Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A Couple of Stories and One Song for Christmas

One of the things I like about the Christmas season is revisiting some old favorites. In looking through the archives of this blog, I found these that I think are still enjoyable and timely.

A Cyclist's Christmas Story

Santa Is Just As Real As Bigfoot

Big Red Bicycle Christmas

I hope that whatever traditions you celebrate bring you comfort and joy and that the new year brings grand new adventures.

Kent Peterson
Eugene, OR USA

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Frank Berto, RIP

Frank Berto died last weekend. The bicycle world is richer because of his long and productive life, and poorer now with his passing.

A lot of what I know about bicycles, I learned from the many books and technical articles by Frank Berto. He brought scientific rigor and historical perspective to the pages of Bicycling! magazine (it used to have the ! mark in the title) and in recent years his work has appeared in Jan Heine's fine magazine, Bicycle Quarterly.

Frank didn't just write or accept things as "that's the way it's always been." He tested things, dove deep into history, built machines to test hypothesis, and then wrote beautifully and completely about the things he'd found. For my money his masterwork was his book, The Dancing Chain. This comprehensive analysis of the development of the derailleur-equipped bicycle is encyclopedic in scope, engagingly written and, to those of us who the rest of the world calls bike nerds, fascinating. Every book and article I've read by Frank Berto has been worthwhile and informative. His book, The Birth of Dirt, is a fine look at the origins of mountain biking.

Jan Heine wrote a brief tribute to Frank Berto on his blog at:

A longer feature on Frank Berto will appear in the next issue of Bicycle Quarterly.

Rest (or Ride) in peace, Frank.

Friday, December 13, 2019

How To Make Recycled Bike Chain Christmas Star Ornaments

Bike chains wear out. Grit eventually wears the pins so the chains effectively elongate and no longer mesh nicely with the cogs. Rather than throw the worn chains away, places like Resource Revival recycle them into various products. However, if you're handy and have an old chain and a bit of wire, you can do your own recycling and make some star-shaped Christmas ornaments.

I don't show the steps I did with a chain tool, but I use the tool to make little five link loops of chain. I also got a 100 foot roll of 28 gauge galvanized steel wire from the hardware store. It cost about four bucks and it's enough wire to do about 50 ornaments.

I cut about a two foot length of wire.

I flex the chain links into a star shape.

I loop the wire around the inner five pins, pulling it tight. I loop the wire around the inside three times.

Then I twist the ends of the wire together. The twisting snugs the wire tight and holds the links in the star shape.

I twist the two strands of wire together.

I loop the double twisted wire through one part of the star, which is now the top of the ornament.

I twist the loop of wire to form a hanging loop and then twist the last of the wire around the loop to secure it. If I have any excess, I just snip it off.

That's it. I suppose you could spray paint the stars festive colors, but I just leave mine silver.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

One of the pleasures of growing older is revisiting items from our youth. I am currently rereading the works of Kurt Vonnegut. This adventure was kicked off, in part, by the realization that now, at age 60, if I was asked to name my favorite Kurt Vonnegut book, I would say without hesitation, GOD BLESS YOU, MR. ROSEWATER, but I would be unable to tell you only the vaguest outlines of the plot. This seemed to me to be a flaw in my existence that was within my power to correct. I went to work.

I began, not with ROSEWATER, but with a book called BAGOMBO SNUFF BOX, a collection ironically subtitled as being a collection of Vonnegut's uncollected early fiction. I found the stories to be surprisingly normal and perhaps unsurprisingly, quite good. I also picked up KURT VONNEGUT: LETTERS, which is a wonderful collection of his correspondence, and the delightful biography/reading guide UNSTUCK IN TIME: A JOURNEY THROUGH KURT VONNEGUT'S LIFE AND NOVELS. After completing BAGOMBO SNUFF BOX, I set to work reading chapters of UNSTUCK together with the letters and the novels in the order they were written.

By now you may be wondering why I am telling you all this on a bicycle blog. I will make this clear in a few minutes, but I feel I have to tell you bit more about my journey. It's been quite fascinating, I thought I was proceeding chronologically forward, but it seems I've become unstuck in time.


Vonnegut's first novel, PLAYER PIANO is all about his time at General Electric (he worked in the PR department) and it is both a cautionary tale about workers being displaced by automation and perils of revolution. Parts of it read a hell of a lot like Andrew Yang's stump speeches. Kurt complained (I'm paraphrasing here), "I just wrote about what I saw at GE and they told me what I wrote was Science Fiction. That's how I became a Science Fiction writer." PLAYER PIANO is also what I would call 'fairly normal." The wildest parts are things that really happened at GE.

His second novel THE SIRENS OF TITAN is really the dawn of the Vonnegut we'd all come to know: weird space aliens, senseless war, a silly putty view of time. It's the early novel that almost all Vonnegut fans have read. I'd forgotten how good it was.

For his third novel, Vonnegut is back on earth with a really powerful story. I don't think I ever read this one in my youth. That was a mistake I'm glad I've now corrected. MOTHER NIGHT is a memoir of spy, an American who worked under deep cover as a Nazi propagandist. The question at the heart of the novel is "was he too good at his job?" This one is a real page turner, I plowed through it in a day.

Next up was CAT'S CRADLE, the book I probably remembered the best, the one that a lot of Vonnegut fans recall, the one with Ice Nine. It holds up quite well to a reread.

And finally I was up to GOD BLESS YOU, MR. ROSEWATER, which asks the question "is a man crazy to give away his wealth or is a society that hoards wealth crazy?" I think I first read this book when I was fifteen years old. I was cheering for Eliot Rosewater then and 45 years later I'm happy to report that I still am.

And then I was up to SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE. It took Vonnegut decades to write it and Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time. It has the horrors of war and I'm sure it's his masterpiece, but I don't think it shaped me and shook me the way some of Vonnegut's other books did. So it goes.


The way I'm rereading the books is an order I recommend unless you are a fourteen year old boy. I was a fourteen year old boy when I first read BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS. It's vulgar, it's stupid, it's juvenile. I remember loving it as a kid and now in 2019 being about so many pages in sixty-year-old me was thinking, "man, this is horrible." And then, Kurt Vonnegut, who is a character in his own novel, says "hang on, I know this is horrible, but I'm going somewhere..." and he is and I hang in and I'm unstuck and I'm fourteen and sixty and gosh darn it he's made me young again. He couldn't do it for Kilgore Trout, but he did it for me. God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.

But what does this have to do with a bike blog?

I'm glad you asked.

Kilgore Trout wrote a novel that Kurt Vonnegut tells us about in BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS. Trout's novel PLAGUE ON WHEELS describes a dying planet called Lingo-Three whose inhabitants resemble American Automobiles. They ate fossil fuels. The creatures were dying because they'd destroyed their planet's atmosphere. A tiny space traveler named Kago visited their planet before they all died and while he could not save them, he vowed to tell others in the universe about them so they would not be forgotten.

Kago came to Earth and in all innocence told Earthlings about automobiles. Vonnegut/Trout tells us, "Kago did not know that human beings could be as easily felled by a single idea as by cholera or the bubonic plague. There was no immunity to cuckoo ideas on earth." Also "Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity."

In 1973, this idea immunized 14-year-old Kent against the lure of automobiles. I never saw them as freedom machines, I saw them as folly. And 2019 Kent sees in the previous paragraph a very clear articulation of why he ran away screaming when he first encountered Facebook many years ago.


"Within a century of little Kago's arrival on earth, according to Trout's novel, every form of life on that once peaceful and moist and nourishing blue-green ball was dying or dead. Everywhere there were the shells of the great beetles which men had made and worshipped. They were automobiles. They had killed everything."

Kilgore Trout showed me that cars don't make sense and while I did get a driver's licence at sixteen and did for a few years own and drive a few cars, I ultimately left them behind. I haven't driven or owned a car in over three decades.

Similarly, I think it was an echo of Eliot Rosewater who told me I could be happy making my living with bicycles instead of continuing in the world where bits and bytes add up to big bucks. As my friend Mark said to me at the time, "If you can get used to making a whole lot less money, you can work in my bike shop." It turns out I could.

My great Vonnegut reread continues. I'm up to SLAPSTICK now. I will keep on rolling.

Kent Peterson
Eugene, OR USA

Monday, December 02, 2019

2 Bike Lights Compared: Wildken Smart Bike Light vs. Cycle Torch Shark 500

I have two headlights on my bike's handlebars, a Wildken Smart Bike Light and a Cycle Torch Shark 500. I rarely use both lights simultaneously, but I like having a backup in case the charge in one of the lights runs out. Also, while the two lights share some similarities, they approach the problem of lighting in two different ways.

Both lights are fairly small and have an internal lithium battery pack that is charged via a micro USB port. While neither of these lights would be my choice for riding all night brevets, they are ideal for commuting in an urban environment. Both lights will run about three hours on high beam, more on their lowest settings. When they need charging, a color coded LED lets me know and despite my paranoid, double light back-up system, I've never actually needed to use the second light. I just charge things up when I get home.

Where the lights differ is in their beam patterns, brightness and how that brightness is controlled. The Wildken Smart Bike Light meets the German K-Mark Standard, which means the beam is very nicely shaped in order to put the maximum of light on the road instead of into the eyes of oncoming travelers. Below is a picture of the Wildken's beam.

Unlike other bike lights I've used, the Wildken Smart Bike Light doesn't use the switch to toggle through various brightness settings. Instead, it has a photo sensor that it uses to decide how bright to make the beam. This means that on a very dark bike path, it's shining at maximum brightness. But if an oncoming cyclist or driver has a bright light, it will very courteously dim itself. On my commute, the beam adjusts itself as I pass under street lights or ride through tunnels.

The light also has a motion sensor so when I park the bike, it will shut itself off after a couple of minutes. Curiosity about just how smart this "smart light" would be was what fueled my buy decision and I have to say that in general, I'm impressed. For most of my urban riding, it's all the light I need.

The Cycle Torch Shark 500 is a more traditional bike light. It does have a semi-shaped beam, casting a flattened cone of light with a lot more spillover. I toggle through the various brightness settings manually and the brightest setting seems about twice as bright as what the Wildken Smart Bike Light will put out on the darkest trail. I'm more comfortable using the Cycle Torch Shark 500 for fast riding, I never feel like I'm over running the beam. In fairness, the Cycle Torch Shark 500 sells for about twice what the Wildken Smart Bike Light does.

Both lights seem to be fairly well made, but the Wildken has a more solid mount. The Shark has the standard silicone band mount and it tends to rotate a bit unless I really snug it down. But that's a minor problem, easily fixed with a bit of extra old innertube rubber under the strap.

The bottom line is I think these are both decent lights for the money. The Wildken is more civilized, the Shark is more powerful.

Monday, November 25, 2019

A Cycle Tote Trailer with Auto-braking

At Saturday's Friends of Trees planting, one of the fellows had this very cool Cycle Tote Trailer. It worked great for hauling trees and supplies, but he explained to me that normally he is using it to haul his Golden Labrador and that the trailer has a Conestoga-style roof.

The trailer has very interesting and clever hitch and braking system. The seatpost mounted hitch has a spring which compresses when the trailer has greater froward momentum than the bike. This action tugs on dual brake cables that activate the Sturmey-Archer drum brakes in the trailer wheels. Thus, the trailer and the bike slow simultaneously with the braking action of the bike and the trailer doesn't over-run the bike.

My own, much smaller, trailer doesn't have such a feature and while it is fine for the relatively small loads I regularly carry, there are circumstances where I do notice the momentum of the trailer. If I was carrying a large load in hilly areas, I think I'd definitely want some sort of braking on the trailer.

The Cycle Tote Trailers are made in Fort Collins, Colorado. While they are certainly not cheap, their design and construction is first rate. I have no financial interest in them, but I appreciate good design when I see it.

Kent Peterson
Eugene, OR USA

Friday, November 15, 2019

Bicycle Tree Planting with Friends of Trees

Last Saturday Christine, our friend Sally and I joined up with some other folks from Friends of Trees to plant some trees here in Eugene. One of the super cool things about Friends of Trees is that while they do have a couple of big trucks for tree and equipment hauling, they try to do as much as possible with as few motor vehicles as possible. So, in addition to having volunteers carpool to planting sites, they also have a bike-based crew of volunteers. Naturally, Christine, Sally, and I were part of the bike crew.

I can say that things went off without a hitch and that's literally true. Friends of Trees recently moved their office and in the move they mislaid the hitches to the big platform bike trailers they usually use. Fortunately, Sally had her Burley Travoy and I had my little Allen Yoogo Cargo Trailer so we were able to haul the shovels, buckets and other tools to the various planting sites. Christine carried some tools in her Allant's bike basket and the hard hat in her pannier. The trees and mulch were dropped off ahead of us at the sites by one of the cargo trucks. Next time, the entire operation will be done by bike.

On this particular Saturday all the planting sites were ones requested by various local home owners. Friends of Trees also works with the city planting trees in different public spaces. Home owners also get tree care information and several years of follow up visits by Friends of Trees for pruning and other health checks as the trees grow.

The post pounder is a surprisingly heavy tool that allows even a fairly small person to pound a stake into hard ground. It also is easy to get carried away with the post pounder and catch it on the edge of the stake and have it bounce up and smack the person holding it right on the top of the skull. Hence, the hardhat.

Erik Burke is a certified arborist and the Eugene Director of Friends of Trees. Christine and I first met him when we attended a local tree walk that he was leading. Erik's knowledge of trees is vast and his passion for them is obvious in everything he does.

Christine got to try her hand at the post pounder.

Sally hauled an amazing amount of stuff on her Travoy. The empty tree and mulch buckets weren't heavy, but they were awkward.

In general we had a great time planting trees but it's hungry work. Unfortunately, the bike crew wasn't as speedy as the truck crews and by the time we got to the post-planting potluck most of the food was gone!

Next time, we'll bring snacks.

Keep 'em rolling,


Thursday, November 14, 2019

100 Good Bike Books

A few years ago (OK, maybe more than a few!) I put together a list of 50 good bike books and then a week later I published a list of 50 more good bike books. For convenience, here are links to both of those lists:

I stand by the contents of those lists, but I'm sure there many other fine bike books I'm missing. So if there is a favorite of yours that you think should be on the next iteration of the list, make a note in the comments or send me an email.

Keep 'em rolling,


Friday, November 08, 2019

Schwalbe Tire Levers

Over on the iBOB list, Joan has nice things to say about Schwalbe Tire Levers. Joan notes how the clip mechanism of these levers helps you lock down the section of tire that you already have seated and then you can use the third lever to get the last section of the tire onto the rim. She also notes that the tip of the levers is quite thin, which also is a great help for those tight tire/rim situations.

Over the years I've certainly had my share of punctures and I've used a wide range of tire levers. I can confirm Joan's high opinion of the Schwalbe Tire Levers, they really do a good job in tight situations.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Thinking About Socks and Alpacas

I was going to start this post by stating that like most folks, I don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about my socks. While that's certainly true most days, I realized that there have been times in my life when I've thought a whole lot about my socks. These have usually been times when I've been miserable or, more importantly, times when I've been planning ahead to avoid misery.

Allow me to explain.

I have, at various times, done things that push me beyond my comfort zone. These include things like riding my Bike Friday from London to Edinburgh and back, or riding a fixed gear bike from Issaquah to Minnesota, or being the first person to ride a single speed bike from Port Roosville, Montana to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. On these and other adventures of varying degrees of stupidity, I've considered my socks carefully. When you are traveling light, you want the gear you bring to be up to the job.

On most of my adventures, I bring wool socks. In general, I'm a fan of wool. It's warm when wet and while some folks are allergic to it, I'm not. Over the years I've written quite bit on this blog about the virtues of wool, so I won't bother to repeat that here. Instead I'm going talk about something better than wool socks: alpaca socks.

Brain Davis apparently thinks more about socks than I do. I first got to know Brian through the internet and his nifty Fix It Sticks. Since then Brian and I have kept in intermittent touch and he's gone on to create several other products including the Weatherneck and the BackBottle. His latest project is a pair of socks made from Alpaca fiber. He sent me a pair to check out and I'm impressed. Well, impressed enough to do this blog post. They really do seem better than regular wool socks. Brian explains it better than I do, but they really are warm, not itchy, not stinky, and very comfy. I suppose you could say I've been bribed with socks, but a bribe only works if it's something of value and by gosh these socks are valuable. They've earned their spot in my kit for my future adventures.

Anyhow, like most of his ventures, Brian is Kickstarting this one. I know he'll succeed because they're good socks and he's a smart, hardworking guy who delivers on his promises. Here's a link to his Kickstarter campaign:

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Solar Nomadics

I've been devoting a good chunk of my energy these days into a little venture I'm calling Solar Nomadics. You can read a bit about it here:

Kent Peterson

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Watching my Watts

Alan Scholz recently gave me a new KT-LCD6 display console for my ebike. It’s a bit bigger than my old KT-LCD5 console, but it shows me a few things that my old display didn’t. In addition to the usual speed, average speed, trip distance and total mileage, the new console also show me the current temperature, my cadence and the number of Watts the motor is consuming.

The temperature sometimes reads a bit high if the bike has been sitting in the sun, but once I’m rolling it seems to be pretty accurate. I couldn’t find an explicit way to select Celsius or Fahrenheit for the degree display, but if you select kilometers for your distance measurement the console assumes you’ve bought into the metric system and will display the temperature in Celsius degrees. If, on the other hand, you measure your distance in miles, the console figures that you are one of those quirky Americans who still measures the temperature in Fahrenheit degrees.

The cadence reading tells me what I already knew, that I tend to spin in the 80 to 90 RPM range. It’s a habit that got drilled into me early on. Several years of fixed gear and single-speed riding expanded my cadence and power range so I can comfortably grind up hill and spin down the other side, but given multiple gears and choice I tend to settle in around 85 RPM. With my ebike I often leave the power level set at three (out of five) but I use the gear shift quite a bit to keep my spin rate and effort in the same comfortable range as the terrain or winds change.

The Watt reading is the one I’ve found the most informative. While articles like this one:

provide a good explanation of Watt Hours and try to inject some reality into the often inflated world of ebike range claims, the truth of the matter is people ride ebikes in a wide range of ways and the phrase “your mileage may vary” is very, very true.

Take for example the “real world” estimate of 20 Watt Hours per mile. Even before I got the Watt Meter, I knew that I wasn’t that many Watt Hours. I knew this because of math. I have a 36 Volt 12.5 AmpHour battery on my bike. Since

Watts = Volts * Amps

My battery’s capacity is 36*12.5 or 450 Watt Hours. Taking the 20 Watt Hours per mile estimate, I should expect 450/20 or 22.5 miles of range. But I was regularly going 50 or 60 miles before my battery meter would read ¼ full and then I’d charge it up. Alan told me he was getting similar results. Obviously, we weren’t using 20 Watt Hours of electricity to go a mile, something else was happening. Getting mileage like that would indicate that Alan and I regularly use more like 6 or 7 Watt Hours to go a mile.

There are several factors that contribute to our better than expected numbers. First off, Bike Fridays, even with the added weight of motors and batteries, are lighter than most other ebikes. A lot of ebikes are heavy and frankly not much fun to ride with the motor off. They need their motors to overcome their portly design. My Bike Friday, with the motor off, still rides like a bike.

Second, both Alan and I are what I call “fit old codgers.” I’m sixty and Alan’s a few years older. We’ve been riding bikes for years. We don’t want electric motorcycles. When we get on a bike, we expect to pedal and we do. We’re willing to have the motor help a bit, but we still tend to do the majority of the work involved in keeping our bikes rolling down the road.

Finally, Alan and I both live, work, and shop in the relatively flat Willamette Valley floor. When we do go out on spirited weekend rides in the hills or carry touring loads in the mountains, we wind up using more Watt Hours. But even then, we both find we do quite a bit better than the pessimistic 20 Watt Hours per mile estimate.

I’ve found riding with the Watt Meter to be quite informative. The motor provides most of its kick when I pull out from stop lights, that’s when the Watt number climbs. When it comes to maintaining cruising speed, I can see that as I push a higher gear, the motor draws fewer Watts. And, of course, when I’m coasting or in a tuck going downhill, the motor doesn’t have to do anything.

I find myself doing a bit of mental math, calculating Watt Hours per Mile as I go along. If the meter is showing 100 Watts and I’m doing 16 miles per hour then 100/16 equals 6.25 Watt Hours per mile. If I’m climbing a hill at 8 miles per hour and the motor is drawing 120 Watts than I’m using 15 Watt Hours per mile. Going down the other side of the hill, I’m using zero Watt Hours per mile.

The Watt Meter lets me see how adjusting what gear I’m in or what power assist level I’ve selected affects my range. I’ve always been more interested in going far as opposed to going fast, so I find myself trying to minimize the motor’s contribution and maximize my own. But I have found that for my commute, if I have the assist level set to 2, I average about 13 mph while drawing 80 Watts. If I punch the assist up to level 3, my average speed climbs to 16 mph while the Watt draw is 100. Running the numbers on this I get:

80/13 = 6.13 Watt Hours per mile to go 12 mph


100/16 = 6.25 Watt Hours per mile to go 15 mph

I find the small decrease in mileage to be worth the extra three mph. At levels 4 and 5, however, the power consumption is quite a bit greater. Wind resistance increases exponentially with speed, so moving at greater speed takes quite a bit more power. For myself, I virtually never use the higher power settings. I also tell customers that the higher settings (4 and 5) are designed to spin the motor fast, not really provide more power. When climbing, you are going to be going slow and the lower settings (1 through 3) will be more efficient in terms of helping you out. As Alan says “it’s an e assist, you’re still going to be getting a workout climbing a hill.”

One final word of caution with the Watt Meter: like any gadget it can be a distraction. Don’t forget to keep your eyes on the road.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Running an Ebike on Solar Energy: The Sheddy Kilowatt Story

Five minutes after I installed a solar panel on the roof of my bike shed it began to rain. Since this was April in Oregon, the rain was not an unusual or unforseen event and in fact the next five days were rainy and mostly cloudy. But even on those damp days my solar system managed to generate enough power to not only charge my ebike, but also my phone, Android tablet and radio batteries. After that first week, I knew that I had pieced together a workable system. It's not fancy or particularly elegant, but it gets the job done.

Sparky, my eBike, runs off a 36 Volt, 12.5 AmpHour Lithium-ion battery Since Watts equal Volts times Amps, Sparky's battery holds 450 WattHours of power. Sparky's stock wall charger plugs into a U.S. standard 120 Volt AC outlet and puts out 42 Volts DC at 2 Amps so it puts out 84 Watts in an hour. To completely load Sparky up with 450 Watts takes about five and half hours if I plug into the wall. Charging off the sun is a different story.

The hundred Watt solar panel I got from eBay only puts out 100 Watts in some theoretic, perfectly sunny world that I certainly don't live in. And even if the panel were to miraculously put out 100 Watts, it would do so only at a maximum voltage of 18 Volts. I needed to get that up to a steady 42 Volts to charge Sparky.

My first thought was to get what is called a "boost controller." This is a device which will take a variable voltage input (like what a solar panel puts out) and boosts it to a constant voltage. Like damn near everything these days, the Chinese make an inexpensive one you can buy on eBay, so I ordered one to go with my solar panel.

The device is marvelously complicated and came with a manual that had obviously been translated into English by a not too bright robot. Here is an actual paragraph from that manual:

The controller uses advance software algorithms initiative rope move, quickly and accurately tracking the maximum power point of photovoltaic panels module voltage, active tracking work at the maximum power point of the solar cell module in order to get more solar energy. Enhance the charging current and power generation.

After reading that I decided to initiative my own rope move and I went on YouTube and found some guy with a British accent who had messed around enough with one of these controllers to figure it out and explain it in such a way that even a dumb American like me could use it. Following his instructions, I set up my boost controller put out the 42 volts I needed to charge Sparky's battery.

While that system worked, the flaw in my plan quickly became apparent, I had to have Sparky parked in the shed and plugged in to get the power off the panel. The panel doesn't generate power at night and in most of the daylight hours, Sparky is at work with me. While I could just charge Sparky using the main power at work and have my employer pay the power bill, that is not at all what I wanted to do. I want to run Sparky on sunshine.

Sir Robert Watson-Watt, the inventor of radar, once said "you get one idea today, you get a better idea tomorrow, and the best idea...never." My next idea was to add an intermediate storage battery to the system and as I researched and thought my next, next better idea was to get a little integrated battery/inverter Power Bank unit. I found a good one, again made by the Chinese and available on eBay.

I also got a little recording Watt meter which is not needed for the system to work, but useful in that it tells me how much power the panel is generating and how much has been stored. The Power Bank has a little 4 LED power meter but the Watt meter gives me a clearer picture of what is going on.

The Power Bank has built-in circuitry that lets it take power straight off the solar panel, so I no longer need to use the green boost converter. The solar power, up to 220 WattHours, gets stored in the Power Bank's internal Li-ion battery. The Power Bank charges up during the day while Sparky and I are at work.

You might have noticed that the Power Bank has roughly half the capacity that Sparky does. That means that if I came home at the end of the day with Sparky completely depleted, even if the Power Bank was fully charged, I could only charge Sparky's battery half way. If that actually happened, I'd need a second day to charge the Power Bank and then transfer that power to Sparky. In practice, I'm a pretty frugal ebike rider and in a week of commuting and errands, I only use a few hundred Watts.

My typical charging pattern looks like this: I get home Friday night and Sparky is down to around 50%. I plug Sparky's standard wall charger into one of the 120 VAC inverter outlets on the Power Bank. The next morning, Sparky is full and the Power Bank is empty. I spend the weekend riding Sparky around and the Power Bank spends the weekend in the shed charging up. Sunday night I again connect Sparky to the now full Power Bank. Monday morning the Power Bank is again depleted and Sparky is ready to take on the work week at full strength.

The actual truth of things is that even with less than great weather and the inefficiencies of various intermediate batteries and inverters, my little solar system gives me more than enough power to keep Sparky humming along. In fact, I have more than enough power so I also use the power bank to keep my phone, tablet, and radio charged up. All the words and pictures in this post come are here thanks to solar power.

If you want to build a system like mine, the only two parts you really need are a Solar Panel and a Power Bank. The prices of these things tend to fluctuate. I paid about $100 for my 100 Watt panel and $131 for my Power Bank. I consider it money well spent.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent Peterson
Eugene, Oregon

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

I didn't need or want an ebike, but now I'm glad I've got one!

While ebikes have been a growing part of the bicycle business for several years, I'd always figured I didn't need one and frankly, I didn't want one. For decades I've managed to get around just fine on a bike where I'm the only motor and I didn't see any reason to complicate matters. It was somewhat ironic then when Bike Friday started doing more and more ebikes for our customers that I became "the ebike guy." While Alan Scholz, our company's founder, did the bulk of the preliminary research and development for Bike Friday's new line of ebikes, my job in the service department involves adding electric motors to customer's existing bikes and troubleshooting bikes with problems. As I've been known to grumble now and then "adding a bunch of electronics and a motor to a bike doubles the universe of potential problems." I also may have said the ebikes are "bikes for lazy folks." Statements like this are why Bike Friday doesn't have me working in the sales department.

As I got to work with more ebike customers, I saw that I was very wrong about the "lazy folks" comment. In many, many cases a person gets an ebike so that they can keep riding. One 80 year old customer wanted to keep riding with his slightly younger, faster pals. Another wanted to bike to work instead of drive and the motor took care of the one big hill in her way. A mom uses the extra oomph of an ebike to help her carry her two kids to school on the back of her Haul-a-Day. These are not lazy people.

Still, I have a flat commute to work. I'm no longer young, but I'm reasonably fit. I sure didn't (and don't) need an ebike. But Alan, who is a bright guy, kept bugging me. "You won't really get it until you have one. Test riding customer bikes isn't the same." And Alan kept giving me stuff. "This motor was one I was checking out for research, but it's a bit heavier than what we'd want for a customer's bike. You should put it on your bike." The next week we had a warranty issue with a battery because of a cracked mounting bracket. "We can't sell it to a customer, but I bet you could make it work on your bike." Eventually, the pile of parts was either going to bury my workbench or get put on a bike. I installed all the various bits on my Pocket Companion.

My first commute was a couple of miles per hour faster, but it wasn't life changing. Riding an ebike is like riding a tandem with a strong partner. With the pedal assist system we use on the Bike Fridays, the motor only kicks in when you are pedaling. You select how much (or how little) of a boost you want. With e-assist I'm quicker getting across an intersection when the light turns green. My top speed isn't changed. Ebikes by law have a regulator that stops the motor from applying power at a certain speed. You can pedal faster than that speed, but it is you doing the work, not the motor. But my average speed went up because where ebikes shine is helping you at times when conditions would slow you down. On my flat commute, in addition to the intersections, I noticed the boost most on days when I was riding into a headwind.

But it was on my days off that I really began to bond with my ebike. I've always been a strong climber, but with the ebike I really don't even have to think about hills. Yes, I gear down and pedal, but Sparky (as I've renamed my bike!) is like a little pal saying "let me help you with that." Hauling a couple of big boxes of books to the thrift store with the bike trailer? No problem, Sparky is there to help.

They did a study in Norway and they found that in general ebike riders get about 80% of the workout they would riding a non-electric bike over a given distance. But they also found that ebike riders tend to ride about 20% farther on average and their average speed is about 20% faster. My own experience echoes this. I'm having fun, riding more and riding farther.

I've told my friends that I've gone from being an ebike skeptic to being an ebike enthusiast and I'm dangerously close to becoming an ebike evangelist. Alan was right, I had to own an ebike to really get it. I still don't really need an ebike, but I'm damn glad I've got one!

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Little Story for Earth Day

Now various folks call people like me who try to reduce their environmental impact on the earth "Tree Huggers". Most times I take the reference as a badge of honor. But sometimes, depending on the context, I'm not always thinking Bob Ross style happy thoughts about trees.

I recently built myself up an electric bike and even more recently pledged that I was not going to charge it off the main power grid. With the help of my son Peter, I assembled a small bike shed in our back driveway and a few weeks ago I installed a 100 Watt solar panel on the shed's roof. Since then all the power for my ebike, radio, phone and Android tablet have been generated from sunlight.

Late yesterday afternoon, while it was still bright and sunny, I was puttering around in the shed and I noticed the Watt meter was showing a lot less power than I'd expect. I stepped out and looked at the shed's roof. A tree at the edge of the yard (which I'd always thought of as quite lovely) was casting its leafy shadow on the solar panel.

"You stupid tree!" I grumbled.

I guess I'm a bad tree hugger.

Kent Peterson
Eugene, Oregon USA