Gizmag recently traveled to Austria and met up with Mario and Daniel Preining, the brother team behind the EGO-kits add-on mountain bike electric drive. We found out about the latest developments at the company, which include a faster, more powerful kit and an appearance on Austrian start-up TV competition Two Minutes, Two Million. In between torrential downpours, we took an EGO-equipped bike out, twisted the throttle and found out what motor-assisted downhill mountain biking is all about.

The Ride

"Please, please go away," I thought to myself as the rays soaked through the windows, ricocheting off my beer glass.

It was the first glimpse of sunshine I'd seen all day. Usually, I'd be elated, especially after having some vacation plans rained out, and especially with my very first bike ride on European soil hanging in the balance. But my stomach was whimpering like a wounded animal at the sight of the half eaten schnitzel cordon bleu taunting me from the tabletop. The idea of biking, electric-assist or not, with a casserole of masticated breading, pork, ham, cheese and Austrian lager sloshing around my stomach was enough to make me beg, plead and pray for the sun to surrender, just for this one night.

Half an hour earlier, it had seemed like it was going to do just that. After touring EGO's workshop just outside of Salzburg, and the bike park tucked into a barn next door, Mario Preining and I had agreed that grabbing dinner and then doing a short EGO-kits trial inside the garage was the right way to go. It hadn't appeared that the unrelenting rain would allow us a proper test outdoors. He wasn't eager to have me conduct a test in poor conditions and I wasn't eager to spend the afternoon soaking and freezing.

Midway through an especially heavy (and delicious) meal, that plan sounded better than ever. My previous grand visions of throttling up to epic Alpine vistas and downhills had been long replaced with fantasies of Rolaids and sleeping off my food hangover with no more aerobic effort than it took to waddle out the door and into the car. But the weather, and Silvio and Dario Mottl, two local bike racers that had joined us in hopes of a ride, had different ideas. The sun kept shining, and the amped-up racers weren't taking "test ride in the garage" for an answer. I dropped my fork, giving in simultaneously to the too-large dinner and fate of the evening.

Minutes later, back at the workshop, Mario threw an EGO-outfitted downhill rig in front of me, slapped an Ergon backpack stuffed with battery on my back and helped me get hooked up. Then he pointed it out – we were biking to and up the small ski area right across the street, no car ride, no time for digestion. I stared hatefully at my new nemesis, a small slope by mountain biking standards, but a grand mountain when going from schnitzel to pedal in a matter of 10 minutes.

After a quick, flat pedal across the street to the access road, the grade started stiffening and the moment of reckoning arrived. Was the EGO-kit up to the task of shuttling me upwards without a mandatory vomit stop? A quick twist of the handlebar throttle brought an approving smile to my face. The bike zipped forward with ease, tackling the hill on its own power, without even a twitch of my calves. Asphalt, dirt, post-rain mud it didn't matter; the bike plowed on without hesitation.

If I wanted to stretch the legs, which was rare on this particular ride, I simply let up on the throttle to the point that I needed to pedal to maintain momentum. I played with the throttle a little, adjusting pedal resistance, but mostly I sat back and let the motor do all the work. We finished the last stretch to the top by shorting the switch-backing trail and firing straight up the steep, muddied grass hill, something I never would have attempted with a regular mountain bike, full stomach or not. Again, the EGO handled it without a hitch.

The mountain that had looked like Denali just minutes earlier was now in our wake, and I enjoyed the best view of the towering, shadowy Alps in the distance I'd seen all trip. I had made the climb with comfort and ease, stomach-bloating indigestion almost forgotten. And I had kept pace with two much younger, fitter bike racers who would have left my out-of-shape self eating mud within seconds of any traditional bike ride. No wonder they call this thing EGO – mine was certainly inflated from where it should rightfully have been.

As we enjoyed the view, Mario pointed out the Gaisberg just to our right, the place where EGO-kits was conceived. His brother Daniel had regaled us with the story over beers the night before. Years earlier, Daniel, a former downhill racer and all-around adventure junkie, had grown tired of double-shuttling his mountain bike up this particular mountain. The tedious process of stowing a motorbike at the bottom, driving to the top, mountain biking down, shuttling his mountain bike back up by motorbike, and then getting behind the wheel to start all over sparked the idea for something simpler – something like a bike-mounted shuttle motor. The seed that grew into the EGO-kit was planted.

As we whipped our bikes around and began speeding down the hill we had just climbed without a single huff, puff or schnitzel-loaded belch, it became crystal clear that Daniel was on to something. Sure, cross country riding has its place, in fact, I prefer it over downhill riding. But some rides and trails are meant to be downhill-only. Not every one of them has a ski lift (the lift at this small Austrian resort remains idle in the summer) or an access road for a shuttle van. But nearly every trail that can accommodate a bike downhill can accommodate one uphill. Sometimes it just takes a little extra power to negotiate the long, tough grades. The Ego-kits system opens those types of rides up, and it's damn fun to use, both on the way up and coming back down.

Hardware Impressions

I really enjoyed the overall EGO-kits experience and found the equipment simple to use. The handlebar twist throttle made for quick, easy motor output adjustment and the battery was hardly noticeable on this short ride thanks to a cushy suspension system on the Ergon backpack.

According to the specs, the EGO-kit hardware adds 12.1 lb (5.5 kg) to the weight of the bike, and it definitely felt heavier. I wasn't up for any jumping, but I'd imagine it would be more difficult with the added weight. You'd probably want to practice a little before jumping off a ramp, bunny hopping obstacles or otherwise attempting to air in the field. But Mario showed that it’s not all that hard when you get the hang of it.

When you do get some air, EGO claims that its design is burly enough to hold up to the bumps, bangs and dings on the way down. Given the low mounting position of the kit which is designed to provide a low center of gravity, those bumps, bangs and dings are all but guaranteed. The motor itself is contained within an aluminum case and attached to the bike with a stainless steel bracket.

It was a little difficult to effectively balance when motor-starting from a complete stop on a hill, but in the case of the open grass hill, I was able to point the bike at a lower angle and switchback a little to get started before aiming straight up the fall line. It would be much more difficult on a singletrack trail, where switchbacking isn't an option, so I wouldn't stop for photos until the top of the hill ... a basic rule of thumb for biking in general.

The only thing that I didn't like about the design was that the large power wire was routed out the backpack, between my legs and into the motor cabling under the seat. It wasn't a big deal on this brief ride, but I could see it tripping me up and being uncomfortable on a longer ride. I'd prefer just to drop the cable down into a rear-mounted plug without routing it around my undercarriage.

Generation 2

The all-new EGO-kit 3400, which launched this month, adds extra climbing power with the help of a larger 20-Ah battery pack. The kit uses the same motor as the original, but its larger battery and revised electronics boost its listed climbing ability to around 6,550 feet (2,000 m), double that of the original EGO 2400. The upgraded kit also offers speeds of up to 50 mph (80 km/h), up from 40 mph (65 km/h) on the original kit. Like the original, it can tackle slopes up to nearly 40 degrees, though Mario admitted it depends on the ground surface. He said that 30 degrees is a more practical figure. The maximum range remains 25 miles (40 km).

Twenty-five miles and 6,500 vertical feet sounded painfully close to my favorite downhill trail of all time: Moab's Whole Enchilada, a 26-mile (42-km) epic that roller-coasters 7,000 vertical feet (2,134 m) from the high mountains to the Colorado River slicing through the desert below. I briefly fantasized about using an EGO-kit to skip the expensive hassle of hiring a shuttle up to the top of that trail, but I realized quickly that it's not going to give you both maximum vertical and maximum distance. Mario estimates that you can go about 12 miles (20 km) when climbing the full 2,000 m. Still, that's a lot of potential for long, wild downhills.

The trade-off for more power in the new kit comes in the form of a heavier battery on your back (12.4 lb/5.6 kg vs. 10.1 lb/4.6 kg on the 2400) and a doubled charging time of three hours.

The biggest drawback of both the original and new EGO-kits systems is pricing. As is the case with electric vehicles, the high cost of batteries stands in the way of a more market-friendly price. I could personally see spending up to $1,000 to add this type of self-shuttle functionality to my downhill mountain bike, but at $3,299 (on top of a multi-thousand-dollar bike), it's just too expensive for me, and I’d imagine, a lot of riders. The upgraded 3400's estimated $4,500 price tag obviously doesn't alleviate that issue. The price is all-inclusive, packaging everything you need to start motoring up mountain, including the Ergon backpack, charger and mounting hardware.

The Preinings did mention the possibility of a less powerful, entry-level model in the future, but it's not hitting shelves just yet. They also have some other plans for new models and improvements in the pipeline.

EGO is currently in the running to appear on Austrian TV show Two Minutes, Two Million, where it could win up to €250,000 of investment money. The site's in German, but you can check out the other projects, which include the Snow Bull, and vote here. EGO is currently neck and neck for the very top spot.

Take a look at our photo gallery for a closer look at the EGO-kit hardware, our ride, and the greater EGO Salzburg headquarters, including some classic mountain bikes and the “bike barn.”

View gallery - 26 images