Turning over a new (Nissan) Leaf

I’m now heavily conflicted between using my electric bicycle for chores around town versus our new Nissan Leaf.

The only true 100% electric solution out there for folks who need a full-blown car, the Nissan Leaf has been great since we picked it up a few weeks ago.

It is our primary family car, doing daily duty around town with the rest of my family, but I find myself scheming for when I “need” to use it versus my bike. It is a blast to drive.

It has significantly better pickup than any other car I’ve ever owned; likely something to do with the direct transfer of power from the lightweight electric engine sitting above the front wheels. But who cares, it is seriously fun.

The touted 100 mile range is true, so long as you stay in “eco” mode which makes the car a bit more sluggish to respond. But even in the normal mode, we’re getting 80 MPC (miles per charge) every day. Some might think it a bit too small for them, but so far I’ve used it to haul 8′ bamboo poles (inside the car), tons of boxes for work, and our large monthly delivery of bulk foodstuffs. All that before I even put our roof rack on it.

Could this be the right car for you? Try tracking your daily driving for one month; you might just be surprised at how few days you drive over 80 miles total.

Why I sold my cargo bicycle

I’ve recently transferred from using a longtail cargo bicycle to a normal sized bike with a trailer. Why?

  1. I simply was not hauling as much stuff as I thought I would.
  2. Cargo bikes are darn heavy and frustrating to pedal around when “dry”. You spend your whole time thinking, why am I pedaling this heavy, EMPTY bicycle?
  3. The child carrying options are less than ideal.

It was this last reason that really pushed me to sell off Kona’s Electric Ute and purchase a used electric bicycle from a friend (home-built eZee kit on a mid-range Marin). My eight year old is now too big to be riding jockey-style on the back deck of the longtail. He wanted to (and needs to) be able to help with the pedaling.

We were able to sell the Electric Ute for more than the used Marin. We invested that extra cash in a Weehoo. Great trailer, but sorely in need of a fender. We added our own, as well as home-made extensions to the Marin’s fenders, and now my kids are riding in back, mud-free and full of laughter. They love this thing.

Between the Weehoo and the Wike DIY trailer, I’m able to haul the same capacity of my old cargo bike, but in a more stable and comfortable manner.

The Down Low Glows look awesome on the front forks. I regularly get compliments about them, including many drivers at stop signs telling me thanks for using them.

A commitment not to fly

…well, sort of.

In 2011 I’m going to see just how much airplane travel I can eliminate from my lifestyle. I have a fair amount of control over my various day jobs, so I can eliminate most of that. Getting friends and family to understand why I don’t want to jump on a plane to see them is going to be a much harder sell.

Why eliminate plane travel? Last month we focused on energy efficiency projects on our home, several of which are still in progress, but these pale in comparison to a single trip taken by a family of four across the country. Ouch.

Results of no-car experiment

One year ago I challenged myself to not drive a car by myself (with the family is still OK) for one year, using a cargo bicycle as a car replacement instead. This is not such a far-fetched idea, as even UPS is doing tests on it.

Here’s what I learned from the times I failed to stay true to my goals:

  • When injuries from MMA training at the dojo (shoulder, lower back) prevented me from getting anywhere close to a normal riding position without pain. Clearly when my hobbies overlap, it does not always lead to productive results.
  • Late at night I found myself taking the car, as I simple don’t trust the drivers that are out at that hour (drunk, buzzed, sleepy, etc).

Despite those failures, I discovered the benefits of bicycling most of the time for me personally. When asked why I bicycle, I can now say:

  • To better myself physically: strong legs, good cardio.
  • To make the community I want to live in a reality; I want to see alot more bicycles in my small town. One of the best ways to do that is to *be* one more bicycle on the road every day.
  • To find post peak oil business opportunities by living through the pain points.
  • To lessen my impact on the environment.

I’m declaring this one year experiment a success and continuing down this path. Next stop: sell the car.

“In Transition 1.0” the film


I think this short collection of vignettes may have just set the direction for my personal and professional time for the next 5+ years.

Highly recommended.

Hello Goodbye Kona Ute

Said goodbye to last year’s newly non-electrified Ute; felt good about it as it clearly went to a good home. Nearby photo is the new owner on his inaugural grocery run with kiddo in tow. Awesome!

And said hello to my new Electric Ute, the official new electric cargo bike from Kona. First impressions:

  • I like the pedal assist system (PAS). No more throttle, just a semi-smart computer that sense when you need assistance. It guesses correctly 80% of the time, which is a good enough trade off for me. I like the simplified setup of no throttle.
  • The PAS takes a bit to get used to if you are coming off a throttle experience, as you feel a definite lack of exact control for the timing of the power output. If you are coming from a normal bike experience, you’ll be thrilled the first time the PAS kicks in.
  • Great battery life (boy, I hope this continues). Made two trips back/forth to town on a single charge, with ample charge left.
  • Recharging is simple. With the lousy eZee kit, you really had to remove the entire battery to take to the recharger. On the Electric Ute, the battery stay in place and you simply plug in a cord from the wall.
  • The architecture is almost identical to the original Ute, just ~ 2CM taller. I’ll have to make slight tweaks to my stoker bars for my seven year old, but that’s it.

The only downside I can think of to the new Electric Ute is the lack of a front disc brake. I love everything else on this bike.

Highly recommended as a car replacement vehicle.

Kona Electric Ute, version 2.0

OK, time for a major reset from recent lessons learned.

I just bought the new Kona Electric Ute. It’s not yet in their catalog, but the Ute product manager – very helpful fellow named Mark – reached out after finding this blog and made the offer. The bikes arrived at their warehouse end of April and in my local bike shop today. He sent me this snapshot.

Going to swap out all my customizations from the 2010 model to the 2011 model and sell off the non-electric Ute, which is a great bike in its own right.

Finally, I can see a positive end to this journey to build a car replacement bicycle capable of hauling some serious loads up serious hills.

Do not buy the eZee bicycle kit

The eZee electric bicycle kit is not ready for prime time. After going through two batteries and two complete wiring harnesses with six months, I can make that statement with proof.

Neither myself, the pros at my local bike shop, nor the pros at the New York bike shop where I bought the system can figure out why the system randomly supplies 100% power, 10% power, or no power at all when hitting the throttle at the base of a hill. What an expensive, frustrating experiment this has been. My only recourse is to have the NY shop try to repair/resell the system and recoup a small portion of my money. The eZee warranty sucks.

Lesson (re)learned: do not buy a complex product that is not fully supported by your local bike shop.

Thankfully, my local bike shop just started carrying the Bionx electric conversion kit. It is more expensive (ouch) and rear-wheel drive (I wanted front wheel, since all the weight on a longtail is in the back), but my only option at this point. Stay tuned for a review after we get it installed.

Singing the Electric Blues

Finally made time to diagnose what’s going on with my eZee electric hub system. Technically speaking, it is busted. Sucks to be me. I am an electrical idiot, so the advice of the eZee vendor of “use a multimeter and find the short” was more than a bit daunting. But that’s exactly what I did and successfully found…nothing.

So I called in a professional electrician (read: $$) to diagnose it and he too found nothing. Yet additional test rides produce the same frustrating results: you are pedaling along like normal, you hit a hill and engage the eZee system and you get…nothing. Well, actually, you get some rapidly blinking random lights from the LED, but nothing from the battery. Try it again in a minute and you get no lights but only 10% of the power from the battery. Try again in another minute and you get nothing from either the LEDs nor the battery.

All connections have been triple-checked and tested. Battery has full charge. And I’m on smooth pavement; no bumps. Frustrating to say the least.

So I’m back to my original ride (a 10 year old, street-converted, dual suspension Klein) and significantly less hauling capacity. Which leaves me with a bad-and-getting-worse experience with the eZee electric hub system. Not recommended.

I’m still under warranty, but the New York vendor is not being terribly helpful, partially because it is difficult to diagnose what’s going on with a system from afar. Hoping this does not turn into a case of Buyer Beware. Definitely make sure your local bike shop can support the system before you buy it (e.g. they’ve got a mechanic who is electrically inclined).

On the plus side, it appears the crew at Down Low Glow figured out they had a bad batch of components for their dual-tube system. The third set of replacement they sent appear to be working well. Kudos to Leif and their crew for not giving up. Recommended.

Hauling manure with a longtail bicycle

Using my new Wike DIY trailer, I hauled by smelliest load by far this weekend: fresh horse manure.

I built a set of “hot beds” to start seedlings last week from scrap lumber and Freecycle window frames. Hot beds are simply cold frames that have some heat source to warm the seedlings in the winter, allowing them to grow faster than an unheated greenhouse or cold frame.

I wanted to experiment with a non-electric heat source, which pretty much just leaves manure. Under the sloped glass roof of the hot bed, we now have 18″ of manure, covered by 6″of dirt, to provide plenty of extra heat for the vegetable seedlings to get a kick start on growing prior to Spring. We’ve got them located on the North side of our property, sloped to the south, to grab as much winter sun as possible.

The cargo bike and Wike trailer did great hauling this load, although the stable owner clearly thought I was nuts showing up with a bicycle to haul manure.

I’ve been testing the replacement eZee battery this past week; getting about 7MPC. Better than the previous 5MPC, but no where close to the claim 20-25MPC in the eZee documentation. Buyer beware.