While much of the use of electric bicycles is geared towards changing the game in urban transportation, we’ve found that there are plenty of uses for those among us looking to get off the beaten path. Whether you’re interested in nature, an RVer looking for an alternative to a bulky tow-behind, or a hunter or angler needing assistance in getting to your secluded spot, there are countless outdoor enthusiasts that can expand and revolutionize their experiences by adding an electric bicycle to their arsenal of outdoor equipment. The practicality, affordability, and ease of use of electric bikes can be extended into countless applications.
Background on Ebikes
The electric bicycle industry has seen a rapid expansion recently because ebikes amplify the benefits of a standard pedal bicycle by also offering the assistance of a powerful, quiet, and efficient electric motor, without significant drawbacks. Federal regulations allow an electric bicycle to be classified as a traditional bicycle rather than a motorized vehicle as long as its motor is under 750 watts and its assisted speed does not exceed 20 mph, allowing them to be used in many of the same places as standard bicycles. The addition of a powerful and easy to use motor allows riders to not only breeze up hills, but also to extend their rides further to areas that may otherwise be inaccessible with other alternative modes of transportation.
Motor technologies have been improving significantly, which is great for people riding in the outdoors as they are likely to be pushing them to the limits more often than riders on pavement. The options for motor assistance are typically in the form of a throttle, which will fully engage the motor with a twist or the press of a button, or varying levels of pedal assist, which allow the rider to cycle through levels based on how much effort they’re looking to put in. All ebikes from Rad Power Bikes are outfitted with a twist throttle and five levels of pedal assistance. This gives all the power to the rider, whether they’re looking to zip up and down the beach with the throttle alone, or they’re instead using the motor to compliment their own pedaling to go for a long ride through the woods on the path less traveled.
Benefits of Fat Tires
The recent rise in popularity of the fat tire bike has been another instrumental reason for adoption of ebikes in the outdoors. Fat tire bikes, originally designed for use in the snow, offer wider than usual tires, typically between 4-inches and 5-inches in width. Although the initial benefit most sought after was the increased traction that is offered, many additional benefits have become more and more visible as fat bikes have become more mainstream. More details about these benefits, such as the increased traction, comfort, and confidence, are outlined in a previous post "Why do tires keep getting fatter?"
One obvious benefit that fat tires offer to riders is their increased traction when compared to thinner tires. This increased traction is key to ensuring that you don’t slip around on the rugged and possibly loose terrain that you’ll be encountering in the outdoors. Fat tires typically run at much lower PSI than standard tires, which helps get as much surface contact with the trail as possible, allowing you to ride with comfort and confidence everywhere from bumpy logging roads to sandy beaches. Similarly to how our urban riders experience a more comfortable ride due to their ability to hop curbs and ride right over obstructions on the road such as cracks and small potholes, fat tires are also great for rolling over rocks, sticks, and many other obstacles that will be commonly seen off-road and could inconvenience riders on bikes with thinner tires.
Not only does the increased traction allow for greater stability when rolling over such obstacles, but the ability for fat tires to be run at a lower air pressure than thinner tires also helps to absorb the shock that those protrusions cause. This is especially beneficial for ebikers as they tend to be going at higher speeds than on normal bikes, so those bumps and bruises are felt all the more. Even the jolting caused by riding on loose gravel is reduced significantly by fat tires running at a lower PSI, making for a much more pleasant riding experience as the stress on your hands, wrists, low back, etc., will be significantly reduced.
Tackle Any Terrain
That leads us to a third benefit regarding fat tires and the outdoors - the diversity of terrain that they’re able to cover. As touched on previously, fat tires were initially designed to help year round riders conquer the snow. The greater width of the tire itself is a huge boon, as the dispersion of weight helps riders to float across sand, snow, and mud, rather than sinking in as they would with a thinner tire.
Practicality & Portability
While adding an electric motor and battery will make ebikes heavier than a normal bike, they still offer greatly increased portability and practicality when compared with other alternative motorized transportation options. Practicality wise, offering an electric motor will allow the rider to do many things that would be difficult on a standard bike, and allow them to replace other gas-powered options such as scooters, mopeds, four wheelers, dirt bikes, and golf carts, that are commonly used as options to get around off-road. Size-wise, electric bikes are often no larger than a standard bicycle and some are even foldable for easier storage and transport, such as our RadMini. Weight wise, ebikes will typically be in the 50-80 lb range, compared to the aforementioned options which can range anywhere from 150 lbs for a light dirtbike, several hundred pounds for a four-wheeler, to upwards of over a thousand pounds for a golf cart. This smaller size and weight will allow it to be more easily portable, which is a huge boon for people that will be on the go regularly or are short on space.
Ebikes & Outdoor Hobbies
While there are countless space-conscientious people that will be loading and unloading their bikes regularly, we feel that RVers are likely to be one of the groups that can reap the greatest rewards of an electric bike. Although my experience is rather limited in regards to the RV lifestyle, I can imagine that the set-up and take-down can be quite the inconvenience, hence the vast majority of RVers that I talk to using a towable or stowable vehicle as their main mode of transportation after they’ve set up camp. Many seem to lean towards folding ebikes since they offer the greatest portability and take up the least space. Having a much more easily stowable alternative in the form of an electric bike, to use as a grocery getter or for kicking around campgrounds, could make a world of difference. Even getting to some of those out of the way trails that lie at the end of unmaintained roads, that can wreak havoc on an RV, can be made much easier with an electric bike.
Another possible bonus for RVers is the independence from gasoline that an electric bike offers. While we haven’t tested any ourselves, so can’t fully recommend it, we’ve seen quite a few customers using solar panels to charge their bikes, so that seems to be an option if you’re proficient with solar technologies or willing to do the research. This is an awesome option for those that are living off the grid. Another option that we’ve seen is people using generators to power their bikes, and that seems to be rather convenient as generators seem to be a common accessory that RVers carry. This is just another small step towards independence and self-sufficiency, which are common goals for many RVers.
Hunters & Anglers
A second set of communities for which ebikes are growing in popularity is the hunting and angling communities. The ability to get themselves and their gear through the woods quickly, quietly, and with as little effort as possible, are all very important and luckily, also areas that ebikes excel at. Most ebikes max out at 20 mph assisted speed, to conform with federal regulations, so doing scouting runs or getting to and from hunting stands and fishing holes can be done much more quickly than on foot. These speedy passages are also quite stealthy due to the quiet nature of electric motors, which will help hunters avoid frightening wildlife or giving them knowledge of their presence. A further benefit to help decrease their chance of being noticed is the lack of a scented trail left both by your walking and continued presence. While there are other options that offer similar benefits, ebikes may have a leg up by their regulatory classification being that of a bicycle under federal regulations, meaning that they may be usable in many places where comparable alternatives aren’t allowed to go.
This leads to a difficult topic that has been evolving regarding electric bikes, where should they be allowed? While the laws pertaining to electric bike legality in cities, on roads, and on bike paths, have been more and more finely tuned recently, whether or not electric bikes are allowed or should be allowed in parks wilderness, and recreation areas that prohibit motorized vehicles is a topic of debate. These rules are rather convoluted and far from all encompassing, so it is highly recommended to check with your local authorities themselves to get their perspective. The argument is typically centered around congestion and the increased wear and tear that electric bikes would offer trails. Perhaps it is wishful thinking but an alternate perspective is that increasing the number of people that are able to enjoy the outdoors, and in turn creating more stewards of nature, could play an important role in helping to preserve our natural spaces. This could potentially lead to greater advocacy and funding by people whom would otherwise be indifferent.
Off-road electric bikes are a great option to help experience the outdoors in a whole new way! Rad Power Bikes is filled with outdoor lovers, myself included being raised by park rangers turned scientists, so finding ways to help others experience the wonders that the outdoors have to offer, and creating more stewards for mother nature, is something that we take a lot of pride in. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoors person or somebody that rarely leaves the pavement, we’d love to see where ebikes take you!