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How To Make Bikepacking More Enjoyable & Easier
Jan 22, 2024
There are a host of different types of e-bikes that lend themselves to the more adventurous side of life. Fat Tire e-bikes often feature aggressive tread for tearing up nearly any terrain. Folding e-bikes can easily be stashed in a van or camper when traveling the country with the family. And road or gravel e-bikes encourage long-distance trips with a focus on endurance.
But what can riders do when wishing to spend a night or two (or more) away from home with their bikes? On our list of the Best Electric Bikes, we named the Mokwheel Basalt the Best E-Bike for Camping. Owners of other e-bikes should not fear, though – this is where bikepacking comes in!
What is Bikepacking?
Whether using an electric or analog bicycle, just about any bike can be loaded up with gear for extended adventures. Like backpacking, bikepacking allows its enthusiasts to explore the road less traveled – but with the addition of wheels, adventurers on a bike can travel much farther than those on foot.
Bikepackers tend to travel as light as possible, often using much of the same specialized gear as their backpacking counterparts to maximize the amount of equipment and supplies they can carry. Bikepackers usually carry their gear in various bags that attach to the bike’s handlebars, saddle, frame, etc.
With bikepacking requiring such a spartan approach, riders must use careful and efficient packing techniques to keep their weight balanced, and to keep essential items accessible. Some degree of mechanical knowledge and experience is also useful, as bikepackers may need to perform repairs in remote locations far from a friendly bike shop mechanic. Thus, traveling with replacement items like innertubes is also highly encouraged.
The Burley Coho XC trailer features a yoke to attach firmly to your bike and a single-wheel design to handle difficult terrain.
Bikepacking With an E-Bike
E-bikes offer some distinct advantages over traditional bicycles when used for bikepacking, but they also come with specific limitations.
On one hand, e-bikers are less likely to feel the effects – namely, exhaustion – of added weight due to the assistance offered by their bike’s motor. Riders of e-bikes can also take advantage of their throttles to take a break from pedaling, though this leads us to one of the tradeoffs that bikepackers on analog bikes needn’t be concerned with.
For starters, many off-road trails do not allow e-bikes, so route planning with this in mind is essential. More specifically, however, e-bikepackers need to consider the battery life and range of their e-bike. With the addition of extra weight, an e-bike’s motor will need to draw more power from the battery, thereby reducing the distance an e-bike can travel on a single charge. Riders using their throttle will deplete battery charge even faster!
For this reason, it is recommended that e-bikepackers use the lowest pedal assist system (PAS) setting possible to get the most from their batteries. We also suggest doing a test ride with a fully-loaded bike to get a sense of the distance the bike can travel before running out of juice. The Range Tests we perform in each of our e-bike reviews can be a good starting point, but considering that our range testers are relatively light (the 150 lb. range), our data is less likely to be accurate with a heavier load.
For extended trips beyond the range of a single charge, e-bike adventurers should plan their route carefully depending on their anticipated method of charging. Awareness of potential charging locations is paramount, as is knowledge of how long your battery takes to charge. To determine the number of hours this will take, divide the amp-hour rating of your battery by the amperage of the charger. Easy peasy!
Those spending their nights indoors – perhaps in motel rooms or on a friend’s couch – shouldn’t need to worry about where they’ll plug in, and for those who prefer sleeping under the stars, electricity is often available in many campgrounds. A conveniently-located coffee shop may work in a pinch if you find yourself running low on charge; a couple of hours of topping up might make the difference when your destination is still a ways out.
For shorter trips, staying within your e-bike’s range is key, but bringing a second battery may be an option to consider, even if only for added peace of mind. And if your e-bike is light enough, pedaling without the motor can extend your charge or get you home if your battery expires.
A coil suspension on the Coho’s wheel helps to prevent cargo from bouncing around (or out of the trailer entirely).
What Type of E-Bike is Best for Bikepacking?
Truthfully, just about any e-bike with a traditional frame design and good control (moped- or beach-cruiser-style e-bikes may not be the best fit) can be adapted for bikepacking with the right equipment. This might include tires appropriate for any off-road riding your route requires and gear bags that are (ideally) weatherproof.
While cargo or utility e-bikes may seem like an obvious choice for bikepacking, they may not always be the best option for off-road environments. Those looking for a comfortable ride might consider an eMTB or all-terrain e-bike with a full suspension, but dedicated bikepackers often stick with rigid frames. The static forks on these bikes can hold more gear, and some even include pack mounts for bags and bottle cages.
If you’re interested in bikepacking, we recommend starting with short trips using the equipment you have, learning from your experience, and making upgrades as needed. Research is important, too, and REI has some helpful guides to get you started on your adventures.
But what if you don’t have any of the specialized, lightweight equipment that bikepackers often use? Or what if you’re the type of person who tends (or prefers) to overpack when traveling?
With the addition of a trailer such as the Burley Coho XC, nearly any e-bike can essentially be transformed into a cargo bike!
The Coho XC’s yoke includes a quick-release lever to connect or disconnect in mere seconds.
Considerations When Adding a Trailer to Your E-Bike
Trailers like the Coho XC can vastly increase the amount of equipment you can transport on your adventures and they can remove the hassle of having to pack methodically, but there are some key considerations to be aware of when attaching one to your e-bike.
Weight capacity is one of the most important elements to keep in mind. Every e-bike is rated to carry a maximum amount of weight; this is often referred to as the total payload capacity. This number includes the weight of the rider (sometimes also listed separately as maximum rider weight), any cargo secured directly to the bike, and – when towing a trailer – the weight of the trailer itself and any gear it holds.
Sticking to the bike’s total payload capacity is essential for the health and longevity of its motor. With too much weight, the motor can become overheated and overexerted; when pushed too far, this can cause it to fail completely. All brands should include their e-bikes’ weight limit either on their webpage or in the owner’s manual, but you can reach out directly to them if this information is not readily available.
The next thing to consider is the axle on your e-bike, which may also be affected by the type of motor it uses – we discuss the two types of motors in our throttle vs. pedal assist article. In our experience, the Burley Coho XC trailer worked best on e-bikes with mid-drive motors; we used the Coho Thru Axle on the Specialized Turbo Tero X 5.0. Owners of e-bikes with rear-hub motors may have better luck with the Burley Nomad, a hitch-mounted trailer with the option to slide on skis instead of its two wheels.
Whether your e-bike uses a bolt-on axle or a thru axle, Burley has an axle guide for the Coho XC to help you determine which accessories you’ll need to properly mount the trailer so you don’t run into the same problem we did!
Finally, it’s important to be aware that the addition of a trailer and cargo will change your e-bike’s handling. A trailer will add length, and may potentially impact its turning radius. With added weight, the bike will move slower, and may feel less balanced. To reduce the likelihood of balance issues, proper packing techniques are essential; the heaviest items should be placed at the front (bike side) of the trailer, and the weight of all cargo should be distributed evenly from side to side
Burley offers optional storage bags as well as a bungee net to keep up to 70 lbs of gear secure.
Bikepacking With the Burley Coho XC Trailer
We tested the Coho XC trailer and found it remarkably easy to use once the axle was set up properly. On the Specialized Turbo Tero X, it took about 20 minutes to properly remove the existing thru axle, replace it with the Coho XC thru axle, connect the trailer, and make a few fit adjustments.
We learned that the trailer’s connection mechanism was secure, yet incredibly simple; once the axle was installed, we had only to spread the yoke of the trailer to fit, press it into place on the connectors, and check that it was locked on. Removing it was just as easy with a pull of the quick-release lever. We also adjusted the height of the trailer’s highly effective kickstand for proper stability by selecting one of the three positions for the kickstand stop.
We loaded up the trailer with about 40 lbs of weight and went on our way, taking the bike and trailer on asphalt, dirt, and gravel. Even when riding in the open desert with rocks and plenty of bumps, the trailer did well. The single wheel allowed the Coho XC to adapt to the terrain more easily than a two-wheeled trailer would have. Its fender protected our cargo from dirt when riding through mud, and its suspension kept our gear from getting tossed around as we rode over rough ground.
For those who plan to go bikepacking in difficult, less stable terrain, Burley offers an optional fat tire for the trailer with off-road tread. Other accessories, like their Trailer Storage Bag or Dry Bag seem like excellent inclusions as well, though we did not have the opportunity to try them. We did test the optional Cargo Bungee Net, which connected and disconnected from the frame easily, and stayed fastened despite the rough test rides.
Overall, we were highly satisfied with the Burley Coho XC’s performance, its ease of use, and its ability to create new possibilities for e-bike use. Considering the trailer’s practical design and functionality, we think it’s well-made and well-worth its price of about $500 – especially if it’s something you’ll use regularly.
The included tire has minimal tread for low rolling resistance, but Burley also offers a 16” fat tire with off-road tread for rougher adventures.
E-Bike Trailers Can Give You More Freedom
With the addition of trailers suited for different purposes, e-bikes can be adapted for carrying kids, pets, recreational equipment, camping supplies, and more. In the case of the Burley Coho XC, the weight and space limitations of traditional bikepacking become greatly removed, allowing a variety of e-bikes to become suitable and user-friendly for long-distance adventures.
If you’re thinking of diving into e-bikepacking as a new pastime and you want the flexibility to haul a fair amount of gear, we highly recommend considering the Coho XC as a traveling companion. We might also suggest considering some of Burley’s optional accessories to keep your equipment protected from the elements, and we think the Bluetti AC200P Power Station might be a useful method of recharging on the go if you’re able to carry most of your gear elsewhere (it’s relatively heavy but awesome).
When using an e-bikepacking-appropriate trailer like the Burley Coho XC, the sky is truly the limit as long as you have food, water, and a way to refuel your battery!