The Blog

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sustainable camcorder

The camcorder I got about a month ago does not have an external mike. We need that to have good sound quality for the interviews along the route. Today I get to return the camera I got and buy another one on E-bay. Going used is a great way to reduce consumption. Hopefully it will work out!!
I read recently that Craigslist has changed the way people look at stuff. One person's old stuff becomes another person's new stuff. No new resources are mined and everyone is happy. The seller gets some cash and gets rid of something they no longer want or need and the new buyer gets a deal and something they want or need. Bicycles are actually a great used product since they can be become virtually new by replacing a few parts or just cleaning them up.
The obsession with 'new in the box' is something that needs to go away!!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hold the Presses!!

I got a phone call from Michael this morning and he dropped the bombshell that he doesn't want to ride!! I'm going to let him explain why but in the meantime, we plan to move ahead with his continued technical support. We do want another rider or series of riders so this wrench adds another project. Ever onward!!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Slowly coming together - Oliver

It's been a fun ride the last few weeks. After our attempt to build a team through the Presidio Graduate School didn't work out, we agreed to dip into our own networks and use other resources for building a team. Ryan And Hope arrived in our lives and have agreed to support the project however they can. In addition, they are loaning us their Mercedes Sprinter Van which is exactly the vehicle we wanted to get as a support vehicle but we didn't want to spend the money to buy one.
My buddy Steve has been helping us clarify our values and mission and as a consequence there is a lot more clarity around what we want to do. The challenge, as Steve says, is that there is a tremendous amount of work required to create impactful events along our route that will attract people and support their efforts to become agents of change for a sustainable future.
I started a website which is not beautiful but it is where a lot of my energy has been going as I try to describe the Ride. I also developed a route that connects a few points we definitely want to stop at like Albequerque, the Denver area, Eudora KS and Fairfield Iowa.
Ryan has been out of town for a week or so and when he returns, we will work on building some of the social network sites that we will be using like Facebook, Twitter, video links, links to this blog, etc.
I also am posting a request for volunteers on We'll see if anything comes of that!
Catherine is back from a vacation with our mother so she's ready to help out before she heads back to Sweden in early October.
Michael is hard at work on getting batteries and controllers that will meet our needs. We all agree that electric bicycles that break down all the time are not going to help our message!!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Desk I just finished

Why Electric Bikes?

This is my first post in the site. I'm Michael and have been building electric bikes for a couple years now and this project has given me the opportunity to step it up a notch. I love to tinker with things, always have. How this all started was that I would ask the question whenever I needed to go somewhere could I take the bike instead of the car? First I found that usually I would take the car because I needed to carry something, so I started riding an Xtracycle, then I noticed I would take the car because I didn't like peddling up the hill on my way back home from town. So I started with very small hub motors that gave me enough help to make most of my local trips very easy even with a load on the way home. Then being a good motor head and inventor at heart I wanted to improve on the performance of the original stock ebike conversion kit that I used (the Bionx). That system is actually very good in many ways until it gets old and starts to have a mind of it's own and is not really fixable as the motor and motor controller and battery are all integrated and the dealers don't really know how to fix them beyond buying a new battery / controller or console at a very steep price.
So for now what I am working on is biulding a team to help with the development of a very sturdy reliable bike that will make it across the US at a rate of 120 miles between charges. That can be done first by building a very efficient drive system and then building a very energy dense battery (at 80% discharge: 1620 watt hours / 25 pounds) and peddling a lot. Without peddling the bike would do perhaps 70 or 80 miles at the same average speed. Electric bikes are really for short trips and the rider can choose how much to peddle depending on how much energy they have, how hot a day it is or how far they need to go on a charge.
I like to use the image of the film Apollo 13 and see first how little energy we can use to get down the road, it's really a game, but last time I checked the planet was a sphere and a finite system like the Apollo 13 space capsule. So the first order of business is to see how much energy we can not use, like what you would do if you are planning a solar system for your house, reduce the amount of electricity you need. It's far cheaper to start with efficiency and build less PV capacity than it is to live by the old adage brought to us by the Nuclear Energy Commission moto: "To Cheap to Meter". I could go into details about how the battery systems are build, but some of the information is, for good reason, protected IP and other information is open source. We are using equipment that is all open source and sometime a bit crude, but the only way that this or any other technology will be available for prime time is if it is made in large enough quantities. Since it is by definition a "sustainable solution" the entire process from cradle to grave need to be looked at. For example, I would opt for a battery pack that can easily be fixed if one cell in a group of cells goes bad. This may cost a bit more to build, but perhaps not. It's a matter of good design and a huge impact on the sustainability of the battery pack when serviceability is designed into the system. When profit and "economic sustainability" are at odds, our challenge is to keep that inquiry open and find solutions that consider the true costs and market realities. One point of this ride is to open up the question in people's minds about the true cost of the things we use, remembering that we are on a large version of the Apollo 13 space capsule. It seems to me that the electric bike is a good platform to play with this question.


Friday, September 4, 2009

The bikes go to surgery

The other day, I rode my electric bike down the hill to meet Michael for an appointment we had in Menlo Park with a new Battery manufacturer named IMARA. I had a great ride down, the meeting went well and then we went back to our mother's house where we discovered that the motor bracket that is bolted to my frame was loose and bouncing around. Not good.
We did a quick fix and I rode home with the intent of doing a better fix. When I got home and was working with the bike I noticed that half a link on the drive train was broken. Also not good.
After talking with Michael, we decided to turn my aluminum framed bike into a regular bike and to convert the older recumbent I got to train with into the electric bike. So I spent the weekend switching parts around and on Teusday I went up to Michael's shop in San Geronimo and prepared my bike for surgery. Preparations included cleaning and removing the paint where brackets etc, need to be brazed. The brackets will hold the motor mount plate, the battery packs and the oversized disc brake. There will also be some smaller stuff done for routing brake cables etc.
We took a ride at lunch time on my sister's newly outfitted electric bike and on one of Michael's older bikes. I noticed a noise on the bike when it was under load and the following day, Michael discovered that one of the bearing supports that holds a sealed bearing was machined too large and caused the bearing to rattle around. An easy fix and the company has thankfully been very responsive in dealing with the problem.
With his extensive and talented resource pool of Marin County bicycle enthusiast he is putting together what promises to be very sturdy bicycles.