When not riding bikes or planning all kinds of adventures, Susan takes care of Oak Bay Bicycles’ marketing and event coordination and has been riding all sorts of bicycles ever since she was three years old. Over the course of the summer, Susan and her partner, Gilles, explored all of the Southern Gulf Islands — on e-bikes. Gilles didn’t need much persuasion to go on this joint venture since he loves biking even more now that e-bikes come in all forms and colours.
The Gulf Islands are the islands in the Strait of Georgia (also known as the Salish Sea or the Gulf of Georgia), between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. The division of the Gulf Islands into two groups, the Southern and Northern Gulf Islands, is relatively common. The dividing line is approximately that formed by the city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, and the mouth of the Fraser River on the mainland. The larger populated islands are served by BC Ferries, which operates various vehicle and passenger ferries between the Gulf Islands and to terminals near the major cities of Nanaimo and Victoria on Vancouver Island as well as Vancouver on the mainland. BC. The fare for (e-)bikes is $2 per bike.
Their first trip took them to Salt Spring Island in March, followed by a camping trip to Galiano Island in June. Obviously hooked, they continued their adventures and explored Saturna and Mayne in September and finished off the bucket list by visiting Pender Island in October.
No matter what time of year, the scenery pictured above was similar – and similarly breathtaking – every time we rode to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal early in the morning. The sun was coming up and the clouds were slowly lifting on the meadows by the Lochside Trail on the way to Sidney.
Our first destination was Salt Spring Island. Looking back, we were “e-biketouring rookies” at our best: Underestimating the range of our bikes, overrating the safety of a fully charged battery and so much more. We travelled fairly light. One set of panniers holding both of our clothes and a backpack each with a charger and snacks.
Our second trip took us camping on Galiano Island. Two nights, three days – without the guaranteed comfort of charging our batteries overnight. This time we had a set of panniers each, the tent and the good old milk crate for more camping cooking needs – a very different experience compared to the trip to Salt Spring Island in so many ways.
Next up: Saturna and Mayne over the course of two days. A little less camping gear than what we brought on the trip to Galiano and the (subjective) conclusion that we like Saturna and Galiano best – so far.
And last but not least: Pender Island, north and south. Staying for two nights at a Tiny Home to try something different.
#1 SALT SPRING ISLAND
We left early in the morning to catch the 9am ferry from Swartz Bay. Well, we didn’t make the ferry. But that didn’t bother us too much as it actually gave us more time to recharge our batteries at the terminal. The 42 kilometre ride from home to the ferry didn’t drain the battery entirely – and yet, not really knowing what was ahead of us, we felt safer that way.
Being renowned as a very hilly island and without any previous [e-]bike touring experience from our side, we played it safe and had reserved a hotel room for the night. We took the road less travelled to Ganges, hanging a right after getting off the ferry at Fulford Harbour. A little side tour to Ruckle Provinical Park (what a nice campsite) and the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company (where I bought way too much goat cheese to eat in one day) took us up and down the mountains of the southern island. Easy. We joyfully kept repeating ourselves how much of a breeze the ride was and that we wouldn’t want to do it any other way.
At that point, being quite the “e-bike-rookies”, upon arrival in Ganges we called it a cycling-day. Apart from not wanting to sit on a bicycle seat anymore we weren’t sure how much farther our batteries would take us. Our hotel in Ganges didn’t have designated bike (or e-bike) parking, but was generous enough to let us store our e-bikes in the staff room. All locked up and the batteries plugged in in our hotel room we explored Ganges on foot.
The next morning we loaded the bikes – we didn’t have much really: two panniers and a backpack each – and headed north. The bigger loop, the bigger expectation when it comes to beaches and sights. Unfortunately, those expectations were not met. Mostly private land with rarely any beach access once you are on the north-western side of the island. But the ride was nice and we decided to stop at Salt Spring Island Ales before catching the ferry back to the “big island”.
We figured, with e-bike touring it’s all about timing and logistics, especially when it comes to recharging the battery. Being at Fulford Harbour a bit earlier than necessary gave us some time to recharge our batteries since we knew we had a 42km ride home ahead of us which included headwind and some hills.
Needless to say: we got hooked. But travelling by e-bike not only extends the length of your trip, it also takes the strenuous part of cycling (uphill) out of the equation and allows you to carry a couple of things (like camping gear) and not feeling much of a difference. As they say: e-bikes flatten the hills. -and yes, it’s true.
Our next island adventure took us camping on Galiano Island in June. We booked two nights at the Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park campsite in advance – this feature is available in the summer and we were happy we had done so as the campsite was full when we arrived. We had a nice spot by the water with views over the harbour and after dinner (which tasted like the best fried potato ever) we explored the surroundings and watched a beautiful sunset. Little did we think when we saw the first racoon roaming around the campground – or the second one just sneaking out of a tent…. But once we returned to our tent we realized how smart they are: They had opened our tent’s zipper and got Gilles’ jacket. If it hadn’t been for them fighting over the dog treat crumbs in one of the pockets, we would not have noticed that those rascals actually had dragged it out of our tent and into the bushes. And even though we stored everything in the cache — they kept coming back, regularly checking our tent for more treats. The campsite has now issued a “racoon bulletin”…
Camping requires a little flexibility, especially when you don’t know if the campsite provides the opportunity to plug in the battery somewhere. Since we didn’t get a chance to charge the batteries over night, plus we had a couple of kilometres on the clock from the day before (just getting to the ferry from home is 42km) and the camping gear, we decided to take it easy and stick around the southern part of Galiano and explore the Bluffs. Maybe not the most suitable BIKES for the terrain, the ASSIST (Bosch Performance CX motor), however, worked just fine. We made it all the way up and around, taking in the view over the Active Pass and soaking up the sun on the rounded rocks of Bellhouse Provincial Park.
Once back at the campsite in the afternoon, with almost entirely drained batteries, we found the Park Operators – and a power outlet. Good thing about the Bosch system is that you don’t need any special adapters – just like a toaster you plug it in wherever there is a wall socket. We charged our batteries right next to the ice machine and even had them delivered (together with some firewood) to our campsite later in the evening.
The next day it was time to break down the tent and load up the bikes for the ride home. Our batteries were fully charged so we didn’t have to hang out at the ferry terminal too long before departure time. Nonetheless, we charged the batteries one last time ON the ferry – just for our peace of mind. With 42 kilometres and a steady headwind on the way home, you don’t want to run out of battery, especially with all the gear.
#3 SATURNA & #4 MAYNE
When we started planning our next island adventure for September, consulting ferry schedules and such, we figured that we might as well knock off two islands of our bucket list in one trip. We wanted to go camping again, preferably provincial or national parks’ campsites, but weren’t too sure about distances and elevation should we not have the opportunity to charge our batteries fully over night. Even though the battery charges halfway in only two hours (or fully in four hours), we didn’t want to spent that time in a cafe or sitting around – we wanted to ride our bicycles.
Since the ferry stopped at Lyall Harbour (Saturna) first before arriving at Village Bay (Mayne) we decided to hop off on Saturna and take the coastal route to the East Point Lighthouse. Our batteries were almost fully charged thanks to the ferry ride and we were not afraid of any hills anymore (even with all our luggage). We took our time and made it a day, exploring some hidden beaches and cruising along the coast. We pretty much had the roads to ourselves – a few cars and cyclists were happily greeting us when passing. So far, Saturna had the friendliest vibe.
We got back to Lyall Harbour with a bit of time on our hands to charge up the batteries before heading on to Mayne where we had booked a campsite at Mayne Island Camping for the night. The final ferry ride of the day was rather short and we didn’t even bother to charge the batteries. Once landed on Mayne Island we made our way straight to the campsite to get settled. We should have gone to “town” for the last shopping needs before doing so, since everything closed at 6pm. Well, we made the most of it and treated ourselves to a really nice dinner and even found a loophole in BC’s liquor law on how to get a bottle of wine after liquor store hours…
Contrary to what we had assumed when booking the campsite – it being somewhat serviced – we didn’t have the possibility to charge our batteries over night. Good thing we had charged them up at the ferry terminal on Saturna. That juice easily got us to the Georgina Point Lighthouse and around the northern loop of Mayne Island – that’s all we wanted, really. And even though we had looked into distances and ride duration – we still had quite a bit of time on our hands before catching the mid-day ferry back home so we took a lovely side trip to the Japanese Garden.
On the ferry we took the batteries off one last time to fully charge them up for the ride home – more for our peace of mind really than out of necessity. For a change, the 42 kilometre ride to the Westshore was smooth and we didn’t have to pedal against the wind which usually freshens up in the afternoon – cruising times.
Pender Island in numbers:
Home –> Swartz Bay: 42km, 1hr40mins
Otter Bay –> Tiny House: 9km, 35mins
North Pender, southern tip,
Oaks Bluff and back: 19km
South Pender, Brooks Point,
groceries and back: 30km
Tiny House –> Otter Bay: 18km
Swartz Bay via downtown Victoria
–> Westshore: ~47km, ~2.5hrs
#5 PENDER ISLAND(s)
Our last island adventure of the season took us to the Pender Islands for two nights in early October. We knew camping was not a thing anymore (too cold, for us anyways) and we’d always wanted to try a tiny home. We found the Orca Cove Tiny House on Airbnb – conveniently located smack in the middle of the two islands, a stone’s throw away from the canal.
After experiencing early store closing hours on Mayne, this time we were prepared – we played it super safe and brought our own food for the first night. Not bringing the tent and all the camping gear freed up two panniers – dessert included. We got on the bikes as soon as the sun was up and stopped at our usual “breakfast spot” in Sidney for some sweet treats with a view. We were fast that morning and we still don’t know if it was due to appropriately inflated tires (yes, the right tire pressure does make a difference, especially with e-bikes!), less luggage, a supportive tail wind – or just us having found our rhythm.
The ferry was late by 35 minutes, apparently too much traffic on a weekday. That didn’t bother us too much, we were in vacation mode. And, not being “e-bike rookies” anymore, we didn’t even bother to charge the batteries while waiting for the ferry. We knew we had about a one and half hour ferry ride ahead of us which is plenty of time to recharge. Due to the heavy vehicle traffic on Mayne (always fun to watch how BC Ferries personnel tries to conduct boarding in an efficient manner at the Village Bay terminal..) there was even more time and we ended up with fully charged batteries. Good thing as Pender was hillier than expected.
When we rolled off the ferry at the Otter Bay ferry terminal on North Pender it started raining. A drizzle at first, but once all the cars had unloaded (we usually wait and give them a head start – simply to be out of their way and have the road to ourselves) the drizzle turned into heavy rain drops. Not too stoked about that we got on the bikes. We had another ten k’s ahead of us, about half an hour ride. After about twenty minutes the sky cleared and the sun came out. So we did a little side trip to the Mortimer Spit before checking in at our tiny house.
It wasn’t too late in the day and it was just so nice out that we decided to explore the south of North Pender – Pirates Road (*harrr) took us almost all the way to the tip and to the Oaks Bluff on our way back. If it wasn’t for a cyclist coming out of the view point’s parking lot we would have not known – such a beautiful view over the islands and well worth the short (and somewhat steep) hike.
The next day we went all the way to the southern tip of South Pender (catching a good glimpse of Mount Baker) and to Brooks Point — riding Canal Road is sooo much fun! The road is in excellent condition, there is almost no traffic and those rolling hills — one of the few moments when I wished I had my (human-only-powered) road bike with me.. On the way back we had to do a little detour (short but steep – happy to have the assist here, I tell you) to the grocery store. It was a Wednesday, too, which meant the Tourist Information was open. Travelling somewhat off-season can be challenging with regards to store opening hours we found out…
On our last day we took the long way back to the ferry terminal – via Hope Bay and Port Washington. And if it wasn’t for the bikes we would have never travelled Bridges Road and found this little gem of a beach. And some of the views along the way were just breathtaking.
As usual, we arrived a little earlier at the terminal which allowed us to charge up the batteries for our ride home from Swartz Bay. The ferry ride was rather short (Pender to Vancouver Island direct) so we didn’t even bother to take the batteries off the bikes. And since the weather was so nice and we were in no rush we decided to take the Lochside Trail and the Galloping Goose Trail all the way downtown Victoria and extend the ride home via the E&N Trail along the docks and through View Royal back on the Goose out to the Westshore.
“E-touring” requires a little different take on planning routes and logistics. We not only looked up trip distance on google maps but also elevation profiles (inserted in the maps above) to get an idea of probable battery use – but the good thing: when it comes down to it, you are riding a bicycle.
The motor and battery make the bike heavier, indeed, but it’s a bicycle after all and you can always “just” pedal or, worst case, push the bike should you have run out of battery. Never try to “trick” the system once the battery has died on you and turn it back on after waiting a couple of minutes (as you would do with a cell phone to get the very last juice out of it) – this can kill the battery and definitely voids your warranty. Just suck it up and pedal. There will be a cafe or a ferry terminal at some point where you can recharge your battery. All it takes is a standard wall outlet, just like a toaster (or, a cell phone).
That being sad, if it wasn’t for the electric-assist, we would have never done any of those adventures by bike! Many people (still) consider riding an e-bike cheating or suitable for “old people” – well, call us “old cheaters” then. We had the times of our lives! And we are busy planning future trips already. Stay tuned.