How far can you ride on an electric MTB?

Electric mountain bikes are remarkable. They provide remarkable performance and demand nothing more than average fitness from the rider. The experience riding electric bikes is extraordinary as the rider can be ordinary.

The specifications

The specification for electric bikes vary but let us consider a 65 Nm motor and 504 Wh battery as standard. The better, more modern bikes have more torque and a bigger battery. The rated power of an electric bike means nothing in hilly terrain.

Such a bike will allow you to ride gradients of up to 22%, descend gradients of 25% for distances up to 40 km and climb up to 700 m. After that the battery will likely be flat.

On Strava you will find people that can ride more with normal mountain bikes but these people are also superior athletes – and not your average Canberrans trying out their new bikes. Cycling for wellbeing is not about training for the Olympics, but what normal people want and can do.

Factors affecting range

Electric mountain bikes balance off-road performance in hilly terrain with general handling. The robust design makes them generally heavier than their seal track counterparts (city bikes). The grippy tires make them safe on loose surfaces but the roll resistance is high on sealed surfaces. The roll resistance greatly reduces range compared to a city bike.

Climbing hills uses up a lot of juice and flattens the battery quickly. On city bikes, hills are likely to be avoided but on electric mountain bikes, you will go looking for them. The results in a significant range reduction compared to riding on flat terrain.

The range depends on your effort. Electric bikes have three power settings. For Shimano these are eco, trail and boost. Eco is just enough power to compensate for the extra weight of the bike. Trail is the best mode for singletrack. Boost is for the hills. It delivers maximum continuous torque to maintain momentum and balance on steep slopes. You will still pedal like crazy though. Boost uses about three times as much power as trail. Riding the bike with minimal effort will provide an average speed on Eco, Trail, and Boost of 12, 16, and 20 km/h.

Range from Belconnen

The 504 Wh battery should allow in theory a rise of 1492 m. However, this assumes no losses in the bike, role resistance, wind or breaking. More realistically, perhaps 1000 m would be the maximum climb over a distance of 5 km, at a 20% gradient. This extreme is not found in Canberra.

The chart below shows this relationship.

  • Ride 60 km in Canberra and it is not hard to climb 400 m. Some hills cannot be avoided in Canberra, as we ride over a ridge passing from one valley to another.
  • Ride city hills like Mount Taylor and a 400 m climb is not much for a ride. The hills in Canberra are not that large and a climb to a peak over 300 m is very rare, however, all the hills in between add up.
  • The Brindabella Range is mountainous and provides climbs of 1000 m. A standard battery would be insufficient for such rides for great range.
How the range of an eMTB is reduced by the climb in hilly and mountainous terrain.

The isochrone plot generated with Openroute Service below shows the example of riding from Belconnen on an eMTB for a range of up to 20 km. At that point, you would have reached the point of no return and have to turn back or ride the last bit without a battery (and yes, riding up the Aranda path is fun then). The colour bands are 5, 10, 15, and 20 km. Anything north of the Tuggeranong Valley is achievable. I think this shines a favourable light on Canberra and its suitability for an eMTB.

If the colour bands narrow, then this area is very difficult to get to. A good example is the bike path along the Majura Parkway that is a red narrow corridor. William Hovell Drive is another where the yellow shrinks to nothing.

How far can you get on an electric MTB. Isochrone plot generated with Openroute Service. Data and background map from OpenStreetMap.
How far can you get on an electric MTB? Isochrone plot generated with Openroute Service. Data and background map from OpenStreetMap.

Canberra is ideal for mountain biking and an eMTB makes it possible for most of us to ride from home to most destinations.

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