Strapping electronic bits and pieces to bicycles is nothing new. Since the late 19th century, cyclists have been adding a bit of AC/DC to improve their pedal-powered rides. Things have come a long way since then, and the current state of e-bikes is a near-seamless integration of technology and pure riding joy.
Leading this charge is Shimano. With the company’s full suite of e-bike technologies, you’re able to receive information while you ride like never before, along with an extra kick to keep you riding longer.
To showcase the company’s ebike advancements, Shimano provided us with a Pivot Shuttle: a range topping electric mountain bike outfitted with nearly every bell and whistle you could ever want. This beast of a bike had us cruising trails with far more speed and control than our skills would normally allow. These augmented abilities can largely be credited to the carbon frame wrapping the Shimano Steps E8000 motor, a Di2 electronic shifter setup, a glorious Fox 36 suspension system, and a full-color display that is miles ahead of the competition.
Besides electric motors, which we’ll get to shortly, Shimano has set the standard for electronic shifting with its Di2 setup. Even if you’re not super well-versed in bicycle mechanics, the Di2 system is pretty simple to understand. It basically works like a paddle shifter on a car. The rider pulls the paddle to select a new gear, and through some invisible electronic wizardry, the Di2 system selects the optimal point to make the shift. This makes for smoother, faster shifting with less wear, because the system can detect the best point for the shift in the blink of an eye.
What’s more, the Di2 drivetrain is actually smart. Not only is it customizable, allowing for multiple shifts at once, but Di2 takes in information while you ride and adjusts its performance depending on the situation. This means that when you’re struggling to ride up a hill, where normally a shift under load would cause you to throw your chain, the Di2 system steps in to make changing gears a breeze. If things go wrong on your way downhill, the Di2 system has a sense for self-preservation and will unhook and tuck away the rear derailleur when outside pressure gets applied. In other words, it’ll auto-retract when it detects a crash. Very smart indeed.
The real star of the show is Shimano’s new STEPS E8000 electric motor, the company’s first foray into the electric mountain bike world. Shimano understands that the needs of a mountain biker are much different from that of the commuter or touring cyclist, and wanted to give riders what they crave: traction and power. And like the Di2 system, the STEPS E8000 is incredibly smart.
Our favorite part wasn’t the electronic shifting or pedal assist motor—it was the sheer amount of information available.
Most pedal-assist e-bikes work by sensing the pedals movement and then adding power. The slower the pedals turn, the less power gets applied. For the most part this works, but is also a complaint amongst cyclists. It doesn’t always feel natural, and if you’re on slippery trails, more power isn’t always better. This is where the STEPS E8000 sets itself apart.
Nick Murdick, Shimano North America’s Mountain Bike Product Manager, explained to Digital Terends that the STEPS E8000 uses an “output algorithm” that constantly adjusts power based on terrain conditions and rider input. Nick went on to explain that the algorithm allows the electric motor to act as a sort of simplified pseudo-traction control, allowing riders to make their way up a hill in the most efficient way possible. By doing this the STEPS E8000 uses its power like another gear, which saves not only the battery, but also the rider from crash-inducing power surges.
While we certainly enjoyed our time on a Pivot Shuttle outfitted with all the latest and greatest Shimano tech (especially the color display showing the algorithm in action with a constantly adapting power meter), our favorite part wasn’t the electronic shifting or pedal assist motor—it was the sheer amount of information available.
Shimano’s ETube app is the vessel through which it makes all your riding information easily accessible — and it’s awesome. You can adjust settings like shift speed and power output within the different riding modes (boost, trail and eco), and update firmware for continued support from Shimano. But it’s the Bluetooth connectivity that takes the raw data, like cadence, and allows you to send it somewhere else. You can keep track of basic amounts of information with the Shimano app, but it’s when you pair the bike with a dedicated fitness tracker, like the Garmin 520 Plus we used, that you really start to see the benefits of having an e-bike system this smart.
I was able to spend more time enjoying the trails, and less time making the slow crawl back up the hill.
When we took a step back after a particularly aggressive trail, it was hard not be a little overwhelmed. From the motor to the electronics to the information available, there is a lot to consider with this dirt-shredding marvel.
The motor performed better than expected, leaving us with more leg power for the descents. Not a single chain was thrown, even under heavy load. And the extra info made for more conversation on breaks between trails. The thought that the experience could have been made better by a non-e-bike never entered our minds—to the contrary, we’re confident it would have only been worse.
With smooth adjustable power, problem-free shifting and all the information a biker could want at their fingertips, why would anyone say no to this technology?
Well, simply put, the bicycling community is full of naysayers, pleading for the pure simplicity of an un-electrified bike to remain the norm. The unencumbered joy of riding a bike that is simple and functional certainly has its merits, whether it’s the sense of accomplishment after pushing to the top of that hill or busting out that 30-mile loop at a new personal record.
But what the naysayers don’t realize is that very little is taken away by the addition of a battery. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We took our Pivot Shuttle to our local trails, where just two or three times up the hill on a regular mountain bike would be enough to wipe us out for the day. With the extra power provided by the STEPS E8000, we were able bust out just as many trips in half the time. This meant more time enjoying the trails, and less time making the slow crawl back up the hill.
Simply put, Shimano’s ebike tech is enhancing the rider’s journey — not taking away from it. For those that call foul on the e-bike evolution, we dare them to take a ride on a Pivot Shuttle and tell us it isn’t one of the best rides they’ve ever had. Even if it’s not, they can just shut off the motor and enjoy the other components on this tech-laden masterpiece.
We, on the other hand, embrace the future and welcome our new two-wheeled electric overlords.