Cargo Bikes’ Hidden Danger

(April 1st, 2014) As this video demonstrates, a longtail cargo bike has a hidden danger: poor backup visibility. Because a cargo bike is longer than a regular bike, there exists a “danger zone” behind the rear wheel where the rider’s view is blocked. This video shows my attempts to develop a “backup camera” to alleviate this problem, with limited success. My camera is similar to cameras recently mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for all light vehicles.

Winter Tips for Utility Bikers

If you are like many utility bikers, especially if you replaced your car with an electric cargo bike, not biking in the winter is not an option. No matter what the weather conditions, you still need to bike to take your kids to school, commute to work, and pick up groceries. Is that even possible in the winter? The answer is emphatically yes. You’ll find a bike can get you where you need to go in any weather, in some ways more comfortably, more quickly and more safely than other forms of transportation. Sometimes it takes a bit of a sense of adventure to get going, but once you do you’ll find dread of winter biking is misplaced. Here’s some tips to help you along.

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A Simple Solution to Bicyclist vs. Motorist Conflict

There is a simple solution to bicyclist/motorist conflict that needs to be more widely recognized: electric bikes. To a great extent conflicts are caused by the difference in relative speed between cars and bikes. Electric bikes can help more cyclists close that speed gap. Motorists easily become annoyed and even enraged when they see Continue reading A Simple Solution to Bicyclist vs. Motorist Conflict

Shawn’s Electric Yuba Mundo

 

The author giving his touring bike a break

Today’s article comes from a guest contributor, Shawn McCarty of Venice, Florida. Shawn is an avid cyclist who has completed bike tours through various parts of the United States and Europe. His blog (aworldspinning.com) has some nice photos of his European adventure. And his custom electric cargo bike is amazing!

If you have biking facts, photos, or a story you think our readers would enjoy, let us know. We’re interested in presenting a variety of topics and points of view as we build our biking community.

Continue reading Shawn’s Electric Yuba Mundo

Biking with kids: crashing and learning

Yesterday I wrote about my 4 year old’s success with her first cross-town bike trip. I closed with a promise to tell the story of her ride with an unfortunate ending the day before.

 

Here’s that story, with more thoughts on kids and bike crashes.

We had ridden about 1.5 miles uneventfully through Richmond to
drop off a package at the Post Office. A Cardinal Greenway trailhead is
practically behind the Post Office, so we proceeded to ride up to Springwood Lake Park. Heading home, she had ridden just over 4 miles when she was suddenly thrown over the handlebars in a tangle of body and bike.

It seemed like the safest of conditions: She was on a flat stretch of paved
trail, with no one else close to her (except for me following her). I soon found there had been a singular rock on the trail– a golf ball-sized stone that had a similar color to the pavement. She impacted the front of her helmet. I think she would have had no injury at all, except she had recently bumped and bruised her
forehead on a fall while she was running. This time the helmet pressed against the bruise and made it hurt.

Continue reading Biking with kids: crashing and learning

Should Humans Be Allowed to Drive?

Robotic Drivers Will Make Streets Safer for Bicyclists and Pedestrians

NPR had an interesting article this morning about robot-driven cars.  Apparently Google has had several of these vehicles on the road for years. Up until now they have taken a “don’t ask permission and apologize afterwards” approach. But recently Google hired a lobbyist who is promoting the idea that these vehicles should be allowed to have driver’s licenses. The idea is that while the robot is in training it will have a bright red license plate so that people know it is a “student driver”. And after it proves itself it will have a bright green license plate.

Many people may balk at the idea of robots on the road. My perspective as a bicyclist is this: the sooner the better. Nothing could be worse than human drivers. Here are a few reasons we should welcome the robots:

Continue reading Should Humans Be Allowed to Drive?

Friends Bike Clinic

“There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end.”
-James Naylor’s deathbed testimony

I’ve been a bicyclist since I was a kid. As a middle-schooler I delivered newspapers from my bike. As a teenager I worked as a bike courier in Washington D.C. As a college student I biked from Portland to San Francisco on a three-week journey with my future wife. For me, bicycling is simply the most enjoyable way to travel.

Bicycling is also a way for me to care for the earth and to improve my community. In the last couple of years I’ve experimented with what the mainstream media calls a “car lite” lifestyle. I drive a large electrically-motorized bicycle that can easily carry a passenger and four bags of groceries up the steepest hills in Ithaca. In a typical month I put more miles on this bicycle than I do in the family car. I bike in all weather and in all seasons, and I make trips that are sometimes hundreds of miles long. I’ve found ways to almost completely (and comfortably!) replace our car with a bicycle.

I have a sense that others would like to bike more but don’t know how to get started. I’d like to share my experiences and learn about theirs. I’m setting up a project with Ithaca Monthly Meeting’s Earthcare Committee that I call the “Friends Free Bike Clinic”. Basically I will bring my tools to the meetinghouse deck and invite anyone to come by. We can work on our bikes together and share our knowledge about biking. Repairs could be as simple as a quick tune-up: cleaning a chain, pumping up tires, and adjusting brakes. Or they could be more involved: ordering and installing parts or even ordering whole bikes. In particular I encourage people to add electric motors to their bikes. I feel that an electric motor is a necessity for utility biking in Ithaca.

I plan to hold the bike clinic on fourth Sundays from 1pm to 3pm beginning September 25th (which also happens to be Porchfest, a neighborhood music festival). I invite complete novices as well as mechanically-minded people to join me.

-Larry Clarkberg

How to Bike Long Distances on Your Electric Cargo Bike

I am on a bike trip to Washington DC.–I am hoping to do more and more of my long-distance travel by electric cargo bike. I’m getting pretty good at it. Many of you are probably wondering “How can I too make such journeys?”

The hardest part is justifying taking the time. Expect a bike trip to take four times as long as driving. Use whatever rationale works for you: you’re saving the environment, you like to experience nature firsthand, you want to get in shape, whatever. I’m driven to bike out of a sense that it’s the way things should be, a way to make our transportation system humane (see a previous post about my vision).

The next hardest part is responding to the objections and warnings of your family and friends. They will say things like “Why don’t you just drive like a normal person?” They will imagine that biking on a lonely bike trail at 15 mph is somehow more dangerous than driving in dense traffic at highway speeds. Furthermore, there is an insidious bias in our culture that bikes are for recreation and cars are for utilitarian purposes. Therefore, the thinking goes, if you are on a long bike trip you must be on vacation. And you shouldn’t be on vacation if you have to do the serious business of getting to somewhere. This thinking makes it impossible to consider the bike as a valid long-distance transportation tool.

I went on several long bike tours in my college days. Those trips were basically fun ordeals. Long-distance bike trips don’t have to be ordeals any more. What has changed? The two big innovations are smart phones and electric assist for bikes.

When I bike I have my smart phone in one hand to tell me where I am and a printout from Google maps in my other hand to tell me where to go. I would be lost (literally) without them. Here’s how it works. Before I go on my trip I visit Google Maps and enter my starting and ending points. I then click Google Maps’ “bike button” to choose a bike-friendly route. I then print out selected portions of the route. The print outs are good insurance that I can find my way even if I can’t get a mobile phone signal. When I’m actually on my trip I stop periodically and use my phone to make sure that my current location corresponds to a spot on my printout. The phone has another use: finding hotels and campgrounds. I don’t reserve hotels in advance since it’s hard to know where I’ll end up. So when I get near my destination I simply search on hotels or campgrounds within a five mile radius, pick one, and dial. I wish I had had that feature in 1988!

The last step to going on a bike trip is the easiest: physically moving the pedals around. Plan on going 80 to 100 miles a day. I know that sounds like a lot to those of you who are experienced bike tourists. But electric assist changes the bike touring game: you can go a little bit faster and farther, carry a bit more, and work less hard. I remember that when I went bike touring 20 years ago I could expect to go 50 miles a day at 10 miles an hour. I carried about 50 pounds of stuff. Hills just about killed me. Now I plan to go 80 to 100 miles a day at 15 miles an hour. I can carry 100 pounds. And with electric assist, hills don’t require much more effort than flats.

The main drawback to traveling on an electric cargo bike is that you have to find an outlet to plug into at the end of every day. For that reason I mostly stay in motels. Motels are cheaper than hotels with the added advantage that since the rooms are at ground level you can wheel your bike into your room. I also carry camping equipment so I can camp out if necessary.

I am hoping that by next year I will be able to recharge my batteries completely with solar power on long trips. On a previous trip I was able to gather about one eighth to one fourth of my power from the sun using bike-mounted solar panels.

What does the future hold? More bike paths? Better batteries and motors? Really smart smart phones? And a kinder gentler transportation system? Let’s not just wait and see, let’s make it happen.

Cargo bike brakes with kids on board

To avoid developing brake monomania, I’m promising myself that this will be my last post (at least for awhile) on the topic of cargo bike brakes.

But I noticed something interesting during my emergency braking tests yesterday: my bike had approximately the same stopping distance when carrying 180 pounds of cargo as it did with no cargo.  How could I explain the physics of that?

I think it’s because stopping performance depends on the friction generated between the tires and the pavement.  On an unloaded bike, the front tire does extra duty as the weight of the rider bears down on it – just like the front of a car dips down during hard braking.  In this scenario, the unloaded back tire can’t produce as much friction, and it’s easier to lock into a skid.

With 180 extra pounds over the rear wheel, the back tire carries more weight, and the job of slowing down the bike will be more equitably distributed between the two wheels.  The greater momentum of the extra weight just about matches the extra friction exerted by the back tire, and stopping distances remain about the same.

That was comforting to me until I realized that the bike’s center of gravity is also an important consideration.  I carried my heavy containers of water relatively low.  If I were carrying a passenger on the cargo deck, the center of gravity would be higher, and once again a lot of that weight would be loaded onto the front wheel during hard braking.  Stopping distance would probably lengthen.

Trying to stop on a downward slope would also increase the load on the front wheel.  For some combination of slope, speed, weight, center of gravity, brake type and condition, and road slickness, there will be safety issues.

Skidding

As my experience shows, things get dicey if your tires begin to skid.  A skidding rear tire isn’t too bad, except that it might indicate less-than-optimal weight distribution and diminished stopping power.  There’s also a slight loss of maneuverability; it’s easier to steer the bike if both wheels are rotating.

A skidding front tire is another story.  It’s nearly impossible to steer when your front tire is skidding.  If you try, the tire is likely to catch the pavement, at which point your handlebars will be wrenched from your hands or you will be removed from your seat.  The outcome of that situation is up to God’s mercy.

Moral of the story

The main thing that motivated me to write about this topic again is the realization that emergency stops with human cargo may be riskier than heavy loads with a lower center of gravity.  Especially if you’re carrying kids, you should practice a series of quick stops at progressively higher speeds until you find your comfort limit, and then you should stay below it.  Holding on during quick braking is good practice for your kids as well.

In addition, you should be extra, extra careful on hills or wet streets.

With kids on board, I am planning to reduce my speed and rethink my transport strategy in wet weather.

Cargo bike stopping distance

Regular readers of my blog know that I have been worried about cargo bike brakes for the past several months.  Yesterday my wife and kids left for a multi-day camping trip, and I decided this would be the perfect time to do some braking experiments with a loaded cargo bike.

In my mind, there are two kinds of braking I’m asking my bike to do: long, steady descents where I just need to keep my speed in check, and quick emergency stops.  I have a lot of experience with the former category – practically every weekday I pick up my kids from the school at the top of our hill and carry them down the steep slope.

On the other hand, I’ve only made a couple of emergency stops during the past year, so I haven’t been as confident in the ability of my brakes to stop a heavy load.  This morning before dawn, I loaded our mini-van with the bike and containers of water weighing a total of 180 pounds.  My destination was the parking lot behind the Seattle Museum of Flight.  I was looking for a long stretch of flat pavement that would allow me space to accelerate and skid to a stop.

And now I’ll cut to the chase.  When it comes to the Hammer Truck’s emergency stopping power, the big news is that there is no big news.  The bike stopped a combined weight of 420 pounds (180 pounds of water, 160 pounds of me, and 80 pounds of bike) travelling at 20 miles per hour, and it brought me to a complete halt in about the width of a parking space (less than 10 feet).  That wasn’t significantly longer than the stopping distance for the unloaded bike.  For that matter, it was on par with the stopping performance of our mini-van, and that’s comforting given the frequency I have to ride in mixed traffic.  However, I caught the unmistakable whiff of hot brakes and skidding rubber with the increased load.  The brakes were definitely working harder, even though they still felt solidly in control.

With considerable relief and bolstered confidence, I decided to repeat the experiment on a patch of wet pavement that had been moistened by the museum’s sprinklers.  That turned out to be a mistake.  The tires locked and I went into an uncontrolled skid, followed by an awkward low-speed crash.  I ended up on the ground, chain torn off the crank, and front wheel turned backwards.  Fortunately, neither bike nor rider was injured (but I was grateful there were no spectators at that hour of the morning).

This won’t come as a surprise to experienced cyclists.  Braking on wet pavement is a completely different story, and adding a heavy and somewhat badly-balanced load makes things even worse.  Perhaps I haven’t given slick pavement the caution it deserves during our damp Seattle winter – now I will.

How applicable are my results to cargo bikes in general?  My concerns about emergency braking have been mostly mitigated by these experiments, but with disc brakes on both wheels and the BionX motor assisting with regenerative braking, my bike is probably near the top of the class.  It’s possible that less favorable results would occur if you tried to stop a heavier load travelling faster with less capable brakes. Don’t let my unscientific results make you over-confident in your brakes.  I recommend doing your own experiments to give your equipment the opportunity to earn your trust.