- Mar 21, 2022
Riders that tour on bicycles are a different breed than most other riders. Not only willing to sit a bike for hour after hour but actually love doing it. I built my bike after following a couple (John Isles and Cathy Colless) on crazyguyonabike.com that rode a pair of Tout Terrain, Panamericana bikes to the tip of Argentina and back, and another guy on YouTube (Lohan Gueorguiev ) that rode down through Alaska, Canada, USA, and down into Mexico and beyond one year. They were riding standard bikes...amazing athletes all, and doing it for no one but themselves, at least to start. They did/do record the adventures in their own way, pictures, riding diary, and provided route tracing. Lohan Gueorguliev shoots some stunning videos and has bikewander.com which I am sure provides "fundage". After following these riders for a year or more I knew one thing for sure... I couldn't possibly do what they do without instant helicopter support on-tap. Not at my age, weight (at the time), physical ability, necessary pharmaceutical support (at the time), and with a total lack of desire to be anything but clean and comfortable while doing it.
Enter stage left the BaFang mid-drive. Under the American federal definition of ebike...
Google search: American federal definition of ebike:
Defined - The federal Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) defines a "low-speed electric bicycle" (LSEB), (also referred to as a "low-speed electric vehicle LSEV) as a two or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals, a top speed when powered solely by the motor under 20 mph (32 km/h) and an electric motor that produces less than 750 W (1.01 hp).
...mounting a BBS02, and complying with the other requirement in the definition produces a bicycle that can be ridden anywhere in America that bicycles are allowed, not a motorized vehicle, not even an electric bike really... pretty essential for a tour-bike. A tour-bike with an additional 1 h.p. on tap, allowing me to do some of the same things my heroes do but with all the creature comforts that I "need". Using what I had gleaned from great tour-riders and discussing the BBS02 with Doug Snyder (California Ebikes) I decided to build a touring bike designed around a mid-drive motor and comply with the federal definition of an LSEB or vehicle. Having decided initially I wanted a full-suspension tour bike I researched them... both of them, I chose the Panamerican. I doubt the Delite frame can handle the abuse that the Panamericana takes in stride. If my bike had a girlfriend it would be a Riese and Muller Delite... very pretty. I designed the bike on Tout Terrain's website with what I thought would be perfect for me, I was wrong... a little bit wrong. I then found out that the only U.S. distributor of Tout Terrain products at the time was Peter White Cycles. I gave Mr. White the build specs and discussed the build ad nauseam, I didn't get what I had ordered. Worst experience of buying anything in my life both with Tout Terrain and PWC. The mistakes I made in ordering the bike weren't corrected by Mr. White because it benefitted him personally. Live and learn. Once the bike frame was built and shipped to PWC, he did basically nothing but laced up different wheels than what I'd ordered, he threw everything in a box... most everything. There were a few missing purchased parts like the chain and crank assemble, NBD right? Anyway, he threw most everything into a box and sent the bike to Doug Snyder who mounted the motor to the frame and then sent the whole erector set to me. Thus began my quest to assemble a great eTouring bike.
Comfort - Have to be able to ride 1/2 the day, day after day, if/when I want, and not need a bath or shower to feel clean again.
Mid-drive over hub-motor.
Range - I set a range of 120 miles fully loaded.
Large capacity battery(s) and a smart charger.
Quality/durability - As good as possible within my means.
LSEB definition compliance.
Looks - Color scheme of bike and components.
Suspended frame... able to hold a 30Ah triangle-pack (As with any bike... pick the wrong frame to start and it's already over).
Mid-drive w/throttle (Conflicts with the LSEB definition).
Hydraulic disc brakes... as large as possible.
Designed to carry 4 panniers and bar bags.
26 X 2.5", 36 spoke wheels w/tires designed for multi-surfaces. (I got what PWC had laying in a pile).
Dynamo-hub & headlight.
Suspended front rack.
Mirrors... (I've been through 4 different sets).
Seat designed for touring... (I needed two swings to get it right).
Short-throw front fork.
Chris King headset.
Tout Terrain handle-bar lock.
Water-proof multi-compartment panniers with a superior hanger (cam-lock).
Single-wheel suspended trailer.
A bike that's capable of out-running a grizzle bear (35 mph).
Ability to charge with a solar panel.
Benefits of a mid-drive:
Adding a mid-drive to a touring bike set-up changes almost everything learned since John Foster Fraser and his buds rode the planet to score chicks in 1896. Tour riders have always had to go with both light and minimal gear. Physics. Just like with backpackers going light... try carrying 70+ lbs. on your back and have fun doing it. That same thinking is carried to the point of today's ultralight riders, bike-packers, bike-campers, or whatever the latest terms are, doing it with no traditional panniers and a single pair of underwear. Those guys aren't doing it for the fun as much as for other incentives in my opinion, and many use on-call support if they need to pull a crank. Sponsors don't want their riders showing problems on YouTube. A motor allows me to carry more, more mass, more back-ups, more creature comforts, and more options. The trade-off is that carrying more mass, let alone pulling a trailer, changes the physics and adds new... wrinkles, yeah, that's the ticket!... wrinkles, and bruises. Both extending the learning process and wreaking havoc on my knees, hands, rightsholder, back, helmet, and pretty much everything else. For touring... a motor lets me do more than is possible without it but they aren't magic, and you also must plan for worst-case scenarios including losing the assist.
Once you build the bike, load the bike, and start putting miles on it (carrying different amounts of gear), learning the physics of the specific mass that you're moving, and becoming proficient at each level the focus then becomes extending the range. Making the most out of and using the least of your precious battery charge. That's true even if you are riding out of your garage with 120V on-tap 24/7. Even more so if you have learned and want to get the most out of the packs (only using 60% capacity) so as to not stress them unnecessarily. There are way more things to consider if you don't know that there will be power where you stop for the night. Range is important even if you only hop 10 miles between camps. It's very seldom I have ever ridden more than 50 miles away from my basecamp but still easily put on that many miles during unloaded day rides. But knowing that it's there with a single charge (100-mile capability) is very reassuring. Also, even when 120V is easily available it's slow to charge, ok if it happens while you sleep, but more of an imposition if it's at a roadside choke-n-puke for a 30-minute lunch. And even worse in some kind homeowner's front yard in the middle of the day. Come on supercapacitor battery!!! Stop to take a leak, get a coke, and throw 20Ah in the packs. Yes, please! Since I will never see that I had to learn how to stretch the range without waiting and whining for the next generation of battery technology.
Maximizing range: (My main objective)
Using the minimum amount of assist necessary. - The BaFang BBSXX motors allow you to set 9 levels of assist. You can also set separate amounts of assist for both the throttle and the PAS for each of the 9 levels. Set the throttle with a slightly higher assist than the PAS and at any time you need, an incline, a rest, need to speed up for any reason, have to come off the seat to fart... just thumb the throttle and you get an increased assist without going to the next highest power level. This lets me dial in the least amount of assist much better, I rarely go above level 3. Torque and ramp-up of the torque are also adjustable. Having the power come on slow and smooth helps save the drive train, saves power consumption, and makes the ride smoother and more comfortable. I rode a top-dollar production ebike with a torque sensor and PAS sewn together so smooth and intuitively that if I wanted to ride faster it could sense it through the peddles. It was ok, but it didn't have a throttle and for how I ride I find one essential. That, the motor buried in the frame, and all the proprietary componentry made me happy I went the way I did. I haven't seen a production ebike I would buy yet.
Controlling speed. - Once you learn how to move a loaded ebike, how to best apply the additional power in a controlled manner, and want to extend the range you have to learn to control the "Need-Fer-Speed!". Think like an old-school tour rider. Climbing a hill at 15 mph is easy even fully loaded but it uses double or more power than climbing the hill at 8 mph. Climbing at 25+ mph devastates range. Watching the watt usage on the 500C display (picture below) controller has helped me greatly. On level surfaces, I can watch the watt usage drop off to zero about 40% of the time. Once I hit a set speed the assist drops off, zero watt usage. Declines, peddling harder/faster, a stiff tailwind, and it doesn't need electricity to maintain momentum. The same goes with a standard bike, that's why avid bike riders like to ride fast, and keeping a high cadence, it's easier to maintain the momentum... less work. With a mid-drive, if it's hard for you to turn the cranks then the motor is using more power than necessary and less efficiently. Gear down and accelerate the mass more slowly, better yet accelerate the bike without using assist, and then just use it to maintain momentum. But I'm too damn old to do that all the time. It's also sometimes better to set a higher cruising speed, sacrificing the power to help get there, and then maintaining that speed rather than riding at a slower speed. Lots of factors to consider and they can change rapidly.
Pedaling, both amount and cadence: Pedal, pedal a lot. Don't climb without pedaling. Keep the cadence in your sweet spot using gearing. Don't use any assist when descending... having a motor cut-out is essential for this. The more you propel the bike the more charge you save and the farther you extend the range.
Use of a motor cut-out - A motor cut-off is great for putting torque into the chain and not using any power on both inclines and declines. The more you use the cut-out the more charge you save and the more you extend the range. Am I repeating myself?
Wheel and tire choice - I went with old-school thinking but for different reasons than old-time riders. 26" wheels are strong and were easy to find for old school riders, common, and easy to find the world around. I wanted a smaller diameter wheel so it's easier to turn even with 60 lbs, of baggage on the front of the bike. 2" width is larger than most tour riders use because they would choose a thinner tire over a wider more stable tire in a trade-off for better rolling resistance. I wanted the stability that a wide-ish tire provides on soft surfaces, so I went for a 2" wide higher-pressure tire (70 psi max) with some, but not too much tread designed specifically for touring on multiple surfaces. They aren't always perfect. At times I wish they were 1" and others I wish they were 4", but they are the best all-around for me.
Drivetrain and gearing - USE IT. Gearing is how athletes have been touring on standard bikes for decades, there's a reason for that. High-quality components and a gear ratio that will let you climb. There always seems to be more uphill than down. If top speed is your desire, you are in the wrong place. I can't recommend the Rohloff Speed-hub enough. It costs more than many people seem to want to spend on an entire ebike and is worth every cent.
Use of a throttle - Having a throttle means I don't have to crank the pedals in precarious situations like starting uphill, at high speeds, riding slowly in confined spaces, or amongst pedestrians. It also helps me with range in being able to feather the power on while riding at higher speeds. Very useful. Also, most throttles can be disconnected in about a minute should the need arise (complying with LSEB definition.).
Type of PAS - Many PAS give no options; you must use them in the way the designers think best. I don't seem to think like most people and most PAS aren't designed for touring... more for running around yelling, "Wahoooooo!" on an unloaded ebike. I like the flexibility that BaFang's "unrefined" mid-drives give when riding outside the box. PAS and throttle with the ability to set levels on each separately for 9 power levels.
Carrying weight: "What works best for me."
As mentioned earlier, traditional tour riders have for the most part always been lightweight riders or in today's youtube parlance... "ultralight". Physics doesn't change even if the road/riding surfaces keep getting better. Ebikes allow riders not only to move faster, with less effort, climb better, and carry more but do all those things combined over 100-mile long rides if they wish. The physics changes when you start hanging weight on the frame and/or attaching a trailer. Add only a 6 lb. motor and an 8 to 10 lb battery and you won't notice much of a difference until you want to pick your bike up and toss it around like you normally do. I envy people that can just flip their bike over and pull the rear tire off. Even then 15 additional pounds is pretty easy to muscle around, especially when you start with a light or "ultralight" bike (something I don't suggest for anyone wanting to do long duration/range touring). As you add gear in 10 to 20 lb. increments things change. Weight must be balanced and balanced well, it's just common sense. I'm sure people do the same thing with horses. You can throw 20 lbs. on the bars, and/or hang it in the triangle, off of the BB for a mid-drive, in the hubs for those using washing machine motors, and the bike stays stable. If you hang 20 lbs. in a single pannier (front or back) you are having to fight it the entire time. So, keeping in mind you are adding the same amount of weight to either side of the bike, or placing it centered on the frame, where do you place the initial weight? First, you must know what weights you will be dealing with in each of several gear groupings.
Equipment priority: (varies among riders)
Items I want with me even on a 5-mile ride around the park:
Pump(s) (tire and shock if applicable)
Tire repair kit.
Tools necessary for tire repairs.
Water (I'll ride without water for 10 miles but never without music).
Mini 1st-aid kit.
Items, in addition, that I want with me on a 20-miles spin around town:
Multi-tool(s) necessary for anything minor... adjusting a fender or seat or extracting a fishhook from the back of your calf. (everybody
has their own ideas of what they are.)
Battery power bank.
Camera(s) and associated accessories.
Clothing options and upgrades to include rain gear.
Items, in addition, I want with me on a 50-mile day ride:
More... additional water.
Tools necessary for anything you want to be prepared for.
Repair parts applicable to the bike and gear carried.
Anything necessary for using or charging accompanying electronics.
Items, in addition, I want with me while touring and on multi-day rides:
Charger(s) and necessary cords for every piece of electronics carried.
Water filter, a really good water filter, and other means of making water safe to drink... UV, chems as necessary.
Clothing for all-weather situations and for multiple-day stays.
Sleeping system(s) and it/their appropriate tarps and guy lines.
Personal hygiene gear.
Food, snacks, alcohol
Repair parts for all carried gear.
Scrubba-bag for cleaning clothes. (Multi-purpose)
etc, etc, etc. (personal choice)
Note: I am sure I missed things and all riders carry stuff odds-n-ends they personally want. One guy I met carries a stuffed bear... a dirty, grungy, nasty, one-eyed stuffed bear strapped to his bike. The point is to prioritize everything as best suits you. Not only the specific items you carry in each group but how much weight you are going to assign to each group of those items. All the while remembering that it needs to be balanced and arranged in a logical manner. I can pull into a basecamp, and easily drop the trailer and panniers, maybe a bar bag and go for 100 miles long day-rides on single-track on a reasonably lightweight bike. A fully loaded touring bike can be a real handful, throw common sense weight restrictions out the window with the use of an electric motor and it can be a serious chore... not exactly the carefree riding most of us love so much. On a good surface with no "traffic" it can feel like riding the bike unloaded. Forget you have the trailer in tow, and you can put on quite a show. Ride into a turn with 100+ pounds more weight than you think you have, and you are going to need the use of the 1st aid kit.
Arranging prioritized weight on the bike: Note: Minimum bike weight includes bike, motor, battery, & items that remain attached to the bike.
Highest priority items: Minimum bike weight... the things you want with you all the time can be placed as best suits the rider, in bar bags, hung directly on the frame, in a backpack (which I don't suggest), or in small added bags like a feedbag. Minimal weight can be distributed around the bike. My Priority gear weighs under 3 lbs. can be distributed around the bike without the use of bar-bags or panniers.
Second priority items: Minimum bike weight plus 10 to 20 lbs. (probably more). Large bar bags can carry a great deal of gear that is either accessed daily or not for weeks in the case of raingear... if you're lucky. Bar bags are also very easy to get used to riding with (again... especially on an ebike). With the right set-up, you can have an over-nighter with only a couple of bar bags and be able to stay dry and comfortable. I see "bike-campers" do weekend rides with less gear... I like being clean and comfortable. Hanging priority items on the bars also means that you don't have to play switcharoo when you do add front and/or rear panniers. Placing weight over the front tire also helps stabilize the ride and to stop more quickly (when everything goes right).
50+ mile ride items: Minimum bike weight plus up to 60 lbs. Bar-bag(s) and a pair of panniers. Panniers are the suitcases for long-distance/long-duration bike touring. Just like with travel suitcases they can be packed light or heavy, it's more like packed or over-packed. Where riders choose to place the 1st pair of panniers can depend on several factors but mostly comes down to personal choice. Assuming you can carry front panniers, you can hang them either in front or back. I saw one rider once with a left front and a right rear... personal choice or really good mushrooms. I never ride with only rear panniers... it unloads the front of my bike so much that it feels unstable. Or at least less stable than hanging them on the front rack. At this weight, I could do an unexpected "long weekend" stay and be comfortable and dry even in freezing temperatures. Only reliant on food and water.
Long duration riding: Minimum bike weight plus up to 100 lbs. Bar-bag(s), front and rear panniers, feed bags, miscellaneous items, and/or carriers. With 4 panniers, bar-bag(s), etc., you can assemble enough gear to tour around the world comfortably if you are willing to stay within 50-100 miles of an AC outlet.
Self-contained touring: Minimum bike weight plus 190 lbs, bar-bag(s), 4 panniers, misc. carriers, and the use of a trailer. The addition of up to another 90 lbs. of potential gear opens the possibility of unlimited range without the support of any electrical infrastructure. Add another 30Ah lithium pack, and enough solar capability to charge 120V items in a reasonable amount of time and the USA is your personal playground. Most of the experience I have is with a single-wheel suspension trailer that attaches to the seat post. Imagine riding your bike and having another 50+/- pounds of weight at seat height. It changes the behavior of the bike and makes you look at every turn, curve, and bump differently.
I find that when the pannier center of gravity is either in front of the front axle or behind the rear axle, I can feel a pronounced flex in both the frame and wheels. There is also a slight (more than slight actually) oscillation in the bike when pedaling hard. Adjusting the panniers' center of gravity closer to the center of the frame helps to quiet the oscillation and a great deal of the flex I feel when positioned improperly. This is another benefit of a mid-drive over hub motors, and why positioning batteries in the frame triangle as low as possible is "a good thing". Situating heavy items low in the panniers is also recommended. Being able to shift pannier weight forward or back, and up and down lets you finetune the ride characteristics. Moving the rear panniers forward can interfere with pedaling, some panniers can be cocked or tilted keeping the center of weight forward while still being able to clear your heels should this be a problem. Front panniers should be low but higher than the average curb height.
Components well suited for touring (in no particular order): Necessities, toys, and sheer luxuries all add up and you can't take everything with you that you want... at least I can't. I have been packing 10-pounds of sh*t in a 5 lb. bag since backpacking as a kid. Then as an 05C in an AN/GRC-122 RATT Rig shelter on the back of an M561 Gamma-goat. Weight wasn't an issue then, but space was, and I lived comfortably in the field for many 1000s of hours over the years. Nice always having electricity anywhere you go.
Center Stand: Being able to stop and park a heavily loaded bike all most anywhere is a high priority when touring and a side stand just won't do it. The more heavily you load the bike and/or trailer the more you need to be able to park it quickly and securely. Just the 30Ah battery in my frame triangle weighs 17 lbs. with another 6 for the motor. Weight adds up fast when you want to be able to negotiate any foreseeable weather conditions. A premium center stand makes a huge difference simplifying moving an etouring bike around. - https://photos.app.goo.gl/c3i7sAwPwd3WS5W78
Handlebar lock: Once you start adding weight to the front of the bike it becomes important to be able to stop the handlebars from rotating when the bike is parked. The bars turning with the weight of full panniers, bar bags, and assorted gear mounted to the bars can push the bike over easily, so can wind, less so with a center stand but it still happens. Tout Terrain designed a lock keyed to their frames that allows you to easily straighten the bars, lock them in place, and unlock them with a single hand. I have watched people tie the bars to the side, so they won't rotate but with the wheel straight it helps keep the bike stable even on rough surfaces. https://photos.app.goo.gl/ziLZrhxYoZuvzLM2A
Brake lock or Brake Lever Clip: I bought one of these within weeks of getting the bike. The heavier the bike the more useful the brakes could be when stopping on inclines... just seems like common sense to me. It's a simple device that weighs almost nothing. I practiced using it several times. Purposely parking the bike on steep inclines and deciles with and without the trailer. After 10K miles riding and never needing to use the damn thing once I took it off the bike when I took it to be serviced and didn't put it back on. Within a week I got hung up on a steep rough incline and without thinking reached for it... I was laughing and kicking myself for not having it. Once back on the bike I ground a groove in it so it will pop off beer caps too. Now it's a multi-purpose tool and will see more use. Not a necessity but a lightweight and inexpensive multi-use tool.
Mirrors: Mirrors have undoubtedly saved my life many times. A pair of well-made and well-placed mirrors is the most important safety item you can carry... unless a bear is chasing you. Maybe it would provide additional incentive to see him chasing you... but I doubt it. Mirrors need to be highly and easily adjustable but hold their position once set. I am changing and adjusting my mirrors all the time even rotating them together in front of the bar bag on single-track. Look at moped and motorcycle mirrors depending on your bar set-up. Once you find what works best for you buy back-ups. Mirrors take a beating when the bike takes a dive, and it Will take dives.
Pedals: Super personal choice for riders mostly based on what they have done in the past. Lycra riders love clip-ons since it's all about maximizing their energy usage. Flat open pedals work best for me since I am on and off the pedals all the time. I wouldn't even use toe-clips on an ebike set-up for touring.
Dynamo Hub: You need a hub on the front wheel so why not use a hub that does something else? Throw the traditional thinking of drag and weight out the window when ebike touring. They still apply but aren't a rider's primary concern as they are on standard bikes. You can think in terms of pounds instead of grams and the resistance you get from a good dynamo-hub is nothing. Being able to charge small electronics and battery backups/chargers is more important the further you ride from outlets. Plus, the obvious advantage of pairing it with a great bike light for whenever you're moving. I also use a backup NiteRider Lumina 1800 Dual headlight as a flashlight should the need arise. I have had to stop and wash mud and debris off the hub connection a few times to get the light to work and realized that a backup to the dynamo light was necessary.
Disc-Brakes: Common sense. https://photos.app.goo.gl/8taHYseXhefNtc3C9
Feedbags: I have two different feedbags on the bike 99% of the time. Both have about the same capacity; one is taller and thinner while the other is larger around. I use them for different items depending on when/where I am riding. If I am riding within 30 miles of my home one is filled with peanut in the shell since after 3 years now the local crows expect mid-air concessions to be served and will follow yelling to remind me. The other holds a camera and a blue-tooth digital music player most of the time. These bags can be placed easily and hold all kinds of beer... I mean stuff.
Rohloff Speed-hub: I simply can't say enough. This single-component takes any bike to the next level and works perfectly with the BaFang BBSXX mid-drives. Expensive and worth every penny. Just the simplification of keeping the drive train clean makes these worthwhile. With proper spacers, both the motor and the Speed-hub can be dialed in for a perfectly straight chain line.
Trailer: The use of a trailer allows a single rider to ride further while carrying more luxury items than with just panniers. It also allows couples to divide the gear in the best possible manner. A 6'3" rider should carry more gear than a 5'2" rider even if it does emasculate him. However, just like pulling a trailer with a car, it isn't fun... even if it's empty. I rode for a few months pulling the trailer every ride, 20+ per month. Short rides, long rides, smooth surfaces and rough, wet, and dry, loaded and unloaded. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. I learned to both love and hate the God Damn thing. Love it because it lets me do what I want and hate it when I'm pulling it. Not really, but you do have to stay conscious and aware that it's back there. Cutting 90 deg. turns can be interesting. It makes side winds more problematic. It takes more energy to move. It's a pain in the ass coupling and uncoupling... not really but it is one more thing. Climbing slippery surfaces like getting off a ferry at a super minus tide can be challenging. The same goes for slippery muddy surfaces... at least with touring tires.