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What are the best electric bikes for bikepacking – are they practical?
There’s nothing like the freedom of jumping on your bike and going off on an adventure, whether you’re exploring your local area or going further afield. Bikepacking is a liberating experience and if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and reconnect with nature there’s no better way to explore the countryside than on an electric bike.
If you’re thinking of disappearing for a weekend (or longer) on a bikepacking adventure, but want to use an e-bike, what are the best electric bikes available for this purpose and is it even practical to use one?
Touring and bikepacking sound very similar, and they are in a lot of ways, but whereas touring is traditionally spending days, weeks or even months travelling through lots of countries, bikepacking is considered a shorter term endeavour.
The great thing about bikepacking is you can go exploring your local countryside without venturing too far, and as such you don’t need to worry about carrying too much stuff. Think of it as touring light, carrying only the basics needed for a few nights camping.
Is an electric bike suitable for bikepacking?
Most electric bikes can be used for bikepacking, but it really depends on the kind of mileages you’re going to be covering and the sort of terrain you’ll be riding over. If, for example you were going to do a tour of the Scottish Highlands taking in gravel tracks and cross-country sections it would be wise to get a bike capable of handling different surfaces – either a Mountain bike (hardtail or full-suspension), hybrid bike or gravel e-bike.
Battery range will be another important consideration, the last thing you want is to be pedalling a heavy electric bike, laden with camping gear and no electric assist. Ideally you want to be aiming for an e-bike with a range of at least 40-50 miles, but preferably more. It may be worth investing in a spare battery just in case.
The kind of electric motor your bike has will also be important. If you’re going to be doing a lot of cross-country riding with some steep, technical climbs, you will definitely want a mid-drive motor. Although one of the latest generation of lightweight X35 ebikemotion gravel bikes like the Ribble CGR AL e would be more than up to the job.
Weight is something you’ll need to think carefully about. Electric bikes can vary greatly in weight starting at around 11kg for a carbon-framed Endurance e-road bike like the Ribble SL e through to 26kg for something like the Cube Kathmandu.
Bike weight is just the beginning because you also need to factor in the weight of your luggage. If you’re doing proper bikepacking and carrying a tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear and clothes etc. You could be looking at an additional 10-15kg on top of the weight of your bike. So you definitely don’t want to be running out of battery power, or if it’s a possibility and you don’t have a spare, you may want to consider one of the lighter e-bike options.
How do bikepacking bikes differ from touring bikes?
Touring bikes are generally designed to carry much heavier weights and are traditionally made from steel. If you’re travelling light then an aluminium or carbon frame is usually more than adequate.
Another great thing about bikepacking is you don’t need to rely on a bike that has pannier racks fitted, and there is now a whole range of travel bags especially design to fit neatly onto a bike frame without the need for racks front and rear.
This all adds to the weight saving, and makes things a lot easier on the legs, giving you more freedom to explore the countryside.
What kit will I need for bikepacking?
This really depends on how long you plan on staying out for, and the kind of weather you’ll be expecting. Below I have comprised a list of some basics for a few days out.
- Small lightweight tent
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
- Lighter / matches
- Some food – or you can go to a shop rather than carry it with you
- A good book
- Eating / drinking receptacles
- Change of clothing
- Personal care – toothbrush, wet wipes, deodorant
- At least 2 – 3 water bottles
What bags will I need for bikepacking
There are some great bags now available specifically aimed at travelling light. I have listed the most common ones currently used.
- Saddle bag – these can be anything from 8 litres up to 15 litres in capacity
- Frame bag – really useful and can usually carry 3 to 8 litres capacity
- Top tube bag – ideal for mobile phone, snacks and energy gels.
- Waterproof handlebar mobile phone mount – ideal if your using Kamoot or Google maps for navigation
- Handlebar bag – mounts on the front of your handlebars and some can have a large capacity
- Fork-mounted bags (optional)
- Lightweight rucksack (if you don’t mind having something on your back)
What devices are useful to take bikepacking?
If your planning on riding off the beaten track it’s always a good idea to take so tech along to make life easier.
- Smartphone (if you have one)
- Powerbank (or maybe two) for keeping things charged up
- Spare battery for your electric bike – if your planning on going to a remote area like the Scottish Highlands
- A stand-alone GPS navigation device / bike computer like the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt
- Rechargeable lights
Can I use a solar panel to charge my e-bike battery?
It is possible with the right solar panel, inverter and charging connector, but you cannot at present purchase ready-made solar e-bike battery chargers.
The video below courtesy of ebikeschool.com shows how it is possible to build a DIY solar charger for an ebike. It should be noted that this may not work with Bosch batteries as they can only be charged with their specific charger.
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of making and carrying a solar charger, then you will need to be frugal with the electric assist (depending on your daily mileage). You’ll be surprised how much range you can squeeze out of a standard 417Wh (watt hour) battery if you go easy on the e-assist. I have personally managed 120 miles (with 11’000ft of climbing) out of a similar battery pack.
So what are the 9 best electric bikes for bikepacking?
You don’t need to spend a fortune on an electric bike for bikepacking so I have included a wide range of e-bikes ranging in price from just under £1000 to over £4000 – it’s important to remember if you do find yourself out of power, pedalling a heavier electric bike without power can be difficult, especially if you are in hilly or mountainous terrain.
1. Ribble CGR ALe (the lightweight option)
Not everyone wants to ride a heavy e-bike, especially if they’re carrying 20kg in extra gear for a few days bikepacking. This is where the excellent Ribble CGR ALe comes in. I’ve had the pleasure of riding this bike and it is a true lightweight weighing in at just 13.5kg. Not only that but the CGR ALe is a very capable gravel e-bike that is equally at home on narrow country lanes and moorland trails.
Available in a range of options starting at £1995, the CGR ALe is perfect for intrepid explorers who are looking for a little extra help on the climbs.
The CGR ALe is one of Ribble’s best-selling electric bikes. It’s just so versatile, and just eats up miles and miles of gravel track with ease. It’s also very comfortable and can be customised to suit your individual needs.
Buy Now: Ribble CGR AL e from £1995
2. Cannondale Topstone Neo Carbon Lefty 3
If you’re looking for the perfect fusion of mountain and road bike, look no further! The all-new Cannondale Topstone Neo Carbon 3 lefty is a ground-breaking electric bike. Cannondale have taken all the best bits from road and mountain bike designs and created a gravel bike that has polarised opinion. Some say it’s an abomination, others think its pointless, but most people including myself see it as a great piece of engineering.
The Topstone is the first full-suspension gravel e-bike (that I’m aware of) and if it’s anything like the Cannondale Slate I had a ride on a couple of years back, it should be an absolute delight to ride. Its carbon frame helps keep the weight down to a very respectable 18kg, which is unheard of for a Bosch CX-powered electric bike.
The Cannondale Topstone Neo Carbon Lefty 3 is a true mix of the best of road and mountain biking, making one of the most capable and innovative e-bikes on this list. The 4th Generation Bosch CX motor combined with the 500Wh powertube battery mean a realistic range of 80 miles should be achievable – although I know riders who regularly squeeze 100 miles + out of a similar motor / battery combo. It is a bit on the pricey side, but quality comes at a cost, and if you can afford it are going to use, I would say it’s probably one of the best bikepacking ebikes on this list.
3. Cube Kathmandu Hybrid 45 625 – The touring choice
The Cube Kathmandu Hybrid 45 625 has been designed specifically with touring and bikepacking in mind. This is typified by its massive capacity battery of 625 watt hours. I have tested the current (2020) model and a range of over 100 miles out of a single charge is easily achievable if used sensibly.
This bike is built to cope with the rigours of long distance all-terrain riding and is perfectly suited to bikepacking. The renowned Shimano XT groupset has a massive gear range with a 10-51 12-speed rear cassette, which means you won’t have any problem getting up the steepest of ascents lugging a load of camping gear.
Like its predecessor, the Cube Kathmandu Hybrid 45 is a true touring electric bike. This bike has everything you will ever need, from lights to kickstand, mudgaurds to pannier rack – the Kathmandu wants for nothing and is ready for adventures right out of the box! The long range battery is a deal clincher for me which is just as well, as this bike is heavy (26kg), and you definitely don’t want to be running out of e-assist in the middle of the Scottish Highlands!
4. Cannondale Moterra Neo 5 2021 – Full Suspension option
If you’re planning on tackling some tough terrain, it may be worth using a full-suspension electric mountain bike. New for 2021 the Cannondale Moterra Neo 5 is an excellent choice and uses all the latest technology including the all-important 504Wh battery and the excellent Shimano Steps E7000 mid-drive motor.
The inclusion of Shimano’s latest 10-speed groupset the M4100 with a 34t front chainring and 11-42 cassette help take the Moterra up steep, technical ascents. The Tranz-X dropper seatpost is also a welcome addition, although it may effect the mounting of a large saddle bag (if used).
The 2021 Cannondale Moterra Neo 5 is a great full-suspension e-MTB option. There may not be as much space for bags as on the frame as other bikes here, but you can utilise space on the handlebar and fit a large saddlebag or even take a lightweight rucksack – be aware of the dropper seatpost though if your’e thinking of using a large saddle bag!
Buy Now: Cannondale Moterra Neo 5 £3495
5. Decathlon Riverside 500 hybrid (best e-bike under £1000)
When I first reviewed the Decathlon Riverside 500 electric hybrid bike, I was impressed with the specification – no other e-bike comes close for under £1000. You get hydraulic brakes, torque-sensing pedal assist and a 417Wh battery which will give a realistic range of between 40-60 miles off a single charge.
The Riverside 500 has nice gearing with a 36t front chainring and an 11-34 8-speed rear cassette. Power is provided by a small but punchy rear hub motor, which will be good enough to get you up moderately steep climbs.
Decathlon’s Riverside 500 electric hybrid bike is the best value bike on this list. If you want an e-bike that’s not going to break the bank, and yet be more than capable on taking you on e-biking adventures on varying terrain, it’s hard to beat.
6. NCM Moscow – Best budget e-MTB Bikepacking option
German-based company Leon Cycles have had great success with their NCM Moscow electric mountain bike and it’s not hard to see why. For the price it’s a well put together bike that offers a good specification including a punchy rear hub motor and class-leading 624Wh 48v battery.
The NCM Moscow has been around for a couple of years now and I personally know a couple of very satisfied owners who’ve had the benefit of taking their Moscow for the odd short weekend bikepacking excursion. The fact it has a powerful 48v 13Ah battery makes all the difference, and for a bike that costs just over £1000, that’s excellent! You can expect a realistic range of between 60-80 miles, depending on assist, rider weight and other variables.
7. Decathlon Rockrider E-ST900 Hardtail Electric Mountain Bike
When I first had a go on the Decathlon Rockrider E-ST900 a few months back, I was impressed with what it had to offer for the price. My opinion hasn’t changed one bit. Even now, there is no other e-MTB that comes close to the Rockrider for sheer value for money.
When I first tested the Rockrider E-ST900 a few months back, I was surprised to find out how well-specced it was for the price. Brose-T mid-drive motor, 36v 14.5Ah battery with Samsung cells, tubeless ready tyres, Shimano Deore M6000 1 x 10 groupset and Rockshox forks. This really is a bargain and keeps selling out as fast as Decathlon can re-stock it!
There is no better e-MTB available for this price, and if you looking for adventure, the E-ST900 can take a pannier rack a frame bag, handlebar bag and large seatpost bag. The battery will give you a potential range of 75 miles which is more than enough for a day of cross country riding. It is quite a heavy bike, and those 2.8″ tyres will provide a lot of extra rolling resistance on the tarmac, so as long as you don’t run out of battery you won’t go wrong!
Buy Now: Decathlon Rockrider E-ST900 £1699.99
8. Specialized VADO SL 4.0 EQ 2021 – Electric Hybrid Bike
What if you could have a mid-drive electric hybrid bike, that had a punchy motor and a decent 320Wh battery all wrapped up in a package that weighed around 15kg? The new Specialized Vado SL 4.0 EQ is just that!
Designed and marketed as an urban electric bike, the Vado SL 4.0 EQ is also suitable for weekend adventuring. Its tyres, gearing and frame geometry make it the perfect companion for some light off-road riding and the fact it has lights and a pannier rack make it ideal for weekend bikepacking trips.
The Specialized Vado SL 4.0 EQ uses the same SL 1.1 motor as found on their range-topping S-Works e-road bike – it’s an incredibly smooth and efficient motor and if used sensibly will give the rider a range of nearly 80 miles. The fact it is so light means if you do run out of battery power you can still ride it as a normal bike, and the wide gearing will definitely help with steep climbs.
Buy Now: Specialized Vado SL 4.0 EQ £2699
9. Boardman ADV 8.9e Electric Adventure Bike
My list wouldn’t be complete without one of my personal favourites – the Boardman ADV 8.9e Electric Adventure Bike. I’ve already featured this bike (along with the Ribble) in my list of 9 of the best electric gravel bikes, and it’s definitely worthy of a mention here. Bikepacking is at the heart of the Boardman ADV’s DNA and the fact it is not only relatively lightweight, but also uses the excellent Fazua Evation e-bike drive system makes it an excellent choice.
Having ridden the Boardman ADV 8.9e a couple of times I can honestly say it’s an excellent e-bike. I know a few owners who are very satisfied with their purchase, and the fact you can remove the electric drive system and battery (effectively making it a regular bike) is a big bonus if you don’t want to use the electric all the time. It’s well made, and takes rough terrain in its stride. It’s also one of the most competitively priced electric adventure bikes available.
The Verdict – What is the best electric bike for bikepacking?
Bikepacking using an electric bike is a great way to explore your local countryside. As long as you are properly prepared for your journey.
All of the above bikes have their own merits, and it really does come down to your own personal budget and the kind of terrain you’re going to be riding on.
If you are planning on roughing it and strictly staying off-road, riding open moorland and single track, then I would say something more towards a mountain bike would be best.
If you have deep pockets and don’t mind paying for the latest state-of-the-art technology, then the Cannondale Topstone Carbon 3 Lefty would have to be the winner – it’s a cracking bike, but in reality most of us can’t afford (or justify) spending £5k on an electric bike.
The Ribble CGR ALe has always been a favourite of mine – the assist it provides is very subtle and some might say it doesn’t provide enough assist. This really boils down to your personal abilities. It is very light and in my opinion the overall lighter weight of the bike more than makes up for the lack of oomph!
Much like the Ribble, the Boardman ADV 8.9e is specifically aimed at the gravel / adventure rider. It’s a great bike with an innovative motor system, it’s also very capable at dealing with a multitude of terrains.
A full-suspension electric mountain bike would definitely be a wise choice if you are really going into the wilds and are planning on negotiating very challenging terrain. The Cannondale Moterra Neo 5 is perfectly suited to this job, but be aware of the dropper seatpost and limited options on where to mount bags.
The best value hardtail e-MTB by far is the Decathlon Rockrider E-ST900 not only does it have a great motor, battery and specification. But you can also add a pannier rack and there is plenty of space for extra bags on the frame, handlebars and seatpost.
Another great electric bike with bikepacking potential, and a bit of a wildcard is the Specialized Vado SL 4.0 EQ. Despite being aimed at the urban e-bike market, I’ve had a quick ride on one of these (on rough track) and I think it would be great bike for bikepacking – It’s ruggedly constructed, has all the mod cons and above all is lightweight and has a decent battery range, combined with a smooth mid-drive motor.
At the cheaper end of the scale there is the excellent Riverside 500 Electric hybrid bike, for more mellow adventures and light off-roading it’s superb. The frame geometry is unisex in design with a low standover height and high handlebars making for a very comfortable, upright riding position – very important for long days in the saddle.
For a budget electric mountain bike, that has the range for long days in the saddle and capability to handle rougher terrain, the NCM Moscow is practically unbeatable for the money. It may be a bit more expensive than Decathlon’s E-ST500 V2 e-MTB, but it has a whopping 624Wh 48v battery which is going to give even the more spirited rider a range in excess of 60 miles.
My personal favourite
I’ve ridden the 2020 Cube Kathmandu Ex 625 and the latest 2021 Kathmandu Hybrid 45 looks just as good. Here is an e-bike made for bikepacking and touring. It has absolutely everything you could wish for on an adventure bike, from the top-notch Shimano XT 12-speed groupset through to the Magura MT5e hydraulic brakes and Suntour Mobie 45 LO-R Air forks. It’s a hybrid with true off-road capabilities. But the icing on the cake is the 4th generation Bosch CX Performance Line motor combined with the 625Wh battery – If you want to cover 100 miles between charging this is the bike, plus it’s comfortable and has lights, rack, kickstand and plenty of space for auxiliary bags.
Bikepacking is great fun and needn’t be expensive. All of the electric bikes featured in this article would be suitable for exploring the countryside with overnight camping. Only spend what you’re comfortable with and allow some money left over to cover the cost of tents, camping gear and bags – all this kit can run into £100’s easily.
The main thing is get out there and enjoy the countryside – I think we all need a bit of fresh air after the last few months!
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions or need any advice on bikepacking, please leave a comment below and I will reply within 24hrs.