Friday, January 20, 2006

Cycling Sojourn

One thing the long absence of the Sparrow did for me was to get me back on my bicycle. I had been a cycling enthusiast as a teen, back when ten speeds were all the rage and gas was expensive. And I didn't ever give it up entirely, making a rule to ride on errands in town. Then I just pushed my range to the 6 miles it took to get to clients two towns over, thus discovering some of the most beautiful and quiet residential streets of Atherton, one of the priciest neighborhoods in the country. It was a mini-vacation just to ride to work.

Then a new client in the city told me there was no parking at her house, but she was near the train station, so I decided to take my Xootr scooter on the train and ride the four blocks to her townhouse. Having had a taste of being car free in the city, I wanted to try the bike there too. I had already broken the ice by leading a solar homes tour by bike for our San Francisco EV chapter fundraiser and I got a bike map out of the bargain.

For my trip into downtown during business hours I picked only the designated bike routes. What an exhilarating experience it was to be in all that downtown pedestrian and jammed up auto, tram, bus traffic. The bicycle was by far the nimblest and fastest mode of transport and there were surprising moments of quiet empty streets. I didn't feel trapped by tall buildings as I did in a car; I was liberated from seat belts, traffic jams, blind spots and I could see much more. It did feel more dangerous out of the immediate downtown, with cars being so impatient, so I read up on urban cycling survival tips and watched other city cyclists.

Few women ride the city streets. I saw just one commuter on the train, more on weekends in cycling gear. Cycling is chiefly the transport of the poor, judging from those mostly Latino men, I passed on the street. A few determined and well-outfitted guys were my peers. I discovered a whole world of them online. There are more cycling blogs than possibly any other subject after cooking and gardening. The cycling subculture was an articulate and intelligent one, full of imaginative attempts to do everything by bike including moving households. Soon, I too, was an avid cycling advocate.

Usually I would put the bike away with the shorter days, but having gone emission free all summer, I decided to break the night time barrier and just get more lights, flashers, reflective stickers and a high visibility jacket. I rode to my karate class twice a week, which gave me a warm-up before class, so why give up that edge? Riding at night turned out to be easier than I thought. Motorists did see me and give me room. After rush hour, I had the street to myself.

The last barrier was to ride in the rain. For this I had my rain suit -matching royal blue pants and a hooded jacket, contrasting with my bright red gloves. I had to laugh at the reaction of motorists when they saw me. They stopped dead in the street and waved me across even though they had no stop sign. The bigger the SUV, the more they wanted to stop. Finally I just had to cross, so they wouldn't hold up traffic. I felt like they wanted to rescue me from drowning. "Oh my god, look she's out in the rain." It wasn't even a downpour. And there's nothing like rain to heighten the experience of being outside. And that was the best part of cycling. Just being outside. And the whole body, human powered, speedy, gyroscopic rush of it all.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The eGo Cycle

With the Sparrow out of commission I felt I had to have another EV type transport. With peak oil looming on the horizon, it seemed prudent rather than frivolous to have another EV in the house. Even when the Sparrow returned, I knew there would still be a place for the eGo cycle on the days when Catherine took the Sparrow to work.

After researching the various bike/motor hybrids, I decided to dispense with pedals and settle for just the electric motor, since it was half the price. Other EV members of my chapter had recommended the eGo cycle for its potential for modification to increase speed and range, so I ordered one from the Real Goods/Gaim catalog on sale for $999. The company is in Rhode Island, but, now, the scooter is made in Taiwan.

It came delivered by air frieght in about four weeks and I assembled it that afternoon which meant slipping the fully assembled fork into the body, with the locknuts in the right order and making sure all the brake cables were untangled. My biggest concern was that it make it up the various hills around my house without burning out the motor. The manual warned about going up hills that took longer than 30 seconds to climb. Hills were why I wanted the eGo Cycle because I'm not a big hill climber on my bicycle. The eGo cycle's primary purpose would be to get me to my mother's house.

(It is interesting to note that new housing developments have unreasonably steep streets simply because modern vehicles can climb those hills easily whereas in the pre-50's neighborhood, more care was taken to grade streets up hills so that other types of traffic could make it. This means that these hills are basically off limits to bicycle traffic. What about San Francisco one might well ask? Same thing, but they had cable cars in the older parts of town and then developed the rest later. Also the steep streets are shorter in San Francisco except in the Twin Peaks area.)

Luckily I have yet to climb a hill the eGo cycle couldn't make and I've been up ones that took much longer than 30 seconds to climb. There was a break-in period of four hours when I took care to stay mostly on the flats, but after that it was good to go. Soon it became my grocery runner. I put a good size deep basket on the front and had my bicycle bag on the rack in back, but then I found a really big basket I could zip tie to the rack. I've been able to carry a full size bush in it (for transplanting to my mother's garden) and I can also fit things in front of my feet right on the deck, securing it with a long bungee cord around the control post, flowers for instance or another plant.

The scooter charges up in about four hours and takes less than a kilowatt of juice, about a fifth of what the Sparrow needs. It has a range of 20 miles, but I can't imagine sitting on it for that long. The range is considerably shortened by hills, so I have used the "go far" mode to get home. In the "go far" mode, it's slower than riding a bicycle, so I nearly always have it in the "go fast" mode which gets it up to 23 mph, unless going up a hill, then it's more like 13-14 mph. Though not a head turner like the Sparrow, it gets some attention when people see it close up and realize it is electric.