7.31.2011

My amazing electric bike and why I think this kind of stuff is important.

    Photo of me, courtesy ATMTX Photo.  Picking up my electric bike yesterday.


Added on Monday August 1st, from the New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/opinion/sunday/the-dutch-way-bicycles-and-fresh-bread.html?src=me&ref=general


We all talk a good game about being "green" and "making a difference" but in reality we're all pretty reticent to change much.  A lot of the people in my neighborhood live less than three miles from their offices in downtown Austin but every morning they rev up the Chevy Suburban, drop by Starbucks for a big ole latte and head downtown.  If they leave between 8 and 9 a.m. chances are good that they'll sit through a few red lights at the intersection of Mopac and Bee Caves Rd.,  listen to St. Sam on the radio spew lots of ultra-conservative wisdom peppered with a continuous dose of both Christian "love" and a bit of Texas-Style admiration for the state's death penalty.  Once they've followed the rest of their neighbors into the hornet's nest of parking garages my neighbors will settle in for a day of work.  Their $40,000, six thousand pound cars languishing in layers of concrete or baking in an open parking lot.  In the evening they'll do the same thing in reverse.


I'm no saint.  I've spent the last fifteen years of my time in the neighborhood firing up one of the cars and heading over to the grocery store (point .6 miles) to pick up a bottle of red wine I forgot earlier or, during the day I'll get in the car to go to the Trianon Coffee house which is also less than a mile away.  (I know I could make coffee in my own house but that's a whole other blog).  I've also been heading to the pool (less than two miles away) in my car so........I could get some exercise.  How lame is that?

In the 1990's I could always do a good job justifying my American Lifestyle because we had to deliver film to clients and the lab and there wasn't any way around making a few trips during the day.  Now our deliverables are nearly always digital and we can nearly always pop them up on the website.  Gas was a heck of a lot cheaper back then as well.

So, last month I got a call from the guys at Bodhi Bikes in Ft. Worth and they asked me to help them make some advertising photographs.  I had a blast with them for three days and everyday I'd get on one of their electric bikes and pedal and coast around downtown or at a country club and even on the trails at Zilker Park.  And it dawned on me that I'd found the missing link for local errand running, coffee swilling runs and swimming practice commutes:  The electric bike.  In this case, a Bodhi Bike.

Radio commentator, Jeff Ward talks a lot about Austin's fascination with bikes.  Half the population loves the idea of getting more people out of cars but Jeff makes the argument, even though he bikes for exercise, that in a town where we sometimes experience up to 68 straight days with temperatures over 100(f) that it doesn't make a lot of sense to commute to and from work on a (traditional) bike.  You'll be heat damaged and dripping with sweat if your commute is longer than a mile or two and, God help you if there are hills involved.  The other half of the population generally moved here from somewhere else, recently, have made some pact with the devil about traffic, don't care about traffic, pollution or dependence on foreign  oil unless it impacts them directly.  The most common refrain I hear when I express genuine amazement at a daily, one hour commute is, "Oh, that's nothing.  I moved here from (fill in the blank horrible city) and my commute used to be two and a half hours plus some gunfire."

But with electric bikes it's a bit different.  There are all kinds so I'll talk about the one I got.  It uses a 250 watt motor that lives in the front hub.  It's not designed, really, to be a vehicle you just sit on and zoom around with no effort at all.  It's all about being "motor assisted."  You pedal and the motor provides some extra oomph!  You can set up the electronics at the touch of a button to let the bike do a bigger ratio of the work or a smaller ratio of the work.  You add in what's left over.

On flat roads (of which there are surprisingly few in Austin) you can easily do 18 mph with a small bit of effort.  Not even enough of an effort to break a sweat on a 95 degree morning.  If you are heading down one of the hills then you're on the same playing field as everyone else, you just let gravity take its course or augment it as desired.

The real magic of the bike comes on the uphill portions (about 1/2 the total non flat ride time?).  You set the bike to do more of the work and then use the infinite gearing of the Nuvis 360 transmission hub (which takes the place of the assemblage of ninja throwing star-like sprockets on the back hub of most bikes) to make your physical contribution easier or harder.  And it really works.

If you know Austin you know how big some of these hills can be.   I have two nemesis hills in my biking paths.  One is the long, vicious slope coming up Rollingwood Dr. from Mopac Expressway and the other one is a sinister stretch of at least a 30 percent grade at the entry to my neighborhood, on a street called, Bulian Rd.  It's a short stretch but the grade up is so dramatic that your ears will pop if you come up it too fast in a car.  I did that one today on the bike and while it was still a bit of a pulse popper I was able to make it all the way to the top without being out of breath.

Why am I telling you all this and what the hell does it have to do with photography?  I'm telling you because it's my intention to figure out how to incorporate the use of the electric bike into the running of my arts oriented business and my business oriented marketing and because photographers, almost to a person, are early technology adopters.  If we like something and it makes sense then generally the people around us will adopt and adapt the new stuff after we do.

Wouldn't it be great to leave your house and make it down to the ad agencies downtown, to meet with a 20  something or 30 something art director, portfolio in hand, on a bike?  No worries about parking.  With the hike and bike trail you can take routes that cars can't and you never see traffic jams on the trails.  And wouldn't it be great if you didn't have to always pay for more and more gas?  And what if you also got some exercise while you were engaged in doing business?  Wouldn't it be cool to keep those dreaded pounds at bay?  I wonder if I could get some local press from taking my minimalist lighting and gear on the road via bike and man power.  That would be so cool.

I've made a resolution to try and use the bike for anything practical within a three mile radius of my house/studio.  That includes most food shopping, downtown meetings, swim practices, coffee breaks and all the other stuff that usually has me parking and waiting at traffic lights more than I'm actually moving.  I won't bore you with the stories too often but I'll be adding a "changing my lifestyle with an electric bike" blog about once a week.  More often if something cool and exciting happens.  Less if lots of cool photo things are happening.

I've been talking about being more "green" for years but I haven't done much to move anything forward.  Let's see how committed I can be to this.....Wish me luck.  I may be pioneering this for you.

Addendum: Monday August 1st:  The first "commercial use" of the Bodhi Bike.  I needed to deliver some images to a PR firm called, Hahn, Texas.  They are located at 1105 N. Lamar in the middle of downtown Austin.  Just a bit north of the Whole Foods flagship store.  According to Google Maps if you drive there by the most direct routes it is about 5 miles.  I take an alternate course that's a little longer (6.2) but much safer.  Believe me, you don't want to be on a bike on the Mopac Expressway at rush hour....


I grabbed the bike, loaded up a basket with water and a Cliff Bar,  a bike lock and an extra hat and I put on my helmet and headed out the door at 8:30 am.  The new bike "road" along Cesar Chavez Blvd. is fabulous.  Pretty flat and NO cars.  Lots of commuter bikers were out today.  I made it to Hahn by about 8:50am without really breaking a sweat but that's because it was still a cool 88 degrees.....


After a bit of chit chat and a bit of showing off the new "studio" bike I saddled up and headed back to the Visual Science Lab HQ.  When I went across the pedestrian bridge under Mopac I swear the young women out jogging were seriously checking me out.  Might have been the bike but I thought I was stylin myself....


I got back to the studio right at 9:30.  Twelve mile trip complete.  I figure I saved $6 in gas and depreciation.  I pedaled a lot so I'm pretty sure I got some good exercise, and I got to do some nifty sightseeing right in my own city.


I judge the first outing to be highly successful.  Next blog about transportation: Friday.


25 comments:

Jim said...

It sounds cool but their website is more style than substance. For example, do you have to plug it in or does peddling charge the battery? How far can you go on a charge? Boring details like that are of interest when you're layout 2.5K for a bike.

kirk tuck said...

Jim, I agree. I hope you left them a note with your suggestions. I can answer most of those questions. You must plug in to charge. It doesn't charge while pedaling. The battery is a lithium ion with a long life. If you pedal and use the motor for assist is should have a range of about 18 miles. It takes about five hours to charge a fully drained battery with the supplied charger. You can buy extra batteries just like you would with your camera and keep and extra in your backpack. It weighs about 50 pounds.

I like the wicker baskets.

obakesan said...

Kirk, nice stuff, but its important to identify that the major issue here is you are using a bicycle which has electric assist. Bicycles are inherently efficient. However as soon as you start scaling this up with coverings and looking like a car things start to go amiss. Bicycles need power in terms of watts (like 5 or 10) but as soon as you go even to scooters you start needing hundreds of watts and with cars kilowats. I did a blog post recently on the electric scooter http://cjeastwd.blogspot.com/2011/05/do-electric-scooters-dream-of-being.html and found that essentially petrol scooters are better technology.

But bicycles are great transport round town. I think its a UK and its colonies issue, but in Europe bicycles are more accepted and common place. Its effective and seems to also result in healthier populations. Speaking as an Australian who loves to commute by bicycle.

Frank Grygier said...

I look forward to reading about your exploits on your new electric wheels. Don't forget the helmet cam.

Ron said...

Kirk,

Congrats on your new bike and kudos for your commitment to incorporate it into your daily use. One less car!

I've been using my pedal-power bike more and more for all errands, and I built a small cargo trailer to help me transport photo gear (a tripod, several lightstands, collapsible backdrop, plus cameras and lights.)

I have gotten several comments and requests for business cards when folks see me ride up to a photoshoot. Naturally, I use the back panel of the trailer for publicity.

When you get a chance, check it out on my blog (http://bit.ly/lcyFgO).

Keep it vertical, and yes, make sure you cap it off with a good helmet!

Ron

Paul Glover said...

Kudos for making this move in a country which is so addicted to the automobile. Before I moved to the USA, I lived on the southern outskirts of Belfast* city center and worked on the opposite side of downtown, about 3 miles by road. It took half an hour by car through snarled up city traffic.

One weekend I'd had enough and on a whim bought a cheap bicycle, looked into bike trails and roads which were reasonably safe to cycle on and ended up with a 4 mile ride to work. Allowing for a quick shower and change into office clothes at work, and back into cycling clothes before leaving for home, it took me the same length of time and I got a whole lot more exercise. No 100F days to cope with though.


* yes, that Belfast.

kirk tuck said...

Thanks for the support. It's tough to do pedal only biking when the temperatures stay over 100 for a weeks at a time but most trips people make are less than 3 miles. If we don't start trying new stuff we're going to run out of options. I'd rather be moving than stuck in traffic. I'd rather be in shape than out and I think these things are good, clean fun!

Anonymous said...

Bravo to you for being out ahead of the pack. Wouldn't it be great if hundreds of people started doing the same thing and the Austin traffic thinned out? I also don't think people would be as hostile if they were all on bikes. Without the armor of their cars they'd have to be personally responsible for their actions and their interactions.

Scott said...

Nice... I likewise do as much travel as possible via bike, and via scooter since I got one last year. The scooter is gas-powered, but gets 80 mpg, so it's a lot greener per mile than a car. And lots more fun. Just need to figure out a bit more carrying capacity on it for more photo gear.

And Ron -- love the bike trailer!

obakesan said...

Kirk, Brisbane in Queensland has temperatures like that, its not irregular to get 105 or so either ... but keep at it, drink lots of water ^,^

cj gordon said...

Thanks for pics Kirk. I'm a long time (40 years) bike nut type so wouldn't be caught dead on one of those. Interesting mix of parts on that thing as I see that frame was not originally designed for just electric use but has a gear hanger also. You have what looks like Schwalbe tires and lawyer tabs so you should be reasonably safe. If you ever have to pedal that thing without the motor you will be sweating buckets. Have a look at a Kona Ute some day if you really want to carry a load of photo gear. They make an electric model for around $2600 bucks that will be much easier to service and maintain.

christopheru said...

Good for you:)

I have been a cyclist for 30 years and love every minute of it. This past year, I have really ramped up my cycling and have started using the bike very heavilly as a car replacement in all weather (-25 to +36 Celcius, rain, snow, clouds, sun, doesn't matter) and have found it dead simple to incorporate it into my lifestyle. My daily communte, last year, was 30km round trip give or take a bit. I use a Kona Dew City (dirt cheap, and not a bike desired by thieves much.)

The trick is to drink LOTS and dress right for the weather. I usually bring a change of clothes to work and ride in slowly to avoid excess heat build up. Going home though I go as fast as possible and shower when I get there unless I am heading out on my "real" bike for a ride :)

I am not normally a fan of electric bikes since all they do is push the pollution of transport to the power grid, but I think you have found the place to use them - commuting when you have to be presentable at the other end in high heat.

I have spent a lot of time discussing this with cycling friends, and we have collectively come to the conclusion that if we had to commute in high heat like you do, all the time, that we would do it on an electric bike (Trek makes a lovely one that should the power pack die, can be pedalled easilly). This helps a person stay presentable, and uses way less energy than a gas powered car does. Long commutes - over 30-40 km each way - with heavy loads (the kind that might make a Kona Ute Electric as mentioned above appealing) also make sense to use a hybrid bike on. Looking at our climate here in Souther Ontario, it would be much harder to justify the electric bike over a much less expensive pedal only bike since our weather, while all over the place, rarely gets as hot as yours does for more than a day or six at a time (and for that length of time, we can deal with it by going slowly to avoid actually working.)

So kudos and cheers to you for doing it! It will take some getting used to, but the more relaxed trips around town will be worth it. I find that people I see cycling look happier and more relaxed in the main than people I see driving. This puts a smile on my face:) So does the free fitness (I have dropped about 25 pounds since last August and have biked over 7000km since then.)

Anyway, good luck with it and I hope you enjoy this new adventure.

kirk tuck said...

All good info. I also have a Trek 7000 for the times when I don't need to be presentable and want to go "pedals only." Taking my first downtown excursion today. We'll see what the real range is. Lots of hills.... Starting early.

Jim said...

The wicker baskets are cool but they don't show them on the site either.

Anonymous said...

Let me know how this all works out. I hate driving. I hate paying for gas. I hate looking for parking and I hate paying for parking even more. If it works for you in the heat it should work for me in the wilds of upper Michigan.

Frank Grygier said...

Kudos Kirk for taking a stand and following through. Soon we will see which ad agency has all the business. It will be the one with all the bikes parked outside.

Glenn Harris said...

That looks like a real chick magnet Kirk.

kirk tuck said...

Babes love a sweaty old guy on a white bike. Next I'll add streamers. Should be irresistible.

Archer Sully said...

Congratulations on the the new ride, Kirk.

Trailers are great. I hauled a subwoofer and amp in mine the other day. Its amazing what you can haul when you put your mind to it.

Oh, and for bike jerseys that don't try to make you pay to advertise someone else's stuff, try Club Ride Apparel.

Dennis ElaM said...

The most dangerous thing about a bike or any motorized two wheeler is a car with the driver chatting on a cell phone. And gee that energy for the battery re charge comes right from the local electric plant so what you really have is a coal or nat gas fired bike.
The better idea would be for local governments to let us do what they do, which is use 500 cc utility vehicles like a Kaw Mule for the short commutes you describe. You can carry more things,much safer, highly economical, no re charge or expensive battery required. Next time you are at UT count the number of John Deere Gators or Kaw Mules, all of which they can drive on the street but we cannot, go figure.

Gordon said...

I wonder if it is viable long term strategy to live somewhere where it seems like AC is required to function, eco-friendly transport options or not :)

kirk tuck said...

Gordon, I am just thankful I don't live in Bagdad where it hit 120 degrees this week. We do get about six months under 70 and the winters are very pleasant. I think I just need to open up the house in Aspen next Summer instead of staying in Austin.....

meandmycanon said...

I think it's a great idea! LIke Christopheru, I too am from Ontario where winter is a real issue. I wish we had showers, lockers, and a safe place to lock the bike at work. Saving half a car is better than nothing!

Mike Shwarts said...

This got me started thinking about an electric bike again. I looked into Texas laws regarding electric bikes which falls under "motor-assisted scooter." The reason I did this is I live in rural area in N.E. Texas, and would be riding along the edges or shoulder of highways a lot. In, Texas you can't legally ride an electric bike on a roadway with speed limit posted above 35mph. However you can do so on a regular bicycle. Ain't that a kick in the head? So, it'll be a regular bicycle for me, or I'll go back to a motorcycle to save $$$ and put out less pollution.

kirk tuck said...

Mike, check again. Electric bikes that have top motor assisted speed of 18 mph are exempted. You can ride them anywhere you can ride a bike. And no one would know with a good electric bike.....