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Recently, in a moment of madness, I agreed to sign up to a long-distance bike tour with some friends. The idea is to do a cycle along a route in Scotland called the West Highland Way. On the face of it this sounds lovely. Good banter with old pals…. The beautiful scenery of the Scottish Highlands…
In practice though I know that this ain’t going to be a quick cycle round the park. First off, it’s a whopping 96 miles end-to-end. From Milngavie, just north of the city of Glasgow, to Fort William, a town which nestles up beside Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. It’s also rough terrain. Like, really, really rough terrain on a path that was designed for hiking boots, not for tires.
Oh, and did I mention that we’re aiming to complete it in two days?!
Answer: Schwinn Sycamore
What to look for in an electric bike
Now, in preparation, I’ve tried to do everything I can to make this ridiculous endeavor a bit easier:
- I’ve had a full (and very expensive) service carried out on my MTB. This has resulted in quite a few replacement parts being fitted. In fact, now that I come to think of it, the only original parts left are the frame and handlebar grips
- I’ve been on a strict (okay, strict-ish) diet in order to lose a few pounds
- I’ve also trained hard. Getting plenty of miles under my tires
I know that all these factors will help make the journey easier. But I’m still going to be doing the whole route on my traditional pedal mountain bike. So, the uphills will be one hell of a slog. My calves will be in agony. My lungs will be burning. I’ll have sweat pouring off me. Not a pretty sight, I’m sure you agree.
For me though, what I really want is to be able to immerse myself in the majesty of the Scottish Highlands. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll really be able to appreciate the views through the pain and the sweat.
What I’d really like to do is cycle the route on an electric bike. That way I’d get some assistance for the overall distance and, in particular, some of the fairly savage uphills. One of which is actually called ‘The Devil’s Staircase’. Really looking forward to that one…
Sadly, ebike touring isn’t an option for me this time (all my friends are on traditional pedal MTBs).
Hopefully, that’s not the case for you and you’ve got some ebike touring opportunities coming up in the not-too-distant future?
Electric touring bike reviews
In this article I’m going to look at the important considerations when choosing an e bike for touring. I’ll then give you my list of some of the best ebikes for touring and briefly discuss the key merits of each.
If you’re ready, then we’ll make a start.
Electric bike buyers guide
Key Areas To Consider When Choosing An E Bike For Touring:
- Storage ON your bike
- Storage OF your bike
Let’s move on and take a look at each of these in a bit more detail.
To a large extent, your choice of bike will be determined by the surfaces that you’ll be using it on.
If your touring will all be on smooth, surfaced roads or tracks, then you can choose from a wide range of ebikes; beach cruisers, tricycles, or hybrid bikes will work fine.
If your tours sound more like the crazy cycle that I’ll be doing in the Scottish Highlands, then you’d be better opting for a very rugged eMTB with full suspension and tires with plenty of deep tread.
Bear in mind that you can always adapt a bike after you’ve purchased it. For example you can make a city commuter bike more able to handle rough tracks by changing out the tires from smooth slicks to gnarly knobbles.
How comfortable your bike is depends on a number of factors.
First up is the geometry of your bike (basically the shape of the frame). Racer or road bikes have a frame that means you are forced into quite a hunched up, forward leaning position. This is great for posting a personal best time in the Tour de France, but not necessarily suitable for touring. How can you see the views when your nose is pressed onto the handlebars?
Look for a style of frame that gives you a more upright riding position. This allows you to see the sights, but also put less pressure on your wrists and hands. A useful consideration if you’re an older rider and/or prone to arthritis or wrist pain.
Other things to consider are the saddle. Sorry to pick on road bikes, but they can also have saddles that look more like knife edges than comfy seats. A good touring seat will tend to be wider, with deeper padding, and possibly also sprung. Remember that saddles are one of the easiest components to replace. So, if you find a great bike, but it has an uncomfy seat, don’t write it off.
Many bikes these days also have suspension. This can make for a much smoother ride, especially on rougher terrain.
There are a number of areas of the bike where you can get suspension:
- Front forks
- Rear Forks
- Seat post
The saddle I’ve already mentioned. Some bikes come with a suspension seat post. If not, you can always buy one to replace the existing post.
Many ebikes come with suspension on the front forks and some with suspension on the rear as well.
Suspension is great….but it can add significantly to the weight of your bike. Do you need it? That would really depend on the terrain. If you’re riding on smooth surfaces, then it’s probably weight that you can do without. If you’re going to be on rougher tracks, then it can be a real butt saver.
When you’re deciding on suspension it’s worth being mindful of the weight. You might think that it doesn’t matter because you’ve got an electric motor to compensate. Whilst that’s certainly true, the extra weight will sap your battery faster and may mean that you can’t get to your destination with pedal assist.
Storage ON your bike
If you’re going to be touring for several days or more, then you will need to get storage on the bike for all your gear. Backpacks are fine for a day, but carrying more than a snack and a spare jumper on your back can shift your center of gravity too high and make it difficult to balance.
Some tour-ready ebikes come with pannier racks and front baskets already fitted. If you see the perfect bike and it doesn’t, don’t worry. These can always be fitted after purchase.
I’ve been testing out a number of pannier bags recently. Take a look at my article here for the details.
Storage OF your bike
Think about where you’re likely to be keeping your bike overnight when you’re touring.
If you’re camping and can keep it next to your tent, that’s fine. If you’re staying in an apartment or hotel and need to take your bike up to your room, that’s a bit different. All touring bikes, whether electric or not, can be heavy. So it’s worth looking for a bike this is as light as possible. Preferably one where you can remove the pannier bags/racks and battery. As this will help strip out as much weight as possible and make the bike easier to carry.
Have a think about the kinds of distances that you are planning on covering every day. Make sure that you choose an ebike with a battery that has sufficient capacity to get you that distance, or you’ll have to do some pedaling.
Some bikes have the option of buying spare batteries. This can be a really useful thing to do for a couple of reasons. If your daily distance is more than your battery can take you. That’s fine. Stash the second battery in your pannier. Use up one battery, then swap it out with the spare.
Spare batteries can also be good if you are planning on heading out into the wilderness and well away from any charging points. Use the first battery to get you into the wild places and the spare to get you back to civilization.
Cross country on electric bike
Okay, hopefully you’ve now got a clear idea of what to look for in your new e bike. Let’s take a look at my recommendations for the best of the best e bikes for touring.
A great all-rounder ebike from a well-respected bike manufacturer. The Sycamore ebike from Schwinn is at home on urban commutes and light-duty touring. So it’s great if you’re looking for a single bike that you can commute with during the week and tour around the countryside during your weekend and vacation time.
It has a good upright riding position, that is easy on the wrists and arms. It also has a comfort saddle and front suspension to smooth out the lumps and bumps in the terrain.
One of the things I particularly like about the Sycamore is that replacement batteries are easily available to buy. As mentioned previously this means that you can tour further than a single battery charge will allow if you carry a spare in your luggage.
Many people like the laidback position of a beach cruiser style bike. Yes, they’re great for riding down to the beach on. But they’re also really comfortable for cycling further distances on. The Malibu Elite has lots of features that are a real benefit to ebike touring. First up is the low-step through frame. If you’re a little bit past your former gymnastics days (Ben puts his hand up), then the low cross bar can make it easy to get on and off the bike. It’s also useful if you’ve got a fully laden bike as it means that you don’t need to unbalance the bike to mount it.
It has a front basket and rear pannier rack giving plenty of storage capacity. Plus sweptback handlebars, balloon tires, comfort sprung saddle and removable battery.
I’ve recommended the Motan Tricycle to many people before and with good reason.
Lots of folk struggle at times with their balance, particularly if they’re new to cycling and/or new to carrying lots of cargo.
A trike like the Motan really helps here. The three wheels give the bike great stability, even when it’s fully laden with camping gear and everything else you need for touring.
Talking of storage, the Motan has plenty of room for your gear, with both front and rear baskets. And you can really pile gear in and as the bike can take a total of 350 Lbs for rider and cargo. One extra detail that I really like. Take a look at the seat post and you’ll see that it has suspension integrated meaning you cruise along fully laden and in total comfort.
If you’re planning on going to some very rough and rugged backcountry, the FLX Blade could be a good option for you. It can take you up to 90 mph / 144 km on a single charge. It has a solid range of components, including powerful disc brakes and front suspension.
There is no storage pre-fitted to the bike. However the rear seat post can take a pannier rack like this excellent one from Topeak. I love the Raw Metal finish to the bike. Although you’d need to replace the saddle with one that is going to be comfy over longer distances.
Looking for something that’s… a little more over-the-top? Massively over-engineered? Guaranteed to put a huge great smile on your face? Yeah, thought so.
Well this is the ebike you’ve been looking for.
The Delfast Top is something special. It holds the distance record for a single battery charge on an ebike. A whopping 174 miles / 280 kilometres. Which will probably be your planned touring distance for a full week, let alone a day. It also goes at up to 50 mph / 80 Km/h. Definitely an off-road ebike this one and a bike to be handled with care and respect. But if you’re looking to travel long distances and fast, then this might be the one for you.
Full suspension and motorcycle tires, mean that the bike can handle any terrain you can throw at it. Devil’s Staircase? Pfft. Whatever…
But probably not the kind of bike to pop a basket on the front handlebars.
Final word on Electric Bikes For Touring
If all your energy and focus is going into huffing, puffing, and wiping the sweat out of your eyes. Then you won’t be able to concentrate on the scenery. For me, that’s the real beauty of bike touring. Tour on an electric bike and it gives you the breathing space to appreciate the stunning views round you.
Have fun exploring on your ebike…
…and wish me luck for my own cycle. I think I might need it.