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If you were to ask us about electric bikes 10 years ago, we likely would've just laughed. They looked downright silly, had pitiful range, and cost more than a motorcycle. Fast-forward a decade and technological advances have now made these oddities a viable mode of transportation — possibly even a bug-out vehicle.
As with any mode of transport, ebikes have their pros and cons. At this moment you're likely asking, “What about EMPs?” Unlike with a gas-fueled motorcycle, a bicycle-style electric bike can still be human powered, whether it has any juice in its battery or has been hit by an electromagnetic pulse. [See Issue 19 for our debut Debunked column, which tackles this very topic.] War, fire, flooding, and economic collapse are far more likely to shut down your wheels than an EMP. After all, these other things are happening daily around the world already. For the ebike haters out there, consider this: If you rig up some solar panels or your bug-out hideaway is set up for solar power, you'll have an almost unlimited fuel source for your ride.
Having said that, we reviewed a VoltBike to see if it can simultaneously be a cost-effective means of locomotion and a practical platform for bugging out.
Unlike conversions or purpose-built gasoline motorcycles, electric bikes make little sound. This means you can spirit yourself away and not draw the attention of the have-nots who want your supplies.
Range: The VoltBike Yukon 750 uses a 750-watt Bafang motor to propel you up to 20 mph for about 25 miles on throttle-only mode. Under pedal assist you'll get closer to 50 miles. (Mileage will vary based on a rider's weight, cargo, and terrain.) These aren't stellar numbers if you're trying to flee a massive tropical storm. But they're more than adequate if you need to evacuate a city center to get to your hidden survival cache in the outskirts of suburbia.
Controls: Throttle mode controls the bike much like a motorcycle, while the nine levels of pedal assist adjusts to how fast you're peddling and uses the motor to give you that extra push. This allows you to go much further than you could on your own. It also means climbing hills or negotiating rocky terrain requires comparatively less effort. You most likely won't rocket up a steep incline on throttle only; some peddling will still be required. The bike comes set with levels 1 to 9, meaning that you'll always have some assist with the bike powered on. The manufacturer can help configure a level 0, providing you with speedometer and odometer readouts sans electric boost. (No word yet on whether the motor goes up to 11, though.)
Acceleration on a conventional bike can be slow because it depends on human leg power. However, on the Yukon, if you forget that you're on level 9 and begin pedaling, you could be caught off-guard and thrown off your electric steed. Make sure to heed manufacturer's instructions.
When navigating downhill, the Tektro Novela brakes cut power to the motor to assist in deceleration. These aren't hydraulic disc brakes, so applying them won't send you flying over the handlebars, but they still provide sufficient stopping power when you need them most.
Holding the “minus” key down on the pedal-assist controller gives you push assist — a great feature when walking the bike up a steep hill. At nighttime, holding the “plus” key down activates the screen's backlight and the bike's front light.
Power Plant: We were impressed with the battery (Sanyo UR18650ZY cells), which performed as advertised. Also, it has a USB charging port to boost small devices like a phone or GPS unit. However, the cover for the battery-charging port failed to stay closed. A screw-on cap would've been a better idea than the finicky small rubber plug. The battery can be removed with a key, letting you place it closer to a charging setup or swap it out with a fresh battery if you've purchased an extra.
While it's possible to rig up a DC charging system that'll draw from solar or other renewable sources, a factory charger that offers input regulation would be a boon for preppers.
Wouldn't it be nice to just plug this right into the solar panels for more juice on the run?
Suspension and Tires: Electric bikes don't always include shocks. VoltBike listened to customer input and outfitted every Yukon with a TGS T10 alloy suspension fork, which has 90 mm (3.54 inches) of vertical travel. Having front shocks, combined with the Kenda Juggernaut Pro fat tires, gives a comfortable ride while still providing excellent control. The advantage of fat tires is increased traction over terrain like snow and sand, which can be daunting for conventional vehicles let alone regular street bicycles.
Seating Arrangement: A stock bicycle seat is analogous to the factory insole in most boots — it gets the job done, but there are far better options out there. The Yukon comes with a half-decent seat, but we opted to try out something considerably more ergonomic for long-term riding comfort. The Spiderflex seat we added has two individual butt cushions and leaves out the long nose in the center, which can cause a numb crotch after a long ride … and possibly erectile dysfunction after years of use.
The tradeoff with this type of nose-less saddle is the slight loss of steering precision when you might have to use one or no hands. But, hey, we're happy to give up that up as long as we don't have a numb nether region.
Cargo Storage: We sewed up a frame bag to hold our tools, Lezyne Micro Floor Drive pump, patch kit, and tire levers. The frame bag is dedicated entirely to what's needed to keep the bike running. We also added some Arkel Dry-Lites saddlebags on the rear rack, although we had to make two small tabs to attach the bags on the bike so they had something to hook into at the bottom. The VoltBike rack didn't include these, but a few minutes with a drill, grinder, and some files resulted in our own handmade adapters. There are commercial versions available, as well.
A bicycle isn't as roomy as an SUV, so any gear attached to the frame that isn't intended for bike maintenance is extraneous. And any gear you can't live without should be carried on your back. This may seem odd, until you have to ditch the bike and any gear attached.
On top of the rear rack sat a Grey Ghost Stealth Operator Pack. We tucked the straps into the hydration area, and then used the mouse trap-like hinge on the top of the rack to hold it in place. The bag runs into the seat post and requires grabbing the bag from the side to remove it. The top bag had a bigger tarp and some extra tools.
Staying Dry: The last things attached to the bike were some Beaver Guard mud guards. These were inexpensive, attached with zip ties, and very lightweight.
The only two concerns for this bug-out ebike when it comes to inclement weather are the sensors on the Wellgo pedals and the battery. On traditional bicycles, you wouldn't even bother glancing at the pedals after use. But on these, you might need to wipe them down occasionally to keep the sensors clear and in top survival shape. And, it goes without saying that you should avoid getting water on the battery. Some duct tape and a garbage bag can provide rain protection, although we plan to make a silnylon cover in the future.
Electric bikes aren't ideal for every prepper, particularly those with a family. It's kind of difficult to pedal while balancing a spouse, two kids, a dog, and three days of supplies on your back.
They're also heavy. Weighing two to three times that of your average mountain bike, you'll need to be able to hoist 60 to 70 pounds if your ebike can't clear larger obstacles like telephone poles downed by a storm.
And compared to a $100 Huffy, an electric bike's price tag will seem excessive. However, it's all about perspective and your personal needs. At almost $1,500 with flat-rate $70 shipping, the Yukon will seem like a great deal compared to other ebikes that easily cost twice as much. With models available in Canada and the United States, VoltBike has a direct-to-consumer approach that cuts out the middle man and the various profit margins associated with conventional sales methods.
Ebikes have come a long way since the turn of the millennium, and you'll surely see more in the near future. Depending on your bug-out strategy, these can be viable options to get you and your kit to safety on the road less traveled. Unlike rumbling Ford Raptors or noisy dual-sport bikes, the electric bicycle allows for a quiet escape strategy and a range limited only by the user's leg power. It's one of those things that you might laugh at … until you try it.
Sanyo UR18650ZY cells
Ryan Houtekamer might be a close relative to yetis and sasquatches because he actually enjoyed winter exercises while in the Canadian Army. He works on the “why use an axe when you can push the tree over” philosophy. Born and raised in Canada, he lives in a small town that has more trails near it than people living in it.
Riding any kind of bike may seem mundane, but falling off could end your bug-out plans and quite possibly your life. The same thing goes for cruising through a path in the woods and taking a tree branch to the eye. A helmet and some eye protection are just as important as tires and handlebars, so speak to a reputable bike shop about options, test out some models, and find the ones that are right for you.
An electric bicycle can be a great vehicle during a crisis, but it can't hold a large load. Pack supplies to cover your basic survival needs. You never know when you might need to make a detour or set up an impromptu camp. Consider carrying the following: