Stuck in the daily grind? Sounds like you’re due a microadventure. The wilderness may seem like a distant vision to many of us right now, but it’s closer than you think. To satisfy our wanderlust, we’re trying out the two-wheeled van life. With a fully loaded E-cargo bike and the open road ahead of us, what could go wrong?
We would happily hedge our bets that most adventure-hungry urban-dwellers have toyed with the dream of a camper van at least once. Load it up and hit the open road. Follow your nose. Pull up where and when you like. Chill out by a campfire, swap stories, share beers and cool off in the lake or the sea. Do whatever takes your fancy. Campers embody the promise of freedom.
The reality doesn’t always live up the hype though. You probably won’t reach the seaside, the Alps, or the Sahara. You’ll end up in the middle of nowhere, the back of beyond, without even a phone signal to see you through. And even if you could make it somewhere glamourous, you’ve first got to navigate the perilous journey of picking the perfect van. Finding a fully functional, lust-worthy second-hand van is tough – especially for untrained eyes.
First comes the anticipation, then the smugness of owning your own four walls on wheels and then you spot it: the rust. Damn it. Let’s not mention the torment of finding a parking space and that incident with your neighbour’s bumper. Then, once the daily grind catches up with you after each adventure, get used to the cycle of repairs, servicing and maintenance – common fixtures that form an inevitable part of #vanlife. In some cases, not all that glitters on Instagram is gold.
Fortunately, our reality is a little different. Instead of a camper, we’ve got cargo bikes. And with these, the adventure starts right from our front door, with only vague plans and little preparation required. Bikepacking has been having something of a moment over the past few years, but 2020 has seen it take off in a big way. The topic of cargo bike camping came up over dinner recently. A new spin on #vanlife by using cargo bikes, pioneered by us? It’s such an obvious progression, but one that makes so much sense. Someone should have thought of it earlier.
Our adventure bikes
A cargo bike and E-trekking bike make for the perfect partners in crime for a spontaneous camping trip offering assistance on the climbs and good times on the descents. Off-road? Not a problem – even with a full load!
Husqvarna Cross Tourer 6FS
The Husqvarna Cross Tourer 6FS is a comfy hybrid from Husqvarna’s E-trekking range. A statement of intent, it comes as standard with lights, fenders and a rack, allowing you to stow your sleeping bag and camping utensils in your panniers. Off-road tyres, front and rear suspension and a low top tube lend confidence when you’re off the beaten track. Priced at 5.399 €, the Cross Tourer 6FS is powered by a Shimano STEPS E8000 motor that is fed by a 630 Wh battery.
Motor/Battery Shimano STePS DU-E8000/630 Wh
Display Shimano SC-E6100 LCD
Fork SR Suntour RAIDON34 100 mm
Rear shock SR Suntour EDGE LOR8
Drivetrain Shimano DEORE XT Di2 1×11
Brakes Shimano BR-MT520
Lights SUPERNOVA V512S/SUPERNOVA LED light bar
Fender HUSQVARNA INTGR CT-fs
Tires Schwalbe SMART SAM
More information can be found at husqvarna-bicycles.com
Riese & Müller Load 60 GX
The Riese & Müller Load 60 GX, equipped with off-road tyres and the Bosch Cargo Line motor topped the field in our cargo bike group test 2020, cementing its place not only as a clear winner but also as the ultimate cargo camper bike. Pack light, travel far? Bullsh*t! The Riese & Müller Load 60 GX can carry a load capacity of up to 100 kg! When you’ve got this much space, why stress out over weight and packability? Now we’re asking why we didn’t throw in the BBQ too! A dual-battery – we’re talking 1,000 Wh capacity – is a must if you have any intention of returning to where you started.
Motor/Battery Bosch Cargo Line/1000 Wh
Display Bosch SmartphoneHub
Fork SR Suntour Mobie 70 mm
Rear shock X-Fusion Glyde
Drivetrain Shimano DEORE XT Di2 1×11
Brakes Tektro TRP C
Lights Supernova M99 Mini Pro-25/M99
Fender SKS A65R
Tires Schwalbe Big Ben Plus/Smart Sam
More information can be found at r-m.de
Load it up with camping stools, a Persian rug and a warm sleeping bag. Plus books and a reading light for the evening. And don’t forget the gas stove, coffee, oats and oat milk to ensure that the morning runs smoothly.
On track, but sometimes off course
Even if your home base doesn’t feel all that spectacular at times, now’s the chance to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. There’s an art to it. We’ve ridden through Stuttgart’s city park more times than we can count, but there’s a marked difference tonight.
Sometimes I decide to stop chasing life and just sit down. I sit and wait and watch in wonder as life comes to me instead. – Unknown
We encounter a number of frazzled people making their way through the hectic rush-hour traffic as we ride against the flow towards the wilderness, peace and serenity. That’s the promise we have in our sights. But we quickly realise nothing will come of this, so let’s up the ante.
Before we’ve even started, we stop for a drink. There’s no pressure or plan, just the inexorable goal to sleep out in the grass for the night. Our journey will take us there eventually. Our party shirts flutter in the wind, manifesting the sensation of freedom as we cruise. While other people dedicate their evening to TV screens, we choose life. With a destination, but no fixed route, we follow our noses in a rough direction, letting ourselves fall mercy to roadside encounters.
No Lake Maggiore nor Scottish Highlands in sight, but we’re rewarded by Stuttgart’s hills, vineyard views, the Mercedes Benz Museum and the industrial buildings along the River Neckar. It isn’t so bad.
Lukewarm beer and cold currywurst in the park, followed by a spin along the Neckar River towards the Daimler Stadium and the Mercedes Benz Museum.
The snack bar at Bad Cannstatt train station, but this time with a cold beer and lukewarm Gyros. Moving up in the world.
As we’re already two stops too late for the perfect sunset, we may as well make the third stop count.
Kebabs all round at Untertürkheim station. Cold beer, warm kebab. Struggling to work out if thirst has the upper hand over hunger or vice versa on this particular evening.
Dialogue of the day, as we watch a funeral dance video on an iPhone and a police car rolls by. One: “Four beers in – not sure we should ride any further.” Two: “Meh, not really feeling them yet.” A’ight, let’s go.*
*Disclaimer: anything relating to beer in this story is purely fictional and was reenacted under official supervision by professional models. The beer was obviously alcohol-free. Ride responsibly.
15 km in two hours – it’s the sort of speed you’ve got to try for yourself before you knock it. We get into our sleeping bags a little before twelve – exactly the time of day that experienced campers warn you about. It’s pitch black now, but we had reckoned with this and smartly packed head torches and powerful bike lights that turn night into day.
Wild camping in Germany is forbidden but sleeping out under the open sky usually isn’t. If it rains you are permitted to put up a tarp or find a shelter in a hut. For a more luxurious approach why not try a hammock? We haven’t done that yet – we’re saving it for next time.
Persian rug laid out, roll mat blown up, what’s left other than opening a (well-earned?) beer. Then a sloe schnapps, or two, followed by teeth brushing, slipping on a recovery sleeping mask and done, good night. The book goes unread for tonight.
The night is over quicker than we expect. By 5.30, the birds are chirping and the snores emanating from one of us do little to aid our futile attempts to fall back asleep. What do we learn when we wake up? That final beer might have been one too many. But then, that’s how it always is. Maybe it was just because they were past their best before date?
We get out of the tent as the first rays of sun land on our patch of ground. The way that the light dances over our breakfast spread is magical. Another great thing about cargo camping: you won’t regret the non-essential items that so easily slip into your cargo. Oven mitts and porcelain eating utensils. Why not?
We snack, pack up and head to the office, more than a little smug. The night was ours. We have emerged victorious, with no signs of a hangover just yet. We take home a bit of silliness, some unforgettable memories and a cargo load of stories, so we’re calling it a success.
Cargo camping opens up new frontiers. It showed us that life doesn’t ask for much. We learned that the right bikes can comfortably carry all the non-essentials to add a touch of luxury to your trip. Cargo camping puts you back in the outdoors, recapturing freedom, even just briefly. Trips like these confirm that we don’t need major holidays or possessions. Of course, possessions are great but then comes that turning point when the possessions start to possess you – the moments when the camper howls (quite literally) for your attention, when you spend more time with your head under the bonnet than looking at the stars. Camping can be as straightforward as loading up your bike and pedalling away. Why over-complicate things? Why do more than needed? Cargo camping has quickly become our preferred method for hassle-free escapes from the city. You don’t even need to book days off work – one night (and a lukewarm beer) will do.
Note: you can live microadventures during the week if you’re lucky enough to have flexi-time (or at least no early morning shifts). The rest of the office will be green with envy after your midweek cargo camp.
Essential preparation ahead of your one night stand
- Check the weather forecast before starting.
- Scared of the dark? Take company. Cuddles permitted. One E-cargo bike can gallantly carry the load for two!
- Set off with a fully charged battery! You might end up needing it.
- Camping might not be permitted, but emergency bivvying is. Find out the rules for your region.
- Cooking essentials: if you have a gas cooker, presumably you’ve got the requisite eating utensils too. Last resort: raid your kitchen and find a small pan, spoon and ingredients. Top tip for aspiring pro overnighters: put together an escape set so you’re ready at every opportunity.
- Coffee or tea for the morning. A beer for the evening. Always make room for these essentials.
- Phone in flight mode or switched off. In an emergency, you can switch it back on. Too extreme? Block social media apps for the duration of your escape.
- Gas cooker, kebab or Michelin-starred restaurant? With some cash, a credit card and your camping stove, you’re ready for anything.
At the campground:
- Before settling down, inspect the terrain. No one wants to bed down in an ants’ nest or insect highway.
- Leave no trace. Respect nature and other humans. Take your rubbish home with you. No excuses for sloppiness here.
- Air out your sleeping bag, otherwise next time it might not be so appealing.
- Charge your bike. Who knows what the evening holds?
Overnighting with an E-cargo bike doesn’t require much thought so don’t stress over a meticulous packing list and or weighing up the pros and cons of each individual item. Cast an eye over what we consider the essentials to make sure your trip is a success (with some added comfort).
- Toothbrush and environmentally conscious toothpaste
- Toilet paper
- Favourite/current book and head torch (ideally with a red beam to protect your night vision)
- Seasonally appropriate sleeping bag
- Persian rug or roll mat
- Cash and credit card
- Something refreshing for the evening:
- Something warming for the morning:
- Porridge inc. oats, oat milk, fruit
- Tea or coffee
Words: Robin Schmitt Photos: Benjamin Topf, Valentin Rühl, Patrick Sauter