E-bike travel trend pt3: best practice tips on bikes & batteries
By: Susanne Brüsch
The growing popularity of e-bike travel opens up new opportunities for a variety of business fields; the bicycle industry, bike dealerships and the tourism industry in particular. Experienced e-bike traveler and head of Pedelec Adventures, Susanne Brüsch, provides insight into the needs and challenges that both, private travelers and tour operators face when planning and riding longer e-bike tours. She shares her best practices regarding bikes, components, battery management and e-bike transport.
A central topic on each e-bike tour is the selection of the right equipment, including the bike and components while taking topography, road and climate conditions into account. The availability of infrastructure, such as power outlets to charge the batteries has a big impact on the planning the route, timing, and required energy supplies.
Bike & Parts
When it comes to the selection of the right bike, there are important aspects to look at, for example: Touring bike or mountain bike? Center or rear hub motor? Fully or hardtail? Belt or chain? Gear hub or crank-set?
A lot of this is a matter of personal preference or compatibility of the components. The good thing about touring bikes is that they already have everything you need on a longer journey, such as lights, mud guards, rack and kick-stand. Some dedicated touring bikes even offer a second battery or a clever holder for the drinking bottle. For customers who prefer a mountainbike because of it’s geometry of the freedom to go on any terrain, bike packing gear or a detachable rear (and front) rack make easily turn an EMTB into a fully functional touring bike.
Regarding the drive system, there is a clear trend towards mid motors. I have done trips in Morocco and Iceland with rear hub motors and trips in Europe, USA and Mongolia with center motors. And I had good experiences with both position and both systems have their advantages. A mid motor allows for a better weight balance and the big suppliers usually offer a better service network. A hub motor, instead, allows recuperation. Thanks to that, I could give my hands and brakes a break and recharge the battery on long downhill rides.
As on any long ride, what matters most, is that the bike fits the rider well. Seat and grips are the most critical. And yes, even as a women I agree, that comfort is more important than style in this respect. And I also found that mudguards do make sense: Even if they destroy the lovely naked optics, they save a lot of cleaning. Not only the clothes but also the bike bags if they are kept inside the tent over night. Good lights are a must-have, just like a good lock, multi-tool, spare tubes, prepare kit and a small hand pump (make sure it’s a good one!). Dealers should never forget to offer a smartphone-holder for the handlebar to their customers with the up-sell of a waterproof cover, especially if it is used for navigation.
A handlebar bag is perfect to store all the things that the rider needs quick and easy access to, like a power bank for the smartphone, action cam (+ spare batteries!), snacks (energy bars, nuts, dried fruit), sun screen etc.
What definitely needs to be on each trip, is a good rain jacket and pants. Apart from rain, they protect against wind chill and on an e-bike you will be chilly a lot quicker. For any personal equipment I’d say: Take as little as possible and as much as needed. Best is small, light-weight, robust and waterproof.
Range & Charging
A 400 Wh Lithium-Ion battery, in my experience, lasts for 50-60 km. That is with full luggage (app 25 kg), on mixed terrain and with medium assistance. Weight has an extreme influence on range. As rule of thumb I found: 30 kg more weight means you have to switch one assistance mode (of 4) down to reach about the same range. Lithium batteries don’t like the cold very much, but depending on the chemistry and the brand, they react differently when the outside temperature (especially while charging) falls under 10°C. For trips over 50 km it is always advisable to take one or two spare batteries depending on the total daily distance. in Europe, where the next power outlet is never really far - be it in a restaurant, cafe, ho(s)tel or campsite, it is often enough to take a charger. In remote areas, the route needs to be well planned and if energy supplies are tight, it is advisable to adapt a riding style that is more energy efficient.
In areas with a lot of sun, a solar trailer can be a good range-extender or a solution to travel fully self-sufficient. To this date I don’t know of any manufacturer that offers a charging system that’s optimized for the use on a bicycle, meaning efficient and light-weight at the same time. But there is a small travel charger that dealers can use to provide a custom built solution for their clients.
For private use, electric bikes can be transported in cars, busses (not FlixBus) or on trains (local and long-distance trains, not on high-speed trains). If a customer wants to take his or her own ebike on a flight trip, it has to be shipped separately, as hazardous good. Alternatively, e-bike tourists can either rent a bike from a dealer at location or try to rent a battery, if they use a popular system. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has prohibited the transport of e-bike batteries in passenger airplanes.
For commercial use, e-bike batteries have to be shipped as hazardous goods, no matter if by land, sea or air. There are specialized shipping and packaging companies who offer this service. So do many regular shipping companies such as DHL, TNT etc.
There is still a lot of room to develop and optimize international network, rental and shipping services for customers in this field.