The Electric Century: Riding 100 Miles on an E-Bike
Electric bike batteries are getting stronger, but can they handle two back-to-back 100-mile rides?
We asked two Cascade Board members who are long-range e-bike riders for tips on pedaling from Seattle to Portland with an electric boost.
Cascade allows Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on STP, but Class 3 e-bikes are prohibited due to state law that forbids them on multi-use trails.
At 206 miles in length, the Kaiser Permanente Seattle to Portland Presented by Alaska Airlines (STP) is a long ride where many participants might find themselves dreaming of an electric boost.
Cascade Bicycle Club supports electric bikes and allows them on all of its rides, and a growing number of participants are pedaling e-bikes on our shorter rides and Tour Lites that cover 50 miles or less per day. That got us wondering: what’s it like to ride an e-bike on our famed STP?
Most people ride STP in two days, about 100 miles per day. That’s about the maximum range for premium electric road bikes if riders use their battery sparingly, saving it just for the hills and turning it off on flats and descents, and spinning efficiently.
The other alternative for riding 100 miles by e-bike is to pack a second, or even a third, spare battery to swap in when the first runs dry. But spare batteries are heavy, which increases the weight of your bike and requires the use of a rack or panniers.
While riding 100 miles per day on an e-bike is a stretch, more people are doing it every year. We are entering the era of the Electric Century.
That said, riding a century with an electric boost still requires a high level of fitness and training. It also requires planning and mechanical skills. Fixing a flat or doing roadside repairs is more difficult because e-bikes are heavier, and their electronics may require special tools or knowledge. In short, you can’t just jump off the couch and go for a 100-mile ride just because you own an e-bike.
Kermit and Gabe’s Electric Century Tips
For advice, we turned to Gabe Castillo and Kermit Williams, both members of the Cascade Board of Directors, who have done STP and 100-mile-plus rides on high-end electric bikes. While not everyone can afford a high-end e-bike, these models are best for longer distance rides. The more accessibly-priced Rad Power Bikes RadMission or RadCity have advertised ranges of up to 45 miles, though these commuter models are heavier and built for comfort and durability and thus would require more effort to pedal without assistance.
Castillo did STP by e-bike in 2018 and 2019, riding his Giant Quick-e and carrying a spare battery. Giant says the Quick-e, at 52 pounds, has a range of 60-plus miles per charge, which is on the high end for e-bikes. Mileage per charge, however, varies greatly depending on the terrain, the weight of the rider and their gear, and how much pedal assist you use.
“To maximize range, you have to pay attention to ‘battery management,’” Castillo says.
That means setting the assist at its lowest level, turning it off on downhill stretches or flats when it’s possible to maintain momentum by spinning efficiently, and saving the battery for uphill stretches or when pedaling into a headwind.
“I was able to get roughly 80 to 85 miles of range per charge from each battery, and because my range from a single charge was so high, I didn’t have to ride at the lowest assist mode all the time,” Castillo says. “But not all e-bikes are the same–especially true when it comes to range.”
Castillo has since bought a new, lighter e-bike that he plans to ride in STP 2022: a 32-pound Specialized Creo SL, plus a spare battery. “The per-charge range isn’t as great as the Giant Quick-e, so my battery management will have to be even more economical.”
Gabe made it to the top!
Castillo has ridden STP 23 times, 21 times on a non-electric bike. “I found that riding an e-bike in 2018 and 2019, I was able to really enjoy the ride more.”
What about charging up? Not really an option for one-day riders, as fully recharging an empty battery takes three hours or more. For two-day riders, however, filling up the battery overnight during the layover at the halfway point in Centralia or Napavine is a viable solution.
Castillo typically stays overnight at Napavine Elementary School at mile 115. Along with Napaville, Cascade offers overnight camping spots in Centralia on the campus of Centralia Community College. Some riders also choose to rent hotel rooms–making it easy to recharge.
Napavine Elementary opens up its classrooms for riders to sleep in “so there are plenty of plugs. I would guess there are more than 10 outlets per classroom, and if you stay in the science lab you’ll have 20-plus outlets,” Castillo says.
Don’t forget to pack your charger!
Castillo is considering doing STP in one day this year, which will require even more battery management–and more training. “Even on an e-bike, you still need to train.”
Castillo has also ridden RSVP by e-bike, and in 2020 he completed Ride the Hurricane, pedaling 40 miles uphill from sea level in Port Angeles to 5,624 at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center in Olympic National Park.
Kermit Gets Electrified
For his part, Williams expects to ride STP this July on his Pinarello Dyodo e-gravel bike. He bought the Dyodo, which weighs 27 pounds, in late 2019 just before the pandemic began. “I rode it exactly four times before lockdown in 2020.”
Williams rode a virtual STP in 2021 on his e-bike when the ride was canceled. “During the pandemic this was my training bike of choice. It's heavier and slower than my road bike, so when I rode without assistance with my wife we were more evenly matched,” Williams says.
Kermit enjoys an electric boost on a hill climb.
After getting used to the fit of the Dyodo, Williams began training solo on the e-bike “since I could choose whether or not to use the electric assist. This was especially useful in building my fitness since I tried taking on much more ambitious climbs. It also taught me about battery management.”
The Dyodo uses a hub motor from Ebikemotion, which Williams says gets about 70 miles of range on flat roads when using the lowest level of assist.
“Riding this e-bike on the STP route in 2021 was all about battery management,” Williams says. He used the pedal assist only on climbs. “I made it to Napavine (mile 115) with about 25 percent left on the battery.”
Williams chose not to bring the range extender battery for his Dyodo because it weighs six pounds and he wanted to ride light. He says it takes about three hours to charge his battery. That would make it easy to charge overnight on a two-day STP.
Last year, Williams rode his e-bike on Cascade’s R2B2, or the Ride from Redmond to Bellingham and Back, which replaced the Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party (RSVP) due to the closure of the Canadian border. R2B2 is a two-day ride with about 100 miles of pedaling each day.
“I really liked working less, breathing easier, talking more, and appreciating the experience,” Williams says of his R2B2 experience. He used the electric assist sparingly for the first 75 miles, then turned up the power to finish the last 25 miles strongly.
Riding STP by E-Bike
Thinking about riding STP by e-bike? The first thing you need to know is that only Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes are allowed due to a state provision that prohibits Class 3 e-bikes on multi-use trails.
Secondly, make sure your e-bike is appropriate for such a long distance. Train hard, learn how to manage your battery life, do some extra-long rides to determine how many miles you can get from a charge. Ride your e-bike with the battery turned off so you know what it’s like to pedal a heavy bike whose battery has gone dead.
Most of all, be ready to fix your e-bike if it breaks down, as Cascade’s volunteer mechanics don’t have e-bike specific parts or knowledge of all electric motor systems. Be self-sufficient, and have a backup plan.
Electric bike technologies and batteries are improving, and they will get better, allowing more folks to tackle longer and longer rides. We have entered the era of the Electric Century.