My first e-bike challenge - Mt Coot-tha in Brisbane

 Bruce Robertson

A gorgeous spring morning heralded an auspicious start to my e-bike experience.  I had heard amazing things about these uniquely Australian-built e-bikes and the upcoming soft launch of the AVE brand – exciting stuff.
However I won’t attempt to review the bike I rode as:
  1. I’d never been on an e-bike before so had no benchmark and
  2. I don’t know much about the technical side of bicycles - I just like to ride and experience the world on two wheels.
What I can say is that my bike had a Bosch motor and a 500Wh battery. It was a much ridden demonstrator and forerunner to the production model SH11.
Ok, that’s my technical knowledge exhausted. I was given the choice of a leisurely ride alongside the Brisbane River or over the city’s highest point, Mt. Coot-tha.  I thought I should put the e-bike to the test so opted for the latter – however as you will see I ended up doing both!
My companions were Nick Willis, of AVE Bikes, and Gary Corbett, the e-bike cycle tourist who, together with his wife Rachel, holds the world e-bike touring record of over 27,000km (you can read about it here). Our starting point was the shop at Milton which was only a short distance from the amazing Brisbane Bicentennial Bikeway along the river. However we weren’t on there for long as we headed away from the river for a couple of kilometres to the Botanic Gardens, at the bottom of Mt Coot-tha.
So far it had been a breeze in the recommended ‘tour’ mode. The bike had four modes of pedal assist – eco, tour, sport and turbo. You still have to pedal to get the assistance but can choose the appropriate power level. It was very easier to master, as were the gears which were a variable shift twisting control – selecting a lower gear, as the climb got steeper, showed a pictograph of a bicycle going up an increasingly steeper hill!
The 7km climb up Mt Coot-tha is a very popular training ride for road cyclist among some very beautiful scenery. The TV signal is obviously very strong here too with all three of Australia’s commercial networks having imposing studios on the way up – as well as the distinctly lower budget studios of the public broadcaster ABC.
I powered the bike up into sport mode for most of the climb but still had to pedal and work for it – however I wasn’t out of breath and could enjoy the eucalypt forest and uniquely Australian vegetation and scenery. At times I did choose the turbo mode just to see what it could do, and I sailed almost effortlessly past Nick and Gary.
The lookout at the top hadn’t changed much since I last visited almost 20 years ago but still had stunning views over the city and surroundings. We bumped into a former e-bike customer of Nick’s (also on an e-bike) who, as a self-confessed average and rather unfit rider, was delighted to have ridden to the top and she had done so without being unduly sweaty and exhausted.

E-bikes at Mt Coot-tha lookout

At that point Nick had to leave for a business meeting so Gary and I rode back down to the river – no power assist needed on the way down so no battery used either. Back at the Bicentennial Bikeway we headed the other way to the leafy suburb of St. Lucia and the University of Queensland. I was chuffed to ride past the building I lived in all those years ago.
From the Uni there was a bus, bike and pedestrian bridge across the river (that wasn’t there in my day) which made the river route so much easier. No bike paths on that side but close to the river was mostly quiet roads, ironically getting quieter and more pleasant the closer we got to busy Southbank.
Most of the way along the river I switched down to eco mode as that was sufficient and was easier on the battery which by this stage was down to three bars (from five). Finding our way was pretty easy although signs in a couple of spots would have helped (e.g. leaving the bikepath to Southbank).
There was a bit of a buzz in the air at Southbank where we stopped at a café under the ABC’s city studios – the Queensland state election was on that day. It was still sunny and warm making Southbank a great place to hang out and enjoy the greenery, open spaces and even a man-made city beach – all the while seeing the busy city centre (and ugly expressway) across the river.
There was a shared path along the river here so we continued on to, and crossed, the Goodwill Bridge which is a pedestrian/bike bridge. Back on the main city side we re-joined the Bicentennial Bikeway and by the time we were back at Milton we’d probably done about 45km (I missed the first few kilometres on Strava). The battery was now down to two bars – although my earlier testing wouldn’t have helped battery usage. Gary said on their e-bike tour they often achieved up to and even over 100km in one day – albeit with trailers in tow and spare batteries on hand.
Strava map of Brisbane route

I had ridden the Brisbane riverside before and enjoyed it just as much this time. But would it have been so pleasant  after having slogged over Mt Coot-tha without power assistance? Almost certainly not. This was only a half day tour, so a full day, or several days, riding would most likely not be too taxing and exhausting while still giving a reasonable workout so you can tuck guilt-free (well, mostly) into the local cuisine!
Would I switch from a non-powered bike for touring? No, as I’m lucky enough to not need the assistance, although if the time and terrain called for it, I’d certainly ride an e-bike. I saw many people of all shapes and sizes on e-bikes (usually passing me) on my Lake Constance tour last year so it’s great that e-bikes are introducing so many people to the wonderful world of exploring the world on two wheels. 

[My e-bike tour was courtesy of AVE Bikes and Gary Corbett, the e-bike cycle tourist]