Sometimes all you need is an insightful go-between, which is how Stefan Schlie brought together trail designer and course builder Diddie Schneider with Claus Fleicher, CEO of Bosch eBike Systems. They had worked separately on flow for several years. Diddie Schneider focused on downhill courses that would provide fun for beginners and families as well as experienced mountain bikers.
Claus Fleischer and Stefan Schlie worked on the development of the powerful Performance CX power unit, designed specially for eMountain bikes, which enables mountain bikers of all calibres to experience uphill flow for themselves.
In autumn 2015, the three men met in the Geißkopf MTB Zone Bike Park in Germany, where they worked together on the idea of an uphill flow course. Their aim was to create an extra element that would enable active sports enthusiasts to experience uphill flow in a safe environment. They covered a lot of ground, exchanging ideas and started to draw up a concept. During periods of bad weather over the course of a week, they were able to ride the park's trails in the opposite direction, enabling them to pinpoint exactly what they liked about each section and which elements an uphill flow trail requires.
In autumn 2015, the three men met in the Geißkopf MTB Zone Bike Park, where they worked together on the idea of an uphill flow course. Their aim was to create an extra element that would enable as many active sports enthusiasts to experience uphill flow in a safe environment. They covered a lot of ground, exchanging ideas and starting to draw up a concept. During periods of bad weather over the course of a week, they were able to ride the park's trails in the opposite direction, enabling them to pinpoint exactly what they liked about each section and which elements an uphill flow trail requires.
"Flow is an individual feeling of well-being."
Designing a route is a challenging task. This is particularly the case when you consider that the Uphill Flow Trail was to be the first of its kind. This was going to be a pioneering achievement with clear goals. The trail was to be embedded in a natural environment. Sustainability was key to the construction as well as a clear maintenance plan. These characteristics were to be clearly recognisable to users as positive propositions.
The trail was intended to attract beginners, families and very experienced riders in equal measure. Without doubt the most difficult task was to design a course that would focus on the idea of uphill flow. The aim was to find a satisfactory middle ground between low levels of difficulty for all riders, while also posing a challenge for those who need it. They wanted to create a trail that would be quiet and remote enough, while still offering the necessary level of safety.
Having come up with the concept, it was time to start planning. The first step was to explain the concept to all those involved at a local level. The layout and required area were sketched out, as well as the opportunities and risks for those involved at local level. The local ski-lift operator was satisfied that an eBike trail would attract more people - in particular amateur athletes. This would benefit everyone in the local area. The next step was to share the layout of the trail with the forestry authorities.
Particular attention was paid to satisfy conservationist concerns in this largely untouched section of woodland. Much consideration was made to minimise intervention and to follow existing routes closely so as to reduce the impact on the local fauna as much as possible. It was planned that machinery would be used for the work on the trail from the outset. The use of a digger meant that the route could be laid out and constructed on a sustainable basis in one track, thus keeping the eventual upkeep requirements to a minimum. This meant that the intensive work could be restricted to a limited period and that plenty of time could then be spent encouraging the regeneration of the natural environment. After the machines have done their work, nature is to be allowed to reclaim part of the trail so that the amount of space used is modest and riders have a more natural experience.
Thanks to thorough preliminary planning, the approval process went smoothly so that construction work could begin in March 2016.
Various user and target groups were consulted during the conception and planning stages. Local tourism agencies as well as accommodation providers were in favour of the project, and local bike groups were excited by the prospect of the additional facilities. It was possible to reach an agreement with the forestry, hunting and conservation interest groups regarding the layout of the trail and its sustainable construction. The target groups for the Uphill Flow Trail were even more important when it came to planning.
The aim was not just to attract experienced mountain bikers, but also to appeal to active amateur athletes who see mountain biking as a fun way to keep fit. It was planned that the trail should follow a number of alternative routes from the outset. The main route was to be as accessible and fun as possible, with no obstacles so that riders can enjoy the flow. One variant involves natural elements and a certain level of technical challenge, while another variant tops this with trial elements to put experienced mountain bikers through their paces.
In order to achieve variety and fun for various levels of ability, in addition to the trail variants specific elements were also incorporated into the trail. There are numerous berms and switchbacks that are guaranteed to bring a smile to any rider's face with a powerful drive unit like the Performance CX.
This guarantees a three-dimensional trail layout that will give eMountain bikers a new experience every time. 'Tabletops' and jumps with safe landing areas are also dotted along the trail. This element would also be impossible on an uphill trail without an eBike. Without doubt many riders will be excited by the wall rides and timber berms that provide an unrestricted view of the valley below. The technical variants also include sections with tree roots, cliffs and other natural challenges. These elements were thoroughly tested in June 2016 by all concerning groups. During the construction phase the primary concern was that this pilot project should really work. Thus, certain sections were ridden over and over again for fine-tuning.
Because the Uphill Flow Trail is intended to appeal not just to beginners or technically advanced mountain bikers, trail variants were included in the concept right from the beginning. Around 20% of the trail route consists of technically challenging variants. These are divided into red and black difficulty levels. Red is for the natural variants with sections of tree roots, stones, narrow bridges and natural surfaces. These sections can still be ridden in a flowing style, but are a little closer to nature and more technically challenging.
The black variant includes technical trail elements that may take a while to master. This will challenge experienced eMountain bikers who want to push their drive unit and their riding technique to the limit. The routes are clearly marked and the various sections rejoin the main trail at the open points. The benefit of these variants is also that they follow the patterns laid down by nature, which only needed tweaking very slightly. In some cases, the alternate sections have provided access to some quite unique areas.
The timber elements perform various functions in course construction. On the one hand they offer a challenging and fun element for eMountain bikers. This brings greater variety to the trail. However, they can also help protect sensitive areas such as moors and other wetland areas. We use both types of timber element in the Uphill Flow Trail.
We have wall rides that are just for fun and that offer a great view. In addition, we have also included longer bridges that cross streams and wetland areas. This helps avoid compacting the soil in these areas. The timber comes directly from the local forestry business and is cut to size, treated and installed. Here too, machinery is indispensable. The timbers were cut to size in large turning areas, so as not to disturb the fauna unnecessarily.
The choice of trail layout is one of the most complex tasks for Diddie Schneider and he finds it difficult to describe. For him it is important to plan and implement a trail in three dimensions. Physical and mental challenges always exist, even if the course is very accessible. Schneider likes to compare this three-dimensional movement with the rocking of a baby's cradle. For him this is the secret behind the flow of a trail of this kind, similar to the weaving movements of a skier.
In addition to the three-dimensional factor, the trail is also designed to ensure that blocking speed is not reached. Enough room has been allowed for pedalling on bends and a safety margin has been provided along the edge of the trail. Although the edges of the trail will become naturally overgrown, there will be no woody plants - just light shrubbery to no more than hip height. The safe integration of the variants and their junctions proved to be a complex matter. This issue was resolved with very open areas where speed was further reduced through appropriate design features, enabling paths to converge safely.
We have already discussed sustainability. We shall now consider this topic from a usage perspective. The blue variant of the main trail was built using the mechanical digger. This involved removing the humus layer, as this would simply erode due to frequent bike traffic and rain and would be increasingly washed away. This track was then finished by hand and drains were installed at key points to ensure that water could escape in a regulated manner.
After this, a layer of finely crushed stone was laid which, once compacted, forms an extremely durable layer, protecting the soil from erosion. This means that the trail can be used even in rain and other adverse weather conditions. The crushed stone was laid in the autumn, so that the frosty conditions of the winter would ensure further compaction. Allowing a surface to overwinter in frosty conditions is an ideal way to get particularly durable results. Because the trail does not need the full width of the digger track, part of it simply grows over again, so that the Uphill Flow Trail remains a genuine singletrack trail. The timber elements do not require much maintenance either. It is possible to cross mud holes and wetlands with ease, while the use of chicken wire means that the timber elements remain safe for cyclists even when wet.
The issue of dampness was extremely important during the construction work. We were surprised by rain more than once, forcing us to abandon work. However, such unpredictability is simply part of the mix when building a trail of this kind.
The Uphill Flow Trail will be an added amenity in a region that has invested in the mountain biking sector and that already has a healthy local social scene. The intention is that this facility will offer interested riders an accessible and safe entry point to the sport. It also seeks to offer technically adept bikers the opportunity to train and to work on their technique. Above all, it will bring together whole families and circles of friends in one park. It is important for all involved that the Uphill Flow Trail is integrated as an added amenity for the region.
It will have no negative impact on rights of way or on local tourism, hunting or forestry activities. Instead, following the Scottish model, it is intended to enhance the skills of eMountain bikers and to give them greater technical ability for natural trails of this kind. The Geißkopf MTB Zone Bike Park is ideal for this, as it has always been a place where different natural amenity users come together in a spirit of mutual respect. We had the opportunity to test integration as an added amenity for ourselves in June. Afterwards we spent a long time exploring the surrounding paths and then the various bike park trails, but constantly found ourselves returning to the two flow trails. After all, these guaranteed a unique feeling of happiness and satisfaction.
The Uphill Flow Trail is not a standalone trail, but instead is integrated in Germany's Geißkopf MTB Zone Bike Park and the existing surrounding network of paths. The trail ends at the top of Geißkopf mountain with views of the Great Arber, the highest peak in the Bavarian Forest. The existing bike park trails start here. You can surf your way down in similar flowing style using the Flow Country Trail, or, if you prefer something more challenging with a natural feel, you can take the Freeride or Downhill Trail.
Special signposting was produced for the Uphill Flow Trail, pointing the way and ensuring that bikers do not take a wrong turn. The design of the trail is also intended to prevent this: entries and crossing paths will only be found in the lowest section and the trail also uses a more remote part of the woods and only turns back towards the peak in its final section. Restaurant facilities and mountain cabins are available both at the top and bottom of the mountain. In other words, this is a perfectly integrated project.
It was also important to make the Uphill Flow Trail accessible and to incorporate facilities that would appeal to the whole family. Thus, there are various active sports opportunities to be found around the mountainside. There is a summer bob-sleigh run, an archery trail and a large network of hiking paths. Adults can visit the local breweries and distilleries, while families can enjoy the adventure playground in nearby Bischofsmais. The Geißkopf MTB Zone Bike Park has a children's trail, a pump track and a large practice area.
The trails within the park also offer a wide range of options both for beginners and very advanced mountain bikers. But because the altitude differential is only 200m, anyone can test their abilities to their heart's content, crossing paths with family and friends again and again as they do so.
Willingen Bike Festival 2015
Claus Fleischer and Stefan Schlie talk to Diddie Schneider for the first time about the idea of an Uphill Flow trail.
Meeting at the Geißkopf MTB Zone Bike Park. Together the three men ride the Flow Country Trail and other nearby trails in order to test how an uphill flow trail can work.
The key data for the Uphill Flow Trail is defined. The target group, variants and elements are defined over the course of several meetings.
Inspection of the site together with local forestry representative, Alexander Achatz. Established a corridor for construction in accordance with conservationist requirements and forest management principles.
Planning permission is granted for the Uphill Flow Trail.
Uphill Flow Trail constructions begins.
50% of the trail is complete. Claus Fleischer and Stefan Schlie ride this trail for the first time and like what they experience. Further variants and the signposting system are subsequently designed.
The main trail is completed just before the first snow of the year in the Bavarian Forest. The trail and the aggregate can now bed in over the winter.
Additional variants and the finishing touches added after the last snow.
Signposts installed, wall rides prepared and final test rides taken place. The entries to the various sections were ridden one last time from the top to uncover any possible safety concerns.
Official opening of the Uphill Flow Trail.
Interview: Claus Fleischer
1. What's the idea behind Uphill Flow?
The idea behind Uphill Flow is to extend the well-known term of "flow". "Flow" is defined as the triangle formed by your personal aspirations, your individual riding skills and the challenge of the trail. And when you stretch that triangle to the maximum and pass the point of being underchallenged without being overchallenged either, then you're in the flow. And this is the concept that we've now transferred to Uphill Flow. We want to show that riding an eMountain bike uphill is fun and that you can overcome your individual limitations in terms of riding technique. Your ambitions to ride better uphill are continuously fuelled. And that is supported perfectly by the technology, which means that, suddenly, you get into a flow uphill as well. That's why we coined the term Uphill Flow. It's the experience when riding uphill, that excitement.
2. You aptly say "the technology supports you perfectly". How much have you adapted the Performance Line CX drive to your idea of Uphill Flow in technology terms?
The idea for the Performance CX originated from the experiences and riding enjoyment that we were having with eMountain bikes.
Stefan Schlie and I started playing around with these in the woods about three years ago and we noticed that riding uphill with them was just so much more fun than before. But we also came up against the limitations of the systems available at the time. Stefan was really good at testing out the bikes, so we thought about what we really needed. Fundamentally, there were two aspects: Firstly, increasing the torque. We called this "maximum momentum". For us, it's important that the motor delivers enough power, i.e. torque, from low motor speeds when you're accelerating out of a bend, up to the high rotation speeds, when you're really riding fast but are also transferring the motor power to the ground. It's not the torque alone though, but the riding dynamics too, and the connected control technology. When you have optimal support in any situation, we call this "Trail Control". And all this led to the Performance CX.
3. Now, all this is being brought onto the trail. What's the idea behind the Uphill Flow Trail?
We envisaged the Uphill Flow Trail as an opportunity to apply this riding technique, or to provide an experience of it, in a bike park because you have much greater scope here for building tracks that cater to different levels of difficulty. Everyone's familiar with the idea of downhill Flow Country Trails. In the past, you rode downhill, then came the Free-Ride Tracks and afterwards, the Flow Country Trails. We now want to offer the same experience uphill. For us, the idea is to offer all the sportier eMountain bikers who want to improve their riding skills a chance to experience Uphill Flow in the bike parks as well. As an additional offering to the current options.
4. What target group is Uphill Flow aimed at? Who will it appeal to?
Essentially, we want to target the sportier eMountain bikers. Mountain bikers and eMountain bikers are generally touring cyclists who occasionally enjoy a more sporty ride. In order to create an offering here, we decided to go to the Bike Park here at the Geißkopf and build this track for eMountain bikers who want to give it a try. We're confident that the idea will prove successful and can be extended to other regions as well.
5. That's basically my next question. First and foremost, you're drive manufacturers. Why are you so strongly committed to trail etiquette in this segment when it comes to Uphill Flow? Where does this commitment come from?
With Part 1 of the Uphill Flow campaign in 2014, we wanted to show what can be done with an eBike. That you can have fun on the ride up and not feel any restrictions on the way down the trails. With Part 2 of the Uphill Flow campaign in 2015, we wanted to show that when you're on tour, riding in the Alps, what matters is riding technique and trail etiquette, which means that the same principle applies to both mountain bikers and eMountain bikers: mutual respect and tolerance. And with Part 3 of Uphill Flow, we wanted to extend the idea even further and put the focus firmly back onto riding skills. We wanted to communicate the fun and excitement that are possible in a playful way. For us as a drive manufacturer, this is really easy - we just really enjoy transforming our own little dream into reality.
6. What's your impression of the track so far?
Our impression of the track so far is very good. We rode some of the main stretches today. Diddie Schneider has implemented a really amazing concept here and you can already get a feel of the ideas that we devised together last year and during the winter. It really is great when you accelerate out of a bend on the hill and the drive actually provides the support in the way we imagined it could. When you ride the berms at the top and you can pedal through the turn and take the momentum into the next chicane. It's just awesome. It's exactly what we'd imagined.
7. Does using an eBike have an influence on your experience, on your sensation when you're cycling?
The eMountain bike really expands the mountain biking experience. You can make a good comparison. Based on our experience, we've worked out that on a normal mountain bike you need around four time units to ride up the hill for each time unit spent riding downhill. And normally, you ride those four time units on a gravel track, so if you're riding fast, it's impossible to hold a conversation. With the eMountain bike, you ride up for two time units and down for one, but the two time units up are fun too. I ride on the gravel paths and can still have a chat, or I ride up an Uphill Flow Trail and have an enjoyable time as well.
8. What do you think the future holds for eBiking? Will there be more tracks like the Uphill Flow Trail?
The future of mountain biking is that we'll see more eBikes. Why? Not only because it makes sense, it's fun too. The eBikers realise that, suddenly, they can have fun on the ride up and not only downhill. So, I could imagine that more and more people will take up eMountain biking, especially in highland areas and the Alps. And then, another point is that some regions are considering certain concepts involving trail parks with Flow Country Trails and extending these with Uphill Flow Trails.
9. An important topic is the speed of this trail. It's designed for 25 km/h and you've been running a strict anti-tuning campaign. What's that all about? What are the reasons for it and what measures are you using to implement it?
The bicycle manufacturers and system suppliers have joined forces in the bicycle industry association and have signed and published a voluntary agreement against unauthorised tuning. There's absolutely no place for tuning when it comes to eBikes and eMountain bikes. And, as we noticed today, if a trail is well built, you don't need to ride any faster than 25 km/h. That means that you don't even reach the top-speed limiter point, so in addition to tuning being impermissible, it just doesn't make sense.
Interview: Stefan Schlie
1. Stefan, what does Uphill Flow mean to you?
Flow is an individual feeling of well-being. Basically, it's a comfort zone. An imaginary window that ranges from when you stop being underchallenged to when you start to be overchallenged. It's different for each person. And when you're within this window, then you get that feeling of flow. Workflow, flow on the bike, skis... whatever.
2. So, what's Uphill Flow for you?
Flow is something that you mostly get during downhill-oriented sports, but now it's also possible to feel it uphill. Given that this comfort zone I was just talking about can mostly be enhanced by improving your riding skills, then this also applies, of course, to eMountain biking. During Uphill Flow, you also have the added extra of the support levels. This means that your own strength is increased by up to 300 percent, which at that moment removes the overexertion during uphill riding. You don't get overexerted as quickly as during normal uphill riding. On the contrary, it's easier. And, that way, you can extend the comfort zone.
3. What does your cooperation with Diddie Schneider mean for you? The implementation of this Uphill Flow Trail? What, in particular, is the idea behind it?
When you get into the flow, you're moving in a quiet space. Of course, there is some potential for conflict if you start thinking about what might be coming towards you, both for the people riding downhill as well as those riding up. So, deliberately building a specifically uphill trail with the aim of putting your own uphill riding skills into practice so you can stay precisely in that comfort zone is certainly ground-breaking. Because it really is a revolutionary concept for eMountain bikers to build an uphill trail. And what I also think is great is that this concept doesn't just involve a single trail, but it's divided into different routes so that everyone can find their own individual flow zone without being over or underchallenged.
4. What's your impression of the trail?
Well, I think Diddie's done a great job. It's not easy to build a flowy trail. A trail that's compatible for everyone. There are slight similarities with the Flow Country concepts in terms of making it accessible to the general public and ensure that everyone is able to ride up. The way the track is built, the bends, the spacing of the switchbacks, everything's been laid out really sensibly so that lots of people are going to have great fun and enjoy lots of flow.
5. In your view, what can the Performance CX from Bosch contribute to Uphill Flow?
The Performance Line CX is actually the paradigm of what a motor needs to deliver. There are features like maximum momentum, which means that 300 percent of your pedalling force is available immediately in terms of response, so you really have that organic riding sensation which you need to bring your own skills and the full motor power onto the trail, so that it feels like real cycling. But just with more power. And the Performance Line CX does this outstandingly.
6. Does using an eBike have an influence on your experience, on your sensation when you're cycling?
eBiking has completely changed life because you've really got an all-purpose two-wheeler at your disposal. It really expands your horizons. Your scope. You simply have more possibilities. You can work on your flow, intensity, coordination, you can just decide to go up somewhere with just a little effort to then have a great downhill ride. When riding downhill, you're not giving anything up with an eBike. Lots of people think that the heavier weight of the eBike would be a disadvantage when riding downhill, but that's not the case at all. So, really, I've got the complete package. I can ride with high intensity, I can ride uphill with low intensity, I can apply my skills uphill, I can ride uphill in a coordinated way, I can ride up and recover with my friends. The overall package that an eMountain bike delivers is incredibly diverse.
7. What do you think? What does the future hold for eBiking? What's your vision for the coming years?
I think that eMountain biking is going to become much more significant. I think that, in future, a lot of people are going to think very carefully about what kind of bikes they're going to buy, because the eMontain bike covers a very wide range of possibilities. I can train, I can have fun, I can regenerate. I can do anything, really.
I think that over the short or long term, a lot of people who try out an eBike will recognise the fun and the advantages that it brings. I think the landscape is going to change.
Interview: Diddie Schneider
1. What's the idea behind the Uphill Flow Trail?
The idea of the Uphill Flow Trail is to build a track that's specially designed for eBikes and caters to the advantages of the eBike. The Uphill Flow Trail therefore incorporates the relevant elements such as banked curves and small tables, i.e. uphill jumps. That's a really new aspect for one thing. Then there's the stretches that are a bit steeper and can't usually be ridden up on a normal bike. That's the basic idea, to develop a track that makes clear the differences between a normal bike and an eBike. Basically, you could compare it to the Flow Country Trail. The track has to have flow in any case. The objective is that you get to the top with a really wide grin on your face.
2. And who's the trail designed for?
Primarily, the track's designed for average riders who just want to feel the eBike experience. But the track also includes sections that are interesting for sporty riders, i.e. more technical parts. The regular rider, however, doesn't have to ride these stretches and can just ride up in a flow, like on the Flow Country Trail. Those who like it sporty can then take the relevant turn-offs and, on these lines that are a little more difficult and technical, they can have even greater fun.
3. How has the trail been integrated into the Bike Park? What possibilities does it offer for downhill riding?
If you're feeling really good when you get to the top of the track because you weren't overchallenged or underchallenged, but purely enjoyed yourself, then you can choose one of the downhill tracks. You arrive just where the Downhill Track, the Flow Country Trail, Freeride or Evil Eye start at the Bike Park here. You can pick whichever track suits your riding skills and then ride down again. And when you get to the bottom, it's with a grin, because then you can just ride back up again.
4. There are fears that this eBike trail will only promote the exclusion of eBikers, or is it just a form of channelling and direction?
I think this track's really important. There probably will be issues, if normal eBikers become interested in riding up trails and then want to start riding up the existing downhill trails. That could lead to conflicts. To prevent these, we've said that we're building a special track that's really only designed with eBikers in mind. They'll have a track that's tailored to their needs. They can ride up this and won't encounter regular bikers and vice-versa.
5. What about the focus on speed? Will you be using normal eBikes? Or S pedelecs? What's the position on this?
We just want normal eBikes here in our Bike Park because speeds up to 25 km/h are quite sufficient to have fun on the trail in our view. It is possible to ride faster, but you'll need some pretty powerful thighs. It just makes sense for safety if there's a speed limit of 25 km/h, so that's what we'll be implementing.