Though only a novice rider, I have become extremely passionate about cycling and have integrated it into almost every facet of my life. In fact, my car has been in the shop for the past 4 weeks and I have not missed it much (aside from the days I want to take a woman out on a date, which is often, but that’s a topic for another blog).
My daily commute is 3 miles one way, from home to campus. While working at my engineering job, I would, from time to time, bike 15.3 miles one way. I never knew how much I was riding until I decided to plot the route a few weeks ago. I was actually impressed with myself, after the fact (yet another blog will get into further detail of my narcissism in this regard). I believe that I can get to pretty much anywhere in the metro Atlanta area with my bicycle and assistance from Marta; I often take my bike on the train making my “effective biking range” equal to the Marta route map plus about 10 miles.
Somewhat related to this passion is my desire to contribute to a more “sustainable” campus and I’ve recently been involved in several campus recycling, organic farming, and other green efforts. Recently it occurred to me that bike-riding is actually one of the keys to a “green outlook” and I’ve begun work with some campus groups to further encourage student biking on and around Tech. Now (here’s where it gets interesting) we all know that biking is cool in its time and place and we sometimes carve out the when and where to make it happen, for exercise’s sake. What is missing, I thought, in the full adoption of the biking lifestyle is the push toward making cycling an almost ubiquitous (to use a term already overused in the context of our class) event. That is: people need to be able to ride without having to set aside the aforementioned places and times; biking should be easy enough for them to do at all times, without even thinking about it.
The first step, naturally, is to address the factor that keeps most people from riding: effort. People would ride more, I suggest, if there was less energy required and if it was not so physically demanding to commit all of their transportation to the two wheeled option. Just ask my date last week if she appreciated having to keep up with me, a much more experienced rider, in her pretty dress as we rode up that hill on the way to dinner (that was a joke). My point is, bikes that provided more assistance to the rider would be very beneficial in getting people to ride more. You might think of scooters as an option but, in some cases, they defeat the purpose because they are expensive, require documentation, run on gas, and are prohibited on the public transportation system. My associate recently started a company called Soup Cycles (http://www.soupcycles.com/) specializing in both gas and electric engines for commuter bicycles in Atlanta. For reasons discussed previously, my project will focus only on the electric versions.
One company at which we have been looking for electric kits and engine ideas is Bionx (http://www.bionxinternational.com/bionx-international-north-america/), which makes bikes but also several other electric vehicles. With assistance levels of up to 300% (tantamount to having rider pedal power multiplied by 3) bikes equipped with these systems should be as good, if not better, than scooters. The health benefit realized can be looked at as parallel to the academic notion of scaffolding (as described by Vygotsky and his Zone of Proximal Development), whereby students are given less and less assistance with the conceptual problems as the become more and more experienced in dealing with them. With respect to the bikes, users will likely use the assistance much during their first experiences with the bike, but since the systems only magnify pedal power and don’t replace it, they all MUST give at least some effort. I would suggest that, after some grow accustomed to the system, they’ll choose less and less assistance (the system is set up so that it is configurable). For instance, they might decide to use the assistance only on uphill climbs and flat surfaces and would pedal on the down hills. The human body being the machine that it is, and the human mind being the computer that it is, these users will soon find that they are able to pedal through the flats and only need help on the climbs. After a while, only steep climbs would require assistance. Of course, this is a utopian expectation and each users experience will be different, but the point is that the system would take advantage of both the muscle (physical) growth associated with the minimal effort required and the natural desire (mental/emotional) to improve- or to save money since it costs [an albeit nominal amount compared to gas prices] to recharge the battery.
I plan to do a study on the construction and use of the electric bikes, including approximations of the amount of overall benefit achieved (money saved on gas, money saved on gym memberships, reduction in emissions, etc). I ultimately want to look into a solar charging system for these vehicles. As gas prices approach $5 per gallon, I suggest that more and more people will start to look at options such as these.
More updates will soon follow. One interesting video that is somewhat related came to my attention as I was researching the minimization of the components of the electric engine-system. Apparently, the electric-bike system is huge in other countries and even competitive “athletes” have begun to incorporate this into their training and sometimes even inappropriately into competition. This might be funny to some:
I will post more on the idea of the electric bike system as it develops. I hope to enter this into the Innovation Competition. Please give feedback! Thanks…