E-bikes and long adventures sound a combination to strike fear into the heart of any battery-anxious rider. Can it work, or will it fall... flat? We decided to find out for ourselves by pitting two Cairn e-gravel bikes – and matching sets of Miss Grape bags – against a multi-day bikepacking adventure along the historic King Alfred's Way.
Bike packing on e-bikes sounds tempting, right? Extra power to shift the weight, free speed to help you churn out the miles, fresher legs to go further and the chance to cover the ground faster. All these factors certainly piqued our interest, so we quickly formulated a plan for an adventure we couldn't resist.
A natural evolution to the gravel spectrum, e-gravel bikes look set to offer more fun, more miles and the chance for varied groups to ride comfortably together on any expedition.
With these things in mind (and happy with a great excuse for finding some beautiful English countryside) we wanted to put it to the test on some classic UK gravel – can you go bikepacking on an e-gravel bike?
First off, let us introduce the bikes in question: the Cairn E-Adventure 1.0 and the Cairn BRAVe. They're two very different bikes for two very different riders.
Cairn E-Adventure 1.0
The Cairn E-Adventure 1.0 is the second generation of the brand's first bike. It's a classically shaped e-gravel bike with a FAZUA Evation motor, 700c wheels and a Shimano GRX groupset.
Power is available in three modes, here set in 'Cairn Tune' via the motor's Black Pepper software – meaning it's tuned for big off-road mileages, and running the way the bike's creators intend. It's a setup we'll need on this trip.
At 4.6kg for the whole system and with no mechanical resistance if you pedal over and above the 15.5mph assistance limit, this lightweight setup is perfect for our rider Matt.
Matt is a cross-country racer through and though; he likes riding fast with minimal travel and maximum efficiency. As you'll find out in this video, he and Rach differ on how much energy should be expended on an e-bike!
Matt thinks nothing of pedalling at 35kph, using the motor to boost him up pinches and to accelerate up to speed. The E-Adventure suits Matt's preferences with fast-rolling, 40mm wide tyres and geometry that's comfortable on and off-road.
Our other ride is the recently-launched Cairn BRAVe. This e-bike has a very different look and feel to it. As very much the mountain biker's gravel bike, it's the perfect partner for our Rach.
Equipped with a powerful Shimano Steps E7000 motor and 630Wh battery, the BRAVe is built to blur lines, designed for anything from chasing road bikes to solo bikepacking trips to singletrack laps at your local. It gets drop bars, 29er wheels, monster tyres (ok, 2.3" mountain bike tyres), an alloy fork and SRAM Apex components.
With its 68° head angle, long wheelbase and short seat tube, the BRAVe suits those that want a bike that rolls well on big wheels, maximum grip and the comfort of big tyres. Certainly, the mountain biker and long-travel enduro bike lover in Rach was happy with the rugged capabilities of the BRAVe.
The kit – Miss Grape
Miss Grape provided all the kit for us to pack our bikes to the hilt, leaving plenty of room for a 'luxury item' for each of us! Both bikes ran a Cluster Waterproof seat pack – Matt using the Cluster 7, whilst Rach packed more into the larger Cluster 13.
Matt's bike easily accommodated an Internode 40.6 frame bag for trail essentials such as tools and food. As Rach's bike was a size small the battery took up frame space, though, so she wore a pack for food and water.
Out front the riders chose different setups, too. Matt fitted cages to the fork leg and used dry bags to store his tent and cooking equipment. Rach put all her sleeping gear into a Tendril 10.7 waterproof handlebar bag. Both riders used an additional Node 2H Adventure top tube bag, too.
The Route – King Alfred's Way
The King Alfred's Way is a 350km circular route that starts and ends in Winchester in the south of England. We chose it for its deep-rooted history and abundance of iconic landmarks – plus it has some of the best gravel the UK has to offer.
Taking in parts of the South Downs Way, the North Downs Way and The Ridgeway, it has no shortage of die-straight Roman roads, picturesque villages and smooth tarmac.
The route (and detailed guidebook) immerses the rider in 10,000 years of history detailing Wessex, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of King Alfred the Great, who is buried in Winchester. Sending you past awe-inspiring monuments such as Stonehenge, Iron Age hill forts and castles, the long-distance network is as interesting as it is tempting to ride.
The nine sections of the route guide you through the stories of times gone by and you quickly find yourself eager to hit the next archeological or historical milestone along the way.
Our two-day trip will take us from Winchester and along the Test Valley to Salisbury, where we will sample the first of the gravel Roman roads and learn about the evolution of the city at Old Sarum Castle. After 40km we'll be detouring to stop overnight in a campsite just outside Salisbury, where we'll set up our bivvy spots.
Traveling without battery chargers, on day two we will rejoin the route just north of Salisbury and ride onwards to Stonehenge and the end of the 70km trip.
Besides enjoying all this, we have questions to answer. Are these bikes fun? Do e-gravel bikes cut it in the 'adventure' stakes? Do they level the playing field for all riders? And ultimately, can we ride for multiple days on them? Now to find out!
Thanks to our partners in this adventure: