E-Bikes For Stage Races | What To Know Before You Buy

by | Sep 20, 2023 | Buyer's Guide, Bike, E-Bikes, Featured, Sports

In the market for an E-Bike that will handle longer distances? Read on.

These days, there are a lot of phenomenal E-Bikes around. If you’ve never experienced riding one, we cannot recommend it enough! They have proved themselves as way more than just a crutch for people lacking fitness but as a category of bicycle that can stand on their own and deliver a brilliant riding experience that is, above all, just downright fun!

Given that, we are breaking down all you need to know about E-Bikes as a whole and the nuances of each category in this Understanding E-Bikes series. In this article, we are talking about what makes a good E-Bike for the intended purpose of marathon riding and stage racing.

Of course, there is always crossover in the categories. Many of the bikes mentioned here will be great as ‘trail riding’ E-Bikes and vice versa for our trail E-Bike selections being great for stage races. The idea is to unpack the details of bikes that would do particularly well in the given category and why, so that you can make a more informed purchasing decision.

How To Buy A Good Marathon E-Bike Emtb Ebike
E-bikes remind us why we ride: To have fun! They are a sure way to guarantee a good time on your marathon or stage race of choice! (c) Cannondale

The purpose of a Marathon / Stage Race E-Bike

The purpose of a marathon or ‘stage racing’ E-Bike is to take you far and fast. Marathon and stage races are incredibly popular here in South Africa and riding them on an E-Bike is a tremendous way to experience the trails, scenery, and hospitality they are often renowned for. This is to the point that events such as KAP sani2c, Wines2Whales, Great Zuurberg Trek and others are offering versions of their famed rides catered specifically to those on E-Bikes!

Here are some of the most important factors to consider when shopping for a marathon-focused E-Bike:

Large battery capacity

If you want to go far, battery capacity is a no-brainer. How big is big? Well, 600 Wh is probably your minimum if we are talking about riding long marathon stages, especially when you’re going to be out for 4+ hours. The good news is that many manufacturers are offering battery sizes of 600 to 800 Wh and some even up to 1000+ Wh batteries!

Riding in a low-support mode, you could comfortably get out about 4-5 hours of riding from a 600 Wh battery but that isn’t where the fun is at! Riding in the high-support modes is what makes these bikes so addictive, turning the climbing trails into flow lines as you fly through switchback corners that normally have you wishing for a smaller chainring! So for marathon racing, bigger is better and if you can’t go big, make sure your battery is easily removable to swap out mid-ride.

How To Buy A Good Marathon E-Bike Emtb Ebike
Bikes like Orbea’s Rise skimp on the battery size to save weight but pair that with a lower powered motor and you still get a decent range + a ride feel closer to that of a traditional mountain bike (c) Orbea

Removable battery for stage racing

Following on from that previous point, an easily removable battery allows you to quickly switch out your depleted power cell for a fully charged one to keep you rallying through the marathon stage with full support! Many events will even offer a battery shuttle service to take spare batteries to the halfway point of the course for this exact purpose. This is worth considering when you think about purchasing an E-Bike for marathon and stage racing!

Geometry and travel

These points are not as crucial as on a traditional bicycle because of the power generated by the motor reducing the need for minor efficiency gains but they do affect the bike’s overall feel and handling.

Full-powered E-Bikes with suspension travel ranging from 100-130 mm are generally quite firm to ride. They are still heavy machines despite what the shorter travel may suggest and you get quite a lot of feedback through the stiff chassis. This may be preferable to some but a test ride or two is highly encouraged to see if it is the ride for you.

Longer travel options are more forgiving to ride and deliver in terms of traction. While this would normally make them feel slightly more sluggish than the shorter travel bikes, the motor’s support covers that generously.

Most E-Bikes have a more trail-orientated geometry (long, low and slack) and are highly capable machines as a result. A 64-66 degree head tube angle range is the sweet spot. Chainstay lengths are typically longer than traditional bikes, and reach numbers will be similar to that of a traditional trail bike.

How To Buy A Good Marathon E-Bike Emtb Ebike
Trail geometry makes sense for E-Bikes, even if you’re marathon riding. They will climb and cruise just as well due to the motor support and then be that much more fun to descend on! (c) Cannondale

Full 29” wheels or a 27.5” in the back?

E-bikes with smaller rear wheels are increasingly popular as this allows the chainstay length to be shorter to increase the agility of heavy machines. This type of spec is not a make-or-break feature for marathon riding, though a full 29” bike will roll a little faster and easier. 

Upgrades you may want to make

A lot of E-Bikes come specced with trail-focused tires that bias traction over rolling speed due to the bike’s motor support. For marathon races that aren’t too technical, some faster rolling tires could be a good buy but be sure to stick to wide options and a strong casing to support the bike’s weight.

Carbon wheels are usually stiffer and thus can offer better acceleration and direct ride feel on the E-Bike. These aren’t major upgrades due to the motor support but can make a notable difference in performance.

Should I go for a hardtail?

Hardtail E-Bikes can be brutes to handle because of their weight and limited compliance, so we recommend a full suspension option if your budget allows for it. But, if you are needing the most affordable options and want that motor support, get a hardtail test ride and go for it!

Our top E-Bike pics for marathon and stage races

Below you will find some of our top recommendations for E-Bikes that will perform excellently as a marathon or stage racing machine!

Specialized Turbo Levo

How To Buy A Good Marathon E-Bike Emtb Ebike
Specialised Turbo Levo (c) Specialized

Material: Carbon or alloy

Travel (f/r) in mm: 160 / 150

Wheel Size: 29 / 27.5

Motor Specs: Specialized 2.2 (90 Nm / 565 W peak)

Battery Size: 700 Wh (removable)

Water bottle: Yes – Large 

Price: R90 000 – R250 000

The Specialized Turbo Levo might just be the quintessential E-Bike. The system integration and ride experience you get from a Turbo E-Bike is extraordinary. Their motors are powerful and deliver a natural feeling, one of the keys to a great E-Bike experience.

The Turbo Levo leans towards the trail side of things with its geometry and travel numbers but will be right at home on any marathon or stage race course with its powerful motor driving you over every mountain.

Pros: Refined design and excellent system integration
Cons: Motors aren’t the most robust, but we are nitpicking here.

Giant Stance E+ 1 Pro

How To Buy A Good Marathon E-Bike Emtb Ebike
Giant Stance E+ Pro 1 (c) Giant

Material: Alloy

Travel (f/r) in mm: 125 / 140

Wheel Size: 29”

Motor Specs: Yamaha X Giant SyncDrive Pro (  85 Nm –  W Peak)

Battery Size:  800 Wh (removable)

Water bottle: Yes – Large

Price: R109 990

Now the Stance may not be Giant’s flagship E-Bike but it is a bit of a dark horse. Due to its lightweight, this thing absolutely flies up climbs! Especially suited to lighter riders and those looking for a bit less of a brute to handle. The Stance E+ 1 Pro is your ticket to having a blast at any stage race, especially with that massive 800 Wh removable battery!

If you’re keen on maximum performance, you’ll want to do some upgrades starting with the brakes and wheels, then suspension (if desired) but the Stance platform is nimble and ready for action!

Pros: Huge battery and a good power-to-weight ratio
Cons: Spec isn’t very flashy.

Orbea Rise 540Wh

How To Buy A Good Marathon E-Bike Emtb Ebike
Orbea Rise (c) Orbea

Material: Carbon or Alloy

Travel (f/r) in mm: 140 or 150 fork / 140 rear

Wheel Size: 29”

Motor Specs: Shimano EP8 RS ( 60 Nm )

Battery Size:  540 + 252 Wh (non-removable + range extender)

Water bottle: Yes – Large (not with range extender)

Price: R80 000 – R220 000 (+ R9 999 range extender)

Yes, we said not to go under 600 Wh and to prioritise a removable battery but hear us out. Orbea’s Rise is something special to behold. It is one of the lightest E-Bikes on the market and don’t even get us started on the looks! The ride experience on this E-Bike is truly unique.

If you want to ride in high-support mode all day, look elsewhere, but if you want a gentle hand up all the hills and a light and agile bike machine to play with down the other side of them, this could be the steed for you!

Pros: Lightweight, agile and beautiful
Cons: Non-removable battery

Cannondale Habit Neo

How To Buy A Good Marathon E-Bike Emtb Ebike
Cannondale Habit Neo (c) Cannondale

Material: Carbon

Travel (f/r) in mm: 140 / 130

Wheel Size: 29”

Motor Specs: Bosch Performance CX ( 85 Nm –  W Peak)

Battery Size: 500 Wh (removable)

Water bottle: Yes

Price: R84 900

Rounding out our top recommendations for marathon E-Bikes is the Habit Neo from Cannondale. This bike is a straight shooter and delivers a powerful ride and stable intuitive handling. Coming standard with fast-rolling Maxxis Reckon and Dissector tires, it is keen to go far and fast.

The battery is on the smaller side but being removable means that you can swap it out as you go for extra range. We had a good adventure on a pair of these bikes a little while back and would highly recommend a test ride. The stable platform is great for newer or less confident riders.

Pros: Potent motor
Cons: Smaller battery

Where to next?

That is all the info and our top recommendations for trail E-Bikes. Hopefully, that will set you right on your journey to become a very happy E-Bike owner! You can find the rest of this article series here on understanding E-Bikes where we cover trail-focused options and gravity-oriented bruisers if those are more your preference.

We encouraged you a few times throughout this article to test-ride the options available and we mean it. It is the best way to figure out if a bike is what you’re looking for and to see how it stacks up to other options out there! Now get out there and experience life on E power. It is the business!
Find more E-Bike-related content right here!

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