Monday, June 25, 2007

"Body" -> Sing The Bicycle Electric Part 2

If you want to see why and how I use my hybrid bike, let's look at my route. As I stated in the last post, the hybrid bike is very nice on hills.

If you click on the first chart here, you can get a close up of the the route that I bike. The chart is a elevation vs distance route.

The total trip to work and back is 25 miles long.

Getting these types of charts is easier than it might seem: I put my GPS on my bike, ride the route, then download the data to my PC at home.

If you go to mile 12.9 and draw a line in the middle of the chart, you will notice that the two sides are almost mirror images. This is because I ride to work on one route, then I ride back on the exact same route. The two halves aren't perfectly matched, since the bike is in the office for 12 hours, and during that time the barometric pressure changed, making the return route look a little higher. However, it is close enough for you to understand the general principle.

Each slice in the hill chart represents 50 ft. As you can see, our house is at roughly 460 ft above sea level. I climb for 5.5 miles up to almost 1000 feet. Now, going from 460 to 1000 feet isn't much in a car, but it is a lot on a bike. It is roughly equivalent to walking up a 50 story building. Not a lot of people want to climb 50 set of stairs first thing in the morning.

With my hybrid bike, I can cruise up the hills at about 15 MPH on average per my GPS.

However, this is not the biggest advantage. In general, I find that the motor makes me much more safe. Here is a picture of my commute:

(If you click on the picture, you can get a close up of the map. )

At the bottom of the picture is my house. The red line is the route that I take into work. At the top of the chart is my work, roughly 12.9 miles away from my home via my bike.

If I drive, then the trip is roughly 11.6 miles. By bike it is a bit longer, 12.9 miles or so. Actually, I take a slightly longer route than is even necessary.

Why is that? Because I can.

When I got hit on my bike in San Jose, I was late at night. I had been working hard, and I just wanted to get home. I was tired, and I didn't feel like taking the backroads. So, I took the main roads, which had a nice bike lane but was very busy.

Frankly, biking is a law of averages. The way that I figure it, the more cars that you have the more chances that somebody will drift over a line an hit you. The more intersection that you have, the more chances that somebody will pull out in front of you or turn into a side street or entrance in front of you.

In San Jose, I was on a very busy street with a lot of side turns.

On the fateful night that I was hit, I had been passing a bus back and forth on the trip. On a particular section of the road, the bus had to pick up passengers so it wasn't going that fast. I thought the bus driver had been tracking me, and I was paralleling the bus as we came up to a corner. The bus turned without his blinker, as I was going straight. I crashed into the side of the bus, and an angel must have pulled me out of the wheels, since my bike got completely run over.


Now, on my route into work, I have a couple of very busy sections with a lot of cross streets. However, these busy sections are the fastest way of getting into work. I'll repeat the picture above, I've highlighted a couple of faster segments in green on the same map. If I was riding without my motor, I would be tempted to take these green sections.

However, since I have the extra power of the motor, I simple punch the button and take a slightly slower route than is marked in red. The motor allows me to take safer routes because I figure that I'm getting a bit of a break anyways. The second green section on the map is up a hill. Without the motor, I know that I really wouldn't want to take the route because not only is it longer, but there is a hill that would scrub another 5 minutes onto my overall time. However, with the motor it is more like a minute or so.

So, here you have it: my bike commuting story and how a motor can make you safer. I can't think of a better use for my time. I get to save money. I get to work out.

And I can do it all at a relaxed pace, and for 5 cent of electricity.

It's a good system.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"Body" -> Sing The Bicycle Electric Part 1

A number of years ago, Scientific America did an article on the world's most efficient animal for transportation. With a little help, the clear favorite was man.

What was the help that man needed?

A bicycle.

Bicycles are a marvel of engineering, and the amazing thing about a bicycle is how far you can go. When younger, I did a couple of double centuries, which is 200 miles.

However, as I age, I find myself getting slower, and with an extremely stressful job, the idea of bicycling can actually make my job more stressful. I mean, who wants to bike to work when you are stressed?

Plus, there is a nasty hill leading out of our community.

The answer to this comes with a neat invention: the hybrid bicycle. A bit like the hybrid car, which is ½ electrical and ½ gasoline, the hybrid bicycle is ½ muscle and ½ battery.

It would probably take me about 1 hour ten minutes to get to work if I was working moderately hard. With my hybrid bicycle it takes roughly 55 minutes without a lot of effort (pulse around 105 or so) and 45 with more effort (getting my pulse more toward 130 or so.)

The nice things is that I can decide not to work hard, or I can go as hard as I want. I find out having the electric option on my thumb really takes the pressure off. Knowing that you can relax at anytime, but knowing that you are going to be pumping some, actually allows me to ride more. Whenever, I start to commute on my electric bike, I ride quite a bit. Then when I ride one of other bikes, without a motor, I always find I've gotten into shape.

Now, I did have one person at work look at the bike and say, "well does the motor mean that you are cheating." This I think is rather silly, as this person was on her way out the door with her keys in hand. I said something like "what bike did you ride in today?"

You need five things for an electric bike:

1. A motor
2. A controller
3. A battery
4. A throttle
5. A charger

I have been riding an electric bike for over 5 years. I got into to it a bit by accident. Literally, by accident. I had been hit by a bus, and my foot got pulled apart. I wanted to be able to bike, but normal riding hurt when going up hills. I added the kit to help with my injury, and the rest is history.

Here is a picture of the motor. Often this is call a "can" as it really does look a coffee can. For my electric bike system, I used an "after market" kit called a Currie. It's not a half bad solution, but it doesn't offer a lot of power, but it certainly takes the edge off of any hill.

There are a wide variety of different motors. This is a chain driven motor, which means that it has a chain that hooks into the rear wheel (which is the picture right below this one.) However, this design has fallen out of favor because Currie had some financial difficulties and stopped supporting the design. It is tough to get parts now.

The most popular design is using a motor to replace your axle. Here is a hotlink to Google to look at some images.

Here is a picture of the back of the motor. You can see that I tucked it underneath my panniers (bike bags), and while it makes a little bit of noise, it really isn't much noise at all. As a matter of fact, you need to be on another bike to really hear it, or the street has to be pretty quiet. The design has a cute little clamp that is designed to snuggle around your spokes and clamp on the hub. This now gives the little Currie chain something to turn. The output from the motor is probably about 200-300W on average. This is pretty close to what I can put out when I am working pretty hard. You put the motor and me together, and we move up the hills pretty well. The motor does have a "power band," which means that it can only spin the wheel up to about 17 MPH. This is more than enough for me. In reality, I don't use the motor on the flat or downhills. I want the motor for the uphills.

The best thing about the Currie design is the mounting of the battery. I wish somebody else would come up with the same type of slick design, because I can't find any design quite as nice.As you can see in the picture, there is a very slick little case with some nice mounting hardware that situates the battery nice and low in the middle of your bicycle triangle. The battery pack can be opened and inside are two 12V 12 Amp/Hr batteries (in detail they are B&B BP1212T2).

Now, mind you, the whole battery scene is very interesting right now. I am rather retro in my approach to the batteries on my bike. Mainly because I got into this about 5 years ago, and the batteries certainly were not as advanced then. I now have a couple of good charges for my battery type.

The type of batteries I have is SLA or "Sealed Lead Acid" batteries. There are three down sides to SLAs.

1. They hate being left discharged for any length of time. This will quickly ruin them.
2. They don't empty very far. You can only empty about half of the available charge.
3. They are heavy. Two batteries are about 18 lbs. Added to the plastic case and motor, the electic bits on my bicycle add 35 lbs or so.

There are a couple of advantages.

1. You can leave them plugged in all the time.
2. They are cheap. I just replaced my batteries inside my pack for $60.

For me, I bike to work and I immediately charge them. I am in no hurry to replace my current system.

It is good to get some exercise, but it is a lot of fun to save money by doing it. My current alternative to biking to work is driving my car. Here is what I pay to get to work:

Alternative A: Direct Costs

Toll Roads: $3.00 round trip
Gas: $4.40
Wear and Tear: ~$2.60 (oil, brakes, tires)

Total cost saved: $10.

Alternative B: GSA Rate from the Government = .445 cents a mile

Mileage to work = 23.4M * .445 = $10.41

Either way it is about $10.

Now, I do need to charge my bicycle. Using my Kill-A-Watt Power meter, I can determine that I use about 1/2 of a kilowatt Hr. This cost 5 cents. Now, since I charge my bike at work, I only need to charge it once a trip at home. So, out of pocket electricity costs is 5 per day from home. I'll just ignore this cost.

So let's use $10 per trip savings. Since my original kit cost $400, it took 40 trips to pay it off, or 1000 bike miles. I've added a bunch of other stuff to my bike to be seen (more on this later), but I know that I have gone at least 3800 "alternative car miles" on this bike.

Very quickly, I will be over 4000 miles, which means that I will have saved roughly $1600 by bike commuting.

Even better, I am healthier because of it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

"Mind" -> Over Hedge

Okay, I like Over The Hedge.

I'm not sure exactly why. Perhaps, because it is a blatant rip off of Bloom County, which I consider one of the best comic strips of all time. Now, most people would be insulted at rip offs, but then again Berke Breathed left us without a comic strip, so perhaps my subconscious is getting revenge on him.

I mean, how can you not like a film where the lead animal, RJ, carries a single golf club with him everywhere he goes.

Here is some of the other reasons why I like "Over the Hedge."

Let's call it a top 10 or so of the movie.

#1. Cute Animals. Do I need to say more?

#2. Great sound track. Rupert Gregson-Williams composes great filler. Definitely something that you can listen to as you work. Brilliant? No. Great? Yes.

#3. Great songs. Ben Folds wrote 5 songs, and rewrote one. Do I need to say more?

#4. Great rewrite. Ben rewrote "Rockin The Suburbs" for the movie. No profanity should be used in a kids film. Now, here a secret. The rewrite was very good. Didn't have the same complete impact, but there is a subtleness in the song now. Anytime that you have a narrative by William Shattner, something good is happening.

#5. Cute animals. Yes. I know that I used this, but they were worth two mentions.

#6. Redeeming morales. Families watch out for each other, even when a family is a collection of friends.

#7. Kids laughed a lot.

#8. So did I.

#9. Poking fun at how humans stuff themselves. A great dialog by Bruce Willis on the nature of food in something that I'm tempted to memorize. However, I'd need fur to really pull it off.

#10. Worldwide gross of $335M. Hey, I'm in marketing. Success says something.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

"Mind" -> Kill A Watt

This is undoubtedly one of the coolest gadgets on the planet today.

Kill-A-Watt
is a meter that you pull between the wall and whatever appliance that you want to measure. If you click on the hot link above, you can see that Amazon has it for a mere $23.

Electricity is measure in something called KiloWatt Hours. This is often abbreviated kwh. Now what is a kilowatt hour? The easiest way of thinking about a kwh is "as a measure of work." Let's say that you were paying somebody to carry books upstairs in your house. Would you pay them by the hour? Well that isn't very fair. What if they don't work hard?

Would you pay them by the book? Again, maybe they'd just grab all the small books.

The answer is paying them by how many pounds of books times the number of steps they carry them up. The more weight or the more steps, the more they get paid.

Kilowatt Hours are like that. A kilo*watt*hour (to use the right math term) is how much electricity you used. By plugging in Kill-A-Watt, you can see how many kwh you are using on any appliance.

Now, you may want a simple answer to how much electricity costs you. In our area, the cheapest electricity cost .12 for every kilowatt hour. However, this isn't a very easy thing to remember.

At .12 per kwh, you will pay $1 every year if you leave a 1 watt appliance on 24 hours for 365 days per year. Each year has 8760 hours. So, if you don't running it all the time, you can simply take a fraction of this.

For instance, we have somebody at work who is cold, even in summer. So, he has brought in a electric heater. It is a 2000 watt heater. Remember that I said it was $1 per watt for the year? So, if he leaves it on all the time, it is a $2000 bill for electricity every year!

However, he doesn't. He just has it running when he is in the office. If he runs it 8 hours per day for 50 weeks at 5 days per year, he will be running it for 2000 hours per year. 2000 hours is a fraction of all of the hours in a year (1 year = 8760 hours).

He actually runs it $2000 * 2000/8760 hours = $457 per year.

How about that 300 watt halogen lamp you have? If you left it on all the time, it would be $300. If you leave it on 8 hours per night, then then you leave it on for 1/3 of the day (which will be 1/3 of the year). This is $100 dollars.

You can buy florescent floor lamps, which put out the same light in only 50 watts. This will cut your bill from $100 down to just $17 per year! You end up with another $83 dollars.

The big offender in a house is lights, refrigerators, and air conditioning.

Now, you may have a PC with a 200W power supply that you leave on all the time. You do the math, and this would mean that you are paying $200 per year in electricity!

Fortunately, it isn't that bad. PCs use "switching power" supplies. This means that you only convert what you need (plus about 20% because it isn't perfect). For instance, my PC at work with a 400W power supply "only" pulls 110 watts. However, it does cost my company $110 per year if I leave it on all the time.

Interesting, my portable PC only pulls 17W. So, by using my portable PC, I could save my company $93 per year.

Now, I've found out all these numbers by plugging in the Kill-A-Watt meter. If you do the same, I'm sure you'll find out a lot of interesting data that will cause you think about what items you leave running.