Two adventurer friends set off on an epic journey this morning. They want to cross the Alps on bikes in three days in the middle of one of the coldest European winters in a long time. One of them is on an e-bike and the other on a mountain bike, because they are out to prove today's lithium-ion batteries can withstand low temperatures - with a little help (see photo).
The adventure sportsmen Gerry Mayr and Oliver Zepf started pedaling from Füssen (the town at the foot of the castle Schloss Neuschwanstein in southern Germany) this morning (13 February) on the first leg of their Transalp epic ride in bitterly cold weather.
Gerry and Oliver want to cross the Alps in three days. Along the way, they want to compare the performance of a state-of-the-art e-bike with that of a muscle-powered mountain bike. Gerry rides a A2B Hybrid e-bike (manufacturered by Ultra Motor) and Oliver a mountain bike. They set off in the middle of the worst winter Europe has experienced in many years to show the world modern-day e-bike batteries perform just as well in freezing temperatures than in more everyday temperatures.
Under normal conditions the e-bike would have a big advantage over the mountain bike. But the conditions aren't normal. In the past week a few meters of snow fell on the Via Claudia Augusta - the route they're on - and temperatures are hovering below zero. In fact, today they kicked the challenge off in Füssen with the temperature at minus eleven degrees.
Should the battery performance of Gerry's A2B Hybrid drop in the low temperatures (as e-bike batteries tend to do), Gerry will be in for quite a struggle against his friend. At just over 30kg, the e-bike (with replacement battery) weighs double as much as the mountain bike. As long as the battery supports the rider, the weight difference won't be an issue. But, what if the battery plays up in the cold?
Day 1 - No battery problems
But, late today Gerry posted a positive report of the day's proceedings on his website. All went well, they arrived safely at their first overnight stop, he reported. As planned, they rode 74 kilometers on the first day. The extra weight of the e-bike was only an issue for two kilometers of the way - the two kilometers they had to push their bikes. For a full report of the day's events, go to Gerry's website.
Gerry had wrapped the lithium-ion battery in an Ortlieb backpack (see photo) and switched batteries after the first 20 kilometers, even though it still had some "kick" in it. Beforehand, he had expected to squeeze between 30 and 40 kilometer out of a battery in the cold conditions by insolating it.
Tomorrow, the second leg (about 80 kilometers) will take them over the Rechenpass to the Rechensee, where they will again be met by the tour assistant Birgit Dittmar. She will bring the food, clothes, equipment (including replacement batteries) with her in the caravan, which doubles up as overnight accommodation for the three.
On the third day, the two riders will try to cover the final 100 kilometers to Bozen. Should they manage that, they would have done close on 300 kilometers and would have climbed roughly 1,500 meters in thick snow and sub-zero conditions.
Day 2 (14 February) - Eighty kilometers to Nauders
The 3-person team (riders Gerry and Oliver and back-up member Birgit) woke up early on day 2, but couldn't get going before well after 10 o'clock - for two reasons. Firstly, the first stage was a tough one and their legs were still heavy.
So, they only got out of bed late. Then they discovered an oil leak beneath the mobile home. Identifying the problem and refilling the depleted oil container took some time. And help from outside could not be expected on a Sunday morning in the middle of the Alps. So, they finally got away on the second leg at 10.45 am.
At least the weather was accommodating - the sky a clear blue, not a cloud in sight, the air crisp and clean. The first few hours took them along the river Inn, passing through numerous small towns. The route was relatively flat and they averaged a reasonable speed. At 2 pm. they arrived in Landeck and decided to take a break.
The next phase would take them all the way to Nauders - the final destination for the second day. At this point Oliver started finding it difficult to keep up. The first day was still in his legs and the e-bike maintained a very respectable average speed, making it very difficult for him to stay with the e-bike. At 5.30 pm. both riders arrived at Nauders - tired but happy to have managed the 80-km second leg as planned.
Day 3 (15 February) - Longest leg on final day
Overnight the temperature fell to -16 degrees and when the team woke up at 7 am. on the third day, everything was still frozen. The final leg beckoned. And the longest of the three legs, namely 100 kilometers to Bozen.
The team struggled to start the mobile home. After many unsuccessful attempts, the jump cables of a friendly stranger out of Luxemburg came to the rescue. Breakfast, a few photos and the team was on its way at 11 o'clock - a very late start for a 100-km leg. Right from the start they had to climb for 3 kilometers to Zoll, the highest point of the 3-day trip (1,488 metre above sea level).
Luckily, the Reschenpass was snow-free and the bikers could make good headway. Shortly after the lunch hour they arrived at the Reschensee. From there they were on single trails again. These were very slippery in places and they counted themselves lucky to have reached the valley without a fall. Shortly thereafter, the battery of the A2B Hybrid suddenly "went to battery heaven", forcing Gerry to peddle his e-bike without support from the electric motor for the next 5 kilometers. In a supermarket in a small town Gerry managed to (partly) re-charge his two batteries. It was already dark when they could finally get going again. From the control panel of the e-bike Gerry guesstimated the batteries had about 50 kilometer in them - which he thought would be enough. The two fought their way through the dark (with only the e-bike headlamp to light the trail) and at 11 pm. they finally arrived at their destination - Bozen.
They did what they had set out to do on 13 February in Füssen: ride just short of 300 kilometers over the Alps, from Füssen to Bozen, through snow and in icy temperatures, with an e-bike and a mountain bike, in just 3 days.
Gerry's first assessment: the mountain bike couldn't really compete with the e-bike.
He promised to publish pictures and more feedback on the performance of the e-bike on his website as soon as he had recovered from the trip.
In the meantime, you can read more about the A2B Hybrid on the Ultra Motor website.
Copy: Christoffel Volschenk
Date: 16 February 2010