Hitting the road near Leadville
Yamaha batteries waiting patiently to power the team's e-bikes
Susanne Brüsch and her team e-biked from Monterey, California, to Denver on the Sand to Snow tour, a more than 3,100-mile, 10-week journey that led them to climb over 187,000 feet in altitude from the lowest point in North America to the highest mountains in the western U.S. Here, Brüsch shares the joys of e-biking, highlights of her epic Sand to Snow tour and why Colorado’s landscapes are perfect for exploring on two wheels with a little boost.
How would you describe an e-bike to someone who isn’t familiar with them?
An e-bike is basically a regular bike that has an electric motor either in one of the wheel hubs or where the bottom bracket sits, and it has a battery, display at the handle bars and a control system. There are two types: One type where you control the motor power by a throttle in the same way you’d use a moped; and the other type we call a pedelec, which has a motor that only assists you when you’re pedaling. These bikes are legally regarded as bicycles. In the U.S., there are different rules in most states, but you can typically use them as bicycles with a speed of up to 32 kilometers (about 20 miles) per hour. The pedelec is the type I rode on the Sand to Snow tour and others.
What makes them so incredible?
Imagine you step on a bike that gives you extra power. You put power into the pedals and you get twice as much power. You ride a bicycle and feel twice as well trained as you usually feel — and that is great. On a bicycle, you have certain limits. Once you ride an e-bike, you can rediscover your limits: You’ll find that you can see more in a day, go longer distances, go up steeper hills, go up longer hills and can carry more luggage. On most e-bikes, you can take the battery off to take into your apartment or hotel room to charge in the power outlet.
How did you get into e-biking?
I’ve always liked cycling, but in fact, I got into e-bikes through an old friend of mine. We went to elementary school together, and he started the first testing and promotional organization for electric bikes about 25 years ago. I started working with that organization 20 years ago, then I worked as a journalist and a photographer in the field and did a lot of product testing and promotion. Later, when the e-mountain bikes came on to the market in Europe, I decided to ride more myself because these bikes are really fun. That was when I started Pedelec Adventures and began organizing, riding and publishing those trips.
Why did you decide to embark on the Sand to Snow tour?
I was just excited about the beauty of nature and wanted to see all of those national parks. I’d seen a couple of them before but not all of them. Zion, Bryce Canyon, Moab, Death Valley and Yosemite were new to me. And I wanted to do a trip in the U.S. because I realized that the American e-bike market was just about to kick off, and I wanted inspire people to experience this new way of cycling for themselves. I wanted to show what you can do with an e-bike and how much fun they are to ride.
Who else did the tour with you?
I was lucky to ride together with a great team. We had a camera woman and two other riders. I rode the whole distance and the other two took turns. Usually we had two people on the road during the day and the other person took care of driving the camera team, so that worked out pretty well.
They are friends of mine who I have worked with for years, so that made it very easy for me to find the right place and the right tasks for each of them. On the whole trip, everyone had three different responsibilities that fit their skills and character best. This is how we managed all of the publicity work, the photography, the filming, the writing while we were on the road. As you can imagine, we had some very busy days.
Tell us about an average day on the road.
Some days we started at 4 o’clock in the morning and did some filming and photography at sunrise and had breakfast, then broke down the camp and hit the road. Then, we rode all day until we got to a nice place toward the evening, did some more filming and photo shooting in the sunset, had a shower, had a little rest, cooked some dinner, set up the tents, and sat down to download all of the pictures and video material, view and archive the files, empty all sim cards and charge all batteries. I’d sit down and write in my diary, put together stories for the blog, and share some impressions in social media. We had to manage all of our time very well to get all of these things done. I was so happy to have this team with me who worked together so well.
You’ve been so many cool places. What makes Colorado a great destination for e-biking?
The mountains and also the climate. Riding through the desert is great — but it’s hot. Climbing a 1,200-foot pass can be extremely strenuous if you do it on a regular bicycle, and this is only something a fairly small group of people would do. But with e-bikes, so many more people can do it, and depending on what assistance mode they choose (if the motor assists more or less), they can still test their limits.
What do you like to do when you’re not e-biking?
I like to plan the next trip! And I really enjoy the outdoors, whether its hiking, cycling or snowboarding. I like to take pictures and write to share with my friends and with the world. Basically, what I do for a job is a big part of what I like to do in life. And I also enjoy good food and small adventures (so far) with my little nieces and nephews!
What’s next on your agenda?
Australia and Africa. After that, I’ll just be missing Latin America and I’ll be the first woman, if not the first person, who has traveled every continent on an e-bike.
Photo credits: E-biking near Leadville, Pedelec-Adventures.com/M. Burger; Yamaha batteries for e-bikes, Pedelec-Adventures.com.