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  1. #1
    Junior Member Amberwolf's Avatar
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    Carless in Phoenix, converting to electric-assist

    This may be long and wandering, but it's my simplified experience living completely car-free so far, and leading up to what I'm trying to do now about the carless thing. If it doesn't really suit the thread, let me know where to move it to.

    I've never driven a car (officially ), in all my 39 years. So far I've been able to get around with just public transit (and sometimes friends when it was simply impossible to do something that way, like moving furniture, etc). I'd ridden a bike (of unknown make) thru gradeschool in rural Texas, and for a while in highschool here in Phoenix, AZ. But the bike got totalled (I just got scrapes) by an idiot driver that pulled out without warning from a hidden driveway across traffic when I was right at the end of the driveway, with no chance at all of stopping. So I went by bus and walking just about everywhere after that, until about 11 years ago, when a coworker gave me her old Murray Biotech bike in trade for one of my music cd's.

    That made me never want to use the buses again; having that bike--I'd forgotten the freedom it gives! I did a few add-ons, like a front wire cargo rack on the handle bars, made from an old dot-matrix printer's collection tray, and a regular bike basket set on the back, and some safety lights powered by a bottle generator made of an old toy motor. But eventually, it broke down so often I didn't use it as much, and started having to use more buses and such, because I didn't have enough money to fix it properly, so I just started saving up to replace it instead.

    Then, at my 10-year anniversary of employment with CompUSA, I was given a catalog to choose a spiffy gift from, and whaddya know--there's a bike in there. It's probably not a great bike, but it's better than any other I ever had. Columbia 2005 women's 26" comfort bike. They had both men and women's versions, but sometimes I get hurt (traffic is not fun here, and people are mean), so I can't always swing my legs up over the top bar on a men's bike. So I picked women's. I moved the cargo basket over to the new bike, and that let me do my shopping easily again. So much easier than the bus, though it is difficult sometimes finding a safe place to lock it up--many places around here have no bike racks, and sometimes only light posts in the parking lot to lock up to. Some will not allow you to lock up a bike on a signpost, or things like that. I later added a smaller rear basket set to the *front* wheel, so I can carry more in less trips.

    I would use just carry bags, but there's a lot of places now that won't let you take a bag in with you, because of shoplifting. So I have to use something people won't steal off the bike, like they do with bags often enough. Thus, the baskets. I gotta put the wire covers with locks on them, though--keep putting that off.

    I've discovered after a couple of years though, that I am getting older. Especially after working 11 miles from home, and biking as frequently as possible. So I need a way to go places that doesn't *entirely* depend on my muscle power to get there, leaving me exhausted by the time I arrive. I won't get a car, and there's not much other option besides the bus. Bike-on-bus doesn't work for me, because with the 4 baskets, it wont' fit on the racks with other bikes securely enough for the drivers to be happy.


    So I've started working on the electric-assist problem, and have decided that in my typical packrat fashion, I will use only recycled parts in this wherever possible. I started a blog about it to both keep track of what I'm doing, and to attract comments from those with any experience in inventing their own conversions, etc. It's at http://opporknockitytunes.blogspot.com/ for anyone curious or wanting to help.

    I've got some prototype ideas going, and currently using a salvaged car power window motor to run some tests. I figure if I'm going to go carless, why not do it with pieces *from* cars that aren't on the road anymore? I've also got another Murray from a friend, and though it's seen better days, it'll be the prototype test vehicle, before I mess up my actual ride.

    But if this works out, it will help a lot in getting around town even farther than I could go by pedal power alone. This way, I can pedal when it's not a dangerous strain on me (like when it's 112F and I have to be out in the middle of the day, pedalling against the wind, or sometimes worse, *with* the wind at the same speed I'm going, so I'm basically in dead, hot air!), and when conditions would keep me from arriving in a useful state (or at all), run the motor to help me along. It's only an assist, so it's not intended to move me without me also pedalling, but it will definitely be better than not having it at all.

    Once it's all figured out, hopefully some others can adapt what I find out to help *them* deal with being carless. Kind of an "open source electric-assisted bike project".
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  2. #2
    Dare to be weird!
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    Welcome to Bike Forums, Amberwolf. I'm sure that by now you've found the Utility Cycling and Electric Bikes forums as well.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amberwolf View Post
    This may be long and wandering, but it's my simplified experience living completely car-free so far, and leading up to what I'm trying to do now about the carless thing. ...

    So I've started working on the electric-assist problem, and have decided that in my typical packrat fashion, I will use only recycled parts in this wherever possible. ....
    My research:

    Electrics-
    Some electric kits mount very easily (the front-wheel hub motors in particular) but the problem electrics always have is the range, and often recharging on the road isn't practical. Cheap batteries are very-low-range and very heavy, and good batteries are lightweight, energy-dense and very expensive. And they still may not put out all that much power (you may still have to pedal). Electrics are clean enough to be stored inside living spaces.

    Gasoline-
    Gasoline engines have much more sustained power and if you get a 4-cycle, essentially unlimited range (you can refuel at any gas station). They do pollute, but a 4-cycle engine does much less than a 2-cycle, and it's not unusual to get over 200 mpg. Bikes with gas-engine setups frequently smell like gasoline, and cannot very well be stored inside the home.

    -----

    Battery technology is always improving and I think eventually we will see electric vehicles in use--but to be practical, you have to consider what's feasible right now--and electric setups still compare badly to gas in terms of general practicality. I don't feel any electric setup can substitute for a car yet, and went with a gas engine kit.
    ~

  4. #4
    Junior Member Amberwolf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Platy View Post
    Welcome to Bike Forums, Amberwolf. I'm sure that by now you've found the Utility Cycling and Electric Bikes forums as well.
    Thanks! I posted my project in more detail in the Electric bikes forum, thread link here: The Electricle™, my electric-motor-assist bike project

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug5150 View Post
    My research:
    Electrics-
    Some electric kits mount very easily (the front-wheel hub motors in particular) but the problem electrics always have is the range, and often recharging on the road isn't practical. Cheap batteries are very-low-range and very heavy, and good batteries are lightweight, energy-dense and very expensive. And they still may not put out all that much power (you may still have to pedal). Electrics are clean enough to be stored inside living spaces.
    I certainly appreciate the thoughts and reply, however there are things I said in my first post that you're not taking into account.

    Having to pedal is not an issue at all, as this is only an assist, and won't be used by itself.

    I won't use a kit. No challenge to me if I do so, and also it costs too much, and many use inefficient hub motors, many of which appear to be brushless and thus can't even use regen, AFAIK. I've not researched too many of the ones that use part of the pedal chain to transfer power, but they appear to have the problem that it's possible to get my feet knocked off the pedals by the motor if I am not careful to keep up with it, and that could cause an accident because I'll likely lose my balance, even if the motor includes a cut-off if it goes faster than I'm pedalling--it's too late once my feet are off the pedals. I'm not the most coordinated person in the world.
    Also, I want, as I said, to use recycled parts wherever possible. Basically I'll take whatever I can find and make it work, if necessary. I'm a packrat and a pretty good scrounger.

    Range is not much of an issue, because again, this is only an assist, and won't be running the whole bike, just adding power when I don't have enough of my own. It's a little bit of an issue, in that I do need to get at least 10 miles out of it, but once I get all the right parts in there, and learn how to shift for it, it should be efficient enough for at least that. Once I learn how to program and build the full version of the microcontroller for all this, it'll shift itself (motor only, not pedal drivetrain), and be even better, in theory (we'll have to wait and see on the practicality of that part).

    Batteries and recharging are indeed a sticky point on this, and that will be the one thing that will cost. I have temporary testing solutions, but until I have a working design for the rest of it, the final choice of batteries will not be much of an issue. :-) I have some ideas about adapting various laptop and power tool batteries, potentially with adapters that allow usage of them in their original states, which includes their current, voltage, and thermal protections intact--if I can do this, then I can use old packs that might not give as much range as I'd get with new ones, but would be free to me as people often discard them when they replace them. I've collected many dozens of them over the years and reused the working cells in them to repair other packs for my own devices before. Most were still quite usable, just not necessarily for the device they came from. This is a topic I'll have to do practical research on after I have the rest of the design physically completed, and can actually test out theories on.


    Quote Originally Posted by Doug5150 View Post
    Gasoline-
    Gasoline engines have much more sustained power and if you get a 4-cycle, essentially unlimited range (you can refuel at any gas station). They do pollute, but a 4-cycle engine does much less than a 2-cycle, and it's not unusual to get over 200 mpg. Bikes with gas-engine setups frequently smell like gasoline, and cannot very well be stored inside the home.
    No gasoline. Electric only. I guess I didn't discuss that part in the original post.

    Can't stand the smell of gas, it costs too much, and pollutes too much directly (yeah, I know, the technology that makes the batteries and other parts for my electric will also pollute, both during manufacturing and after the parts are used up and worn out and "discarded"). I'm not convinced I can repair a gas engine correctly, as I've never had much luck even with gas lawnmowers, while with electrical stuff I can even re-wind a motor if I have to (hate doing it, though), and I can design and build my own electronics, etc, where necessary. Gas and oil present spillage and fire hazards, as well, in case of an accident (yes, so do some battery solutions, especially Li-Ion and Li-Poly).

    Too noisy, too. I'd like a fairly quiet ride, when I just want to go and think on the way somewhere that I will need the assist to get to or from. Also, gas engines appear to be forbidden on some bike trails and parks, etc, here in the Phoenix, AZ area (valley of the sun).

    Not sure of the DMV status exactly, but appears to require registration, licensing, insurance, etc once a vehicle is gasoline-engine-powered. Don't want to deal with all that. Plus any emissions testing, if any.

    I also can't easily design starters and cutoffs and such for gasoline powered engines, whereas they're super easy for electrical stuff. Since I intend the entire system to only run when I am pedalling, and cut itself off entirely when I stop pedalling, mainly for safety reasons, then those starters and cutoffs are necessary.

    Oh, and since the only place I can keep the bike safely is in my livingroom, well, gas is out for that reason, too.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug5150 View Post
    Battery technology is always improving and I think eventually we will see electric vehicles in use--but to be practical, you have to consider what's feasible right now--and electric setups still compare badly to gas in terms of general practicality. I don't feel any electric setup can substitute for a car yet, and went with a gas engine kit.
    Oh, electric might be impractical from some standpoints, but for my specific requirements, only electric is feasible. Since my bike almost completely substitutes for a car even with just pedal power, and all the situations I've *had* to use friends with cars in have been something no bike, electric, gas, or motorcycle could have done, then in my case comparison with a car is almost irrelevant. :-) It probably isn't in many people's cases, though.

    Batteries are good enough now for me not to have to have the weight of the rest of the system plus rider in batteries, just to get it moving. That's an improvement over when I very briefly considered this once before, about 11 or 12 years ago, I think--the batteries were what stopped me then, as the only alternatives I knew of were NiCad or LeadAcid, neither of which is all that light or energy-dense. Li-Ion came out, but then was so incredibly expensive (some ~1Ah laptop batteries were $350-$500 or more!) that I could not seriously consider even attempting it. But now, it's far far cheaper, and better technology.

    Good enough for what I want to do, even if not yet optimal. Since I am already needing the assist sometimes, I don't think my aging body will wait for the batteries to get better.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by wheel View Post
    I totally understand the need for external power in the valley of the sun.

    Electric is the only way to go with the current laws. Eletric =bicycle Gas = motorcycle

    Good luck.
    One thing I do is get a crappy 20 dollar bike and park it near the bus. Then finish off the last 4 of my 12 mile commute
    Ummm,,,,, motorized bikes are allowed in AZ.

    And in what state does putting a motor on a bicycle make it a motorcycle?

    Most states either simply prohibit or allow them, some prohibit gas while allowing electric, one or two require registration but none that I've heard of will promote a bicycle to any motor vehicle classification.

    Motor vehicle classifications are defined by the federal government--not state governments--and motorcycles have technical requirements that bicycles can't meet.

    ---

    (-It's my belief that any government that says that electric bicycles are allowed but gas-engined ones are not, simply doesn't want to deal with the problem of motorized bicycle use at all, and so restricts people to buying the least-practical of the two types-)
    ~
    Last edited by Doug5150; 09-13-07 at 06:23 PM.

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