Sitting Down a Heckler, Leaving a Fan
Two days of E in the Windy City
Words Boaz Hebblethwaite Photos Sven Martin
My relationship with e-bikes has been far from love at first sight. In fact, it’s fair to say I’ve given my mates a bit of grief when they’ve swung their legs over an electric pony in the past. But when the opportunity to spend a day sampling the new Heckler—Santa Cruz’s first step into the e-bike market—came up, I thought, “maybe it’s time to give them one chance”. Soon a plan was forged that would test the bike to its full potential.
A three-man crew consisting of Sven Martin (aka head honcho photographer), Cameron Cole (the smoko announcer), and myself, Boaz Hebblethwaite (otherwise known as Big Nugget), settled on a prime location that would give us a variety of options: the seaside city of Wellington.
With the schedule set for two days of riding, Wellington would provide a solid testing ground to get the job done. I wanted to test the bike on as wide a range of trails as possible, from easy spins on flowy hand-built trail to weaving off-cambers where the best option to regain composure was to choose a slightly less-slick tree root.
Kicking off at midday on a Wednesday we were keen to get the bikes punching out watts. Our trip was centered from the heart of Brooklyn, a suburb scattered over the gullies and ridgelines above the Wellington Harbour and CBD. Being a stone’s throw from the Garage Project’s cellar door, it was a no-brainer to start off with a couple of tasters; it wouldn’t be a Wellington trip without a trendy drink to warm up.
We gathered our gear and Cam, being the local, got us deep into the scene straight away. As it was a beautiful winter’s day in the city, we hedged our bets on some scenic riding out on the coast and kicked the bikes up a gear to get there. Keeping the ‘variety of trails’ theme in mind, some classic New Zealand trail-riding was the perfect way to start it off this mission.
Coming from a downhill background, I’ll take a swinging rut over air-time most days of the week. Even though we didn’t find the views we were expecting, we managed to hunt out a little pocket of gold that was perfect for sinking some Minion DH teeth into. Unfortunately the weather degraded quickly, so we wrapped up the first trail shoot with some natural tunnel tweaks and headed over to a fresh zone.
Knowing we only had a short window of light to finish the day, we ripped over to the south-facing shores to find some natural scree trails. Kicking up a bit of rocky roost was a perfect way to cap the first day, and after enjoying a little right-hand rut session we headed back to base to put the feet up and prepare for the next shred.
Even with some solid mileage on the first day, the Hecklers maintained most of a full battery, so getting them ready for another day’s pedaling was a breeze.
To change up the surroundings and riding style from this second day, we swerved our way through the central city with wake-up juice in hand. In a city as diverse as Wellington, not only were the commuting locals welcoming and eager to see what we were doing, the town was also clearly made with bikes in mind, and was super convenient and safe to navigate. Even when we flicked the Hecklers into Eco mode, we found ourselves easily matching the speed of cars in the flow of the traffic.
Tour guide Cam got us disembarking a train at an awesome little network of trails just above the suburb of Petone.
This is the home of some more rugged tracks such as Freewheel, Super Plus and Chur-No-Bull, and an optimal spot to test the Hecklers in some more aggressive terrain. However, to my surprise, these bikes were once again eating everything up. Much like the day prior, the weather was intent on keeping its winter theme and didn’t give us a lot of room for photo opportunities up higher. Once up top we descended through some rocky single-track goodness, which blended into a fast-paced jump track next to the highway that was ideal for sessioning.
I couldn’t believe it when I looked at the time and found it was only around midday. Covering so much ground effortlessly on an e-bike was really changing my perspective of them.
Despite looking like we’d just completed a race run at the ’07 Worlds in Champery, the train staff were more than welcoming and made it super-easy to chuck the bikes on securely for our trip back into the city.
The Hecklers still had plenty of juice and we still had energy to burn, so we headed up to our final stop of the trip, the recently-revamped Rollercoaster that had been tweaked and refined by the man himself, Cam Cole, and the Trail Pro NZ team.
This would be the real test for how the bikes perform on flow trails. We cranked the boost mode up to ascend the 420 meters and arrived at the entrance of the trail at a serious rate of knots. Keen to finish the trip off with a bang, Sven whipped the camera out and we got stuck into hitting some jumps and unintentional gaps.
The stoke and energy levels were right up there across the group as the whole process of lapping the one-kilometre trail was made a 100 times easier with the aid of the e-bike.
The Hecklers weigh in at just over 20kg, but were super-fun to maneuver in the air. Even with the added slickness from the recent rain the centralised weight from the battery made it hook into the corners impressively well. It had a surprisingly close feel to my Santa Cruz Nomad, twitchy enough to be playful but big enough to ride the rougher style of tracks on offer.
To me, there’ll never be anything like riding a classic mountain bike but I’d be stupid not to admit how much more riding we were getting in, while keeping it quality.
They say it’s not over until the fat lady sings, but after riding almost 40 kilometres of new-school and classic trails, with 800 vertical meters of climbing in a few hours, I was about as close as I get to singing for a beer. So just as the sun was setting there was only one last thing to do and that was to get one absolute pearler of a view over Wellington, would recommend to a friend.
*Editors Note – Since Boaz penned this article, Santa Cruz has launched the new 2021 Heckler line up. The updated range utilises the recently released Shimano EP8 motor, which is smaller, lighter, more efficient and provides extra power over the old motor. The Santa Cruz design team has also introduced a mixed wheel (29” front, 27.5” rear) version of the Heckler to complement the original 27.5” platform, in other words the Heckler just got better on all fronts.