For RVers who don’t tow a dinghy vehicle, what’s your preferred method of “getting around” once you’ve arrived at your destination, both to see the local sights and to explore the RV park? Do you have experience with electric bikes? Those are the questions we asked in the July issue, and here are some more of the replies we received.
In 43 years as a serious adult cyclist, I’ve raced, toured, coached and built bicycles. In the last couple of years, I’ve developed health problems that have made it impossible to do the sort of bicycle riding that I’ve grown to love, so I added a battery and electric motor to one of my bikes.
With two major options, a powered wheel or a “mid-drive” that replaces the cranks and drives through the bike’s chain, I chose the latter in a kit for about $1,500 and installed it on a well-worn, very serviceable mountain bike. Electric bikes can be purchased complete for prices from a $2,000-$10,000, while commercial conversions similar to mine can be quite affordable.
The result of my conversion is a joy. The motor controller uses a system called “pedal assist,” where the harder you pedal, the more help you get. The amount of assist provided is chosen by the rider. My system has settings from one to five. On the lowest level, my bike becomes a very familiar riding partner, providing the sort of speed and climbing ability that I used to have on my own. Increasing the amount of “boost” turns me from an ordinary cyclist into a guy few riders can keep up with. It is not at all like riding an electric motorcycle, but … there is a thumb throttle that mounts on the left handlebar where the front derailleur used to live; if you use that, the whole ethical balance changes. Then, you can just dial up the bike’s power without turning the pedals at all.
There are, however, two big disadvantages to electric bikes. The first is that, while an affordable modern road bicycle weighs in at less than 20 pounds and a mountain bike with a good suspension system is only a few pounds heavier than that, electrification adds about 10 pounds for the motor and another 15 or so pounds for a suitable battery. So, you are left with a bike that weighs around 50 pounds, which makes lifting the e-bike up on to your bike rack a whole different game.
The second disadvantage is that a battery charge doesn’t really last very long. My initial experience with this bike indicates that a typical ride distance is going to be on the order of 30 miles, not much compared to my old 100-mile days. Maybe with discipline, I’ll be able to stretch the battery by being more gentle with my power demand. Further, when the battery depletes, the bike’s inefficiency comes into stark focus. You need to turn the electric motor and all the gearing before you can move the bike. With a minimum pedal assist from the battery, a good climb might happen at around 8 mph, but without that assist, speed drops to an uncomfortable 3 mph or so. You really don’t want to risk having to ride back to your battery charger on a dead battery.
As part of the battery capacity challenge, it takes about five hours to recharge the battery, and it is good practice to charge the battery to only about 80 percent of its capacity. That practice will more than double the number of use cycles that the battery will provide. The whole issue of lithium-ion battery safe practice joins your life. And, of course, your e-bike requires all the modern safety gear that a standard bike calls for: helmet, abrasion-resistant gloves, eye protection, etc.
Bottom line: I really enjoy my electric bike. It is subtle, quiet and joyous. It is not just for the aging, but is a super way to bring a less-fit rider along on your excursions.
Bob Phillips | Sandpoint, Idaho
App to It
We went round-trip cross-country, from New York to California, last fall in a Thor Motor Coach Freedom Elite 28Z Class C with no dinghy. It took a little advance planning for groceries and supplies prior to reaching our destinations. When we reached destination cities, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New Orleans, etc., we used Uber and campground shuttles, and never had a problem. Trip of a lifetime!
Kevin Dunne | Via email
Using a Honda 110-cc scooter allows us both to tour within 50 miles of where we park. Cheaper scooters can be bought for less than $2,000, and the carrier for about $300. It allows me to back up the coach and be more maneuverable in parking lots where I spend most nights while traveling. Besides, getting 80-100 mpg, filling up for $4 per tank, insurance for only $100 per year and taxes of a mere $40 per year saves us money.
Louis J. Finkle | Biloxi, Mississippi
Tickled With Trikes
I have been RVing since the 1980s and have never towed a dinghy. I have towed a motorcycle on a small trailer but finally discovered the best of all worlds when I bought a trike, a three-wheeled motorcycle. I simply put a motorcycle tire shoe or boot into my 2-inch hitch receiver, place the trike front tire in the boot and away I go, no trailer needed! The trike is powerful, capable of riding two people at interstate speed and carrying a reasonable amount of gear. I travel quite comfortably except for the worst weather days … even then, I can suit up in my foul-weather gear and hit the road. A motorcycle endorsement is required in certain states. I also own an electric scooter, which is great for exploring RV parks and riding for distances of less than 30 miles. At 30 miles it will need a charge and is therefore not satisfactory for running into town or for longer rides. It also cannot be used on highways or roads with speed limits in excess of 45 mph. Truth be known, the maximum real constant speed on the electric scooter is 30 mph for longer-lasting energy, and if two people are aboard the battery discharges much quicker. The scooter can be loaded by one person on a horizontal scooter platform (not a trailer) that slides into the 2-inch receiver on my RV. No motorcycle endorsement is necessary in many states.
Dennis | Via email
My wife and I are just occasional travelers in our diesel pusher, though that will change once we’re both retired at the end of the year. Up until then, most of our trips will be (and have been) short, where we don’t need transportation. The few times that we took longer trips, we simply rented a small car to get around. Enterprise and the local variants of Hertz and Avis will pick you up. If you are signed up for their frequent renter programs, you can book online and just show your license and credit card when they deliver your ride, and you’re good to go.
Once we retire we plan on snowbirding. The jury is still out on what we’ll do then, as neither of our vehicles can be towed four-down. We could replace one with something that can be, rent a dolly to tow the Altima or rent a trailer to pull the Outback.
Looking at it from a purely cost standpoint, renting a dolly or trailer makes a lot of sense. Drop it off at U-Haul on arrival and rent another for the return trip four months later. There’s also the bonus of not having to deal with finding a place to store our own dolly or trailer or worry about maintaining them. Got a flat on the road? Call U-Haul and let them deal with it.
The other option is to just drive both the coach and car. This will actually be the lowest cost option as the cost of driving either car will be less than half of the cost of an 1,800-mile one-way rental twice a year, even for the cheaper dolly. As long as we’re both fit to drive and don’t mind missing the companionship on the road, it’s a consideration.
Gene Buettner | Via email
Biking is Better
We own a 2016 Itasca Navion 24J. Prior to that we had a 2014 Itasca Navion 24M. Between the two motorhomes we have traveled close to 40,000 miles. We have never towed a dinghy since we enjoy the freedom of not having something behind us. We do have two Pedego electric bikes that we take on every trip. These bikes travel at up to 20 mph and go 30-60 miles between charges. We travel quite often with two other couples that also have Pedego electric bikes.
Everywhere we go is bike-friendly and we haven’t encountered any restrictions on any bike trails. When we were in the Florida Keys, we found it amusing to easily ride by other bikers who were fighting head winds. We have been on beautiful rides along Lake Michigan and into Cades Cove in the Great Smokies. Hills are never an issue. The beauty of these bikes is that you can pedal and get as much exercise as you want, or sit back and enjoy the scenery in quiet comfort.
They are easy to transport and you don’t have to worry about gas or registration. We like these bikes so much that we opened our own dealership and have sold some while on the road. There are many brands on the market, so be sure to research before you purchase. This fall you will see us traveling in our motorhome and riding our electric bikes as we tour Nova Scotia, Canada. We won’t go anywhere without them.
John Soave | Blue Ridge, Georgia
My wife and I have each owned an electric bike for the past three years. They are EasyMotion electric bikes by BH Bikes USA. My wife underwent several hip surgeries as a teenager and cannot travel very far on a regular bike. Needless to say, once she tried an electric-assist bicycle she was hooked, and I was in for the purchase. Since I could no longer keep up with her speed on my regular bike, I ended up purchasing one as well. We used them on a Rocky Mountain trip two years ago as a means of getting around Estes Park, Frisco and Breckenridge, Colorado, and they worked really well for us. Recently we used them on the Timpoochee Trail close to Destin, Florida, and made our way to Seaside for lunch, again a really enjoyable way to get around. As far as results go, keep in mind that many electric bikes are battery-assist, meaning you still have to pedal, but once the electric motor kicks in it’s about one-third to one-half of the effort to pedal. We have several settings we can use — Eco, Standard and Sport — and each level provides an increase in the assistance, but also consumes more battery life. Since they are hybrids, we use our bikes on compacted gravel and hardtop roads, and get about 30 miles and 50 miles, respectively, on a single battery charge. As we approach retirement age, we would never go back to regular bicycles. We look forward to taking them out on every motorhome trip we make.
Michael Klenk | Paducah, Kentucky
We love, love, love our electric SONDORS bikes! They are the perfect solution for us. We tried towing a swivel trailer with a three-wheel motorcycle, but found the entire setup too heavy and dangerous for short (height-wise) baby boomers.
We tried hauling a Vespa next: Try running hundreds of pounds of scooter up a narrow ramp! Every time we loaded or unloaded the Vespa we were stressed.
But the electric bikes are easy to carry and fun to ride. We ordered the SONDORS with the fat tires so we can ride on the beach or mountain paths. The shock absorbers work well.
They have a top speed of 20 mph. You mainly pedal and use the motor for hills or for a boost when you have a headwind. You can get as much of a workout pedaling as you want. A full charge should give you 20 miles, and we’ve never run out of juice.
The only drawback is the height of the crossbar. We didn’t check the height and now we are looking at electric bikes with lower bars. As a woman who is 5 feet 2 inches tall, I cannot straddle the SONDORS with the fat tires.
For getting around a campground or playing on bike paths or beaches, nothing beats an electric bike. Unless it’s raining, of course.
Karen and Nelson Green | Melbourne, Florida
Road Car Enterprise
We have traveled across many of the Western states and all up and down the East Coast and never had to worry about a dinghy. We simply call ahead and Enterprise has a car ready for us. They bring it right to the campground all gassed up and ready to go. When we are leaving the area, my wife drives the car back to the rental office and I pick her up with the motorhome. We currently have a 35-foot Tiffin Allegro, and I really don’t want to have to worry about a dinghy behind.
Bruce Silvers | Skaneateles, New York
What a Pair
We have two electric bikes that are a great way to get around. Even though they are electric, if you purchase one that is pedal-assist, which gives you greater range, it does require you to pedal and, depending on the assist level setting, can be very good exercise. We tested several bikes before we purchased and found that pedal-assist models with a throttle to get started were the best choice for us.
Do your research before you buy. You should be able to purchase a good bike for $1,000-$1,600 with rough specifications of at least 36 volts and 350 watts. After much research, we purchased an iGO Metro Ti for my wife (on sale for $999) and a Voltbike Yukon 750 Limited ($1,549) for me. The reason for the different makes was the weight limit on the bikes, with the Yukon being a much heavier bike with bigger tires and a stronger frame. Note that these bikes are heavier than your normal bike (around 60 pounds or more) and generally require stronger bike racks.
David Cowardin | Dillon, Montana
I use an electric scooter to explore the campground. It is street-legal, but I have not obtained a license plate for exploring outside of the campgrounds. I tow an SUV, which has space for my scooter. Works great, and everyone I see has positive comments about my scooter. BTY it is painted red, white and blue, and only cost me $10 at a yard sale.
Michael Cooper | Via email
A Viable Compromise
We carry bicycles (non-electric) for getting around the RV parks and to short local destinations. We rent from Enterprise for getting around for attractions farther afield. Enterprise often rents economy cars for three days over weekends for $9.99 per day with 100 free miles. Get the Enterprise App. They usually don’t offer this deal on holiday weekends.
Dave Thomas | Via email
We also considered alternatives to towing a car behind our motorhome, and settled on a pair of electric bicycles. We love them! They’re a bit heavier than our regular mountain bikes, but still fit on the bike rack that attaches to our rear hitch. The batteries charge by plugging into our standard coach outlets. A lot of the bikes have online support communities. The ride offers the exercise of pedaling a bike along with extended range thanks to the battery assist and extra-torque button on the handlebar for going up hills. We can explore the nearby surroundings, dine at local restaurants or do a bit of shopping. People often stop us to ask about them. Our bikes are SONDORS, and they’re super fun!
Susan and Paul | Via email
Sing the Body Electric
Our first motorhome was a 2015 Thor Vegas. It is a very small Class A RUV and we really did not want to invest in towing a car behind it. Our first thought was to obtain bicycles; our second, and much better thought, was to obtain electric bicycles, as we are not in as good a shape as we should be and are in early 60s.
Our advice is to get a bike that you are comfortable on. The old adage of doing anything is like getting back on the bike does not hold true when you have not been on a bike in 30 or more years. The next piece of advice is to invest in a good bike with a lithium-ion battery, as the battery is much smaller and has a much greater range.
Our latest motorhome is a 2016 Forest River Georgetown XL 378. This vehicle has the capability of towing a dinghy; however, we have found that using electric bikes that can be used as normal bikes or as pedal-assist bikes or just like a motorcycle is the way to go for us. We have outfitted them with fenders so that we can travel when the ground is wet, and baskets so that we can go to the grocery store or to the beach with ease.
Mike and Joanne LaChance | Meriden, Connecticut
My husband and I do not tow a dinghy vehicle when traveling in our 40-foot Holiday Rambler Ambassador. We contact Enterprise Car Rental when visiting places we want to explore when we arrive at our destinations. They pick us up at the arrival site and return us to our motorhome when we are ready to depart. If the RV park has great amenities and we don’t want to explore, we just enjoy our surroundings and relax at the park or destination.
I did purchase an electric bike to navigate around when we attended rallies but have never been able to use it during our travels. It cost more than $600, and after three experimental rides at home, the battery went dead and will not charge. The bike and battery were made in China, and the company cannot be found on the internet and there are no local shops that can service it. That is my experience with an electric bike, and I won’t make that mistake again!
Ramona Jones | Ellenwood, Georgia
We carry a folding bicycle for short trips in good weather. For a stay of five days or more, we rent a car from Enterprise. They come to the campground, and once drove 28 miles from their office to our rig to pick us up. Often it is more than 10 miles. Sometimes we will pick up a rental car from them prior to our arrival at the campground. Oftentimes the night before departure, we return the car and they drive us back to the campground so we can get an early departure without having to return the car then, at no cost to us. We just have to make sure we work with them during their normal business hours.
Eugene Wengert | Bishop, Georgia
What we do won’t meet the needs of many travelers; however, it works quite well for us. First, our motorhome is only 31 feet in length. We haven’t found a touring location that doesn’t accommodate vehicles of this length or shorter. Second, when on the move, we mostly stay only a night or two at any given location. As a result, we don’t tow a dinghy vehicle. During most trips, we stay at places for the better part of a week. In every case, we’ve been able to get a rental car from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I highly recommend our strategy.
Steve Blake | Georgia