Pushbike aficionados and intolerant future refuseniks take note: It’s getting electric! Ebikes, e-bus, and three e-nthusiastic ENDURO editors. We drove almost 4,000 km with three FOCUS ebikes aboard the brand new VW ID.BUZZ: saw a lot, experienced a lot, and learned a lot. About life, about ourselves, and about the charging infrastructure in southern Europe. And about how little modern ebikes lose out on classic MTBs.
“Roadtrip”, “vanlife”, and “mountain bike camping trip”: try searching for these buzzwords on social media, and your Instagram feed will explode. Half the world seems to be pimping campers and going on tour with them. But can the whole thing also be done with “e” instead of diesel? While ebikes have now fully arrived in the mainstream, there’s still some scepticism about electric cars. The VW ID.BUZZ, on the other hand, has generated quite a lot of hype. But what can the congenial minivan actually do? Finding out was enough incentive for us to set off on the ultimate e-adventure. So, we loaded the BUZZ up to the roof with camping utensils and luggage for a fortnight, and also packed three of the latest ebike models by FOCUS. And off we go! 4,000 km, four countries, millions of calories, countless hours of charging and some unforgettable good times lie ahead of us. Along the way, we’ll be collecting herbs, smiles, trail miles, and charging stop acquaintances – not to mention valuable insights. Is e-mobility really the sustainable future of transport it’s made out to be? And what other lessons does this high-tech road trip have in store for us?
Our camping and road trip tool:
Cramming till there’s no space left? And: about alternatives to charging snacks
The anticipation is building: tired-eyed but eager-faced, we meet up at the office in Leonberg at 6 a.m. sharp. The plan: first of all, some much-needed caffeine from the espresso machine to get us ready for our first e-road trip. And not with just any e-car, of course, but with the brand new (and somehow even hot) VW ID.BUZZ. We’ve already agreed on the approximate route the week before, but nothing concrete has been planned yet. So, out come our mobile phones to punch in our destination. Google Maps gives us an estimate of roughly 9.5 hours for the 950 km journey from our HQ near Stuttgart to Provence. Since we are travelling purely on “e”, we check out three different e-car route planner apps as well. As expected, we get three different results with a travel time estimate of between 12 and 14 hours. “Okay”, we’re thinking. “We’ll be fine.” Knowing that you also have to take breaks to refuel a combustion engine and its driver, we hit the road feeling optimistic.
Pleasantly excited, we cross the Swiss border, passing the customs officer with a smile, and are off to the first charging station. Next: sticking the Swiss motorway vignette on the windscreen (after 200 km) and heading for Geneva at the permitted 120 km/h – oh, and totally unconcerned by Swiss roaming prices, as the ID.BUZZ shares its virtually inexhaustible WiFi hotspot with us. That way, charging stops can be spent dawdling on Insta or, as in our case, consuming a gazillion calories. There’s a fast-food restaurant in the immediate vicinity of virtually every charging station. There’s usually not much choice on the motorway, but if you get off the motorway for charging, it’s better to go past the familiar franchise chains and check out the surroundings. On our trip, the mobile Burger Grill – directly opposite the big M – turns out to be a real insider tip offering tasty vegetarian alternatives. Also, our charging stops are perfect for making new acquaintances and getting helpful e-car tips. It’s obvious that the electric faction among drivers is still pretty small. They’re interested in each other’s charging strategies, and they kind of stick together. Besides playing games, practising yoga and (of course) eating, you can also work on your bike skills in the car park while waiting. The bike is quickly unloaded, and it’s great to practise track stands, wheelies or bunny hops on the asphalt. In case you’re still bored during the charging breaks, our sister magazine DOWNTOWN has further tips for you.
Icons of cool: A smile richer with the ID.BUZZ
The VW ID.BUZZ radiates positive vibes like a puppy on its first walk. Not even with a VW Beetle à la Herbie do you get this much positive feedback – lead additive and petrol smell aside. Thumbs up, beaming faces at the side of the road, and mobile phone videos like they’re going out of style… Sure, there’s a bunch of super hot editors inside the car, but let’s just put it down to the overall effect of the electric vehicle. Cool, eye-catching, and also (reasonably) sustainable: the BUZZ creates a unique combination of futuristic feel and nostalgia. An atmosphere of departure and memory, Sturm & Drang, plus a dash of romance. The design is strongly reminiscent of the original Bulli and, together with the friendly but modern LED light design, is a complete success. The ID.BUZZ also gives us an immediate introduction to any and all – it’s the easiest thing to strike up conversations with locals and insiders. Even a ranger would probably greet you in a friendly manner and recommend a camp spot if you met him on a closed dirt road. This is only because of the hotties inside, of course. ;-)
Aix-en-Provence – Where even the trails smell delicious
Well, we didn’t take those closed dirt roads after all, even if you might think we did (given the travel time of almost 16 hours to Provence – but more about that later). Having finally arrived, we immediately unpack our bikes to check out the Provençal trails. All of you who occasionally wield a wooden spoon know the herbs of Provence. However, we never expected the trails to be lined with aromatic wild thyme, rosemary, bay and marjoram. Provence has much more to offer, of course: fantastic views, rugged rockscapes and access to the sea in no time, not to mention some great riding spots with magnificent views. We can’t help picking some herbs for dinner along the way, risking bloody calves in the process: the plants seem reluctant to give up their tasty leaves without a fight. (Tip: keep your knee pads on for this). Those risking the thorny ordeal are rewarded with gourmet smells and authentic self-made cuisine.
Reduce twice – Why on 2 instead of 4 wheels?
Downsizing can be so cool! Switching from 4 to 2 wheels, we keep the e-drive and gain a completely new insight: while long distances in an e-car can be tiring – despite (or because of?) the many inevitable charging breaks – the ebike gives us a boost and we ride until the battery is empty. No trace of fatigue: the eMTBs save valuable energy on the uphills only to perform even better on the fun part: the downhills. Especially with the new generation of light eMTBs like the FOCUS Jam² SL with a FAZUA motor, you almost get the feel of a non-motorised bike downhill while you enjoy smooth support uphill to save your energy. Plus: thanks to their low weight, the bikes are easy to handle. The top model, the FOCUS Jam² SL 9.0, weighs just under 18 kg. It’s easy to place on the rear rack – or to carry to the second floor. And if you don’t feel like lugging it, simply remove the battery: charge it in your cosy flat and leave the mud-spattered bike in the garage. The bike also cuts a fine figure on the trail. We easily drive the fatigue out of our bones and breeze up nasty climbs almost effortlessly, enjoying the smooth support of the FAZUA e-drive. Downhill, the light eMTB unfolds its full potential. Flying playfully over the trails, we quickly forget that we’re riding an ebike. Whether a spontaneous pop or a quick evasive manoeuvre – no problem with the lightweight FOCUS ebikes!
Our trail tools: FOCUS Jam² SL 9.0 and 9.9 2023
Food vol 2. – A journey is always a culinary one too
After the trail is before the meal. Especially in the rural areas where we have been hanging out, large supermarket chains are scarce, so we buy vegetables at the farm shop – unpackaged, local and delicious. For the finishing touches, we pick what nature has to offer along the trail. That’s one great thing about the road trip: the ever-changing culinary experiences along the route. Pizza and pasta al dente in Finale Ligure, bouillabaisse in Cassis on the French Riviera, tortilla and paella in Spain. Sure, our beetroot burger on the motorway was delicious, but it doesn’t always have to be a burger with chips. When you eat out, take a chance and order dishes you don’t know any of the ingredients of, or have the waiter bring you their personal favourite – the main thing is: step out of your comfort zone!
Planning sets you up for failure – it always turns out different (and better) than you think
A minor traffic jam on the way, a flat tyre on the trail, or four more charging stops than expected – and you’re already late. Our travel time was almost double what we had expected. Sure, we knew beforehand that charging takes longer than refuelling, but we didn’t expect between 45 and 60 minutes of charging time for every 200 km (or we would have packed Monopoly and yoga mats for the breaks). In its defence: the VW ID.BUZZ is not entirely to blame. Low temperatures make the ions in the battery sluggish, plus a roof tent and a rear rack crammed with bikes – that’s the ultimate nightmare for the streamlined e-car. All of this makes life hard for the ID.BUZZ and has left us with only around 200 km of range out of the usual 300 km.
With an e-car, you can wave goodbye to the assumption that plans will pan out the way you expected: the selected restaurant has already run out of hot food, and the shop around the corner is closed. But no matter: view it as your chance for adventure and enjoy the ride. As Buddha once said: “It’s better to travel well than to arrive”. The journey turns out to be the true destination – even more than before. Because of your willy-nilly adjusted schedule, you might discover the best bouillabaisse in France or taste the sweetest treat you’ve ever had. You’ll bring home new recipes that will trigger beautiful emotions for years to come. A road trip also means letting go, getting involved with the unknown, and using every opportunity to discover something new.
It’s better to travel well than to arrive. – Buddha
Living like a nomad – Camping in the Minibus
Camping bus – the upgrade for a low-resource lifestyle. No need for luxurious hotels, just crashing somewhere outside in nature with the starry sky as a roof over your head. That’s the dream many have, and that was our goal too. But beware: check the local regulations first. An emergency nap is usually okay wherever, but for overnight stays think about your own safety and that of the bikes. Look out for a secluded, quiet spot, as far away from hotspots and potential crime as possible. Don’t forget to secure the bikes with a sturdy lock or even lock them in the car. Once you’ve found an inconspicuous and secluded spot, you won’t be roused from your sleep by rangers or parking enforcement officers and can enjoy the sunrise undisturbed from your mobile bed with a hot coffee in your hands.
Is our future electric? Bike, BUZZ, and available space
Will mobility in the future be mainly electric? As far as bikes are concerned, the situation is clear: e-bikes already dominate the forest as well as the city. Due to the growing number of light models, the trails are also packed with more and more ebikers, and bike parks are already setting up special ebike uphill trails. Electric MTBs have wriggled their way into the community and are touring side by side with non-motorised ones. As for electric vanlife, on the other hand, we’re not so sure. The demand for rare earth metals and lithium in large car batteries is immense, and only begins to justify the environmental impact after a long period of local emission-free use. Also, forget about “just going on a trip”. With an action radius of between 200 and 300 km, the roughly 700 km journey from Stuttgart to Finale Ligure is at least three charging stops away… With fluctuating charging speeds, it’s almost impossible to predict your travel time. But it’s not only the range that’s puts the VW ID.BUZZ at a disadvantage compared to the motorised VW bus, it’s also the available space: the ceiling height of the ID.BUZZ is around 112 cm at the loading sill, and with a double floor (for a flat lying surface), there’s only 88 cm left inside. So, bike front wheel removal is a must. The width of the ID.BUZZ is around 120 cm to accommodate the load. Read our detailed VW ID BUZZ review in our sister magazine DOWNTOWN .
In addition to the optional 230 V household socket, there are USB-C charging ports that provide enough juice for the laptop. To charge the e-bikes, plug in the electric cooker or blow-dry our hair in the morning, we also had a huge power bank with us.
At the current stage of development, the VW ID.BUZZ is more of a likeable SUV for the suburbs that reflects positively on its owner and doesn’t get you punished with a negative image. Those who want to use the car as a long-distance vehicle might want to pack nerves of steel and plan their trips around the vehicle’s range. This may be a no-go for many speed enthusiasts and meticulous trip planners, but honestly: isn’t that what true vanlife is all about? Picking an approximate destination and experiencing the real adventure on the road? A bit like in the old days, when the good old bus simply broke down because of an overheated radiator or such like, and you had to throw all your plans overboard. A road trip is – as the name suggests – a trip, not a package tour with a predefined arrival time and all-inclusive service; nor is it a hurried routine drive, but the conscious surrender to the landscapes rolling by and the disappearance of your sense of time: on a road trip, it is not only the person who is in charge of the vehicle, but also the vehicle itself that is in charge of its occupants. And this is where it really gets exciting.
The thrilling insight of the trip: with eMTBs, electrification has not only arrived, but has completely changed mountain biking. Everything is faster, higher, and further. And with the advent of Light-eMTBs, even the last doubters can be convinced. With the e-car, on the other hand, and especially the van, technological progress shows us a different picture: the journey is slowing down, the kilometres covered in one go become fewer. You have to be willing and able to accept this. The reward is usually a very special journey that will stay with you for a long time.
PS: As of 2025 at the latest, the VW ID.BUZZ will also be available as a California edition, i.e. a camping version, which will hopefully be able to satisfy the desire for self-sufficient mobile accommodation. In addition, there will soon be a longer wheelbase model with a larger battery.
4,000 km full of excitement and new impressions, herbs along the trailside, and sometimes desperate charging stops in the middle of the night. A road trip with the electric VW ID.BUZZ was new territory for us. And just as ebikes open up great new possibilities, the e-van takes us – and forces us – to visit new places: we have to question our fast-moving world and learn to endure what we may perceive as a waste of time. Travelling with the VW ID BUZZ is a matter of attitude. And if you need speed time in between: just grab the eMTB.
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Words: Julian Schwede, Robin Schmitt Photos: Mike Hunger, Robin Schmitt