Bikepacking? Think of a multi-day hiking and camping trip, but done on a bicycle. Bikepacking is the more rugged, off-road version of bicycle touring, (which is generally confined to paved roads) but the principles of both are the same: load all of your gear onto your bike, and hit the road on a pre-planned route for some unknown adventure.
The accessibility and popularity of bicycle touring and bikepacking have both grown with the added range and assistance that eBikes provide. Giving more people the ability to take part in riding extended trips they may only have dreamed of doing before!
In this article, we’re going to cover what you need to take into consideration when planning an eBike tour, what essential items you need to take with you on your trip, and the big charging and second battery questions that might be on your mind if you're considering taking an eBike on an extended bicycle touring or bikepacking trip.
The difference between bicycle touring and bikepacking
Some will tell you that these are synonyms but, to the enthusiast, there is a big difference between them. So let’s quickly break down the differences.
Bicycle Touring - Touring is the older, more traditional version of taking long journeys by bicycle and is generally confined to paved roads. Bicycle touring is often defined by the use of panniers, bags that attach to racks on the side of each of your tires. What really sets bicycle touring apart from bikepacking is that those on a bicycle tour will usually carry all their necessary sustenance (besides water) for a week or more, meaning that they need to make fewer stops along with way.
Sometimes bicycle touring participants will do so-called "credit card touring" - staying in hotels/motels and eating in restaurants. This means you don't have to carry a tent, sleeping bag, or cooking gear, which keeps the bike lighter and more mobile. The opposite - carrying a sleeping bag, tent or bivy, food, and cooking gear is sometimes called "fully loaded touring."
Bikepacking - Bikepacking is newer than bicycle touring and takes advantage of a lot of more modern (lightweight) innovations in the cycling world. Bikepacking often takes place on unpaved roads, ranging from simple gravel and dirt roads to single track trails. This terrain choice means that people are often using more rugged, and heavier, mountain bikes or gravel bikes instead of the slimmer, lighter weight road bikes commonly used for bicycle touring. However, bikepackers usually pack fewer creature comforts and often rely on more stops to resupply their food.
These are not set definitions and the boundary blurs heavily but, regardless of whether your looking at bikepacking or bicycle touring with your eBike, the need for proper planning is essential.
Planning an eBike Tour
Planning is the most important part of an eBike tour. Planning is the most important part of an eBike tour. Planning is the most important part of an eBike tour. Really it is. Poor planning results in a poor experience, meaning that you won’t enjoy it, and what’s the point of doing it if you don’t enjoy it?
There are multiple factors to take into account when planning a tour or bikepacking trip, and the e element of your eBike means there’s just that extra little bit to think about. Here are the elements to consider in the planning phase.
Your eBike - The route you plan needs to suit the eBike you’re going to ride. If you’re purchasing an eBike specifically to start touring then you can buy an eBike to suit your future needs. If you’re using an existing eBike then you need to choose your route to suit what terrain your eBike, and therefore you, will enjoy.
Another factor of your eBike is its range. The more weight you add to your eBike the more power it consumes, reducing its range. Terrain is also a big factor, because big elevation gains will also reduce your range. This all needs to be taken into account when planning your charging stops. Remember you'll need electricity to recharge your eBike.
Fitness - You don’t need to be the King or Queen of the road but you do need to have an adequate level of fitness to ride tens of miles multiple days in a row. Plan training routes in your local area that mimic the terrain you’ll be riding on during your tour. Steadily make these training runs longer and start carrying more and more of your gear with you.
Doing this will not only build your fitness but you will learn the limits of both your eBike, and your own physical capabilities. It will also give you an insight into the minimum amount of water to carry with you.
Comfort - On your training rides you’ll, almost undoubtedly, discover discomfort. Fine tune your posture by raising and lowering and adjusting the angle of your saddle and handlebars to find the position that is the most comfortable for you.
Saddles - Most eBikes are fitted with a generic saddle that is comfortable for most people over short periods of riding. An eBikepacking trip is a different story. If your saddle is uncomfortable spend the time researching and testing saddles to find one that treats your rear right. You won’t regret it.
Where and When? - You may already have an idea of where you want to go eBike touring. If you don’t, there are multiple resources online with detailed route plans for you to choose from. Remember to match your training rides to the terrain of the trip you choose.
One of the most overlooked parts of planning an eBike tour is the “When”. Certain periods of the year, like winter, are obvious to avoid, but fine tuning your eBike tour timeline to avoid busy times of the year can make the experience that much more enjoyable. Summer tours, when the weather is warmer, allow you to carry less gear - because you may be able to leave the puffy jacket and tent at home, saving weight.
Planning Your Route - Your route is the most important part of your trip and there are a multitude of resources online -libraries of routes and forums- to help you choose one. Your route is going to be focused around how often you need to replenish your food and water supply, along with how often your eBike needs charging.
Food and Water - Even if you're not planning on being away from civilization for multiple days you always need to be sure to have enough food and water with you. Snacks are an essential part of keeping you going and keeping you motivated. If you’re camping and cooking your own meals then you’re going to want energy rich meals; but don’t forget to make them tasty too!
You should expect to drink at least 1 gallon of water per day, and should plan on two just to be sure. If you’re camping then you’re going to need more water for making food and for your morning beverage. 1 gallon of water is bulky and weighs over 8lbs, which is a hassle to carry. This is why water stops are an essential part of route planning - make sure your planned stop have drinkable running water. For more remote trips, stopping next to a river or lake and filtering/treating water prior to drinking or cooking can also be a viable strategy.
The "second battery" question and charging options
Should you take a second or spare battery with you on an eBike tour? There is no hard and fast answer. The negatives are that a second battery is heavy and will take up some space in your bags. The positives are that you can pretty much double your range each day, and that you can build a larger margin of error into each leg of your trip.
Your ride planning is going to be focused around three things: where you can recuperate overnight, where you can get water and food, and where you can charge your battery. If you do take a second battery with you it is a good idea to carry a second charger so that you can charge both your batteries at once. On the note of charging, there are a few options to choose from:
Developed Campgrounds - These are campgrounds with facilities and power outlets you can utilize. Check the campground’s website or give them a call as you plan your trip to see if they have power outlets for you to use. Primitive campgrounds will not have any sources of power that you can utilize.
Hotels and BnBs - If you’re planning on staying in accommodations on your trip, then you can charge your battery overnight in your room.
Stopping in Towns - Coffee shops, restaurants, and welcome centers are some of the most popular places for people to stop and recharge eBike batteries. If you’re not planning on staying in hotels or developed campgrounds then these stops can give you the juice you need to camp wherever you want for the night. many restaurants or coffee shops would be happy to allow you to plug in your charger if you ask nicely.
Solar Power - Solar charging options for eBikes are currently limited, bulky, and expensive. On top of this, solar power is weather dependent, limited to charging during the daylight hours (with midday to early afternoon being the optimum time), and, depending on the size of your battery, they can be very slow. As a result, solar does not sound like the best option, but if you’re looking to get further away from society and can plan an adequate amount of buffer time into your trip for charging then solar chargers can be great! If you plan to use solar charging, give it a dry-run in your backyard to confirm the charging time.
Rack and bag options for eBike touring and eBikepacking
There are many rack options on the market for you to choose from, and every person will have their own preference. There are multiple bag options for each type of rack and there are some bags that don’t need racks. All allowing you to choose a style and size that suits you.
Aftermarket racks are available in many instances however it always pays to purchase the racks that were specifically designed for your eBike to be sure of a snug fit. Racks will simply screw into eyelets (sometimes called "braze-ons") that are already on your frame or they will clamp onto the eBike frame or fork tubes. Your bags should be light, waterproof, and able to carry everything you plan on packing. Bag and rack options include:
Pannier - These are the traditional, rectangular bike touring bags that sit on either side of your wheels, either front or back, that are now very popular with commuters. These mount on specific pannier racks. Panniers are ideal for touring or bikepacking because they keep the center of gravity low, which improves bike handling. Put your heaviest items that you won't need during the day in the panniers, like a tent or sleeping bag.
Rear rack-top bag - These bigs sit on a rear rack, above your tire. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some pannier bag sets include both the panniers and a matching rack-top bag.
Frame Bags - These attach to your frame between your legs. There are many size, shape, and position options available here. Plus, they do help to center the weight on your eBike.
Seatpost Racks or Seat-Pack Bags - Seat-pack bags are popular with bikepackers because they do not require a frame to connect them to your eBike and are, therefore, lighter. Seat post racks are racks that attach to and extend out from your seat post, much higher up than a rear rack. You can fit a saddle bag above a seatpost rack, but not a seat-pack bag.
Saddle Bags - These small bags fit underneath the rear of your saddle and are really handy for keeping the small things in that you need close at hand: such as a wallet, phone, or puncture repair kit.
Handlebar Bags - These, again, are favored by the bikepacking world as they do not require a frame mount. You can add a handlebar bag to most eBikes without any additional hardware. They strap lengthwise across the front of your handlebars and come in various sizes. A handlebar bag is a great choice for keeping snacks or a mobile phone close at hand, instead of buried in the bottom of a pannier. Handlebar bags sit higher than panniers and can affect the handling of your bike. Make sure to do a test ride as you add bags and weight so you don't have any surprises.
Backpacks - Backpacks are a good option for eBike touring but don’t plan on carrying a heavy backpack. Heavy backpacks get uncomfortable quickly and you’re going to be riding for long periods of time. Many people wear a small backpack with a hydration bladder inside, so they can easily get water on the go.
What to pack when eBike touring or bikepacking - the essentials
There are many different things you can take with you on an eBike tour and many are dependent on how you’re doing your trip. Some stay in hotels and BnBs along their route, whilst others will camp. Here we’re going to cover the bare minimum essentials to take with you on your trip, no matter where you’re planning on staying.
There are two sections here, “For You” and “For Your eBike”:
Essentials For You
For Your eBike
Start with a simple overnight eBike trip
Before rushing out and subjecting yourself to a multi-day eBike tour, you should first complete a test run to make sure that everything works as planned and that you’re not missing anything. The best place to do this is somewhere close to home where you can ride out, stay the night, and then ride back the next day.
This way you get to test everything before you set out on your multi-day adventure. Doing it close to home also means that, if anything were to stop you in your tracks, you could have a friend or relative come and rescue you.
Print and bring a printed checklist showing everything you packed. When you return, you can add any missing items, and consider deleted items you carried, but didn't use.
Remember the 5 Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
To ensure that you enjoy your experience touring or bikepacking with your eBike proper trip planning is a must. Plan your trip around your needs and limits: how far you can physically cycle everyday without pushing yourself too hard, how far your eBike can travel before it needs recharging, and how often you need to resupply water and food.
Making sure you pack everything you need for your trip is an essential part but, when your planning, it is good to think about the creature comforts you just can’t do without and include them; because those can make or break your trip too. Always remember: your aim is to have fun!