For the past few weeks I have been riding a Riese & Muller New Charger GH Nuvinci around the sometimes extraordinarily steep and often fascinating hills of the South Pennines.
This particular e-bike and the terrain seemed like a great fit on paper; some ancient packhorse tracks (sometimes with the original 18th century cobbles or flags), lovely old mill villages and some of the steepest hills in the UK could be explored on a bike seemingly made for such rugged terrain in biking comfort.
I had lived near the area for much of my life and every time I’d visited had discovered some interesting new village or track that was not on the tourist map.
So, having moved much nearer the area 12 months ago, I was keen to explore this area of rugged moors and hills lying in a triangle between Hebden Bridge, Penistone and Tintwistle in more depth and to get off the beaten track in the best way possible – by e-bike.
December 2017 had been pretty mild and sunny for a northern British winter but as soon as the loan bike arrived from Riese & Muller it seemed the weather decided to throw everything it could at the Pennines, including snow, sleet and bitterly cold gales.
I would definitely have considered it a painful rather than a pleasurable task to venture out in these conditions on a regular bike but on a tempting cold, crisp wintry morning you know you’ll be able to tackle the steepest gradients in the face of the strongest winds on a good e-bike.
So on the first ride I head out to the lovely little market town of Penistone. It’s the kind of village that typifies the area; not overtly touristy but with some fine old buildings and a splendid new market barn that at first glance looks like it has been there since medieval times.
After fuelling up with delicious fodder at the Arthouse cafe I pick up the nearby Trans Pennine Trail, heading west into the Pennine Hills.
I’ve chosen an easy railpath for the first ride on the bike just to get used to it.
The forecast is for sun but with plenty of wind but around ten minutes into the ride the vagaries of the British weather decide to get their revenge as dark rain clouds loom on the horizon ahead, producing a magnificent rainbow where they meet the clear blue sky above us.
Twenty minutes later and I am cycling into horizontal rain and 30mph winds. No matter, as the Bosch Performance CX motor on the New Charger keeps me driving forward at around 15mph.
It then speeds me up the steep road climb to Winscar Reservoir, set impressively in a hollow near the top of the Pennine Hills, and with an impressive outfall cascading down to the tiny village of Dunford Bridge below.
Around The Holme Valley And Holmfirth
Fine weather returns for a descent into the Holme Valley and the first serious bit of off-roading around the head of the valley on a fine moorland track, before dropping down alongside a reservoir and following the valley side on a tiny road into the town of Holmfirth.
The New Charger has front suspension only but it soaks up this kind of terrain with ease, its smooth yet wide Schwalbe Moto-X tyres and the Cane Creek suspension seatpost cushioning the humps and rocks, with just a brief demounting on the lower end of the track where winter rain has washed large parts of it, leaving a deep rocky gulley several feet deep that would be a challenge even for a pro-rider on a full-sus mtb.
Holmfirth is a local magnet for tourists, firmly put on the map by the massively popular TV comedy series Last of the Summer Wine, recounting the madcap yet gently humorous tales of three elderley residents of the area.
The town and its surrounding hills became so beloved of some of the elderly cast they chose to be buried in a local church, even though they originated a couple if hundred miles away in London.
Castles And Cobbles
The next day trip explores a circular route around the lower end of the Holme Valley and starts at the magnificent Castle Hill – described as having some of the best views in the country.
Once the site of an iron age hillfort, today there is a Victorian viewing tower and a few old farmsteads on the lower banks and the bike negotiates its way up the icy track to the top for truly spectacular views of the distant snowy hills.
Looking at a map it might seem that there is a single main road – busy, heavily trafficked and unpleasant to ride on – down the steep-sided Holme Valley.
But look closer and there is a network of narrow cobbled lanes, village backstreets and even a long, narrow woodland track what was once the main road down the valley – the original stone surface still there in places.
Whilst knobblies might have been useful on the muddy sections they were not so frequent as to slow down progress.
Another great day of discovery that would not have been possible on such a short winter’s day without the help of a capable e-bike. Back at home the New Charger is easily and quickly cleaned, the belt drive and Nuvinci gear hub proving much easier to clean and maintain (what maintenance?) than derailleur models.
On The Bike
The New Charger proved itself a very capable beast – one of the few e-bikes out there at home on dirt roads and other uneven surfaces yet able to run smoothly and quickly over tarmac.
My 500Wh battery-equipped model managed a fairly modest range of 20-25 miles but that was no doubt due in part to the extremely challenging terrain and weather, allied to the fact that the belt drive and Nuvinci hub gear is not the most efficient combo (other gearing and drivetrain options should certainly give more range). But in the areas of riding comfort, low maintenance and ease of use this bike excels.
The wide Super Moto-X tyres cushioned the ride off-road and felt so sure-footed on the steep and fast tarmac descents at speeds in excess of 30mph.
Add to this the ability to carry up to 160kg of rider and luggage, a solid pannier rack, super powerful LED lighting, mudguards, kickstand and a couple of nice final touches, a frame-mounted lock (using the same key as the battery) and a ready-to-hand water bottle and you have bike just as suitable for dirt road adventuring as it is for tarmac commuting in the city.
As well as being extremely tough and practical the New Charger caught the eye, with its frame-integrated Bosch PowerTube battery and sleek all-over-black looks. It looked and rode rather like the e-bike equivalent of an SUV – solid, reliable and able to take you and your gear across all sorts of terrain.
It’s good to see that Riese & Muller have expanded the choice available across the New Charger range for 2018 with many gear and equipment options, including the possibility of adding an extra on-frame battery (no need to swap out the exhausted frame integral battery) and even speed-pedelec options.
I really enjoyed riding some of these old Pennine trails – many in use at the time of the early industrial revolution when it was, literally, horse power that allowed industry to flourish in the area.
And as the SPPTT website explains, many are still hiding there ready to be uncovered and reclaimed for e-bikers and other users alike. When the days get longer and the weather warmer I can discover the full potential of this new breed of e-bikes with multi-day camping trips into the past history of the local hills.
Stay tuned for more e-bike news and reviews and keep on riding.