Touring Europe on eBikes – Why We Decided to Electrify

ebike touring europeBy Anne Poe

If you have read any other pages in our website, www.hikingbikingadventures.com,  you have seen that we have often chosen to pursue challenging “holidays”.

The website stories start in 1984, our very first adventure, when we bicycled from Costa Rica to Peru and tried to bike through the infamous Darien Gap of Panama.

Thirty-one years and multiple adventure holidays later, we are now both in our 70’s.  Mike read about a study done on marathon runners that showed their race time declined by 20% every decade after the age of 40. We may still have the mental desire to meet the challenges and go the distances of our former years, we just don’t seem to get there! Age has made a difference.

Last summer, we bicycled 4000 kilometers around Europe with full luggage and no electric assist. Stories are posted in our blog and under “Bicycling Adventures” on our site. There were days, even weeks, we wondered what we were doing there.

In the United States, gradients on paved major and even minor roads rarely get steeper than 8%. In Europe, we constantly struggled up 10% to 15% gradients with many very short but very tiring gradients that registered up to 26% on our GPS.

ebike touring europe 1

Eventually, we changed our itinerary and followed the Euro Velo 6 route along major rivers. There were still plenty of big hills, but it was a much easier route than where we had started in Greece and Croatia. Even though we wanted to continue our original route, the challenge was too much for us to enjoy.

I was born with a genetic form of emphysema. At my current age of 71 years,  of the oxygen I take in, only 37% gets into my blood stream. Normal, healthy lungs in my age group pass between 70% to 80% oxygen from the lungs to the blood.

Without adequate oxygen to my blood, my heart wants to pump harder to compensate. Breathing gets short and stressed. My only choice is to go slow, especially uphill.

My average speed going up a 6 mile hill with 10% gradient was about 2 miles per hour and less. At times, my breathing would become very labored and I would have to stop and recover. I was not having fun.

Because of my compromised lungs, Mike carried more of the luggage. He had a fully loaded bike and pulled a Bob’s trailer. Often, on long up hills, if he stopped to rest, he could not get started again and ended up pushing to a flatter spot or to the top. He got tired of pulling such a burden on a daily basis and lost his desire to cycle in the mountains. He was not having fun.

We prefer to cycle in the mountains. We did not want to give that up, but neither were we up to the extreme challenge anymore. Something had to change, or we might had given up hope of ever enjoying independent, long distance touring again.

E-bikes are a relatively new concept in America, but they are extremely popular in Europe. Last summer when we were riding, we saw many people riding with electric assist. One must pedal in order to engage the assisting power.

It has been described as bicycling with a tailwind. We decided if they could do it, we could do it and began a laborious search into the fast growing field of E-bikes.

ebike touring europe

Thoughts on Touring with E-Bikes

    • Generally speaking, we were not interested in pedaling upwards of 50 miles a day
    • We never had a problem recharging the batteries: in restaurants for lunch if needed, at campgrounds, even a couple of times in private homes.
    • Distances between interesting destinations were well within our desired distance of travel per day
    • We still pedaled; we still very much enjoyed the feeling of bicycling and daily accomplishment
    • We were able to cycle the mountain areas we loved; without the motor assistance, we would have given that up; perhaps even bicycling altogether
    • My stressed breathing all but disappeared
    • We had fun!

We cycled about 4,000 kilometers in 6 different countries: Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, and Italy. We found a lot of scenically rich, challenging, mountain routes that we could not have enjoyed without our BionX motorized systems.

The journey was a highlight in our lives. We are lucky to be living in an age where technology offers so many an opportunity to continue participating in an active lifestyle. Electrifying our bikes allows us to continue cycling.

About Us:

Adventure traveling since 1984, we have since authored three very popular hiking guides for Colorado and one for Utah, plus a bicycling adventure journey in Southeast Asia. Our most recent publication, Cycle Scenic Slovenia Routes/Maps/GPS Downloads, is all about our electric bike journey through Slovenia in 2015.

Our printed books are sold on Amazon.com. Our full color PDF downloadable books are sold in our Digital Store.

Comments

  1. Eugene says

    Hi Anne & Mike,
    I plan to tour the world on an electric bike and I was inspired by your accomplishments. I realize I am not a young man anymore and the e-bike for me is a godsend. I will be reading about your experiences and hope to learn as much as I can.. I would also like to ask you a few questions as I prepare for my trip.

    a

    • Eugene says

      Is that a TerraTrike you are riding in the picture?

      I believe at present domestic flight regulations for lithium batteries is no battery over 300 watt hours and for international flights you can carry no more than two 160 watt hour batteries as carry-on. Let me know if anyone knows if this has changed.

      • says

        Hi Eugene,
        My apologies for replying late. I have been hiding under the bedcovers expelling the flu! All gone now.
        I rode two different trikes in Europe last summer.
        First is a newly developed folding trike that has super folding ability. I mean small. It fits into a legal size suitcase for airlines. Trike is called E2 by Evolve, but they are out of production until 2016. Here is a link: http://www.evolvetrikes.com/availability.html.
        The E2 I rode had a 16″ wheel. Now the trikes are made with 20″ wheel which is much better.
        I added the BionX system to this trike.
        Here was the problem: Europe and America have different laws governing the permissible RPM for an electric bike. A complete discussion of what this means to airline travelers is covered in our website. Unfortunately, Pete needed to cut that section from my post as it was way too long. Here is the link to that explanation: http://www.hikingbikingadventures.com/biking-adventures/touring-europe-on-e-bikes-2015/
        Because we could not take the batteries or even ship them by air, we bought our system in Europe. The BionX 20″ motor in Europe is much smaller with less torque than what I could buy in the states. able to purchase the The result was, I blew up two 20″ motors because of the very steep grades and heavy load of touring gear.
        So, I bought a new trike, a workhorse built in the Czech Republic. With 26 ” wheel, BionX swapped me a new, bigger motor…hence, no more problems. Again, all of this is greatly detailed in that link to our website page.
        In your post to DaveO, you hit the nail on the head. We agree with everything you said about determining mileage. It really is a crap shoot. I’ll add some thoughts to his post directly.
        Thanks for sharing.

  2. candace crawford says

    thanks for pointing out that ebikes keep the fun in cycling … I’m 65 and commute to my office, etc by ebike… a minimum of 15 miles round trip and easily twice that with side trips … I’ve often been told I’m ‘cheating’ but I’m also riding everyday (until I broke my ankle in thanksgiving, I’d driven two days in last year to my office… counting the days until I’ m back … at this point the cycling would be good for my ankle, just a little leery of the crazy drivers and having to stomp down with my foot)
    one question: as I would like to do another bike tour in Europe, this time by ebike, what is the status of transporting lithium battery on airplane?

  3. says

    Thanks for your inspiration. My wife and I have taken week long bike and boat trips in Europe for the past 3 years. The E-Bike allows us to see more and visit castles and vineyards located high above the river towns. I was able to ride a Haibike-Bosch E-Bike to the top of the Heidelberg castle on the Neckar river in 2014 and a Trek-Bosch E-Bike on a more demanding climb to the Burg Eltz castle on the Moselle river. I am 72 years old and had quadruple heart bypass surgery. I am interested in research using E-Bikes to reduce recovery time from heart surgery, knee and hip replacement surgery, improved athletic performance and weight loss.

    • says

      You are another great example of why E-Bikes are so important. Why should we give up what we love to do…and is very good for our health…when there is such an innovative alternative!
      E bikes with the Pedelec system still require a great deal of energy output.
      When we were riding up Vrsic Pass in Slovenia, 6 miles long at 14% gradient, we worked! It is a popular ride for young, strapping Italians on bikes that weigh less than the wheels on my bike! One rider saw my motor. He passed me like any young man could…and gave me the thumbs up signal. He knew that if we were on that hill, we were putting out calories too!

  4. Kirk says

    Good on ya!
    17 or 70, keep the fun in ‘cycling!
    e.Hands up everyone who remembers the simple thrill of riding a bike when they were 8 or so, all day, every day, feet hardly ever touching the ground.
    E Bikes can bring that back.
    I took to an ebike when the doctor said I had to stop riding when a gimpy hip became a commuting problem.
    I live in Vancouver, Canada. Traffic, parking, ba blah ba blah. Driving is NO FUN!
    Yes, as you age you have to give up some things.
    I gave up doctors.
    Now I’m looking for a new ebike, sort of, I retired and ride a regular old bike about 30km a day, errands and such. Also FUN. Well… mostly fun. I only live a few km. from stores and such, but the long way ’round to get there is still the way to go for me.
    However, the ebike bug once bitten stays bit.
    Keep going. You inspire us all.
    Thanks guys, and to Pete for keeping me posted.
    K.

  5. DaveO says

    Hope you can answer my question. I am moments away from buying an Easy Motion Evo Cross 36V / 11 amps. I am 6′-3″ 220#. I currently ride 3-4 days per week and feel pretty strong. Weekend rides of 40-60 miles. I intend to pedal the bike but am looking for assistance ‘up’-hills and at the end of rides. What is a realistic range I can expect from the battery or is this question akin to “how much money do I need for retirement?”

    • Eugene says

      Hi DaveO,

      While you are waiting for Anne & Mike’s response, I thought I would add my 2 cents. I have ridden over 100 e-bikes and own 7. Personally I find that most e-bike companies tend to give the mileage as the maximum under ideal conditions (light rider, flat terrain, and with the optimum of pedal assist). I usually pedal whenever I can and only turn on the motor when I need the extra power. I would first look over the printed material on the particular bike you intend to purchase and then ask how they got their range estimate. Of course, even if they did exhaustive trials in determining the printed figures, the riders weight, the terrain and amount of pedaling support you put into your climb cannot be perfectly matched. The important thing is to have a bike that shows you how much power you have left, before, during and after a ride, as this will give you a better idea of how far the battery will take you. Of course, if you could rent a bike before buying, you could find this out before making the purchase. Also, there are e-bikes that are only “pedal assist” (all those in Europe) and some are “power-on-demand” while others are both “pedal assist” and “power-on-demand.” Also, there are front and rear hub motors, some all wheel drive bikes, and my preference mid-drives. All of these factors can affect range in addition to weight of the bike, the size of the battery (watt hours), how well the battery holds a charge, weight of the bike rider, type of terrain one rides, etc. I guess it is kind of like determining how much money you need for retirement as a lot factors apply. I would go to a site like endless-sphere.com and look for others who have purchased the Easy Motion Evo Cross 36V / 11 amps and find out their experiences related to the bike’s range.

    • says

      High DaveO,
      I think the Easy Motion EVO Cross 36V/11Ah by BH would be a good choice for you. I have evaluated 7 different BH E-Bikes and found them to be of high quality. I recommend that you ride at least 3 different models before you decide. The 36V/11Ah battery is a good size for your application. You are a strong biker so you do not need to carry extra battery weight. Since you will be pedaling most of the time it is also important to test the bikes without the E-Assist on. I use the Cycle Analyst to test a lot of bikes. .It helps me identify the efficient operating modes for a particular E-Bike, I can normally improve my battery range by about 20% once I understand the most efficient operating points. The Easy Motion EVO Cross comes in a medium and large frame size. Make sure you get the proper frame size.
      Don Gerhardt

  6. Eugene says

    Hi Anne & Mike,

    I will be pulling a trailer on my world tour in 2018. I notice you have been using a Bob. What do you think of the T-1? Or do you think there is another trailer that would hold up better for that long of a trip.

    • says

      Hi Eugene,
      We have used a Bob’s trailer on 3 different long tours: Europe,
      New Zealand, and Australia. We used the regular model without suspension. We never had a single negative issue with that trailer. And, it was the same trailer over those 3 tours.
      The reason we stopped using the trailer is because, once we had electric assist, I was able to carry my fare share of the luggage on the trike even with my breathing problems.
      We also decided it was a lot easier to snatch a train or bus ride when needed if we did not have the extra bulk of the trailer to stow somewhere.

  7. Roger Grufferty says

    hi would love your opinion.I suffer from MS and am compromised on left side with about 80 % loss. I was a serious motorbiker skier golfer tennis player diver etc. I miss the exercise.
    Today i looked at a Kalkhoff Agattu e bike and can manage it but the bad leg keeps pulling off pedal .
    My balance will be ok with practice I think and if I avoid dogs on dedicated cycle ways.
    I do not want to go to trike side of things yet.. I am determined to try and stay as independant as I can.Would welcome your advice but please do not leave my name appear as I am very private..
    Also is there any nice way of alerting other riders that the jockey is a little compromised, and be cautious. Sorry to bother you with such trivia.
    .

    • Eugene says

      I was hit by a car in 1983 and they told me I would never walk again. I was walking after a year and half of physical therapy, but didn’t ride a bike again until 2014. I found that I could not pedal far. That is how I discovered the electric bike and now own 7 e-bikes. I much prefer the trikes, but most of them cost more. I have never ridden the Kalkhoff Agattu, but I saw one this weekend. I also have problems with balance, so the electrified TerraTrike and the Elf are my favorites, but still saving up to purchase one.

      • says

        I cannot say enough about the benefits of a trike, at least for myself.
        I rode two wheel recumbents for many years, having tired of the pain that never went away while riding an upright.
        It became significantly, increasingly more difficult to stay upright in numerous conditions; the major problem was, because of my emphysema, I could not go up hill fast enough to maintain my balance. I had fallen over in traffic enough times to be totally afraid of falling at all. I could never get started again after stopping on a hill for rest.
        Then, I also had ankle surgery that made getting on and off quickly much more difficult. The trike has completely solved all those issues for me.
        Yes, they are more expensive…but for me, and the joy Mike and I have riding whatever roads we want…it has been very worth the investment.
        One time, I test rode a Terra Trike and loved the feel. But it did not fold. Since we do not live in a home, rather in a fifth wheel that we move all the time, folding the trike was a needed option for us.
        The new trike I got from the Czech Republic, TRIcon made by Azub also folds. Also sold in America.
        http://www.azub.eu/azub-tricon-folding-recumbent-trike/
        Now, I am set for life!

    • Eugene says

      P.S. On a recumbent trike like the tadpole TerraTrike I would have a flouresent flag flying high above the rear of the trike. On the Elf, it has a full body and a solar panel roof, so no problem of visibility and plenty of places to leave any message you wish.
      On a regular upright e-bike you could also have a flag to deliver any message you wish.

      • says

        High florescent colored clothing is a huge addition to visibility. I was as visible as Mike on his upright.
        There were also times we used flashing lights, like when riding through big cities.

    • says

      Have you tried riding with loose fitting foot straps on the pedals?
      I used those when I was tippy because of my breathing. I could pull my foot out instantly, yet, the straps keep the feet on the pedals when hitting bumps etc.
      Why not use the world recognized symbol of the yellow triangle which means caution on the back of your bike, or better yet, tour outer clothing!

    • says

      Hi RG,
      Have you tried riding with loose fitting foot straps on the pedals?
      I used those when I was tippy because of my breathing. I could pull my foot out instantly, yet, the straps keep the feet on the pedals when hitting bumps etc.
      Why not use the world recognized symbol of the yellow triangle which means caution on the back of your bike, or better yet, tour outer clothing!

  8. Laura says

    Hi Anne:
    My husband and I are considering taking our e-bikes to Europe and pre-shipping the batteries separately, as you suggest. Do you have a sense whether we will face any issue through customs if we bring in a 350 watt motor, as the EU only allows 250 watt motors? In other words, is that a selling/availability restriction or a use restriction? If you’re not aware, do you have any ideas on how to find out?

    Would appreciate comments from your readers as well.
    Thanks

    • says

      Hi Laura,
      I just got this email in my inbox. Have no idea when you wrote it so hope my answer is still timely.
      The restriction is both usage and selling. In other words, you cannot buy the bigger battery in EU. As for use, no one is out there checking batteries. No one would be able to tell the difference. I would ship them. The man who sold us our batteries in the EUbincreased the output for us by resetting the monitor to US standards.
      Have a ball.
      Anne

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *