Thursday, February 19, 2015

Electric Bikes, Crowdfunding, and Caveat Emptor

One of my sources of entertainment this month has been watching the Sonders E-Bike story play out on the internet. For those of you unfamiliar with the Sonders (formerly called Storm) E-Bike, a good place to catch up with the events thus far is this piece by Lloyd Alter over at TreeHugger:

Is the $500 Storm e-bike too good to be true? Looks like.

This is one of those rare cases where I recommend both reading the article and the comments. If you have hours of extra time, you can also go to the Sonders Electric Bike Indiegogo site and wade through the 1600+ comments there.

While Lloyd Alter's article appears to fall firmly in the "this is a total scam" school of thought, you will find many, many other voices saying "no, no, the technology is evolving, they're cutting out the middlemen, Chinese manufacturing is amazing, anyone who doubts this is a shill for competitors and/or threatened by this." Of course to comment on the Indiegogo site you have to have pledged at least a dollar to the cause and many of the folks commenting there have already forked over $500+ dollars towards the dream of this bike. They want to believe.

My own take on this is that since Mongoose can sell a fat bike for $200 at Walmart and electric motors and batteries really are getting cheaper, that yes I will concede that the Sonders folks really could possibly deliver a $500 electric fat bike. Time will tell if they actually deliver something to the folks who've pledged to this project.

But I'm not pledging a dime to them and this project has already tripped many. many warning flags in my head. First off, the "act now before the price goes up!" is a classic excite the rubes technique. Of course that low price comes with high shipping fine print. Add in some shoddy "did we say 45 pounds, it's actually 55 pounds" and you'll wonder what gets changed next. Did you guess brakes? Yes, those brakes that they said are hydraulic? They're actually mechanical disks. And so it goes.

The Sonders folks did a demo day in a flat area where a bunch of people got to ride a sample bike for a few minutes at time. But that demo doesn't give me any faith in their projected charge times for the battery or any indication of the actual range the bike could go on a charge. And the numbers they quote seem wildly optimistic.

The latest turn of the tale is that those who have already pledged but now doubt can now pay an extra $120 insurance (non-refundable!) and if the Sonders folks don't deliver your bike within 3 months of their projected May delivery, you'll get your original payment back. Really!!! I think you're ripping me off so I should give you more money in case you're ripping me off!!! That's not something that puts my mind at ease.

And by the way they're willing to ship to Europe without bothering to note that given their specs, the bike is illegal in Europe. And they're kind of vague on the charger issue anyway. And then there was that whole not bothering to check if there was an e-Bike named Storm on the market already at the start. These are not the signs give a buyer confidence.

The best case scenario I can come up with is that sometime later this year a bunch of folks get a heavy, pretty crappy bike that they won't want to pedal very far once the battery goes dead.

But who knows, I could be wrong. But I don't think I am. The Romans had a saying, Caveat Emptor. And I think P.T. Barnum had a saying as well...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Scootering The Eastside

The cities and towns located between the eastern shore of Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains are collectively known as "The Eastside" reflecting, I suppose, a certain Seattle-centric viewpoint. Those whose only experience of this area is driving through it on freeways, dining at chain restaurants that could exist anywhere and thus feel like they are nowhere, or attempting to navigate thru labrinthian cul-de-sac neighborhoods tend to have some negative impressions of the area. My own experience, having lived in the area for several decades and exploring it by foot or human-powered wheel, has been different. There is much to be found that is beautiful and good. The key is to not rush past it.

I tend to rise earlier on my days off than I do on my work days. When my time is my own I like to get in as much adventure as I can. This week, on a Tuesday when I didn't have to work, I was out the door at 6:00 AM, headed up to Redmond to meet up with my friend Mike Kearsley.

The old rail line alongside Lake Sammamish is a trail now. It's paved in Issaquah and Redmond and the section of the trail within the city limits of Sammamish are smooth gravel. Work is ongoing to complete the paving through Sammamish.

I love riding in the night and early morning. It's quiet and I find it is like living in less crowded, less hectic world. Having good lights opens this world to me. My Portland Design Works Lars Rover 450 has proven itself to be a fine, rugged light for my scooter. I run it on its 250 Lumen setting most of the time.

The sky lightens as I work my way north.

There are some houses with amazing views along here.

The dawn is a bit too bright for my camera to capture the pinks and oranges of the sunrise. But I'll remember it.

Here's where I have to leave the trail. I'll ride the next few miles on the shoulder of the Parkway.

The shoulder is fairly good for scootering and at this hour there still isn't too much traffic.

At the Redmond town line, I cut under the Parkway via this little tunnel.

Back on the paved trail.

 Much of the land alongside the trail is wetland wildlife habitat.

The thermometer in Redmond confirms what I'd suspected, it's just above freezing. But the day is definitely going to warm up.

I warmed up with a hot chocolate at the Peets Coffee Shop in Redmond where I met up with Mike. We spent an hour or so discussing the Montana section of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which he'll be riding in July.

We have to stop and take each other's pictures next to some geese on the Sammamish River Trail.

We're riding north, but turned around for these pictures because it made for a much better shot, given the angle of the sun.

We rode the Sammamish River trail to 116th, then over to Willows Road, up to 124th and then west to Slater Avenue. There we connected with the Cross Kirkland Corridor.

We're going to head southwest on the trail. Eventually the trail will extend north from this point as well.

The undeveloped section is currently unimproved.

This section of trail just opened up a few weeks ago.

The trail is mostly very smooth gravel, with asphalt at the road crossings.

Mike is riding a classic old Bridgestone today.

Once it warmed up, Mike and I stowed our warm jackets.

The trail features these nifty solar-powered flashers at the crossings.

A nice map shows the trail as it exists now. An online version of the map can be found here:

They are still constructing the trail around Google's headquarters.

They did a real nice job retrofitting the bridges along the corridor.

A closer view of Mike's MB-1

Mike is the champion of flagging down passers-by to take our picture. By the way, it's about 60 degrees now.

Mike's creative front rack attachment.

This is the current end of the trail. From here we went down the hill to Northrup Way (which is lousy riding) and then connected up with the SR-520 Trail.

We were headed back to Marymoor Park when we met up with this fellow on the trail. Todd is a friendly Senior Quality Engineer at Microsoft and he was happy to answer our questions about his vehicle. He told me people stop and ask him about it a lot!

It's an Organic Transit ELF, a pedal-powered trike with a solar-charged electric assist.

The ELF was super cool. Not cheap, but if you sell your Tesla you could buy about ten of 'em.

Mike headed north to his home in Woodenville, and I returned to Marymoor Park where I filled my water bottle and headed south.

Marymoor Park has WiFi.

The day warmed up nicely.

They should be done with paving the northern section of the Lake Sammamish Trail later this spring.

Some of the trail work in progress.

Back on the gravel trail. I'd been going slower and slower. I thought I was just getting tired.

 It turns out I had a slow leak in my rear tire. It's a good thing I travel with tools.

The Portland Design Works 3Wrencho is a great little tool, serving as both a 15 mm wrench and a very well-shaped, sturdy tire lever.

A sharp little bit of green glass was the culprit.

Back in action.

Rolling into Issaquah.

Back downtown.

The Rainier Trail goes right by the old train depot. Most of the trails I've been on today are built along the old rail routes.

Just under 46 miles for the day, seven hours of rolling time. I would've been a bit faster if I'd noticed the low rear tire sooner.

I was famished when I got home. I demolished a large bowl of pasta and the remains of a Valentines box of chocolates. I regret nothing!