Tonight my wife rode our two kids out to dinner in the bakfiets. The 9 month old baby rides in a rear-facing car seat, while the 4 year old sits on the bench seat. The target restaurant was in a mall parking lot off a busy road, about 3 miles away. However, with a bit of research and experimentation, we found a back way into the mall that is only a bit further and is much lower traffic. We even got to see a rabbit!
I rode along on our electric Yuba Mundo with the requisite parenting gear. The trip was a great way to combine some exercise, family time and transportation.
Cargo bikes are increasingly viable as car-replacement vehicles, but there are some significant differences between the options to choose from. The Surly Big Dummy is lighter, while Workcycle’s bakfiets puts kids front and center with a large box for cargo up front. Yuba’s elMundo is one way to add electric assist to the equation.
I have not had my own car for a decade. Instead my family replaces a second car with a number of bikes and other gear. Our bikes have included WorkCycles bakfiets, an electric Yuba Mundo and a Surly Big Dummy. Here’s how they compare with each other based on our experience riding each as part of our regular routines.
The basic details about each are readily available online, and won’t be repeated here, although the photos below will give you a sense of each.
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:
Here’s a little photo essay about my family’s bicycles. I’m proud to say that we use our bikes a lot. Each bike is tailored to its user: I drive a cargo bike capable of carrying passengers and cargo long distances; my wife drives a slower and lighter but more stylish bike; my 11-year-old daughter Thea and her friend JJ drive bikes tailored to their 2-mile drive to school. (My son Jasper, aged 15, resists having a bike. He pretty much walks wherever he needs to go.) Ithaca is hilly, so it’s important for a utility bike to have an electric motor. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years experimenting with electric bike motors and other accessories. Maybe you can benefit from my discoveries.
The Aqua-Xtracycle is a do-it-yourself amphibious electric cargo bike. This video shows how it works, and the photo gallery below shows a bit of our development process. In a future post I’ll describe how you can make your own Aqua-Xtracycle.
“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.
If you have been following my blog about electric cargo bikes for a while, you know that I often make predictions about where the market for these bikes will go. Over time, many of my predictions have come to pass, but usually later or on a smaller scale than I had anticipated. For example, I wrote this almost a year ago:
I know what cargo biking will look like when it enters the mainstream, and I bet you do, too. We’ll see stores like Wal-Mart and Costco selling electric cargo bikes for about half the price of today’s models. They will be made in China, and probably designed there as well. When that day comes, I won’t know whether to cheer or cry…
That was one of my most audacious predictions, and one that I didn’t expect to happen any time soon. But let’s check where we are one year later. Available at Wal-Mart? Yes, but not electric cargo bikes, just electric bikes in their traditional form, priced between $400 and $800. Still, an electric bike for $400? That’s just unbelievable. Or maybe crazy – the bike has mixed reviews from customers on Amazon.
But as far as I can tell it’s not manufactured in China, and surely not designed there, so that part of my vision hasn’t arrived yet.
I now have a Twitter account just for the topic of bikes-as-transportation. You can find me on Twitter as @BikesAsTrans. My hope for the account is to share related content from myself and others around the internet, as well as to provide short timely updates about my experiences with family cycling, cargo bikes, and electric bikes.
I look forward to posting more content here as well. This spring we added a second child to the family, and also added a Surly Big Dummy as my personal bike, complementing our existing bakfiets and my wife’s electric Yuba Mundo. There’s plenty to say about how these three distinct cargo bike options compare, contrast and combine. If you have a question about how any of them compare, leave a comment here and I’ll try to answer your question.
For now, here’s a couple recent photos from Flickr. Click through either for more explanation.
Caution: shop talk blog post intended for do-it-yourselfers. For my recent 240-mile journey I created what I call my “trip batteries”—batteries that I can attach to my bike to augment my regular batteries, but that I don’t intend to carry around on a daily basis. As such, the main design criteria for these batteries is that they be inexpensive. I don’t want to pay the big bucks for a battery that I only use once in a while. The obvious choice is SLA (sealed lead acid) batteries. These are the same kind of batteries used in cars, and the technology is almost 100 years old. E-bikers out there may poo-poo this choice of battery. After all, compared to my lithium batteries, my SLA batteries are heavy (20lbs vs. the lithium’s 15lbs), not quite as powerful (600wh vs. the lithium’s 720wh), don’t last as long (300 charge cycles vs. the lithium’s 1,500) and they are dumb (that is, they don’t have a battery management circuit board in them to prevent human error from damaging them, although most controllers provide the necessary protections). But they are cheap. I can put together a 10ah 36v battery for about $120 versus a 10ah 36v battery for $600.
A couple of weeks ago I set out on a 240-mile journey from my home in Ithaca NY to the New York Yearly Meeting (a Quaker gathering) in Silver Bay. Silver Bay is a resort on Lake George in the scenic Adirondacks. My vehicle of choice: a Surly Big Dummy cargo bike equipped with a Stokemonkey electric motor. I had made this journey last year covering the distance in three days. This year I planned to tackle the distance in two days, going 120 miles each day.
Last year my strategy was to charge my batteries en route using three solar panels supported over the rear of my bike. The solar panels were helpful, but couldn’t generate as much electricity as I needed. This year I upgraded my bike to use two 36-volt LiFePo4 batteries in series (for 720 watt-hours), and for this trip I carried an additional pair of 36-volt SLA batteries (for an additional 600 watt-hours). All of these batteries together weigh about 70 pounds.
I purposefully limited the amount of power my bike could draw from the batteries. My 72-volt system can easily push my bike over 20 mph, but at that speed my distance would be limited to about 60 miles. However, if I kept my speed between 10 and 15 mph I could get a full 120 miles out of my batteries, though I would have to be in the saddle 12 hours.