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Alta Badia: Dropping friends with ease and hiring the world's highest e-bikes

Nick Busca
24 Jul 2019

E-bike riding in the mountains around Alta Badia. Photos: Alex Moling, Nick Busca, Pinarello

Just before our group reached the Mur del Giat — a short incline of only 360 metres, but with gradients reaching a maximum of 19% — I started to hear the mechanical sound of gears switching from the smaller to the bigger cogs on rear cassettes. It was a preventive attempt to avoid the worst case scenario: walking up the hill and pushing the bike up the road.

I, on the other hand, couldn’t be bothered to change any gear at all. I kept stayed on the 53 chainring at the front, stomped more power on my pedals and spun away without any issues.

Nobody in my group could keep up with my acceleration; they all had to struggle with not only the gradient, but with the heat of a classic July day in the Italian Alps: blue sky, no clouds and high temperatures. Even with that sort of effort I didn’t break a sweat.

I wasn’t dreaming, although I frequently dream of winning bike races in such a powerful manner. Nor did I dope before the ride. I was simply cycling on a Pinarello Nytro — the first electric bike launched in 2017 by the high-end Italian bike manufacturer.

Today (6th July) also happens to be the be the eve of the 33th Maratona Dles Dolomites, the gran fondo that has become a must for cyclists all over the world.

A gentle spin down (and then back up) the Alta Badia valley from Corvara — a picturesque village nestled at 1,500 metres of altitude on the Italian Dolomites — is the perfect preparation for the titanic effort I have to endure the day after: 138 km and 4,000+ metres of vertical elevation. But a gentle spin with an e-bike is an even better idea to spin the legs without letting the fatigue settle in too soon ahead of the main event.

The ride

In the first kilometres of the ride, where the road was mostly downhill and the group I was riding with was quite speedy, the benefits of the Nytro were mostly down to its braking responsiveness (the bike comes with Sram hydraulic disc brakes) and its superb stability while cornering.

On the flip side, as per the EU and UK legislation, even the powerful Fazua drive unit of the Nytro (400 watts of max assistance) switches off at 25kmh (15mph). And that results in a pretty heavy bike to pedal around if you have some friends with strong legs to keep up with (with 14kg of total weight, the Nytro is not the lightest model out there).

But when the road goes up, well, then there is no more downside and the ride became a true testament of 'what it feels like to be really fit.'

Nonetheless, it took me a little while to get used to the system and how it works. The most powerful assistance of the Nytro comes into play above 4-5% gradient, when the pedal stroke gets heavier and you have to put a higher torque into the pedals to counterbalance the effect of the ascent.

I noticed that on top of the gradient, the other factor that made the biggest difference to the pedalling assistance was the cadence I was pedalling at. When I went below 60 revolutions per minute, the system chanted its best symphony.

It didn’t take much time for me to become quite needy and greedy. 'Oh, is that all the power you've got, Nytro? Can’t you give me some more?' and as soon as I got into that magic spot (60rpm and 5% gradient) I only had to put into the pedals 50 to 70 watts to spin up the climb at around 15 to 20kmh.

My friends were sweating, while I could have gone into the office without even taking a shower.

The Mur del Giat was the cherry on top, the place where the Nytro showed its best skills. Because I had to put a lot more force into the pedals, the system reacted by giving me its max power almost immediately.

The only thing you want to keep an eye on during these sort of rides (where you stay at full power the whole time) is the battery level, as after one and a half hours at full speed it was already half way down.

A recent update to the Nytro software and tech allows you to check the activity and the operation of the power unit directly on your smartphone.

The bike

The frame the Nytro has been inspired by is the non-electric version of the Italian fleet, the Dogma, a bicycle that has won six out of the last seven Tours de France with Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. Furthermore, with its Toray carbon fibre (T700, the standard modulus) the Nytro has a light and racy spec.

Like most of the e-bikes now on the market, even the Nytro offers four different assistance modes: No support (I call it ‘good luck then’), Breeze (which assists you with to up to 125 watts), River (up to 250 watts) and Rocket — which goes up to 400 watts of assistance.

Fausto Pinarello, CEO of the still family-run Cicli Pinarello, says that the main goal with the Nytro was to 'make the experience of pedalling with the assistance of a power unit as close as possible to what we feel when we propel our bikes with our own muscles.'

Pinarello decided to develop an e-bike to allow everyone (cyclists and non-cyclists alike) to cycle on those roads and paths that would otherwise be out of reach.

'The development of an e-bike was also to help those with physical deficits and the mobility-impaired to reach goals that were unthinkable before,' says Pinarello — who cycled the Maratona Dles Dolimites in 2018 with an e-bike, only a few months after he had broken his leg.

If at first the keenest cyclists and historic Pinarello buyers were sceptical of the new system, Fausto says that now more and more people are curious about the Nytrro. 'Many of the current Nytro owners are former owners of classic bikes that for one reason or another they could no longer use,' he says.

The world's highest e-bike sharing scheme

In Alta Badia — the valley that gathers the villages of Corvara, Colfosco, La Villa, San Cassiano, Badia and La Val — you can find a proper e-bike scheme like that in any bike city around the world: one where you can pick up the bikes in one location and then drop them off somewhere else.

On top of the several sport shops that rent e-bikes in Corvara, there are also docking stations located above 2,000m above sea level in Col Alt (High Col), Piz La Ila and Piz Sorega — and that makes Alta Badia the world’s highest e-bike sharing scheme.

The bikes you find on the top of mountains have been conceived to allow cyclists to explore the highest points of the resort, those that in the winter time entertain avid skiers around the Sella massif. But if offroad isn’t your cup of tea, there is still plenty you can do below the tree line, although Pinarello has recently launched an e-gravel bike to its fleet that can serve you both off- and on-road.

Read more about Alta Badia's hire bike scheme:

More information

The e-bikes offered as part of the hire scheme are available to hire any day, with options including a two hour, half day or whole day hire, (€25 for two hours, €35 half day, €45 whole day). The tourist information offices provide road maps with recommended routes, or you can head out with the specialised Dolomite Biking School which arranges individual or group excursions daily.

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