With models suitable for everybody from mud-plugging weekend warriors to ultra-experienced downhill lunatics, Trek’s new Powerfly range is one of the most advanced and complete electric mountain bike line-ups from a big-name brand. We spoke to Trek’s mountain bike brand manager, Travis Ott, to discover more about Powerfly technology and find out why these e-MTBs are so exciting.
CS: Talk us through some of the design highlights of the new Powerfly range.
TO: You’ll immediately notice that the battery is completely contained within the downtube. It’s a smart, patent-pending user interface that makes things very easy and very tidy when you need to recharge the battery.
Also, you’ll see some high high-end carbon long travel full suspension bikes. These bikes look amazing, shave weight and ride amazing well. The carbon ride quality will be the thing you notice most after riding. They are very smooth.
Finally, you’ll see more models in the range. Long travel all-mountain bikes, full-suspension trail bikes, hardtails, more women’s models, lower cost semi-integrated bikes, more colours and even an equipped ‘Sport’ model. So there really is something for everyone.
CS: How did the new battery compartment come about? Tell us about its development process and what benefits it gives the rider.
TO: From riding our own and others’ e-MTB bikes, we identified the battery user interface as one of the pain points. You have to remove and charge your e-MTB battery more often since it gets worked harder. However, removing, charging and installing the battery was a clumsy process that diminished the joy of riding the bike. So we had riders and engineers of all abilities testing different interfaces. Some were existing and a lot we prototyped in-house.
Most systems have the battery falling out of the bottom of the downtube. That’s where all the crud from the trail collects. It’s also very awkward to get at. In addition, systems with multiple pieces or separate hardware (bolts) often got lost or dirty. So we created a one-piece battery and frame cover that you remove from the driveside of the downtube without any additional hardware. It’s clean, easy and there’s nothing to get lost. Riders will use their bike more because removing the battery for charging is so simple.
CS: Does incorporating the added weight of the electric drive system affect your overall design approach? If so, how?
TO: Yes. We definitely engineer and ride test to make sure battery and motor weight distribution is just right. That means getting the weight lower in the frame so the rider doesn’t notice the additional weight. The integrated downtube battery has helped with that.
CS: Are there any specific considerations when creating women’s e-MTBs?
TO: The motor and battery don’t really care about gender. However, frame geometry and touch points still matter. Fortunately, Trek is really good at those things. We create women’s full suspension and hardtail models with more standover for more confidence and unique touch points for more comfort.
CS: You have fitted Bosch power units throughout the Powerfly range. What benefits does Bosch’s systems have over alternatives, such as Shimano STEPs.
TO: For electric mountain biking, Bosch has done a really nice job with their Performance Line CX motor and Purion display. The motor delivers a very natural feeling for mountain biking. The torque and assist are doled out in just the right measures. The e-MTB mode is very nice as well. It’s a set-and-forget mode that covers a wide range of assist so you can get back to shifting your gears like you normally would. Finally, the Purion display is the perfect balance of unobtrusive simplicity with all the information and control you’ll need and it’s all accessible without taking your hand off the handlebar.
Even better, all Trek Powerfly models feature the suite of Bosch Performance Line CX motor, a long life 500 watt-hour battery and the Purion controller. All Powerfly riders get the best possible Bosch system.
CS: Tell us about the Powerfly LT 9. What e-MTB-specific parts does it feature and what benefits does Trek’s RE:aktiv damper provide?
TO: The Powerfly LT 9 is an electric-assist bike for the core rider. In addition to the top-notch Bosch bits, it features a build that has been optimized for the rigours of e-mountain biking. You’ll find an e-specific FOX fork that is tested to higher stiffness standard so it can withstand bigger braking forces. Also, you’ll find Bontrager Powerline wheels, which are more robust wheels built to our downhill standards. Finally, the brakes are four-piston front and rear callipers, with big 203mm rotors to help deliver more stopping power and prolong brake pad life.
Electric bikes tend to move a little faster than normal bikes uphill and on flats. Due to their increased weight, they also tend to smash into more obstacles. The RE:aktiv shock is great at dealing with this. It’s a faster responding shock so it can keep up with you and your faster moving Powerfly.
CS: The LT9.7 and 9.9 have carbon frames — as an e-MTB rider has electric power to call on, meaning overall weight is not such a crucial factor, why create a carbon e-MTB at all?
TO: It’s true that you’re not going to notice the 650 gram weight reduction like you would on a non-electric bike. However, you will notice the cleaner integration of the motor and, most of all, you’ll appreciate the ride quality. Carbon damps trail chatter. We noticed this when we built our carbon downhill bike, Session. That’s another bike where you could question the need for carbon, but the ability to smooth out the ride changed how we judge downhill bikes. It’s the same for electric mountain bikes.
CS: Have you had to take any special steps to incorporate e-bike power and motor placement on a carbon bike? Where there any difficulties designing the carbon frame?
TO: Carbon opened up some new opportunities for more complex frame shapes and better integration. The motor is more cleanly integrated into the carbon frame. That whole mounting area is significantly lighter as a result.
CS: As e-MTBs have grown out of their infancy, what are the most significant design or technical discoveries that have been made compared to earlier models? For example, in practical terms, how does the new Powerfly range improve on what’s gone before?
TO: Cleaner integration and a more refined geometry. The battery and motor continue to be more cleanly integrated and the weight of these units gets lower and more balanced. Also, the geometry has been refined to better match how people ride e-MTBs. Trek believes that riding an electric bike uphill is half the fun, so our chainstays are long enough to keep your front end down and prevent you from ‘looping out’ on challenging climbs. Don’t worry, it won’t slow you down on the descent!
CS: Personally, which is your favourite model in the range?
TO: Whatever bike I happen to be on. In all seriousness, I think the better question is what is your favourite RIDE that you have done on a Powerfly? These bikes have opened up so many more interesting rides for myself and others. From rugged terrain, to high-altitude zones, to impossibly long routes, to blasting out full rides during a lunch hour, it’s been so much fun experiencing new opportunities.
CS: Finally, who will the Powerfly range appeal to? And why should all riders — even those who are sceptical about e-bikes — give one a try?
TO: Have you ever ridden an e-MTB and not smiled? That’s a rhetorical question because it’s never been done. All it takes is one demo ride and everyone can imagine a scenario where a Powerfly makes mountain biking a little (or a lot) more fun.
If you’re a new rider getting into the sport, it shortens the learning curve and knocks down barriers. For existing riders, it gets them out more often and covering more trail. It also works as an equaliser so riders of all abilities can ride together. You still have to ride the bike and learn technique, but that’s the fun part.