Updated: Jan 23, 2022
E-bikes are everywhere! No longer are they ridden by a fringe group of retirees and garage tinkerers. Now you will see them loaded with kids going to school, zipping along bike paths on sunny afternoons, ripping down mountain bike single tracks and whisking commuters off to work. This summer we experimented with using E-bikes on some of our logging road based sampling programs. The E-bikes generated conversions with others in the industry who have been wondering about using them for their own projects. We gained insight into the benefits and drawbacks when compared to the conventional methods like hiking, or driving trucks and quads.
The first major benefit of E-bikes is the simplicity of transportation. Unlike a quad that fills the back of a truck, up to six E-bikes can easily be loaded onto a bike rack leaving the bed available to be filled with sampling and camp gear.
E-bikes are faster and require less effort than walking. On deactivated logging roads we averaged 10 to 20 km/hr. on the bikes while a fast walk is approximately 5 km/hr. Plus, when we got to the top of the hill, instead of pounding tired knees down the hill, we got to sit back and enjoy the ride!
It’s like riding a bike!! Most people already know how to ride a bike and an E-Bike with a torque sensor feels just like a normal bike. Because bikes are slower than quads, they are safer with less chance of serious injuries.
If you have spent any time in the bush, you understand how frustrating a road deactivation can be. Getting a truck or quad across a deactivation can be dangerous, time consuming or impossible. E-Bikes are light enough they can be lifted over rocks and logs, up an aggressive deactivation or carried across a river. Compare that with a day clearing a road to create access for one of two days of work, and you and your clients will quickly agree that E-bikes are an efficient solution.
E-Bikes reduce the environmental footprint of the project. Without an internal combustion engine, E-Bikes operation does not generate CO2 (depending on power source) and because they are light and use the hybrid of human and electrical power they are much more efficient than quads or trucks. They are also very quiet and not as disturbing to wildlife. Finally, because they can be lifted over deactivations, logs and streams, areas that have been set aside to “rewild” don’t need to have a road pushed back in.
There are some important things to consider when deciding about buying an E-Bike for exploration work:
They are not cheap. We recommend buying a decent hardtail mountain bike with a mid-drive motor. These cost between $3000 - $6000, but are built well and to last the wear and tear of bushwork.
They need electrical power to charge. Travelling on logging roads in the mountains, we could get 4-6 days of use out of one charge using the assist lightly on 10 - 20 km round trips on our Giant Fathom and Rossignol E-Track E-Bikes. This will vary between bikes. If your program is being run from a town, this is no problem, but if you are in the bush using a generator for power it is certainly a consideration.
Caring a heavy backpack on a bike isn't very comfortable, but hiking with a heavy backpack isn’t either!
Bikes don’t like having a week of mud and dust ground through their gears. We used a fire-fighting piss can to spray off mud, applied chain oil regularly and carried tools to do basic maintenance.
So are E-bikes right for your project? As with everything it is a compromise. We have no doubt that the use of bikes made us much more efficient, allowing us to take more samples and access sites that would have been very difficult, expensive or impossible to take if we did not have the bikes. It was easy to bring bikes into the field, easy to load and unload them, easy to train new employees on them and easy to get them across the nastiest deactivations. For us, these benefits outweigh the disadvantages and we plan to increase our fleet of E-bikes this season to support our abilities to be efficient in the field and decrease the carbon footprint of our operations.