There are two basic classifications that divide all eBikes, pedal assist where the motor assists the peddler and power on demand where the motor is activated by a throttle. Some bikes have one or the other characteristic and some have both.
eBikes are certainly here to stay and provide the steelheader an excellent way to increase their mobility and access areas that were impossible on foot or solo. You can also employ an eBike as a spotting vehicle which enables solo floats and eliminates the need for a second vehicle or a spotting service.
One of the latest trends in the U.S. is the increased sale and use of bikes and in particular eBikes. Invented in the late 1800s, eBikes are widely popular in China (fleet of over 150 million) and the Netherlands (fleet of 17 million) and are a great way to get around in today's congested cities while being “green” and trendy. Turns out the fat tire variety of eBike is an excellent way to get more mobile while steelhead fishing. And when you are not using it for steelheading, it is a great way to get around town and get some exercise. This article will explain the basics of eBikes and how to utilize them to increase your mobility while steelheading.
There are two basic classifications that divide all eBikes, pedal assist where the motor assists the peddler and power on demand where the motor is activated by a throttle. Some bikes have one or the other characteristic and some have both. For the purposes of steelhead fishing you want a bike that has both power on demand and pedal assist. This will allow you to rest and still move when you are climbing out of a steep valley and then pedal to increase your range when you get to flatter terrain.
When trying to decide which eBike to get for steelheading you should consider cost, range, suspension availability and type, weight, folding feature for transporting, top speed with throttle wide open, step over height, and tire size and type. Cost for eBikes that can be used for steelheading vary wildly from just under a grand to near 10 grand! Basically, as the price goes up the motor size, suspension availability and type, brake style, seat, tires, wheels, and included add on features all increase. One thing to remember when looking at a high priced eBike is the fact that it will be chained and unguarded for most of the day so in my opinion you are better off getting an entry level bike with 2 really good keyed 6-foot cable locks.
Step over height refers to the height from the cross bar to ground and is important for mounting and dismounting the bike. All the strategies described in this article have you eBike my waders on so chose a bike that has a lower step over height to make mounting and dismounting a breeze with the extra bulk. Range reported is a big deal when eBike steelheading. You need to understand that the range reported is based on optimum conditions with a new, fully charged battery, no wind, flat land, 72 degrees, new perfectly inflated tires, and all of these never occur during eBike steelhead adventures. Climbing steep hills that have grade warnings for trucks will eat battery power as will riding on sand or loose gravel.
Suspensions also add cost and mass. Some fat tire eBikes do not have a suspension, some have a front only, and high-end bikes have both. The fat tire will dampen the beat down from the road irregularities on the larger tire sizes, but this effect is less on a smaller size tires. The trade off when looking at tire size and suspension is cost and weight. You need the right ride for your conditions at the lowest weight and cost. The reason weight matter is eBikes are heavy. The eBikes that are useful for steelheading start at around 65 pounds and go up from there. If you “mod” your bike you are adding weight in exchange for a feature like a mirror for safety or a rack for storage. You also increase the size of your bike when you mod it so make sure you can actually transport your modified bike. I put mine in the back of my pick up for transporting. There are many types of carriers available but make sure you get one that is rated for eBikes due to their weight.
While there are studies that suggest an eBike is as safe as a traditional bike in my opinion this is not true. They are more dangerous simply because the average person can go faster on an eBike than a regular bike plus the eBike weighs more so you have more momentum at the same speed. These two factors increase the potential for an injury causing accident. My eBike goes the max allowed in the U.S.—20 mph full throttle with no peddling and around 28 mph in top gear with the pedal assist on high—on flat ground with no wind. I have gone way faster biking down valley roads to rivers.
Twenty-one states require you to wear a helmet when using a traditional bike and hundreds of studies and stories exist on the lifesaving properties of a good helmet so based on this evidence you should always wear a helmet. I also recommend that you get familiar with your eBike prior to using it for steelhead. This means that you actually read the entire manual and go out and ride multiple times in conditions similar to the ones you plan on seeing when you use the eBike for steelheading.
You can add items that make your bike more useful for safe if you wish. The
add ons are referred to as mods and the practice is referred to as modding. Popular eBike mods include lights, thumb throttles, mirror(s), extra batteries to increase range, upgraded components like brakes or tires, and baskets. Each mod adds weight, cost, and bulk which impact portability so be careful when modding your steelhead-ing eBike. The only eBike mods I would personally consider on a steelhead eBike are a thumb throttle, LH mirror, and a rear basket. The mirror is for safety and worth the bulk, and the basket lets you store your waders , tackle, lunch box, or beverage of choice. In my opinion the best way to find out about eBike mods is to join a Facebook group that supports the brand of eBike you purchased, it will be a real time and money saver!
In this section we will look at three eBike strategies for steelhead fishing. Keep in mind local trespass laws may impact your ability to apply one or more of these methods. Always get permission when accessing private property.
The first eBike strategy we will explore is the solo float or single vehicle float. This is my favorite way to use an eBike. This method has allowed me to fish when my buddies are not available or fish stretches/rivers I don’t care to share.
The first eBike strategy we will explore is the solo float or single vehicle float. This is my favorite way to use an eBike. This method has allowed me to fish when my buddies are not available or fish stretches/rivers I don’t care to share. You can also save gas and go green by using one vehicle when you float with a partner or two. It has also enabled me to fish stretches and rivers that I can no longer survive on a peddle bike and eliminated the hassle and cost of a spotting service. The biggest advantage is it opened up water I dreamed of fishing solo but could not because of the terrain. Basically, for me it saves money and expanded the amount of solo floats I can execute. What a game changer!
This strategy employs a non-powered boat like a drift boat, pram, kayak, pontoon, or canoe and utilizes the current to move the angler hole to hole on the boat of choice. The eBike is used to spot the transport vehicle at the takeout location for the float during the beginning of the fishing day.
The eBike stays locked at the upper access site all day so use the following rules of thumb when considering your eBike and boat locking strategy. First, never leave your key in your eBike. Second, if there is some public structure like a bike rack or guard rails out in the open use this as thieves are unwilling to destroy public property in plain view. If you are floating a remote stretch of river it may pay to stash or hide the eBike or boat and lock it to the biggest tree you can find. I also recommend that you lock your bike while transporting especially if you are making a stop or two. I lock mine to a pickup bed loop. I use Velcro to hold my oar and rods to the cross member of the eBike as a means of transporting these items. I typically lock up my cooler with the boat.
The second eBike strategy we will explore is the solo wade strategy. In this strategy you use the eBike to spot your ride. I like to wade upstream from the downstream access to the upper access. I leave my vehicle at the upper access and use my eBike to transport me and my gear to the lower access. I use cheap velcro straps to old my wading staff and rods to the bike cross member during riding. I then wade upstream to my vehicle, drive down to the lower access to retrieve my eBike and then drive home.
The third eBike strategy we will explore is the valley diving solo wade. In this method the eBike is used to get the angler from a remote access to the stream access and back. The angler locks the bike at the access and wades upstream, then walks back to the eBike and rides out to the vehicle. I use this often when there is a single difficult to reach river access spot which is too far to float or wade. The other time I use this method is when there are no park-ing signs at a public access bridge. This method has been used by me personally to get to some of my favorite low-pressure steelhead spots.
The last eBike strategy we will explore is hole hopping. This method requires a bike path or road next to the river so the applications are limited. In this scenario the eBike is used to get the angler from hole to hole and it requires a bike path or road with public access that parallels the river. You have to know the river well to execute this method as you need to know where the best places are to stop and fish are located. I know several super savvy local anglers that use this method on high pressured local rivers with bike paths and they do well. It is pretty easy to stay in front of boats or other anglers on foot when you employ this method. You can also bail on a non-productive stretch and easily move to another. The downside is you are constantly lock and unlocking your bike, but it is a super effective approach and often times worth the effort.
eBikes are certainly here to stay and provide the steelheader an excellent way to increase their mobility and access areas that were impossible on foot or solo. You can also employ an eBike as a spotting vehicle which enables solo floats and eliminates the need for a second vehicle or a spotting service. With the increased competition in the eBike industry the prices are coming down so now is a good time to make a purchase. Make sure to consider where and how you plan on using the bike and let this guide your eBike selection decision and go out and enjoy increased mobility while steelhead fishing.