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It seems that every year I make some major change to my trike or equipment. On my first tour I started out with Arkel bags and then changed to a trailer for the ride through Mexico. I went back to the Arkel bags riding through New Zealand and Australia. For my trip through SE Asia I changed again to the new recumbent Ortlieb bags. For the upcoming tour I'm making major changes again.
Evolution on a Tour
Throughout the 3 years I spent on my previous tours I really expected to get faster. Unfortunately, I have never been able to climb hills faster than 2-3 mph no matter how much or little gear I am carrying. While touring SE Asia I got tired of trying to be faster and decided to accept that my speed is my speed. In the oppressive heat of Thailand crawling along at that speed was tortuous. With sweat pouring off me, I dreamed of being faster. I went from thinking about how great it would be to have a motor to researching electric assist. Could an electric motor handle all the weight I'm carrying and would batteries offer the distance range I'd require for touring?
When I returned home I put in an order with Ecospeed to build me a 700-watt mid-drive motor. They suggested I get 2 36 volt 10 amp hour lithium phosphate batteries to power the motor with touring in mind. Ecospeed had never put a motor on a Greenspeed trike and they had to machine new parts to make it work. It took awhile to get the system fine tuned. I also added a Cargo Monster. This is an adapter, built by TerraCycle, allowing recumbent trikes to use Xtracycle bags. The whole set up looks awesome. I've been using the motor conservatively, only uphill, essentially to keep me in the 2nd chain ring. Using the assist is like always riding with a tailwind. So far, I've been able to get more than 60 miles out of a charge. That is a big day for me on tour and exactly what I was hoping for. I live at the top of a long, steep hill and any time I want to take my trike out I used to allow a half-hour to crawl back up. Now it just doesn't matter.
The system makes alot of sense for around town riding. With the Cargo Monster I've got more than enough room for whatever I need to cart around. I could easily be car-free with this set-up. Hills have become irrelevant and if I'm in a hurry the motor can push me along at 30 mph. I'm still unsure if it will work for touring.
I scoured the internet and found less than a handful of self-supported electric-assist tour journals. Justin of ebikes had a ton of information from his cross Canada trip and a big following on the endless-sphere forum. His tour was in 2008 on a bike and system he built himself. A couple of other tours suggested they were using solar panels to charge the batteries completely off the grid but I am suspicious. I love the idea of solar power but, it appears to me, the size and wieght of the panels required to recharge 36V batteries makes it an awkward proposition. I'm not comfortable riding away from civilization, especially by myself, and expect to find outlets wherever I go. For my ride into Mexico I carried a large 2x3 ft flexible solar panel to charge up my electronics including a 15" laptop. There was electricity everywhere and I never needed the solar panel. That panel was the smallest size necessary to charge a laptop battery. I think it would have taken days to charge up a 36V 10ah battery using that solar panel. Eventually, solar technology will become realistic for cycle touring but that day hasn't arrived yet.
I decided the only way to know if my electric assist system will work for touring is to do a tour with it. Since the system is so new to me I decided to make my first etrike tour in the US. I'll start by riding down the Pacific Coast. This is the same route I took on my first tour and it will be comforting to ride terrain I'm familiar with. The route is fantastic and so beautiful it is certainly worth doing again. My plan for this journal is to highlight the pros and cons of using electric assist for touring while describing the ride. Along with the usual stats of daily miles and mapping the ride I'll be adding miles per amp and watt-hours per mile consumed.
One benefit of the system I chose is that I can ride the trike even if something goes wrong. It will require pedaling with an additional 25 pounds that the 2 batteries and motor weigh but I won't be stranded. I haven't noticed any difference in how the trike feels pedaling with or without the motor. I've already done a 35 mile ride carrying the extra weight without using the motor and my speed was the same as before I installed the system. The worst that will happen is I'll be back to climbing hills at 2-3 mph. Like I told the Ecospeed guys, I don't need to be fast just faster. My touring speed as been around 8 mph and this system should easily bring it to the 10-12 mph range while keeping good battery range. This speed should make it easier to ride with other cyclists which has been missing from my previous tours.
Who knows, if my experiences with etouring are successful it could give others thinking about touring more options.