“As a kid I had a dream – I wanted to own my own bicycle. When I got the bike I must have been the happiest boy in Liverpool, maybe the world. I lived for that bike. Most kids left their bike in the backyard at night. Not me. I insisted on taking mine indoors and the first night I even kept it in my bed. — John Lennon
I live at the bottom of a gully. Yes, I am gully folk and that is where I first met Cooter Ditchman, but I digress…
The hill that funnels cars into my gully is not long at 1320 feet–but my gully life resides 130 feet below the summit.
By comparison, it is nineteen and a half miles from the bottom of Pikes Peak, via the Pikes Peak Highway, to Pikes Peak–a 7,000 feet elevation gain. If my little gully funnel were to extend nineteen and a half miles, the total elevation gain would be 10,140 feet–which makes my little hill 30% steeper. In bicycle parlance, my little hill, (fondly referred to as “Heart Attack Hill”) is a grinder.
Interesting drivel yes/no?
Add in the fact that I am substantially closer to age 70 than I am 50 and you can see why it is problematic to ride my bicycle to work–a short 4.5 miles away. There is no way to warm-up and that is the excuse I have been using for the past 10 years to drive to work. Perhaps more important, there is no shower facility–even though I can remain minty fresh without a shower for weeks…
That said, I am no stranger to cycling having logged over 6,000 miles (on my 1972 Motobecane road bike) in Oregon alone by participating in Cycle Oregon 10 times. In addition I have completed several double centuries (200+ miles in two days)–and yes, your butt hurts like hell afterwards. So it is not that I am a lazy ass, cycling is pure drudgery when you live in a gully.
Last January during my work retreat, I attended a San Diego farmer’s market in the heart of Little Italy and saw my first electric bike. I didn’t know what to think at the time, but it made an impression.
In June, I read a magazine article explaining why all of the major car manufacturers were getting into the e-Bike business–in short, it is perceived as a serious threat to commuting by car. This interested me enough to start researching e-bikes.
Lucky for me, Portland is home to the e-Bike Store and I quickly learned there are three main categories of e-bikes, front wheel drive, rear wheel drive and mid-drives. All have their pros and cons and if this interests you, there is plenty of info available on the web.
I chose a kit to convert my old Trek 7600 hybrid into a 500 watt front wheel drive e-bike with the help of the friendly staff at the e-Bike Store. Total damage was $1300–more on this later.
I apologize for the crummy cell phone pics, but the following images help to explain this process. Here is my bike after the conversion, the motor is the front hub, and the 36v battery is locked into the special rack;
The most important aspect of a conversion is the reinforcement of the front dropout–the torque on these geared front hubs is enough to “lay rubber”. Without this reinforcement, the motor is capable of shearing the dropout–an equal but opposite force that could be seriously dangerous if ignored.
The electronic control is basic–battery level, and the percent pedal assist in 20% increments (the blue lights), here it is set for 60% battery assist when pedaling–no pedaling, no assist… unless you manually override with the motorcycle grip style throttle. Range is 20-30 miles between charges. The battery will go from dead to full in 3.5 hours.
I have had my new “old” bike for about a month and I am ecstatic with the results. With gas at $4 bucks a gallon it cost me about $1.80 per day for my commute without calculating wear and tear/oil/tires or insurance. Although this is not my motivating reason for the conversion, it adds up fast. In addition, I called my car insurance company and was able to reduce my annual premium by $130. So for those of you who insist on timely payback, the math may work in your favor–I actually did not care, I was more worried about being mistaken for the Michelin man while walking downtown… I needed exercise.
E-bikes are the fastest growing transportation sector in Europe and there are approximately 15 million of them in use. There are 150 million of them in use in China. The last number I saw for the U.S was about 800,000 which makes the e-bike business a nascent business.
Interestingly, the whole topic of e-bikes with friends and family is polarizing. “What is wrong with pedaling?” Or my favorite, “That is cheating!”. “I am a strong rider, so I don’t need that…” Whether these are valid or reactionary, the fact remains that I have been riding my bike to work without the need of a shower. That is awesome.
It wasn’t long ago that mountain bikes were polarizing and as it turned out, they completely rejuvenated the bicycle industry. I believe e-bikes will have a much greater role in changing the way we move ourselves on the planet–it has started seemingly everywhere else but here. Regardless, it is an amazingly fun ride. And consider this; all things considered equal, one rider on an e-bike and one on a regular bike ride until the unassisted rider burns 1000 calories. The e-bike rider will burn 300-400 calories. But get this–at the end of one year, the e-bike rider will burn about 10 times more calories because riding an e-bike is addictive. (When I find the link to this article I will update this post–I can’t find it.) One Portland customer bought an e-bike from the e-Bike store last fall and has lost almost 50 pounds in 8 months.Although my experience is albeit short, I can see why, riding is addictive in a world without hills.
When I last filled my car with gas I had driven 301 miles on that tank. More telling was my average speed for that tank of gas; 23.9 mph. The last 75 miles on my e-Bike my average speed was 15.1 mph. That is amazing to me. I may be getting closer to 70 but I feel like I am pushing 13! I know an e-bike may not be for everybody, but it is a really fun way to get to work and burn a few calories to boot.
One last thing–according to Wake, the proprietor of the e-Bike Store, 95% of the folks who actually come in and ride an e-bike buy one. If I was 50 years younger, I would get in this business in a heartbeat!
PS: My conversion was not fool proof and uncovered a few, but solvable surprises. FYI.