Wednesday, September 27, 2017

For Green Simpletons (like me) - A Short List for Simple Sustainability

Just give me a bike, a clothesline, and maybe a mason jar. Don't worry, though, I won't try to electrify them. Not this time.
Okay, well, that's close enough.

Simple stuff. I keep being drawn to simple stuff. And frugality. And minimalism. And figuring out what's really important.

I read a novel in college - Love Among the Cannibals. I didn't get it. I was a just a dumb kid. I may need to go back and read it again. Now I'm a dumb middle-aged guy with at least 5% more wisdom.

I remember a (subplot) new car that broke down on the side of the road in the book. The local vandals immediately started stealing all the parts off of it. They left it a shell. Then the local vandals brought a few of the parts back and got it running again, but it no longer had things like windows and doors.

The professor explained to us the symbolism of getting something (or someone) back to a simpler place, a more stripped down version that has only what it needs - and none of the distractions.

Some days I feel like my pursuit of the green good life is that car, but the local vandals haven't taken all the parts yet.

I really should read that novel again.

Speaking of books, I just ordered a used copy of this book:

I learned about it a few months back while following a link trail from a Katherine Martinko article. (I really like KM articles!) The concept has haunted me since. Even this post has gone through multiple drafts that never seemed quite ready to publish. It still doesn't quite.

So, what simples appeal to you? Outside of the seven on the book's cover, what simple things do you depend on to make your life greener and simpler? (No, I won't foolishly try the survey thing again, but feel free to shoot me an email.)

I plan to spend some time over the next few months exploring the idea of what an individual needs (or doesn't need) to live simply (and greenly).

[Blogger note: Part of my quest for the simple will mean less blogging - maybe some miniposts and pics, but there will be fewer posts for a while. Thank you for the time you've spent reading this particular brand of drivel.]

May you figure out what you (and we) need, and may you eschew the distractions that bog you down.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Fossil Free Friday: $500 Simple DIY Electric Bike Formula (The non-sequitur apocrypha)

You're probably wondering why this post? This is the mop up of all the loose ends, or maybe just the proof that the Mesquite Hugger mind is indeed a messy desk.

Answering a few questions:

Why 36 volt/500 watt when we could've easily gone for 48V/1000 watt?
  • Well, first, we were shooting for low money, and 48 volt batteries are not cheap.
  • Second is the efficiency versus speed issue. 500 watts should let us travel around 20 mph for a much longer distance than 1000 watts at 25 mph (and I've met very few e-bikers who have tremendous restraint when it comes to a throttle or pedal assist.)
  • Also, the intended audience is beginning e-bikers who are focused on inexpensive transportation. Fast e-bikes create a lot of new problems - one of the biggest is the problem of speed perception. Car drivers do not expect to see a bike traveling at 30 mph, so they misjudge and cut you off. If you ride a bike at 30 on the street you will have close calls on a regular basis. (You better have great brakes and even better judgment.)

Why choose a cruiser?
Mostly because they are cheap, readily available, and often have just the layout needed for an entry-level e-bike. Also, you want a fat, heavy, laid-back bike for an old guy who is fat and laid back.

Why not a fat bike like the Sondors Original?
Quite simply, the the components are much more expensive and flats tend to be a bigger issue on them than on the more readily available sizes. (And they ride like a tractor.)

Just a bunch of random stuff I did not include in the other posts:

How to build a pretty killer mid-drive bike for less than $1000

Order this kit (while it's still on sale) and add it to a used mountain bike with really good brakes:

The Schwinn Blackwell dropped in price on Ebay

Can you build a decent-ish $350 e-bike?
Sure, but be prepared to sacrifice the LCD screen, pedal assist, and the advantages of a geared hub motor.

If I'm a glutton for punishment, which bike should I choose for my build?


It's all about the jacksons! (Need fixing = run away!)

If I'm a Parrothead, what bike would you recommend?
It has a squawking parrot in place of a horn or bell!

What is the Mesquite Dream Build (this week)?
The cargo bike equivalent of the Karmic Koben S

What's your most fervent Mesquite Hugger wish?
That we'd stop fighting each other and fight climate change together.

May your messy desk inspire something better for others!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Fossil Free Friday: $500 Simple DIY Electric Bike Formula (The Electric Stuff and $ Total)

Welcome! If you're just now joining us, this is the third in a four-post series. Post 1 introduced the overall plan. Post 2 was all about the right bike to convert. Post 4 will be all about the stuff that I could not stuff into the first three posts.

Our goal has been to build a bike with similar or better capabilities than the Sondors Thin (base model) and to keep it under $500 (with shipping).

I had originally hoped to buy a Bafang-based full conversion kit that would be close to the Sondors' performance and quality, but I didn't find it in the price range, so here's the new plan - buy a comparable controller combo and a separate hub motor with no rim. The plan came in under budget, but ended up adding another step to the build. We will have to pay a local bike shop to lace up the hub motor and rim.

The Controller and Electronic Components (AliExpress)

Lots of goodness to be found in this set. The LCD screen is the same as the one on the Thin. It makes it possible to have five different levels of assist and to keep up with lots of stats like speed, distance, battery level, cruise control, and where to find the best pie in town. The controller is a sine wave model (more power and very quiet) that will let you move up to a 48 volt battery pack if you find yourself needing more power or less money. It will also let you add power regeneration/reverse functionality (but you'll need a direct-drive motor, not the geared model we have chosen here). Brake cutouts are crucial on a bike with pedal assist (unless you enjoy rushing uncontrollably into traffic).

The Hub Motor (AliExpress)

(add $60-$80 to have your local bike shop lace this motor into your wheel)

Before you jump into this part of the project, talk to your local bike shop to see if they are willing to lace up the rim to the hub motor and how much they will charge. Some bike shops will be interested, but others have no interest in working on e-bikes. It's better to find that out ahead of time. While this added step may seem a pain, in most cases you will end up with a much better built/balanced wheel than one mass produced in a factory. (And it's good to be on a first-name basis with a local bike mechanic.)

While you are having your wheel laced up, be sure to ask your mechanic to remove the rear sprocket from your old wheel. This will keep you from having to purchase a $10 sprocket removal tool. The sprocket should screw directly onto your new motor without needing any tools.

While this is not the Bafang I'd hoped for, it is a reproduction of that motor and costs 1/2 of the original. I probably should have mentioned this a little earlier, but I went with the geared motor for a few reasons:
  • they are very light weight and efficient
  • they are much smaller (and stealthier) than a direct-drive motor
  • they freewheel when you try to pedal the bike without electric power
  • most e-bike manufacturers favor geared motors for light duty e-bikes

The Battery Pack (All Purchased on Ebay)

One place we'll rock it in our conversion - coming up with a lithium phosphate battery pack (and charger) for less than a $100. Check it out:
All the pieces and where to find them:

Charger ($8 shipped)
The hardest part of the battery pack setup is splicing the pigtail onto the charger. You may need to borrow a digital multimeter from a friend (or borrow a friend who knows how to use a multimeter to test DC voltage).

So, did we make it? Well, not really, but we stayed pretty close, kind of. If we'd budgeted a little lower on the bike or maybe had a buddy around who laces wheels up for kicks, then maybe. But we haven't factored in wiring, zip ties, connectors, electrical tape, and a place to stash the battery pack and controller. There's still a little money to be spent, but we're still looking pretty good.
Even so, with a little luck or ingenuity, you can see it can be done, especially if you already have a bike hanging around just waiting for the electric treatment. Also, if you don't mind sacrificing things like the LCD or the geared motor (instead of a direct drive), you could get there for a lot less. So, yes, it can be done.
And hey, if it breaks down, you'll have a pretty good idea of what it takes to fix it! (Ah, the satisfaction of DIY!)
So, how about it? Feeling inspired? If so, let me know how it goes, or if you have any questions.
May you end up with a low-cost, high quality, eco-friendly machine one way or another!
PS. Stay tuned for Part 4 where we explore a lot of random stuff that did not make it into this post, including the formula for an even cheaper e-bike and for a powerful mid-drive bike for less than $1000. (Woohoo!)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

DIY E-Bike Placeholder: A re-Run and a Propella

I am still working on the third installment of the BIY e-bike, and I know that at least 1.5 of you are waiting in anticipation, so I thought I'd throw out a minipost bone for you to chew on.

The first is an eight-month-old Mesquite Hugger post about e-bike basics. If you are following the DIY e-bike posts, this one will shed a lot of light on why and what we are striving to (virtually) build. Consider this one a strong supplement to that series since it will explain a lot of the third post:

 Our second post is a news article about the second generation of the Propella e-bike that is starting to ship now. While it may not look much like our project bike, it has a lot of similarity to our Mesquite Hugger DIY project formula - it's just skinnier, sleeker, and less powerful. And it comes to you already put together. We all have our virtues, and I think the Propella is a pretty cool little bike.

Hopefully, that'll give you a little info to gnaw on while I finish up Part 3 and get to work on Part 4.
May you know the feel of wind in your hair as you and a little motor pedal you on to the next great, eco-friendly adventure!
PS. How would you like the opportunity to be the one and only person who responds the 2017 Mesquite Hugger Survey? (The survey closes tomorrow and it would be great for this blogger's self esteem if somebody answered a question or two.)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Fossil Free Friday: $500 Simple DIY Electric Bike Formula (The bike)

[If you missed Part 1, you can find it here]

We'll start with a simple and inexpensive bike. It will need to have:
  • a steel frame - easier to adapt and less prone to break under the stress of added weight and torque (if a magnet will stick to it, it is steel)
  • 26" wheels/tires - the most common size for hub motors - other sizes tend to cost more 
  • multi-gear capability - preferably 7-speed (with a hub motor there is no need for 21 gears)
  • hand brakes - hub motors don't have coaster brakes
  • it needs to fit you comfortably
Cruisers, comfort bikes, and mountain bikes all make great candidates and can often be found at low prices. I'll focus on cruisers for this project, but you should pick the type you like most (or already have in your garage.)

$108 shipped brand new, hmmm

Don't expect a whole lot of bike in this price range, but a bike like this cruiser will still work fine. Let's look at it with our checklist in mind:

and here are some extras that might be nice:
  • front suspension (heavier but easier on the wrists)
  • a built-in cargo rack (to carry your homemade panniers)
  • disc brakes (sometimes better stopping and more adaptability - see Post 4)
  • fenders (to help you avoid the dreaded butt-stripe)
  • a comfy seat and/or a suspension seatpost (for a happier bum and spine)
  • lights (the better to see you)
  • a horn/bell (e-bikes are often fast and silent - you can skip this if you like yelling, "Get the !@##$% out of my way!" But the bell is a little more polite.

Here's another cruiser to check out in case you want something a little nicer with a few more virtues:

Sure it's $50 more, but this Schwinn from Ebay has larger tires, better brakes, and a longer wheelbase. It has great potential for this project and reminds me of the $1300 Juiced Ocean Current of my dreams.

Two important things to add to any bike you choose:
  • thorn resistant tubes or tire liners (it's not much fun to have/fix a flat on your e-bike)
  • better brake shoes - with greater power comes a greater need to stop
If those don't appeal to you or just cost too much, definitely check out the used bikes. I find lots of great deals on Craigslist and at garage sales. Look for ads that say things like "barely ridden" or "just needs new tubes." Feel fee to offer a little less for used bikes, but don't be a jerk about it. Life is too short for that, no matter what reality TV tells us.

A few tips on buying a used bike:

  • Buy a nice bike, if it it's worn out, weathered, or broken, you will spend a lot of time and money in the wrong places.
  • Buy a bike that has all the stuff you need - parts are more expensive than bikes. For example, it's not hard to find a $50 bike with good tires and tubes but a new set of tires and tubes will easily cost $50 or more. It's also expensive (and a pain in the tuckus) to upgrade a single-speed bike into a multi-speed bike.
  • Look for higher quality brands while shopping used. It's not rare to find a $350 Giant or Trek being sold for $75 lightly used.
Not a bad start and it would leave a little more room in the budget
(especially if you could get it for a little less money.)

This Raleigh could be a great (and very old-school cool) e-bike!

One other great source of inexpensive bikes - ask your friends, neighbors, relatives or co-workers. Throw a request out on social media. You never know who has a really great bike gathering dust and taking up garage space. You know the old saying - One man's trash is another man's dream e-bike conversion! [Love ya, Matt! Thanks for the bike!]

Okay, so that's it for the bike portion of our search. So, let's budget $150 for our bike. That leaves us $350 for the electric running gear, battery, charger, assorted hardware, and a way to contain the controller and battery. Is it possible?

Tune in next time for our exciting third post!

May you find the right bike and enjoy the ride.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Fossil Free Friday: $500 Simple DIY Electric Bike Formula (Intro)

Here at Mesquite Hugger, the goal is pretty simple - to encourage people to make more earth-friendly choices without going bankrupt. When it comes to low-carbon transportation, almost nothing beats the efficiency and affordability of an electric bike, but not everyone has the money in their budget to run out and buy a $1000-$4000 e-bike.

Inexpensive electric bikes get a lot of web traffic around here. Anything under $1000 starts a feeding frenzy. The least expensive complete bikes I've found that I am comfortable recommending are the two bottom-of-the-line Sondors bikes -  the Original and the Thin. They both go for $499 + $150-ish shipping. And they are pretty basic:
  • single speed (can be upgraded for $100)
  • 350 watt powertrain (rear, geared hub motor)
  • no suspension (can be upgraded for $100)
  • no pedal assist (PAS) or LCD screen (can be upgraded together for $100)
  • medium sized 36 volt battery (can be upgraded for $100)
It's pretty easy to end up with $1000 in a Sondors bike.

By the way, if you are less than 5'6" tall, the Sondors bikes are too tall for you (and there is no step-through version available so far.)

So, what's a cheap budget-minded e-bike customer to do?

Build your own e-bike!
The challenge - to build a very capable e-bike with more features than a bottom-of-the-line Sondors for $500 or less.
We'll use the Sondors Thin as our measuring stick.
Before you get intimidated by the thought of building your own, answer one question - do you (or someone you are close to) have the skills necessary to change a rear bicycle tube? If the answer is yes, then YOU CAN DO IT!!!

So, let's lay out the parameters we'll need (and want) to build a solid e-bike in the projected price range. We'll start with a simple and inexpensive bike. It will need to have:
  • a steel frame
  • 26" wheels/tires
  • multi-gear capability - preferably seven-speed
  • cable-operated brakes
  • it needs to be comfortable (for you)
Now, let's lay out the electric components/abilities you will need to match or exceed what the Sondors Thin offers:
  • 500 watt, 26" rear hub motor (more powerful than the Sondors)
  • pedal assist (not included on the base Sondors)
  • an LCD panel (not included on the base Sondors)
  • a throttle (matches the Sondors)
  • brake levers with a motor cut-out switch (matches the Sondors)
  • a 36 volt, 8.8 amp-hour battery (matches the Sondors)
  • a 36 volt, 2 amp charger (matches the Sondors)
  • a bag, box, or basket to house the electrical components (It'll be hard to match the Sondors on this one, but it can be done with a little creativity.)
So there's the plan. In the next two posts, we'll cover more detail and see if we can create an electric bike worth having for less than $500.
Please stay tuned!
May you be encouraged to make more earth-friendly choices without going bankrupt, and may you have a great time doing it!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Because it's sometimes lonely hugging mesquite - the 2017 MH Survey [Updated 9-6-17]

[Lonely indeed - no responses came in]

It's been a good run so far.

Our second post - has it really been four years?

Okay, it's not that lonely, but parts of it are really anonymous. Mesquite Hugger tends to get between 25 and 100 visitors per day, but it's incredibly rare to hear from any readers. The only message I receive comes in the form of how many clicks a particular post receives. This week, a post from last year about Comuta-Cars is getting a lot of attention, but I have no idea why or by whom.

I'd love to know things like:

So, who the heck are you?
 How the heck are you?
What brought you here to this low-rent blog?
Did you find anything helpful?
Is there something you'd like to see more of? Less of?

If you'll click on the link below, you'll go to a quick (or not-so-quick) survey. No, I'm not trying to be creepy and get all up in your grill by collecting personal info and email addies(I always use the hippest lingo!), please just leave a first name or nickname and tell me roughly where you live - town, state, country, etc., and then answer any (or all) questions that tickle your fancy.

The Big, Honking 2017 Mesquite Hugger Survey (Click here to start)

The survey will be open for seven days. Shortly after that I'll publish a summary of the responses that are socially presentable.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read this blog, and thank you for answering the survey. May you know peace and mirth today!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Fossil Free After Friday: I rode a GenZe 2.0

Our mean boss sent Matt and me out of town to do some work. Don't tell anyone, but while we were out in the real world, we did a bit of eco-friendly sightseeing. We went by Moxie Scooters! (For a scooter-dork mesquite hugger, it's a magical place.)

We got to see and test ride this blue beauty. Moxie Scooters link

I have been a fan of the Genze 2.0 for some time now, but this is the first time I've seen one in person. The Genze 2.0 is the most legitimate electric commuter scooter available in the US. It's built in Michigan, has a dealer network, has a line of accessories available, and it has a proven track record for durability. And, oh yeah, it does not burn gasoline - legit! And it costs less than the new clutch we put in our daughter's car this year. (Eek!)

It even has a real brochure (Moxie info up top.)

What did I think? I loved it! It's quick. I loved the info on the dash. The windshield was more effective than I expected for something so small. The brakes are excellent. It's the easiest two-wheeler to ride I've ever been on. It has throttle, brakes, and a blinker - that's about all you have to worry about. And it is silent. I can't imagine a more peaceful machine for cruising about.

You know me, I love the looks - it doesn't look like any other scooter out there.

Back of the brochure

It's bigger than you'd think - Matt is 6'3"

Dashboard selfie - the gauge cluster is legit! Lots of info, and you have your own PIN number.

Imagine all the junk to fit in this trunk!

For me, there is really only one drawback. The top speed is 30 miles per hour.

And I live in a 50 mph town.

30 miles per hour puts it right in league with most 50cc gas-powered scooters. So, if that fits your need, this thing is a great choice. It has a 30mph top speed and a 30 mile range. (Interestingly, it zooms right up to 30 and then it just stops accelerating. You know there's more there, but it electronically limits itself. My DIY brain was scheming to squeeze another 5 mph out of it. Where's Rusty - who loves to void warranties - when I need him?) 

My newly minted right electric vehicle for the job graph.
The GenZe falls just short of the blue E-Scooter zone.
(So does my home-built E-Scooter, snagit!)

My verdict? Other than the top speed, I love this thing. I even like the blue on this one. Now, if I can talk GenZe into offering the GenZe 40 - 40mph and 40 mile range, I will be straight up in love!

And Matt? He was measuring our company car to see if the GenZe would fit in the back seat - it won't!

If you're in the Fort Worth area and want to see the Genze in person, go see John at Moxie. Please tell him hi! He's a great guy!

May we all find green transport that is this much fun to ride.