Welcome Mrs. S., a biking mother of two young children who is making her first post here.
I don’t consider myself a hardcore cyclist, but after completing the 30 Days of Biking challenge and now having signed up for the Endomondo National Bike Challenge I have to admit to myself that at this point I am bicycling with at least the same frequency that I am driving my car. I feel like I should write at least something about my bike experiences.
Perhaps I should confess at this point that I love to drive. I also love my car. Having never had a car newer than 8 years old and most frequently having traded in a 16 year old vehicle, my 2010 is like a dream. It looks nice, runs great, has loads of space, and has a cd player (how could I ask for more?). It doesn’t get bad mileage either, for a mini-van. But I don’t love buying gas. I also don’t love using up fossil fuels for trips that could be just as easy (or even easier) with my bike.
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.
I recently increased the power of my Stoked Big Dummy by setting it up to use two 36v batteries in series rather than only the one 36v battery. (“Stoked Big Dummy” means a Surly Big Dummy extra long bike with a Stokemonkey electric motor.) The change required purchasing a more robust motor controller from the fine folks at ebikes.ca. I also had to open up the controller and solder some beefier resistors in there and make some other modifications. But the result has been amazing. My bike is now very responsive and can easily accelerate to 20mph in a few seconds, and go up hills at 15mph without pedaling. Normally in this blog I rail against speed, but I am discovering that this moderate increase in speed increases the utility and safety of my beloved car replacement vehicle. I can now go on single-afternoon 100-mile trips by bike without it being a big deal “tour”. And I can more easily maneuver in traffic and join the flow. True, I’m now using 20 watt-hours/mile rather than my usual 10 watt-hours/mile, but still nowhere near the 1200 watt-hours/mile that a car uses.
I won’t deny it, speed can also be fun. I recently put together an ebike for my daughter. In the photo above you can see that the bike has a big black front hub. That’s the motor. The batteries are in the bag on the bike rack. Her first ride produced in her the legendary “electric vehicle grin”. She said that her bike was “like a car disguised as a kid’s bike”. She instantly recognized that her new ebike would give her a basic freedom that is denied to kids in our society: the ability to use roads for transportation. Kids in our society are taught from the moment they can walk to stay out of the road. No wonder then that kids must rely on parents and school buses for transportation. No wonder we have an obesity epidemic in this country. The ebike, and the EV grin it causes, may change this sad state of affairs.
I thought this recent post to the Endless Sphere ebike forum by icecube 57 captured the “EV grin” phenomena that is currently only shared by hobbyists but may soon be experienced by the general public as ebikes take off. You can read the original post (along with video) here.
“In other news Im very suprised at the power of this motor. My neighor just moved in her bf. I came home to find them socializing with my wife in the garage. The conversation shifted to my bike. He was like ill try it later. I said you are going to try it now. He gave in. I started him off in Grandma mode. (20mph legal restricted) He was excited about that. The controller still dumps 3500-4000w off the line but it tapers off quickly and he proceeded to take my bike up the huge as hill on my street that I will stall on in grandma mode and it took him up the hill without stalling un assisted maintaing about 15mph. Which I cant even do unless I have a running start. He is about 120lbs lighter than me so I can understand it being easier on the motor and controller. He went around the block and came back. He said take this out of grandma mode. He had a grin from ear to ear…Its one thing to ride your own bike but to see someone else riding it with EV grin hauling ass at top speed in traffic like its a motorcycle”
For the record I only have a temporary interest in riding an electric motorcycle, until the grin wears off. My ultimate goal is to build a lightweight (200 lbs.) narrow (42″) slow (20mph) passenger-carrying “car” that falls within the legal definition of an ebike. I couldn’t see myself succeeding with 36v. I can definitely see it happening with a 72v machine.
My cargo bike is a Rans Hammer Truck with sling bag and runners. This is a “crankforward” design, which means that the pedals are about 10 inches in front of the seat rather than almost directly below. This has some interesting benefits:
The seat can be bigger and more comfortable, because it doesn’t have to be cut away to accommodate the motion of your thighs.
Your sitting position is more upright and natural. You aren’t supporting your weight on your hands, and your fingers don’t get numb.
You can crank pretty hard on the pedals by pulling back on the handlebar. You can climb a steep hill without standing on your pedals.
You ride an inch or two lower than a normal bike, which allows you to put your foot flat on the ground when you stop. That helps avoid tipping the bike when you’re carrying a heavy load.
The main downside to the crankforward design is that the bike feels a little wobbly when you’re travelling less than 3 m.p.h. I’ve fixed that by adding a BionX PL-350 electric motor. Now I can climb a steep hill with a heavy load at 4 or 5 m.p.h. — no wobbles! The battery and motor are hidden under bags. Since the motor is completely silent even under the heaviest loads, it’s not obvious to onlookers how much assistance I’m getting. 🙂
To heighten visibility during our gloomy Seattle days, I’ve added CatEye headlights and tail lights and Down Low Glow light sticks to increase visibility from the sides.
The final result is pretty expensive for a bike (around $5K), but cheap for a second car. I use it for errands, carting our kids up and down the hill to our local school, grocery shopping, going to the YMCA… well, you get the point. It’s a lot more fun than driving our mini-van around the neighborhood, but our bike lanes are nothing to brag about, so you have to be cautious as well. I never ride without the lights on.