Go Farther, Faster

e-bike in the mountains

The ultimate Telluride toy

By Rob Story

I maintain a complicated relationship with cycling. I can’t pop a wheelie. I get nervous lifting even one hand off the handlebars—much less both, like those well-balanced show-offs on Main Street. The wheels of road bikes strike me as fragile and scary: No wider than a dime, they look cartoonish carrying any man with a waist larger than twenty-six inches.

My waist hasn’t been that small since sixth grade. My physique shouts “offensive lineman”—not “Tour de France winner.” In the late 1980s, husky, 200-pound fellas such as myself naturally turned from road cycling to the beefier, more rugged practice of fat-tired mountain biking.

Around the same time, I was hired at Outside magazine as an editorial intern. I rose up the ranks, and California’s Surfer Publications eventually tapped me to launch a new mountain bike magazine, Bike, in 1994. Though the founding editor of a ground-breaking periodical the bike universe adored, it must be noted that what got me the job were writing and editorial chops, not innate cycling ability.

Still, I became a much better and significantly more knowledgeable mountain biker. I moved to Telluride in 1998, and rode the holy hell out of the Four Corners the next few years.

Alas, that pedaling prime was two decades, dozens of pounds, and four major surgeries ago. The most drastic of those—a spinal fusion of cervical vertebrae C4 to C7—caused the bent-over, head-up body position of cycling to inflict terrible pain. I came to dread the punishing, sickly steep ascents of the San Juan Mountains. My old, worn-down mountain bike gathered dust.

By the 2020s, the mountain dweller in me identified more with hiking—which is just so pedestrian. Last summer my father died (gently, in his sleep, with full cognitive function). He bequeathed a decent inheritance, with which I purchased a brand new, top-of-the-line, $14,000 electric mountain bike: a Specialized S-Works Turbo Levo.

Sure, $14,000 could buy a decent motor vehicle with four wheels! But I have no regrets. In fact, the Turbo now qualifies as my all-time favorite material possession.

I’d ridden e-bikes on high-altitude singletrack before, whether by borrowing or renting. Those bikes were fun and all, but never delivered the ecstatic rapture my Turbo does. Why? Because I own now. It’s mine, mine, mine. I don’t think one can truly immerse in adventure sports if depending on a friend’s generosity or throwing money away on a rental.

My steed came to life at the Oak Street Bootdoctors by way of Max Cooper, a devout apostle for local riding and a mad scientist of a bike mechanic. He custom-built the Turbo specifically for me, my unseemly high center of gravity, and my compromised spine. Its stem (which connects the frame to the handlebars) is lifted by several more spacers than most bikes. It looks a bit odd, but who cares? Max strove to fit the bike to Rob Story, not random rental customers. He employed components with reggae colors—red, green, and gold—that speak to my Rastafarian proclivities. I love the way my new favorite material possession looks.

Specialized’s tagline for the Turbo is: “It’s you, only faster.” Truer words never graced an owner’s manual. It’s impossible to overstate how much faster riding matters in these parts. The Forest Service and Telluride Mountain Club have opened hundreds of miles of new trails recently, offering abundant options for epic twenty-plus-mile rides. On a conventional bike, however, such long rides are unattainable if you’re unwilling to wake at 5 a.m. or you’re older than twenty-five with a poor VO2 max score.

Not on the Turbo. An easily manipulated button on the left side of the handlebars adjusts speeds from battery-saving ECO to midrange TRAIL to powerful TURBO—a setting capable of zooming 28 miles per hour. With 575 watts of battery power, rides from Telluride to Rico and back are suddenly no problem.

Last October, during the absolute peak of golden aspen season, a middle-aged friend and I took e-bikes on the deliciously serpentine Eider to Mill Creek trail. On a normal mountain bike, the precipitous path induces wheezing, suffering, and far too many dismounts. On our e-bikes, all the hassles and hardships vanished. Instead, there were giddy giggles and whoops of joy.

When electric mountain bikes debuted several years ago, they usually came equipped with 29-inch wheels for both front and back. Front wheels of that size are renowned for handling trail impediments and propelling bikes forward with fewer pedal strokes. But, in the San Juans, a 29-inch rear wheel can feel unwieldy and uncomfortably elevated for steep downhills. Specialized looked at the issue and brilliantly offered the Turbo in its “mullet” configuration, where the rear wheel is smaller at 27.5 inches. The different wheel sizes certainly enhance this rider’s sense of confidence, especially on descents, as I corner better and maneuver more nimbly through technical, twisty sections.

I only took possession of the Turbo in September 2023. Unable to ride copious singletrack before the onset of winter, I still managed to assess the bike’s multitudinous virtues. One is the updated LED display on the stem: even far-sighted seniors can read one now. It also has a gauge that shows exactly how fast I’m going. Even in winter, I was able to ride up Tomboy Road, marveling at the 20 mph velocity achieved by my second-favorite possession: Zephyr, a Boston Terrier mix who loves nothing more in life than sprinting. Kind of like my Turbo.

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