Thinking about taking a bike tour with your e-bike? This guide explains everything you need to know about electric bike touring. We’ll cover range, charging on the road, e-bike maintenance, cost, transporting an e-bike, batteries, e-bike reliability, and more. We’ll also talk about the different types of e-bikes available and list a few of the best electric bikes for touring. Hopefully, this guide makes your first e-bike tour a little easier.
Table of Contents
- What is an Electric Touring Bike
- Pros and Cons of Touring With an Electric Bike
- E-Bike Range
- Charging Your E-Bike on the Road
- E-Bike Reliability
- E-Bike Maintenance
- Transporting an Electric Bike
- E-Bike Prices
- The Legality of E-Bikes
- E-Bike Classes
- Pedal Assist Vs Throttle
- Mid-Drive Vs Hub Motor
- Torque Sensors Vs Cadence Sensors
- E-Bike Motors
- E-Bike Batteries
- How to Choose an Electric Bike for Touring
- Preparing an E-Bike for a Tour
- The Best Electric Touring Bikes
- E-Bike Conversion Kits
- The Best Locations for E-Bike Touring
What is an Electric Touring Bike?
An electric bike, or e-bike, is a bicycle with an electric motor that assists the rider as they pedal. E-bikes can assist the rider up hills and against headwinds. The motor also allows you to maintain higher speeds. Most e-bikes are capable of cruising at 20 mph. Some models can go as fast as 28 mph. This makes e-bikes ideal for cycle touring. With an e-bike, you can cover more ground each day without tiring out.
A number of different electric bike designs exist. Most e-bikes offer a pedal assist feature that provides power only when the rider is pedaling. Some e-bikes have a throttle that can be used without pedaling. This allows you to ride without using any of your own energy.
Most electric bikes have a hub motor in the front or rear wheel. Some models have a mid-drive motor built into the frame. A range of motor sizes are available.
The battery typically mounts to the frame. For bike touring, you’ll want a large battery to give you more range. Most e-bikes come with removable batteries that can be easily charged at hotels, restaurants, campgrounds, rest stops, and other businesses as you travel.
Electric bikes often come equipped with additional features such as lights and fenders. You can also add on your favorite bike touring luggage such as panniers and racks, bikepacking bags, or a trailer.
Benefits of Electric Bikes
E-bikes make it easier to cycle up hills and into headwinds.
You can travel further and faster with less effort on an electric bike.
Riding an electric bike allows you to complete a longer bike tour in less time. If you usually ride 50 miles per day while touring, you may be able to cover 70 miles per day with an e-bike. This is nice if you only have a limited amount of time to tour.
You’ll have more energy for sightseeing when you arrive at your destination because riding an e-bike isn’t as tiring.
E-bikes allow those with certain disabilities or medical conditions to ride who otherwise wouldn’t be able to. For example, those with back or neck injuries, asthma, knee pain, etc. can ride an e-bike.
Two cyclists with different levels of fitness can cycle together. One can use more assist than the other to match speeds.
E-bikes are environmentally friendly. They don’t emit Co2 like gas-powered vehicles.
There is less regulation to deal with. You don’t need a license, permit, or any other documents to ride an e-bike
Drawbacks of Electric Bikes
Electric bikes are complex. They have a battery, electric motor, computer, sensors, wiring, handlebar controls, and more. These are fragile electronic components. There are more parts that can break while you’re on the road.
Electric bikes are heavy. Most weigh 20-30 kg. To compare, an average touring bike weighs 10-20 kg. You won’t want to ride your e-bike very far without using the motor.
You need to charge your touring e-bike. This can dictate your route. You can’t ride through remote areas where there is no electricity.
You might avoid interesting backroads and only stick to main roads because finding a place to charge is easier. You’ll stick to developed areas.
If your battery dies, you have to ride with the extra weight of the motor and battery.
It’s difficult to fly with an e-bike. Large lithium-ion batteries aren’t allowed on planes. Some train and bus companies also ban e-bike batteries.
It takes a long time to charge an electric bike battery. You can’t ride for 4-6 hours while the battery is charging.
E-bikes are significantly more expensive than regular bikes.
There are proprietary parts that can be difficult to find in some parts of the world.
The legal status of e-bikes varies. Your e-bike may be illegal in some countries depending on the design.
E-bikes can’t handle extremely cold weather. When temperatures drop below freezing, your battery will run out of power quickly.
E-bikes are difficult to carry up stairs or over fences because they are so heavy.
Electric bikes are sensitive to moisture. If some water makes its way into your motor or electrical system, it can ruin the bike.
E-bikes have a stigma in the bike touring community. Some bicycle tourists think it’s lazy or cheating to ride an electric bike.
For more general info, check out my guide to the pros and cons of electric bikes.
The range is the distance you can travel before you have to recharge the battery. The range you get out of your e-bike depends on a number of factors including the size of the battery, the size of the motor, how much pedal assist you use, your weight, the bike’s weight, the weight of your luggage, the wind, how hilly the road is, the road surface, the motor design, tire pressure, aerodynamics, and more. Your range could be anywhere from 10 miles to 200 miles.
On a flat road in calm conditions, an e-bike with a 250w motor can carry you along at around 15 mph (25km/h) if you’re using a medium level of assist. With a 400 Wh battery, you could maintain this speed for around 60 miles (100 km) before the battery runs out of power. This gives you a full day of riding on one charge. You can charge the bike overnight and set off with a full charge in the morning.
There are a number of ways to increase the range of your electric touring bike. You could achieve a longer range by lowering the level of assist and pedaling harder. Most e-bikes offer an eco mode that only provides a small amount of assistance. You could install a larger battery that stores more power. Alternatively, you could carry a second battery and swap the batteries out when one dies. Some e-bikes have a dual battery option. These models often offer over 100 miles of range. Another option is to carry less stuff to reduce the weight of your loaded touring bike. A lighter bike has a longer range.
You can also use the motor selectively to save power. For example, you can ride flat sections without assist and then turn the pedal assist on when climbing a hill or riding into a headwind. You can also coast downhills. If you use the battery only when you need it, you can get more than a full day of riding on a single charge.
Some direct-drive hub motor e-bikes also feature regenerative braking. This technology allows you to use the bike’s kinetic energy to charge your battery while braking or descending hills. This can improve your range by around 5 percent.
Charging on the Road
To charge your e-bike’s battery, you will need to regularly find power outlets. This is one of the biggest annoyances of cycle touring on an electric bike. You’re always on the lookout for a place to plug in and charge.
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to find a place to charge your e-bike. Most electric bike tourists charge their battery at night at a hotel, motel, hostel, guesthouse, or campground. If you plug the bike in overnight, it will be fully charged by the morning.
You can also charge your electric bike during the day at bars, restaurants, supermarkets, churches, gas stations, public bathrooms, convenience stores, etc. Most businesses will let you plug your bike in for a few minutes if you ask nicely. While touring, you have to get in the habit of looking for outlets and asking if you can charge your bike.
On average, it takes around 3-5 hours to charge an e-bike battery completely. On most e-bikes, a full battery will take you 25-60 miles. If you plug in and charge during lunch, you might be able to get a half charge. This can take you another 20-30 miles down the road.
If you plan to travel through remote areas where there are long distances between towns and bike camping at night, you may have trouble keeping your bike charged. At this time, e-bikes aren’t ideal for this style of bike touring. When you tour with an e-bike, you need to stay close enough to civilization so you can find a place to plug in every day.
While touring with an e-bike, you may not be able to go bike camping as often because you won’t have any place to charge your bike. You can’t really wild camp, unless you have a really long range. Many campgrounds also don’t have power.
At some point, your battery will run out of power and you won’t have any place to charge your bike. In this case, you’ll just have to pedal under your own power. Alternatively, you can carry an extra battery as a backup.
When choosing an electric bike for touring, try to choose a model with a removable battery. This way, you can lock your touring bike up outside and take the battery inside with you to charge. This gives you many more options for charging. You also have the option to swap batteries out if you choose.
Can You Charge an Electric bike with a Solar Panel?
Yes. It is possible to charge an electric bike with a solar panel. At this time, you can’t get an unlimited range with solar charging. You will use up your battery faster than the solar panels can recharge it.
With a 100w solar panel, it is possible to produce 300-600Wh of energy in a day. That’s enough to charge an average e-bike battery completely full. Of course, the panels will have to sit in direct sunlight all day.
People do use solar to charge their e-bike. For example, this guy installed two 50w solar panels on his e-bike. These guys used solar power to ride their e-bikes across the United States.
If you wanted to charge your e-bike with solar alone, you would have to rig a trailer with several solar panels. This is possible but not really practical.
Electric Bike Reliability
Modern e-bikes are incredibly reliable. The electrical system is sealed to keep rain, snow, sand, dust, mud, and other contaminants out. E-bikes can handle shocks and vibrations from the road. The motor and battery can handle temperatures ranging from 32°F to 113°F (0°C to 45°C).
People have successfully ridden e-bikes across continents. For example, this couple circumnavigated the United States on e-bikes. E-bikes can stand up to some serious use and abuse. They aren’t fragile.
Having said this, not all e-bikes are reliable enough for touring. If you plan to do any serious bike touring, you’ll need a higher-end e-bike. Entry-level models come with electrical systems that may not be sealed very well. Moisture can cause electrical issues. Shocks and vibrations can shake parts loose. Cheap batteries can discharge quickly in temperatures around 40℉ or 5℃. Low-end e-bikes aren’t reliable enough for bike touring.
Even if you ride the best electric bike on the market, you can experience some reliability issues. A wire could shake loose, some moisture could make its way into a poorly sealed part of the electical system, or your battery could run out of power in the middle of nowhere. It helps to have some basic electrical knowledge while touring on an e-bike so you can diagnose potential problems.
It’s important to note that electric bikes generally don’t handle moisture well. In most cases, the motor and electrical system is water resistant, not waterproof. You can ride an electric bike in light rain but you can’t ride it across a stream. If some water makes its way into your motor or control unit, the electrical system can fail. You should avoid riding your e-bike in heavy rains or through puddles. Always cover your touring bike at night so it doesn’t get rained on.
E-bikes require the same maintenance as any other bike. You’ll have to periodically clean and lube the chain, keep the tires aired up, grease the bearings, and check for loose bolts and broken spokes. Wearable parts including the tires, chain, brake pads, brake cables, cassette, and chainring will need to be replaced when they wear out. Every day before riding, you should give your touring bike a quick lookover and test the brakes.
Some parts can wear out faster on an electric bike than on a standard bike. This is because e-bikes travel at higher speeds and cover more distance each day. Mid-drive e-bikes also transmit power through the chain. This can put additional wear and tear on the drivetrain. You may need to replace the tires, chain, brake pads, and cassette more often than you’re used to when you ride an e-bike. On a mid-drive e-bike, a chain may only last 1000-2000 miles. You can buy e-bike-specific chains that are more durable.
The motor, battery, and electrical system don’t really require any maintenance. The electrical system is completely sealed. To help keep contaminants out of the motor, you should wash dirt and grime off of your e-bike. Once in a while, clean off the charging port and battery connections.
If your e-bike has a geared hub motor or a mid-drive motor, you may have to replace the internal planetary gears at some point. Over time, the plastic gears can wear down. When they wear out, the motor becomes noisy. In most cases, you can simply swap out the gears. You may have to take the bike to a shop to have this service done.
To maximize the life of your e-bike’s battery, you should only charge it with the charger that came with your e-bike. Don’t use a fast charger. Always keep the battery partially charged. Avoid storing your electric touring bike with a low or dead battery. The battery is one of the most expensive parts of your e-bike. You want to take care of it to get the most life out of it.
For more info on e-bike maintenance, check out this great guide.
Transporting Your Electric Bike
Transporting an electric bike is more difficult than transporting a regular bike. The reason is that you can’t fly with an ebike. The maximum size of lithium-ion battery that is allowed on airplanes is 100Wh (watt-hours). An average touring electric bike has a 400Wh or larger battery.
Large lithium-ion batteries are not allowed on airplanes because they are flammable. If they are not properly packed or stored, they could burst into flames and create a fire. Battery fires are difficult to extinguish. This makes it difficult to transport an e-bike to the starting point of your tour.
It is still possible to transport an e-bike. One option is to fly with the bike and ship the battery to your destination separately. To do this, you will need to properly pack and label the battery. You’ll also have to use a shipping service that has experience shipping lithium batteries. There is also some paperwork involved in shipping dangerous goods. All major shipping companies, including UPS and FedEx, will accept lithium batteries if they’re packed and labeled properly. You may need to have the battery professionally packed by the shipping company. Electric bike batteries can be shipped by land, air, or sea as long as they are properly packed.
Another option is to travel to your starting point by bus or train. Most bus and train companies allow e-bikes as checked luggage. There are usually no restrictions on batteries. You may have to pay an oversized baggage fee or a bicycle fee. You should check with the bus or train company first. E-bikes are not permitted on some buses or trains.
Alternatively, you could take private transport. You could pack your e-bike in your car and drive to your starting point.
Of course, you could also simply start your tour from your home and make a round trip. This way, you don’t have to worry about transporting your bike. Only bike touring around your home is somewhat limiting.
If you need to transport your e-bike frequently, you may consider a folding model. Electric folding bikes pack down into a much more compact form. This allows you to take them on public transport busses and trains in many cities. It’s also easy to load a folding bike into the trunk of a car or taxi. Of course, you will still have to deal with the battery if you need to fly with your bike. For more info, check out my guide to the pros and cons of folding bikes.
Electric Touring Bike Prices
Electric bikes are more expensive than regular bikes. For touring, you should look for an electric bike that is mid-range or high-end. Ebikes that are suitable for touring start at around $1500. If you want to buy a higher-end ebike with a premium Bosch performance line mid-drive motor, torque sensors pedal assist, and multiple batteries, you’re looking at spending $3000-$5000. High-end ebikes cost around $4000-$6000. Top-of-the-line ebikes can cost as much as $10,000. For most people, $3000-$4000 is a good budget for a touring ebike.
If you’re on a tight budget, one option is to convert your existing touring bike into an ebike. Installing a conversion kit on your bike is far cheaper than buying a new ebike. Entry-level ebike conversion kits start at around $300. High-end ebike conversion kits max out at around $2500.
Low-end conversion kits aren’t reliable or durable enough for bike touring. At a minimum, you’ll want to go with a mid-range kit in the $700-$1000 range. These kits come with quality components and batteries that are suitable for bike touring.
Ebike conversion kits include the motor, control unit, handlebar-mounted display, pedal assist sensors, and wiring. Some models include the battery and sometimes you have to buy the battery separately.
You will need to consider the cost of the battery when buying a conversion kit. A quality electric bike battery costs around $500-$800. Complete ebikes include the battery. Conversion kits often do not.
If you go with a conversion kit, you will need a decent bike to install the kit on. A quality touring bike costs around $1000-$2500. For more info, check out my guide to choosing a touring bike.
Many bicycle tourists travel with an extra battery. This can double your range. A second battery is expensive. Add another $500-$800 to your budget if you want to carry a second battery.
The Legality of Electric Bikes
Electric bikes are not legal everywhere. There is a complex legal landscape with different ebike laws. The laws vary from country to country and state to state. Some cities even have their own ebike laws.
The legality of ebikes can depend on a number of factors including the motor size, the maximum speed, and the type of controls the bike has.
When touring you must research the legislation where you plan to ride to ensure that your electric bike is compliant with local laws. If you don’t comply, you could be fined or your bike could be confiscated.
Before choosing an ebike for touring, you’ll want to think about where you’re going to ride it. Research the local laws regarding ebikes in the region you plan to tour.
In many countries, the maximum ebike motor size to 250W. This is common in Europe. In some places, the max motor size is 500W, 750W, or 1000W.
Oftentimes the maximum speed is limited as well. Usually, the maximum speed is 20 mph or 32 kph. In some jurisdictions, the maximum speed is 28 mph or 45 kph. The maximum ebike speed is just 15 mph or 25 kph in much of Europe.
In many countries, only pedal assist ebikes are allowed. Ebikes that have a throttle are not allowed. Some countries regulate ebikes by classes. I’ll outline the three ebike classes in the following section.
If you want to have the option to ride the bike pretty much anywhere in the world, look for a model with a 250w motor and a pedal assist system without a throttle. The bike should have a maximum speed of 15 mph or 25 kph. These are known as class 1 ebikes. They are legal almost everywhere. Most cities treat them the same as regular bicycles.
If you plan to tour in the United States, you can use an ebike with a maximum motor size of 750W and a top speed of 20 mph or 32 kph. The bike shouldn’t have a throttle. A bike with these specifications will be legal in most states.
If you ride an illegal electric bike, you’re to get caught. Police usually aren’t focused on ebikes. The problem is that you could be held liable if you’re involved in an accident because you were breaking the law. It’s best to always tour on a legal ebike.
Electric Bike Classes
Electric bikes are categorized into classes. The class indicates the type of power delivery system the ebike has (pedal-assist or throttle) and the maximum speed that the motor supplies power. There are three classes of ebikes:
Class 1 e-bikes- These ebikes offer pedal assist only. They are limited to a maximum speed of 20 mph (32 kph). After you reach 20mph, the power trails off to zero. At that point, you can only pedal the ebike like a normal non-powered bike. When your speed drops below 20 mph, the pedal assist activates again. Class 1 ebikes can use torque sensors, cadence sensors, or both. For most riders, class 1 ebikes are the best choice for bike touring because they are legal in most jurisdictions.
Class 2 e-bikes- These ebikes feature a throttle. Most models also offer pedal assist but they don’t have to. Class 2 ebikes are also limited to a max speed of 20 mph (32 kph). After you reach 20 mph, the power trails off to zero. You can also pedal without using the motor. When your speed drops 20 mph the threshold, the throttle starts working again. Class 2 ebikes can work well for bike touring but they are illegal in some countries.
Class 3 e-bikes- These powerful ebikes have a maximum speed of 28 mph (45 kph). They can have a throttle, pedal assist, or both. After you reach 28 mph, the power trails off to zero. You can also pedal without using power. When your speed drops below 28 mph, the throttle or pedal assist activates again. These ebikes are not ideal for touring because they are illegal or require licensing in many places.
Pedal Assist Vs Throttle Control E-bikes for Touring
Electric bikes can have either pedal assist, a throttle, or both. For bike touring, pedal assist is almost always the better option. In this section, I’ll outline both systems and lay out some pros and cons.
For more in-depth info, check out my guide to pedal assist vs throttle e-bikes.
Pedal Assist E-bikes
Pedal assist e-bikes only provide power when you pedal. You activate the pedal assist system by pedaling the bike normally. A torque or cadence sensor measures your pedaling input and signals the motor when to engage and disengage.
The motor engages automatically and assists you by making pedaling easier. The motor only provides part of the pedaling power. You must provide pedaling power as well. When you stop pedaling, the motor cuts off automatically.
There are usually 3-5 different pedal assist levels to choose from. Level one or ‘eco mode’ only supplies a small amount of assistance. The highest setting supplies maximum power. On the lowest level, you provide most of the pedaling power. On the highest setting, the motor provides most of the power.
Quality pedal assist ebikes feel natural to ride. There is no delay between when you start pedaling and when the motor kicks in. These systems are incredibly responsive.
Pedal assist is also easy to use. There are no additional controls that you have to worry about. You simply pedal normally. It’s intuitive. Perhaps most importantly, pedal assist systems are legal in most places.
There are two types of pedal assist systems: torque sensors and cadence sensors. For bike touring, torque sensors are better.
Torque sensor pedal assist systems measure how hard you’re pedaling. The computer varies the power delivery based on how hard you’re pedaling. These systems are efficient and responsive.
Lower-end pedal assist systems use cadence sensors. These sensors measure if you are pedaling. The power delivery on these systems can feel a bit less smooth. Sometimes there is a lag or surge of power when you start pedaling.
Throttle Controlled E-bikes
Throttle controlled ebikes operate like a motorcycle or scooter. There is a handlebar-mounted control that allows you to choose the amount of power you need. The control can be a twist grip, a thumb lever, or a simple button. A throttle allows you to ride the ebike without pedaling. Kind of like riding a moped or motorcycle. The bike can do all of the work for you. Most throttle controlled ebikes also offer pedal assist.
These throttle systems are responsive and cheap to implement. There are a number of drawbacks that make throttle systems not ideal for bike touring. Most importantly, throttle controlled ebikes aren’t legal in many jurisdictions. This limits where you can ride. They also offer less range. You’ll use more power when you’re not pedaling. In addition, they’re a bit less intuitive to use. There is an extra control for you to think about.
Mid Drive Vs Hub Motor E-bikes for Touring
Ebikes come with either a mid-drive motor or a hub motor. Both motor types are suitable for touring. Generally, mid-drive motors are better for bike touring. In this section, I’ll outline some benefits and drawbacks so mid drive vs hub motor ebikes.
For more in-depth info, check out my guide to mid-drive vs hub motor ebikes.
Mid Drive Motors
On a mid-drive ebike, the motor is located at the center of the bike between the cranks. The cranks attach directly to the mid-drive motor. The mid-drive motor is integrated into the bike’s frame. A mid-drive motor provides power through the bike’s drivetrain. The motor turns the cranks and powers the rear wheel through the chain.
The main advantage of a mid-drive ebike is that you can take advantage of the bike’s gears. You can use the mechanical advantage of the gears to keep the motor running at the optimal RPM for every situation. For example, you can shift down to climb steep hills. You can shift up to reach higher speeds on flat sections. Using the gears allows the motor to run more efficiently. Mid-drive motors bikes can achieve a longer range as a result. They can also climb more effectively.
Another advantage of mid-drive ebikes is that you can use regular wheels. This gives you the option to run an internal gear hub or dynamo hub if you choose. In addition, it’s easier to remove a wheel to repair a flat on a mid-drive ebike.
Weight is another advantage. Mid-drive ebikes are significantly lighter than hub motor models. The weight distribution is also much better. The weight of the mid-drive motor sits in the center of the bike close to the ground. The center of gravity is in the middle of the bike. As a result, the bike feels stable and balanced. The extra weight of the motor isn’t as noticeable. It rides naturally, like a non-powered bike. The bike is also more maneuverable.
Mid-motor ebike also do not require torque arms or extra strong forks or dropouts. The frame is specifically designed for the motor.
This all makes mid-drive electric bikes the best choice for bike touring. Most higher-end ebikes feature a mid-drive motor for these reasons.
There are a couple of disadvantages to consider. Mid-drive ebikes put more stress on the drivetrain because power is delivered through the drivetrain. You may have to replace your chain and cassette more frequently. Mid-drive ebikes are also expensive. They start at around $2000. Most mid drive ebikes only offer pedal assist. They don’t have a throttle.
Hub Motor E-bikes
Hub motor ebikes have an electric motor built into one of the hubs. The motor replaces a standard hub. The hub motor can be installed in the front or the rear wheel.
The hub motor directly powers the wheel it’s built into. It applies torque directly to the wheel. It operates completely separately from the bike’s drivetrain. This means a hub motor is not affected by gear changes, like a mid-drive motor.
Hub motors are the most common type of motors used on electric bikes. They are simple, powerful, affordable, and efficient. A hub motor can be installed on pretty much any bicycle.
There are a few drawbacks to hub motors. They usually offer less range than mid drives. You’ll need a bigger battery to achieve the same range. The motor also can’t take advantage of the gears. The handling also isn’t as good. The hub motor can create a gyroscopic effect that makes the bike hard to turn. The heavy spinning motor tries to right itself. Hub motors are also heavier.
There are two types of hub motors: geared and direct drive.
Geared hub motors
Geared hub motors use planetary gears to reduce the motor’s RPM. This allows the motor to be smaller and lighter. Using a smaller motor also increases efficiency.
Geared hub motors also feature a freewheel mechanism that reduces resistance by disengaging the motor when not in use. The wheel can spin freely when the motor is off. This allows you to pedal more efficiently while you’re not using the motor.
The main downside to geared hub motors, is they can be less reliable than their gearless counterparts. This is because they have more moving parts inside that can break and cause the motor to fail. Over time, the gears wear out and need to be replaced. The gearing can also make the motor a bit noisier.
Direct Drive Hub Motors
Direct drive hut motors have no moving parts other than the hub bearings. They are mechanically simple. Direct drive hub motors are also called gearless hub motors. Direct drive hub motors are popular due to their simplicity and reliable performance.
The main benefit of direct drive hub motors is that they are incredibly reliable because they have no moving parts. They can last for tens of thousands of miles if they’re taken care of. They are virtually maintenance-free. Additionally, direct drive hub motors are extremely quiet compared to other types of electric bike motors.
As an added benefit, direct drive hub motors also allow for regenerative braking. This system creates resistance in the motor and converts kinetic energy into electricity that charges your battery. The motor works like a generator while using regenerative braking. This can improve your range by around 5%.
There are a few drawbacks. Direct drive hub motors are significantly heavier than other types of electric bike motors. A direct drive motor can weigh as much as 20 lbs. The weight can make your bike feel unbalanced and unnatural to ride. Direct drive motors also don’t produce much torque due to the lack of gearing. They aren’t as good at climbing hills. They also accelerate slower. In addition, they are physically larger.
For more in-depth info, check out my guide to geared vs direct drive hub motors.
Front Hub Motors
If you’re considering converting your existing touring bike into an ebike, front hub motors are the perfect option. Their simple design makes them easy to install on your existing bike. You can simply swap out your front wheel. There are fewer compatibility issues. You don’t have to worry about messing with the gearing.
A front hub motor also allows you to use an internal gear hub. The Rohloff Speedhub and Shimano Alfine are popular options for bike touring. You could also use a Gates belt drive system if you choose. This greatly reduces maintenance. Front hub motors also make rear flats easier to repair. Rear flats are much more common than front flats.
There are some drawbacks. The weight of the motor on the front of the bike can affect the handling of the bike in a negative way. Front hub motors also offer poor traction. The front wheel can lose grip because there is little weight on the front wheel. The weight of the motor on the front can also make the ride feel harsh. The motor can also put additional stress on the fork and dropouts. Fork failure is more common.
Rear Hub Motors
Rear hub motors offer several benefits. First, rear hub motor ebikes offer better traction thanks to the weight of the motor on the rear wheel. Having the weight of the motor on the rear also has a smaller effect on handling. The ride also tends to feel smoother. In addition, you can also use a more powerful motor. Some rear hub motor ebikes have motors as large as 1500w. This makes rear hub motor ebikes perfect for tackling steep inclines with ease. Many riders also prefer the ride feel of a rear hub motor. It feels like you’re being pushed. This feels more natural.
There are some drawbacks to consider. Flats are harder to repair. Rear hub motors are also heavier. Compatibility can be an issue. You can only use derailleur gears or a Pinion gearbox with a rear hub motor.
For more info, check out my guide to front vs rear hub motors.
Torque Sensors Vs Cadence Sensors for Touring
Another decision you’ll have to make when choosing an ebike for touring is the type of pedal assist sensors that the bike uses. The sensors measure your pedaling and signal to the motor when to engage and disengage.
Generally, torque sensors are better than cadence sensors for bike touring. In this section, I’ll outline the differences and pros and cons of torque sensors and cadence sensor pedal assist.
For more in-depth info, check out my guide to torque sensors vs cadence sensors.
Torque sensors use a precision strain gauge to measure if you’re pedaling and how hard you are pedaling. The gauge measures the amount of force you are applying to the peddles. The ebike control unit uses this information to determine how much power the motor needs to supply.
Torque sensor based pedal assist amplifies your pedaling input. When you pedal harder, the motor supplies more power. When you pedal gently, the motor only provides a small amount of assistance.
Torque sensor pedal assist is better for bike touring. The main reason is that the ride quality is better. Torque sensor provide smooth and natural power delivery. It feels like you have bionic legs. The bike will feel responsive and accelerate smoothly and predictably. In addition, torque sensors offer better range than cadence sensors.
The main drawback of torque sensors is that they are expensive. They add around $150 to the cost of the bike.
Cadence sensors use magnets to measure if you are pedaling. The most basic models work like a simple on/off switch. When you start pedaling, they signal the control unit and the motor turns on. When you stop pedaling, the motor turns off.
Some more advanced models measure your pedaling speed and adjust the motor’s power accordingly. They have a cadence threshold you must meet where the power reduces. For example, the motor may supply 100% power up to a cadence of 60. When you reach 60 rpm, the motor may cut back to 70% power.
Cadence sensors are the most common type of sensors on ebikes. They are cheap and easy to activate. Cadence sensors aren’t as smooth or responsive as torque sensors. They can feel laggy or make the bike surge. They also don’t offer as much range. Handling may not be quite as good.
E-bike Motors: Speed and Power
In much of the world, ebikes are restricted by both speed and motor size. For example, in the UK, Australia, and most of Europe, ebikes are limited to a 250w motor. In Canada, ebikes are limited to a 500w motor. In most of the United States, ebikes are limited to a 750-1000w motor depending on the state.
Throughout most of the world, the top speed of ebikes is limited to 20 mph or 32 kph. In most European countries, the max speed is just 15 mph (25 kph). In some place, including most of the United States, ebikes can have a maximum speed of 28 mph (45 kph).
The best motor size for ebike touring really depends on where you’re riding. For most, a 250w motor is sufficient. 250 watts is enough power to assist you up most hills and increase your speed substantially on flat sections. On steep hills with a full load of bike touring gear, 250w might not be enough for some riders. You may still have to walk the bike occasionally.
If you’re planning on bike touring exclusively in North America, you may consider going with a 500w motor. A 500 watt motor will give you twice the assistance of a 250w. This is plenty of power for climbing even the steepest of hills with fully loaded racks and panniers. If you plan to tour exclusively in the U.S, a 750w motor is also an option.
One important thing to keep in mind is that more powerful motors use more energy. You’ll need a bigger battery if you use a larger motor.
E-bike Batteries for Touring
For bike touring, you want as much battery capacity as possible. The more range you have the further you can ride before you need to look for an outlet to charge.
Ebike batteries come in many shapes and sizes. From 36 volt, 250 watt hours up to 72 volt, 2000 watt hours and beyond. Depending on the battery type and size, electric bikes can reach ranges between 10 to 100 miles or more.
When comparing different ebike batteries, the most important figure to consider is the watt hours (Wh). This tells you how much energy the battery stores. The more watt hours, the greater your range, assuming all else is equal.
Watt hours are calculated by multiplying the battery’s voltage by the amp hours (Amp hours x voltage = watt hour). For example, 48V x 10 Ah = 480 Wh.
Most ebike batteries are 24, 36, 48, or 52 volts. Amp hours are usually 10-20Ah. An ebike battery will have a capacity of 250-700Wh, on average. Larger and smaller batteries are also available. An average ebike battery has around 400-500Wh.
The larger the battery capacity, the further you can travel between charges. Larger batteries are much more expensive than smaller batteries. They are also heavier.
Most electric bike tourists need at least 50 miles (80km) of range. 75-100 miles (120-160km) is ideal. This amount of range will allow you to ride all day.
For bike touring, it’s a good idea to bring two batteries. When one dies, you can swap it out for the other. Two 400w-600w batteries will give you plenty of range for a full day of riding in most cases. Even if you’re using the highest pedal assist setting, 800-1000w of power should take you 60 miles or 100km. If you use a lower pedal assist setting, this amount of power should take you up to 100 miles or 160 km.
On most ebikes, the batteries are mounted on the downtube, on the seat tube, or under the rear rack. Some ebikes have space to mount two batteries.
The best location for a battery is in the center of the bike as low as possible. Having the heavy battery in the center helps to maintain the bike’s center of gravity. You won’t feel the weight as much. The bike’s handling won’t be affected as much by the weight of the battery.
How to Choose the Best Electric Bike for Touring?
When choosing an electric bike for touring, look at mid-range and higher-end options. Entry-level ebikes aren’t designed to put up with the stress of bike touring. Reliability may be an issue. The last thing you want to deal with during a bike tour is mechanical issues.
For most riders, the ideal electric touring bike will have a 250W mid-drive motor with torque sensor pedal assist and no throttle control. An ebike with a 250w motor and pedal assist can be ridden legally pretty much anywhere in the world. It will be treated like any other bicycle.
If you need more power, you could choose an ebike with a larger 500w or 750w motor. If you want the option to not pedal at times, you could also choose a bike with a throttle control. Keep in mind that an e-bike with a larger motor or a throttle may not be legal in some countries. If it’s legal where you plan to tour, you won’t have any issues.
If you’re on a tighter budget there are a couple of ways to save money. You can save some money by choosing an e-bike with a hub motor instead of a mid-drive. You could also opt for cheaper cadence sensors instead of torque sensors. This can save you a few hundred dollars.
Pretty much every type of bike is available in an electric version. If you want to bike tour off-road or go bikepacking, electric mountain bikes are available, an electric gravel bike, or an electric fat bike. If you want to have the option to travel by bus or train during your bike trip, you could choose to tour with an electric folding bike. For those who have trouble balancing, you could ride an electric recumbent bike or a trike. If you want to tour exclusively on road, you could ride an electric road bike. If you need to carry a particularly heavy load, you could opt for an electric cargo bike. For those who want to tour with a friend or loved one, you could ride an electric tandem bike. A couple of companies even offer purpose-built electric touring bikes these days.
When choosing an e-bike for touring, look for a model that is capable of hauling luggage. It should at least have mounting points for a rear rack. The bike should also have a large enough weight capacity to handle you and your gear. Most touring bikes are designed to hold up to 300 pounds. For an average bike tour, that’s plenty of capacity.
How to Prepare Your E-bike for a Bike Tour
Most electric bikes aren’t built for touring. Before you set out on your bike tour, you may have to make a few modifications and upgrades to the bike.
First, you’ll have to add some racks to carry your gear. Most e-bikes can handle racks and panniers. Many e-bikes have a built-in rear rack. If you don’t want to use a rear rack, you can also use bikepacking bags or a trailer. I’ll talk more about luggage in the following section.
You may need to install new rims and spokes to make the wheels strong enough to handle the extra weight of your gear. You might also choose to swap out the tires. Maybe you want wider tires for more traction on rough surfaces. Most touring bikes come with tires that are at least 35mm wide. Maybe you want puncture-resistant tires. When choosing tires, make sure they are rated to handle e-bike speeds. Some tires come with an ‘e-bike compatible’ marking.
You might also need to buy a larger battery or a second battery. E-bikes usually come with a single battery. Sometimes there is an option to add a second battery. Some models have mounting points for two batteries. You can usually mount a second battery to a bottle cage mount.
In addition, you might also want to add some bike touring accessories such as bottle cages, lights, fenders, a cycling computer, a phone mount, and some accessory bags. Touring bikes require these parts. If you installed an electric conversion kit on your bike, you may want to install a torque arm for added safety.
For your comfort, you might also want to replace the saddle, pedals, and handlebar grips to meet your preference. For example, maybe you like a leather saddle, ergonomic grips, and clipless pedals. These parts can improve comfort while riding long distances. Most electric bicycles don’t come with these parts.
Luggage for E-bike touring
Most e-bike tourists use racks and panniers for carrying luggage. Pretty much every e-bike has eyelets for mounting a rear rack. Many e-bikes feature a rear rack that is built into the frame. Some models also have mounting points for a front rack. Panniers provide plenty of space for storing gear.
You can also utilize bikepacking bags for storing more gear. You might mount a front bag to the handlebars, a frame bag inside of the triangle, and an accessory bag on the top tube. These provide plenty of additional storage.
For more info on luggage, check out my guide to bikepacking bags vs panniers.
Another luggage option that is popular among electric bike tourists is a cargo trailer. You can mount a trailer to any bike, regardless of the design. Trailers can handle a large amount of weight. Some models have a capacity of up to 100 pounds. A trailer is a great place to carry your heavy spare batteries.
For more info, check out my guide to bike cargo trailers.
The Best Electric Touring Bikes for Long Distance Touring
These days, there are hundreds of electric bikes on the market. There aren’t very many that are designed for long-distance touring. A few of the best electric touring bikes include:
Trek Allant 7s+
Cannondale Tesoro Neo X3
Ride1Up Prodigy XR
Bulls Lacuba EVO E8
Bulls E-Stream EVO 3 27.5 Plus
Rad Rover 6 Plus
Riese & Müller Superdelite
Riese & Müller Delite GT Nuvinci
Riese & Müller Charger Touring
Conversion Kits for Electric Touring Bikes
A number of companies offer kits for converting your regular bike into an e-bike. Most kits include a hub motor, pedal assist sensors, a control unit, a display unit, and all of the necessary wiring. Sometimes a battery is included and sometimes it’s sold separately.
Usually, the hub motor is already built into a wheel. You simply swap out your existing wheel for the new one with the motor built in. You can also build your own wheel with your own rim and spokes. Mid-drive conversion kits are also available. In this case, you remove the existing bottom bracket and replace it with the mid-drive motor.
These kits can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars. Entry-level e-bike conversion kits aren’t really suitable for touring. You’ll want something a bit higher quality to put up with the stress of touring. If you plan to convert an existing touring bike to an e-bike expect to spend around $700-$1000 for a quality conversion kit and battery.
The Best Locations for E-bike Touring
Electric bikes have revolutionized the traditional cycling experience. They allow riders to traverse the outdoors with higher speeds and longer range. E-bikes can be used for long distance touring and day tours.
When it comes to planning a successful electric bike tour, the trick is selecting a route that offers great scenery and an optimal ebiking experience. That means regular charging points. Routes should also have access to hotels. Bike camping sometimes isn’t possible due to the need to charge.
Europe offers wonderful landscapes and well-developed urban areas which make it perfect for e-bike tours. The continent is home to some of the world’s most developed bike networks, making getting around easy and efficient. The distances between towns are small, making it easy to find a place to charge your bike.
On some of the more popular European cycling routes, electric bikes are becoming more common than standard bikes. Many hotels and restaurants offer e-bike charging. There are even charging points on the side of some bike paths. If you’re just getting started with e-bike touring, Europe is hard to beat.
A couple of the best cycling routes for e-biking in Europe include the Rhine Route (Eurovelo 15) and the Danube Cycle Path. For more ideas, check out this guide to e-bike routes in Europe. There are cycling routes all over the continent. It’s probably the best region to bike tour. The cycling infrastructure is incredible.
The United States also provides fantastic bike touring routes. Popular routes include the Pacific Coast and TransAmerica Trail. These routes are possible with an e-bike but you will need a decent amount of range. It can take a bit more planning to make a long distance bike tour work.
These days, organized e-bike touring is becoming a popular activity for non-cyclists. The tour company sets the route for you and supplies you with a bike and gear. Some bike tours are guided and others are self-guided. You can book e-bike tours all over the world. Some great destinations for an e-bike tour include France, Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States.
Really, the possibilities for electric bike excursions are limitless. From coast to coast or crisscrossing across continents, virtually any corner of the world can be explored by electric bicycle. People have ridden e-bikes all over the world including Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and South America. All you need to tour on an e-bike is access to a power outlet around once per day for a few hours.
Locations to Avoid While E-bike Touring
There are some places that aren’t suitable for e-bike touring. If you’re planning on bike touring through remote regions where you won’t be in civilization for days at a time, an e-bike probably isn’t the best bike choice for the tour. You’re better off going with a non-powered bike in this case. For e-bike touring to make work, you need to be able to charge at least every 50-100 miles. You probably won’t want to cross the Gobi Desert with an e-bike. You won’t have anywhere to charge it.
It’s important to note that you won’t be stranded if you end up running out of power in the middle of nowhere. You can still cycle normally without any assistance from the motor. Once you reach the next town, you can charge your batteries again.
Many electric bikes do have a bit more resistance when you’re not using the motor. This is relatively easy to overcome. Particularly on e-bikes with geared motors. You will have to carry the extra weight of the motor and battery.
Electric bikes also aren’t ideal for touring in extremely wet conditions. E-bikes are designed to handle light to medium rain. It’s not a good idea to ride an e-bike in extremely heavy rain. You also shouldn’t leave an e-bike out in the rain. In addition, you can’t do water crossings with an e-bike. The components are sealed but moisture can still get in. If the motor, control unit, display, or battery gets wet, the electrical system can short out. This can ruin your e-bike. For this reason, electric bicycles are better suited for bike tours in dry regions.
It is also best to avoid routes that require you to fly. You can’t fly with your e-bike. You’ll have to ship the battery separately. This makes it a hassle to transport your e-bike.
Are E-bikes Worth It for Touring?
When it comes to bike touring, electric bikes are absolutely worth it. E-bikes provide an added boost of power when your legs get tired or you need a bit more muscle for those tougher hills and headwinds. You’ll arrive at your destination with plenty of energy for sightseeing.
E-bikes also allow riders to cover distances that would be much more difficult on their standard bikes. With an electric bike, you can cover 50 miles in just a few hours of riding. If you’re worried about range, an electric touring bike with two batteries can go 60 miles or more on a full charge.
In most of the world, finding a place to charge your batteries is relatively easy. All you need is a standard power outlet. You can charge in hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops. So whether you want the extra boost of energy from electric assistance or more range from the rechargeable battery, electric bikes are definitely worth it for bike touring.
Final Thoughts About E-bike Touring
With the help of an e-bike, you can see more in less time during your travels. E-bikes make it easy to climb steep hills and ride into strong headwinds. Not to mention, electric bicycles are eco-friendly and a lot of fun.
Of course, electric bikes aren’t suitable for every bike tour. They need to be charged daily. It is also difficult to fly with an e-bike due to the large lithium-ion battery. E-bikes are sensitive to water. E-bikes are also expensive.
Whether you’re planning a cross-country electric bike tour or just a weekend getaway, a touring electric bike is worth considering. Hopefully, this guide helps you decide whether or not e-bike touring is right for you.
Have you toured with an electric bike? Share your tips and experience in the comments!
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