The Loneliness of the Long Distance Biker Part 3: The Bike

A design opportunity is emerging for a long-distance electric vehicle that weighs more than a bicycle but less than a motorcycle. Ebike hobbyists are leading the way.

Last September I made a 240-mile journey by electric bike from Ithaca NY to New York City and back. The trip was not that remarkable in itself. No records were broken; there were no physical or mental challenges that needed to be overcome. In fact, that was the point of the journey: to show that a long-distance journey by electric bike could be easy and enjoyable. Part 1 of this series compared long-distance bike and car travel in general. Part 2 described the trip itself in detail. This Part 3 describes the modified touring bike I used to make the trip. What’s surprising about my bike is not how technologically advanced it is, rather the opposite. My bike is an electrified steel frame Nishiki Cresta touring bike from 1982 with a BMC rear geared hub motor.

Long Distance Ebike Design Criteria
What would the ideal long-distance electric bike look like? First of all let’s define our terms. By long-distance I mean Continue reading The Loneliness of the Long Distance Biker Part 3: The Bike

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Biker Part 2: The Trip

In Part 1 of this blog post series I described the context of my journey to NYC last September. I made the trip to demonstrate the feasibility of long distance travel by electric bike, and the People’s Climate March provided the perfect opportunity. This second part describes some details of the trip itself, then indulges in a vision of the future of long-distance biking.

One of the first mistakes I made was trusting Google maps to come up with a good route. In the past I’ve used the “bike button” on Google maps to show me bike trails along my route. For example, on a trip to Washington D.C. I was able to travel two-thirds of the 350-mile trip on scenic bike trails (in particular the C&O canal). Google recommended traveling south through Pennsylvania and then east through New Jersey, and promised a few rails-to-trails along the way. It looked good on the map! What happened in reality is that Continue reading The Loneliness of the Long Distance Biker Part 2: The Trip

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Biker Part 1: The Context

Author Laurence Clarkberg sets out from Ithaca to New York City, a 230-mile trip.

The question of the century is “How can we make vehicles that use less energy than our automobiles but have the same functionality?” Electric cars are a step in the right direction–they use about a tenth of the energy of gasoline-powered cars. However, the technology exists to go even further: electric bikes use about one one-hundredth the energy of gasoline-powered cars. But do ebikes have the same functionality as a car? For example consider long distance travel, meaning travel on the order of hundreds of miles. Can an ebike do that? Of course not, right? Last month I made a long distance trip on an electric bike in order to answer that question and discovered that the answer is Continue reading The Loneliness of the Long Distance Biker Part 1: The Context

Troy Rank’s Epic 4,400 Mile Ebike Journey and Why It’s Important

Troy is very casual about his epic 4,400 mile journey. Last year he noticed that the current Guinness Book of World Records for longest motorized bicycle journey was just over four thousand miles. He knew his bike could go that far. He knew he could go that far. He had his wife’s support. So he set out to break the record.

Of course it wasn’t easy. When he stopped by my shop last week on his way back to Rochester after cycling out to Colorado and back, I asked him about a bandage on his arm. “A dump truck ran me off the road. No big deal. I was able to lay my bike down on the grass, so just some cuts and bruises.” He kept a video blog about his journey. He describes many flat tires. He describes many electrical problems. On day 13 he describes how Continue reading Troy Rank’s Epic 4,400 Mile Ebike Journey and Why It’s Important

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.

Electric Cargo Bikes Have Car-Like Utility but Bicycle-Like Costs: Cool!

It might seem obvious that someone who adopts a car-free lifestyle is making sacrifices in order to live by their principles. The implication is that we should pity them. Cars can go faster, farther, and carry a lot more stuff than bikes, right? So they’re better, right? Not necessarily. Urban families are finding that an electric cargo bike can be a step up—a big step up—in meeting their transportation needs. And any task they can’t do on a bike they can accomplish with a rental car or carshare car.

When we look at the amount of time we spend on driving, the distances we go, and the amount of stuff we carry in our cars most of the time, an electric cargo bike can accomplish the same tasks over half the time, but for about 1/100 the cost. Think about that. Would you pay 100 times more for Continue reading Electric Cargo Bikes Have Car-Like Utility but Bicycle-Like Costs: Cool!

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.

Continue reading Winter Tips for Utility Bikers

The FlyKly Smart Wheel: Too Good to Be True?

There’s been a lot of press lately about an incredible-sounding new ebike product called the FlyKly Smart Wheel. We see gushing headlines such as “This Smart Wheel Makes Cycling in the City a Breeze”, “Effortless Pedalling Through Our Cities’ Streets”, “Keeps You Looking Fly”, and “This ground breaking invention just may be about to revolutionize commuter cycling forever”. The Smart Wheel is an electric hub motor similar to other hub motors that have been available for over a decade, but with a twist: the motor and all the electronics and batteries fit inside the wheel. Furthermore the wheel is controllable through a bluetooth connection to a smart phone. This connectivity enables some interesting features like a speedometer that appears on your handlebar-mounted smart phone, a way to lock the bike electronically, and a way to track your bike if it’s stolen. Pretty cool, but is the Smart Wheel too good to be true? Is it just hype? Decidedly no, it is easily for real. I’d say for people who haven’t yet tried an electric bike, this product will easily live up to the hype. Ebikes in general are impressive; this product is doubly so. And even for those of us who have been using electric bikes for years,

Continue reading The FlyKly Smart Wheel: Too Good to Be True?

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

Minimalist Cargo Biking

Every week during the summer I have to bike about 12 miles round-trip to pick up my farmshare vegetables. My route consists of three miles on a beautiful rails-to-trails path through the woods, three miles straight uphill to the farm, and then six miles home straight down Troy Road at speeds that can reach 30mph. Needless to say, I usually take my cargo bike for this task. Last week, however, I decided to Continue reading Minimalist Cargo Biking