Photo of a Bosch mid-drive electric bicycle motor attached to a purpose-built bike frame.

No Stupid Questions: Is E‑bike Touring Possible? (If So, How?)

Several readers have written in with some version of the following question:

I want to go cycle touring on an e‑bike, but there are obstacles. Firstly, nobody makes electric touring bikes. Secondly, other types of e‑bikes are too heavy to fly with, and airlines won’t carry e‑bike batteries. And finally, how can I possibly keep an e‑bike charged on a cycle tour? Help!

Thanks for all the questions! Straight up: I have never toured on an e‑bike, and I don’t own an e‑bike, so the following advice is theoretical. 

That said, I’ve received enough similar-sounding questions to make it worth looking into more deeply. What follows is a collection of thoughts on the topic of e‑bikes for cycle touring – and ultimately on whether or not it’s viable.

Context helps when exploring any question, and for this one I want to share a personal anecdote. 

It was August 2014, and I was cycle touring in central Europe with my wife and a couple of friends when I realised our route would intersect with the annual Eurobike conference in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Eurobike is, for the uninitiated, one of the biggest bicycle industry conferences on the planet. Everyone is there, from Giant manufacturers (pun intended) to solopreneur startups. 

Each year has a theme, and the theme for 2014 was e‑bikes. How – the global bicycle industry’s top representatives had been asked to demonstrate – can we market and deliver e‑bike technology to the masses?

It’s worth reminding ourselves that in 2014, e‑bikes were practically unheard of – the domain of crackpot inventors tinkering with inherently problematic technology that seemed to have little chance of crossing over to the mainstream. 

A decade later and everyone has a reason to buy (or build) and e‑bike.

This is no accident. The e‑bike is one of the most successful industry-led trends in cycling we’ve seen since… well, to be honest, since ever.

This is in spite of the fact that replacing human power with stored electricity comes with inherent challenges, as anyone considering using an e‑bike for cycle touring almost immediately realises… hence the volume of questions I’ve received in recent months.

I relate all of this because I think it’s worth asking whether your desire for an e‑bike is genuinely the result of a considered, logical thought process which concludes with an e‑bike being the only way you can go on a bike tour, or whether it’s a result of the bicycle industry’s sustained and intentional efforts to persuade you that this is true.

Put simply: are you being sold something you don’t actually need?

If you suspect so, I implore you to consider the KISS principle. Remember that the freedom engendered by the humble bicycle stems largely from its ability to transform the body’s exertion into movement. The price is getting a bit sweaty on the way up a hill. Tying it into the power grid, however, will inevitably compromise that freedom.

Still curious? Welcome to a technology craze so fast-moving I barely know where to start…

Until this year, I would have said that the biggest problem with using an e‑bike for cycle touring is that nobody is making touring e‑bikes.

But now they are.

If you have a spare $6–7,000 lying around, for example, you may now spend it on a top-of-the-range Koga E‑Worldtraveller.

The classic Koga Worldtraveller was already one of the most expensive and revered expedition-grade touring bikes on the planet. Now, as of 2024, you can buy a purpose-built, pedal-assisted, electric version of it, with or without front suspension, and with all of the touring-specific touches of the original.

At 31kg almost no airline will accept it. And it costs about as much as a shoestring traveller would spend cycling round the entire planet.

But it exists.

Or if you’d prefer your electric touring bike to be German rather than Dutch, why not splash out on one of Tout Terrain’s new E‑Expedition bikes?

The Pamir starts at a cool €7,849, and features not just a Pinion e‑drive internal gearbox but also a Gates Carbon Drive belt-driven drivetrain. It’s hard to think of a more expensive way to make your bike as unserviceable as possible when, for example, riding the actual Pamir Highway.

Okay, okay – I apologise for any sarcasm you may have detected.

In any case, I suspect these are showcase products, designed to make a splash and demonstrate what’s possible when you put the best engineering minds in the business to task. And it’s a taste of things to come: I have no doubt that more touring e‑bikes are being prototyped as I write, and will begin to surface sooner rather than later.

The bikes above are not a sensible choice of touring bike on which to head off round the world. I believe the manufacturers would, if pressed, admit this. 

But I can easily see bikes like this scooting between lodges in the European Alps, or meandering down the Donau Radweg between B&B (that’s Bett+Bike) accommodation. And it’s a sure bet that charging infrastructure in such places will develop to meet demand.

Because if all you want is to tour somewhere you can transport your bike to by land, you know you’ll be able to charge your e‑bike regularly, and you’ve got money to spend on all of the above… then why not? 

(This goes for using any e‑bike on a cycle tour, whether or not it cost you the same as a new car.)

The alternative for the determined and possibly cash-strapped DIYer is to build your own electric touring bike using a relatively affordable e‑bike conversion kit.

I would like to thank Dustin – one of the readers who originally wrote in about e‑bikes for cycle touring – for sharing his ongoing process of converting a touring bike using an e‑bike conversion kit from Amazon. You can find a full description of his project on Hackaday.

Because I don’t have any personal experience converting a touring bike into an e‑bike suitable for long-distance touring, I’m going to refrain from speculating about the nuts and bolts (pun also intended) until I have done it myself.

But if this ends up being a starting point for you to tackle your own DIY electric touring bike project, and you think the results are worth sharing, please do write in and let me know – I’d be very happy to feature it here for the benefit of the community.

Beyond the question of how to actually buy or build an electric touring bike, all else is detail. On a regular touring bike, you’re already looking for places to charge your phone. On an e‑bike, you’ll be plugging in the bike as well. The charge time might be longer, but otherwise, it really is that simple.

And as for how to fly with an e‑bike to go cycle touring if the bike is overweight and/or you can’t take the battery on the plane?

Simple. Don’t. Either ride somewhere closer to home, take the train/bus/ferry, or fly out and buy the bike (or battery) at the other end.

Comments (skip to respond)

16 responses to “No Stupid Questions: Is E‑bike Touring Possible? (If So, How?)”

  1. Xavier65 avatar

    During the tour with the Riverside 520, with fully loaded panniers and rack pack, the front wheel had noticeably poor traction when cornering in the wet.

    Therefore, I suggest either spreading luggage into front panniers (or fork bags), or obtaining a pair of batteries to mount on the forks instead of on the downtube.

  2. Tony Rice avatar
    Tony Rice

    I’ve been riding ebike since 2018. My first ebike was a Trek Duel Sport with the Shimano Steps 6000 system. I had read that the best touring bike was the one you had. So, I added a a luggage rack with panniers, a handlebar roll bag rack, handlebar bag, a top tube bag. and mounts for Fork bags then I was off to Oregon to ride the coastal route. I quickly learned that I was way overloaded with gear and my battery range way less than I expected. The excess gear I could do nothing about. The battery charge issue was another thing. I stayed at hike & bike camps where I could plug in and charge every night. During the day I would stop for a calorie dense lunch and I’d ask for permission to top off my battery. I was never turned down. I’ve also learned that I could, with permission, charge at libraries, senior centers, community centers, fire stations, and museums. Mooch docking.

    I bought my next bile with bike camping/touring in mind, a Specialized Turbo Tero 3.0 hardtail with a factory installed luggage rack. I’ve added a front luggage rack and Jones bars, and a up graded 11 speed transmission to the mix. I recently rode the Rock Island and Katy rail trails self supported. 2 panniers on the rear with my tent bag and a large roll bag on the front. While Oregon costal route is up and down with Little flat, the RI and Katy is no more than 3%. I was able to ride 45 miles on a charge, still, I continued to do a midday charge. My next ride is in October, the Canadian boarder to Frisco on the west Coast Route.

    So, yes you can ebike tour on a ebike. Probably the one you have. Prior planning to locate power sources along your route is a essential. Some routes, for example highway 50 in Nevada will require a second battery due to the distances between power sources but can be ridden on a ebike set up for Turing.

    Tony Rice Sparks Nevada

  3. Julian avatar

    A few years ago, I remember reading an article by a retired couple who were both touring on ebikes. If I recall correctly, they kept their daily distances to 50–80 km and stayed in covered accommodations such as hostels, bnb and other places where they could charge every night. They took a very relaxed approach to their journey.

  4. I have been taking a look at this for a planned trip from either Ho Chi Minh city to Singapore or alternatively Jakarta to Bali and then a clockwise trip around Bali. I’m 61 this year and have dodgy knees after too many crashes and other injuries. During a cycle around the lower 2/3rds of Sri Lanka I had my right knee seize up on me after about 110 km’s and I ended up squeezed into the front of a vegetable truck with 2 locals trading war stories in broken English while they gave me a lift to Matale. So instead of doing the climb into Kandy and then riding through the mountains to Wellawaya I ended up back tracking to Dambulla and then taking the route through the jungle via Bakamuna to the south.

    I’ve taken a close look at the various options available and the fact that you cannot transport the e‑bike battery. My first option was to look at acquiring a front wheel conversion locally and then fit it, I could then get rid of the kit at the end of the trip by donating it to a local. Other option was fit the kit and then source the battery locally and then give it away at the end of the trip. Both of these mean that I would need to ensure the items are purchased and in place ready to be installed once I arrive which could be a logistical nightmare.

    Luckily I have a client who is an e‑bike specialist so after a bit of brainstorming we have come up with the following solution. A CYC Photon kit and the following setup, 2x18V 6Ah power tool batteries in series will give a 36V and 6A which is 216W and a further set in parallel will give a 36V 432W setup. Power tool batteries are available around the world so the plan is do the conversion and then source the power tool batteries locally and give them away at the final destination. Fortunately I have a full workshop with CNC, manual equipment and 3d printing capabilities so I can manufacture all the mounting systems etc myself. Part of the plan is to rip the guts out of the charger and build minimalist charging setup. I’ll make sure that I have a long cord so I can charge the batteries outside in case of fire, this is really because of the fact that there are so many fake power tools batteries on the market nowadays.

    The power tool batteries are not that cheap at AUD120 (probably fake) for 4 batteries in Ho Chi Minh or AUD388 in Jakarta but then neither is knee surgery.

    1. Love this line of thinking and the DIY attitude, though I’m pretty jealous of your workshop facilities. I hope you’ll be good enough to get back to us with the end result and let us know how it all went!

      P.S. For what it’s worth I’ve found batteries from the Chinese power tool brand Total Tools to be good quality and cheaper than possibly-fake big brand equivalents, and it looks like they have a branch in Indonesia.

      1. Hi Tom
        next time you are in Sydney you are welcome to come and visit my workshop. Neil

        1. That’s a kind offer. Thank you. It shouldn’t be too long before my next visit! 🙂

  5. Xavier65 avatar

    e‑Tourer recipe:

    1) Buy cheap 1x tourer, e.g. Decathlon Riverside 520 (11–46 cassette).
    2) Fit torque operated e‑Bike motor to bottom bracket (mid-drive), e.g. CycMotor Photon.
    3) Obtain high capacity battery, e.g. 15Ah. Ideally lockable & removable.
    4) Configure the controller’s modes for touring, e.g. a) long range, low assistance, b) medium range, c) “we’re almost there”.
    5) Enjoy a daily range of 50 miles or so (overnight charging).
    6) Plan a tour involving stops with power sockets.

    This is what I did for my less capable wife in order for her to join me on a rather mountainous, and consequently arduous (for me) 400 mile tour over about 9 days.

    The torque based operation is vital in order to obtain the necessary range for touring, i.e. no assistance without effort.

    1. Thanks so much for this. Clever idea to pair a mid-drive motor with a 1x drivetrain! Don’t suppose you have any photos of this bike to share with us?

      1. Xavier kindly shared this photo of his e‑touring bike conversion based on the Decathlon Riverside 520:

        E-bike conversion of a Decathlon Riverside Touring 520 touring bike

  6. dexey avatar

    “… it’s worth asking whether your desire for an e‑bike is genuinely the result of a considered, logical thought process which concludes with an e‑bike being the only way you can go on a bike tour or whether it’s a result of the bicycle industry’s sustained and intentional efforts to persuade you that this is true..” Good question and particularly the second part. Having crossed the Wayfarers path in the 1970’s, I have often wondered abut the hype that makes ‘mountain’ or ‘gravel’ bikes necessary.
    A few years ago I converted an On One Inbred with a Bafang 250W motor and found that I could still put in as much effort as I wanted for exercise while forgetting about twiddling or stomping the pedals for uphills.
    More recently I was given a Moulton TSR for a 50th wedding anniversary and it is a beautiful ride without a motor; light and responsive. With a motor it is heavier by 7kgs but by far easier to get up hills. It is going to be the vehicle for my return to camping this year.
    I am mid 70’s with a painful knee and electric power keeps me going. If you are younger and undamaged in any leg joints you probably do not need an elekky bike.
    The observations by Kim above re. charging are apposite.

    1. Thanks for sharing this. Nice to be reminded about the good old Inbred – I briefly had one years ago and was planning to build it up for expedition touring when the Explosif came along…

  7. Philip Bell avatar
    Philip Bell

    I bought my first electric bike in 2015 and used it to commute to work for a few thousand km a year. I even managed a couple of week long cycling trips from B+B (bed and breakfast). As Tom says, I never flew with it and I always had to find a plug to charge the battery at the end of the day. Finding a plug was not dissimilar to the search for a plug to charge your phone, although you need to be near the plug for a bit longer to charge a bike battery, preferably overnight. 

    Having an electric bike was great as it got me fit enough to buy an analogue touring bike back in 2021, I haven’t been on the electric bike since. 

    Every bike has the possibility of being a touring bike, even electric ones, I think you just need to match the tour to the bike’s capabilities.

    1. You’re right – I completely neglected to mention the idea of using an e‑bike from another category (eg: hybrid) as an electric touring bike. Having said that, I don’t think it would necessarily be my first recommendation, in just the same way as I wouldn’t recommend using a hybrid for touring, all else equal. But if it’s what you already have, and/or you want a multipurpose bike, then your story proves the concept!

  8. Do you really need to fly to go cycle touring? I have never taken a bike on a plane, but, living on an island, use the ferry to get to the mainland of Europe.

    Charging e‑bikes is easy, anywhere that has a mains electricity socket is an e‑bike charging point. Unlike e‑cars, e‑bike don’t need a three-phase supply for charging. 

    Back in 2015, I met the first family from the Netherlands to cycle tour Scotland with their Urban Arrow e‑cargo bike. They carried an extra battery and charged both batteries overnight each night when they stopped.

    1. You absolutely don’t need to fly to go cycle touring – I managed 3½ years across three continents without leaving the ground (or, occasionally, sea), and that was with a non-electric bike. It’s clearly a widespread concern, though. I’m just reluctant to do much “bikes on trains” content because of how much regional variation there is and how quickly the details go out of date!

Something to add?