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The New Frontier for Long Distance Cycle Touring

The New Frontier for Long Distance Cycle Touring
Long distance cycle tourists, as we all know, are a dime a dozen these days.

Every day you open your computer or browse the latest online e-book cycling releases you read about another 20-something adventurer who has conquered the world on his or her touring bike or is setting out or mid-way through a multi-country odyssey.

All in their own way are living out their dreams by exploring the world the best way there is – on a bicycle.

After all, as anyone who has been lucky enough to complete a long distance cycle tour will very quickly tell you, when you are cycle touring the people you meet along the way very quickly become your friends, the sights are more beautiful from a bicycle than any other form of transport, the smells are real and the world in general just seems to be a better place.

But hold on for a moment, maybe it’s time for a reality check here!

Sure conventional cycle touring is an amazing way to see the world, but clearly it’s not for everyone. The reality of the situation is that cycling big distances over an extended period of time while carrying all of your worldly possessions – possibly weighing 25kg and often more - is a major physical feat.

And no matter whether it is a one week, one month, one year or a multi-year journey, above all other considerations there is one certainty - there are going to be a LOT of very STEEP hills between the start and finish lines.

And that in a nutshell is why the vast majority of people who set out on long distance cycle tours are aged in their 20s and 30s. Clearly at this age they are not only young and strong, but are yet to experience some of the not-so-pleasant side effects of ageing.

But now, thankfully, as a result of huge advances in technology over the past 10 years, there is a way that virtually guarantees that anyone of any age can enjoy the amazing sense of freedom that comes with long distance cycle touring.

So what is this Holy Grail that enables people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s to go long distance cycle touring alongside younger testosterone charged adventurers? The answer is an electric bike, also referred to as pedelecs, e-bikes and electric assist bikes.

With an e-bike effectively ironing out the hills, negating headwinds and seemingly reducing the weight of items carried on a bike, long distance touring suddenly becomes doable for many, many people who would never have previously considered themselves capable of completing a tour for a host of reasons.

Such are the positives linked to long distance e-bike touring, even though it is still a relatively new travelling genre, it is almost certain to boom in coming years given the huge advances in e-bike reliability and battery technology.

If you are taken with the idea of setting out to see the world on your e-bike, as the e-Bike Cycle Tourists have, what specific considerations have to be taken into account before you head off?

Surprisingly there aren’t that many, with issues relating to general bike maintenance, proper hydration, nutrition, camping, immigration visas if you are travelling overseas, safety, what to take with you etc, etc much the same as for people setting out on long distance tours on conventional touring bikes.

In short there are probably three main additional points that anyone planning an e-bike tour has to consider.
These are: e-bike batteries, suitable route planning and e-bike specific maintenance.

Clearly the number one consideration for anyone setting out on a long distance ride is the limitation that e-bike batteries impose on you. No matter what make of electric bike you ride and what brand of battery it uses, the fact of the matter is that at most you have probably got a maximum range per battery charge of about 100-plus kilometres depending on the amount of electric assist you use.

As a result, depending on your budget, you have therefore got one of four choices:
 1. You plug into mains electricity at the end of every day and at every opportunity during every day just in case you can’t find an electrical power point at night
 2. You invest big dollars in solar technology
 3. You consider the merits of carrying a lightweight electrical generator or
 4. You carry multiple backup batteries with you.

One thing is for certain, no matter where you plan to travel there is never going to be a guarantee that mains electricity is always available, so it is imperative you employ one of the above strategies.

So what is best? All four in their own way have their advantages and drawbacks, with solar a clear winner if cost is not an issue. Unfortunately if you are riding an e-bike that features the Bosch performance crank drive motor along and the Bosch 400Wh PowerPack battery, as we are, the complexities of the Bosch system mean that there are very few people in the world with the expertise to build a suitable system. And believe me; if you can track down someone to supply a suitable solar system for you, you are likely to recoil in horror when you are told the price.

The good news, however, for anyone with many other e-bike battery systems, is that solar technology is much more readily available and therefore cheaper.

So if you don’t want or can’t afford solar, what is the next best option? The answer to that question really depends on where you will be travelling. If you plan to cycle in remote destinations well away from civilization for days on end the best choice is to carry a small electrical generator weighing anything between 10 and 13 kgs.

Given that you have the advantage of electrical assist, the extra weight should not be a problem, meaning that you can top up your batteries wherever and whenever you want.

If, however, you don’t like the idea of either solar or a generator and know you will be closer to mains electricity on a regular basis, the best idea is to carry at least one or two spare batteries per bicycle and charge them as often as possible.

The second point for would-be e-bike cycle tourists to consider, depending on what type of battery charging method you plan to use, is sensible route selection.
If you are going solar make sure you are cycling somewhere in the world where there is a lot of sun, because remember no sun = no solar power.

Just as importantly if you decide to use a small generator make sure you are cycling somewhere where you can get regular supplies of unleaded petrol, because remember no petrol = no power.

Finally, and far from least, if you are planning an e-bike cycle tour, make sure you invest some time into learning the basics of how your e-bike drive system works. While major breakdowns will always be the domain of the experts, if you are capable of some basic repair work it could help get you out of a difficult situation – and, hopefully, a long walk for help.


Gary Corbett is an award-winning Australian journalist who has written for a wide range of newspapers, periodicals and travel magazines for the past 30-plus years.

After years of writing about other people’s travel adventures, in the mid-2000s he  booked a personal holiday with a difference – a one week guided cycling tour in the Loire Valley in France – and was instantly hooked on those “how good is this” moments that only cycle touring can provide.

In ensuing years he has gone on to cycle well in excess of 30,000 kilometres completing guided, self-guided, bike and barge and solo long distance tours in Europe, Australia, Asia and South America.

Gary now writes exclusively about cycle touring and travelling in general and as such the attempt to set a new electric bike world long distance record along with his wife, Rachel, is his latest “fact finding” cycling adventure – however this time it will be on an e-bike.

His future goal is to see more of the world from the seat of his trusty Trek 520 touring bicycle, and now that he has discovered the world of e-biking, his new Haibike xDuro Trekking RX e-bike. There is, after all, always another country to be explored, new cultures to be experienced and more cycle tours to be completed.


Before this epic journey Gary (a.k.a. The Cycle Tourist) contributed many excellent cycle touring articles to the Cycle Tours Global blog - you can read them at cycletoursglobal.com/Gary-Corbett.

To find out even more about the expedition please visit http://ebikecycletourists.com.

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By: Gary Corbett
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