Things I learned (or think I've learned) doing e-bike travel this past summer

Mass Deduction

Active Member
I did several big e-bike rides for work this summer, some solo, and some in staff groups. All on reasonably lightweight (43-55 pound) and powerful (63-90 Nm) class-3 mid-drive e-bikes The shortest was 100km each way, with a rest day in between, from southern Vancouver Island to Bellingham Washington, by way of Anacortes. The longest was a 275 km one day round-trip from southern Vancouver Island to North Vancouver and back. I also did other trips, with Southern Vancouver Island to Whistler and back, over two days, being a standout. I have some observations I'd like to share.

I chose to carry multiple batteries, and as many chargers as I had batteries. I didn't always fully drain one battery dead before switching to a second, as I might get a recharge opportunity mid-ride. So you might want to (for example) have two batteries at 40% rather than one at 0% and the other at 80%. So how far you drain one battery before switching to the other is a key strategy.

If you have two or more people who can use the same battery, amalgamate those riders together in your battery charging strategy. Consider how drained the other people's batteries are in deciding when to swap out yours, and in how many batteries of that type that you take. So some communication is recommended here.

The other thing that I found was key was to figure out how many batteries I could get away with, and then take one more battery than that.

Talk to the people who will be at your destination in advance, to make sure you know what bike storage and recharge opportunities you'll have.

If you have the opportunity to purchase faster chargers for your e-bike, that's probably worth the investment. Ditto if you have the opportunity to invest in larger capacity batteries. Remember, you're doing this instead of driving, flying, etc., so don't be afraid to invest in it.

With ferry trips, make sure you get to the ferry early enough so that they let you on before the cars, but whenever you get on the ferry grab all your batteries and chargers and run like stink upstairs and find a base camp to plug them all in for recharging. These are ferry trips in the 1.5 to 3 hour range, for those unfamiliar with the typical length of a ferry trip from Vancouver Island to the mainland, so there's enough to put a significant amount of recharge into an e-bike battery.

Don't be afraid to seed the route with pre-charged spare batteries. Know someone who lives along the route, or have a connection with a business along the way? Ask permission to send them a pre-charged battery and a charger. Why a charger as well? So that you can leave a battery charging there for the return trip, of course! :)

Don't be afraid to seek out a recharge opportunity with branches of businesses that you patronize. For example, I stopped at a branch of a financial institution that I bank with along the route to Whistler. I actually needed to do some banking, but I also hung around for a long while in the lobby with my batteries recharging the whole time. I even left my bike and batteries there during the recharging and briefly hit a grocery store in the same complex. Gauge the situation and guess whether it's better to ask permission, or to just do it and beg forgiveness if necessary. Also have something to do during that time, like stretch, or read, or catch up on work in your mobile office. Make the recharging stops worthwhile rather than wasted time.

I found my average speed was nearly identical for both the solo and the group e-bike rides, and that was true no matter how hard we pushed our bikes on the group rides. But we did find that by taking drafting seriously we could significantly extend our range for the group e-bike rides.

I want to do more long distance travel by e-bike. It's been tremendously enjoyable and rewarding. Some people might find the degree of battery management I engaged in would be crazy-making, but I am a strategist at heart and I enjoyed the charge level management challenge!

In the past my solo bike touring was about 18-19 km/h (over hill and dale, it's hilly here). (A reminder that you divide by 1.61 to approximately convert from km/h to mph.) On a class-3 e-bike I was able to push my solo touring pace to about 35-39 km/h, so approximately double. So that was extremely satisfying. Still slow enough to experience things along the way better than I would if it was a car trip, but fast enough to really get somewhere in a day. My group bicycle touring pace in the past would typically average about 23-25 km/h, but group e-bike touring averaged 33-39 km/h, so closer to 50% faster than by muscle bike. Those numbers may understate the difference, as I was more physically fit in my prime muscle bike touring days, so were I as fit now as I was then I might enjoy an even bigger advantage for the e-bike riding. The solo riding was mostly in high assist, the group riding was taking full advantage of the entire range of assist from low to high, with the person sucking the headwinds usually in medium or high assist and the people drafting often doing so in low or medium.

Maybe this is old hat and discussed to death here, but in case there's something interesting there I thought I'd post it.
 
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6zfshdb

Well-Known Member
Very interesting. Thanks for posting!

Some of what you said has been discussed here before but you suggest a couple of novel approaches like "seeding" batteries along a route.

I do several long distance, multi location bike trips every year but move my bike around by vehicle. I have an inverter installed that will charge two batteries while driving. I have been thinking of doing a bike only long distance trip here in the east. It will likely be the Blue Ridge Parkway. My plan is to pull a trailer with camping gear and a small gas powered generator to charge batteries while I ride. That way, I only need to carry 1 or 2 spare batteries with a charger for each. Gas is readily available on the parkway so only a small container would be required.

I have an old Honda 650W generator but at 40 pounds, it's a bit heavy. I'm looking for something lighter like this one:

42434

It's half the weight of the Honda and puts out a bit more wattage. It also weighs less than 3 spare batteries and costs about a third of a single battery . In addition to charging batteries, it would be useful while camping.
 
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Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
Great post!

There are a lot of "right ways" to tour on an e-bike, and you gave some great insights into one of those "right ways."

I agree 100 percent that you need to learn to charge whenever you can. You also need to be willing to fully charge your batteries, even if that does reduce battery life.

My own tours typically have shorter average days (between 80 and 120km) but I suspect that I end up riding on more atrocious roads and have more elevation gain and loss. Anyway, ride your own ride. For that matter, most long-distance acoustic bike tourers I see seem to be average between 60 and 80 km per day.
 

Stefan Mikes

Well-Known Member
Thank you so much for sharing your views @Mass Deduction! I plan a long trip for next summer (that would be South Poland to far Czech Republic and back, including mountains) so your experience helps a lot!
 

Mass Deduction

Active Member
Very interesting. Thanks for posting!

Some of what you said has been discussed here before but you suggest a couple of novel approaches like "seeding" batteries along a route.[…]
Seeding the route is so valuable, that I'd even be willing to modify the route (or detour off the route) to take advantage of it. Not only are you getting a fresh battery at each point (both ways if it's a round-trip), but you're saving all that extra bulk and weight.

One might even plan a trip around the idea of seeding a route, designing a trip that takes advantage of people/businesses you have a connection with and would be willing to help. Image a long bike trip where you take no spare batteries, you just have to make sure you put your e-bike in a level of assist low enough to be guaranteed that you can make it to the next point where a spare battery is waiting for you. I'm lucky on Vancouver Island that most travel on the island is along a North-South corridor, and that I have connections with several residents and businesses along the way.

So I plan to try to do a one or two battery epic Vancouver Island trip next year. :)
 

rich c

Well-Known Member
Sounds like you are selling batteries. Counting the multiples you carried and seeded on the route, how many battery packs are you talking about for a trip?
 

Mass Deduction

Active Member
Great post!

There are a lot of "right ways" to tour on an e-bike, and you gave some great insights into one of those "right ways."

I agree 100 percent that you need to learn to charge whenever you can. You also need to be willing to fully charge your batteries, even if that does reduce battery life.

My own tours typically have shorter average days (between 80 and 120km) but I suspect that I end up riding on more atrocious roads and have more elevation gain and loss. Anyway, ride your own ride. For that matter, most long-distance acoustic bike tourers I see seem to be average between 60 and 80 km per day.
As a normal state of affairs, I rarely charge above 80% or drain below 20%. On a bike trip, all the rules go out the window and I do whatever is required. What you do any one charge cycle is a small difference to long-term battery health. What you do the majority of charge cycles matters more. So yes, I agree with you 100%.

Back in my prime touring days I could do things like average 155 km a day (just shy of 100 miles a day) for 6 days on a muscle-motor bike (as part of a broader 1600 km/1000 mile ride spread over 12 days, including two rest days). But that was a long time ago, and my muscle bike days are behind me. That doesn't mean I won't use my e-bike in low assist (or even with power assistance turned off) from time to time. I definitely will use low assist/no assist from time to time in extending range, or ride past the assist to gain a major range advantage. But muscle motor exclusively for an entire tour? No, I don't see that in my future. :)
 

Mass Deduction

Active Member
Thank you so much for sharing your views @Mass Deduction! I plan a long trip for next summer (that would be South Poland to far Czech Republic and back, including mountains) so your experience helps a lot!
You're welcome. Touring is some of the most fun I've ever had on a bicycle, so e-bike touring was a natural progression for me.

Sounds like you are selling batteries. Counting the multiples you carried and seeded on the route, how many battery packs are you talking about for a trip?
I'm not selling batteries on these forums. I don't sell anything online at all. It's incredibly rare for someone to buy a second battery for an e-bike in my experience. Shimano sells bikes that can get as much as 95 km on high assist (195 km on Eco). That'll be either an E5000 or an E6100 motor with a 504 Wh battery. So if someone wants super long range, we just sell them a bike that is super long range on a single battery. No second battery required. I have a passion for bike touring, but that's not something a high percentage of e-bike purchasers are going to do. Most people are either doing short trips, or riding recreationally for longer (but still not beyond a single charge).

To answer your question, the longest ride I did was the 275 km one, and that was a three battery ride (one on the bike, one in my bike bag, and one pre-seeded along the route).

Oh, I forgot to mention in my original post that I also did a 160km gran fondo (Ryder Hesjedal's Tour de Victoria) last summer, to add to the list of long-distance e-bike rides. That was also a three battery ride, but that was because it was my first time and I didn't know what to expect. Knowing what I know now I could comfortably do the Tour de Victoria on two batteries, and could probably do it on one battery with careful battery management (including riding some segments with the motor turned off, since I'm drafting much of the time). The Tour de Victoria was another example of having a battery seeded along the route, as the route passes my bike shop and I pit-stopped there and changed batteries. :)
 

Mass Deduction

Active Member
Sounds like you are selling batteries. Counting the multiples you carried and seeded on the route, how many battery packs are you talking about for a trip?
Thinking about your comment, I can only re-iterate that I don't own a car so I spare no expense when it comes to e-bikes. The Canadian Automobile Association estimates that the average Canadian car owner spends $9500 a year on car expenses (but thinks they only spend $4500, so I guess balancing the chequebook is truly a lost art!). So whether it's buying extra batteries or accessorizing with nice gear, it's all money in the bank vs. owning a car. I'd buy 5 spare batteries if that's what I needed, so long as it was an alternative to driving, flying, or something else equally expensive.
 

Mike TowpathTraveler

Well-Known Member
Very interesting. Thanks for posting!

Some of what you said has been discussed here before but you suggest a couple of novel approaches like "seeding" batteries along a route.

I do several long distance, multi location bike trips every year but move my bike around by vehicle. I have an inverter installed that will charge two batteries while driving. I have been thinking of doing a bike only long distance trip here in the east. It will likely be the Blue Ridge Parkway. My plan is to pull a trailer with camping gear and a small gas powered generator to charge batteries while I ride. That way, I only need to carry 1 or 2 spare batteries with a charger for each. Gas is readily available on the parkway so only a small container would be required.

I have an old Honda 650W generator but at 40 pounds, it's a bit heavy. I'm looking for something lighter like this one:

View attachment 42434

It's half the weight of the Honda and puts out a bit more wattage. It also weighs less than 3 spare batteries and costs about a third of a single battery . In addition to charging batteries, it would be useful while camping.
I really, really, really like this idea! I've had the idea of doing some long distance touring rides on my Haibike. I bought two 500wh batteries over the spring and summer of 2019 that would increase my mileage potential. However, at the end of the day, the question would always come around to charging up what I have used on the road.

A lightweight inverter generator like this means no more anxiety over finding somewhere to plug in. Heck, the batteries could be charged even during the day while one is pedaling. All that is needed is a trailer, a small gas tank and your good to go.

As Ebiking is the pedal bicycle redefined, the ability to charge our batteries adds another different dimension to Ebike Touring and the ability to be truly self sustaining; without dependency to others folks when the need for recharging comes up while on the road. Equipment like this, as well as our ebikes themselves, wow, we are living in some great times!
 

Mass Deduction

Active Member
I really, really, really like this idea! I've had the idea of doing some long distance touring rides on my Haibike. I bought two 500wh batteries over the spring and summer of 2019 that would increase my mileage potential. However, at the end of the day, the question would always come around to charging up what I have used on the road.

A lightweight inverter generator like this means no more anxiety over finding somewhere to plug in. Heck, the batteries could be charged even during the day while one is pedaling. All that is needed is a trailer, a small gas tank and your good to go.

As Ebiking is the pedal bicycle redefined, the ability to charge our batteries adds another different dimension to Ebike Touring and the ability to be truly self sustaining; without dependency to others folks when the need for recharging comes up while on the road. Equipment like this, as well as our ebikes themselves, wow, we are living in some great times!
We do live in some great times. :)

I've never taken a gas generator with me, so I've always had to look for a "friendly" wall outlet (friendly in the sense that no one minds us using it). One trick is to stop at a restaurant and find a booth that has a power outlet in the wall underneath the table. Eat and patronize their services while your batteries charge back up! I've never once had a restaurant object.

Finding friendly outlets has never been a challenge for me when touring, so long as you're buying their products or services, but that was mostly for recharging lights in the past. Recharging e-bike batteries is a new dimension. I may take a power bar next time (the kind that gives you a bunch of outlets, not the kind that you eat!).
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
I'm going to go into the weeds on some technical issues about using small generators. If this stuff bores you my apologies.

I for one would love to hear from anyone who has made one of these small generators work for them on a long e-bike tour.

The run time, fuel usage, and overall lifetime of these generators depends greatly on how hard they are used and how well-maintained they are. With most of them you should expect to change the oil frequently, and completely overhaul them somewhat less frequently. Very few of the small (under 1000w) generators are designed for continuous use, and you shouldn't expect either the lifespan or the maintenance intervals of such small generators to be comparable to larger generators used for RVs or backup power for homes.

The very small generators have tiny oil reservoirs and a very small safety factor, so you need to religiously and fussily check the oil (an easy process) before operating them (in general you should check the oil every time you refuel the generator). My own experience with such small generators is that all of them burn oil to some extent, so I'd assume that you'd be taking engine oil with you on the trip. Oil-change intervals typically range from 40 to 200 hours (although I've found it strongly biased towards the lower end of that range), so depending on how long your trip is and how much charging you are doing you might well be doing oil changes on your trip. Which isn't an exactly convenient process to do in a campground.

Depending on the model of generator, how hard you run it, and how dirty the environment you are running your generator in you will need to periodically overhaul the generator. That process is beyond my skill set and I suspect that if you were on a very long trip (e.g. across North America or from the lower 48 to Alaska) you'd probably need to do so at least once. And spare parts for a lot of those generators aren't exactly easy to find.

So for my money and tour choices (at this point) I will probably continue to look for outlets along the way.
 

Mass Deduction

Active Member
[...]
So for my money and tour choices (at this point) I will probably continue to look for outlets along the way.
Wow, great post!

Unlike an electric car that typically can't charge at any power outlet you want, an e-bike has the advantage that it can charge at pretty much any power outlet. The fact that you can charge multiple batteries simultaneously if you bring multiple chargers (and a power bar if necessary), and the fact that you can get up to at least 80% in 2.5 hours or less on most e-bikes, make this the right solution for most e-cyclists I think.

That said, a small portable generator could be a winner if you were bikepacking, maybe? But anywhere you could buy gas, you could probably ask/pay for use of a power outlet too. So, yes, it really is hard to see the power outlet not being the best solution.

But it doesn't have to be either/or. If you're willing to tow the generator around with you, you could use it as a back up if nothing else works for some reason.
 

JRA

Well-Known Member
Given the regs regarding shipping batteries I don't see the likelihood of salting batteries along a route being realistic but one must remember that touring is not racing and part of the trip is about planning your route for maximum enjoyment. Find places of interest perhaps that you wouldn't mind hanging around for a bit anyway to charge at? At least bring a good book. Fast chargers help too

For long distance touring I personally think a BOB trailer is the way to go. You could have your full charging station and extra batteries on board and if you found a secure enough charging spot uncouple it and cruise around on your bike battery-less while you are waiting.
 

6zfshdb

Well-Known Member
I'm going to go into the weeds on some technical issues about using small generators. If this stuff bores you my apologies.

I for one would love to hear from anyone who has made one of these small generators work for them on a long e-bike tour.

The run time, fuel usage, and overall lifetime of these generators depends greatly on how hard they are used and how well-maintained they are. With most of them you should expect to change the oil frequently, and completely overhaul them somewhat less frequently. Very few of the small (under 1000w) generators are designed for continuous use, and you shouldn't expect either the lifespan or the maintenance intervals of such small generators to be comparable to larger generators used for RVs or backup power for homes.

The very small generators have tiny oil reservoirs and a very small safety factor, so you need to religiously and fussily check the oil (an easy process) before operating them (in general you should check the oil every time you refuel the generator). My own experience with such small generators is that all of them burn oil to some extent, so I'd assume that you'd be taking engine oil with you on the trip. Oil-change intervals typically range from 40 to 200 hours (although I've found it strongly biased towards the lower end of that range), so depending on how long your trip is and how much charging you are doing you might well be doing oil changes on your trip. Which isn't an exactly convenient process to do in a campground.

Depending on the model of generator, how hard you run it, and how dirty the environment you are running your generator in you will need to periodically overhaul the generator. That process is beyond my skill set and I suspect that if you were on a very long trip (e.g. across North America or from the lower 48 to Alaska) you'd probably need to do so at least once. And spare parts for a lot of those generators aren't exactly easy to find.

So for my money and tour choices (at this point) I will probably continue to look for outlets along the way.
Although most of what you say is true, I'd like to add that my small Honda generator has been running smoothly for over 20 years now. I've changed the oil every year and replaced the spark plug twice. It was used mainly aboard my father's boat to power lights and charge batteries while at anchor. It was run all night, every night during two or three week cruises. That being said, Honda is a quality manufacturer. The same performance may not be achievable with other brands.
 

6zfshdb

Well-Known Member
The concept of a tow behind generator is nothing new and has been discussed here in several threads. IMO, it's use is limited to certain types of long distance touring such as off grid or camping trips where recharging via commercial power isn't an option. I can also see it being popular with those who pride themselves on being self sufficient.

Although I enjoy camping, most of the trips I take involve staying at bike friendly hotels roughly 50 - 75 miles apart. At my age, that is my endurance limit for a single day's pedal assisted travel. I can easily do that distance with two batteries which I charge overnight at the hotel. As others have mentioned, there is always the option of interim charging at commercial establishments along the way.
 

Chancelucky2

Active Member
Isn't this essentially turning an e=bike into some version of a Chevy Volt? If the generator's small enough and reliable enough, I imagine it'll work, but adding a trailer and a generator can't be the most elegant solution. It does have the advantage of charging your batteries while you ride though. My car happens to be a Prius and it's served me well.
There's been talk for some time of a fuel cell type solution for laptops. IT may make even more sense for e-bikes, though it would be an e+whatever the fuel is bike instead of an e-bike.
one reason the fuel cell for laptops hasn't made more progress is that they started making laptops with an 8-9 hour battery life which covered most users who weren't in the wilderness. My take is that point for e-bikes will come when you can go 70 miles in one charge at the "tour" instead of the "eco" mode (sorry to speak Bosch). That makes 100 miles in a day very doable on a single battery, assuming you can find a place to charge. In the alternative, a very fast charging mode (an hour or less) might also do it. These things might not be that far off.
 

Mass Deduction

Active Member
Given the regs regarding shipping batteries I don't see the likelihood of salting batteries along a route being realistic but one must remember that touring is not racing and part of the trip is about planning your route for maximum enjoyment. Find places of interest perhaps that you wouldn't mind hanging around for a bit anyway to charge at? At least bring a good book. Fast chargers help too

For long distance touring I personally think a BOB trailer is the way to go. You could have your full charging station and extra batteries on board and if you found a secure enough charging spot uncouple it and cruise around on your bike battery-less while you are waiting.
I actually did it for multiple trips this year. They were trips that started from home, so I was able to meet up with people in advance. Yes, I'm not suggesting you seed a route with batteries in New Zealand if you live in Canada. :D These would be close to home tours where seeding the route with spare batteries would make the most sense.

Even if you don't have the chance to do it in advance, perhaps you could at least drop depleted batteries and chargers off as you go, and pick them up recharged and ready to go during the return trip.
 

JRA

Well-Known Member
"Yes, I'm not suggesting you seed a route with batteries in New Zealand if you live in Canada."

Legally UN 3480 shipping requirements must be met here in the U.S., not sure about CA., to send a battery to your neighbor across the street if you use USPS, UPS, FedEx etc.. I wasn't considering international shipping at all with my statement.
 

Mass Deduction

Active Member
"Yes, I'm not suggesting you seed a route with batteries in New Zealand if you live in Canada."

Legally UN 3480 shipping requirements must be met here in the U.S., not sure about CA., to send a battery to your neighbor across the street if you use USPS, UPS, FedEx etc.. I wasn't considering international shipping at all with my statement.
Fair enough, but you didn't address the substance of my comment. My suggestion of seeding the route can take on two forms: either visiting the route itself in advance (dropping batteries off with people), or leave with a lot of batteries and drop them off as you go (leaving chargers as well, so that you can use them on the return trip).

I found your dismissal of the idea as impractical kind of strange when I reported that I had done it multiple times this summer. It could be as little as a single battery left in advance with a relative who lives along the anticipated route, and that alone could be a big boon to a trip.