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Electric bikes have taken off in popularity among campers for good reason. An e-bike can really improve your camping experience in the great outdoors. An electronic bike lets you push harder, tackle wilder terrain, haul camping cargo such as a kayak, and literally go the extra mile.
Electric bikes have various advantages and disadvantages. One drawback is that at the end of the day’s ride, you’ve got a great bike with a drained battery on your hands. If you’re camping for one day, the obvious fix is to go home and plug it in. But what about those long weekends in the local national forest? What about a two-week trek down America’s backroads?
How Do You Charge Electric Bikes While Camping?
To charge your bike while camping, you can potentially plug it in at a campground or shop, or if you want to be self-sufficient you can look into solar panels, generators, battery banks, or charging from a vehicle.
You’ve got a number of options for charging your e-bike. Each one has its own advantages and limitations. You’ll need to figure out which is the best fit for your budget, camping style, and where you like to hit the trails.
How Much Power Do You Need To Charge an Electric Bike?
Before we dive into the various charging options on the market, you’ll need to work out how much power your bike needs. This varies depending on the brand and model. Larger e-bikes can go faster, travel for longer, and carry more weight. This requires a bigger battery and, therefore, more power to charge.
Most e-bikes have lithium-ion batteries that require 500-800 Wh (watt-hours) for a full charge. You will need a generator or other charging option that outputs more than the battery’s requirements to fully charge that battery.
What if you’re camping with the family and topping up multiple e-bikes? You’ll have to charge them one at a time or get a device with enough power for everything. For instance, to simultaneously charge two electronic bikes with 500 Wh batteries, look for a 1000 Wh power source.
A typical e-bike battery takes around 3.5 to 6 hours to charge completely. Does that much battery charge time sound like it will cut into your vacation plans? Ask yourself if you really need to recharge to the 100% mark. Batteries can charge up to about 90% pretty quickly, often in a couple of hours. Then charging slows to a crawl for that final 10%.
If you’re doing more casual cycling or using trails you know well, you may get along just fine on a partial charge. But what if you’re going to explore new areas or want the challenge of a really long ride? In that case, a full charge can give you peace of mind.
The Best Ways To Charge Your E-Bike When Camping
Solar energy is a pretty attractive option for charging your e-bike on the go. These panels are highly eco-friendly and, if properly maintained, can last for years. You don’t have to wrestle with multiple components or keep extra fuel around. People also tend to camp and travel in the summer, when that sun is beating straight down and they can get the most out of their solar panels.
However, a solar charger has some limitations that you have to keep in mind. First of all, you’ll need a fairly large solar panel or a blanket of smaller ones to generate enough power for an electronic bike. Panels of this size can be pricey and might get stolen if you leave them out at camp.
Secondly, solar can be inefficient and spotty in some parts of the country. It can take up to four hours to charge your bike under ideal conditions. That means four hours of intense and direct sunlight while you babysit the solar panel, adjusting the aim. If you’re going for a solar power setup, you may want to keep a spare battery for backup on those overcast days.
If your RV comes with a battery bank, you can easily charge from that. If not, some e-bike campers will buy a 12 V deep cell marine battery for this purpose. This option is relatively affordable, quieter than running a generator, and highly convenient for shorter camping trips.
If you’re considering this route, double-check the math to confirm that you’ll have enough power for all of the electronic devices you’ll need to charge off the batteries. You’ll also want to set up the battery pack in a dry and secure place.
Car Battery Inverter
Don’t have an RV? With a DC to AC inverter, you can charge the e-bikes off your car battery. This is convenient for people who go boondocking. There’s no need to buy another battery when your car is sitting right there at the campsite! Just invest in a quality converter and you’re good to go, right?
Two caveats: this fix won’t work for electric bike batteries over 30 Ah, although most e-bike models fall under that line. Secondly, read the inverter’s packaging and make sure it’s designed for car batteries before first use. Some inverters can damage your car’s fuses. This could potentially leave you stranded in the wilderness.
If you happen to camp with a generator, you’re probably all set. Even a small portable generator should be able to handle a bike battery, although you should check the watt-hours to be sure. Camping generators have the advantage of being durable, affordable, and compact. The drawback is that they make noise as they run, although smaller ones are quieter. You’ll also have to keep fuel around.
If you’re going to invest in a portable generator to charge your bike with, make sure you buy a generator with an output wattage that is higher than the watts of your bike’s battery. To make it easier on you, we found highly rated portable generators for the most common e-bike watts:
|ZeroKor (300 W)
|EF ECOFLOW (600 W)
|PowerSmart (1000 W)
|Champion Power (2000 W)
|Champion Power (3500 W)
Use a Power Outlet
If you plug in at home, can you plug in on the go? Maybe. Check if there’s a power pedestal available at the camping grounds. If you aren’t staying there, you might still be able to plug into an electrical outlet for a small fee. Other places to look at include:
- Bike shops
- Restaurants and coffee shops
- Public parks
- Fire stations
Remember that these people are doing you a favor. Don’t just walk in tracking mud everywhere, cord in hand, and start raising their utility bill. Ask politely and accept a “no” with kindness. If you’re in a shop, see if you can buy something to show good faith.
E-bike Charging Stations
Dedicated e-bike charging stations are quite popular in Europe. Some American companies are trying to establish these systems in the U.S. These stations let you charge your bike for either a flat fee or an hourly fee.
If you can’t find an e-bike charging station, look into EV vehicle stations. You may be able to track these down on a website or app. One drawback: you won’t find a charging station in the middle of the forest, so this isn’t a fix for people who stick to wilderness camping.
Okay, this one isn’t available … yet. A couple of companies are developing small wind turbines or hybrid wind and solar power production. These charging stations will operate similar to the e-bike stations we just talked about. Wind turbines are potentially a very eco-friendly way to get a battery charge in windy areas of the country, such as in the Midwest. Keep your eyes out for these charging stations in the near future.
Frequently Asked Questions
When should you charge your bike battery?
You’ll want to charge it up before any big cycling adventure. For battery longevity, rotate between charging at 30% and 60% if possible.
How often should you charge your e-bike?
Try to charge your electronic bike’s battery regularly. Aim for a charge after every ride.
Is the battery damaged when fully discharged?
If you run out of power completely during the ride, you won’t cause any permanent damage. Just don’t leave your discharged bike sitting around, as that could damage its capacity.
Is the bike’s battery damaged when you leave it charging overnight?
Check your e-bike’s manual to be sure, but it’s probably fine. Most electronics have a safety feature and will automatically stop charging when the battery is full.
How long can you store an e-bike battery at a full charge?
These batteries will last longer when they’re regularly used and re-charged. If you do need to store an e-bike battery for a period of months, don’t put the bike away at 100%. It’s best to keep the charge between 30% and 70%. Keep in mind that your battery will lose about 1% per month of disuse.
Can I charge my e-bike battery with a USB cable?
Unfortunately, no. Even if you could get the plug to fit (and it likely won’t), a USB cable is only 5 volts DC. E-bikes require 24-36 volts. However, if your bike has a USB port, you can use it to charge your phone during the ride.
Many camping enthusiasts are switching from basic cycles to e-bikes. These higher-tech devices can help you enjoy all parts of your ride, from the fun flat and downhill stretches to the challenging uphill climbs. If you’re taking your e-bike out for longer than a day trip, you’ll need to figure out how to keep that battery charged.
You’ve got a wide range of options here. Don’t like the noise of a generator? Try a battery bank. Too overcast for solar? You may be able to charge your e-bike at a friendly shop along the way. Don’t let the fear of a dead battery keep you off the trails. There are plenty of charging options available, and more to come as e-bikes get more popular.
If you haven’t bought an e-bike yet and are thinking of investing in one, see our post about choosing between a 36-volt and a 48-volt e-bike. We also put together a list of the best e-bikes under $500.