E-Bike Charging in a Motorhome


exploring mountains on an ebike

Bringing your electric bike along on your next big road adventure is a great idea! You have all the right gear, you’ve loaded up the motorhome, you’ve got some cooler bags to keep the beers cold, you’ve figured out how to carry your e-bike in your car, perhaps you even can combine your biking adventure with a round of golf – just one tricky question remains – how on earth can you charge your e-bike when you’re off in the wilds, off-grid, far away from civilization?

In summary:

  • Ask nicely in a local pub, hotel, or restaurant
  • A small portable generator
  • Use solar panels with an inverter
  • Charge from a car, van, or motorhome battery
  • Charge from a motorhome’s leisure (backup) battery

Let’s explore these various ways in more detail you can keep your e-bike battery topped off to keep the electrons flowing so you keep eating up the trails!

Charge in a local Pub, Hotel or Restaurant

Ok, so this one will sound a bit like a cheat or hack – but it’s simple and effective, and requires no fancy gear like solar panels. When you’re out and about on the trails, you’ll inevitably stop to refuel yourself with food, so why not take the opportunity to refuel your e-bike too?

Remember, good etiquette is very important here. Don’t drag your muddy eMTB into the property without first checking with the owner or staff if it’s ok. Before asking if you can plug in your e-bike battery, make it clear that you’re a paying customer who is willing to spend good money on food and drink, and will make a generous tip as well.

Ask where the owner would be ok with you plugging your battery. Do the same for the other bikers in your party.

The good thing here is that you’ll have a good excuse to get some good food in, take a rest from the trails, and maybe order a cheeky pint or two extra! The staff may even have some tips for you for the trails if you are not familiar with the area.

A small portable generator

Having a small portable generator is a sure-fire way to guarantee that you’ll never be caught with an empty battery when you get back to your campsite. Honda makes some portable generators running 1800W – 2000 W or so, which is more than enough to keep your e-bike battery topped off.

One downside to generators is using gasoline to fuel up an e-bike seems wrong from an environmental point of view. It certainly doesn’t feel right for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly otherwise. However, there is no denying how quick and convenient it is to use a generator.

Use roof-mounted solar panels with an inverter

One of the big trends in the green energy revolution in recent years is the rapidly decreasing price of solar panels. What once was an expensive endeavor to provide a small amount of power becomes increasingly more affordable with every passing year, and enables new uses for solar panels.

One of these new uses is installing panels on top of a motorhome, to top off the auxiliary or leisure battery, and for charging up our e-bikes! There are no nagging environmental worries that come with generator usage here. There are flexible, lightweight solar PV panels available on the market that are well suited for installation on a vehicle’s roof.

Ideally, you would install at least two 100W panels (or bigger wattage, bigger is better) to ensure that you can charge your e-bike battery at a decent speed. There are some tradeoffs with solar panels – the bigger your vehicle’s roof, the more panels you can install, and higher wattage panels are more expensive – but there is still likely a good option for you to find here.

Remember to not allow your motorhomes leisure battery which is often a lead-acid battery to drop below 50%. These motorhome backup batteries are often the same type as a car’s starter motor.

You will also need an inverter to ensure that the DC output from the solar panels is converted to AC, for your e-bikes charger to work properly. You’ll also need to scout around to ensure that you are parking in a southern orientation, and in full sunlight away from the shade of trees!

Charge from a motorhome’s leisure (backup) battery

As mentioned above, you can use your motorhome’s leisure battery to top off your e-bike’s battery.

Ideally, you would do this during daylight hours in conjunction with solar panels to prevent your leisure batteries from dropping below 50%, but it can be done without solar panels too. If you are using this method after sundown and your leisure batteries are dropping low, you’ll need to start the motorhome’s engine to charge up the leisure batteries again with the vehicle’s alternator or use a portable generator as mentioned above.

Charge from a car, van, or motorhome battery

Did you know that you can actually charge your electric bike battery directly from your vehicle’s battery? You’ll need to install some basic equipment in the engine bay and run the engine (this can be done when the car is parked), making this a reliable backup option for giving your e-bike extra juice when you’re out and about. You’ll need a ‘pure sine wave inverter’ to ensure that you are charging safely. If in doubt, contact the seller and ask if it’s suitable for charging your e-bike’s battery.

This is useful not only when camping out in the wilds in a motorhome, but also when you are out for the day with your car and e-bike and suddenly need some extra juice to keep you going.

Charge from a car’s 12V Cigarette Socket

It’s possible to charge from a car’s 12V cigarette socket. This will provide around 150W of power, which is not a lot, and it does tax the car battery heavily so make sure you only do this with the engine running. If you do this without the engine running, you run the risk of having a dead battery that’s unable to start.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are a multitude of options available for charging up your e-bike battery when out and about. They range from no extra equipment – asking nicely in a local restaurant, using your motorhome’s existing backup batteries, to minimal extra gear – charging from your car’s engine bay starter motor to the more heavy-duty options including solar panels or a small portable generator.

Happy riding off in the wilds!

Nikolaj Carlsen

Nikolaj loves cycling! He currently owns two bikes. He used to commute to work with a car but switched to an e-bike in 2017. He loves e-bikes and sharing his knowledge on everything cycling related. He has been part of the Amped Cycling Team since early 2020.

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