The Blog

Monday, October 31, 2011

Climate Ride on an electric Bike

On October 2nd, Catherine, my brother Michael and myself headed out of Fortuna, Ca on our electric bikes for a 5 day ride to San Francisco.  The ride sponsors support the ride and non-profits of our choice by getting us to raise donations from our personal networks  There were about 125 riders on the adventure and the three of us were the only ones with electric power assisted bicycles.  It felt great to get out on the road again even though I was worried about my aging rear tire and my weakening battery packs.
The first day out was wonderful.  We gently pedaled through the awesome columns of giant redwood trees on the Avenue of the Giants.  The rest of the riders were curious and courteous towards us and our electric rigs.  That night we settled in for our first nights rest and then the rains began.  Around midnight it started to pour and it didn't stop until about 7 pm the following evening.  Unable to wait out the weather, we all rode through worse weather than anything my sister and I had encountered on our 2 month cross country trip.  About halfway through the day and near the bottom of a very large hill, my batteries started to fail.  If I pulled too many watts out of them, they shut off and I had to restart the system.  Fortunately, I could watch my real time drain on the batteries and was able to get over the hill in my lowest gear pedaling as hard as I could.  After lunch, the batteries failed and I was in the rain with a 80+ pound bike and almost no muscle energy left.  The support vehicle was able to pick up my batteries so I lost about 25 pounds but I was still too tired to do much climbing.   About 5 miles before the end of the day, my rear tire went flat.  So everything that I feared happened, and I still survived.  After finally succeeding in patching my inner tube in very wet weather, I rolled into Fort Bragg on the California coast and that evening I gave a short presentation on electric bicycles and our cross country adventure.  My experiences of the day dampened my enthusiasm for electric bikes but I did manage some humor and I was able to convey a few of the advantages of electric assist bicycles.
The ride went on with bad weather harassing us most of the rest of the trip.  I do remember the last day, the sun came out for a while as Catherine and I powered our way up and out of canyon that took us over the ridge into Sausalito from Stinson Beach.  It was a short day, only 40 miles, so we used lots of battery power to pass most of the riders ahead of us.  There were riders who were stronger than us even though they had no electric assist.  They had very light bikes and very strong lungs and legs.  I was glad to see that pure pedal power in strong hands can top an electric powered system ridden by a couple of aging siblings.
The trip was a personal test of will for many of the riders and a very strong bonding experience for most of us.  Someone mentioned that it was like a forced military march (I wouldn't know) but we did not have the option of bailing out.
Still sunny! Brother Michael on his electrified "Big Dummy" cargo bike.

The three sibs enjoying a dry dinner.

Morning of the Century Ride - Fort Bragg to the Russian River
The group is very active still and informal rides are organized almost every weekend.  Last week we went to a Keystone Pipeline demonstration in San Francisco and ran into 2 other climate riders.  We are a big family, bonded by hardship, laughter, a love of bicycles and the planet.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

3 more steps on the journey to Electric Powered Transportation

1)  It was a cold and dreary Sunday when I rode over to Erik's house on my bike that we planned to light up with LED's.  Erik's father, Roger got very involved as we set up in the garage and went through the long process (six hours) of installing LED's, a rear "bumper" for attaching some of the lights, the DC to DC converter (takes the 36 volts out of the battery and turns it into 12 volts to power the lights).  Erik was amazing.  Not only for his stamina but for the string of ideas he had for solving the challenges that we encountered.  Erik's mother and Erik's sister also joined us in the garage and contributed good cheer and a nice plastic soap dish that houses the DC to DC converter.  As you can see by the photos, the results are amazing.  These are really bright lights that are even visible when direct sunlight is shining on them.  Not only to I feel safer riding around but I am turning heads and starting conversations about electric bicycles that are started by admiration for my lighting.  Quite a successful project.  By the way, with all the lights running, I am using about 11 to 12 watts of power.  Considering that the average power draw of the motor is probably around 300 watts, I'd say the demand on the battery created by the lights is pretty insignificant.  And I never have to worry about batteries for my lights!

Figuring things out

The finished product

2)  The tandem build -
After finally getting all of the pieces together, I set up a time to put the tandem together.  A lot of the work was purely mechanical so I was able to get some of the students to work together with me and Jonathan Ando as we build up the bike.  When we got it ready to roll, it ran okay for about 10 minutes and then died.  In addition, the gears weren't working well so there was a lot of skipping going on.  The students were very engaged and the ten minutes of riding that we did get were lots of fun.  After school was out, Jonathan and I figured out that we had another controller on the bike that we built in Boulder on our trip.  We switched out the controller and the bike worked great.  We had a number of theories about what was up but the bottom line is that the controller that came with the wheel didn't work.  As with electronic components, if they die, they tend to die pretty much right away.  Once they prove that they work, they seem to work for a long time.  Golden Motors is very good about backing their products so I don't think I will have any problem replacing the bad controller.
Later, I put a different deraileur on the rear wheel and it works a lot better.  With a little adjustment, I think this bike will be up and running in a jiffy.   Taxi anyone??

Coming together - 
Notice the Green battery pack from our cross country adventure

Jonathan Ando and Julio
The maiden voyage

 3) The arrival of the electric motorcycle.
Back in early December, I ordered an electric motorcycle from Zelectric Vehicles  Slated to arrive at a friends house in the flats after 3, the motorcycle arrived around 8.  The throttle wires had been pulled out during shipping and it was fairly dark by the time I had the bike off the truck so I had to go back the next day to try to get the bike working.  After a couple of days of messing around and with the owner of the company providing limited support from China, I was able to get the bike running and oh, what a blast!!
(The bike is assembled in America and the owner was visiting China on business with his component suppliers.)  I am currently trying to get the DMV to understand that the motorcycle doesn't need EPA certification since it is an electric bike and has no emissions.  I had a very challenging conversation with the DMV person who was not interested in "out of the box" challenges.  I did manage to get a temporary permit and I have to get the motorcycle certified by the California Highway Patrol before heading back to the land of the DMV.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tandems, a climate change denier and LED's

As I continue to engage the High School students with electric bikes, the idea of an electric tandem has become increasingly attractive.  So I started cruising around Craigslist looking for the perfect tandem.  I wrote a note to the people selling tandems and here it is:


I am interested in your tandem and would like to ask you to consider possibly donating the bike after reading the following:

Last year I rode an electric bike across country with my sister to demonstrate the viability of electric bicycles and to feature "sustainable solutions".

It was a complete blast!!

Now I am leveraging that experience into an effort to bring electric bicycles into the local high school. There are a number of reasons for this.

1) Getting students out of cars. The parking lot at the school is mayhem as you can probably imagine.

2) Teach "at risk" students about both bicycle mechanics and electric drive systems. (I plan to convert the bicycle to electric.)

3) A tandem offers the opportunity to create a very 'cool' vehicle. From what students keep saying, a tandem would be completely awesome since they could then give rides. After dropping their passenger off, the driver would not have a huge heavy bike to haul home since the motor would help.

I am volunteering my time at Woodside High School because I firmly believe that fossil fuel free vehicles need to play a much bigger role in meeting our transportation needs. A tandem offers passenger accommodation, which is a huge benefit.

Since Woodside High is a State institution, your donation would be tax deductible and I would be able to get you a letter for tax purposes that would let you deduct the replacement cost of your bike.

If this is interesting to you, please let me know.

Here's a link to the Green Academy at Woodside High School. I am working with the students and staff in this program.

Cheers, Oliver Bock 650 851 7883

I thought it was a good letter.  The first two people I sent it out to ignored me but the third one sent me a real winner.  Here it is:

This is not something I would be interested in.  I think green stuff is generally a screw job.  I also have no interest in helping "at risk" students.  They get enough help already.  If you want to really help them teach them how devastating liberalism is.  I also love my fossil fuel vehicle.  Good (sic) help America!!!!!!

Even though I didn't get the bike, I'm sure getting a lot of mileage out of this response.   I shared it with the students and now I'm sharing it here.  And this response is from someone nearby!  No, California is not only populated with liberal, Volvo driving, Latte drinking environmentalists.
Needless to say, I still don't have a tandem.
A nice cargo bike I saw in Portland.  There's a strong pedal only purist attitude that I found in Portland even though some of the most dedicated electric bike people live and work in Portland.  This bike is human powered and the carrier is designed for the owner's Great Dane!

On a more friendly note, I visited my 11 year old lighting engineer who is very excited about the lights we got and how he's going to wire them up so that they will convert the 36 volts of power from the battery to the 12 Volts that they use.  Erik carefully described the electronic devices he will build to do the conversion as well as include a flashing feature.  We're planning an install day once he gets the electronics built.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Storage unit finished . . . enough - Time for E-Bikes

View of storage shed from the parking lot.  Tin will become the 'canvas' for a mural.

Storage shed from the 'business' side.

The last view of the storage area before it gets filled up.

On Tuesday, I spent a few hours finishing up the major building on the storage shed for donated bikes.
During the process, many of the students got involved.  Probably the most fun and surprising help came from a couple of the female students who took ownership of getting the corrugated tin walls wired to the cyclone fence.  They insisted that it was their project so I saved the work for them when they had time to help.  They did a great job and the wall looks great.
We are looking at the wall as a palette for a mural.  Another student is a graffiti artist and he is going to bring some design ideas for painting the tin wall.  It's a 8 foot high by almost 30 foot space that will hopefully get painted in a colorful way that promotes the activities of the Green Academy.  Those activities include the garden, the chickens, the bicycle restoration project and other "green" activities.  It will be fun to watch the mural take shape.
As I've been working at the school, I'm slowly getting to know some of the students and learning about their lives.  There are a number of the students who are "high-risk".  They are not very committed to academics, they have had negative encounters with authorities and I can see that if they don't find a productive outlet for some of their energy, there is a real possibility of bad outcomes.  On the other hand, some of these same students are fascinated by bicycles.  I see real potential for positive outcomes driven by engagement with bicycles.  Hopefully, the electric bicycles will add another level of attraction for some of these students and get them involved in building better lives for themselves and bicycles that will get more people out of cars.
Next week, I will start with electric bikes.  I haven't quite figured out how to get the program going since there are significant financial hurdles to building e-bikes.  I've been toying with a few ideas but I think I will see where the interest is first and then figure out how to fund the building of e-bikes.  One model is to pre-sell electric bikes based on allowing the use of one of my existing bikes.  Another model is to cover the cost of building a bike or two and loaning them out as rewards for students who are helpful. Getting students to raise enough money to buy a conversion kit for their own bike is another model.  We'll see what unfolds.

As an aside, brother Michael is committed to building electric cargo bikes for people who need to haul more than just their bodies around.  His skill as a woodworker helped him build a beautiful trailer for one of his bikes that is going to a restaurant over in Oakland.  Before he delivers it, he is testing the trailer by moving his entire household to a new house about 3 miles away.  Lots of trips but he has been having a great time making the move.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Back to School

High Tech structure.  The fence supports the high side "posts" and header while repurposed cement parking lot bumpers support the lower posts and header. School parking lot is in the background.
(Notice the 18 foot header, on the ground next to the posts, fabricated out of 2 - 10' 2X6's and 2 - 8' 2X6's.  I stagger the seams and use 1/2" plywood scraps  in between the two 2X6's.  Lots of glue and lots of nails make for a very strong, straight beam. From a sustainability point of view, using smaller lumber to build larger lumber requires the use of smaller trees and is therefore more sustainable.  Manufactured beams, called 'Glulams' are stronger than the equivalent solid lumber beam.) 

Bicycle shed in the foreground where tools and parts are stored.  There's also a workbench inside for rainy days.  The corrugated tin on the fence will be painted as a mural announcing the garden and bicycle project.  Behind the fence and up the hill is the garden and chickens.  I would love to be a high school student here!!

I spent every afternoon last week at the High School working on the storage structure for donated bikes and parts.  It has been a lot of fun getting to know the students and giving them jobs that help get the project done.  We should be finished by the end of next week and then I can start focusing on building an electric bicycle or two. ( I still haven't figured out the permission needed to post photos of the students. It gets complicated when the school is involved.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Electric Riders Project (ERP) accelerates and detours

Suddenly, my involvement with Woodside's Green Academy and the Electric Bicycle Project is in full swing.   But not as I had envisioned.
Last Thursday I attended a meeting with some of the interested parties.  One gentleman is excited about creating a Bike Swap once a month on campus.  This would attract bikers interested in a flea market focused on bicycles.  The booth fees would go to the Green Academy's bicycle club.
Another gentleman is a retired teacher and loves to build very nice bikes.  He wants to teach bike mechanics.
A former Woodside student is helping design the bike club by working with the students until he goes back to college in Sonoma next week.
A couple of students showed up because they are interested in bicycles and want to participate.

One of the shortcomings of the infrastructure is that there is no storage for donated bikes.  The poor beasts have been sitting out in the nasty weather getting less and less attractive.  I volunteered to build a storage unit and now I find that my interest in electric bikes has me building a shed!  (It brings me back to my happy days of theater set building on my college campuses. University of Oregon, UC Santa Cruz and Dominican College in San Rafael.)

So yesterday, I rode my bike to Home Depot and loaded up the materials needed for the shed.  Mac, the college student, helped me and as we finished, Josh Rubin showed up with the school van and a couple of students to drive the materials back to Woodside.  He left a little bit before I did and I got to campus with about 2 minutes of his arrival time.  They had only unloaded 1 board when I arrived!  Point being that the electric bike, for relatively short trips in town is just as fast as driving. (But not as good at hauling a ton of building materials.)  I was very happy to be able to demonstrate the speed and efficiency of electric bike travel.

What the heck?  Denver, CO -  June 2010

I apologize for not posting pictures.  I am working out issues around permission for the students pictures to be posted on this blog.  It shouldn't be a problem but I do need to respect their privacy.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Woodside High School Electric Rider Project (ERP) - Day 1

The cold snap ended the first day I rode down to Woodside High to start working with the students. Unfortunately, the roads were still wet and my bike got very messy.  On the bright side, I was able to test the water resistance of my electrical system.  I also added an inexpensive (about $30.00) gauge that tells me how much electricity I'm using real time and keeps track of the amp hours that I use over the distance of my trip.  The $120 Cycle Analyst that we had on our cross country bikes gives a lot more information but it is more information than I understand and too expensive for the population that I am trying to get onto electric bikes.
I arrived on campus and saw a group of students hovering around the bicycle shed.  Only one female student was there and she was labeling and organizing tools.  The "guys" were more random and were delighted with my offer to try out my bike.  Even though they couldn't reach the pedals since my frame is so big, they got a great thrill getting pulled around by the front wheel hub motor.  It's not difficult getting them to appreciate the fun factor.  (The woman student didn't want to ride the bike.  She doesn't like bicycles after she had an accident as a child that split her chin open.  She likes to work with her hands and that's why she's involved with the bicycle club.)
After a while, we all headed to teacher Marin Aldrich's classroom.  Different groups of students were working on different components related to making the bicycle club work.  The idea is to build bikes out of  old bikes and sell them.  So students were talking about everything from getting old bikes donated, to soliciting bike shop support for parts, to researching Craigslist as a marketing tool, etc.
I spoke for about ten minutes about my vision for adding electric bikes to the program.  What I remember about my words was that I kept switching back and forth between talking about the micro details of putting together electric bicycles and the big picture of global sustainability.  The point being that repurposing existing bikes with or without motors is a very good way to reduce our carbon intensive impact on the planet.
Minimal new materials. (Maybe new tires, brake pads and seats.)
If the bicycle replaces a car trip, the impact becomes measurable.
Taking advantage of resources in the community fosters local engagement which is vital to building healthier communities.
Learning to build a bike encourages self sufficiency which is an important part of growing up as well as a  necessity in the carbon constrained world that awaits our children.

I finished off my visit with a conversation with one of the students about building storage for donated bikes and an outdoor work bench attached to the shed.  Vital and simple projects that need to be done soon.

The following day, I met my sister Catherine at Oracle headquarters which was about a 25 mile round trip bike ride.  With my new gauge, I observed that I used less than 7 amp hours to cover the distance.  When I compared that to a car that gets about 25 miles per gallon, my electricity cost was under 10 cents whereas the cost of gas for the trip would have been over $3.00.  Another fun feature was that I got to my destination in the same or slightly less time than it would have taken in a car.  I rode during rush hours and by using back roads and riding alongside cars at intersections, I was able to keep a good average speed that got me to Oracle quite fast.
The bad news was that on the way home, Catherine was cut off by a car driver who turned right in front of her. She crashed into the car, fell off her bike and the driver didn't even stop.
It's dangerous out there so be careful!!!