We’ve been testing a couple of e-bikes, current steeds being being high-end Haibike mountain bikes powered by “pedal assist” motors goosed with big lithium-ion batteries mounted on the down-tube. After seeing the e-bike craze in Europe during our long spring and summer stint there a year ago, we’ve been keen to purpose e-bikes to solving the ski touring access problems we have here in Colorado, due to springtime roads becoming wheel navigable but gated to automobile traffic — or simply too rough to drive with anything but a real 4×4.
(Motorcycles can be a solution as well. I’ve used motos a few times for access, problems are they’re not stealthy and they’re difficult to schlep over snowbanks and rocky areas that are too difficult to ride while hauling baggage. ATVs (4-wheelers) are also an option, but they’re too similar to a regular automobile and can thus bring down the wrath of the man, as well as being difficult to lift over or drag under gates.)
Conclusion: E-bikes are IT. While the battery does limit your range (these are heavy machines, you’re not going uphill very far once you’re out of power), for most approaches we’re dealing with we seem to have plenty of juice — especially when most returns are downhills. Fire up the electrons, you can do some stiff, lengthy uphills or many miles of moderatly angled dirt or pave.
In my estimation, assuming you can coast back down, these Haibikes could reliably climb a moderatly angled mountain road or trail for around 10 miles at mid-range power settings, with attention to conservation such as not using pedal assist on flat sections. Fit riders willing to use more leg power can extend that range indefinitely, or at least until they run out of glycogen.
A few challenges have come up in our testing. The big one is how to carry skis and gear without pedaling with a loaded rucksack on your shoulders. In theory, wearing a backpack with A-framed skis and clipped boots seems like it would work. But I’m finding doing so to be extremely hard on my back and shoulders, especially on steep downhills when the weight of the pack is like a pile driver slamming between my shoulder blades. Remember, use one of these things and you might be covering way more distance than you normally would on a bicycle — with subsequent wear and tear on your body due to the lengthy downhilling required for your return journey.
Some sort of bike frame mount for at least the skis might be the ticket, or perhaps even a lightweight bike trailer holding both skis and backpack. The trailer might work especially well on pavement. I know some of you readers use bicycles for access, how do you carry all your stuff, just tough it out?
The other frustrating e-bike challenge reminds me of those times you see a cool automobile in Europe, and find out it’s not available in the U.S. because of “regulations.” Well, the same lame stuff is going on with e-bikes. Namely, e-bikes in Europe can have a “walk assist” feature that’s the ticket for slow journeys uphill in rough terrain or doing things like stream crossings. Hike-a-bike with a little help. My understanding is that e-bikes sold in U.S. can’t have walk assist. I have no idea of the technicality behind this, but remember these bikes are “pedal assist” powered, meaning you have to apply human power to the pedals before the motor kicks in and helps. Perhaps walk-assist makes the bike a fully powered “scooter” in the eyes of the regulators, invoking all sorts of red tape?
The Bosch and Yamaha pedal assist motors on these bikes are amazing. They’re easy to operate and clearly efficient. For extended range you could bring a spare battery, but they weigh about 2.6 kg and I don’t even want to know how much they cost. Water resistance is also an issue. It’s a bicycle so one would assume everything will be fine in extended wet weather, but our research indicates you don’t really want to submerge the motor, say during a stream crossing. We have wade crossings in Colorado that would certainly wash water up over the motor housing, and there is always the chance you could trip during a wade and let the bike fall over on its side.
In any case, other than the weight of these full featured downhill monsters with electric motors and batteries (getting them in and out of the truck took some thought), they’re simply one of the coolest things we’ve come across in our long history with bicycles. If you live in a place where access is limited by restricted automobile access, worth a look.
And yes Virginia, there is indeed some controversy about how e-bikes fit into the greater scheme of human powered enlightenment. Wildsnowers, I’d love to hear your opinions on that. But more, do you think e-bikes will solve the access problem many skiers in our fair land are frustrated by?
(Note: A vast variety of electric bicycles are available. Some are apparently even fully powered without pedaling. The pedal-assist type motor seems much less likely to engender hate from purists and is perhaps farther away from being against the rules on some paths and trails. It’ll be interesting to watch this. For those of you who’ve never ridden one of these, you do get a workout as you have to apply pedal torque to trigger the assist. The level of power is controlled from a selector unit on the handle bars, from a barely noticeable level that basically takes care of the bike’s weight, all the way up to “turbo” that zooms you up the trail amazingly fast but sucks down the battery as you watch. The electrical assist is speed limited as well, though hackers have already figured out numerous ways to bypass that annoyance.)
Of interest, conversion kits are available. Re-purpose that old mountain bike you never sold after an upgrade? Here is one kit that looks interesting.
Although this trip was somewhat of a ski traverse, we didn’t exactly intend to just skate along the icefield the entire time. I wanted to move across some country, but also find the time to do fun and rewarding skiing.
By day 7 of our trip, about halfway through, this plan had worked out perfectly. Although we had moved camp every day that we had good weather, we still managed to do quite a bit of good skiing. The conditions were admittedly sub-par on many aspects, but we made do. Our current camp, dubbed “sunset camp” for the awesome displays every evening, was near the top of the icefield. Now that we were at the highest area of the icefield, we decided to stay until we ran out of ski options.
As a working professional (ACMG Ski Guide and CAA Level 3) and an active recreationalist, I’ve seen my fair share of gear over the years. Everything from ski touring boots and bindings that weigh less than my car keys to hard charging, “plug” style AT boots and frame bindings that would slow down an elephant.
During this past season, I spent 110 days skiing uphill. Previously, during periods of work that have been very uphill intensive I’ve opted for light gear to aid in trail breaking efforts and to help conserve energy so I could focus on my guests. Usually the season would end with one or all pieces of my ski touring kit being destroyed due to the lack of durability light gear generally tends to come with. This season, my aim was to not have this happen; to create a ski touring setup that would stand up to a season of abuse, not slow me down on the uphill, and descend well.
After sitting in our yellow dome for a day, we were a bit rested but still quite tired. Nonetheless, when day four of our trip dawned clear, we packed up camp and got on the move.
We roped up and slogged several miles up the Fyles Glacier. At this point it was the middle of a cloudless day, and it was hot. We covered any exposed skin and trudged in silence for several hours, connected by 15 meters of cord. At the end of the long, flat glacier we found ourselves at a steep pass overlooking the Jacobsen Glacier, an area we would explore for the rest of the trip.OLDER POSTS »