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E-asy riders

2019-03-18

It is just one cog in the massive Dimension Data-driven media machine that brings the Absa Cape Epic into homes and offices around the world, but one of the standout features of the coverage of the race is the on-bike footage from the sharp end of the field. 

Historically, this was achieved by planting a brave cameraman on the pillion seat of an off-road motorcycle. This was unpleasant for the riders who, understandably, were not fans of either the distraction, the dust clouds or the exhaust fumes.

That changed in 2015, when Stefan Sahm, a three-time winner of the Absa Cape Epic with fellow German, Karl Platt, took a spin on an anomaly for the time; a pedal-assist e-bike. BULLS Bikes had just dipped a toe into the off-road e-bike market – they were still seen as offensive ‘motor bikes’ by much of the cycling industry – and Sahm saw a gap that would allow him to remain involved in the Epic at the highest level, even if he was now retired from racing it. 

“At first, I thought, why don’t we put like seven GoPro cameras all over the bike, and me, and see what footage we can get?” That didn’t quite happen – but the timing was spot on to partner with ground-breaking 360-degree action camera technology, mounted on a special harness to suspend it above his helmet, tested the setup at an event in the build-up to the 2016 Absa Cape Epic, and what a success it was, from the get-go.

“The absolute highlight was that first day shooting at the Epic, when we got it right and the live stream worked perfectly.” Sahm is modest; his enviable technical riding skills allow him to ride tucked right in the action, as does his reputation within

Being on an Enduro-style long-travel BULLS bike – the flagship 2019 EVO AM4 model, of course, with a vastly improved motor and battery than the rudimentary 2015 model - has made Stefan’s job that much easier. “We started on what was really an XCO bike with a motor, but we worked out quite soon that with e-bikes, you don’t need to worry about the weight. So now the new bike lets us stay right with the guys on the technical stuff, without taking the risks they do.” Us? Stefan has a wingman, now, in Thomas Dietsch, a multiple French MTB champ and also a ‘retired’ BULLS rider. The 360-degree camera has been replaced with human-mount GoPro Hero 7s, and the footage is as raw as you can get, streamed real-time across the world through Dimension Data’s dedicated event communications network.

Don’t be fooled by the motor – it is still hard work. “We are out there five hours a day, or more. Sure, it isn’t full-gas racing all the way, but if we are moving between groups, it is just as hard for those moments.” The pair is in radio contact with race control, and operates by hanging with the chosen race position for the day, unless directed to get to a particular situation. For most of the ride, it is base-mile effort (but always race-pace on the bike-handling side of things), but when the call comes in to move up or down in the field, the world-class wattage from the legs pushes men and machines to the limits. “We still swap out batteries at the water points. We have to stop to change the SD cards in the cameras, anyway, and even though the bikes could make most stages without running flat, we don’t want to take that chance.” 

The motor bike contingent is still an integral part of the media machine – speed and adaptability are key to being in the right place at the right time, to capture the drama – but the e-bike can ride every metre of the course, where technical track makes it impossible for regular motos, and also in ecologically sensitive areas where not harming the sensitive flora that forms the dramatic backdrop for much of the Absa Cape Epic is paramount.

Across the world, e-bikes are bringing new people into cycling. In the Netherlands, 2018 saw more e-bikes sold than normal bikes, for the first time, and the rest of Europe and America are not far behind. There will even be an e-bike world championship in 2019… but for now, Stefan and Thomas will remain the only legitimate cyborgs on the Absa Cape Epic.

For more on the E-bike:  https://www.bulls-bikes.com/produkt/bulls-e-streamevoam4275-797-50841?sku=797-50841_ZEG 

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