what most will not say, his fear that the back country and trails will be blown out, filled with people taking selfies and posting to Instagram. I share the same fear, the group mentality morphing from the old goat, to more of a soft cow. Yes, I’m talking about eBikes. Not in the sense of urban commuting, which we can agree is fine and good, in fact excellent for our society. It has changed my sister’s world and body as her daily commute to work now has two wheels and a small battery. It’s the eBikes on the mountain, on the single-track dirt, the eMTBs. 

The cheating argument 

On a recent mountain bike shuttle, I decided to casually ask the 15 riders (all men except for me; average age  of 40) this question as we drove along: “So, what do you all think about eBikes?” The muttered phrase “it’s cheating” was heard throughout the van, followed by an almost unanimous “hell no.” My husband gently nudged me with his elbow, adding an “I told you so” look, content that his view is confirmed. He immediately exclaimed “I hate ‘em,” opening the door to visceral emotions, the older guys having the most hardened views. It was a very strong “hell no,” with the exception of one brave rider, who said he was “thinking about it,” since he’s been so busy with work and the kids, he’s “gained some weight and now has a hard time keeping up with his riding buddies.” These buddies then said, “not until you’re 50 and even then, we’ll still give you shit.”

“Why is this?” I ask.  It’s counter opposite to the conversation I had earlier that week, back in Santa Cruz over a delicious brunch after my husband and I finished a long grinder ride, which we call “an epic.” Yes, back to our belief, a hard ride does equal reward, hence the Eggs Benedict and Bloody Marys. We noticed a couple ride up; she had a sick new S-Works Turbo eMTB. It looked awesome, glowing a deep purple in the sun, its battery motor barely detectable. I got a chill up my spine, I wanted it. I knew right then and there; I was looking at the future. The couple was young and fit, fresh off a ride on the mountain. I asked her how she likes it. She replied, “it’s just fun” with a bright-eyed smile. Fun, hmm is it,  should it be “just fun”? 

The eMTB Evolution — the author with her husband with their bikes at Wilder Ranch in Santa CruzMountain biking is an earned discipline

This brings me back to the why. Why as a member of an older die-hard group are we so against this new “fun” technology? I believe, at the core, because mountain biking has been regarded as a discipline. A well-earned sacred discipline. Which with all disciplines, takes time, years of hard work, sweat and tears.  I know this, I preach this, I hold this true with every fiber as I learned to ride in Santa Cruz almost 20 years ago and have the scars to prove it. Usually the lone woman amongst the boys, I tend to seek out “disciplines” where few women would go. Surfing was my first, now a 25-plus year love affair filled with heartache, pain, supreme moments of joy and self-admiration. 

These disciplines give me purpose, a sense of belonging, a dedication to a group of like-minded peers. I know when I see another sweaty rider, breathing deep at the top of a long climb, taking a moment to hydrate and contemplate the upcoming descent.  We can share a look, a nod of an unspoken connection, affirmation that we have both done the work to get the reward. We are of the same tribe. A few days later, as I clicked down into my last granny gear, I was silently hoping I had just one more. The climb I knew was long and steep, my legs nearly spent, heart pounding out of my chest. Her mocking words came to me “it’s just fun”. My fear of a new tribe, one of which we may not share the nod of affirmation, one of which I may myself soon subscribe. How will I feel after an assisted climb to the top? Will I feel proud, or will there be a little self-loathing? As I said earlier, some things are sacred. 

The eMTB Evolution author on her "old school" bike1978 is considered the first year the mountain bike was introduced, founded right here in Northern California. That’s just 41 years ago, a blink in the existence of mountain bike riding. We have gone from 50-pound hardtail clunkers made of steel to under 10-pound full suspension carbon masterpieces. A reason why the old guard holds things so dear. Those inventors and first pursuants of mountain biking are now in their 60s, most still riding trails on pedal power only. Which explains why we are at such a crossroads in our bike culture. The old guard wants a level playing ground, to be given credit where credit is due. But the new guard knows nothing of this. They only know technology, as they were born into iPhones, the internet and Uber. So, the question of riding an eMTB, isn’t even a question to most. Why not use technology to make things easier and more fun? Would riding an eMTB be considered a discipline? Maybe that is my real fear, it becomes less work and more fun and I will see a softness developing in my mind and my body. But what if I rode more and for longer on an eMTB? What if I was not a spent wad of flesh after one of those “epic” rides, rather refreshed and motivated to tackle some other project. That’s a good thing, right?

Currently the Specialized S-Works Turbo Levo FSR is top dog in the eMTB world. Yes, that purple beauty I saw laying in the dirt, silently mocking me with the phrase “it’s just fun” costs over $11,000.  Considering I spent $5,000 on my last mountain bike, twice the cost is a lot of money for fun. Hell, that’s four times what my first car cost! Out comes the old goat … and I walked six miles in the snow just to get to school. But there must be a reason why eBikes are flying off the shelves.  

So, one must evolve, right? My husband says no — never, but he knows my mutiny is brewing. My desire slowly creeping up behind him, like the silent rider on an eMTB. I must ride one to be sure, more research must be done. Not just one ride, but several, alone and within a group. So, I can see their eyes, what is reflected. To be continued … 

The eMTB Evolution —the author in the new Specialized store in Santa Cruz. Photo: Jay MelenaI am converted

(After several rides on various trails with a sample Turbo Levo provided to me by Specialized and Scotts Valley Cycle Sport.)

“It’s a spaceship!” shouted my 13-year-old, as he took his first pedal stroke and blasted down the driveway. I could hear him laughing as he continued to ride around the property, finally coming to a stop and adding “it’s the Tesla of bikes.”

Yep that summarizes it perfectly, the 2020 Specialized Turbo Levo is the Tesla of eMTBs. Call me a traitor, hypocrite, convert, or sellout. I don’t care; this bike is the shit. The old school mentality needs to shift and the saying, “don’t hate what you don’t know” is so true. There is nothing evil or different about this bike. It causes no added impact to any trail and I honestly believe these Class 1 eMTBs should be allowed 100% access to all trails. The only impact would be people enjoying themselves, exercising outdoors and having fun. Isn’t that why we ride?

The power assist is seamless, not jumpy, or awkward. It is me, only better as the Specialized slogan for the Levo says. The motor design is small and quiet, you can barely see the difference from a traditional “muscle” bike. That is what I am calling non eMTB bikes: analog, misery, or muscle bikes. No matter how often I rode my old bike, every ride was a “suffer-fest”. You know the feeling; cannot breathe, must get off and walk those sections, just demoralizing. And that was my main resistance to the eMTB. If you don’t suffer, then it’s not real riding. Nope, it is still real riding. This bike will not allow beginners to go out there and magically become expert riders. You still need to put in the time, the experiences, the knowledge of technical skills and riding. This bike will only add to your enjoyment, the quality and length of your rides and give those who want to try riding a better first time. Heck, you can still crash and break a leg! 

The Turbo Levo’s three power modes allow the rider to adjust to any amount of work and with the Mission Control app you can fully customize the motor assist. You can go low in Eco mode and work up a good sweat or boost it up to Trail mode and climb up those previous impossible sections with confidence. Turbo mode, level 3 is insane! It makes going uphill a blast. Riding the Levo has improved my technical skills and I can ride for longer and stronger than before.  From a fitness perspective, this bike will let you burn more fat! You are not maxing out your heart rate, so you’ll be working more in your aerobic capacity, hence more fat burning = awesome.

I can say it is the best performing bike I have ever ridden. The only thing that will hurt, is your ass; from being able to ride for hours, and your face, from smiling. Within the first minute of riding the 2020 Specialized Turbo Levo bike, I knew – this was the future. Try one, I dare you.

The eMTB Evolution — a great picture of the Turbo LEVO up against the trunk of a large tree

The eMTB Evolution author in front of her two Turbo LEVOs

The author excited to check out the Turbo LEVO.

The eMTB Evolution bikers enjoying riding

An electric mountain bike allows for a longer ride, and makes climbs easier while you can still enjoy a motor-free descent (Dan Milner/Trek).