Thursday, January 5, 2017

Death Valley By Ebike- If We Can Do It, You Can Too

I've been organizing and leading group e-bike rides for the past two years as a way to help people of all abilities put the ebikes they buy from us or elsewhere to good use. 2016 was a very busy year for our riders and our groups have been growing as e-bikes become more popular. We had so many adventures and covered so many miles in 2016 both off-road and on-road. It was a great year! We road along the American River outside Sacramento. We road around the entire Lake Tahoe as well as the Flume Trail. We ran a 1 hour Pedelec Cycle Track race in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and we explored the lost back country trails of Henry Coe State Park and explored Monterrey's 17 Mile Drive by e-bike, just to name a few of our adventures. Visit our Meet-up page to see all the past and future rides.

For the last ride of 2016, we wanted to do something big and special to finish off the New Year and so Death Valley was thrown on the calendar and preparations were made to spend 6 days in the desert over the Christmas Holiday riding e-bikes and exploring. I knew we'd end up being a small group because people have commitments around this time of year, so we had 5 RSVPs and 3 riders showed up. Not bad, considering. Our larger group rides usually see up to 15 riders.

The plan was to meet at Stovepipe Wells, set up camp, get acclimated and start exploring, with multiple rides leaving from from here that were between 20 and 60 miles round trip. This was the place for us to charge our batteries over night and Stovepipe is one of the main villages in the park with a range of camp sites, a hotel, restaurant, gas depot and store.



Going in Winter meant temperatures were cool (i.e. not the 130 degrees the place gets in summer), but it also meant that we could see rain. On our way many of the passes were lined with snow but when we got to Death Valley proper the skies were blue and the weather was in the mid fifties.

There's nothing more liberating when traveling than arriving at your destination by car or plane and not having to step foot in a car for the duration of your stay. Getting on your bike in a strange new place gives you a unique and up-close perspective that you can't get in a car or bus and riding an e-bike makes that experience all the more pleasureable. You're exposed to the world and therefore you are open to the experiences of this new environment in the best of ways.



Day 1, while we waited for one of the riders to arrive and meet us, we road out to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes just a few miles from Stovepipe on our Haibike SDURO Cross SM and Hardseven SM bikes. The paved roads in the park are all well maintained and though there's not much shoulder, car traffic is scarce and well behaved in the park. With our e-bikes we could avoid the hunt for parking and go straight to the dunes. This is where George Lucas shot many of the scenes from Star Wars A New Hope. We hiked around the dunes and took photos and rested on the soft sand.


Once we were sure there were no Sand Crawlers or Storm Troopers on our tail, we got back on our bikes and headed to Stovepipe for lunch before exploring the dirt road heading towards Marble Canyon. The ride out to Marble Canyon is only 9 miles but it's on a tough desert dirt road with annoying tractor grates usually, thick sand often and at one point a small creek running in the road that creates deep mud. We passed two cars that were stuck in this stuff and were happy to be on our Haibike e-bikes since we could go around the mud river with ease and get back on the trail when it dried out. Also, any time we hit a patch of deep sand the power of the Yamaha motor easily kept up the momentum and got us through it with a fun little wobble. Without our e-bikes this ride would have been a lot more difficult. As it was, we both got tired of the tractor grating and turned back before getting to the Canyon, happy to have got as far as we did and enjoying being in the middle of the desert.



The next day we drove out to Furnace Creek to ride to Golden Canyon, Artist's Drive and Artist's Pallet and Badwater. Artist's Drive is a short back-canyon climb through colorful mountains and beautiful curved roads that wind and dip through the terrain.


Our e-bikes allowed us to keep up the pace as we spied so many fantastic sights along this ride. Otherworldly vistas, wonderful side hikes and painter's canvas perfect vistas line every foot of this road as you climb and the other half of the reward is a fast twisty downhill flight back down to the valley floor which is below sea level.


We paced ourselves for a calm ride. We are e-bikers. It's not a race. It's as much a personal challenge as it is a test of the technology we are riding on. The beauty of the ride is what it's all about and so we made sure to stop and take pictures whenever and where ever we liked.

 If we can do it, you can do it.. Though I like a challenge, I also like to take it easy and let the e-bike do a lot of the work. Out here in the desert with no services around, it was critical we all watched our battery life and watches as we trekked up the mountainside, keeping mind of where we were along the route. We keep it in Eco mode most of the way to maximize range, using the higher powers only when necessary. On flat terrain, we turn the power off completely to enjoy the silence and save battery.


On our final day before heading further east, our goal was to do a loop around Titus Canyon, head up Daylight Pass Road, explore Rhyolite ghost town and then head down through the Canyon and back. The bike I road was a Haibike SDURO Cross SM, which is Haibike's budget price bike made for on and off-road riding. It's got the smooth Yamaha motor and what I like most about it is its reliability. I know when I get on this bike that it's going to work flawlessly and I know that it will give me a predictable good range that will take me where I want to go.

I outfitted the bike with a full set of THULE panniers in the back and the Pack N Pedal front bag system which is perfect for longer touring. For this longer ride, I carried a second Yamaha battery, a spare jacket, spare tubes and a pump, tools, lots of water, chargers for the phone, bike locks, lights and a few other stuff.

Lydia rode her Haibike Hardseven SM with no spare battery (she was the bravest of us all) and Steven was on his iZIP Peak. Steven was carrying 2 extra batteries and a lot of stuff too.


We got a late start and with two of us fighting the tail end of colds, this was a tough ride, with or without our motors. It's a gradual climb straight up the mountain and not too strenuous but long and constant and when you finally turn around after 15 miles you see the rewarding view behind you.



We arrived to Daylight Pass just as the sun was about to set and at 4300 feet agreed we'd have to ride down Titus Canyon next year, that Daylight Pass was our turn around point and we were all happy with this accomplishment.

The ride back down the mountain was a fun, long, fast and wild ride down the mountain - the kind you dream about as a kid - which makes you feel like you're in flight. No motor. No brakes. No cars. Just you, the wind and the setting sun over the valley letting gravity and the road take you home.


As a first time to Death Valley, we only scratched the surface and so we'll be back, but our next stop was Tecopa Hot Springs where we set up a new base at this funky little oasis in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

The first thing we found was the secret place where the actual hot springs were located. It turned out we had stopped right in front of them on the way in to town, but when a funky New York writer came out of the Bistro restaurant and told us all about the actual hot springs down the road, Lydia and I quickly got flashlights and headed out to explore.


For such a small town in the middle of nowhere, it was fantastic to see this BIKE LANE sign and a great bike lane for much of the 20 miles round trip to China Date Ranch Farm & Bakery.


For our last day in the desert and New Year Day, we road to Ash Meadows just outside of Death Valley Junction - a living ghost town with a very interesting hotel, opera house and cafe. The night before we experienced a New Year's ballet show in the famous Opera House and the weather was perfect for a long flat ride across the Mojave desert in search of the the endangered pupfish.

The pupfish is a little blue fish that only lives in this area, likes warm spring water and is on the verge of extinction. We looked for the fish at 2 other spots in Death Valley but saw none, so this would be our last chance to spot this cute little desert fish.


The road ride from Death Valley Junction to Ash Meadows gave us a tail wind that complimented the welcoming scenery. It's 10 miles on road and the last part is up a hill a bit and then we turn left down a well maintained dirt road for another 7 miles to the the points of interest.

Riding miles upon miles in the desert is an experience you'll have to try on your own. With just you and the desert on an endless horizon, you come to appreciate the vast silence, the immense terrain and sky all around you and you come to appreciate your small place in the world. It's easy to imagine you are in the middle of nowhere because you don't have the usual reference points to go by. You are not in your domain. The dirt roads around Ash Meadows are surrounded by all kinds of abundance of life and beauty though and it's impossible to absorb it all.


At Devil's Hole there was no seeing pupfish because the area is fenced off for research purposes. The visitor's center here is brand new and state of the art and very helpful. A helpful ranger pointed us to the place we're guaranteed to see the fish and sure enough when we arrived at the spot they were every where.

Our Pupfish hunt now completed, we mounted up and headed back to Death Valley Junction with a fantastic BLT lunch on every one's mind at the Amargosa Cafe attached to the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House.

The 20 mile ride back was very different than the ride to the park and here's where the benefit of our e-bikes really kicked in. Though the road was flat, the tail wind that we had going out - that allowed us to ride in Eco mode - was now a strong head wind coming in. I could see what looked like dust devils near our final destination and the last thing I wanted to do was to ride straight into some kind of dust storm. To keep up the pace, all of us had to ride in standard or high power modes and the Haibikes and iZIP were very helpful. Steven ran out of battery just before getting to the Cafe and Lydia and I both made it back with power to spare.

Death Valley is a very rideable National Park. It's huge it has basic services to use as a base and the park's wide open spaces, smooth roads and well marked off-road trails make it ideal for a an e-bike ride if you have the right stuff. E-bikes will help you experience the park in ways that a car or regular bike can't. Still, even with an e-bike, Death Valley creates a number of challenges that make riding in the desert a true adventure.

We've done a lot of good rides over the years on our e-bikes. At the end of it all, words can't do the experience or place justice. There's no place like Death Valley and there's nothing like riding through it and around it on your e-bike. We fell in love with Death Valley and we'll be doing another ride next year.  If we can do it, you can do it. Go there, experience it for your self. Come with us next year when we'll be doing it again. Check out our videos on our YouTube page to see more.







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