As soon as we entered the trail and attacked the long climb, the countdown began. This is one hell of a climb up to 1,456m, and it covers 28km in the process. Our estimates were that we’d have around half the battery by the time we reached the summit. The day dragged on and so did the bloody climb and the range anxiety only got stronger as we saw the battery status bars dropping. This was the reason behind our ever-growing stress about whether we’d make the whole trail or not. And, more importantly, what we’d do if we failed.
The climb is steep for the first 10km, then flattens before ramping up again for the last 8km. Most of the last section is loose and soft which sucks a lot of energy. For the whole ride, we decided we’d use eco mode in order to conserve the battery. By this point we were pretty jaded so we munched on some lollies and tried to suppress the stress of the low percentage battery. It was evident that whatever happened, it would be a challenging afternoon.
We finally reached Heavens Door and we could see bad weather coming in and the temperature was dropping. As we sat beside the trail eating some Scroggin, a few snow flurries came down and I had the sense of being a little more scared than worried. Some more food was consumed, then we rode the highest part of the trail which is super epic with views, but it has a ton of exposure. At this point, I turned the battery on/off whenever it was needed, in order to try and conserve it.
Yes - slight relief! We made it to Old Ghost Lake hut for lunch and unpacked our grub. This is the beauty of mountain biking - it gives you access to remote parts that would otherwise go unseen. We were quite broken and needed a ton of food to replenish ourselves. They may be eMTBs but you still need to ride them. Even though the bikes have power assist, it still takes its toll. Whatever the rest of the day delivered, we were still super thankful to be in this incredible backcountry.
After seeing the battery status pop up again on the Bosch Kiox and knowing we only had a few hours of daylight to play with, it was getting sketchy. We didn’t mind riding in the dark, but without battery assist the bikes would become very heavy. At this point a second battery would have been ideal. However, that wasn’t the case, and after some discussions about making a call whilst we had phone reception it was one of three options. One - ride out the best we could and, if we didn’t make it, find a hut to park in for the night (bearing in mind we didn’t have overnight clothes or enough food for two days and we’d still need to get out the next day - without electric assist). Two - ride back to the start point in Lyell then try and get someone to relocate the car back for us. Three - get a helicopter out of the trail and over to Seddonville; we opted for this option. This decision was made mainly thanks to my contacts at Murchison Heli Tours. I put the call to Ange and explained our situation - within an hour, Rob (the pilot) was in the air.
The evacuation – Rob jumped out of the heli and shook my hand strongly, then laughed about the situation we’d found ourselves in. As we flew back across the incredibly rugged terrain, I was resentful that we didn’t get to ride out, however, we were both thankful to be getting out safely and there was relief after spending most of the day in a state of anxiousness. After landing, and thanking Rob and his crew, we met a couple who’d ridden it in one day on eBikes. Their story, however, was a little different: they both took - and needed - two batteries.
A few pints of beer went down in the Seddonville Hotel whilst the locals sung songs. We yarned about what went wrong. How could we have done it better? Why did we use so much battery? Surely, we could have gone further. The long list of questions did get answered, but it opened up a new set of answered questions too. For
both of us, the thought of not completing the task was a hard pill to swallow. That said, I was thankful to be sitting in a warm pub sipping a cold beer, rather than out on the trial somewhere without any eBike battery assist.
Now, we must note, we were trying to find the limits of the eMTB Bosch Gen4 batteries - and as you’ve read, we did! But the trail can be (and should be) ridden with two eBike batteries. Of course, as technology evolves, so will the range. Whilst eBikes are quite advanced and offer great accessibility they, like most things, have their limitations. I for one can’t wait for the next era of eMTBs! Old Ghost Road on eMTBs will be revisited - and next time we will be more prepared - so stay tuned for the next episode!
Words: Liam Friary
Images: Cameron Mackenzie