Thrills on the hills – Travel on Gravel

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Clitheroe store assistant Tom Warman recently put a Ribble CGR AL e through its paces on a back-to-back forest trail and road test. To see if it delivers on its promise of thrills on the hills and travel on the gravel.

Since Ribble’s new flagship Clitheroe store opened in mid-April I’ve noticed two types of bike have proven to be more popular than any other. Electric bikes and CGR all-road bikes.  Combine the two and you have the ultimate winner in the shape of Ribble’s CGR AL e. A bike that combines multi-surface versatility with the added oomph of electric assistance.

I’m primarily a road and touring cyclist, so when this test model arrived I was keen to give it a whirl. However, I had two clear objectives in mind.  Firstly, I wanted to see how it performed on medium to heavy trails. Secondly, I simply had to try it out it over the massive green bump that we can see from our showroom windows. Otherwise known as Pendle Hill.

The question I’m often asked regarding e-bikes is “how good are they for getting me over those big hills?”. The second most asked question is whether they really can transition from one surface to another. Can they actually perform across a mixture of terrains? Well, I was to find out and then some.

The iWoc One top tube mounted control lets you select which resistance mode you want when you need it most. It certainly helps to provide thrills on the hills.

Travel on Gravel

The first stop was a Sunday spin in nearby Gisburn Forest. It should be noted that it was to me, wholly unfamiliar cycling terrain.  I don’t venture off-road much. Therefore I wanted to see how the CGR AL e performed on tight ascents, descents and gravel tracks. Similarly, how it rode on the poorly conditioned tarmac between the two. 

Weighing in at 14kgs, the aluminium-framed CGR AL e isn’t the lightest e-bike in our range (our lightest, in fact, barely bothers the scales at just under 10.5kg) but that misses the mark for what this bike is all about. It’s considerably lighter than comparable bikes on the market.   Instead, this bike is built to be a sturdy steed, one that gives you a real sense of confidence on a mixture of terrains. 

As I headed off through the forest on a flat trail path, I opted for the lowest level of assistance. Suddenly I found this bike transformed into a smooth-rolling machine that had a nice gentle momentum.  Our MAHLE motor-powered range of e-bikes are designed to give the rider an organic ‘pedal assist’ motion powered by the rear hub. I was actually really impressed at just how agile and responsive the bike felt.  Traversing thick muddy puddles and stony pathways was a doddle. As was the transition to the mid-level of assistance once I approached a gentle ascent.

I have the powerrrrrrrrrrrr

Suddenly the bike felt like it was up for anything, which was just as well. For the next ascent was a harsh, thick, and gravelly incline. It needed more from my legs and a bit more from the bike too! This was clearly the time to hit the magic boost button. Engaging the highest level of assistance gave me a welcome push for a punishing, long ascent with a nasty rake towards the top. In this mode, I just sensed that this bike was ready to go through its paces. To reward me handsomely for finding the perfect combination of climbing gear, cadence, and power. 

It’s worth noting that this was my first ever go on anything resembling an off-road, trail bike. What I really liked about the e-assistance was that it gave me confidence on a terrain that I wasn’t used to. The final test was yet to come, a steep descent. Not my favourite direction of travel on any form of bike. Especially after a nasty accident many years ago that knocked my confidence.  But, amazingly, the handling and agility of this bike, in concert with its ground-hugging centre of gravity made me feel like I was always fully in control. 

From road to trail, over it the CGR AL e sails.

The longer wheelbase on this bike coupled with the wider tyres fitted to this test bike gave me a real sense of confidence. It also made the transition from gravel to tarmac unexpectedly smooth.  Hands up, this is by no means a super-fast bike on the tarmac, but it’s not designed to be. It’s designed to be highly capable on the road. But, should you feel a little more adventurous it’s highly capable off-road too.

However, even with all e-assistance off, the ride felt incredibly smooth and comfortable. The CGR AL e never felt hindered by having a battery and motor. The design of which means that it is housed neatly within the down tube.  So, job well done. Now onto the next challenge which was to take it for a spin over Pendle Hill.

Thrills on the hills? You bet, on the CGR AL e

My normal commute home from the showroom is a straightforward 7-miles towards Accrington. This includes a few undulations along the way that help to keep the legs and lungs in good shape.  But, hey, why do that when you can add on an extra 5-miles and the mere 299m ascent of the Nick of Pendle?

With the CGR AL e in my hands, the temptation was irresistible. As was the temptation to stop for a quick half in the sunshine at the Swan with Two Necks in Pendleton. But alas, there was a cold beer waiting for me in the fridge. So my deferred gratification was a mere hill climb and a few more miles away, and well worth it.

Those familiar with Pendle Hill, from either side, be it as a cyclist or motorist, will know it has a nasty kick about halfway up.  It’s more pronounced from Sabden but it’s also discernible from the Pendleton side. This starts just as you head towards The WellSprings restaurant. So, starting off with the CGR AL e in easy assistance mode, to begin with, we got off to a strong start. A nice progressive motion, just as the hill was making itself felt. 

Time to hit the jets

I feared the worst when I saw the carbon bikes already making their way ahead of me (and at some speed too). But I hadn’t factored in the turbo mode that this bike offered. This is provided by the highest ‘red’ level of assistance. The terrain of the previous ride meant that I had not used it to its fullest effect in the forest. However, today the bike was given the opportunity to shine and shine it did. The momentum it gave me at that pesky moment when the hill goes from easy to hard was just what I needed.  Mixed with the right gear I found myself in a pleasing rhythm of perfect cadence and power assistance. 

Suddenly I noticed that I was making progress on the carbon boys ahead. But without a ridiculous over-ambitious use of power. I certainly wasn’t exceeding the *15mph limit after which the motor automatically cuts out. But I was certainly reeling them in. What impressed me about this climb was how the highest setting, through the organic pedal motion, gave a real sense of being in control. Both with the gears and the e-assistance. I still need to work on getting the right combination of gears and e-mode right. Simply to ensure they work the very best for me. However, given that this was day 2 on the bike, I felt I was getting to understand how it works. Just as importantly, how it was designed to work.

*All pedal-assist electric bikes in the UK are restricted by law to 15mph. At which point the motor must cease providing assistance. Any speeds beyond this are purely down to the riders own efforts.

What goes up must come down

The ultimate test, perhaps, came on the descent of the other side.  Navigating twisting roads, random sheep, a cattle grid, walkers, and motorists in both directions. The CGR AL e was reassuringly grounded yet responsive. It proved to be hugely dependable, hurtling downwards with controlled speed. Safe in the knowledge that the responsive stopping power of hydraulic disc brakes would bring me to a safe and controlled stop when required.

The final 5 miles back home along the main road was equally pleasurable.  For most of the time, I cycled with the bike in ‘off’ mode. It just felt like a normal bike with no residual drag or resistance. The final climb back to my house was powered by a modest amount of e-assistance and the added prospect of that long-delayed beer.

In summary

All in all, this is an impressive bike which really is a genuine jack of all trades.  I enjoyed it much more than I expected to, and it really did respond to the challenges it was set.  What it loses on the weight stakes, it gains on power and agility with a really great sense of confidence from a bike that feels firmly at home both on the road and trail. Did it provide plenty of thrills on the hills? Absolutely. It doesn’t overpower a climb but works with you to amplify your pedalling power to conquer any combination of distance or terrain.

Daydreaming about that swift half or more thrills on the hills Tom?

Details: Tom’s thrills on the hills came by courtesy of the CGR AL e Enthusiast with SRAM Rival groupset which the single-ring simplicity of 1×11 speed gears and hydraulic disc brakes. The bike was paired with the free downloadable e-bikemotion app, devised by MAHLE Smartbike Systems which provides full GPS navigation and allows riders to access ride data and the bike’s systems. Full details of the CGR ALe can be found here. The bike is available to view at any of our showrooms. Tom Warman, Ribble Cycles Clitheroe showroom assistant.

Besides the frame, upgrading the wheels can make the biggest difference to a bikes handling, stiffness, acceleration, plus rider comfort and enjoyment. Find out why here.

Looking for a relatively short but challenging ride? Why not check out our Trough of Bowland ride? Spectacular views and epic cycling country guaranteed.

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