I recently e-cycled across America. I turned 55, became an American citizen, met great people, sustained no injuries, and raised $180,000 for charity during the solo, unassisted tour.
My e-bike didn't break down, I never encountered crime other than someone trying to steal a towel from my hotel room, and I had no life-threatening encounters with traffic, people, aliens, and wildlife. Most importantly, I arrived on time in San Francisco to go on holiday in Maine with my wife. Overall, the e-bike tour was a remarkable success.
A Fantastic Experience
As an ultra-long-distance solo e-cyclist, I know firsthand that this type of e-cycling can be a challenging physical and mental endeavor that demands discipline, efficiency, and mental fortitude.
During a journey across America on an electric bicycle, I knew I could face obstacles, including equipment failures, injuries, and extreme weather conditions. However, with the proper preparations, risk management, and common sense, my tour was a fantastic experience.
A New Transcontinental E-Cycling Route
Very few established trans-continental cycling routes exist across America, so I designed a new route. In the 1970s, before e-bikes were common, the Adventure Cycling Association developed three transcontinental cycling routes (in blue).
Since I wanted to cycle from Washington, DC, to San Francisco, I created a new transcontinental e-bike friendly route (in red) that includes stops for charging the batteries, food, and plenty of accommodation. The route crosses the Northern Tier twice and the TransAmerica cycling route once.
Fixed For the Rest of My Life
Jonathan, an avid e-bike enthusiast and practicing psychologist, once said that a cross-country journey on an e-bike could change my life forever. And he was right. Although I may not have needed extensive psychological repair, the tour was a transformative experience, reinvigorating my spirits and infusing me with newfound confidence and vitality.
I realized that if I can do it with my physical limitations (I suffer from peripheral neuropathy) and supervision from a medical professional, many others can embark on a life-changing journey with the right preparations, support, interest, and determination.
My experience has taught me several valuable lessons I hope to pass on to others before I finish my guidebook on e-cycling across America. Here are some main takeaways from my cross-country e-bike tour.
Follow a Safe Cycling Route
One of the biggest challenges of e-biking across America is determining which roads and paths are safe and legal for (e-)bicycles. However, many established cycling routes are designed to avoid high-traffic areas and are e-bike friendly nowadays. Using these routes and "connecting them" across America minimizes the risk of incidents and accidents.
Traveling safely is not the fastest way to travel across America, but certainly the most pleasant one. I cycled mostly on established regional and local cycling routes and rustic rural roads. I never cycled along an interstate highway.
With modern GPS, virtual reality, street mapping, and route planning software, it is possible to design an e-bike-friendly route across America. I used RideWithGPS as the online platform to plan my route. This is the same software solution used for E-bike Lovers' weekly rides.
With its built-in Google Street view and elevation profiles, RideWithGPS allows you to virtually cycle the entire route before leaving your house. I "cycled" the whole route across America virtually twice to design and fine-tune my route. I became so familiar with the route before I left that I recognized intersections and buildings during the tour.
I gained a sense of assurance, knowing I would never wander off course and could easily determine the distance I needed to cover each day to reach my lodging and food stops. Though I carried emergency food, I never had to resort to using it as I encountered no unexpected setbacks.
Begin Physical Tour Preparations Well in Advance
Preparation is critical to success in ultra-long-distance solo cycling. Planning my route, packing necessary equipment, and training my body for the physical and mental demands of the journey have all been essential components of my success. Unless you have supernatural powers or are indestructible, I highly recommend you train for long-distance e-cycling.
If e-biking is cheating, call me Lance Armstrong because I didn't know that "cheating" could give me such a good workout! And let's be honest; there's no cheating involved when e-cycling across America. You need to seriously use your legs to propel the bicycle, and you've got to perform many physical tasks like lugging bags and equipment to your hotel room or camping site. Plus, you've got to steer the bike with your arms, and your back and rear end are constantly in motion.
You will be burning serious calories as you cannot "throttle across America" as no e-bike has the range to sustain the distance without pedaling. So, if you think e-biking across America is an easy ride, you better pedal back to reality! You should train before the tour, consult your doctor, or risk injuries, burnout, and other failures.
When I Started Training
I started my "training program" some 18 months before my departure. I would e-bike 2 to 3 times a week, gradually increasing my distance with more weight and equipment on the e-bike. I started to cycle with my entire set-up three months before my tour to fine-tune and test the equipment and condition my body further.
I simulated situations like flat tires (I never had one during the tour) and unexpected stops on steep inclines. I trained in horrendous rainstorms and practiced camping during freezing nights. As a result, I was prepared for most scenarios.
My first day of cycling on tour was similar to many other days during my training program. I knew what to expect, and I was fully prepared for the unlikely situation that I had to tackle unknown scenarios and problems.
Use High-Quality Equipment
Part of the preparations is procuring high-quality equipment, including a reliable touring e-bike. Do not expect to e-bike across America with a $500 e-bike, as you will be in for many surprises.
The Riese & Muller Super Charger 2 HS is equipped with the Rohloff 500/14 and Gates belt. It was customized with a heavy-duty front suspension fork, a new suspension seat post, and a suspension handlebar.
A MIK adaptor plate was attached to the front rack for the drone case. I also upgraded to tire puncture resistant liners and Schwalbe e-bike cargo tires for extra puncture resistance and weight-bearing capacity, added a third 625 wh battery and a second battery charger.
I changed the handlebar grips and added a Suzu brushed copper bell and a water bladder to the frame as R&M water bottles are not practical for long-distance cycling. I also added a Brooks B17 saddle and a right mirror. I also changed the pedals during the tour.
A Computer on Two Wheels
The Riese & Muller e-bike performed extremely well as there is no better electric touring bike with an integrated dual Bosch 625 battery system, Rohloff drive system and belt drive on the market. However, configuring the factory-built e-bike for a cross-country or cross-continent tour required some rebuilding and fine-tuning.
This e-bike is like a computer on two wheels. It is essential to have access to an authorized Bosch and Rohloff dealer in case of serious problems on your long-distance route. We didn't have any.
I only experienced a broken belt after around 6,200 miles on the bike when I was already back in Washington DC.
E-bike Lovers has an article on what to look for if you are interested in a quality e-bike. This article is not about prepping an e-bike for long-stance e-cycling but highlights the importance of e-bike safety, durability, and quality.
Energy Management and Pacing
By creating a pacing plan, I could optimize my energy expenditure and finish my daily journeys with the right amount of energy left in my legs and e-bike batteries. As I knew every day how far I needed to cycle and how steep the roads would be, I was perfectly in control of my energy management.
I paced myself during my ultra-long-distance cycling tour to avoid burnout and exhaustion. I ensured I would eat enough and frequently stop to snack, rest, converse with people and livestock (especially with curious cows and horses) and take in nature. I also avoided cycling every day as rest days were built into the tour. It is unnatural for humans to sit for some 4,700 miles on a saddle and propel a bicycle, so have rest days to explore, recover and pace yourself.
The tour opened my eyes to the possibilities that come with the right amount of preparation, interest, and determination, even with my physical limitations (I have peripheral neuropathy). It showed me that anyone could embark on a life-changing journey.
The ultra-long distance solo e-cycling tour has taught me valuable lessons about perseverance, goal setting, and overcoming obstacles that I can apply to other areas of my life. Planning is critical to success.
Begin your journey toward achieving incredible things today! Don't be afraid to start small. Join E-bike Lovers' events in the DMV area for a short ride or enjoy e-biking with another group. Before you know it, it can lead you to unexpected adventures and new destinations.
Embrace the thrill of the unknown and see where the road takes you, both on your e-bike and in life.
Gregory discovered e-biking after 20 years of overseas work as project manager for the World Bank and USAID. He writes about e-mobility and e-biking in the DMV area, and loves the outdoors (white water kayaking, hiking and biking). He lives with his wife, Janet and Queenie the cat, in Washington DC. He recently e-biked 4,685+ miles across America and raised $180,000 for a charity.
Favorite e-bike: Riese & Muller Super Charger Class 3 touring e-bike.
Dr. Gregory F. Maassen
FOUNDER E-BIKE LOVERS