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E-Bikepacking: A New Approach to Wilderness

By Adam Marsal and Richard Gasperotti

From time to time, I sometimes feel suffocated with digital rubbish up to the point when I can’t breathe anymore. At that moment, I power down all electronic devices, lock them into the desk, hang the bags on my bike and get out where I finally can feel myself again.

Even though it seems an impossible task in these accelerated and unstable times, that kind of mind cleaning is what I need to do now and then. The problem is I hadn’t fully recovered from an ankle injury that set me off the bike since this year’s July. The ankle was still painful and I could barely put the weight on my left foot without worrying something might have gone wrong again. All these concerns made me think about a new approach to bikepacking. To find a solution matching my poor physical condition, choosing an e-bike came to my mind.

Wild mountains where even bears take a stroll

Wandering with index fingers over the map, I chose the Jeseníky Mountains as my next destination. I picked them as they’re not too high, yet beautiful and wild enough to lure wolves and even moose or bears sometimes to its deep woods. From a Central European point of view, it’s a mountain range with no large plateaus, so you’re always on the way up or down.

You can gain a thousand vertical metres within a single day, so I am facing a decision of whether to put a strain on my ankle on a classic bike or to relieve it a bit and take an electric bike instead. So, guess what I have done: some may judge me, but given my recovery issues, I ended up taking the bike with an electric motor. For some people reading this, though, this story could be an inspiration for their own experience. Is e-bikepacking a silly idea? I don’t think so.


The question of where to recharge the battery

So here I am, at Rychleby’s Trail Centre base camp, where I am about to start climbing up the mountains. Taking a bike with a battery and a motor, I have one extra worry to care about. It’s no longer just a matter of how much food and drink I take, how many layers of clothing to wear in this year’s premature autumn weather or where I’ll lay my head but also where to recharge the battery.

If I ran out of power in the middle of nowhere, I’d be in an even worse situation than if I had to pedal a classic MTB with an injured ankle. Without the support of an electric motor, I would have no choice but to push a fully loaded e-bike with all the panniers and luggage weighing around thirty-five kilograms. And you don’t “want” to experience something like that in the wilderness.

A full-suspension bike with a big battery

For the trip, I chose my proven Mondraker Level R full-suspension e-bike with Bosch eBike Systems’ Smart system and integrated 750 W battery. To avoid running into the problem of some charging stations lacking the latest connector, I packed the entire charging adapter just in case. I’ve planned a three-day trip with two overnight stays in the countryside. Altogether, I plan to cover about 240 km. At that point, little did I know that the trip will turn out differently than I anticipated.

I started in a T-shirt but I carry clothes for the cold and the rain in the panniers as the forecast warns that bad weather is about to come. While pedalling up, I’m thinking about how to save the battery as much as possible. Even if I could support myself with a higher level of motor assistance, I consider a bike with ten kilograms of extra cargo will naturally consume more energy than usual. I realise that estimating the remaining battery capacity is not just about the distance to the next recharge point but more importantly, it’s a question of elevation gain. That’s why I save the battery by setting the driving mode to “eco”. During long descents, I even turn the engine off to lengthen the range.

The crisis is near

After getting the bike fully charged in Karlova Studánka, I’m heading towards the Praděd mountain. The peak is not possible to reach due to environmental protection, so I avoid the top and stick to my plan. Unfortunately, it starts to rain and the temperature drops significantly. While the icy wind drives the raindrops into my face so that they splash under my eyes, the fog slowly falls around me. Checking with my watch, I’m estimating there are fewer than two hours until sunset. The battery capacity display shows the last line, indicating that the bike will die in about 20 kilometres.

With about 18 km ahead, there’s still a chance I can make it to the nearest charging station. Just when I think it can’t get any worse, it does. As I’m climbing through a blueberry patch, the rear part of the bike bumps into a stump hidden in the dense vegetation, ripping the derailleur off the bike as if it was made of paper.

OK, now, what am I going to do? I could sit and cry on the ground or walk through the woods and swear but neither would help me. Trying to relax and calm my emotions, I remember the old saying: there’s always a solution. I’m used to improvising. I dismantle the derailleur and use tools to shorten the chain so I can turn the bike into a “single speed”. The important thing is that I can keep going.

As dusk falls, I have already made 120 km and climbed more than 2,000 vertical metres. Just a moment before dark, a man with a chainsaw looms out at the forest clearing just in front of me. A forester or a thief stealing wood on someone else’s property – it doesn’t matter to me. I put a headlamp on and ride away fast. Whenever I turn my head into the forest, I see the lights of countless eyes watching me from the darkness. Wild animals are all around me like in a spooky Tim Burton movie.

Although I carry a waterproof tarp to make an improvised shelter from the rain, the ground is too wet and I’m happy to come across a wooden shelter for tourists to stay overnight. Raindrops drum on the roof as I slowly fall asleep.

Bikepacking in Jeseniky
Each bikepacking trip is different and needs to be carefully planned to get the best out of it.

A night without light pollution

With morning fog condensing on the ground, I’m descending to the village and stopping at a pub to eat and recharge the battery. Getting to full capacity takes about three hours, which also helps me to refresh after a cold night outside. In the meantime, I have time to plan today’s route. It’s still cold but not raining and the sun is slowly rising in the sky. With all panniers on my bike, I’m climbing back up the ridge, and after crossing the Kraličák ski resort, I’m bound for the Polish border.

I regularly lose the GSM signal but that is actually what I came for. Instead of a mobile phone, I use a classic paper map for navigation. The contours help me estimate the elevation and thus the difficulty of the climbing.

I climb above the clouds, and I’m happy to get dry. I covered over a hundred kilometres since the DIY repair, and so far, everything is fine. Before dark, I find a rock terrace for the night. Far from civilisation, I enjoy the view of the night sky full of stars shining brightly, undisturbed by the light pollution of the cities. Missing a gas cooker, I settle for a cold dinner using a snack from the bag. Tomorrow, I’ll ride back to the valley and treat myself to a hot meal in a pub. I’ll deserve it, I guess.

Why an e-bike?

Should I sum up the trip, I’d point one thing out. The classic cyclists will probably stick with traditional bikes, yet for everyone else, the e-bike offers the same good off-road experience that motorcyclists look after in remote areas such as Romania. The e-bike is much more environmentally friendly, and unlike a regular bike, you won’t get nearly as exhausted despite having all the bags on. After the Jeseniky experience, I can only recommend giving it a try.