Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Electric Cycletouring Acid Test

Heading down the Dovedale Valley, snowcovered Mt Arthur behind
Having acquired an eBike, I naturally wondered how it would cope with cycle touring? Would the battery last for a days riding? How easy would it be to charge the battery overnight?

Attending the 2WalkAndCycle conference in Nelson gave me the opportunity to find out. I hatched a plan to ride to Nelson, then join one of CANs post conference rides around the Great Taste Trail.

Having fully charged the eBike's battery, Marg (on Lucie, her trusty Tern folder) and I headed down to the BlueBridge terminal, to meet Russell, grappling with the long load of an A0 poster for his conference presentation. After an uneventful cruise, wandering the decks and breathing the unique mix of Cook Strait salt air and livestock truck odours, we emerged from the bowels of the Santa Regina and headed off along Queen Charlotte drive.
Russell's long load on the Queen Charlotte Drive
The eBike buzzed up the hills confidently and we cruised up the sound to Grove, which seems to be the cute letterbox capital of Aotearoa.

A stiff westerly had got up by the time we tackled the flats across Linkwater, so the eBike went in front allowing Marg and Russell to draft behind, though Marg found it a challenge drafting with the Tern's small wheels, and eventually headed out in front. We made our motel in Havelock in plenty of time for a post ride beer, minor bike adjustments, and dinner at the Mussel Pot.
Russell and friend, Rai Valley
The next day was potentially a test for the eBike - 74km, with two biggish climbs. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck between the Rai Saddle and the Whangamoa Saddle with a flat battery. But in fact the day went smoothly, with the eBike making it happily through the bush clad hills. We'd been a bit apprehensive about the Labour Day traffic, but heading west the road has adequate shoulders and the vehicles were generally following road code guidelines for passing distances. I did notice however that heading east, the shoulders are rather less generous, something to bear in mind when planning a cycle tour.

We stopped at Hira for a late lunch, the resident cat only too happy to help us with our chicken sandwiches. Then on to Nelson, where we picked up the Atawhai trail into town - Russell to the conference motel, Marg and me to catch up with old friends Mike and Patsy.

Cycling conferences are a great chance to recharge one's advocacy batteries, so the eBike got a bit of a rest while we debated mandatory passing distances, shared paths etc. A nice feature of this conference was the breakfast sessions, where early risers could join keynote speakers at a local cafe. One was at Lambrettas, which attracted me since a Lambretta scooter had been part of my two wheel evolution.
Lambretta meets eBike at Lambrettas
After the conference, I met up with the two day cycling group, and Ian kindly guided us out on the bike paths to Wakefield and Get Real Backpackers.
Coastal cycle path to Richmond
Trevor, our host, took us for a tour up the back fields, accompanied by Angel, a sprightly two year old dog keen to chase thrown branches.
Angel plots to stow away on Patrick's bike
The next day we headed back into Wakefield for a bakery breakfast which powered us up for the Dovedale saddle. The eBike coped with the climb along winding gravel roads through forestry land, then it was a fine run down through the Dovedale valley, which had several of us declaring it the "finest cycle touring in NZ" .

We stopped for a rest at the Dovedale Cricket pavillion. In the nearby churchyard was a memorial to Edward Eban, who died of injuries sustained on the Upper Moutere cricket field in 1908.

On we rolled down to Woodstock, passing a Landrover graveyard, and across the Motueka River to the quiet West Bank. Around lunch time I noticed a group of road workers in fluoro sitting in the shade of a tree by their truck. It was only after the calls and yahoos followed me down the road that I realised I'd biked past my companions having lunch. Time for another visit to the optometrist! At Ngatimoti we crossed back to search for the rumoured cafe, but it was closed, and we contented ourselves with a chat with a friendly member of the Ngatimoti Bowling club. At Riwaka the trail took a circuitous route to end up at the new cycleway clipped on to the Motueka River Bridge, and we finished the day's exertions with fruit icecreams at Toad Hall. The four day tour had also arrived, so we dined together at the Sprig and Fern.
Ice creams at Toad Hall
Helping with inflation issues on a canine carrier, Toad Hall
Sunday was the last day, and I decided to test the range of the eBike by heading up to Kaiteriteri before going along the coast back to Nelson. It was a good choice - following boardwalks and stopbanks along the shore then and easy single track route through the Kaiteriteri mountain bike park to a coffee and slice at a beach side cafe. Kaiteriteri seemed quiet, no doubt resting up for the boxing day invasion.
Coastal boardwalk to Kaiteriteri
Back in Motueka Patrick and I formed the rear guard of the two day excursion, and headed east. At Riverside Cafe, we were distracted by "Look, it's Patrick" from a table of Wellingtonians, but decided to press on in search of the perfect sandwich.
Leaving Riverside Community
About here the trail designers must have decided that cyclists were in need of a variation from flat gradients, and took us on firebreaks to a high point at the top of Harley Rd. The eBike coped fine, but I did wonder what the reaction is from those expecting an Otago Rail Trail topography.
Summit of the Harley Rd deviation
At Tasman I discovered a fine sandwich (eschewing the attractive looking "cyclists slice"), and Patrick discovered a puncture. After several immersions of the tube in a water bath kindly provided by the storekeeper, we were on our way, and the countdown to the 4pm sailing of the Mapua Ferry began, Initially the refrain was "lots of time to get there by 4pm" but as the wind rose, and the trail  took increasingly less direct routes,  I cranked up the eBike to maximum power settings, and we arrived on the jetty at exactly 4pm - to see the ferry part way across the channel to Rabbit Island. It turned out the schedule was merely a guide, and on his return the skipper agreed to take us across, despite the challenge of maneuvering the ferry through the wind driven waves. Punters wanting a return trip were out of luck, though - he wasn't certain he'd be able to make another trip. At Rabbit Island we quickly ran the bikes down the gangplank and up the soft sand.
Alastair doing a McArthur imitation on Rabbit Island
Crosswinds plagued our progress along Rabbit Island, and we were glad to head inland and across the causeway to pick up the final section of the trail into Nelson. I was made welcome again by Mike and Patsy, just returned from a steam boat excursion on Lake Rotoroa, and the next day took the bus and ferry back to Wellington.

So is cycle touring on an eBike feasible? Certainly. Admittedly, I'd kept the power control on the most economical setting, and just used the hand control for a power boost on hills. But the last day was over 80 km, and the battery was still showing 3/4 full (though I suspect the drop from 3/4 to empty is more rapid than from full to 3/4). I didn't have problems with charging, though it helped that I'd bought a double plug, and that the eBike's battery is removable.

So even now, the next electric cycle tour is being plotted... watch this space.

[More photos of the trip on Google +]