E-bikes - are they the future of cycle tourism?

 Bruce Robertson

Image: Gary Corbett

E-bikes, electric bikes or pedelecs, call them what you will, are the fastest growing category of cycle tourism. Worldwide there are several operators that specialise in e-bike tours such as BlueBananas (Sydney), E-Biketrip (Prague), GrassRoutes (Ireland), Lazypedals (Spain), E Revolution (Koh Samui) and eBikes Bali. However each year, more and more cycle tour operators are offering e-bike options or upgrades on most, if not all, of their tours.
Not surprisingly e-bikes are most prevalent in Western Europe where a highly developed cycling culture is complemented by world class cycling infrastructure. Thatsaid, more and more e-bike tours are being added to cycle tour company itineraries, especially in Eastern Europe, North America and Australia/New Zealand.

Why are e-bikes becoming so popular

  • They enable people who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) normally ride, to hope on a bike without too much risk of being overly sweaty or exhausted afterwards
  • They enable people to ride for longer or tackle steeper gradients
  • They enable you to reach a destination faster, or cover more ground on the way
  • Charging and battery life are improving all the time
  • As the market gets bigger and with more players, prices will come down
  • There is much less stigma attached to e-cycling now and it is perfectly acceptable, or even commonplace
  • Very low carbon footprint (when compared to motor vehicles)
  • Time and cost efficient – especially in increasingly congested cities
  • No licence or insurance needed – just get an e-bike and ride!

Are e-bikes a cop-out?

Absolutely not - if the electric boost helps the rider do something they wouldn’t normally do then there is certainly no cop-out. The bikes are nearly always pedal assist which means the rider is still cycling and getting exercise.
However if you do want to use an e-bike just to be lazy or because it’s convenient or easy, then maybe that is taking the soft option - but what’s wrong with that? That’s what made the motor industry the behemoth it is today.

e-bikes at the Bo-Peep
Image: Gary Corbett

Why e-bikes are great for cycling touring?

  • Reduced level of difficulty – an advanced bike tour becomes moderate and a moderate one easy
  • Many more people are able to spend time on a bike and enjoy their tour whereas previously they wouldn’t have even considered booking a bike tour
  • Still experience all the usual benefits of cycle touring (fresh air, exercise, a more immersive and memorable travel experience, human-paced travel etc)
  • Not too much worry about battery charging and will it last long enough, as the tour operator has planned for this
  • If you’re considering buying an e-bike then anorganised tour is the perfect test ground
In the words of veteran journalist Gary Corbett, who cycled a world record 27,800 km in 2015-16 with his wife Rachel as the E-bike Cycle Tourists:

“Sure, like us, you can plan and set out on a marathon e-bike journey over months and even years, set a new world e-bike long distance record and enjoy a lifetime of amazing experiences, but more to the point it shows that e-bikes are a suitable form of transport for anyone of any age to get out there and enjoy life.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a fearless 20-something-year-old carving up the mountain bike trails on a state-of-the-art full suspension eMTB or an 80-year-old who has swapped retirement home bingo sessions for the thrill of cycling again, the fact of the matter is that e-bikes are for EVERYONE.”

You can read more from Gary’s inspiring blog at ebikecycletourists.com.

e-bike at Cliffs of Dover
Image: Gary Corbett

So while conventional manual bikes won’t be replaced any time soon on bike tours, and will still be the best option for many people, cycle tourism is set for enormous expansion through much easier, and increasingly more widespread, availability and accessibility.

You can browse and search through hundreds of e-bike tours around the world at cycletoursglobal.com/Electric-Bikes