E-Bikes – Perfect Transportation for RVers

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Photo by Ryan McCready of Sort of Homeless

In our 3 years of full time Rving, we’ve seen all kinds of daily transportation options for RVers – motorcycles, scooters, ATVs, bicycles, cars, even a Segway once. Recently though, we started noticing more of our Xscapers friends riding e-bikes, especially the fat tire models. 

As a long-time mountain biker, I was a little skeptical of these things until Jaime and I borrowed a pair of bikes from friends and took them for a spin in New Mexico after an Xscapers Convergence. Jaime hasn’t ridden a bike since we left Los Angeles and sold our beach cruisers. Instead of me leaving her in the dust (accidentally) and having a heated discussion about it later, she was able to easily keep pace on the e-bike.

We both had huge grins on our faces by the time our ride was done. After borrowing another pair of bikes from Xscaper friends in Durango, Colorado and getting the opportunity to explore the bike path that meanders through town along the Animas River, we were hooked. After some further research we decided to buy two fat tire e-bikes like our friends and officially join the Xscapers e-bike gang (tattoo TBD). 

What Are E-Bikes?

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Photo by Veronica Ibañes of RV Outlawz

E-bikes are bicycles that use an electric motor powered by a lithium ion battery to assist in pedaling. The industry and government have established three classifications of e-bikes.

Class 1 bikes are pedal assist only and limited to 20mph.

Class 2 bikes (like ours) include a motorcycle like throttle for on demand power along with peddle assist.

Class 3 bikes up the speed limit to 28mph before the motor shuts off.

While E-bikes are not subject to the same registration, licensing, and insurance requirements as motor vehicles, currently the U.S. Forest Service considers e-bikes to be motor vehicles and bans them from most trails, with the exception of some select areas in California and Colorado where Class 1 bikes are being allowed. The Secretary of the Interior recently changed policy to allow e-bikes on the same roads and trails as conventional bikes including National Parks and BLM lands.

How Much Do E-Bikes Cost?

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If you haven’t been to a local bike shop (not named Walmart) recently to see how expensive even quality non-electric bikes are, you might be in for a bit of sticker shock as you begin to research buying an e-bike.

A high-end mountain e-bike from from a company like Specialized can start at $5,000. On the low end, you might find e-bikes on Amazon for less than $800.

The differences in cost can be attributed to the quality of the conventional bike components including frame, shocks, brakes, etc and the electric components, primarily the battery, motor and display. E-bikes use lithium ion batteries that can start at $500. A higher quality battery uses name brand cells from companies like Samsung and come in 48 volt or 52 volt with at least 10 amp hours to give you a range of 25 to 50 miles depending on how much you peddle.

Motors top out at 750 watts to be street legal in the US. The DIY crowd might also be interested in converting a bicycle to electric with many kit options available to purchase online.

Pros of E-Bikes

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We asked Xscapers why RVers might consider buying e-bikes. Denny Winkowski calls their RadRovers “adventure extenders” that they look forward to riding to explore new locations and cities. Jase and Lauri Stumph are part-time vanlifers and said “It’s much easier to head out on the e-bikes than pack up the van, whether it’s to a trail head or to a store. And we enjoy being able to go further out on the backroads.” We added a rack and can quickly bungee a milk crate to the back to haul a case of beer from the store. John Wentz told us that his e-bikes “enable even a novice biker more freedom to venture out” and tackle hills using the power assist feature. 

We found Jaime can climb hills a lot faster than me on our bikes because of the her lower weight to horsepower ratio. She is riding a lot more and not getting discouraged. Even the lowest powered e-bikes will have more watts output than a professional cyclist.    

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 This study from University of Colorado Boulder indicates e-biking can be good for your health, also. For us, the e-bikes allow Jaime to keep up with me. In fact, she’s actually able to drop me on the hills. She likes that and jokes that the e-bike brings out her Sporty Spice, a role she hasn’t played since we were first dating. The e-bikes get us outside, moving and are something fun we can do together.

Cons of E-Bikes

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One downside of e-bikes is that they are heavy and sometimes bulky. Trailer owners will most likely find that their bumpers will not accommodate one or two 60 plus pound e-bikes. We had to buy a new sturdy hitch-mounted platform rack for our fat tire bikes which tilts down and makes it easier to load.

Jaime isn’t really able to lift her e-bike on the rack because of the weight, but she doesn’t seem to mind that I have to do it! Several Xscapers we spoke with have smaller mini versions that fold to fit inside RVs or vehicles. Ryan McCready said he was tired of his expensive road bike getting ravaged by the elements outside and likes the convenience of being able to keep his folding RadMini in the back seat of his compact tow car. Even the folding bikes can be heavy. We know a solo RVer who sold hers because it was too heavy for her to comfortably lift into the back of her truck.

Boondockers will also want to keep in mind that e-bike batteries need to be charged on an inverter or generator. Our chargers consume 150 watts and can take up to six hours to recharge a depleted battery. Our solar system can handle the charging demands in normal conditions but this might be an issue with extended cloudy weather. Security is another concern. We hear lots of stories of e-bikes being stolen, but of course that can happen with any bicycle. We bought a couple kryptonite ulocks and a brake rotor motion sensor alarm to reduce the risk of theft.

Test Driving E-Bikes

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Photo by Veronica Ibañes of RV Outlawz

If you want to try out an e-bike before buying, you can easily find them at an Xscapers convergence, an RV campground, or even in the middle of BLM land.

Denny is especially enthusiastic about loaning them out.

“It is a game changer for the active RVer.”

We are also seeing more rental and tour companies offering e-bikes. Just be careful – once you ride one, you’re going to want one!

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Author

Scott & Jaime Sichler

Scott and Jaime are originally from Oregon, but left to pursue corporate careers in Los Angeles, California. After 17 years, they ditched the rat race and sold their house to become full-time RVers. Since 2016, they’ve been traveling throughout the US and Baja, Mexico in their 2007 Winnebago Journey with their dog Crosby. They enjoy the outdoors and document their travels at AwayWeWinnebago.com

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7 Responses to “E-Bikes – Perfect Transportation for RVers

  • Jamie and Scott,
    GREAT write up!!! Thank you!!
    ~~John S.

  • We have the folding Rad Mini’s and they fit into our 4 door Jeep Wrangler, we love them!

  • Scott and Jaime Sichler
    Elisa Boyd
    2 weeks ago

    We got an ebike so Elisa could keep up with Jeff. We need a bike rack that can handle the weight of one ebike and one mountain bike.
    Any recommendations??

    • You might want to go to a good local bike shop and get some help based on your specific bike weight and where you will mount the rack. Sturdy hitch-mounted platform style racks are recommended for e-bikes.

  • Scott and Jaime Sichler
    Jim Baker
    2 weeks ago

    We ride on paved trails and streets. Our choice was a fold able bike from Pedego $3000 . These bikes our to expensive to hang on a bike rack exposed to the weather and theft for us. we store inside out of the elements and hidden from theives

  • Scott and Jaime Sichler
    Ted Keener
    2 weeks ago

    I have an Aventon Pace 500 ebike, $1400, and its class 3 (assist up to 28mph + throttle). Weighs 52# with front fender, rear rack and commuter bag on rack. Had to have 2×2 inch reciever welded on back of trailer and bought a Swagman RV rated bike rack that can hold two 70# ebikes. Will use a 9mm chain to lock bike to rack, and a cover to protect the bike going down the road. Look forward to many Rails to Trails bike path trips around the country!

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