An Electric Huan Dao, Part 1

This is Part 1 of a three part series about cycle touring around Taiwan. Part 2 covers general cycling in Taiwan. Part 3 is about our day-by-day stats.

Touring Taiwan on Karmic Bikes

Ever since I introduced my wife to cycling, she’s always wanted to do a multi-day tour, kicking around ideas of biking across the USA or other exotic places. In November 2017, we finally got our chance and took a trip to Taiwan to check out their Cycling Route Number 1, a round-the-island journey (or “huan dao”) on two wheels.

The crew.

Once word of our plan got out, a family friend volunteered to help lead us around. Taking advantage of being CTO of an electric bike startup, we got two Karmic Kobens (Eddy Current Orange and Forest Spark Green) and a Koben S (Electron Blue) delivered to our base in Taipei on the north point of the island, fresh from our factory which is also in Taiwan. Having electric bikes was key as neither my wife nor I had trained at all and our last time even on a bike was a few months prior. Our tour guide was a 70 year old energetic guy, and he was excited to try out the new toys too.

We let our tour guide ride the Koben S with only a beam rack added on. On the two Kobens, we swapped the WTB Ranger Plus tires out to road-ready Maxxis Detonator 27.5 x 1.50’s sacrificing some comfort for a bit more range. We added Topeak Super Tourist DX racks to manage our panniers which would carry our stuff, including chargers and spare batteries. My wife and I brought our own saddles and pedals from home for a little more comfort. We didn’t splurge on fenders although a couple wet days later made us wish we did. We added lights, just in case as well. The Koben S comes stock with fenders and integrated lights. The Medium size bikes came with bottle mounts on the seat tube, but could only fit a small Karmic water bottle (22 oz) that still had to stick out to the side. The small frame doesn’t have enough room for bottle mounts so we added a handlebar mounted one instead.

The Karmic e-bike fleet, ready to go!

Since our tour guide was from Hualien on the east side of the island, we went down that side first in the clockwise direction. This also meant tackling the biggest hills in the first few days which is why most of the tourism material recommends going counter-clockwise so you can build up endurance. I think you build up fatigue that way, so you might as well do the hills while you’re fresh. Plus it was a good way to take advantage of these Karmics right away.

On Stage 1, there were two major climbs totaling over 4,500 ft of elevation gain. Stage 2 was slightly worse at over 7,600 ft of total climbing. The payoff was that these days offered some of the most spectacular views of the east coast with cliffs diving into the ocean and mountains touching the skies. The Karmic’s did not disappoint, powering us through the climbs at whatever effort we wanted to give. We only had two spare batteries however, meaning my wife and our tour guide got an extra pack and I had to pedal a bit more, even though I was also the one carrying the batteries (and extra weight) in my panniers. My wife calls it “ego.”

Karmic Kobens at the intersection of tectonic plates and along the east coast.

Spare batteries did alleviate any range anxiety during the tour. However, we didn’t go crazy with the assist either. Even on the climbs, typically assist level 3 or 4 (out of 5) was sufficient albeit slow. Without spares, there were a few public spots to recharge: train stations and police stations in particular although it could be difficult to find an outlet at a train station. We usually stopped to eat at convenience stores but never asked to borrow an outlet.

We used the 43V 11.4Ah 490.2Wh battery packs to start each day. Even though we didn’t run them all the way down each time, extrapolating, my wife averaged over 66 miles for that pack on the 5 hillier stages (>4,500 ft of climbing) and 101 miles for the 3 flatter stages (<3,000 ft of climbing). The latter number is slightly skewed by the pseudo rest day where we spun around for 41 miles barely using assist through towns meeting friends. Extrapolating my usage, I average 145 miles per pack in the hills and 270 miles per pack in the flats, although that would include a decent number of miles without using assist at all (“ego”, remember?). The spare batteries were 43V 10.4Ah 447.2Wh and never saw more than 40 miles, rarely dipping below 50% state of charge.

The upshot of my wife’s more liberal assist usage is we stuck closer together than we typically do on analog bikes. She also didn’t complain about burning quads, whereas mine were sore from the get go. There were plenty of other things for her to complain about though. Our tour guide was on the speedier Koben S (maximum 28 mph vs 20 mph), so he ended up waiting for us on a number of occasions, especially combined with his more aggressive riding through the cities.

Our typical day saw us depart between 8–9am in the morning, make 2 or 3 snack/potty/lunch stops, and finish up between 4–5pm before it got too dark. We averaged 81.25 miles per day, including the 41 mile easy day. We checked in to whatever hotel we could find (we never made a reservation other than a friend generously booking a hotel for us one night) and plugged in the spare batteries while we got cleaned up. They would be fully charged before we went to bed so we could swap the chargers over to the main batteries and fall asleep to the gentle lullaby of whirring fans. In some hotels, I was seriously worried we were going to blow a fuse, but thankfully that never occurred.

One charger on the left with two batteries and two in front of the TV with three. Electric overload!

Overall, the tour was really fun and I’m sure we would have been plenty more sore if we didn’t have the e-bikes given our lack of training. The stock design is pretty sufficient and minimal accessories are needed to get going. In addition, the assist allowed us to personalize our efforts while still sticking together. Given the spare batteries, there was never a worry of running out of assist and we ended up being daylight limited anyway. Our tour guide was excited to show off the e-bikes to all of his buddies and even our parents and friends are entertaining the thought of doing something crazy like this too!