Tuesday, June 16, 2020

E-bike Range: How far can I go?



One of the most common questions anyone asks about an e-bike is "How far can I go on a single charge?" While this sound like a simple question, a variety of factors go into this calculation and the most accurate response anyone can give is "it depends".

Micah Toll is an e-bike writer and rider and he dives into the various considerations in detail in an article at:

https://electrek.co/2020/06/12/how-far-can-an-electric-bicycle-really-go-on-a-charge/

Now Micah is a very experienced e-bike enthusiast and he is a fan of going fast, powerful motors and throttles. As he admits, he's not a fit cyclist but he does a pretty good job in his article of trying to get into the fit cyclist perspective. But that is fundamentally not the perspective he comes from when it comes to e-bikes.

Alan Scholz, Bike Friday's founder, and myself do come from the fit cyclist perspective. We're both in our sixties now and have been lifelong cyclists. Our approach to e-bikes, and hence Bike Friday's approach, is to keep things as light as possible. We figure that the motor is there to be an assist to human muscle power, not a replacement for it. Therefore, Bike Friday builds Class 1 e-bikes (with no throttle).

Now much of the e-Bike industry has a "weight be damned, you've got a motor" philosophy and in the industry one quick rule of thumb is that they will quote an ebike as using about 20 WattHours per mile. Micah ups that number to 25 for his style of riding but in his article he does an experiment of riding at a very low assist level, laying off the throttle and putting in a lot of human power into his ride. Doing this he was able to only use 3.1 WattHours per mile on a 29 mile ride. But he admits he was exhausted at the end of that ride and doesn't recommend riding at that level every day.

Now Alan and I do ride pretty much every day we're nerds so we've used recording Watt meters to tell us how many WattHours per mile we are using. Alan and I have remarkably similar results. On a recent moderately hilly ride, with my e-assist set to levels 2 or 3 (out of 5), I used 214.7 WattHours to go 37.7 miles. My arage speed was not super fast but not turtle slow either, I averaged 13.6 mph. My bike has a modest 250 Watt motor and a 12.5 AmpHour 36 Volt battery. On my ride the maximum peak power the motor put out was 151.9 Watts (for a short time on the steepest climb).

Now let's do some math. 214.7 WattHours  total divided by 37.7 miles tells me that I used an average of 5.69 WattHours per mile. This was not at a "grind myself into the ground" pace effort. This is my standard, "I'm going on a bike ride" pace. My battery has total capacity of 36 Volts times 12.5 AmpHours which equals 450 WattHours. Therefore based on this sample ride I would estimate my e-bike's range to be 450 WattHours divided by 5.69 Watt Hours per mile which equals just a bit over 79 miles.

Now again, I can't stress enough that your mileage will vary. Going up hills takes much more power than riding on flat terrain. Heavier bikes and riders use more power than lighter folks.

Our Bike Friday travel bikes use airline legal LiGo batteries from Grin Technologies. Each LiGo holds 99 Watt Hours. Our bikes typically ship with 3 or 4 LiGo batteries. So let's say I have a customer who uses 10 Watt Hours for each mile they travel. That person would have a range of just under 30 miles for a 3 LiGo system or 40 miles if they opted for 4 LiGos. And some of our customers buy multiple sets of LiGos to increase their range.

The "How Far Can I Go?" question is a complicated one. A lot of folks trying to sell you something will give you an easy, optimistic and probably wrong answer. The longer answer is "it depends" and I hope Micah's article and this one give you the information you need to determine what the true answer is for you.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent Peterson
Eugene, OR USA

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Galvanic Velocipede


Please note the following is a work of fiction. Before you write me pointing out some factual or historical error in the tale, allow me to preempt your action by recounting this anecdote that the great Ray Bradbury often told:

A few years back, one dreadful boy ran up to me and said, “Mr. Bradbury?”
“Yes?” I said.
“That book of yours, The Martian Chronicles?” he said.
“Yes?” I said.
“On page 92 where you have the moons of Mars rising in the east?” 
“Yeah,” I said. 
“Nah,” he said. 
So I hit him. I’ll be damned if I’ll be bullied by bright children.
_________________________________________

The Galvanic Velocipede

copyright (c) 2020 by Kent Peterson

I’d just returned from riding my wheel over to Fitchburg when my lovely wife Elizabeth said “Oh, you missed your friend Harris. He was just here looking for you.”

“I didn’t miss him at all,” I replied as I dismounted the machine, “and he’s really not my friend. He’s more of an irritating acquaintance.”

Elizabeth laughed and shook her head. “You grumble about Harris, but you must admit that he is always up to something interesting.”

I held my position, “I am NOT his friend. Harris once said to me ‘I have no friends because I’m always right.’ I tried to point out to him that there are far more reasons than that, but he would have none of it.”

“Well,” Elizabeth countered, “you may not count Harris as a friend, but it is well known in town that you are, in fact, his best friend.”

“No!” I exclaimed, shocked at this assertion.

“It’s true,” Elizabeth said. “It’s because you’re civil to him. Everyone else is either openly hostile or better at avoiding him than you. Waldo has banished him from his house. Henry moved into that cabin in the woods just to escape him. But you…”

Elizabeth was unable to completely tell me exactly what it is I do because at that moment Harris came bounding up the path to our house.

“Ah, there you are,” he wheezed. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“I took my wheel over to Fitchburg,” I explained as the portly Harris caught his breath. “The machine has been a bit sluggish of late, so I had Mr. Scott over there examine the bearings. It seems I’ve been negligent regarding their lubrication.”

“I bet he charged you a pretty penny for his work and advice, too,” Harris said. “You should have let me take a look at it. I have a complete workshop, you know.”

I was, in fact, quite aware of his extensive workshop. Harris’s
grandfather had designed and patented a particularly clever machine for weaving cloth which made his family fortune. First his father and now his brother supervised the operation of various mills and other acquisitions. Harris had declared himself to be the inheritor of his grandfather’s design genius, although each of his “improvements” to his grandfather’s original machines either decreased their efficiency or led to catastrophic consequences. After the “unfortunate incident” in which the Manchester mill burned down, Harris’s brother, a shrewd businessman but also a loving brother with finite patience, suggested that Harris needed “a place far from the distractions and bustle of daily commerce, somewhere that would give him the uninterrupted time to pursue his research.” Thus Harris decamped to our peaceful village with a generous stipend from the family business to establish his “laboratory of mechanical invention.”

Harris’s laboratory is by far the most striking building in our village and it contains the most advanced machinery our 19th century has to offer. Harris had a channel dug which diverted a portion of the river to spin a massive mill wheel, and he also erected an enormous Dutch-style windmill atop the three storey structure. Finally, he installed a massive furnace connected to a brass steam engine. An elaborate series of belts, cogs, springs and levers convert these various sources of mechanical motion to spin lathes, saws, looms and machines whose purposes that I confess I am ill-equipped to guess.

Harris also subscribes to a wide range of scientific journals and maintains a far flung correspondence with various keen minds of our day. Our postmaster, Mr. Davis, tells me that Harris gets more letters and parcels in a single day than most of the rest of us receive in a month. And at least once a week you can be certain that some large crate with machinery or supplies will arrive at the train station addressed to our enterprising Mr. Harris.

“I know that you’re a rather keen wheelman,” Harris said, “so you will have the honor of getting the first look at my latest invention. I’m unveiling it publicly tomorrow, but I’d like you to come to my laboratory now to help me figure out the placement of some final components. It’s a bit of a puzzle and I could use another brain on the problem.”

It is so out of character for Harris to ask for help with anything that I was momentarily struck speechless. “I, umm….promised Elizabeth…” I looked to my wife for help.

“That you’d be back from Fitchburg in time for supper. And you are, but the roast has at least another hour to cook, so you and Harris go off and work on your whatever it is. Make certain that you’re back here by six. Mr. Harris, of course, you are welcome to join us.”

Harris beamed at this suggestion, “That would be lovely. I shan't keep him long.”

When we arrived at the workshop I saw that Harris had added an additional level of complexity to the machines therein. Harris, of course, was his usual professorial self and proceeded to explain the workings with only the occasional “uhm”, “er”, or “of course” from me.

“You’re familiar, of course, with Galvini’s work on animal electricity?” Harris began.

“Of course,” I echoed, “Frog twitching and so forth…”

“Quite,” Harris said, “Well then I’m sure you know that Volta’s work diverged from Galvini’s when it came to the origin of the electrical fluid, Galvini believing it to be a function of the muscle and Volta believing it to be a metallic property.”

“And you…” I prompted.

“Well, obviously I think Volta is correct and his work developing batteries is quite impressive, but it seems to me that he’s become so enamored of the physical nature of electricity that he’s neglected to fully explore the biomechanical applications of such power. That’s what I’ve been working on.”

Harris went on to explain, in more detail than I can adequately convey here, exactly how each of the various machines in his laboratory connected together. As best as I could follow, the mechanical motion of the mill wheel, steam engine and windmill were all connected together to spin two large counter-rotating disks. The disks were partially covered in copper and metallic fingers brushed the plates as they spun. Wires ran from the fingers to two metal spheres while miniature lightning bolts sparked between them. Harris informed me that such a device is called a Wimhurst Machine.

Harris harvested the electrical fluid in Leyden jars, which he also called batteries. He tried to explain some advanced storage principle he was using  but by this point I could merely nod and say things like “I see.” This was a true statement. I did see. I did not understand, but I did see.

“But,” I asked, “what do you intend to do with all this stored electrical fluid?”

“Well,” Harris said with obvious delight, “that is where I have made my breakthrough. I can convert the fluid back into mechanical motion!”

“So you’ve made some kind of electrical motor, like a steam engine that runs on the electrical fluid?” I asked.

“Not directly,” said Harris, “although that is an interesting notion. See here, how do you propel your wheel?”

“By the force of my legs, of course, but..”

“But your legs only have your own strength, your own will,” said Harris. “Galvini first observed muscles reacting to electrical stimulation but he didn’t follow through. I have.”

“You have what?” I asked.

“I have built a Galvanic Velocipede!”

At this point Harris dramatically unveiled his modified machine. It was much like my own wheel, a front wheel approximately as tall as Harris’s shoulder, with a dinner plate sized wheel in the rear, the design the English call a penny-farthing. But Harris had added a clockwork mechanism behind the saddle and some sort of holsters behind the clock. Wires ran forward to the steering bar and below the bars hung what looked to be brass spoons with leather straps. A lever on the bar was connected via mechanical linkage to the clock in the back.

“What…” I began but quickly amended, “How does it work?”

“Let me show you,” said Harris. “Hand me one of those batteries, will you?”

As I reached for the battery, I heard Harris shout “No! Not like that!” but my fingers were already too close to the terminals of the Leyden jar. A small bolt of lightning leapt from the jar to my hand and my arm, independent of my own volition, snapped backwards. My outstretched and thoroughly surprised hand collided with Harris’s jaw at a high rate of speed. The Leyden jar crashed to the floor.

Harris and I both said some rather un-Christian and intemperate things, but after a moment to regain our composure and ascertain that neither of us had sustained permanent injury, said “Sorry” simultaneously and laughed in the way gentlemen do when they have recently escaped disaster. “Well,” Harris chuckled, “you’ve experienced first hand the problem I’m having. A fully charged Leyden jar is a dangerous thing. I need to have them mounted on my machine in such a way that they won’t jostle and discharge prematurely.”

His original scheme involved the holsters which were supposed to hold a grand total of six Leyden jars, but this seemed precarious at best. When going over a bump, the leather holster could flex and the cells either contact the metal frame of the velocipede or each other.

“A basket.” I said, “You need a basket. With individual compartments, like what Potter uses to ship eggs.” 

“Brilliant,” said Harris. “We can mount it on the back, on springs. But isn’t it getting near time for us to return to your home for dinner?”

I consulted my watch, which seemed to have stopped. Harris explained: “An unfortunate consequence of your brush with the electrical fluid, I’m afraid. I’ll buy you a replacement, of course.”

At dinner Harris explained the operation of his machine. The clockwork mechanism released pulses of the electrical fluid at a rate that was controlled by the lever on the steering bar of the velocipede. The tighter the grip on the lever, the more frequent the pulses.

“But where do the pulses of electrical fluid go?” asked Elizabeth.

“Why directly into my legs, of course.” Harris replied. “That’s what the brass spoons are for. Strapped to my quadriceps and buttocks, they channel the electrical energy straight to my body’s largest muscles.”

“Do you mean to say you voluntarily apply the lightning I experienced to your own body?” I asked incredulously.

“You yourself experienced the force a small spark gave to your arm,” Harris noted.

“As did you,” I reminded him.

“Yes,” he said, rubbing his jaw, “and if a small spark can provide that much power to your puny arm, imagine what it can do to larger muscles.”

Harris went on to explain that he had challenged Waldo to a race, at noon tomorrow, in the town square. “I’d like you to be my second,” he added, making it sound more like a duel than a race.

“I wouldn’t miss it for all the lobsters in Maine,” I assured him.

Harris and I worked late into the night preparing the Galvanic Velocipede. The rear basket seemed solid. The next morning we did some low-speed tests, which seemed promising. Harris would grimace each time the clock-pulse of power would course through his legs but the velocipede was clearly accelerating quicker and moving faster than I had ever seen any machine move.

Just before noon, we, along with most of the town, gathered in the square. Waldo was there, not with a velocipede but rather his horse, Lightning. Lightning, it was generally agreed, was the fastest horse in the state. Waldo’s previous horse, a docile old bay, had perished when it unfortunately twisted its ankle in a groundhog hole. Waldo had been down south on a speaking tour at the time. He returned from Kentucky with Lightning, an all black stallion with a white blaze on his forehead. Lightning was named not only for the jagged white mark, but for his remarkable speed.

Harris and I had spent the latter part of the morning charging a dozen Leyden jars. Six were mounted on the velocipede and six I held in reserve in case the race required a second heat to be decisive. Based on how fast Harris’s machine had gone in our early quarter-speed tests, we doubted a second heat would be required, but we felt it best to be prepared.

A few minutes before noon, I helped Harris onto his machine and strapped his feet to the pedals. The pedal straps were another of Harris’s innovations, ensuring his feet would not fly free of the pedals at high speed. I also carefully strapped the brass spoons to Harris’s skin, much to the amusement of the crowd.

Harris and Waldo were exchanging heated predictions as to the outcome of the race. Harris asserted that a man, plus the mechanical advantage of the wheel, plus the Galvanic power of the Leyden jars, would prove to be double that of even the fastest horse. Waldo countered that at best Harris and his contraption would prove to be equal to half a horse and not, he noted, the half where a horse kept his sense. The crowd roared their appreciation at this quip.

It was at this moment when things went awry. Instead of the measured “One, Two, Three, Go” we had all agreed to, there was a high-pitched whistle. It took a fraction of a second before I identified the source of the whistle, a woodchuck running in terror at a high rate of speed. The woodchuck was being rapidly pursued by Henry, who was wielding a hoe like an axe and yelling something about the woodchuck having eaten his last bean.

At the sight of the woodchuck, Lightning bolted, perhaps recalling his predecessor’s unfortunate rodent-related demise. Waldo could do nothing to calm the frightened beast and was looking rather nervous himself.

Seeing Lightning and Waldo take flight, Harris jammed the lever of the Galvanic Velocipede to its maximal point of engagement and he and the velocipede took off in pursuit.

I have never seen such frantic acceleration. In those few seconds Harris and his machine resembled nothing so much as a meteor streaking across a summer sky. The Galvanic Velocipede flew past Waldo and Lightning as if they were a stone statue in the square instead of a pair of breathing, fleeing creatures.

Just past edge of the town square, the road turns, to run along the west edge of the pond. The road turns. Harris did not. Harris and his machine flew directly into the pond. There was a great flash as the Leyden jars hit the water.

Two seconds later, Lightning, being possessed of horse sense, skidded to a halt at the pond’s edge. Waldo, being possessed of momentum, did not.

Waldo can swim. Harris, strapped to his machine, cannot.

Possessed with a courage I did not know I had, I rushed to the pond’s edge and dove in. At the center of the rapidly expanding ripples indicating Harris’s entry point to his potential watery grave, I took a deep breath and dove under the surface.

The water was murky, but by feel and providence I somehow managed to find and free Harris. I pulled him to the surface with me and dragged him to shore.

I was coughing water out of my lungs and Elizabeth was doing her best to revive Harris. He looked like a beached whale. Waldo, who had dragged himself out of the pond, had the presence of mind to flop Harris on his stomach and use his bulk to force the water from his lungs.

Harris was blue and not breathing. “He’s gone,” Waldo said.

“Wait,” I said, “Elizabeth, go fetch the spare basket.”

She was back in a flash with the second basket that Harris and I had made just the night before. Having learned my lesson, I carefully extracted one of the Leyden jars.

“Flip him on his back, and open his shirt.” Waldo did this quickly.

I took the Leyden jar and touched the contacts to Harris’s bare chest, just above his heart. A spark flew, his body convulsed, his eyes fluttered open and he coughed.

All I remember after that is the crowd cheering and Elizabeth throwing her arms about me. And then I passed out.

I caught a fever and spent several days recuperating. Elizabeth never left my bedside. Waldo called in Boston’s best doctor to supervise both Harris's and my recovery. The doctor was fascinated with the Leyden jars and took one back with him to the city when he left.

Harris recovered a bit quicker than I did and he came to visit me and offer his sincere thanks. True to his word, he gave me a beautiful watch to replace my broken one. He kept saying “I can’t thank you enough.”

“It’s nothing,” I said. “I couldn’t very well let my best friend drown, now could I?”

At this Elizabeth gave me one of her sweetest smiles.

“There is one thing you can do,” I said.

“Anything,” Harris said.

“How about if you leave the Galvanic Velocipede at the bottom of the pond?”

“Certainly,” Harris said. “It was a flawed design after all. Under full power, the jolts caused all my muscles to spasm. Including the muscles in my hand. I couldn’t back off the power and believe me, I tried.”

He continued, “I don’t think direct muscle stimulation is the future of transportation. I’m thinking about what you said about an electrical engine. Perhaps something involving magnets…”

“Later,” Elizabeth said, “You men should rest up tonight. Tomorrow will be soon enough for you to start building the world of tomorrow.”
_____________________________________

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Bill Walton and Friends Inter-Galactic Bike for Humanity Event


Bill Walton and Friends Inter-Galactic Bike for Humanity Event to Benefit Victims of Coronavirus and Healthcare Workers
Set for Saturday, April 25

Basketball Hall of Famer and San Diego native Bill Walton is teaming up with community leaders and Events.com to host an inter-galactic initiative, Bike for Humanity, on from 9-11 a.m. PT on Saturday, April 25.

One 100 percent of all net proceeds from the event will benefit victims of the Coronavirus pandemic, along with healthcare professionals who have so valiantly treated them during this devastating crisis. Those proceeds will be distributed among four participating nonprofits, Feeding America (feedingamerica.org), the leading organization in the fight against hunger in the United States; Father Joe’s Villages (my.neighbor.org), one of the largest homeless services providers in San Diego; #GetUsPPE (getusppe.org), an organization that shares information and connects the community to help healthcare providers receive Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); and Champions for Health (championsforhealth.org), a San Diego-based organization whose mission is to improve community health and wellness, access to care for all and support for physicians through engaged volunteerism.

Individuals are encouraged to get out and ride their bikes for up to two hours in an area where they can practice social distancing at a minimum of 6’ 11” in honor of Walton’s true height. Current CDC guidelines recommend a minimum of six feet of social distancing in an effort to stem the pandemic. It is CRITICAL to note that Bike for Humanity is NOT a group ride and riding clusters are PROHIBITED due to Coronavirus. Interested participants can ride anywhere in the galaxy as long as they are in a location where they can practice social distancing.

“I love my bike and I love being alive,” said Walton, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, of his reasons for helping to create this one-of-a-kind event. “These seemingly inseparable aspects of my life are great privileges, privileges that not everybody has, even in the best of times. However, with that privilege comes responsibility, obligation and duty. And with the global health Coronavirus crisis changing everything for everybody these days, we are doing something about and for the exacerbated challenges that so many of our communities now face, not the least of which are food and medical care.”

There is no charge to sign-up or participate in Bike for Humanity. However, there are multiple opportunities to donate and become more involved.

Participants who make a $25 contribution will receive a Bike for Humanity medal through the mail. Those who make a $50 contribution will receive a medal and a T-shirt. Participants who pledge $250 will receive the medal and T-shirt, along with a personally-signed “Thank You” photograph card from Bill, and they’ll be entered into an opportunity drawing for exclusive prizes, including Electra bicycles and an all-expenses paid trip to San Diego to ride with Bill. And for $5,000, riders will receive a medal and T-shirt, along with an all-expenses paid trip to San Diego to ride with Bill. Details on all the packages are available HERE. And it’s important to note that for people who are unable to participate on April 25, Bike for Humanity is an ongoing initiative and outdoor enthusiasts should be proud to don their Bike for Humanity T-shirts and medals and get out and safely ride their bicycles when conditions allow.

Events.com is planning a live-stream of the event featuring Walton and other interesting people, however it will air on a delay from 1-3 p.m. PT giving participants plenty of time to get home following the ride to watch.

For more information or to register for Bike for Humanity, visit the event’s official website, www.bikeforhumanity.com


### 


Monday, March 16, 2020

Adjusting to New Realities


My friend Jan Heine wrote some very wise words over on his blog:

https://www.renehersecycles.com/adjusting-to-new-realities/

Here in Eugene, Christine & I spent this past weekend hunkered down at home with our cat, Inkling. As of today, my place of work (Bike Friday) is still in operation and the main business impact of COVID-19 has been on the supply side of the business (we have had various delays and availability issues around getting parts), but with all the travel restrictions and economic shocks (not to mention the serious medical issues), I am certain the demand side is going to drop precipitously. Our main business is travel bikes and there will be a lot less travel happening this year.

Various businesses in your town having to cope with difficult circumstances. This article has some good advice on ways you can help:

https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/15/success/small-businesses-coronavirus/index.html

Stay safe, friends and do what you can to help each other through this.

Kent Peterson
Eugene, OR USA


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Drive Fast

Today is Ash Wednesday, a Christian Holy Day of prayer and fasting. While I don't particularly care what (if any) faith a person follows, I do think the idea of abstaining from certain things is a valid way of exploring different ways of living. About nine years ago, I wrote a post proposing the idea of a "Drive Fast." I still think the idea is a good one. The original post is here:

https://kentsbike.blogspot.com/2011/02/drive-fast.html

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent Peterson
Eugene, OR USA

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Bike Friday Ever-E-Day

There's a new bike in the works at Bike Friday and you can read about on the Bike Friday Blog at:

https://www.bikefriday.com/folding-bikes/creating-the-new-ever-e-day-electric-cargo-bike

I had a tiny bit to do with the development of this bike, but most of my day to day work involves converting customer's existing bikes to E-assist. We also do full maintenance & factory repaints on our older bikes. So whether you want to keep an old bike rolling smoothly, want to add e-assist, or want a nifty new e-bike, Bike Friday can probably help you out.

Kurt Vonnegut once pointed out that one of humanity's problems is that everybody wants to build but nobody wants to do maintenance. Well, at Bike Friday, we do both.

By the way, the little dog that shows up now and then in the gif at the top of this post is Gertie. Brad, our Service Manager, is Gertie's roomate and she comes to work with him several days a week.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

My Somewhat Solar Life



“It’s not a very solar day.” My lovely and long suffering wife is by now used to my gloomy pronouncements on cloudy days. Also, after decades of marriage, she is used to my committing to some random goal (“I’m going to ride my fixed gear bike back to Minnesota!”) and then seeing me devote what many folks would think of as an unreasonable degree of time and energy in pursuit of said goal.

My latest obsessive project began when I somewhat reluctantly got an ebike. In my work at Bike Friday I wound up doing more and more ebike work and my boss Alan gave me enough parts and encouragement that eventually I pretty much had to add an electric assist system to my own bike. The purist in me felt guilty about adding an e-assist to a bicycle that I was perfectly capable of pedaling around 100% on my own but I did have to admit that the e-assist was handy and useful.

To assuage my guilt, I came up with a plan: I would vow not to plug my bike into the main electrical grid. Any e-power I would get would come from the sun. That was last April and since then I’ve stuck to my vow. Along the way I’ve learned some things and I quickly added items to my “no grid power” list. Since April my phone, laptop, radio, Kindle, ebike lights and the ebike itself have been 100% solar powered.

My first attempt at solar power I documented in a post I called The Sheddy Kilowatt Story and the solar shed still forms the basis of my solar system. As time has gone by I’ve learned some things and made some changes and I figure this update might help other folks who might be interested in lessening their dependence on the main power grid.

First off, I don’t claim to be 100% grid-free. Christine and I are still (semi)normal people who have a fridge, stove, washing machine and other big power items that plug into the wall. I just figured I’d see how much stuff I could manage to run on a fairly small solar power system.

The first thing I learned from my solar shed was that my cheap flexible Chinese no-name solar panel was, in retrospect, too cheap. It claimed to be a 100 Watt panel but it never even came close to generating half that and a spring wind storm somehow mysteriously killed it. I replaced it with a heavier, rigid, name-brand Renogy 50 Watt panel. The Renogy panel consistently puts out more power than its predecessor ever did.

My Floureon Power Bank is the heart of my solar system and it continues to perform like a champ. This is one of those products that is so nice I bought it twice. I’ll explain more about the second one and how I use it a bit later on.

As solar skeptics like to point out, solar energy is variable. On a bright, sunny day you get a lot of power, at night you get none, and on cloudy days things are somewhere in between. But if you have a lithium ion power bank hooked to your solar panel, what power you get can be stored for when you need it. Most of the devices on my list have their own internal lithium ion batteries and charge via mini USB ports. The bike and the laptop charge via their wall chargers which I plug into the 120 VAC inverter on Floureon Power Bank.

For charging small things, like a phone, the 50 Watt panel is overkill. Renogy makes a little ten watt panel with a little lithium ion power bank that is very reasonably priced. I wound up getting several of these when I had delusions of going into the solar business but I quickly figured out that I am not really an entrepreneur. I’m more just a guy who explains things. I wrote a little paper about how to charge your phone off solar power and decided that I was not a businessman.

My stock of those little Renogy panels are great when dealing with the one big problem I have with my solar shed. The problem is this: it doesn’t move. In the spring and summer, this is no problem, plenty of sunlight lands on the shed’s solar panel. In the fall and winter I’d figured that I would get less sun due to cloud cover but I’d inconveniently forgotten the basic fact of the earth’s tilt. In the dark months the days are shorter and for the bulk of the daylight hours my shed is in the shadow of my house. Oops!



The shed still manages to crank out just enough power to keep the ebike charged if I don’t go too wild with using the e-assist. I’ve decided that this is one of the great lessons of my solar experiment, I am living within my solar means.


I can move those little 10 Watt panels to where the sun is shining. I have one on my backpack and when I get asked about it on cloudy days I say it is there because I am an optimist. And then I explain how it charges my phone. I have a couple more panels stuck to my south-facing bedroom window where they and the cat look out at the squirrels who feed in the morning sun.


My darkest day (literally!) was the winter solstice. My shed generated zero Watt Hours but I’d socked away enough juice in the various power banks that I didn’t go empty. The little south-facing panels put out enough to keep my phone and other little gadgets going. The days are getting longer now.


The last piece of my solar puzzle fell into place when I realized that the 50 Watt Renogy panel is actually small enough I could fit it on a bike trailer. A 50 Watt panel, an inexpensive Allen cargo trailer, a storage bin from Home Depot, and a second Floureon power bank combine to give me a mobile solar e-bike charging system. So now I have a solar bike shed and a solar bike trailer.


The trailer is handy for grocery shopping and I can use it to keep my ebike solar powered on tour.

I may not be 100% solar powered (yet!) but my somewhat solar life is rolling along.

Kent Peterson
on a not very solar day in Eugene, OR USA