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