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How ebikes can transform the van-life experience

December 8, 2019
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I’ve traveled a lot in the last 30 years, probably a little bit too much. I’ve been to 40 countries and for many years would spend 3-6 months of the year ‘on the road’. Most recently my wife and I spent 6 months of the last 4 years living out of a minivan and photographing the homeless all over America for her photobook ‘The Unwanted‘. A lot of the time I would travel I would throw one or two ebikes that I didn’t care that much about on the rear bike rack and take them with us. This article is about how having an ebike with us everywhere we went absolutely transformed our experiences and why I think that any road trip you take should involve an ebike or two.

For large chunks of my life, I lived out of a van, and most of my happiest memories are of traveling (Photo by Thilde Jensen)

Our very first trip to Las Vegas to photograph the homeless I didn’t bring ebikes and ended up regretting it. The next time we went out I threw my crappy full-suspension Ace singletrack BBS02 ebike with a frame pack. With a 42T chainring, this bike could easily hit 30mph on the road as well as shred pretty steep singletrack without skipping a beat. The extremely sharp chert rocks chewed through my tires very quick and I got a lot of flats from the cactus thorns. I ended up using heavy slime tubes and that made it so that instead of getting a flat every ride, it was more like once a week.

Here is a standard day in the life, wasting away near Joshua Tree Park

We camped for $7/night at the Red Rock Canyon campground surrounded by hardcore climbers. It was a great campsite and climbers make great neighbors because they go to bed early and aren’t super rowdy. We would wake up an hour before dawn and make breakfast and tea and then meditate and head out to Red Rock Canyon. The wifey would drop me off at the base and I would ride my ebike several miles then lock it up and go free climbing for several hours. Climbing the rocks in the morning with the sun just coming up was one of my favorite parts of the day. I literally spent weeks free-climbing the canyons there and never climbed the same part twice. The crappy ebike that I wouldn’t have cared much about if it got stolen made that possible. At around 11:00 AM I would ride back to the restrooms in the parking area and meet the wife for lunch and charge my batteries.

I took a picture of a particularly bad wipeout I had, it hurt a lot

I guerilla charged my frame pack on an outside outlet and kept a pretty close eye on my battery so it didn’t wander off. I made friends with the restroom cleaners who were very nice people. After lunch, the wife would drive me to Blue Diamond where I would hit the trails there for about 2 hours. After that, I was usually pretty exhausted so I would spend the rest of the day driving around Vegas so my wife could photograph the homeless. We did 4 different trips of a month each and followed this routine almost every day. It was insanely fun and never got old. The trails at Blue Diamond were challenging and technical and I only got harassed once for having an ebike there. Most people didn’t even seem to notice that I was on an ebike at all.

This is me taking a break from kiting on the beach in New Smyrna Florida with my electric fat bikes on a hitch rack the back of the truck

Living out of a minivan for months at a time is a great way to find out how much you love your partner. For Thilde and I found that it brought us much closer together to live in such a small space. The first 2 or 3 days are always hard, but after that things get much easier and before long you end up feeling like you could do it forever and be happy. The ability to have an ebike with you everywhere you go and have the freedom to go your separate ways wherever you go makes a huge difference in the feeling of space you have when traveling.

If you haven’t been to Red Rock Canyon, you have to go and free climb there for a day

I set up a bike rack that would swing away from the van and allow access to the rear. This Glide Away rack has lasted over 5 years without breaking and only costs $120 after you add the $20 off coupon from Amazon here. I think it’s stupid to spend a lot of money on a bike rack and I’ve had a lot of issues with people backing into our bikes (it’s happened at least 3 times) and then driving off. It’s pretty annoying, to say the least, luckily it seems like my bikes do more damage to their vehicles than they can do to our bikes. Keep in mind that a rack like this will add several feet of length to your vehicle so it will make it harder to park. My wasabi green sprinter was 22 ft long, but with the rack, it was closer to 25 feet. Driving a vehicle that big makes it pretty hard to find parking in the city which is why I would often park on the outskirts and ride in.

The best cook, traveling partner, and wife I could have ever wished for

Tooling around LA in an ebike is not for the faint of heart, the traffic can get pretty gnarly and people don’t have a lot of patience for bikes. I loved riding on the strand along the ocean, and when I took a side trip to visit the hoodlums at Lunacycle I would borrow and test ride their fleet of ebikes all over the city. I made good friends with Josh and his old man Curt and got to ride amazing single track trails all over Torrance. You wouldn’t think there was any trails in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the US, but there is. Those memories will stay with me forever, and I wouldn’t have them without ebikes. Curt let me trail ride his 72v 3000W Cyclone custom Luna cargo bike which was a total hoot. Even though I was a complete stranger he let me stay in his house and we spent a lot of time talking about ebikes. Ebikes brings people together and creates a strong bond so that even complete strangers become instant friends.

Electric bikes bring families closer together, and complete strangers too

Whether you’re headed to a National Park, a city or out in the boonies, no road trip would be complete without an ebike. Ebikes will allow you to experience nature in a completely new, compelling way and let you get exercise at the same time. They keep you from having to navigate the city in your big rig and make it more likely to have memorable interactions with the locals. The reality is that when you’re traveling, those kinds of experiences are what you are trying to find, an ebike will just help you find more of them and faster.

Ride On.

Thanks to Warren Frank for the idea of writing this article. We both agree that the best way to experience any nudie beach is on a fat-tired ebike with all our junk just hanging out.

Karl Gesslein is a degenerate hooligan of the highest caliber living in upstate NY. His passion for e-bikes and all things sustainable causes him to be obsessed with climate change and finding solutions that will keep humanity from becoming extinct from our own hubris. His personal blogs include electricbike-blog.com, awaken-spirit.org & chestnutparadise.com.


2 Comments

  1. Awesome article, thanks Karl!

  2. My wife and I have been carrying our LunaCycle BBS02 and BBSHD e bikes on our camper van for 3 years. You don’t have to worry about parking at trail heads or heavy grocery and water runs. Great for touring, trail riding and chores.

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