Cycling · e-bike · Life

8 Reasons Why You’ll Be Riding an E-Bike in the Future

Current battery technology gives most affordable e-bikes a range of 20-40 miles (32-65 km). This puts the average errand well within the e-bikes range. It also makes commuting more attractive. Most bicycle commuters don’t go far beyond 10 miles, but an e-bike changes that paradigm.

The average speed of an e-bike is 50% faster than a regular bicycle. What would take an hour and a half on a regular bike only takes an hour on an e-bike. This makes commuting longer distance more attractive and practical.

The price of gas only seems to go up. Every day you ride your bike is money in your pocket that you’re not spending on gas.

No, e-bikes are not as much exercise as a regular bike, but they do provide a decent cardio workout. If you’re feeling frisky, you can turn the motor power down and choose to pedal harder. Why pay money for a gym, take hours out of your week, drive to said gym, just to get the exercise you could get from combining your regular routine with an e-bike?

Sweat, or the lack, thereof
With and e-bike, you have the option not to exert yourself so much that you need a shower at the end of your ride. Bike commuting often requires a shower and change of clothes before you can really get to work. E-bikes eliminate the sweat factor. You lock your bike and go to work in the clothes your rode in. Plus, you usually have the best parking spot at the building.

Wide Appeal
Cycling brings to mind a particular picture of some Lycra-clad, weekend warrior slowing down traffic on country roads while pretending he’s in the Tour de France. E-bikes don’t fit in that niche. They are for a broader audience. No special clothing is required. Exceptional health is not a prerequisite, either. If you have minor health concerns that would keep you off a regular bike, an e-bike mitigates those problems. Almost anyone can confidently mount an e-bike and make a 10 km run.

The prices of e-bikes are coming down. Direct internet sales and standardization like common battery designs are putting the prices of e-bikes on par with regular bikes. Even conversion kits are becoming reasonable. You might find converting your regular bike to an e-bike to be a practical alternative.

The shear joy of cruising down the road in the open air is intoxicating. An e-bike is great for capturing that childhood feeling of freedom, but in a practical, adult-minded way. The simple chore of getting groceries becomes an opportunity to breath in some roadside honeysuckle and speak to some neighbors you’ve never met.

Life · traffic

An Argument For the Idaho Stop

As many drivers will tell you, usually in angrily posted internet comments, roads were built for cars. This factoid comes from the latest New York Times bestseller, The Big Book of Thank You Letters to Doctor Obvious. The lanes are car-width. The speed limits are car-powered. The loop-induction traffic signals are car-weighted. Yes, it’s all very obvious that roads were made for cars.

Also made for cars are traffic-calming devices. Traffic-calming is the concept of creating a safer environment for all road users. It mainly consists of narrowing lanes and putting obstructions like speed humps (“sleeping policeman” for you Brits), islands, and curves into the traffic flow. The intended result is to slow the speed of cars and make drivers aware of other road users. Note that pedestrians and cyclist have no need for speed-reducing devices because they are rarely traveling above the speed limit.

Here in The States, we haven’t fully embraces the roundabout. We have opted for right-angle intersections with light or sign control. This makes the stop sign a ubiquitous fixture on American streets. For example, my neighborhood, which has only one connection to the highway, consists of four longish streets and seven cul-du-sacs. There are fewer than 300 houses. All traffic is local since it is essentially a dead-end. The speed limit is 25 mph as are most residential areas. There are 15 stop signs, not including the one at the main highway. Every single traffic sign in my neighborhood is a stop sign. I have to ask, “Why”

The only conclusion is, the stop signs are there to interrupt cars so they don’t build up speed past the 25 mph limit. If there was some other device, say a computer controlled car, that ensured the cars never got over 25 mph, every intersection could be controlled with a simple yield sign. The fact is, most drivers treat the stop signs as if they were yield signs because it makes no damned sense to come to a full stop to turn right when the only possible cross traffic is coming from two houses that have driveways to the left, on a dead-end street. The rolling or “California” stop for cars is alive and well. It’s normally a perfectly safe exercise and the only penalty is if a cop sees it.

The Idaho Stop
The name derives from a recent change to the Idaho traffic code that allows cyclist to treat stop signs as yield signs with the caveat that if another vehicle is already stopped at the intersection, they have the right-of-way. It’s not as crazy as it first sounds. Since bicycles are moving at a car-relative slow speed, the cyclist has more time to assess the intersection and continue without stopping if the assessment is “all clear.” Idaho recognizes that stop signs are traffic-calming devices designed for cars. The Idaho Stop doesn’t give cyclist carte-blanche to run every stop sign. It doesn’t give them the right-of-way at all intersections. It simply puts the responsibility for their safety in their hands and allows them to continue unimpeded if they can do so safely.

The next time you see a cyclist cautiously run a stop sign, remember that most stop signs are simply traffic-calming devices for cars. The next time you see a cyclist jump a red light, consider that they have probably waited through 3 cycles without a green light because they can’t trigger the loop-induction sensor. Indeed, roads were built for cars and what quickly followed were devices to make drivers behave. These devices don’t always apply to non-car traffic.

Share the road and keep chasing the odd, little happy.

Cycling · drivers · driving · internet · law · Life · traffic

Common Comments on The Topic of Cycling

These are the most common comments made on the internet when the topic of cyclist sharing the road is brought up. I’ve tried to provide some decent responses you can give if confronted with these ridiculous suggestions.

When cyclist have insurance, registration, and tags, they might have some rights on the road.
Maybe pedestrian crossings should have a coin slot so people crossing the road on foot pay a fee to press the crosswalk button, too. Speaking of pedestrians, they’re in the car’s way. They are holding up traffic by crossing the road. If cars were the most important thing on the road, should they be allowed to mow down those pokey pedestrians so they can turn right?

Still, that’s not how freedom to travel works. You aren’t granted rights by the government because you paid a fee. Rights, like the right to travel on public roads, is just that…a right. Your car registration and tag doesn’t buy you the right to the road.

Furthermore, having a tiny metal plate on a bike, isn’t going to guarantee the respect of other travelers. That respect either comes from a mutual need to travel safely together with other members of the community or it is lacking in a person’s character. No amount of signage is going to make the raging driver respect the rights of other road users. Having a plate on your car doesn’t stop you from being cut-off or honked at. Why would it change how bad drivers treat cyclist?

Stay off the road if you can’t do the speed limit. You’re impeding traffic.
I fail to see how a small object like a bicycle moving 25-45 KPH in the same direction as traffic, tucked neatly on the edge of the lane, and easily passed, impedes traffic. Here are a few things that slow or stop cars completely:

  • Pedestrians (we’ve cover them)
  • Traffic lights
  • Trains
  • School buses
  • Mail trucks
  • Delivery trucks
  • Farm equipment
  • Construction zones
  • (and frankly) other motorist

Those impede traffic, but drivers would misplace their anger on cyclist. Cyclists are part of the traffic flow. In congested cities, cyclist often out-pace cars. As a driver, if you are unable to safely pass a bicycle, please don’t drive while school buses are loading and unloading, and for God’s sake, stay away from train crossing.

Speed limits are just that: the maximum safe limit on a road under perfect conditions. They aren’t a minimum speed that the traffic must travel. And while we’re on the subject, what’s with speed humps? Are they there to slow down the speeding cyclist? No. They are there because motorist fail to observe the set speed limit and need a little reminder now and again.

Cyclist run stop signs and red lights.
Surveys show that lights and signs are run in about equal amounts by both cars and bicycles (6.8% and 7.2% respectively). If any argument for removing cyclist from the roadway is to be made based on this, cars would necessarily need to be removed, too. It’s just ridiculous to ban a particular mode of transportation based on the lawlessness of a few. Police don’t give speeding tickets to all cars in the area just because one driver is speeding.

That being said, there are often good reasons cyclist run lights. Very often the sensors built into the road that trigger the light to change are not sensitive enough to detect a bicycle. Prudent cyclist often treat those lights as stop signs because the light will never change for them.

Bikes are toys for children.
Indeed, they are. They are also the main means of transportation for more than 4 billion adults worldwide. Anyone making this observation hasn’t been on a bicycle since they were nine and needs to experience the sheer joy of a bike again. If you don’t cycle, don’t tell people who do how they need to act. You are, by definition, not an experienced expert on the topic.

Bikes should only ride on bicycle paths or roads with wide shoulders.
That would be preferred by all, cyclist included. Sadly, there isn’t the infrastructure for bicycles in all areas. If politicians and bureaucrats are to be believed, widening shoulders by a couple of feet would put an undue financial burden on their budgets. Bike lanes seem to be out of the question in all, but the most densely packed cities. When bike paths do exist in smaller cities and towns, they are often relegated to parks. That’s fine for a weekend outing, but if the bike paths don’t go where you need them to go, they are functionally useless. If bike paths existed between neighborhoods, commercial zones, and place of work, cyclist would happily stick to them. Cyclist have no more desire to mix with motorized traffic than the driver’s desire them to be on the roads.

Cycling · Life · life lesson

Sharing the Road is a Two-way Street

Cyclist and cagers* often have partisan views of how the roads should work. Cyclist insist they are traffic and demand to be treated as such. Cagers see bicycles as obstacles and annoyances to get around at all costs (commonly referred to as “Must Get In Front,” – MGIF syndrome). Then we’re told to “Share the Road,” and each group yells, “Yeah!” To cagers, sharing the road means, “Get out of our way.” To cyclists, it means, “Treat us as equals, even though we’re no match for a combustion engine and 1,000 kgs. of steel, oh, and let us break a few rules here and there.”

There are psychological theories that address why these factions act the way they do. They’re to extensive to delve into, but suffice it to say:
1. We like to put ourselves in “us verses them” groups.
2. We tend to exaggerate the failings of the opposite group while overlooking our own group’s failings.

What does “Share the Road” Really Mean?
For cars, it’s really simple. It means:

  1. Treat cyclists as if they were your own blood. You wouldn’t honk, shout, and bully your own kid, would you?
  2. Have patience. Does that 5 seconds you gain passing really get you where you’re going more quickly?
  3. Be aware of what is down the road. Don’t focus on the cyclist as if they are there to impede your journey. Look ahead and see what’s coming. Does it really make sense to pass if you’re just going to be a red light in 100 feet or behind another car that the cyclist is keeping up with?
  4. Pass when safe.
  5. Pass when you can give enough room. Generally, laws call for 3 feet or 1 meter of distance between the car and bike.
  6. Understand that cyclist are trying to get somewhere, just like you.
  7. Know when to break the rules. Cyclist and cops really don’t care if you use the left-turn-only lane to pass a bike. Just pass safely.
  8. Realize that your 1,000 kilogram car is a deadly weapon against a cyclist.
  9. Signal your intentions. Just use your indicators. They were free-with-purchase when you bought the car.

Cyclist would be happy if the list ended there. They love to play the victim when mixed with motorized traffic. However, cyclists need to follow a few “Share the Road” rules, too. One, it’s a social contract that goes two ways. Two, it makes cycling safer. For cyclists, “Share the Road” means:

  1. Plan your route. Yes, you have a legal right to the road, but you’re safer if you stick to low-traffic roads, low speed-limit zones like residential areas, and only mix with high-speed, high-volume traffic when absolutely necessary. When you inevitably have to get on a major street, make it one that has multiple lanes or at least a left-turning divide. This gives motorists room to pass safely. Check your local government’s website. They keep statistics on the roads. You can see which roads are used more heavily and plan accordingly.
  2. Have confidence, not arrogance. Confidence comes from doing, so get out there and bike. If the situation calls for you to take the full lane, take the lane. Just don’t do it when the situation doesn’t warrant simply because you legally can.
  3. Have patience. The most direct route isn’t always the safest. If you have to add a kilometer or two to your route to decrease your dance with death, leave early.
  4. Light it up! Put lights on your cycle. Put lights on your body. Put lights everywhere you can. Be seen. Consider a head-lamp. Sure they look dorky, but when you make eye contact with a driver approaching from a side street, you’ll know that they see that strobe on your forehead.
  5. Take a break if you can. If you see there are 20 cars piling up behind you, consider pulling over in a safe place to let them pass. This reduces the risk of road rage and gives you a breather, too.
  6. Do what is expected by following the rules of the road. We know the bane of the cyclist is stopping, but traffic lights and stop signs are there for a reason. Mainly, they keep you safe when people do what is expected. Don’t put yourself in danger and give cyclist a bad name by running signals and signs.
  7. Know when to break the rules. Bikes can go where cars can’t and sometimes that’s safer. Learn the peculiarities of your route. Know of a traffic light sensor that won’t detect your bike? Route around it, make a right then u-turn then right when safe, or move over and invite a car up to the line to set off the sensor.
  8. Know the laws in your area. Is riding on the sidewalk illegal in your city/state? Then stay off the sidewalks. Cyclist are generally good at this one.
    Most know the cycling laws better than the police.
  9. Realize that your 20 kilogram bike and 80 kilogram meat sack are no match for a car. Give them room whenever possible.
  10. Signal your intentions. Signal early. Signal often.

Simply Put
Do what is expected of you and signal your intentions. These two things will do more to keep you safe whether you’re in a car or on a bike.

*cager: an automobile operator.

Cycling · e-bike · exercise · Life

Decisions. Decisions. How I bought an E-bike.

Like with all things, buying a bike has to meet a need. You have to ask yourself, “Why do I need or want this bike?” Bicycles can serve multiple needs, but normally there is one, paramount requirement that will trump all others. When I began my search for alternative conveyance, I was seriously considering a small scooter like the Honda PCX150. I weighed the pros and cons and seriously thought about my needs when e-bikes entered the mix.

What floated to the top of my needs list was commuting. I really wanted to get out of my car, at least a few days per week. I calculated the savings in gasoline and found that a $1500 e-bike would pay for itself in about 2-3 years, depending on how many days per week I commuted. At that point, I was still vacillating between a gas-powered scooter and e-bike. The health benefits to cycling, even on an e-bike, obviously outweighed the scooter. So e-bike 2, scooter 1.

The thing that made me finally settle on an e-bike was the fact that my wife and I camp often. We have a travel trailer and love getting away 4 or 5 times a year, even if it’s just to a local campground where I can still make it to work. While camping, I enjoy hiking, but having another activity like cycling as an option finally did score the final point in the e-bike’s favor.

So there’s my criteria for my decision.
1. Save gas and maybe the planet.
2. Commute to work without needing a shower.
3. Get some exercise, but not kill myself.
4. Have a little recreational fun.
5. Maybe my wife will like it and use it a little.

Now the search for the right e-bike was on. There are as many different choices as there are buyers. Getting it right is a matter of research, research, research. I read hundreds of product reviews, looked into dozens of different companies, and watched an endless stream of Youtube videos, especially the Electric Bike Review Youtube channel.

The first thing I learned is that there are a lot of cheap, Chinese bikes with a motor and battery slapped on them being pawned off as really, cool e-bikes. I even saw one company get outed on Youtube when their oh-so-slick model was found on a Chinese wholesaler’s site. The Stateside company was just slapping cheap batteries and iffy motors on them and selling them with a slick ad. I’m not naming names, but the company rhymes with Bave Wikes.

The second thing I learned is there are different motors (mid-mount, rear-wheel, etc.) and different advantages/prices for each. There are even different types of assist sensors, cadence being the most common, but even then the number of magnets can vary in those sensors. The motors commonly vary from 250 to 1000 watts, too. So finding the right power output for battery life was another research project on the side.

Thirdly, I learned there is pedal-assist and throttled features. Not all e-bike have both and I wanted a model that did. I still wanted to pedal for the exercise, but I needed a throttle that could take over if the commute was making me sweat too hard. My number 2 requirement was not needing a shower when I got to work.

Lastly, I was stunned to see the price variance. $579 for a cheapy model on Amazon. $579? A decent Li-ion battery is going to cost $400-$500. How can that be a decent product at $579? Flag on the play! $2500 for a really nice commuter-oriented model. Looks good, but $2500 is getting into “my wife is going to kill me” range. $10,000?! Holy smoldering tire fire! Oh, good, it’s illegal for road use in my country because it has a 5 KILOWATT system and can do 65 KPH (40 MPH). Crikey those Aussies live dangerously. I guess when everything in your country is trying to kill you, doing 65 KPH on a bicycle is the least of your worries.

I don’t even know where I found the company I finally ended up buying from. It’s all still a blur of websites, blogs, and videos. RadPowerBikes had 4 products to choose from, all for different purposes, 3 models at $1499 and 1 at $1599. It was easy to zero in on their commuter model and match it with my needs. Sure, their fat-tire Rover looked cool and tackled the trails, but I was tackling asphalt. The RadCity came with fenders (a must for commuting and staying clean and dry), a standard rack (a bonus for commuting and not wearing a backpack), a rear-wheel 750 watt motor (enough to give me the boost I needed), and a battery that promised a 20-40 mile range (enough to get me to work and back if necessary even without recharging at the office).

So, that’s how I made my decision and I’m sure someone out there is going through the same process. An e-bike isn’t a one-off purchase. You’re going to sink some serious money into one. Your decision should be weighed and measured before investing. Outline your needs and wants and match those to the endless companies and models available. There’s no one-size-fits-all unit out there. When budgeting, keep in mind that you’re going to spend another $200-$500 outfitting your bike with safety, comfort, and emergency equipment. Find a price you’re comfortable with, but if it comes down to price versus quality, choose quality. Those cheap, Chinese models, no matter how well disguised, will break your heart every time.

Keep chasing the odd, little happy. You might catch it on a bike.

Here you can see some of the gear I outfitted my bike with.

Here you can enjoy the wonder of a Christmas morning in March as I unbox my RadCity.

Biking · Cycling · exercise · Life

Motivation Beyond the Money

There’s this idea of sunk costs as a motivator. The thousands of treadmills and stationary bikes in closets and on Craig’s List testify that spending money on something doesn’t equate to long-term motivation. So why the hell did I just spend $1,499.00 (US) on a bicycle? Simply, because I am already motivated. I just need to find the right exercise.

I tried walking. That’s cheap exercise and you know I’m cheap. You’d think that would be a done deal, but I have this lower back that hates me. So now I just have a $60 pair of cool, red walking shoes. I’m motivated beyond the sunk cost of the bike. If the road infrastructure was better in my area, I’d gladly commute to work on a bike. I’ve even tried finding some halfway points where I can park, then ride, somewhere closer to work where the roads are more bike-friendly. Half a commute is better than none, I guess. But that’s in the future. The bike will be here late this week. I’m psyched to try something new, healthy, and fun.

So, you say being bent over a bicycle is going to be bad on my back, too. You’re being awful negative, but let’s take a look at what I got and why.

What did I buy? After lots of research and many Youtube reviews, many from Electric Bike Reviews, I settled on the City Cruiser from Rad Power Bikes. I even emailed Rad Power with some questions before settling on the 16″ frame instead of the 20″ that I first thought was the one I needed. They were extremely helpful and prompt in responding to my inquiries.

$1,499 is a lot to plunk down on a bike, but this is an e-bike. It has an electric motor, pedal assists, and throttle mode, too. “Well,” you say, “that’s not exercise,” but it is. It provides a level of confidence that if I over do it, I’ll have the ability to return to home base. I won’t be stranded 10 kms from home with aching legs. I also selected a cruiser-style which puts the rider in a much more upright position than a racing or mountain bike. It also provides an activity other than hiking that I can enjoy while we are camping.

You can find e-bikes as cheap as $579, but from what I read, they are cheap in every meaning of the word. Considering a decent 48-volt Li-ion battery costs $499, there can’t be much bike in those $579 models. I was looking for something that had both pedal assist and a throttle. Not all e-bikes have both, so you have to know the jargon and shop around. The Rad Power models had the features and a price that didn’t quite break the bank. The City Cruiser comes complete with fenders and a back rack, both necessities if I ever try to commute. I’m not going to be a spandex-clad speedster. I plan on doing this in plain clothes, possibly a tie. If you see Lycra, that’s not me.

The cost is now sunk, so this workout better work out. My goals are to get some decent cardio, drop 10 kilos (22 lbs), and bring the circulation back to my legs. I’m not going to let diabetes kick my ass. I’m perfectly capabile of kicking my own ass. Allons-y!

Keep chasing the odd, little happy and share the road.