photography by: Margus Riga

We’ve been riding for 60 km and three mountains later, we’re being chased by the sunset.

The ride, Cowichan Valley’s Triple Crown route, is entering the realm of epic. But there’s a twist. All three of us are riding the Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay. Our aim is to see how far we can push the 29″ wheeled eMTB’s.

What we find, is that yes, they can go far. But they’re capable of much more along the way.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay on Mt. Tzouhalem
Mount Tzouhalem
Cowichan Triple Crown

Our route takes in the Valley’s three main riding areas, each on a different mountain. Mount Prevost, typically the realm of downhillers and shuttle trucks; the old school tech of Maple Mountain and, the underappreciated gem of the valley, Mount Tzouhalem.

eMTB’s aren’t universally accepted everywhere yet but Cowichan Trails Stewardship Society (CTSS), the group responsible for maintaining the regions trails, is happy to have us. After camping overnight the three of us head into Duncan. Andreas Hestler, photographer Margus Riga and myself arrive at Cycle Therapy, where we set up bike, and returned later to charge and mend.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay
Like any good epic, we woke up early then ended up starting late

Usually, this route is an all-day ride. Distance and elevation vary based on routing, but it’s always in the realm of 2,300 m of elevation gain and anywhere from 55 to 75 km of riding.

Today, our challenge is slightly different. In planning our route, we have to factor in a break to recharge the bikes. The Powerplay has a range of two to around four hours of charge, depending on how much you’re relying on the battery.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Mt. Prevost
Taking in the view on top of Mt. Prevost
Part I: Powering up Prevost

From town, he head directly to the days most imposing objective. Mt. Prevost is primarily shuttled by downhill bikes and riders searching out the steepest trails on the way back down. It’s accessed by 7.5 km of gravel road, averaging 8.5 per cent with a nasty kick up to the summit that pushes above 20 per cent.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Mt. Prevost
On top of Mt. Prevost with Tzouhalem beckoning  across the Valley

Mindful that we have a big day ahead of us, we’re being conservative with our battery. We mostly stay in the lowest assist level and breathe hard from the effort. Still, we climb up 665 m in just 26 minutes. At the top, we catch our breath and enjoy a rare clear view out over the Cowichan Valley towards Maple and Tzou.

Dropping in on Prevost

With our next objectives in sight, we duck down into Prevost’s steep descents. It’s our first trail of the day, and my first ride on the bike. Still, aside from some under-gunned tires, the Altitude Powerplay is composed and easy to get comfortable on.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Maple Mountain
A totem arch welcomes riders to Maple Mountain’s Story Trail
Part II: Tapping into the current on Maple Mountain

After a quick paceline across to Maple, we duck under the totem arch which marks the entry to Maple Mountain’s trail system. Story Trail gives us our first taste of the Powerplay’s real strength. We tap into the flow as we climb Xylem. Singletrack brings tight corners and an exciting climb. While powering up Prevost was efficient, flowing up Maple’s climbing trail is fun.

Partway up Maple, we have our first mechanical. A stick pops up and catches in Riga’s derailleur. Hestler and I shout as it starts to wrap back around the axle. Somehow, Riga stops before there’s catastrophic damage. But, even after a trail-side McGyver session, we’re still not at 100 per cent. Instead of risking a major mechanical by pushing for the summit, we cut out early to head back to town.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Cowichan Valley
Recharging bikes and bodies in the Cowichan Valley
Intermission: Power Nap

Back at Cycle Therapy, we quickly sort out the mechanical and plug in. We’re at two hours ride time, but we’ve covered 45 km and 1,2000 m of elevation. Rocky Mountain’s iWoc Trio remote displays the remaining battery charge in four colours. Hestler and I have just barely dipped into the red while Riga, who is carrying a sizeable pack of camera gear, has been there for a while. With the Powerplays, we’ve been riding together all day though. The difference in our workload shows in increased battery drain, not fatigue.

Outside the shop, a woman asks Riga and I about the bikes, and if we “feel guilty at all using the battery.” We laugh, and say yes. “You’re both still smiling though,” the woman wryly responds.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Mt. Tzouhalem
Mt. Tzouhalem’s climbing trail, A Grand Traverse feels a little different on the Instinct Powerplay

She’s not wrong. We’re all capable of big adventures under our own steam, though Hestler and Margus’ well documented exploits far outstrip my own. But we’re also having a really good ride on the charged up Rocky Powerplays.

While the Powerplays charge, we take the time to grab a quick lunch at a craft brewery in town and relax in the park. Then it’s off to our final mountain, Tzouhalem.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay
Mt. Tzouhalem
Part III: Seeing the light of Tzouhalem.

Our last stop of the day is on Mt. Tzouhalem. We not only have perfect light, but we also have a better idea of what you can do with the Instinct Powerplays, and what we now want to do with them. Fully charged, we ride Tzou with little regard for the battery, and it is … is it too much to say it’s electrifying?

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Tzouhalem
Still on the climbing trail

It’s not too much to say we’re having so much fun that we’re trying to find uphill doubles to gap. The battery makes ascending Tzou’s climbing trail, A Grand Traverse, a whole different experience.

After finding more flow on Field of Dreams, our last stop is at Tzou’s cross. Standing high above down on the edge of the mountain’s cliff band, it is a looming presence in the Valley. It’s not lit up, like Montreal’s famous cross. But when the light catches it just right, it might as well be.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Tzouhalem
Reflecting on a different way of riding

As an end point for our Triple Crown, it’s so perfect it’s almost cliche. We’ve done 60 km, gained and dropped 2,000 m of elevation and logged four hours of riding time easily in a long afternoon. Is it enough for a died-in-the-wool analogue rider to see the light on eMTB? Has our ride become a conversion?

Our ride’s not quite over yet and, thankfully, we don’t have to end on such a cliche. There’s still a mountain of descending left before we’re back at the truck.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Tzouhalem
Descending on Mt. Tzouhalem

Knowing we’re almost home, all three of us put the battery out of our mind and start pushing the bikes in their full potential. Vancouver Island’s “classic” technical single track has a reputation for squeezing as much climbing into the descents as actual descending. With the Powerplay, we’re carrying speed through the multiple punchy, rocky climbs that would normally slow down our plummet back towards the parking lot.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Mount Tzouhalem
 Back to trails on Tzouhalem

Flying through the final berms, we pop back into Tzouhalem’s parking lot for high fives and cold beers. The bikes might be slightly different than usual, but it certainly feels like the end of an epic mountain bike ride.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Tzouhalem
Post-ride Instinct Powerplay

Even with a late start to the day, the Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplays proved they could easily handle a big adventure. By the end of the day, we’d found they can also provide a huge amount of fun along the way.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Nanaimo
With the Powerplay, every view holds new adventure ride possibilities