The 10x Downhill World Champion expands his limits with the eMountain bike
I have always been driven to attempt and achieve the impossible. With the eMountain bike, I can now make climbs I never thought were possible and so I'm still facing climbs today were I'm not sure whether I can master the challenge only after a few attempts.
More fun for everyone
I love to just go riding with friends, to chat with them during the climb, to experience little adventures and have a laugh with them. What makes this so fun for me is both due to the riding experience that the Uphill Flow offers, as well as the sense of community. Here, I get to be together with friends and family, I can now even go on tour together with my son. What could be more beautiful than that?
Regeneration and rehabilitation
The ability to precisely control the loads in particular provides great advantages during regeneration and rehabilitation trips. This meant I was soon able to get back onto my eMountain bike and work on my technique following a knee injury. I was able to adjust the loads step-by-step in accordance with physical progress. I use the eMountain bike for regeneration trips as well, so I can also integrate trails into these rides.
I love racing and I love speed. The eMountain bike in turbo mode drives me into a Superman-feeling. The steepest climbs are possible, technical lines can be mastered and the feeling is just awesome. At Bosch, this is referred to as Uphill Flow. It's important for me that the 25 km/h speed is absolutely sufficient.
Trying new things
Particularly as a professional, it's vital to pace your exertion. Because you can't keep repeating every key passage endlessly to try out a tenth line or variation. In this regard, the eMountain bike caters to my curiosity. I can ride key passages again and again, do a lot of try-outs to expand my riding horizons. But I also feel as if I'm bringing this curiosity into my everyday life.
Nicolas has always pushed the limits. His inspiration is his guiding principle. It's no coincidence that his nickname is ET. Record world champion, then successful rally driver and now an impressive career in the Enduro segment. For him, the eMountain bike is both a training tool and a source of fun.
"I like trying out new things and I want to challenge myself."
The extra-terrestrial, an exceptional talent and athlete. Nicolas Vouilloz, born in Nice in 1976, has made racing history. Ten-times World Champion in MTB Downhill, five-times overall World Cup winner, outstanding results as a rally driver and, finally, the switch to Enduro. Here, he once again achieved excellent results in his last season, 2016, before retiring from his professional career at the last stop of the Enduro World Series. It would have been impossible to find a better opportunity for this than the annual party on the market square at Finale Ligure. To ride once more in front of the jubilant crowd, to feel once more the sense of community across all the disciplines, to party once more on the seafront.
The ride through four countries, over mountain passes and through the Po Valley certainly has its challenges. We therefore unfortunately miss the last day of the Enduro World Series, but get there just in time for the party.
When we arrive and walk towards the market square, we encounter the first pros, who aren't wearing much, but are thoroughly enthusiastic. The market square is bathed in loud music and the even louder hum of conversation. Today's rankings no longer matter, the season is over and in addition to the Enduro pros, their teams, fans and media, professionals from other mountain biking disciplines have turned up as well. Everyone's in exuberant mood, including Nico Vouilloz, whom we briefly meet up with to arrange an interview for the next day.
I go through my questions to Nico Vouilloz. After all, it's not every day that you get to meet a legend. I glance at my mobile and see that we still have a little time. Just before five a.m., Nico sent me a text message asking to put the meeting back a little. We understand, of course.
We meet up at the beach in the early afternoon. Vouilloz is rested and in a good mood, his falls over the past few days are still niggling him a little, but otherwise he's perfectly happy with the decision he's made. We've agreed to meet for a regeneration ride, on eBikes. Vouilloz has been riding eBikes for a while, he tells us. Primarily for fun, of course, because he loves the new uphill feel. It's no coincidence that he's one of the creative minds in the Lapierre R&D department. With his test rides and experience, he influences the developments significantly and has had a big impact on geometries and kinematics at Lapierre in recent years.
Nicolas Vouilloz was grateful to come into contact with eBikes for the first time following cruciate-ligament knee surgery. Thanks to the riding support, he was able to get back onto a bike quickly because the drive compensated for his missing strength. Without an eBike, this would have been impossible. He told us that it was the fun on the trails that particularly motivated him during his rehab. But regardless, Vouilloz believes the eMountain bike to be a great addition. First of all, just as a further sporting option, whereby the level of sportiness can be individually set by the user, but, above all, as a source of enjoyment. What he likes best, is to use his eMTB to test himself and explore new possibilities. Since he's been using the eMTB, he's discovered numerous new routes that he would never have been able to ride owing to time constraints. He also likes to use the map feature on the display. But above all, the drive offers him the opportunity to ride sections repeatedly, to try out new lines and compare the different variations. "I like trying out new things. I want to challenge myself and get to the bottom of the questions I set for myself," he explains. "On the trail, these are lines and the question of which can be ridden faster and with more flow."
“In essence, the eBike is ideal for everyone.”
... and it's something that's certainly impossible to get out of Nicolas Vouilloz. For his entire career, he's measured himself against his own abilities and those of others, always working on himself and trying to improve. In terms of the eMTB, he is also wondering what racing format could be applied here. It would have to be technical and, above all, uphill. Moreover, the peak speed of 25 km/h should not be exceeded during ascents, otherwise it wouldn't be specific enough for him. Moreover, battery performance should be a criterion as well in order to rule out the use of full support throughout the race. In other words, tactics as well as fitness and technology. Regarding top speeds: here too, Nicolas Vouilloz has strong opinions and disapproves of eBike tuning. He even goes as far as comparing it with doping.
... is that more than anything, eMTB is a leveller. It levels out differences in ability. As a result, he recently bought one for his son, who can now accompany him on tours: quality time for both of them. He hopes that eBikes will lower the barriers to the sport, particularly in hilly and mountainous terrain so that more people can engage in mountain biking in natural surroundings. It's his belief that occasional riders in particular will benefit from the support and will immediately enjoy uphill rides, that trail riders will be able to ride certain route sections more often, improving and challenging themselves, that families will be able to ride together and racers train in a more targeted manner. "In essence, the eBike is ideal for everyone, perhaps with the exception of extremely ambitious sportspeople like triathletes."
… Nicolas Vouilloz still doesn't want to completely stop racing. Together with some friends, he'd still like to take part in a few eBike races in a completely relaxed way in future. So there it is again, racing is simply in his blood. So, just as we reach the highest point of our tour, we're not much surprised with the comparison he makes regarding the feeling that the eBike triggers in him. "What I like best is the feeling of being Superman. It's really totally crazy." At first, this sounds like an exaggeration, but all things considered, the idea takes seed in our minds. And, after all, who knows more about Superman than an extra-terrestrial? Let's be honest: wouldn't we all like to be a little like Superman?
“What I like best is the feeling of being Superman.”
Interview with Nicolas:
Hi Nicolas, please introduce yourself briefly.
My name's Nicolas Vouilloz and I'm 40 years old. I work in the design department at Lapierre, where we design and test bicycles. I have a good track record in downhill-oriented mountain biking, and have been Downhill World Champion ten times. For some years now, I've been riding Enduro mountain bikes and, since recently, an eBike as well.
What's changed in mountain bike racing over the past twenty years?
I've been fortunate enough to experience the entire development of mountain bikes. We started on hardtails with a rigid front, only the stems had suspensions. And the geometry... there's really no comparison with today's technology. Through to the super downhill bikes: even when I was still riding downhill professionally, there were some really good bikes, today they almost seem like small motorbikes. But since then, everything's changed: The materials, carbon, - it has all really changed. Up to the present day: now, we're motorised, which is even more fun. I've been really lucky to experience the whole story.
How did you get into eBiking?
I got into eBikes quite simply because I work at Lapierre and we develop electric bicycles there. So I started testing them out. Personally, I first benefited from their advantages following knee surgery resulting from cruciate ligament damage. Following the operation, it was really incredible to be able to ride a bike again, even though I didn't quite have my legs back. So I was still able to get them moving again and have fun on the trails, which would have been impossible on a normal bike.
What's changed for you since then?
For me, the change that happened with the eBikes is that I do even more mountain biking. Even if I only have an hour or an hour and a half - instead of taking the racing bike, I now go riding single trails.
What's special about eMountain bikes for you?
What I like best is the feeling of being Superman when I'm driving in turbo mode. It's total madness!
What does Uphill Flow mean to you?
For me, flow means keeping up a high speed even when riding uphill. To stay in the cadence, to be able to ride technical passages - to really have fun even while riding uphill. It's not that simple with a normal mountain bike.
A common prejudice is that eBikes have nothing to do with sport. What's your view as a former professional?
I do think that eMountain bikes are there to make cycling a little less challenging in sporting terms. But there are four modes, so you can adapt the riding support to the desired level. If you measure your heart rate, you'll soon see that you can quickly get it right up there in Eco mode. And when you're racing, it's strenuous anyway because you're giving it all you've got. And when you give everything, it doesn't matter if a motor is supporting you or not, one's just faster than the other. I think it's mainly people who have never tried it out themselves who take a critical view. There are lots of examples from my circle of friends where people want to ride again and again once they've tried it out once. Even young people and professional racers like Adrien Dailly and others. They try it once.... and bang, they're enthusiasts! That's the magic of the e-drive.
Does that mean that you're looking for sporting competition with eMountain biking as well?
No, I'm one of those people who primarily use an eBike for fun. I start from home, quickly ride up to a summit, sometimes even two or three times, and can therefore spend a lot more time actually on the trails. It also allows me to try out new trails or find new lines. If they're not successful and I have to turn around, that's not a problem either. I just love trying out new routes. I like to ride uphill fast so as to have more time riding downhill. If I set off with the eBike, it's to ride a speedy, flowing tour. Climbing at full speed, I already have fun when riding uphill. For example, in technical passages that you couldn't negotiate with a regular bike.
Is the eMountain bike a good tool for training?
Yes, I think it can be a good training instrument for athletes too. You can simply do more for longer and faster. That's definitely a good thing.
For whom are eMountain bikes best suited in your opinion?
I think eBikes are perfect for all non-professionals, i.e. for people who don't have the time to train, who might be able to go cycling once every week or two. It's just difficult to have fun on excessively steep or long uphill stretches because it's really strenuous. With electric support, however, it's just a breeze and lots of fun. That really makes it a lot easier mentally to set off in the first place. I see this with my son, who struggles when riding uphill. I've put together an eBike for him and now he can ride with his dad, can keep up with me. For me as an athlete, it's interesting to be able to ride longer and further. And for the average cyclist who doesn't train, the eBike can open doors. Or for a wife who can't ride with her husband because she rarely cycles: she can accompany him on an eBike, because it levels out the differences. I therefore really believe that the eBike is made for everyone, except perhaps for particularly eager sportspeople such as triathletes, for whom it may simply make no sense.
How would you assess the future of the eMountain bike - will there be competitions in the discipline at an international level one day?
Hard to say. But actually, why not? You would have to introduce good controls in any case. Without such binding controls, the motor manufacturers, e.g. Bosch, wouldn't be interested in it because they know how easy it is to cheat.
It would be easier to answer the question: "What kind of competition is the eBike made for," because I have specific ideas about that. But really, a UCI World Cup ... hmmm. I don't think so, not under a cycling association anyway. I mean, there could perhaps be races, like in motorcycle racing, where, for example, Kawasaki, Honda, etc., challenge each other, but there's also the rider who's performing - and the bike. With the eBike it's similar, there's the rider, who pedals, but also several motor manufacturers, which influences the pure performance. To be honest, I'm not sure. We'll see.
To return to the question again - what would a suitable racing format be for eMountain bikes?
There are two main criteria for a good eMountain bike race. First of all, the battery has to be used correctly, and you shouldn't be allowed to ride with full support the whole time. Moreover, you need a technical course, both uphill and downhill, that requires extensive riding skills. For me, those would be the ingredients for an exciting competition.
would be the ingredients for an exciting competition. What direction will the developments take? What will change with the next generation of eMountain bikes?
I think we're just at the beginning. The range will increase, the installation space will become smaller, everything will be further integrated and more lightweight. The performance will not necessarily increase, because we've already achieved really good results. But the range and the weight reductions will.
What's your position on eBike tuning?
eBike tuning is a bit like doping in cycling - it's forbidden!
What's next for you, following your retirement from racing?
I'd been thinking about retiring for a while. I've turned 40 this year and I thought it was a good time to quit. Anyway, I feel like riding my eBike more, and taking part in a few races together with good friends. So I won't stop racing completely.