“We think the technology is ready to make it…” Imola MXGP sees launch of first electric bicycle FIM World Cup

The fact that the inaugural FIM E-X Bike World Cup will see just under thirty riders (and one female for the Women’s division) take to the MXGP track at Imola is as much to do with the sheer invention of the event as much as the purported threat that the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) feels it carries. 

For the first time electric-boosted mountain bikes will be part of the MXGP support card that has already been amplified by two European Championships, WMX and the Veterans World Cup in the last ten years. While MotoGP dabbles with MotoE, the move towards exposure and experimentation with bicycles for MXGP is not only a reaction to the burgeoning e-bike scene but a possible ‘fill-in’ until e-mobility manufacturers can mobilise an electric dirt-bike race/series. Surely it cannot be too far away.

Earlier this year the UCI, cycling’s governing body, reacted to the announcement by the FIM and Youthstream with regards to the first FIM E-X Bike World Cup with a statement that included the following paragraph: ‘The UCI wishes to announce that events in domains under its exclusive jurisdiction that are registered on the FIM calendar or those of its member Federations will be considered “banned events” in line with its Regulation. Consequently, any UCI-licensed rider participating in one of these events would risk disciplinary measures.’

Thus largely deterring World Championship cyclists curious as to how a circuit-based spectacle for powered- bicycles would look. They will have to watch the fixture trackside or on www.mxgp.tv like everybody else. In the same statement the UCI claim they ‘had already notified the FIM in September 2017 that it considered E-mountain bike events to come exclusively under its jurisdiction.’

The FIM E-X Bike World Cup may have been born under stormy skies but Youthstream are pushing ahead with the venture that features two classes of bicycles with power of more than 250W (the premier EXBGP category has powered assistance can exceed 25 km/h but does not exceed 45 km/h), an age range between 14-55 and will run in one ‘moto’ of 25 minutes and 1 lap on Saturday evening in Italy.

The entry list features former MXGP rider Davide Guarneri and current WorldSBK star Marco Melandri to add extra appeal to a sprint that will draw as much judgement as it will interest. As the fifteenth round of 2019 MXGP draws nearer we gained exclusive audience with Youthstream VP David Luongo to talk about the imminent mash-up. Understandably he was reluctant to comment on whether names from the mountain bike world had been put-off by background political rumblings (but was keen to react if any athlete wished to reveal signs of intimidation) but openly stated why and how Youthstream have pushed ahead in bringing bicycles into the FIM Motocross World Championship picture.

Now the event is almost here you must be very curious about it will run…

There is a positive feeling, and we feel it will be affordable for the riders. Imola is a flat area with just one uphill and downhill so I think it will be pleasurable for the cyclist. The race will be at the end of Saturday after the motocross session so we will have some time to work and adapt the track to the electric bicycles. They will share the paddock with the motocross teams and riders and will be part of the whole weekend.

Have you been able to visualise how e-bikes will look around an MXGP facility? It’ll probably seem so slow…

It’s at the same location but it is two different sports. The time will be 25 minute plus one lap so it will be a demanding sprint. I think it will be a lot of fun to watch. Above all we want to use the platform that the MXGP FIM World Championship provides to make this sport more popular. It will be broadcast on MXGP.TV. We want to use all the tools we have to help it grow.

The track preparation will need to be considered for the bicycles…and then in the case of rain?

We’ll be flexible and for this we have put it at the end of the day when we’ll still have a couple of hours of light and time to manage the track. When you have a cross-country race and it is raining then it’s tough, so I don’t see any issue on the motocross track in Imola. It is hard ground, not deep sand or very muddy. We should be OK.

Youthstream have Snowcross and have tried different projects over the years but how do you feel about this project as it’s quite a departure for the company…

It is. It’s a new project but exciting. It’s still off-road and there is a parallel with motocross through the participants. It almost has the same roots but then it is two very different sports. There are a lot of riders and mechanics in the MXGP paddock that are riding and training on mountain bikes in the wintertime. So there is a connection and we see huge potential because of the market. I think in Europe at the moment the sales of e-bicycles and mountain bikes are huge and the sports will grow also. We’d like to be a part of it – related to e-mobility – and we think the technology is ready to make it. It was logical to try it.

Was it an education? Learning new brands, demographics, a new market…

Yes, it’s like motocross many years ago. The rules will adapt to the technology – which is moving so fast – so we might have to change next year already and we are learning all the time. There are no real ‘experts’ of this sport because it is brand new. It’s exciting and evolving quickly. We spent time with the FIM to clarify the regulations and also to study what kind or rider and racer could take part. It’s a big curve.

In your eyes how would Imola be a success?

To have a good group of participants that we can build on for next year and then to see how we might build on the event for 2020: do we try it again with 2-3 events during the MXGP season or do we try an independent series? For sure the idea is to develop the sport.

Is there room in the mountain bike sport calendar/landscape for a new series or would it be better as an annual one-off event?

I think there is room for an independent series. We were not interested in doing something like Rally or Enduro or Downhill because for us the most important thing is to define a sport you can promote in a way you can make it popular. The ‘circuit style’ holds the best potential for progression because you can film it well and present it in a good way with a nice paddock where you can have partners related to e-mobility. It gives us many more possibilities.

Will you be persistent with this? The SMX Cup was a good idea but was shelved after one attempt…

Yeah, yeah, this system is new to MXGP but it gives us more freedom and capacity to try things. Based on the success and popularity then we’ll decide if it needs to switch to an independent series where we’ll invest in making a separate team and people to manage it. The first step is to do it with the infrastructure of MXGP with the TV staff and the media: we have a good window to push this activity.

A full list of regs about the FIM E-X Bike World Cup can be found HERE while the race itself will be screened live for free on www.mxgp.tv on Saturday at 18.35

Bike pic by Scott Sports www.scott-sports.com

Others by Ray Archer @rayarcherphoto

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