Dumb and not so dumb questions answered
Well, here’s some more footage of my new bike. I couldn’t think of a better way to convey its ability to accelerate uphill than to just do it with normal bikes in the background for comparison. Note the dearth of spandex. Is this fad about to go the way of the powdered wig?
The following are some answers to frequently asked questions:
Q: How fast can it go?
A: I don’t know. In theory, my car can do 110 mph, but I will never drive it that fast. It is acceleration that matters, not top speed.
Q: Can you recharge the batteries by pedaling?
A: Ah, the idea is to use energy stored in a battery to impart a forward velocity to the bike, not to sacrifice your forward velocity to charge batteries. This question is really about regenerative braking (turning the electric motor into a generator when decelerating or going downhill). In reality, this feature returns so little energy that it is not worth the added cost and complexity. However, the concept is very appealing (like biofuels, mostly because it is so poorly understood). The idea of getting something for nothing feels good and this feature does add an additional bragging point. I’m tempted to put it on just so I can say yes when asked, although I really don’t like the idea of more wires and levers.
Q: How far can it go?
A: As far as you can pedal it. The range of the battery however, depends on how hard you pedal, how fast you move, how many hills you hit, headwinds and on and on. In general I have found that four batteries give me between ten and twenty miles depending on how fast I ride. I tend to go easy on long rides and goose it on shorter ones. I have yet to run out of juice on a ride but if I ever do, pedaling home will be a non-issue (although I can always hang out in a restaurant for a half-hour or so to recharge).
Q: How much does it weigh?
A: Bicyclists have grown accustomed to measuring a bike’s worth by how much it weighs. It is a meaningless parameter for comparing a regular bike to a hybrid-electric bike, just as it is for comparing a regular bike to a tandem. They do weigh more, so if you have to carry one up a flight of stairs be prepared to hump an extra twenty or so pounds (excluding batteries which are in a separate bag and don’t weigh much if they are DeWalts).
Q: Isn’t an electric bike cheating?
A: This the most common question I get and it is also hands down the dumbest. It often comes from people who ride an expensive bike to nowhere in particular only on occasional sunny weekends for a little outdoor exercise (the majority of bicyclists). If exercise is the only goal, why not dump the efficient bike and ride a fixie? Most people in the United States still view a bicycle as an outdoor exercise machine as opposed to an extremely efficient, carbon neutral means of single occupant urban transportation.
On a regular bike you have three main variables: Gearing, pedal cadence, and speed. You can go to work slowly in a low gear to avoid a sweat or you can vary your speed, gearing and cadence to arrive at work dripping wet. A hybrid electric bike adds one more variable to juggle: throttle position. You retain the option of arriving at work quickly smelling like an old sock but you now have the option not to, smelling fresh as a daisy, and faster than you could do so in a car. Leave the throttle alone on your commute home if you want to get some exercise. Hybrid electric bikes have the potential to knock down three barriers to bike commuting — the need for an employer to provide expensive shower facilities, the need for bikers to have to take a shower at work, and the time lost commuting by bike to work.
I think that’s enough of the Q and A. I’ve gained more insight into this machine over the past week. The immediate start feature is awesome. I can gently push the throttle to get the bike rolling up a hill and just hop on. Getting on a regular bike going uphill from a dead stop can be a real pain. While waiting in line with cars at intersections I find that I accelerate faster than the cars which keeps the car behind me happy and lets me get through the intersection quickly and safely.
I drove Pintos as a young person, and the only option to get out of a sticky situation was to decelerate. One day I got to drive a Mazda sports car with a rotary engine in it. I was appalled. I never felt safer in a car. It could not only decelerate to escape harm, but it could also accelerate. Essentially, it gave you more control with more options. This bike is like that sports car. I find myself using its acceleration ability for safety in ways not open to a regular bike. Acceleration isn’t dangerous, high speeds are. Many people don’t know the difference between the two concepts.
I also came to another realization just today. I was considering putting a bigger gear ring on the front sprocket because I often find that I can’t contribute much leg power to the motor because I’m moving too fast. But I think I’ve changed my mind. The bike’s top speed is limited by the exponential nature of wind drag. The gearing is obviously engineered to max the bike speed out at about 20 MPH, unless you are willing to pedal like a mouse in an exercise wheel. So, the gearing is fine as is because it will keep me from going too fast on a machine not designed to go that fast.