E-bike Bikepacking to the Dollhouse in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park
Over Night Adventure off the Grid but with Batteries
Lester Binegar - November 12, 2020
Photos - Richard Hackett
- 60 miles
- 6500’ elevation gained
- 1000 watt hours of battery used (mostly on low and medium modes)
- 9 out of 10 on the fun meter
Bikepacking is the same as backpacking only with a bike, it differs from bike touring in that it mostly entails more rugged terrain; gravel, dirt, or single track; and an isolation from services. While bikepacking you must bring all essential items on your bike: food, shelter, emergency repair kits (for you and the bike), and water. Going by bike allows you to go a bit faster and further than walking, have a way to help carry the load, and experience adventure and the natural world at the speed of a bicycle, a truly perfect way to see the world.
I’ve been bikepacking for 8 years now with about 14 trips into the backcountry. My friends Rick and Mason are also experienced bikepackers. All three of us have also recently gained an interest in riding our mountain bikes with an electric assist motor so we decided to meld the two activities together. We schemed up this plan a while ago, fundamentally for the adventure but also out of curiosity for the lessons we were sure to learn.
Mason was already familiar with the route, he made the same trek on a petrol moto a few years ago, so he took charge of securing the permits, the incredible campsite (#3 in the Dollhouse), and we all began to plan for the 43 mile overnight bikepack trip. The route began at the Hans Flat Ranger Station and descended on a rugged jeep road with technical features and sand (sometimes lots of sand) to our campsite.
All loaded, ready and departing from Hans Flat we decided last minute to drive the first 13 miles into the park to feel confident we had enough battery power to make the full return trip. Our decision cut 26 total miles but in the end we all could have easily completed the entire route, we finished with plenty of reserve power.
The scenery was unparalleled and the weather was picture perfect for fall in the desert with temperatures around 75 during the day with plenty of sun and 45 at night with plenty of stars.
Since packing the bike with all our goods is something we were already familiar with, the only new consideration was batteries. It was pretty important that we had a good prediction for energy storage and usage so we would not end up pedaling a 90lb bicycle unassisted up the final 2000’ climb. We each rode a different bike so our calculations and extra batteries varied.
Mason and Rick chose their regular full suspension E-MTB (electric mountain bike) and used the incomparable rack system from Old Man Mountain with the Revelate Nano Panniers. They needed backpacks in addition to the rack set-up in order to haul all their gear and water. I used my all terrain electric cargo bike which, with a load limit of 450lbs, allowed me to forgo a backpack.
Mason - Santa Cruz Heckler with a Shimano E8000 motor and three 500Wh batteries
Rick - Specialized Levo with a Brose 2.1 motor and two 700Wh batteries
- One person tent
- Inflatable sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag
- Energy food for the trail
- 1 freeze dried dinner and breakfast
- Mini stove, fuel canister, pot, and flatware
- 2 100oz bags of water plus 2 24oz cycling water bottles
- Puffy coat, extra socks, shirt and pants
- Poop bag system
- Repair kit for bike: 2 tubes, pump, mini tools, duct tape, pliers, chain tool, chain link, derailleur hanger, nuts and bolts, shift cable, chain lube, small rag, zip ties
- First aid kit
- Camp shoes
- One comfort item (I brought 2; ultralight camp chair and a cotton hoodie)
Descending the bumpy trail all loaded up.
Changing my flat in the most shade we could find.
We had a great time, got an incredible workout, and saw some really cool sights in a seldom-visited area of Canyonlands National Park. While this trip could easily be accomplished by many without the use of an assist motor, we found the additional power to add to the experience in a very positive way. We ended each day's ride feeling great and not physically decimated like many trips we have done. There were some lessons though:
- Load your bike and do an overnighter close to home before your 1st trip. This will really help dial in the necessary gear and adjustments needed to bikepack with an E-bike.
- Adding the complexity of a motor and batteries can create anxiety, so be prepared with a solid system that is up to date and well maintained. Measure your battery usage well before you go.
- Like any trip, start easy to get a feel for the personal energy needed to complete the journey.
- Loaded poop bags stink but it was super important to pack out everything we packed in, including human waste, in fact regulations required us to carry out our own waste.
- I got a flat. I had 2 extra tubes and one was filled with sealant. This gave me huge peace of mind after we changed it and kept on going on rocky terrain.
- The road to the Ranger Station is 150 miles round trip from Green River and there are no places to fuel up anywhere other than Green River. I almost ran out of gas but luckily someone had an extra fuel can. Research and be as prepared for the approach as you are the trip itself.
This trip was a blast and an education. As someone who loves bikepacking and loves Ebikes I will definitely be planning more trips and encouraging others. We were able to access some incredible landscapes, have fun, and put our gear and knowledge to the test.
Lester has been riding mountain bikes all over the country for 32 years. It's the combo of adventure and fitness that keeps propelling him forward. When not riding, his greatest joy in life is to see others get bitten by the cycling bug.