Taking your e-bike camping is an experience. Getting away from the autopilot commute and riding a peaceful nature trail or an adrenaline-fuelled track in the mountains is truly freeing. You can also explore so much further on an e-bike. What people often question is: Can I charge my e-bike while camping?
Now that camping grounds are reopening for the summer, this question is coming up a lot. The answer depends on the duration of your journey into the wilderness – and just how wild you’re going.
Can I charge my ebike battery using a portable power station?
A portable power station is a bank of energy from which you can charge your battery. You can take it with you on your trip. However, for the power station to charge your ebike’s battery, it has to hold more power than your battery requires. Grab a pencil and follow the steps below to figure out which portable power station is suitable for your ebike battery.
1) Understand your battery capacity (BC) in Watt-Hour: (BC) in (Wh)= Voltage (V) x Ampere hour (Ah)
Example: 36V x 10Ah = 360Wh
2) Understand your power station’s battery capacity in Watt-Hour: (PC) in (Wh)= Voltage (V) x Ampere hour (Ah)
Example: 56V x 10Ah = 560Wh
3) Understand your standard charger power: (CP)= Output Voltage (V) x Charge current (A)
Example: 24V x 12A = CP of 288W
4) Understand your power station output power: = (PP)
The station will fully charge your battery if:
Your battery capacity is less than the station’s power capacity = BC < PC
Your charger’s power is less than 75% of the station’s output = (CP) < 75%PP
360Wh battery charged by a 560Wh power bank
288W charger will charge from a 400W+ station
Can I charge my ebike battery using a solar panel or car battery inverter?
You can use an inverter to convert the energy from your car battery into the right voltage for your electric bike battery. You want to be careful here, as having a flat car battery is a world more trouble than a dead e-bike. An alternator tester will cut the charger off when the car’s battery gets too low. An energy monitor will show you how much power is being sent from the car to the e-bike battery.
If you charge from a car 12V source or solar panel 110V AC inverter, understand your bottleneck supply power which can be the source or inverter capacity:
This will make more sense in practice. For example:
Can we charge a 36V 13Ah battery using a 2A charger through a 12V 10A car power plug, 200W inverter?
Battery capacity: 36×13= 468Wh
Charger power: 42V x 2A = 84W
Power source: 12V x 10A= 120W
Inverter power: 200W
The answer is yes, you can, because 84W is what the charger needs, which is less than 75% of the bottleneck power of the car plug which is 120W.
For solar chargers it only works if you have a buffer battery of enough capacity or the production rate is 25% more than what the charger requires. Solar panels have a low energy output and can take far too long to charge even simple devices. If you have a boost module, it will take your solar panel’s output voltage to the required current charge voltage & amperage to charge your batters.
Does your campground have power outlets?
If you’re going on an organized trip rather than winging it, you probably know exactly where you’ll be bedding down for the night. Established campsites will usually have information online as to the services they offer, including power outlets and the reliability of those outlets. If you can plug in to the grid when you go to bed and the output isn’t too limited, you’ll wake up to a fully charged battery. It may be worth calling ahead to check there are available outlets if this is your only charging source.
Will there be places to plug in?
The easiest way to charge your e-bike battery is to bring a charger and plug in to a wall outlet. So, before you leave on your trip, take some time to research the territory you’re exploring. You may get lucky and find a charging station along your route, although in Canada there aren’t as many as we might like outside the city, despite e-bike popularity. You’re more likely to rely on pubs, coffee shops, bars, stores, restaurants and even campgrounds along the way.
This may seem obvious, but don’t just walk into a rural store and plug in your extension lead. Always ask before plugging in your e-bike or battery and purchase something as a show of good faith – or several things if you’re going to be there a while. Make conversation and be a customer rather than a leech. If it’s a coffee shop or restaurant, get something to eat and settle in so you have time to recharge.
It may be worth calling ahead to check how the owners of these establishments feel about you using some of their power. Always take an extension lead with you, especially if your battery isn’t easily removable from the electric bike. You don’t want to wheel a heavy mountain bike into someone’s restaurant, hat in hand.
Riding your e-bike off-grid
Off-grid is a term that these days makes us think of not having WIFI or phone signal. What off-grid actually means is having no access to the power grid. If you’re heading off-grid for several days hunting in true wilderness, having one or more spare batteries fully charged is your main option. If the area is protected, make sure you’re allowed to ride there.
Alternatively, you could calculate how many watts you’ll use per mile on the terrain you’re exploring, based on how far you intend to go. You can then buy or build a battery that can do it in a single charge. If you do this, leave at least a 25% margin of extra juice so that you don’t end up stuck somewhere with a dead battery. Don’t just rely on your e-bike’s stated range from the manufacturer, as this is measured in perfect conditions, i.e. a person of average weight riding flat roads on a calm day.
Colder temperatures, varied terrain and wind will significantly decrease your bicycle’s single charge range. Once you’ve figured out your e-bike’s range on rough terrain, you could consider taking the experience to the next level: Snow Bike.
Using a generator
If you have a generator with a high power output, you’ll of course have no problem charging your e-bike, as long as you’ve factored in how much power you’ll be needing for everything the generator runs. It’s always best to have a safety buffer – at least 20% more power than you think you’ll need, to avoid getting into trouble.