Looking for the best ebike to ride the rail trails? To do gravel riding and be able to explore off the beaten path? To go bikepacking and touring with confidence that your machine is the right one for the job?
If you're feeling inspired, or just curious, and are considering investing in a new ebike as a way to explore our beautiful continent and the ever-expanding network of rail trails you're in the right place.
In this, your ultimate buyers guide, we'll go through the ins and outs on what makes a great adventure and touring ebike including the technology that makes the difference, comfort considerations and also maintenance tips. Plus we can give you a bucket list on where to ride.
What is an Adventure Bike?
The adventure bike category has been around for a long time in the motorbike world and it is fast gaining in popularity in the ebike world too. It was probably made most famous by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman almost 20 years ago with their 'Long Way Round' TV Series, where they rode from London to New York on BMW GS Motorbikes, the motorbike equivalent of bikepacking.
In the eBike world, an 'Adventure Bike' is similar. It is an ebike one that will go almost anywhere in relative comfort and is designed to carry luggage on board.
At Euro Bike last year, many of the press were referring to this category as the "SUV" of ebikes. I'm not sure that's fair to our ebikes as we've been places and ridden trails that no SUV would access and even some 4WDs would struggle!
If you are planning on doing a lot of long-distance, adventurous riding then it pays to look at the brands that make their ebikes specifically for this type of riding and stake their reputations on the bikes performing. For example Riese & Muller, Moustache, Focus and Orbea.
What Type of EBike is Right for Bikepacking and Adventure Riding?
We are spoiled for choice with wide range of ebikes today that are capable of tackling anything from a steep alpine climb to a more genteel tour of the rail trail network to zooming you into work for your daily commute.
To answer the question as to "What is the right tool for the job?" first we have to work out what "the job" is.
There's always a bit of overlap between the various categories of ebikes, but the key is to be honest about what you'll be using the bike for most of the time?
For example, can a good quality commuter ebike tackle the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail?
Absolutely, but if you're planning an epic month-long offroad trail ride its probably not going to be the best bike for the job.
Adventure vs Gravel vs Commuter eBike vs eMTB
EBikes that are often most considered for bike touring and bikepacking generally come from four categories:
- Adventure (comfortable SUV) - the most popular with ebikes
- Gravel (the speedy lightweights)
- Commuter (hybrid), and
- Electric mountain bikes (the agile athletes).
All these ebikes have their pros and cons as an adventure and touring machine.
The key is "Which one does the job best for what you want to do?"
This article is going to focus on the 'adventure' category as these bikes are made specifically with this purpose in mind. We'll cover what makes a great adventure ebike indepth as these factors come in to play no matter what bike you choose.
Then we'll take a quick look at the differences to the other categories.
What Makes A Great Adventure EBike?
The sort of riding we are talking about could take you somewhere remote...so reliability matters.
You could be riding for many days at a time...so comfort and fit matters (if you want to enjoy it, anyway!).
You will generally be riding for all or most of the day...so battery range , battery efficiency and ease of charging matters.
And you may well find yourself riding terrain that you weren't anticipating...so handling and useable power matters.
So what features or specifications create an ebike that can do all these? And importantly how much does this cost?
What Does a Good Adventure EBike Cost?
Let's get this hot topic out of the way first.
Adventures EBikes - Key Features and Specifications
Note: Bike pictured is the Riese & Muller Superdelite GT Rohloff with Offroad ("GX") Package
What features or specifications create an ebike that can do all these?
Let's go through the key technical features starting from the bottom (wheels) and working through the key components that impact its comfort, handling and usability as an adventure bike.
For each of these we explain the technology that is typically required and provide context to what you see in the specification table. More importantly we also highlight the details that matter that often AREN'T provided in the spec tables.
1. Wheels and Tyres
Wheels (hubs, spokes, rims)
Why it matters?...it's pretty hard to ride with broken spokes and pringled wheels.
A high quality combination of hub, spoke and rims will provide you with thousands of kilometres of trouble free riding.
Sealed cartridge bearing hubs will perform better from day 1 as well as being more resistant to water/dirt.
When is comes to spokes you need to take into account your rider weight plus the weight of any gear you might be carrying. A 36-spoke count for rear wheels using a high quality spoke such as Sapim or DT Swiss is desirable. 32-spoke front wheels are more common due to the lower weight on the front of the bike.
Rim widths are generally wider for adventure bikes at 35mm to cope with the wider profile tyres. Most rims are double walled for strength. It's worth checking these specs if you know you are going to be riding rougher terrain or carrying heavier loads.
If you are a fan of tubeless tyres then check that the rims are tubeless ready (although there are conversion kits available too).
Why they matter?...width and tread pattern have a big influence on comfort and traction. As for punctures...well, we all want to avoid those!
Tyres will vary with each manufacturer but as a general rule Gravel and Commuter eBike tyres top out at a width of 44-47C. If you're not familiar with tyre width and sizing you can watch our quick video here.
Adventure bikes usually start at 50C (a 2" tyre) and more commonly come with tyres up 65C.
Tread patterns vary too but the Schwalbe Johnny Watts (pictured) and Rock Razor tyres have proven to be popular allrounder due to their mixture of on and offroad grip, puncture protection, and durability. Also the Schwalbe Hurricane is you prefer a less aggressive offroad tread.
Riese and Muller offer a GX option for their adventure bike range using this tyre which equips the bike with a number of offroad upgrades from the factory. Worth considering if you know you'll be doing a reasonable amount of offroad riding from day 1.
Top Tip: Tyres are a very personal choice. Rather than getting caught up with what tyres come with the bike keep in mind they can be easily swapped pre-purchase or later on when need to.
Another important thing to consider for adventure riding and touring is puncture protection. The tyres that tend to be used on this style of ebike come with a degree of protection already.
If you have a hub gearing system on your bike though, or just want to avoid punctures altogether, there are a number of solutions. We recommend Tannus Armour tyre liners or Cush Core however there are other brands and solutions available too.
2. EBike Drive System - Motor and Range
If you're an experienced rider or eBike rider you'll already have a preference for your brand and motor type. If you are new to eBikes you may want to check out our hub motor vs mid drive article. There are pros and cons to each.
In Australia the eBike motor world is dominated by Bosch and Shimano mid-drive systems. A number of other manufacturers are gaining market share (Brose, Fazua, TQ, and Yamaha) albeit in smaller volumes.
With your choice of motor system you'll need to match the torque output and battery power consumption to your range and load needs. Higher torque motors use more battery.
Torque is defined as "the rotational equivalent of linear force". It is measured in newton meters (Nm).
Why it matters?... torque is your hill climbing strength. The more torque the stronger the assistance you get.
When we rode our first Bosch mid drive eBike to the top of Mt Nebo in 2013 that Bosch Classic Line Motor had 50Nm of torque. Everyone was blown away with how easy it made that climb.
The current Gen 4 Bosch CX motors have 85Nm! Shimano have followed suit with their EP801 mid drive system which also puts out 85Nm.
The headline numbers are only part of the equation though as each system has its own ride characteristics in terms of power delivery, noise, and tuneability. If you want to test two motors back to back you can book a test ride here.
If you are a lighter or smaller rider or you are looking to get the maximum efficiency out of your ebike motor/battery system you may want to consider lower torque motor options.
For example the Bosch Gen 3 Performance Line with 65Nm is found on the popular Moustache XRoad range (pictured).
The Shimano EP801 RS from Orbea has caused quite a stir lately with its custom down tune to 60Nm.
It has however become highly regarded as an alternative to the full power motors for those wanting a lighterweight ebike with a more natural ride feel - 'just enough' power.
Try one on the Orbea Urrun and Rise ranges where the bikes also have ultra-efficient smaller batteries that are lasting longer than full powered systems. (And they have handy range extenders!).
EBike Batteries and Range
Why it matters?... Your electric bike battery is the equivalent of the fuel tank in a car. The bigger your battery the greater the range you can ride without recharge.
Battery capacity is measured in Watt Hours (Wh).
When considering your battery size here are some key questions to think about:
- How many hours per day per ride will you feel comfortable with?
- How much load in kg (including you and your luggage) will be on the bike?
- How many metres will you be climbing (uphill) on a typical ride?
- What's your current level of fitness? (will you be using turbo/boost mode a lot?)
- How strong is your motor (Nm)? The stronger the motor the more battery it uses
- What will be your typical ride round trip in kilometers?
- What will be the mix of bitumen/dirt? Dirt uses more battery
Before we get into range in km lets talk about time in the saddle. If we work on an average touring speed of 20kph we can then plan a target distance per day for exploring or a multi-day tour. For most people 4 to 5 hours riding is plenty, which means a trip distance or 80 to 100km.
Let's use the Bosch ebike Range Calculator. For an 80kg rider this will be close to the limit of a Bosch 500Wh power pack in a hilly area using the 'Tour' mode.
For most people riding a full powered ebike we suggest that a 500Wh battery capacity is the minimum size to consider for bikepacking.
If you are a heavier rider, carrying luggage or towing a trailer you'll need to consider 1000Wh+ either in a dual battery model or adding a range extender.
If you are really concerned about range then we recommend carrying an additional battery and/or carrying the fastest charger available for the motor system. Planning your likely charge points is a must anyway but this can be good insurance.
3. Drivetrain (Gearing)
When it comes to selecting a drive train there are a number of factors to consider. The good news is that all modern drive trains perform really well. (The days of Sturmey Archer 3 speed and fumbling around to find a gear are long gone.)
Here are the things that matter:
- Shifting Performance (and feel)
- Maintenance and durability
Your choice of drivetrain is generally chain vs belt drive. Then its down to the model(s) available that have either of those.
If you're coming from a road biking background you'll be familiar with the Shimano and SRAM groupset hierarchy.
If not, don't worry. When it comes to eBikes we're not chasing the last few grams of weight saving nor do we need the gear ratios to be stacked super close. With ebikes your electric bike's motor will easily infill any power gaps caused by changing gear.
What you do need to consider is that modern mid drive electric motors deliver a lot of torque. This is great for climbing and acceleration. Not so great for your bike's chain and gears.
This technology is dominated by Shimano and then SRAM and as you move up the range of either manufacturers the ability to shift consistently under load improves. If your riding style is relaxed and you're not planning on riding in steeper technical terrain then the majority of drive trains will be more than adequate. Bear in mind that your drive train is a wear and tear item, so you can always upgrade later.
NOTE: Shimano launched their Linkglide eBike specific drive train recently to specifically address the ability to shift quietly and smoothly under load. The cassettes are also claimed to last 3 times longer than the standard item which is a huge benefit if you are planning on riding a lot of kms.
Feel is a very personal thing. If you want the last word in shifting smoothness and silence then the Envolio CVT is impossible to beat, especially when paired with a Carbon Gates Belt Drive instead of chain.
More traditional riders will be familar with mechanical shifters from Shimano and SRAM.
Our personal favourites are the money-is-no-object Rohloff E-14 Speed eShift and the SRAM GX wireless derailleur set up. Both deliver shifts with 100% precision coupled with the added "racecar" feeling of the electronic servos slotting the gears into place. Very Nice!
Should I invest the extra money by going to an internal gear system?
Internal gears with a belt drive will add to your initial purchase cost. The extra cost however starts to make sense if one or more of these apply to you:
You are planning on riding more than 5,000km per year
Your riding might included rocky or wooded trails where a derailleur could get damaged or bent, or you are very remote and need low maintenance
You are riding terrain where you need a very big range of gears
You hate cleaning and lubricating chains (most ebikes with the high end internal drive trains will come with Gates Carbon Belt Drive)
You like the sound of a set once and forget gear system*
Your want a more user-friendly way to change gears
You love the sound of silent CVT shifting (Enviolo)
You always buy the best
And the one that gives us a kick, the auto downshift and machine gun fast shifts on Rohloff E-14 will will make you happy :)
Gearing and power efficiency
Most Adventure eBikes these days will come equipped with 500wh + and up to 1250wh batteries, providing a real world range of between 90km and 200km per charge. Therefore only the most adventurous or ambitious riders need be concerned about the efficiency of your drive train.
The following figures regarding efficiency were sourced from a Cycling About Magazine Lab Test.
- Shimano XT 11 or 12-speed drivetrain averaged out at: 95.1% efficient
- Rohloff : 94.5% efficient on average across 14 gears (Drivetrain loss of 11w @ 200w)
- Shimano Nexus 8: 90% efficient on average across 8 gears (Drivetrain loss of 20w @ 200w).
- Nuvinci 380: 83.5% efficient on average across the gear range (Drivetrain loss of 33w @ 200w).
In layman's terms what this means is the amount of power at your disposal on really steep hills. The lower the % the more the feeling of 'drag'. If you are running a high torque motor it won't come into play though unless you are a super adventurous rider who seeks out very steep loose terrain.
Ultimately it will be your tyre choice, aerodynamics and luggage that will have much bigger impact on your overall efficiency. If you are looking to justify a Rohloff upgrade though... ;-)
4. Frame and Bike Geometry
This is an area that can easily be overlooked, but arguably is one of the most important for your long-term ebike enjoyment and comfort.
When we talk about frame there is frame materials, frame construction, frame style and sizing to consider.
Why this matters?...Frame quality is one of the key differentiators between a comfortable ride or a bone shaker and a bike that can turn well and remain stable when rough.
It is a very technical area so we'll focus on the basics:
Ebike frames are generally made from either aluminium or carbon. Carbon is the more expensive however is lighter and more comfortable thanks to its shock absorbing characteristics.
Frame construction includes things such as how many pieces of the frame there are, how those pieces are forged together, the craftsmanship of the welding, the thickness of the frame tubing, the quality of alloy or carbon used, the quality of the paintwork. All these factors deliver a better quality ride and a more durable machine
For an overview of the different frame styles and choosing the right size see our frame style and sizing guide.
The diagram here shows most of the key measurements (excluding chainstay, and head and seat angles)
Stack Height (C)
This is the height as measured from the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube. The higher the stack measurement in mm the more upright the bike will be. This will generally mean less weight on your hands while riding. It will also mean less weight transfer on the front tire which can impact how the bike feels (less stability in steering).
The premium brands design and engineer for this though to ensure you still have excellent front stability and an upright ride position.
The headtube length is a key part of the stack measurement. A longer headtube will also effect how the bike rides as it will provide more damping of road and trail vibration (less important when the bike has front suspension).
This has a huge impact on your riding position. Too long and you'll be stretch out, too short and you'll feel cramped and your weight will be shifted towards the rear of the bike.
Wheel Base (F) and RC (Chainstay Length)
Wheelbase is proportional to bike stability and agility. A longer wheel base will give a more comfortable stable ride at the expense of some turning agility.
This becomes more important with eMTBs where the ability to loft the front wheel and change direction quickly offroad can be dialled into the bike with shorter chain stay lengths. For adventure and touring bikes a longer wheelbase is generally preferred.
5. Display, Cockpit and Controls
This refers to the display is where you can read bike data such as speed and the controls are how you operate the ebike.
Each brand tends to have its own set up and the display and controls is heavily dependent on which brand of motor that the ebike comes with. In many cases it is just what the bike comes with.
Where you need to make a firmer decision is where a number of options is available for the ebike control system, particularly with Bosch and more so now with Shimano and Mahle.
At a basic level you need to decide if you will be happy with a smaller minimalist control unit like the Bosch Purion or Intuvia 100 or many other systems, or a full colour, full function LCD system like the Bosch Nyon.
For Bosch-powered ebikes in particular you have the option to retrofit a different display if you want to change it (if the cockpit design and system allows it).
With an ebike there needs to be some physical device that allows you to control the ebike, for example change your power levels.
Some manufacturers have companion apps that can be installed on your smart phone. These allow your smart phone to perform some of the functions of more expensive factory installed displays. Key functions include navigation and route planning, customisation of ride modes and integration with fitness apps such as Strava and Apple Health.
6. Contact Points - Handlebars, Saddle etc
This refers to all the contact points between you and your eBike - handlebars, stem (together often referred to as cockpit), grips, saddle and pedals.
Why this matters?...This contributes hugely to comfort and also to how your bike handles.
The good news from a buyers perspective is that all of these things can be changed relatively quickly and easily.
You should expect as part of your buying process that your bike store listens to your requirements and fits you correctly so you start life with a bike that is ready to go Day 1 without too many post-sale changes.
However you should also expect to make a few tweaks in those first few weeks as you and your ebike get to know each other better.
When it comes to handlebars, there are three key considerations (four if you included material).
For smaller riders its not uncommon to trim bar widths to better match shoulder widths.
Otherwise, you have plenty of options with handlebars for getting the right one for you eg. you may want to swap out a factory bar for one with more rise or sweep if you need to keep your neck more upright, or take some weight of your hands.
On the materials front, if you're not on a budget a carbon handlebar will provide more damping than an alloy bar. This is more relevant on lighter weight ebikes or ebikes running a rigid front fork.
We're big fans of the German-made Ergon range of grips.
They offer two sizes to match your grip size, and the GP series do a great job of taking pressure off your ulna nerve, which reduces the risk of numbness on longer rides.
We also recommend the GP5 models if you're planning on some really long days in the saddle.
These will give more options for hand positions on longer rides.
Saddles and saddle fitting and comfort is a huge topic. We'll cover the basics here.
- If you already have a favourite saddle. Use that.
- The premium manufacturers match their saddles to the intended riding position for each of their ebike models. Selle Royal and Selle SMP from Italy are often used as they make great saddles. Give the factory saddle a try for the first few rides as least before thinking about swapping out.
- Wear the right clothing.
If you are still concerned about saddle comfort you can explore other options that vary the nose length and width to more closley match your physique. You can also look at saddles with a cut out designed to reduce pressure in sensitive areas.
Experienced riders will swap across their existing pedals. Others might be considering an SPD pedal for greater pedalling efficiency, especially when climbing. If you think you'll be spending a fair bit of time off the bike during your ride/tour then you need to consider how comfortable the specific shoes will be off the bike.
If riding comfort is a top priority for you, you can check out our tips on how to improve the comfort of your ebike.
Budget, comfort and terrain are key considerations when making the decision between whether you want suspension, be it front only or dual suspension.
Let's tackle budget first. Adding a rear suspension linkage and shock, obviously increases the production cost and the final RRP.
This will cost upwards of $1,000 in RRP. In return you will definitely have a more comfortable eBike, especially in rough terrain. You'll also gain some extra traction, especially if you're climbing or descending in rough or loose conditions.
If you're a less experienced rider it will forgive clumsy riding offroad. If you're experienced you'll be able to carry more speed descending and eek out the last bit of traction climbing offroad.
If you are budget constrained or don't want the extra maintenance of full suspension you could consider a high quality suspension seat post. It won't deliver extra traction, but will add comfort on rougher roads and trails.
8. Braking Systems
The majority of modern Adventure ebikes will come equipped with front and rear hydraulic disc brakes as standard.
Depending on your riding background you may already have experience and a preference for a specific brake brand. e.g. Shimano or SRAM.
We can break down (excuse the pun) some of the key areas of braking that might help you narrow down your choice of bike, or the braking system you might want to change to.
Top tip: Brakes can be changed or upgraded at any time.
180mm rotors are the most common size in this category. Some manufacturers may use a 180mm front/160mm rear combination to save a bit of weight and reduce the risk of rear wheel lock ups.
If you're a heavier rider 95kg plus and or are planning or riding with luggage or a trailer it's worth considering a 203mm front rotor upgrade. You will need to make sure the fork is rated to cope with the extra braking force and you will need to purchase a brake adapter mount to allow for the extra rotor clearance needed.
Both Shimano and Magura have extra heavy duty options with 220mm rotors, which added an extra 10% stopping power over the 203mm previous models.
Top tip: For ebikes the best upgrades are bigger rotors to keep heat down
Single piston callipers will be adequate for lighter riders (under 95kg) and those living in flatter areas or rolling hills. Many premium ebikes come with twin pistons.
Again if you know you'll be riding loaded up and in steep terrain a 4 piston brake calliper on the front brake will provide a significant improvement in stopping power and much better heat management.
There is a slight trade off in terms of extra servicing and maintenance cost or parts, however brakes and tyres are not an area that should not be compromised on.
Brake pads - bedding in
With all disc brake pads there is a specific bedding in procedure to make sure you get the best out of your brakes from day 1. Each manufacturer will have a specific procedure, but in general the initial bed-in requires 6 or 7 repeated hard stops from a reasonable speed (20kph+).
Magura (a German brake manufacturer) whose brakes feature on the majority of the Riese Und Muller range of eBikes recommend 30 repeated stops from 30 kph!
A key consideration for new riders or riders new to disc brakes is to make sure the brakes are applied with a firm and progressive squeeze of the lever(s).
Top tip: Avoid gently dragging a rear brake down a hill. This is the fastest way to "glaze" or polish your brake pads, which will dramatically reduce their performance and results in an awful brake squeal.
Fluid, bleeding and maintenance requirements
If you're not going to service your new Adventure ebike yourself, bleeding and maintenance might not be a big factor in your selection criteria.
A brake bleed every 12 months is required as a minimum.
Shimano, Magura and Tektro use mineral oil. Mineral oil is quite user friendly, although you need to be careful not to contaminate your pads.
SRAM differs from other manufacturers as it specifies DOT 5.1 or 4.0 brake fluid for its brake. The drawback of DOT5.1 is it's a hazardous material, so you may need to wear hand and eye protection when using it. Also if it gets on your frame it will eat through your paint very quickly.
Servicing and Maintenance Considerations
If you're an experienced rider or mechanic you can skip this section. Other than looking at cable routing, clean cockpits and the specialist tools / fluids required for brake bleeding, chain ring removal etc. Some software updates may also require a trip to an approved service centre.
If you are supporting your local bike shop (hopefully that's us at Electric Bikes Brisbane) and asking them to maintain and service your ebike here are the main considerations:
- Full suspension is more expensive to maintain due to the life span of the linkage bearings
- Internal gearing and belt drives will start to payback on consumables, once your annual Kms exceed 5,000 per year
- Air suspension will require additional servicing if you want to prolong its life and keep it performing as it should. Fox Factory Australia recommend a full service annually, or every 125 hours of riding
If you're an experienced rider who's done a lot of road riding in the past then a Gravel eBike might be on your list. With their sporty, low ride position we don't generally recommend these bikes for less experienced riders.
Gravel ebikes tend to be a lot lighter and in the right hands a super fast way of covering mixed terrain quickly. The "e-system" is selected to enhance that experience as these are generally less powerful systems like Mahle, paired with smaller lightweight batteries.
Almost all will offer the option to add a "piggy back" or range extender battery pack. This usually takes the place of one of your water bottles and will give you a 50-100% increase in range.
Having power won't change the fact though that you are riding on narrower tyres, with narrow drop bars, and generally a less comfortable riding position why is why they are often a choice for more experienced riders.
The key benefit of gravel ebikes is their pedalling efficiency and transfer of your own power. Very much a 'normal' riding experience except the e-system offers you more endurance.
How Much Do Gravel EBikes Weigh?
Typical weights range from 12kg to 16kg. Higher end models will use carbon frame, forks and bars and offer carbon tubeless wheelsets to further reduce weight and rotating mass.
What are My Luggage Options?
Some come with mount points for a rear and/or front rack. Some don't.
If you opt for a carbon frame, luggage will generally be restricted to frame bags, tail packs and handle bar bags, as the frames often don't have lugs for seat stay or fork mounted racks.
Recommended First Gravel Ride
If you're ambitious, and have got a reasonable level of bike fitness, you could give the BVRT a crack in either 1 or 2 days. It's just over 160kms, and relatively flat, so you can take advantage of the faster rolling pace that a gravel eBike will give you.
Looking for ride inspiration
There are some great riding locations all within a couple of hours of Brisbane. Our Rail Trail Guide covers rides close to Brisbane.
If you are planning a multi-day adventure then check out our Touring Tips from eBike Pros and see some of the great rides that are on offer here in Queensland and the other states in our EBike Rides and Tours section.
Want some help choosing an adventure ebike?
If you've got this far and you've got "riders block" and you need some help, you can use our handy EBikefinder tool. Alternatively if you'd like to chat to one of experts, you can click here to book a time.