Can An E-bike Really Be Used For Touring?

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By Roger Crandall — Bike touring is the love of my life! When I read the first touring article written by Americans Greg Siple and Dan Burden in National Geographic (May 1973), my life changed 180 degrees. 43 years later, and I am still thanking them. They went on to found Adventure Cycling Association out of Missoula, Montana, and I went on to a 2 1/2-year cycling odyssey throughout Latin America that later brought me to Utah, teaching Spanish for 30 years, and having a beautiful Costa Rican wife. All in all, not a bad deal for reading one article like this and doing one bike trip!

Roger with his ebike set up for touring. Photo by Jael Crandall
Roger with his ebike set up for touring. Photo by Jael Crandall

In recent years, I’ve toured on a Tour Easy recumbent, a Santana Cilantro tandem, and my trusty “reliquia” as my wife calls it, my “relic” classic, a Japanese 1973 Ranger T.U. (now for sale to a good home). I was due for a new touring bike; but could an E-bike make the grade and get me back into touring as my 70s now approached?

As serendipity would have it Matt Passey, owner of Salt Lake Ebikes, fell in love with my solar powered velomobile—the Organic Transit's ELF—and we traded for two of his great e-bikes. My wife got a Magnum Ui5 and I got a Bulls Lacuba EVO. My “trained eye” thought that these bikes could make the grade for out of state touring, so now was the time to put them to the test!

In the spring, I did my first shake-down trip of 66 miles down the Jordan River Parkway to the Lehi campground in the rain, and on purpose! I needed to test out my new bike, new panniers, and new tent, and I sure picked out a doozy of a rainstorm that lasted all weekend! I charged up my bike in the campground restroom, a trick we would use many times throughout the year, but I left it out in the rain uncovered all night to see how it would react to the downpour.

By morning I was ready to “fly with the eagles” but this time it was the geese I stirred up. As my lights and honking horn cut through the dark raging lightning storm, I rode into the wind and sideways rain at the same speed as these geese took off with their long wingspans that almost touched the wingspan of my handlebars. Flying with the bird I felt like I was on the right bike at the right time and “this was the place”, for a most electrifying ride. When I got back to reality after making it to Gardner Village for lunch, I was still dry and in high spirits.

What makes my Bulls Lacuba such a great touring bike?

First, it has an advertised range of 132 miles on Eco-mode. Ok, fully loaded with 6 bags for touring I was able to do 60 miles with still one or two bars or 40 miles left, and I never had to charge at lunchtime to keep going.

Second, the super strong frame with fenders, racks, an always on bright front light and actual brake light, disc brakes, suspension forks, Schwalbe 50 Energizer Plus Performance Line Green Guard 28X 1.75 tires all made in Koln, Germany, made this the safest and most supportive touring bike I have ever come across.

I added a special front rack for the suspension fork, an Animaris suspension seat-post, and a Juiced motorcycle horn with key fob alarm that when armed will go off at the slightest touch; making it what I would call, the perfect American style “cafe lock”. This being a Class 3 E-bike it was capable of going 28 mph and it could get close to that easily fully loaded in Turbo-mode.

Thinking about getting into touring on an e-bike?

I have three friends who didn’t want to be left behind by the “old man” and they were about to do their first ever shake-down bike tour on their new e-bikes.

Joining me was Tairel Love on his Haibike hardtail mountain bike 7.0, who loaded everything on his rear rack including a full-size cot. Then we had Tevi Lawson on his fat tire Ecotrek, pulling a Burley trailer with his full-size cot, super thick pad, and winter weight sleeping bag. Tevi came prepared to do office work on his laptop, which he did in his tent after a long day of riding. Also along for the shake-down trip was Tom Jackson, who had never toured before, on a brand new Specialized Vado. Like Tevi, Tom had never done any lightweight camping before.

All four of us had a marvelous time going out to the Lehi bike trail campground ,and I don’t think it would have been as enjoyable had we been on “old fashioned” non-electric bicycles where we might have arrived DOA (Dead On Arrival).

Oregon to California West Coast Tour

For the true test of long-distance touring, Tai, Tevi, and I mounted up on our trusty E-steeds and set off from south of Portland, Oregon on Highway 101 bound for the Redwood Forests of California. Going south as all smart cyclists do, we whizzed along with tailwinds up mountain passes above the clouds and fog and down to shoreline beaches with their roaring surf. Each night we came into a State Park campground, many showing ‘Full' signs and with car campers being turned away. For cyclists like us, Hiker/Biker sites were always open by decree.

The Three Amigos end their trip at the top of Crater Lake. Photo by Roger and Jael Crandall
The Three Amigos end their trip at the top of Crater Lake. Photo by Roger and Jael Crandall

There was always space in the backwoods, but you did have to hike or bike to bathrooms, which were by exaggeration, “miles away”. Tevi carried an extra battery, and which he only used since he was on a fat tire bike pulling a 90-pound trailer. Each night, we plugged in and recharged and never had to do a lunch stop recharging.

None of our bikes had a throttle, so we worked hard for our faster speeds, rides into headwinds, and mountainous climbs. We often had to eat a second breakfast, but we didn’t get the snot kicked out of us or arrive with mashed potato legs at the end of the day.

As a 69-year-old, I really felt that I was cycling better than I had at 24 on my trip to South America. That was confirmed by some of the cute “20-something-year-olds” that we chatted up at the Hiker/Biker Campgrounds. One girl and her companions thought we old guys were “Awesome!” as we passed them on climbs and got to camp sites before them.

Roger wearing his Crash Sack sleeping bag. Photo by Roger and Jael Crandall
Roger wearing his Crash Sack sleeping bag. Photo by Roger and Jael Crandall

We must have seemed like the ‘Tortoise and the Hare”, always taking our time to rest and eat at great vegan restaurants, but still getting ahead. I had to confide to her that “old age and treachery will always beat out youth and beauty”. She asked me, “what do you mean?” to which I replied, “Honey, we are on e-bikes, that's how we roll.” She was so impressed that she's getting an e-bike next time!

We loved the hard climbs off of Hwy. 101 like the Seven Devils switchbacks. We even got off-road on a hiker/biker trail in the Redwoods that quickly went from double track, to a single track, to a no track that had our legs burning from stinging nettles. We also encountered two straight up scree climbs that necessitated a two person per bike push to get us up, and we could have used a power walk mode then.

E-bikes going off road on the wide trail before it disappeared. Photo by Roger and Jael Crandall
E-bikes going off road on the wide trail before it disappeared. Photo by Roger and Jael Crandall

Even when there was no discernible trail, we decided that “we must press on with all possible dispatch” as Terry-Thomas and Milton Berle said in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, World”.

The Katy Trail

Ok, so men can ride these “high-powered machines”, but how about a non-cyclist woman like my wife who doesn’t like to be on her own bike and has only toured once with me on a tandem?

[Editor’s Note, see also the article, “A Tour of Idaho’s Bitterroot 300K Trail”, in the Fall 2017 issue of Cycling West on cyclingwest.com]

This past summer, my wife Jael rode her e-bike, with full panniers geared for camping, with me on the Katy Trail across Missouri. She kept up with her “biker pro” husband with “no hay problema” and even made the steep climbs when we got off the trail.

This is how some cyclists dressed on this hot day riding the KATY Trail with a club of a couple hundred close friends. Photo by Roger and Jael Crandall
This is how some cyclists dressed on this hot day riding the KATY Trail with a club of a couple hundred close friends. Photo by Roger and Jael Crandall
The 52nd annual gathering of The Wheelman, a group dedicated to bicycle heritage on the Katy Trail. Photo by Roger and Jael Crandall
The 52nd annual gathering of The Wheelman, a group dedicated to bicycle heritage on the Katy Trail. Photo by Roger and Jael Crandall
All types of cyclists bike the KATY, both old and young. Photo by Roger and Jael Crandall
All types of cyclists bike the KATY, both old and young. Photo by Roger and Jael Crandall
Here is how the KATY Trail looks, lots of shade to be sure. Photo by Roger Crandall
Here is how the KATY Trail looks, lots of shade to be sure. Photo by Roger Crandall

[Editor’s Note, see also the article, “Missouri Gem: The Katy Trail”, in the July 2013 issue of Cycling Utah on cyclingutah.com]

In summary, is an e-bike for touring in your future?

I think if the Germans in Germany are doing it and the French in France are doing it then we Americans can also ditch the car and go eco-mode when we want to go for all types of trips, both long and short. Well, did I sell out? Not yet, but I do have a great deal on a well-used classic round-the-world touring bike if you still aren’t sold on e-bikes.

 

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Roger – My wife has a Bulls Cross Lite Evo with a Bosch motor and 500 Wh battery. She normally rides in tour but she is only getting 40 some miles on a charge. We want to do some touring but do not feel we will get the distance needed. I am impressed with your mileage fully loaded being 60 miles and having battery left. Granted you are in eco but fully loaded would require more battery demand. I would appreciate any thoughts or suggestions you might have.

  2. As for getting more range on your e-bike you need to have it plugged into a computer and there you can do some adjustments to the factory settings that can help you extend the range. Other than that, you may need to take your lunch stops by a place where you can plug in and get a bit more energy into all of your batteries.

  3. Thanks for the cycling inspiration. I’m 71 and started riding again at 68 after a 50 year sabbatical. I bought a Trek Duel Sport e-bike two years ago and I’ve ridden 2500 miles locally which might seen underachieving but riding season for me is late spring to early fall. Throw in weeks of California smoke downtime and I think I’m doing pretty good on my distance.
    I have had cross country aspirations for sometime but age, distance, and battrry charge anxiety keep getting in the way. There are several articles about e-bike touring but they’re riding self built bikes with custom battery packs and solar panel trailers. Yours is the first article I’ve seen on e-bike touring on a stock factory e-bike. Thanks

  4. I think you should 1st state your personal definition of “touring” before anything else. With so many new invented terms like bike-packing, bike-camping, etc., the term touring means different things to different people. Short day-rides out of your home are fun but most certainly not touring. Just like with any touring bike comfort is important but buying the right size frame is far more important, if you get that right you can make the bike comfortable. Things like tire size, seats, handlebars, etc., can be added or modified after the initial purchase to help fine-tune the bike to your needs. For me, the range was and is most important and the most often exaggerate stat for anyone selling ebikes. I read one today that states 230-mile (in eco-mode) which of course isn’t an outright lie since the bike can be peddled that distance even without the motor. I am sure I will read someone who advertises “unlimited range” someday soon. A great eTouring bike needs big batteries, a single large capacity battery has many advantages over two smaller packs. A pair of large-capacity batteries will allow riders to tour across the country like a Gypsy on dialysis. A pair of large packs and a solar panel will open the door to touring almost anywhere in the world that you want. My record is 22 days without needing to visit any infrastructure to resupply or recharge.

    Quality tour bikes need to carry heavily loaded panniers securely and that means a frame and racks that are designed specifically for that purpose, not just a frame that racks can be bolted to. Adding a motor makes that even more important because you will be ridding both more often, further, with more weight, and over rougher terrain. In my opinion, not one production ebike built today has gotten it right… yet. The market’s too small and the profit isn’t there for manufacturers to bother. Very few want to spend $15K (or more) on an ebike. A quality eTouring bike should be able to carry a large triangle battery in the frame. I use 58.8V 35Ah (2058Wh) lithium packs paired with a 1000W mid-drive which gives me a realistic range of 50 to 100 miles riding with a heavy load (200+ lbs) over rough surfaces and steep inclines. I like that you mentioned most of the areas missed by people that haven’t really toured on an ebike… brakes, fenders, suspension, lights, and tires. I would mention a few more… a dynamo-hub, handlebars, gearing, wheels/spokes, a great charger, premium panniers, both parts and tools necessary to maintain the gear… etc. I have averaged about 6000 miles a year for the last 4 years on my ebike and I don’t believe there isn’t a production ebike built today that is made for much more than weekend bike-packing, bike-camping, or whatever the latest term being used to describe what people have been doing since the late 1800s – https://photos.app.goo.gl/ADgC6oyPM2gyrCq27

    25 Jul 20 – Mowich Lake
    https://www.relive.cc/view/v8qkd2LGdKv
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/hRSTYZ8UjzdpuQ7n8

    26 Jul 20 – Rain Forest trail
    https://www.relive.cc/view/vQvyDGe2W4qhttps://prnt.sc/tsxt5p
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/WcoVAreB4TUdAiPF7
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwwdaVg4Y5M

    Stay safe.

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