E-assisted Bike Friday: Cycling on the Dark Side or Nirvana?

Touring on an E-assisted Bike Friday

“Gone to the dark side, have you?” my friend Peter asked.

It was Peter who talked me into buying a used Bike Friday New World Tourist bike three years ago. He found the right bike for me, arranged payment and shipping from the US to Canada. All I had to do was put it back together when it arrived on my doorstep. Not easy, but with the help of a good instruction booklet, I managed.

It was when I told Peter I’d had the Bike Friday guys in Oregon convert my New World Tourist, to an E-assisted Bike Friday, that he raised his eyebrows in a big question mark. “Sure that was a good idea?” he asked. I shrugged my shoulders since I wasn’t at all sure. I actually had a bad case of E-bike-conversion remorse. What had I done? It didn’t help that when I took my now-converted LR2 to get my local bike guy to give it a tune up, he refused. “I won’t work on E-bikes,” he said. “Bikes are just you and your bike that’s the deal.”

So off I drove to Quebec City, about a ten-hour drive from where I live north of Toronto, with a bike in need of a tune up. Over the next three and a half days, I’d slowly cycle from this old-world town to the university city of Sherbrooke. My younger sister was meeting me there and we’d continue riding from village to village in the gorgeous Eastern Townships. In another three and a half days, we’d cycle over the enormous Jacques Cartier Bridge into Montreal, where my sister lived.

E-assisted Bike Friday

This was my maiden E-voyage, and I was decidedly doubtful about it. Had I gone over to the dark side? I had certainly added some weight to my LR2. The guys at Bike Friday told me the additional E-gear would add about 10 pounds. It felt as if they’d optimistically underestimated.

I made my way along a 420km route that is a section of both Quebec’s Route Verte 1 (part of Velo Quebec’s 5,300km network – the longest in North America) and the Trans Canada Trail (part of the 28,000km trail that extends from the Atlantic to the Arctic and Pacific coasts of Canada). At first, I resisted using my E-assist. After all, the first 100km were along a rail trail so I didn’t need it.

When the hills showed up, I used it sparingly, never going above power Level 2 (of 5). A couple of times when faced with a long grinding slog, I turned it on, albeit guiltily. It wasn’t until we rode through Mont Orford National Park (a popular downhill skiing area) where some of the ascents caused my sister (who was riding her Bassi Hog’s Back gravel bike without E-assist) to exclaim, “Hills like this make me want to vomit.” They weren’t long, but a couple were steep, the gravel was thick and we were riding loaded bikes. Helmets off to her for making it up all but one of them. I bailed on two ascents though one was a gearing issue. I cranked it up to Level 4 for a few others.

Our last day riding into Montreal was flat, but I was tired after a week of early season cycling. My legs just weren’t as strong or resilient as they used to be. It was also hot and muggy. I gave into the dark side and arrived in the E-assisted Bike Friday light! I cruised alongside my younger sibling. It was the perfect equalizer.

I love bike touring and have gone on many trips over the years, some with monumental climbs, such as the Golden Triangle, a three-day, 321-kilometre ride over three passes in the Rockies. But that was 20 years ago. Having the E-assisted Bike Friday option won me over – no question. I had a great workout without dreading hills – and grinding slogs. My E-assist remorse is all gone. In fact, I renamed my LR2; I now refer to it as my Yip E-bike!

With a nod to the American Express slogan: I’ll never leave home without it.

10 Tips on Touring with a Bike Friday E-Assisted Bike Friday

Following my first E-ride through Quebec, Canada, I have a few tips about touring on an E-assisted Bike Friday.

  1. You Need Front Panniers

With the battery and electronics attached to the seat post on my New World Tourist, it was heavy in the rear. If I’d used two back panniers and none in the front (as I usually do), I would have been popping wheelies. You need weight over your front wheel. So, You Need Front Panniers.

  1. Save Some E-power For Later

I never ran out of power even when I used it for a good part of an 82km ride on Level 1. Mind you, it was very flat. But I was careful to keep a bar and a half of battery power in case I needed it late in the day when I might be tired. So, Save Some E-power For Later.

  1. Don’t Forget to Charge Your Battery

This tip is especially true when touring as you may be a long way from an electrical outlet when you run out of juice – having forgotten to follow Tip #2. So, Don’t Forget to Charge Your Battery.

  1. Build Those Biceps

When touring you invariably have to carry your bicycle up stairs or a steep bank whether it’s into a hotel room or across a highway divider. Your E-assist bike will be at least 10lbs heavier. So, Build Those Biceps.

  1. Gear Down

For my first couple of ascents with my E-assist, it seemed like I was working hard despite having this help. It turned out, I forgotten to gear down enough. So, Gear Down.

  1. Compare With a Friend

Despite having E-assist, I often worked hard going up hills. Remember it’s an E-assist bike, not a motorcycle. If you think there isn’t enough “assist” in your E-assist, ride up a hill alongside someone whom you’ve ridden with before. I was amazed at how I left my sister behind even though she is a stronger cyclist. So, Compare With A Friend.

  1. Don’t Gloat

I shouldn’t have to tell people this, but the worst thing you can do on an E-assist bike is gloat. I was totally impressed when my sister made it up hills on her own steam that I used my E-assist to climb. I let her know it. Also, if I passed her while using my E-assist, I let her know I was “cheating.” So, Don’t Gloat.

  1. Hurrah for Level 1

While riding at higher power levels (4 or 5) eats up your battery, you can ride a long way on Level 1. The slight assist you receive at this lowest level doesn’t feel like much until you keep up with or pass that friend mentioned above. It saves your legs for the hills and for the ride the next day. The little boost you receive will make you happy at day’s end. So, Hurrah for Level 1.

  1. Just Smile

This tip applies to New World Tourist bikes in general. Someone will inform you that you work harder because your bike is so small and your tires belong on a BMX bike. They will question your choice of touring on such an inappropriate bike. You won’t be able to convince them otherwise. So, Just Smile.

  1. Enjoy Your Little Secret

I quickly realized that unless I was stopped or the observer who watched me pedal by had eagle eyes, no one could tell I was riding an E-assist bike. This was a great relief when, as I normally did, I rode with the E-assist turned off. I appreciated my E-assist Bike Friday’s camouflage since it’s an E-assist and NOT a fully electric bike. So, Enjoy Your Little Secret.