Bike Touring the Lost Sierra

EcoBikeAdventures provides power-assisted mountain biking thrills for the whole family

Words by Matt Niswonger
Photos by Jason Shaimus

EcoAventuresGroup_with_Chris

EcoBikeAdventures co-founder Chris Rothe explains how to ride an electric mountain bike.

Nestled halfway between Downieville and Truckee is a mountain biking ranch that is quickly becoming known as a unique family adventure destination. Offering guided tours of the Lost Sierra on electric mountain bikes, the Bay Area-based startup EcoBikeAdventures provides thrills for every level of rider.

Curious about electric bikes after seeing a few different models while cruising around the Sea Otter Classic bike festival in April, we stumbled upon a large crowd of people gathered around an electric mountain biking presentation delivered by some folks from EcoBikeAdventures. Chris Rothe, the company co-founder, was explaining that the guided tours they offer provide a way for almost any age or ability to experience the thrill of long distance mountain biking in a gorgeous alpine setting.

He went on to explain that the company operates on a private ranch in a beautiful part of the Sierra mountains northwest of Lake Tahoe. With environmental sustainability at the forefront of their business model, EcoBikeAdventures uses solar-equipped vehicles to recharge their electric mountain bikes.

Curious, I marched right up to their booth and asked Chris for a brochure. Did he say his electric mountain biking tours in the Lost Sierra are suitable for the whole family? I was a bit skeptical to say the least. After years of attempting to please everyone during family mountain biking rides I had pretty much given up on the concept of “family rides that are fun for the whole family.” After endlessly attempting to please everyone I was resigned that the downhills were either too boring for the boys or too scary for my youngest, and all three kids find the uphills completely uninspiring.

I finally reached Chris by phone about a week later and explained to him I was researching electric bikes for a series of articles we are planning for Adventure Sports Journal. Chris told me that his tours on 1,800 acres of private property in one of the most beautiful parts of the Sierra would be a perfect way to field test electric mountain bikes while having a blast with my wife and kids.

Three weeks later, after a restful night’s sleep at the Chalet View Lodge in nearby Portola (highly recommended), we followed our directions to the ranch. EcoBikeAdventures operates on the Diamond S Ranch alongside an ATV operation called Explore! Sierra Touring Company, which is located about 25 miles from Truckee via Highway 89 towards Sierraville. Luckily there is a strong cell phone signal the whole way and we just typed the address into our navigator: 2634 County Road A23 in Portola CA 96122.

After some beautiful meandering through forests and alpine farmland reminiscent of the Swiss Alps, we noticed a gated entrance with a long dirt road leading to some picturesque wooden barns that reminded us of an Amish farm.

The genius of EcoBikeAdventures is partly their location on the Diamond S Ranch. Known for picturesque ATV and snowmobile tours on a variety of trails that crisscross the mountains, EcoBikeAdventures CEO and co-founder Craig Wilson realized the location was perfect for their business model. The rest, as they say, is history.

As we started our tour after being kitted up with pads and Kali full face helmets, all my concerns about our daughter Mia not being able to keep up were addressed. Even though we were at altitude, she simply had to add power to her pedaling by twisting her wrist throttle and the electric motor would kick in, allowing her to keep up on every hill climb. I kept asking her if she was doing okay and she simply smiled and said she was having fun.

Finally able to relax, I settled into a groove and took in the sights. The Lost Sierra is a mythic and beautiful part of the Sierra mountain range to the northwest of Truckee and the area is also known as the Feather River. I had visited Downieville on mountain bike excursions and for the iconic Downieville Classic mountain bike race, but this was my first time seeing the eastern part of Plumas County and the towns of Portola and Graegle. Characterized by beautiful alpine meadows and terrain that is more reminiscent of Switzerland than California, EcoBikeAdventures had certainly chosen a beautiful place to run an electric mountain bike ranch.

During a quick snack break I asked Chris how he got inspired to start EcoBikeAdventures. “Once people try one of our tours they quickly have a light bulb moment,” he shared. “The difference between an electric mountain bike tour and a regular mountain bike tour is that regular bike tours are too hard for some and not hard enough for others. An electric bike allows the rider to choose the level of input from the pedal assist so a range of strengths and abilities can experience the trails at the same time.”

I have to admit I was completely won over by the experience and all of my previous skepticism about my family all having fun together simply melted away. What I enjoyed about our tour was that everyone had the opportunity to earn their way to the top of the hills by pedaling the bikes, with the pedal assist function becoming the invisible equalizer which allowed my ten-year-old to feel just as accomplished as her older brothers.

On the downhills those of us who wanted an extra thrill took some detours with banked turns and other features that were designed by EcoBikeAdventure staff as short out-and-back excursions from group rest spots. In this way the level of adventure was perfectly fine-tuned for every rider and my boys had permanent ear-to-ear grins.

Chatting with Chris as we finished our experience, I began to understand the grand vision that the company is working towards. EcoBikeAdventures is opening up the thrill of electric mountain biking to a whole new class of rider. E-bikes have a learning curve and they are new and unfamiliar to most riders. As a result they are not appropriate without instruction and a proper introduction. What’s awesome is that electric bikes bring the thrill of flowy riding to the uphill portion of any ride creating the potential for maximizing the fun factor of mountain biking. Before considering buying an electric mountain bike, anyone who is interested should take a tour with EcoBikeAdventures and get fully educated  on the techniques, safety, and ridiculous fun that comes with electric mountain biking.

“Once you try an electric bike you realize they will have a large impact on all areas of cycling including mountan biking. The key is to help people move into that future in a safe and sustainable way,” says Chris. By providing guided electric bike tours on private property, EcoBikeAdventures is working to shape a positive future for a sport that is set to explode in popularity according to many industry experts.

As we drove away from the ranch after our three-hour ride, we all felt tired and happy. “That was fun,” said my daughter Mia. “Can we do it again?”

Pedal view of an electric fat tire bike.

Pedal view of an electric fat tire bike.

Aerial view of the mountain biking ranch.

Aerial view of the mountain biking ranch.

For questions about EcoBikeAdventures or to book a tour, visit their website at ecobikeadv.com or find them on Facebook or Instagram.

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  1. To MORB or Not To MORB? How do you feel about electric mountain bikes? | Adventure Sports Journal - […] Matt Niswonger’s article Bike Touring the Lost Sierra about EcoBikeAdventures and their electric mountain biking packages. Plus check out Kurt …

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