A Bulletproof Electric Mountain Bike Set Up for Long-Distance Touring 

electric-mountiain-bike-touringArticle by Rob Katzenson and trip pictures & maps by Andrea Almering. 

The day described in Little Feat’s song “Old Folks Boogie” has arrived – When your mind makes a promise that your body can’t fill.

The tough to swallow part is your brain doesn’t realize your condition. You want the landscapes, the solitude and the body workout with minimal car contact.

The world offers heaps of places for these things BUT your body needs a little boost to make riding a pleasure – not a pain. Today’s E-MTB’s offer up a Middle Way for the rider whose days of pure human-powered, self-supported touring have dwindled.

Besides the physical realities you’re fixing to put two kids through university and your moneybag has some limits. Rest easy – there is an answer!

electric-mountiain-bike-touring-with-trailer

We took a solid, mid-priced Trek Powerfly +7 hardtail and made it a ride for all seasons – off-road, single track, family touring and a non-polluting commuter car replacement back at home.

Granted, it is a Middle Way meaning the bike can’t be all things to all riders but excluding some gnarly gonzo-abusive single track sections this rig will get you over nearly all off-pavement tracks with a minimum of hike ‘n bike portages.

The Baseline

trek-powerfly_7_electric_mountain_bike

The Trek Powerfly+ 7 29’er hard tail came with a mid-mount 250-watt Bosch Performance motor and a frame mounted 400-watt battery. The ride required a rework from a pure hard tail trailer to an unfailing touring workhorse and we run you through our modifications from handlebar to rear rack.

Steering/Lights

lightThe Bontrager Race Lite stem and Low Riser handlebar make for a long day of touring. We changed out to a gooseneck stem with up to 60 degrees of rotation and installed a sweptback riser handlebar for a more upright riding posture –we want to enjoy the views.

Risers limit a rider’s climbing power but we offset that with the Bosch motor. We added a rechargeable Ikzi 20-lux light for late days of riding.

tireWheels/Fenders

We stayed with the stock Shimano Deore hubs and 36-hole Alex TRS Disc rims but replaced the knobby Bontrager XR Expert tires with a set of Maxxis 29 x 2.10 CrossMark 60 TPI Tubeless ones for more versatility.

We sacrificed some trail performance but for multiple surfaces the change is well worth it. We added an SKS Shockboard fender for front wheel mud control.

thudbuster-w-seatSeatpost

After debating between swapping the Bontrager SSR for a dropper post or getting more shock protection we opted for the Cane Creek Thudbuster ST stem. The longer ride’s needed comfort took priority to split second adjustments.

When diving for danger down Fruita’s Troy Built first steep and deep drop section carrying 25+ kilos of gear I just dismount and readjust the seat height manually.

omm-rackRACKS

For long trips we chose an Old Man Mountain Pioneer front rack for fork-mounted, front shock setups. The big 12” x 6” bed accepts a JANDD Rear Rac Pack – and the rack is easy to remove if you don’t need the added capacity.

For the rear rack we selected an off-the-shelf rack that attaches to a rear wheel security lock bolted to the frame and rear stay mounts. Oversized JANDD saddlebags and a second Rear Rac Pack topped things off.

Ride balance is good with insignificant front wheel float. For gnarly multiday trips like the epic Kokopelli PLUS route (Fruita – Moab – La Sal – Gateway – Palisade loop) this two rack/bag setup is your best best.

kokopelli_map

bob-trailer-w-bagTrailer

When hauling gear for the entire family (because all of a sudden everyone just isn’t that strong a rider after all) nothing beats BOB’s single-wheel IBEX trailer.

It tracks like a dream on all but the worst surfaces and carries upwards of 30 kilos of gear. Plus it’s four water cage mounts stores hydrating fluids in camel quenching quantities.

The Low Down

We could go on about the different component options for brakes, shifters, gearing, pedals etc. but given that these are primarily a function of money (and money spent reduces weight and adds some performance) we say this tour set up handles the Middle Way without a hitch. Shaving off a few kilos by upgrading the frame and components would make things easier but let’s remember that college bill!

spain

Pro’s

Trek’s Powerfly+ 7 is a solid mid-priced performer and has everything needed for an uncomplicated long distance touring conversion project

The Bosch Performance engine delivers plenty of reliable power and torque day in, day out.

Mid-motor design means standard hubs making any on-tour wheel repair a no-brainer – same for the derailleur/drive train setup!

The bike is fun to ride with the relaxed posture setup and all you need for touring/commuting is hanging on the bike –from night riding – to rain – to pack rat loving storage.

Cons

The Bosch controller doesn’t allow for integrated GPX route charting capabilities and IPhone charging (hopefully the revamped Nyon controller overcomes this omission).

For riders on 15.5”/17.5” frames a set of 27.5” rims may offer better low-speed uphill maneuverability.

Beefier brakes (brawny 200 millimeter discs for the front wheel) are needed to effectively stop these heavier touring loads.

The Wish List

Since two batteries are needed for self-supported e-mtb touring a dual frame/rack mounted configuration with both batteries mounted, locked to the bike and ready for use/charging. This set-up frees up storage space where the spare battery would be stored when not attached to the bike and minimizes the potential for theft.

A compass function on the controller and more torque/power in the “walk assistance” mode to account for a fully loaded touring setup would be welcomed.

The Upshot – What It all means

electric-mountiain-bike-touring

After upgrading this bike riders can look forward to long distance touring without blowing out their knees. As with all e-bikes the range one gets from a battery is based on a lot of variables (rider strength, load, terrain, air temperature and power selection). Bosch’s latest batteries offer a strapping 500-watt rating (20% more capacity than their 400-watt version).

riese-muller-delite-double-bosch-battery

Riese & Muller Delite with double Bosch battery.

Sometime in 2017 or in the 2018 model year Bosch-powered e-mtb’s will offer a two-battery setup of either two frame-mounted batteries or a frame AND a rack mounted battery. We believe this option will help the e-mtb touring sector expand.

In real world conditions one can assume between 40-120 kilometers per charge with watchful power management (meaning using Eco mode except for steep grades and motor shutoff on downhills). For long-distance expeditions away from power and to dodge spending most of your day off the seat charging batteries riders need a second battery.

Two 500-watt batteries, coupled with sound power management, provides a fully loaded rider up to 240 kilometers of range. Enough for a several day expedition into some big-time backcountry viewsheds.

2015 Travelogue

Recently we took this e-mtb setup on four separate self-supported tours through various terrain in Europe. We put over 3,500 kilometers on the bikes in approximately four weeks.

lagrasse
Trip 1 went through the Ardennes from Maastricht, The Netherlands through Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium.

maxstoutTrip 2 was a more leisurely tour through the France’s Loire Valley from Gennes to Chambord (with Ibex trailer in tow).

Trip 3 was a circular Trans-Pyrennes up and down route from LaGrasse, France into Catalan Spain and back to LaGrasse via Carcassone.

And Trip 4 was a idyllic week exploring France’s High Cevennes – a UNESCO World Heritage region – that affords riders a mix of road, track and trail.

france

On the tours we averaged between 9-11 miles per hour depending on topography and surface conditions beause European Union sold bikes have a 15 mph limit as opposed to the US limit of 20 mph).

We believe that full outfitted e-mtb touring demands between 50-70% of the physical effort compared to non-motorized trips even though the ride time on the saddle is close to touring on a standard huff ‘n puff pushbike. That 30-50% differential makes a world of difference.

Thanks to Rob Katzenson for this guest post and Andrea Almering for the trip pictures and maps.

P.S. Don’t forget to join the Electric Bike Report community for updates from the electric bike world, plus ebike riding and maintenance tips!

Comments

  1. Derek Kerton says

    Nice rides. I’m very jealous. But I have great bikes here in California, and end up in a car in the EU.

    I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Catalunya, and I’m wondering how you handled the issue of theft. I’ve been robbed more than once (car break ins) up that way, and fended off two other “distraction” robberies.

    I know you didn’t go to Barcelona, but if you let your things out of your sight for 10 seconds in that town, the jackals come out. And I an NOT exaggerating,

    Did you mostly avoid cities like Figueres and Girona?

  2. says

    A Mountain Bike is a Mountain Bike and a Tour Bike is a Tour Bike. The only reason to use a Mountain bike for touring is because you don’t have a decent supply of fully suspended tour bikes available and bike companies don’t want to create a high quality tour bike that no one will want to pay for. Why try to a adapt mountain bike frames for something they weren’t designed for or have to use a pitiful little underpowered motor coming out of Bosch or Panisonic? Reise and Muller and Tout-Terrain have both taken the easy route and modified their Tour bikes to use motors that are underpowered, but at least they are Real Tour bikes to start with. The nonsense about two batteries is only argued by people that don’t ride or don’t have to buy batteries. Proper Li-Ion use and maintenance dictates not depleting the battery past 20% and not charging over 80% to get the maximum number of cycles possible. So if you want to ride more that 20 miles carrying standard touring gear, and not kill the battery by burning it at both ends at the same time, a big battery is necessary with back-up close at hand. Forget the nonsense about dual battery hangers.

    • Derek Kerton says

      AS a guy who has both 500 Watt 30mph hub motor bike, AND Bosch 350 Watt mid-drive bike, I have to say you’re wrong with

      “pitiful little underpowered motor coming out of Bosch or Panasonic”

      A mid-drive 350W offers better hill climbing than a 500W hub, and you won’t overhead and damage the motor trying. I’ve burned out a controller on a 350 W hub bike trying to use it up a steep trail. Meanwhile, I can take my Bosch / Haibike up long steeps that I barely have the technical skills to hang on.

      No, it’s not the same as 500W mid would be, but it actually works out really well for hills and trails. And also sips power for slightly longer range.

      Bosch systems are delightful. Instantly responsive, full benefits of the gears, good noise, and clean gear shifts. I still feel like I’m biking, but I’m strong like Armstrong on roids. Sure, you could add more power, but then why bother with the pedals at all?

      If you can make a case for a 500W mid drive, then be my guest. You can line up to buy it, but I won’t. But that’s the beauty of this market. It’s growing, choices are expanding, and to each their own.

      • says

        I’m not trying to hurt anyones feelings or snicker at inadequacies but remember the subject. A mountain bike used for touring. We aren’t talking about using a stripped down mountain bike carrying a rider and cute knee pads up some goat trail. The discussion is about taking a mountain bike and trying to adapt it to do something it was never intended to do. Comfortably carry and/or tow multiple hundreds of pounds of rider and gear long distances, with a riding position that lets the rider enjoy more than an hour or two riding daily and not start falling apart after the 1st week. A lot of mountain bikes don’t even have fender or rack mounts. Touring has also not been a party that you would bring carbon fiber to. I am sure that will change someday once you can get a cracked frame repaired somewhere in the Himalayas.

        I will absolutely agree with you that hub motors don’t even deserve to be added to this discussion. That’s why you burnt yours out. They were not designed for climbing. You mentioned power conservation which is very important to touring but using a small motor to achieve the saving is the wrong answer. The best approach is to be able to use the absolute minimum power necessary to motivate over the terrain you’re on. I use a BaFang 750W (1hp) motor that allows me to ride daily, with well over 550 lbs. of rider and gear and achieve between 2.5 and 3 miles per Amp hour (mpAh). This is achieved by constantly fine tuning the gearing, the power level (to include turning it OFF), and how the power is applied, pedal assist or throttle. The underpowered European systems don’t allow for this amount of rider choice.

        Mountain bikes are great, for what they are designed for and that’s not touring.

        • Derek Kerton says

          “I use a BaFang 750W (1hp) motor that allows me to ride daily, with well over 550 lbs. of rider and gear and achieve between 2.5 and 3 miles per Amp hour (mpAh). ”

          That’s great. But for me that gets into such heavy rigs that I wouldn’t feel like biking to me. But as I said, I can’t speak for everyone and to each their own.

          I have enough people telling me the kind of biking I like “isn’t really biking”. But since we’re just out to enjoy ourselves, It’s literally a case of “whatever turns your crank.”

          • says

            I fully agree about rider choice but there are “Subject” lines to these articles. Most riders don’t really understand Tour riding, what’s required, what’s involved. A Mountain bike is a Mountain bike and a Tour bike is a Tour bike.

          • Pete says

            Rob is doing a combination of on and off road riding so a mountain bike worked well for him. Cass Gilbert is another example of someone using a mountain bike for a lot of his touring.

        • Roy Mariano says

          I have to say, you are absolutely right about Mtn Vs Touring bikes. I handspec’d my own touring bike, with 50 spoke wheelset to help prevent further instances of wheel failure during long trips. All it needs now is a motor.

          • Brian Bassett says

            Exactly! You can’t make things bulletproof but you can take steps to make them as strong and durable as possible. If you are looking to add a motor now, look at the BaFang 750W and if possible lace in a Rohloff Speedhub, they work together beautifully. The combination allows you to climb almost anything using the absolute minimum power. You don’t even need brake levers with motor cut-out.

    • Rob Katzenson says

      Brian – thanks for the input though I have a somewhat different take on things. I don’t get too concerned with names or definitions as I focus on two elements: functionality and value.

      I modified the e-MTB because I like to ride off road and away from cars as much as possible and the tour e-bikes just aren’t enough “bike” for me to do that with confidence. With the modifications identified in the article I can accomplish pretty much what I want to – except the really steep and deep stuff best suited for a truly configured e-MTB.

      Regarding the dual batteries to each their own. For me I’d like to see a three battery option (two frame mounts and a third rear rack mount) all tied to a common charge point with distributed power draw on all three batteries. I like to get away from things and getting away often means limited charging locations. Three batteries (500W each) can give the careful rider three nights of backcountry travel. I like that sound of that.

  3. says

    I see. So I should pull a golf cart along because I like to get in 18 holes whenever I can. Tour bikes and Tour riders don’t only stay on hard surface roads. I don’t do high drops on my bike but then it’s a Tour bike not a over loaded stressed Mountain bike. Because of a couple forward leaning bike companies the words Full Suspension and Tour Bike do go together. They are rare but allow Tour riders the comfort of full suspension without the limitations of most Mountain bikes. That’s why there are different classes of bikes, so you don’t have to add and modify frames to do more than they were designed for.

  4. says

    The idea of using multiple batteries is silly and shows a lack of real world experience. When you have multiple batteries you will have to charge them separately, one at a time, or carry multiple chargers. Tour riding differs in that riders will often have multiple pieces of electronics that need to be recharged in addition to the bike batteries. I will often get access to a single 120V plug that I have to use for all my charging needs. I always stress Li-Ion charging protocols because no one else like to talk about their shortcomings. If I use 18 Ahs of power on a 50 to 60 mile ride, it can take as much as 5 to 6 hours to recharge the battery properly, with a Cycle Satiator to extend battery life. Hang 3 separate 10 Ah batteries on your bike and you will spend most of the night playing switcharoo with the batteries. Of course this is all off topic. If you want to Tour on a bicycle then you buy a Tour bike. If you want a tour bike with an electric motor, at this point in time your best bet is to add a BaFang 750W motor to it. It is true that a mountain bike with go places that a fully laden tour bike can’t. A lesson I learn over and over again. But once I have set up base camp I can detach the trailer, download the bike and go most anywhere that mountain bikes go. If your focus is on functionality then why would you select something that needs to be modified before your first long ride? Getting the most for your money I do understand, painfully so. Tour bikes are expensive. and good tour bikes are even more expensive. There are obvious reasons if you just compare them side by side. Or…. buy a average underpowered mountain bike, change the seat, brakes, gearing, add a light, fenders, front and rear racks. Change the tires and maybe even the rims and you will still have a underpowered facsimile of a good Tour bike. Not something I would suggest to any rider, even if I am being paid by a bike manufacturer for “my” opinion.

    • Derek Kerton says

      But ONE single monolithic battery can only charge at the stated rate.
      Three smaller batteries could potentially charge 3x faster. Yes, it would require additional chargers, but if you’re in a rush, the ability is there.

      Then you also have the advantages of:
      – Scalability: bring only as many of your batteries as you need. Increase range one cheaper battery at a time.
      – Separation: leave two batteries in camp charging while you day-trip on just one
      – Separation: lend a battery to your companions when in need
      – Redundancy: Fry a battery or BMS? Use the other ones to get to next camp.
      – Risk Mitigation: If a few cells die in a battery, sometimes the whole packed is done. With cells spread throughout more packs, you lose less co-packed investment when a few cells die.

      As for changing the batteries out overnight while charging, I have done simple parallel connections of ebike batteries, and charged them both on one charter. No problem. Each BMS manages each battery’s individual charge well. I have four batteries for my DJI Phantom drone, and bought a station that charges each in a sequence.

      So, with multiples, you DON’T have the problem you stated of swapping out all night, but you DO have the potential to simulcharge multiple batteries at once. And the other benefits listed.

      I don’t tour ride, but seems to this novice that that the flexibility would be a benefit. Isn’t it?

    • Rob Katzenson says

      I don’t believe that wanting multiple batteries with a single charge point (requiring one single charge point BTW) is silly or reflective of a lack of real world touring experience. I’ve been doing long-distance, self-supported touring since 1980 when I went from Anchorage to Salt Lake City down the ALCAN and Cassiar highways on a Raleigh International drop bar ten speed.

      That said, my interest in using multiple batteries is to extend the distance of the bike travel without having to charge up during the riding day. The charging cycle is intended to be done at the end of the day’s ride. Also, multiple batteries allow riders to travel through deeper backcountry landscapes where charge points are limited or not available.

      So for me the configuration is purely a means to an end – greater access to backcountry trails and landscapes away from car traffic and minimal charging requirements.during the riding day.

  5. Brian Bassett says

    Once again you display that lack of touring knowledge and experience. This sentence alone displays that more than anything else.

    “The charging cycle is intended to be done at the end of the day’s ride. ”

    The “charging cycle” is performed anytime the battery is depleted enough to warrant charging and you have access to a power source. Not just when you get home and take your bike off the car rack and wash an hours worth of grime off of it. Tour riding doesn’t end at the bottom of the hill or the end of the day. When you are tucked into your bed dreaming of next weekend’s afternoon ride, tour riders can still be looking for a the best place to put the tripod to get a perfect picture or where they can find a place to curl up for the night. I have depleted (down to 20%) a 24.5 Ah battery in a 30 mile massive ascent using a center drive motor and all the energy I could pedal, with a fully loaded bike and trailer before lunch time and then wandered around until afternoon as it charged to get in another 60 miles of riding. Why would I want to stop every hour or less and swap a battery?

    It seems you also misunderstand Li-Ion charging procedures when you think you can charge a smaller battery more quickly than a large one and still get the maximum life out of the battery. These aren’t silly little drone batteries like you mentioned. The Cycle Satiator can recharge quickly, and more importantly, efficiently, guaranteeing a long battery life.

    None of this is hard to understand or to learn. Go buy a bike that is intended for long distance riding, you know, a Tour bike. Get a high quality, large capacity battery and a Cycle Satiator. Equip it with all the gear necessary to survive and actually live comfortably for days or weeks at a time. Strap on your cute little knee pads if you want, and go for a TOUR.

    • Rob Katzenson says

      Brian are you really serious? I have a different opinion than you which is fine but your antagonistic debating club approach has gotten, regrettably, very, very old and done so very, very quickly.

      I’ll tour my way and you tour your’s but I am very happy with how my approach has worked in practice. I go with what works and this works for me.

      Oh yes, one more thing – have a nice day.

      • Brian Bassett says

        Sorry Rob,

        I didn’t know I was suppose to agree with someone regardless of what they were saying. I didn’t mean for you to get hurt feelings. I was attempting to correct some of your silly misconceived notions about biking in areas that you are completely wrong. You could have taken the information as a simple learning exercise and you chose to take it personally. In that case your right Rob. Especially about having a small motor and carrying 3 small batteries and 3 chargers when touring, you know just in case someone else needs one. If you would have let me corrall you back onto the “topic” with any of my attempts you wouldn’t be feeling like a scolded school child now. Pull in the bottom lip, stop pouting and re-read all my replies to your ideas (nonsense) and you will have much better touring experiences. Maybe even be able to carry some luxury items along to make your afternoon away from the car more enjoyable.

        Just saying over and over, “To each there own”. Doesn’t make it right. That’s why people are trained to do something properly. A Dr. doesn’t go in through a patient’s back to remove his heart. “To each his own?” Definitely not! If you were here and we were talking face to face, I would get you a nice warm cup of cocoa and a cookie, try to smile a lot, speak softly and tell you again… a Mountain Bike is a Mountain Bike and a Tour Bike is a Tour Bike.

        Now go outside and play.

        • Rob Katzenson says

          You’re quite the antagonist aren’t you Brian. Haven’t seen a nice word in any of your posts.

          Since I know you need to get in the last word – go right ahead as this is my last response.

          As the old saying goes ” … never mud wrestle with a hog as all you get is dirty and the hog loves it.” Stay muddy buddy.

  6. Michael K. says

    Wow, this article got a lot of opinions out. Boils down to get the best bike you can afford for what you want to do with it.

    • Brian Bassett says

      Read it again then genuis. It comes down to buying the most appropriate, quality bike for the riding you want to do and not trying to make one do more than it was designed for. Bulletproof…. what a crock! Maybe a better title would be, “A Medium Quality Electric Mountain Bike Setup for Hotel Hopping… but if you want to Tour, buy a Tour Bike! “

  7. Jay says

    Too bad there is such a heated argument going on here. I wish Brian would respect Rob’s experience and not be forceful about his opinions.

    Anyway, just chiming in to say I really enjoyed reading this post. I think ebikes make touring possible for a lot more people. I am getting a Bosch powered bike with a second battery to do longer group rides and really looking forward to it.

  8. Jim Summers says

    I am just now considering buying an e-bike. I thought the article was very helpful. I have plenty of experience touring with mountain bikes, i.e., Continental Divide ride, among others. And have toured on touring bikes.

    Seems the mtb option is safer, although slower. It is possible to take to the dirt or gravel shoulder or even a shallow drainage ditch if the cars get too close or there is no paved shoulder. At 70, with two fake knees, a fake hip, back fusion, it is hard to keep going without the kind of assist described in this excellent article. Thanks.

    I think much can be learned from the discussion above, but the put downs and hostility of one commenter detracted considerably from the useful information he actually did provide. Thanks for finally putting an end to that part of this otherwise useful thread.

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