Tim Bardsley-Smith Interview
Cycling photographer Tim Bardsley-Smith sits down with us to discuss what it's like to own and ride an E-MTB.
Want to know what it’s like to own and ride an E-MTB? Tim Bardsley-Smith is one of Australia’s best-known (not to mention most talented) cycling photographers and a pretty handy rider himself. Recently, Tim invested in a Shimano STEPS-equipped Merida E-One Sixty 900E to help him get around at intense photo shoots, like the recent Enduro World Series (EWS) at Derby in Tasmania. Tim tells us what brought him to take up E-MTB, and how it’s changed his job.

1. How long have you been riding mountain bikes and using bikes to get around during photo shoots?
I first rode an E-MTB in early 2016. It was a job for a client and Scott, who were sponsors of the trip, had two E-MTB hardtails to help us with a road/gravel photoshoot. These were only entry-level E-MTBs, but it gave me great insight into how I could use these pedal-assisted bikes with what I do for work, and make my work life much easier.

2. Tell us how you came to buy your E-MTB? What have the benefits been?
I was lucky enough to test Merida’s extremely capable E-One Sixty 900E for Australian Mountain Bike magazine – the first bike with the new STEPS E8000 in the country. I knew the best testing ground for a bike like this would be the EWS round in Derby Tasmania. With super high-quality Fox suspension at 150mm rear travel and 160mm front suspension, it was a far cry from the first E-MTB hardtails I rode the year before. The bike was amazing for the technical trails of an EWS and I knew this was the E-MTB I had been waiting for. It had the right geometry and build. The integration with the Shimano XT Di2 components was awesome also. I pretty quickly worked out a deal with the Merida Australian distributor and got the bike I used in Tasmania back to keep for a while.

Since then I’ve used it in on number of photo jobs, and it really makes it easier to lug my heavy equipment around on a shoot. It’s a little hard to think creatively when your heart rate is at 170 because you’ve been trying to keep up with a skinny XCO racer on their local trails with 15kg on your back. Plain and simple: it just makes my job easier. I can also see some race situations were large liaisons would just not be doable in time on a non-assisted MTB. One of the biggest things I notice is also how much I really enjoy riding it on my own, when I have down time. It pretty much negates the need for shuttles, and because most of my days off are mid-week, it can also be hard to find buddies free to share the shuttles with.

3. What's it like to ride compared with your normal MTB?
I really enjoy riding the E-One Sixty, it makes the climbs really enjoyable and challenging, instead of the sweat fest they usually are. While the sweat fest isn’t always a bad idea, it really allows me to cram way more fun stuff than a normal ride in any given time. If I go for a three-hour ride on the E-MTB I’m normally just as buggered as on my normal non-assisted bike, I’ve just done a lot more. Four or five times up and down the hill instead of maybe two. This in turn means more meters of dirt under my tires, which means more time honing skills and getting faster. It’s simple maths.

It definitely feels heavier, and I notice it more when I frequently switch from one to the other. There is no doubting my lighter non-assisted bike feels better once it’s up to speed. It’s more agile, but not by the huge amounts you would think. The E-MTB, while heavy initially, quickly feels normal and you’re having too much fun to think too much about how it compares to your normal MTB. I do find I have a lot of pedal strikes, you’re just pedalling all the time because you want the assistance the motor gives you!

After saying all this though, there is still an art to riding an E-MTB fast. Gear selection and timing is critical, and technical sections come up a lot faster than they normally would.

I find it just as easy to jump and hit fast sections, the bike just works so well and feels quite stable. I also find the E-MTB more physical, I come away with aching arms and chest muscles purely from man handling the larger bike. However, all these things are directly related to how I like to ride bikes.

4. Does your E-MTB require any special maintenance?
Not really, it uses all the same parts as a normal bike. The only thing I’d say is you have to stay on top of your drivetrain. Keep it clean and make sure it’s not too worn. The drivetrain just sees so much more work with the power of the STEPS motor.

5. How do you go travelling with it?
Well that is the hardest part, you can’t take the batteries on airplanes. So, your only option is trying to hire or borrow a battery at your destination, which I think will be come easier and easier as the technology progresses and more people are wanting to travel with them. Otherwise, tow ball racks on your car are probably the best option, they can handle the extra weight with ease. I have a big van and even have dual batteries and a power point in the van so charging it on the go is super easy also.

6. E-MTBs have been a bit controversial in Australia. What are your thoughts on E-MTBing?
Yeah it’s a little bit sad and annoying, but not really surprising. People are quite territorial of their local trails and most things new in our industry tend to come under intense scrutiny. Suspension, carbon, disc brakes, wheel size, and now it’s E-MTBs.

I tend to have a much more positive outlook. I see it as opening up our sport to more people and it becoming a lot more mainstream. This means more trails and more respect from the wider community. There are a lot of negative comments floating around and most seem to stem from misinformation. I also find particularly on the internet people who are negative towards them are much more inclined to comment. However out on the trails, I’ve never had a single instance of someone being angry at me for riding it. Most are super curious, and astounded at how much more you are riding than them.

You can read more of Tim's review of the Merida E-One Sixty for AMB here. You can also follow Tim's work on Instagram.