Belén Castelló & Tristan Bogaard

Saying Yes to eBikes in the Dolomites

A bikepacking trip may sound like an intimidating way of spending the holidays, and I get it! It might seem tough and unrealistic. Perhaps you believe you're not fit enough for such an endeavor. Plus, why would you spend your time off work for the discomfort of such a physically demanding activity or camping in a cold tent?

The most nourishing experiences I’ve ever lived have not been whilst hanging around the house or at an all-inclusive beach hotel. There’s something about bike travel that activates minds, enriching every situation and making things look, taste, and feel better.

This past summer, Tristan and I marked our fifth anniversary since we started traveling by bike. When we first started, I was leaving my office job behind for an exciting gap year on two wheels. I still remember my nerves while preparing and my feeling of uncertainty; I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. Similarly, a few months ago—over lunch and out of the blue—my brother expressed interest in joining us on one of our trips. Without thinking twice, we invited him to ride with us in the majestic Italian Alps. At that moment, I saw reflected in him that same feeling of emotion for the unknown I had felt upon my first departure.

The problem was that Horacio didn’t have much experience riding bikes. Apart from having had two knee surgeries in the near past and not being in great shape, the terrain in the Dolomites is no beginner's level. This is why we decided to use eBikes: to make sure he could conquer all those mountain passes without hurting himself and give him some space to enjoy the effort. After all, he was joining to have a good time and we knew that carrying all the gear on such demanding elevation gain was going to be too intense for his first bikepacking adventure. We wanted him to enjoy the experience.

Tout Terrain arranged for us to have Skane trekking eBikes waiting for us in Milan. For a couple of days, we taught my brother how to organize his equipment (not ultra-light at all) in those small bikepacking bags. We could tell he was feeling a little anxious and doubtful about whether he’d be able to live up to the week-long challenge.

One man gestures at bikepacking bags on other man's bike.
Packing bags

The experience was transformative for Horacio and it allowed me to connect with my brother and get to know him a little better. Seeing him overcome such a challenge inspired me to create a video sharing the story of this journey from his perspective. Bike travel definitely brings a lot of "type 2 fun," and just as you can see how this adventure dragged him completely out of his comfort zone, it also gave him a real break from routine and a kind of reward he’d never experienced before. I wouldn't want to get ahead and spoil the ending of the story before you watch the video, so I'll just say it was well worth the effort!

Nuts and Bolts

Getting to the Dolomites

Bikes are best ridden and not transported, especially eBikes! Unfortunately, batteries are not (yet) allowed on airplanes, which is why moving by land is the ideal approach. Europe has a good train network and—even though most fast-speed trains won’t accept bikes—you can always take the slower regional connections for what’s usually a fair price. Most of the time bikes can be carried for free or, depending on the country, you may need to pay a small fee and reserve your spot in advance. In our case, the trekking eBikes were arranged for us in Milan by Tout Terrain since we are ambassadors for them, but there are plenty of shops where you can rent any sort of bike. We chose the Skane model for its adaptability to both paved and off-road terrains.

From Milan we took two regional trains, the first to Verona and the second one to Ponte Gardena, from where we started climbing almost immediately. You’ll only pay €3 for a 24-hour bike ticket! If you want to avoid the hassle of bringing a bike on the train with you, then you can rent one directly in the area of the Dolomites. There are many shops around as they are very used to cyclists coming by to conquer the plentiful and famous passes of the area. Additionally, eBikes are very common there since the climbs are brutal, so you won’t feel out of place if you decided to ride with a battery!

Three people ride eBikes below a misty cliff
Keeping pace together

The Route

We love to design our own routes. For this, we use Komoot, as it has proven to be a very reliable and easygoing platform for route planning, navigation, and trip sharing. For this adventure, we originally designed a route through our favorite highlights of the Dolomites, but as we trip went on, we adapted the track according to weather conditions and mostly to my brother’s needs. After averaging +1000 meter daily elevation gain for four days in a row, he really wanted to skip the last pass to ride on a smooth bike lane slowly descending towards Auronzo di Cadore. But that’s the fun of a bike tour! Stay flexible and just be ready to change your plans on the go. The Dolomites are a welcoming playground for riders of all sorts, so whether you are into smooth gravel, mountain biking, road cycling, or a mix of all, you’ll easily find your preferred riding terrain in the area. Just select the right sport and fitness level on the Komoot route planner when you start planning! If you are curious about our route, we have provided a description and full gpx track.

When to Visit

The Dolomites are a tourist area in the summer months, which is when I'd recommend you avoid it at all costs. Visiting between mid-April and mid-June or between September and October is probably the best option. Depending on the year, you might still encounter quite some snow in the spring, but the roads will be always clean. We loved cycling here in mid-October, since all the trees had changed their color, making it a beautiful autumnal postcard scene.

Lodging and Food

Wild camping is not allowed in Italy, especially not within the Dolomites National Park. In our case, we combined wild camping outside of the park (campsites were all closed in October) with indoor accommodations to be able to fully charge our eBike batteries fully every two days. Do take into account that most hotels/campsites/rifugios are closed outside the summer or winter season. So if, like us, you decide to ride on the shoulder season, it might be more challenging to find an open place to spend the night indoors.

Two men set up tents. One is shaking out a rainfly.
Preparing camp

Regarding food, no need to worry! Chances are that every day you'll cross a supermarket, so you won’t have to rely on reserves. The region is full of charming towns and delicious cafeterias or restaurants where you can stop to indulge in a warm Italian meal. We ate so many pizzas! Restaurant prices in the area of the Dolomites are higher than in other areas of Italy and generally charge the 'coperto': a little supplement per person. We ended up eating our own food for lunch and going out for a nice meal for dinner.

Battery Range

Specs are important when deciding to go on a long eBikepacking adventure. You can expect the range of a battery to average between 50 and 120 kilometers, depending on the elevation, terrain, or weather conditions. For your next trip, consider using an eBike with a torque sensor (instead of a cadence sensor), as this enables the bike to give back power depending on how much you put in. This results in a more natural feeling ride when going at slower speeds.

Charging

Every eBiker's nightmare is to run out of battery mid-ride. This is why eBikepacking tours require some planning ahead to make sure you don’t run out of "juice" and suddenly feel like you’re lugging a tank. Knowing when you’ll charge next is crucial! In our case, we were able to ration our battery usage to make sure we’d be able to combine wild camping with accommodations every other day, allowing us to enjoy the best of both worlds. Whenever we were nearing 20% battery level, we’d look for a charging option. At the hotels, we’d leave our removable batteries charging overnight, and when we camped, we tried to fully charge the batteries over a coffee or meal break ahead of the evening. Italy is perfect for this!

Cyclist rides a rough grassy plain interspersed with white rocks with dramatic outcropping in background

Features

Of course, what type of eBike you ride is going to elevate the journey to different levels of riding comfort. We rode with Gates Carbon belt drive system instead of chains, so we didn’t have to concern ourselves with maintenance. Likewise, the Pinion gearboxes on our bikes made shifting smooth from the get-go, especially on climbs where Horacio might’ve struggled to get into the right gear on a traditional derailer. And lastly, the type of motor that pushes your eBike forward will have a big impact on how you experience the ride. If you do ride with a Pinion gearbox, we recommend the Neodrives hub motor as it doesn’t weigh much and provides ‘regenerative’ breaking—adding a few kilometers of range by feeding some energy back into the battery on the downhills.

Some purists think of eBikes as cheating. I love the camaraderie in the cycling community and wish we could all see eBikes as a gateway to those in need of an extra push to get them out riding, just like my brother. He has now bought his own gravel bike and is riding around his hometown exploring his own backyard. And for us? We definitely had fun trading our trekking bikes for eBikes this time!

Back in the Saddle

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Comments

Nina Sabghir March 1, 2023, 8:30 PM

Great article. Loved the video. I just want to point out that Bike Friday makes a variety of packable bikes that can fit in a standard suitcase for air travel. You can build them with the drive train of your choice (and budget). The e-assist versions can use a battery called a LiGo battery. These batteries are legal for airplane travel and are taken as carry on. Officially you can bring 6 but I have heard of people taking more. The batteries are fairly small and designed to stack and fit together.

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