Stepping outside my island hideout, I hoist the bamboo-stiffened tarp like a gaff-rigged mainsail and cleat it off to the side of the shed. In the soft interior light, the bike's clear plastic fairing throws off reflections with the promise of motorized adventure only two wheels can offer.
The machine waits, eager and enticing, as I pull on helmet, goggles and gloves and zip my armored jacket to the chin. The charger's pulsing green light says, “Go!”
Unplugging the BikeE, I wheel it out under last winter's ravaged apple tree, swing my leg over its low-slanting frame, and settle back in the semi-reclining seat with a sigh of coming home. A quick brake check and final adjustment of the handlebar mirror gives me a moment to focus and quiet the adrenaline surging through me like the voltage I'm about to feed my pony.
Reaching down, I punch the big red button on the heavy duty controller bolted to the side of the bike's box frame. A red glow reflecting on my glove is the only indication that we have ignition.
I touch the thumb throttle and any doubt disappears in a surge of torque.
As Honda Chairman Takeo Fukui reminds us, "Even the best internal-combustion engines still waste more than 80% of the energy created by burning gasoline."
But electric hub motors can deliver full power directly to the wheel. And if that rotating motivator happens to be just 16-inches in diameter and connected to the front of a low-slung bicycle, you'd better be ready to brace for the kind of acceleration that brings big grins to the faces of all those who believe that fast is good.
And faster is better.
Shouting, “Power to the people!” I tuck my feet into the Power Grip straps as the bike moves forward under its own power and each pedal rotates into position. Making for the cove's paved two-lane road, I swing out of the gravel driveway that earlier last summer judo-flipped me into a 10-week aching meditation on paying attention. (Nothing broken and not a scratch on the bike - and no bruises if I'd been wearing the padded mountain bike jacket I always wear now.) Downshifting the internal rear hub transmission, I keep peddling in laid-back comfort for the long climb out of the “gravity well” leading up the relentlessly steep and scenic hill from Ford Cove.
Passing Olson's farm, the grade inclines. Tilting back in the seat like a light plane pilot on a long climb-out, I keep peddling easily while gradually coming in with full power. Despite the drastically steepening grade, speed continues to hover around 22 kph as the numbers denoting amperage draw tick over quickly on the Cycle Analyst meter: 8, 10, 14, 20… 29 amps!
Don't try this on a hot summer day without at least a 36-volt motor/battery combo, heavy-duty fuse clip and overbuilt power controller!
But this classic, power-assisted BikeE handles the load without strain. Even at full power, the whine of the motor is much quieter than the bird cries and soft wash of distant surf . Lulled by the hum of the bike's spinning tires, I lay back in my lawn chair and admire the ocean view as the hill that used to necessitate three panting stops to recharge my “premie” lungs tops out in trees, sunshine and smiles.
Starting down the backside, I firm my grip on the handlebars as the bike tips straight down in one long burn of all this “heightened” energy. Weighing over 225 pounds with rider, battery, controller and motor onboard, the BikeE sucks up gravity like rocket juice, accelerating like a Saturn IV leaving the pad.
In seconds, the speedo whisks past 40 k.
Whack! A bug bounces off my newly acquired ski-goggles. Good purchase!
Even with power all the way off, at 45 kilometers-per-hour, “organic” regen kicks in as the spinning front hub motor maxes out and begins pumping juice back into the battery. Our descending rush does not slow as 13 amps momentarily surge back into the 36-volt sausage of wired-together Nickel-Metal Hydride laptop batteries cinched to the bike's boxbeam frame in front of the seat.
Nearly supersonic, I “think” the bike's little front wheel past a jagged pothole. Even though you can't fly over the handlebars in a recumbent crash, a front tire blow-out at 57 k would not be fun. Which is why that Kenda Qwest high-pressure tire is new, internally protected with slime and a Kevlar puncture barrier - and regularly replaced.
Speed slackens gradually as the BikeE levels out, but it's still another few moments before peddling again takes effect. Downshifting once, twice, three-times on the seven-speed rear sprocket, I thumb the power back in to keep grunt work off the pedals as the next hill looms. One more swooping roller-coaster is followed by a long pleasant flat stretch that finds me lightly blipping the throttle in a “pulse and glide” technique that extends range while keeping peddling speed near a brisk 30 k.
Onboard a conventional bike, I'd be staring down at the pavement, back bent, with my weight on my aching wrists. But unlike full recumbents, which put riders almost on their backs, the BikeE's more upright seating gives me good eye contact with the astonished driver of a passing car - as well as fine views of unscrolling woods, sky and farms. I once passed Hogan trotting his horse along this stretch, proving conclusively the “one horsepower-plus” rating of my 480-watt Crystallite e-motor.
Then comes another long delightful downhill run past a fine sweep of ocean rolling into Little Tribune Bay. Even leveling off, this descent carries me in a rush all the way to the Co-Op bike rack.
Who says a grocery run has to be boring?
Or must burn carbon?
The bike's big wire basket, Spiderman totepack, and extra-long frame allow me to carry more than 30 pounds of cargo with ease. (I've even hauled logs lashed to the frame.) A trailer would turn this bike into a pickup truck, while carrying an extra battery for nearly 100 km range!
So far, so good. The reliability of this rig is nearly 100% after I learned to obsessively tape, wire-tie and check every looping strand of wire clear of spinning sprockets and pedals. Over less than a year, the 1,800 or so kilometers I've covered on my electrified BikeE translate into roughly 40 gallons of gasoline saved - or more than 800 pounds of CO2 kept out of the atmosphere forever. Except for my own exhalations of course. Which I tend to do anyway.
Mental and physical health benefits are incalculable. Not to mention the additional personal liberation of saving a fortune on the car I no longer support. Given all that's coming down, at 59, on my electrified BikeE, life is good!
No one ever told me the end of the world (as we've known it) would be so much fun.
by William Thomas