Motorhome owners know all too well the hassle of parking, setting up camp, and then needing to break everything down the next morning to drive to the trailhead or to grab lunch in town. Many Class A RVers have a tow car for just these circumstances, but even that can be a hassle. The solution could be the bicycle hanging in your garage. Or, more likely, its younger, faster sibling—the e-bike.
Electric bikes come in three categories: A Class One e-bike uses its motor to give riders a pedal assist of up to 20 mph. Class Two e-bikes also give riders a boost of up to 20 mph. You don’t need to pedal the entire time, but pedaling helps extend the battery range. Class Three e-bikes give riders a boost of up to 28 mph. And you don’t need a license to ride any of these electric bikes.
Mileage ranges on e-bike models vary pretty widely—you can typically get between 30 and 60 miles per charge—based on the manufacturer, price, and other factors. Before buying an e-bike, you should check the estimated range and decide if it’s a good fit, based on your needs and travel style.
So what does riding an e-bike feel like? It depends on the bike and its motor. On the Charge XC electric bike I’ve been testing for the last month, the boost is fairly subtle, while on others I’ve ridden, it can feel like you’re being shot out of a cannon. Typically there are three pedal-assist modes; the mode names can vary based on the manufacturer, but they’ll likely be along the lines of “Eco,” “Normal,” and “Turbo.” Because e-bikes are significantly heavier than standard bikes (more on this later), the lowest power mode typically negates the weight penalty and basically allows you to break even. The normal mode gives you a boost akin to a stiff tailwind, while riding on the highest setting often feels like you’re flying down the trail.
One of the biggest benefits of an e-bike is being able to carry gear and not feel weighted down. I loaded up the XC with fishing gear and a bag full of ice and beer and never struggled to ride up hills and overpasses. Add some pannier bags to the rear rack, and it’s an ideal last-minute grocery getter.
How Much Does an E-Bike Cost?
Prices vary, but quality comes at a higher price tag. Amazon sells e-bikes in the $600 to $700 range, but the quality of both the bikes and components can be questionable. One of the biggest players in the e-bike game, Rad Power Bikes, offers models as low as $1,000, while entry-level offerings from Aventon and Sixthreezero start around $1,200 and $1,650, respectively. I’ve ridden (and was impressed by) the Electra Townie Go! bikes, which start around $1,600. These are all bikes that are made to ride primarily on pavement.
The Charge XC was designed for a bit rougher terrain, with a front suspension fork, disc brakes, and knobby, 2.25-inch Goodyear Peak tires. The $2,500 price tag might seem a bit high, but you also get good, if fairly basic, Shimano components, as well as accessories like a rear rack, fenders, and lights.
Is an e-bike right for you? Should you ditch the tow car? Here are a few things to consider.
The Pros of E-Bikes
It takes about 3 minutes to unlock and get my e-bike off the rack before I’m pedaling on the trail. When I get to my destination, I’m not circling around a parking lot or scanning for trailheads or on-street parking; I just find a secure rack or signpost and lock my bike to it.
Ease of Riding
I consider myself a fairly serious bike rider, and I love e-bikes. With an e-bike, I can make my ride as hard or as easy as I want. When traveling, I can pedal to the trailhead and not be exhausted before even starting my hike. Hills? No problem with just a quick flick of my thumb.
Electric bikes can also make biking more accessible to people who aren’t traditional cyclists, as they’re less intimidating.
Improving Health and Happiness
Multiple studies have confirmed that riding an e-bike has nearly as many health benefits as riding a non-assisted bike. E-bike riders get almost as good of a workout as folks on a standard bike.
The Cons of E-Bikes
Getting E-Bikes On and Off the Bike Rack
E-bikes are significantly heavier than a standard bike, at about 55 to 75 pounds. Getting them on and off bike racks can be a little difficult, especially for RVers with physical limitations. I uttered a pained “oof” as I hoisted the e-bike onto my bike rack for the first time, but after I got over the initial discomfort, each subsequent time loading or unloading the bike was easier.
Some public parks may prohibit e-bikes, often just on natural-surface trails, but occasionally on the pavement as well. It can be a hassle to have to do additional research or be told once you reach your destination that your e-bike isn’t allowed.
Charging While Boondocking
E-bikes do need to be charged, which can potentially be a problem if you don’t have access to electric hookups. Using my solar power setup (300W of solar on my roof and 170ah lithium battery), I was able to charge the XC from nearly zero to full in several hours. But it also put a significant dip in my power storage; I went from having a full battery to about 35 percent capacity. I was also running other devices at the same time, but recharging the e-bike battery was likely the main culprit. If you’re driving and can recharge using the alternator, have a large solar array, or use a generator, this will be less of an obstacle.
For RVers, e-bikes can be a convenient way to get around national parks and other destinations. While they’re more expensive than traditional bicycles, the investment is proving worthwhile for many rig owners looking for freedom in transportation options once they’ve arrived at the campground.
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