Monday, January 30, 2017

Electric Bike Buying (and Building) Advice

Is this you?

If you're thinking about (or dreaming about) purchasing an electric bike, the choices can be a bit overwhelming. So, before you go buy one, let's look at some components you're going to want to know a little more about. We'll start with the motivation.

Hub Motors

The biggest question on hub motors is whether to go GEARED or DIRECT DRIVE. (The second biggest question is front-motored or rear-motored,)

Geared  Hub Motors

The Vanmoof Electrified S has a tiny geared hub motor in the front wheel

The biggest advantage of a geared hub motor is that they can freewheel when there is no power being applied. In other words, you can (mostly) pedal it just like a regular bike. (If you run out of battery power on a geared hub motor, you can pedal it home. If you run out of battery power on a direct drive motor, two city blocks will wear you out!) Geared motors are also smaller, lighter, stealthier, and a tiny bit noisier than a direct drive. One thing that is not possible with a geared motor is regen (power regeneration - where the bike actually recharges the battery {a little bit} when slowing down or coasting downhill).

Direct-Drive Motors

The Radwagon (of my dreams) uses a direct-drive rear hub motor

For bicycles, I am not a big fan of direct drive motors, but that is because they are heavier, less stealthy (because of their size), and because I can't coast with one. But those same drawbacks become virtues when you want your bike to behave more like a motorcycle. If you want to go really fast, carry heavier loads, or use regen, you want a direct-drive motor. They are a great choice for people who don't want to pedal and for people who want their bikes to be workhorses.

Mid-Drive Motors

Bafang BBS Mid-Drive Kit (photo from Lunacycle)

with a 350-watt Bafang Max mid-drive motor

I have no real-world experience with mid-drives, so I won't weigh in much, but I'd sure like to try out a BaFang BBS mid-drive set-up. Mid-drives are awesome hill climbers but they are much harder on chains, gears, and derailleurs. Their three big advantages are that they allow you to better utilize your bike's gear range, flat tires are much easier to change, and the motor weight is located in the center of the bike.

Lots of high-end (expensive) e-bikes are running mid-drives these days - the Bosch motor is the most well-known of the pricier mid-drives.

Battery Size

(For reference: a very common e-bike battery is a 36 volt, 8.8 Amp-hour)

Battery Voltage  (V)

Higher voltage means higher power and more speed.
If you are tiny and not in a hurry - 24 volts is great
If you are 200 pound or less, 36 volts should be enough
I f you are over 200 pounds or plan to carry extra weight - go with 48 volts
If you want to rock n roll, go for 72 volts! (Definitely not for beginners)

(Compare their Amp-hours per distance and power consumption.)

Battery Amp-Hour (Ah)

Amp-hours is a measure of how long a battery can deliver power - so the higher the amp-hour number, the farther your e-bike will travel. Juiced (in the diagram above) offers some very large amp-hour batteries, which is why they can offer ranges over 100 miles, but very few of us need that kind of range in our daily rides. Figure out what range you do need before you go shopping. While you can always upgrade, batteries are the most expensive component on most e-bikes.

Dash/Display Readouts

LCD Readouts - so much better!

Having a read-out that tells you what is going on is great!!! Most LCD dashboards will tell you how fast you're going, how far you've gone, (roughly) how much further you can go, how much power you are using, how much power you have left, and what assist level you are using. LED indicators, on the other hand, will give you a vague knowledge of how much power you are using and of how much you have left. They will also let you know what assist level you are using (if that applies to your bike.)

LCD displays keep you very well informed. LED indicators are pretty vague and less helpful, but they are much cheaper.


Just a general note, if you plan to pedal a lot, you will probably like a skinny seat more; if you plan to pedal very little, get something big and cushy.

Pedal Assist, Throttle, or Both?

This one also depends a great deal on how much you want to pedal and how much you want to sit back and cruise. I like pedal assist because I like to pedal and I like that pedal-assisted models give you the option of more efficiency which increases a bike's range. On the other hand, it's sometimes nice to have a throttle to help you take off more quickly when you are dealing with traffic. (It's really nice to have both.)

Multigear or Single Speed?

Single speed is not bad if you live in a flat place or are not planning to pedal. The bigger your hills, the more you need multiple gears, but electric bikes in general don't need as many gears. Anything over nine tends to be overkill.

where you can watch your dog run away for three days
before he's out of sight. (Man, I miss that dog!)

Weight Distribution

Whatever keeps the weight low and spread out (or centralized) makes a better e-bike. Placing all of the weight (battery and motor) on the back wheel is a bad idea that leads to bent rims, loose and broken spokes, and awkward handling. Having the weight up high leads to the bike falling over a lot while parked. If you plan to add a rack for cargo, keep that extra weight in mind when shopping or planning a build. (By the way, it's much more comfortable to let the bike carry the weight rather than your body. Panniers beat backpacks!)

A Final Piece of Advice

Before you decide completely what you want, sit down and make a list of what you need. How far will you travel? How fast will you need to travel? Are weight and size a consideration? Do you need an easily removable battery or wheels? What terrain will you travel? What's your budget? Most important, which bike will make you look truly cool?

I hope this makes your search easier and that your wheels tread lightly while your face smiles all the way to your destination.

May you be the change and encourage others to do the same.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Making a Complex Problem Simple as Dirt (Part 3)

So, here is where you have to decide what is right for you and your situation. (Keep in mind your answers to the Part 2 questions.) Indoor? Outdoor? Hot? Cold? Fancy? Cheap? Recycled? DIY? High maintenance? Low maintenance? The possibilities are pretty vast, and there is indeed something for everyone.

Let's look at some of those possibilities so your idea about compost can be composting nto something good.

Find the whole infographic on Treehugger.

Even more of the Why

I've deliberately tried this one twice. So far, it has not gone well. Lots of little red wigglers gave their lives in my folly. I still love the idea, but I need to find a way to keep the little guygals at a temp more comfortable and stable than outdoors in Lubbock has to offer.

Super simple composting

I have actually tried this one, but not on purpose. Last year, I found black soldier fly larvae in one of my two compost boxes. I didn't know what they were until very recently. Who knew? Here I was worrying about the little invaders and had no idea that they were superstars of the composting world. I hope to step it up this year since they help to break down a lot of materials that are normally not acceptable in your compost.

While we do not have may opportunities for municipal composting (except for tree branches and Christmas trees) we do have access to something even better - the Heart of Lubbock Community Garden. Beth (Hi, Beth!) and the crew have a drop-off station at 21st Street and Avenue X here in Lubbock. For those of you who love the idea but don't want to keep up with it, this a great way to go.

Heart of Lubbock Community Garden

Cool Composting sidebar - mealworms eat (and digest) Styrofoam!

EPA: Composting at Home (Support the EPA!)

(Great post for learning more)

The high-tech Mesquite Hugger hot compost system

Happy tomatoes and peppers!

Happy gecko!

As for the Mesquite Hugger home, we do our composting in two shipping boxes turned compost 
boxes. (Have I mentioned that I am super cheap?) We've had great success with very little effort and very little thinking involved. As long as I stay mindful of the green to brown ratio, turn it once per week, and maintain the moisture levels, we get great compost which leads to happy geckos and tomatoes. And really, what more could a Mesquite Hugger want out of life? [Rhetorical answer: Maybe a job with Compost Pedalers where I could ride around on a cargo bike, return carbon to the ground, and keep Austin weird!]

Just in case I haven't thrown enough compost ideas into one post for you, check out all the compost ideas on Instructables. (I love Instructables.)

May something as basic and elemental as recycled refuse lead us all to a better place!

Good News: VERY Affordable Electric Cars

Okay, so you're wanting to make the move to electric, but you're not quite there on the money. I hear you! But there's more hope than most people know. With government and state EV incentives for new EVs, a public that's still pretty hesitant on going electric, and a lot of electric cars coming off of two and three year leases, there are lots of really good deals on used electric cars!

This Leaf is from Ebay too!

Before we go there, though, let's talk about the state of electric cars here in the states. Americans know very little about electric cars, their availability, and how far they've come in the last seven years or so. But don't take my word for it, check out this article from Car and Driver. The good news about these articles (for you) is that the lack of electric car awareness contributes to a lack of demand for electric cars, which also keeps the price down. So, there are bargains to be had.

I know, Talk is cheap, Mesquite Hugger. Put up or shut up!

Well, here they are - a sampling of inexpensive, late-model, and (mostly) low-mileage fully-electric cars on Ebay this week. Since this is a Lubbock-based blog, I did a few of the searches based on location. You may find some better deals closer to your locale.

All four are less than 400 miles from Lubbock!

The consistently best deals to be found are the Fiat 500e's and the Nissan Leafs. Me, I'd prefer the Leaf based on the longer history, the larger number of dealers with EV experience, and the vastly greater cargo and passenger space. But I have to admit, the little Fiats are pretty tempting if you're in the market for cuter than a bug on a rug.

Less than 350 miles from Lubbock

Keep in mind when you're looking at electric car ownership that maintenance costs and fuel costs on EV's are a great deal lower than on fossil-fuel cars. A low-priced car that is extremely inexpensive to operate - now that is truly a bargain and can do very nice things for your personal budget.

Still close to Lubbock - and cheap!

Most of the cars in this post have at least 80 miles of range, which is a lot more than most of us drive per day. For multi-car families they make a great deal of sense. And they're really great if you are interested in doing less damage to the planet. (But not as great as a bike or an electric bike.)

The least expensive electric BMW on Ebay

The BMW i3 is a very impressive car - BMW put a great deal of thought and engineering into building a car extremely well-suited to electric power.

The least expensive Ford Focus Electric on Ebay

It's not rare to find the electric Focus considerably cheaper on the Austin and Dallas Cragslist ads. They generally stay in line with Leaf prices.

The only Mitsubishi MiEV on Ebay

By most accounts, the MiEV is not the greatest of electric cars, but there's something about the funky little machine that keeps me curious. (But not at $8,600)

Smart Leaf Smart

The least expensive Tesla on Ebay.

So, there you have it. a random sampling of electric cars on Ebay this week. All of these are fully electric. If you've been leaning more toward Plug-in hybrids, they are out there too, but they tend to be a little more expensive. Search for the Ford C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi, the Chevy Volt, and Toyota Prius if you are curious.

May you find planet-friendly solutions much more accessible than you ever dreamed, and may you drive (or pedal) cleanly.

PS. If you want to know a little more about all-electric, hybrid, and plug-in hybrids, be sure to check out this Mesquite Hugger post from 2015.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fossil Free Friday E-Bike: A Tiny Puerto Rican Vacation and Some Free Shipping

Two fun e-bike emails popped up this week, so I thought I'd share.

First, I need a vacation. Yep, I am not normally that guy, but the new pres and the holidays and the bills and the cold and unpredictable weather have worn me out.  I would love to get away but that bills thing and several other obligations mean that a vacation's just not happening. So, I was really glad when GeoOrbital sent me an email this week that included video with a really cool approach to vacationing. Check it out:

Yep. Run off to a tropical locale. Take your GeoOrbital wheel with you. Pick up a cheap, local bike, slap the GO wheel on the bike - instant cheap transportation! It makes perfect sense to me. I look forward to a day when I can test ride one of those things, because I love the idea of a wheel that so easily turns any bike into an e-bike in just a few minutes.
And I love the flat-proof tire idea. (Last night I went to hop on the Phantom to head over to Scooter Workshop Night at Keith's. But there was a problem. The back tire was very flat. And the back wheel is the one with the motor in it, so fixing a flat is bigger job than it is on most bikes. It would not have an issue with the GeoOrbital Wheel.)
Now, let's talk Rad Power.
I received an email this week from them too. (Radwagon = drool for me.) Nope, this one does not come with a vacation in a tropical locale, but it does come with something almost as important - saving dinero!
Puerto Rican moolah!
(But this deal does not apply to Puerto Rico - I am just trying to keep the theme going.)
Yep, free shipping on any of the Rad Power bikes. That's a $175 value!
The email doesn't give any details on how long this sale will last or if this is now business as usual, so you may want to hit them up to see how long you can drag your financial feet.
Okay, that's it for this episode of Fossil Free Friday. I hope you enjoyed your ride with Kayla, and I hope you find yourself some good deals.
May all your Fridays be joyful and fossil free!*
*Unless you are a weekend archeologist.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Reasons for Americans to oppose a Canadian tar sands pipeline

[Yesterday, President Trump reopened a can of really nasty worms.]

A hand full of years ago, my wife and I went to Washington D.C. We went there with the intention of protesting and getting arrested. We did and we did.

We went there to protest the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline.

The Mesquite Hugger version of Where's Waldo?

If we were wealthy enough, we'd be there protesting the same thing now. From an environmental standpoint, the Alberta tar sands are an absolute nightmare. They have destroyed an absolutely beautiful and crucial wilderness area in Canada. They have destroyed a way of life for the native peoples who have lived there for centuries. They have created toxic living conditions for every living thing in the area.

Beyond that immediate area, the environmental impact is even more catastrophic. The potential for carbon release is vastly higher in tar sands than it is for standard crude. Expansion of tar sands extraction, delivery, and processing has the potential to release enough carbon to destroy the conditions for mankind to continue living.

How do tar sands differ from conventional crude?

Imagine that you are searching for drinking water. Regular crude would be a spring-fed mountain stream. Tar sands would be water drained off of buckets full of swamp mud. Crude is oil. Tar sands are just what their name says they are - a mixture of tar and sand that can be treated and processed extensively to create a very low-quality oil.

Why should Americans be opposed to the Keystone XL?

Economically speaking, TransCanada is a Canadian company that needs to get their product down to Houston so that it can be processed and sold internationally to the highest bidder. yes, building the pipeline would create a very small number of temporary jobs for a few Americans and an even smaller number of jobs for workers to maintain the pipeline. There will also be money for the refineries. But the financial winner here is a Canadian company.

On top of that, lots of American landowners are being forced off their land (you have to love eminent domain) so that a Canadian company can sell their really nasty oil to the international market. And America will be left to clean up after the oil spills so prevalent in tar sands pipelines.

Besides the environmental impact and lack of benefits for America, what is so bad about this particular pipeline?

Mechanically speaking, tar sands pipelines are also a nightmare. Tar sands are way too thick to flow through a pipeline. So, some very caustic chemicals are added to thin the nasty stuff enough to flow. Then you end up with a very caustic chemical pushing sand through the pipes. It's a very effective liquid sandpaper wearing away at the pipes and joints. These pipelines leak, spill, and spoil often.

Are tar sands spills different from crude oil spills?

Absolutely. Tar sands oil is much heavier than conventional crude and heavier than water. Therefore, tar sands spills are much harder to clean up. When they hit a body of water, they immediately sink to the bottom and into the mud. This ruins water supplies, farmland, and wilderness areas. There is ample evidence that those who live near these spills have much higher incidence of several forms of cancer.

Other than making one Canadian company and its employs considerably wealthier, the negative impacts of this pipeline drastically outweigh any advantages to building it, especially for the people of the United States.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Low-Carbon, Low $ Transport in the LBK

Inspired by Exxon's recent sponsorship of the US Secretary of State position, I decided to post some great options for people working at reducing gasoline consumption. All of these were found on Lubbock Craigslist this morning:

The Novarra w/ rack is the other bargain of the week!
May you find better options readily available.