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In my search for technological solutions, to travel in the
post peak oil world, I have recently come across several interesting two
If it weren’t for my fifty year old legs I would emphatically
state the optimum solution is a good 18 speed light weight bicycle with all
terrain tires and 26 inch wheels.
Throw in a nice saddle and decent shocks, front and rear, and one has a
go anywhere vehicle for the Big Island.
Twenty year old legs are a nice option.
Twenty years ago, I easily had a range 25 miles, now I’m
lucky to get 10 miles down the road, usually on a 20 mile roundtrip
outing. Within this common
scenario, the only thing that is maximized is my distance from the dinner table
and shower. Anything over ten mile
requires days to recover and possibility of loss of pride for riding in the chase truck.
There are other options, powered options, for getting around on an island
after peak oil.
The easily solution is an electric assist bicycle. The A2B Metro is my first choice. They are stylish, built to European
quality standards, have a 20 mile range (20 MPH max) and functional pedals.
In my post peak oil fantasy, my strategy was to pedal for as
long as I possibly could, then turn the key, and motor home on the backside of
the trip. But, in the real world it
doesn’t work, the bike is too heavy.
It is a lead paperweight version of a lightweight metro cruiser. The pedal based gearing is clunky. And, did I mention, it is fricken
heavy. At 75 pounds plus it is
awkward, as a bike. The wheels are
small and the tires are square. The
thing corners like it has training wheels on it. Pedaling it is a chore and 10 mile pedal range is
unrealistic: it is like pedaling a stationary bike on the highest setting, but
a little slower around the course.
I might make it to the mail box, under human power, if I had too.
BUT, as a small motorcycle, it excels. Torque comes on fast with the twist of
the wrist. The bike has the feel
of a small pit bike with no gears and no noise. Hand brakes and easy low cross over bar give it a familiar
feel, to the novice. Optional pannier
type bags make shopping a breeze.
Charging is by plug in to a standard 120 Volt receptacle. An optional lead brick, I mean battery
can extend the range, but adds to the awkwardness by pulling the center gravity
up and rearward.
And, the real cool part is the bike is it could be charged
by a small photovoltaic system. I
have seen these bikes for as low as $1,600 (mainland) for demos and lightly used versions,
but a brand new “fresh and shining” unit is more like $2,800.
There are less expensive electric bike models, from the A2B
manufacturer, Ultra Motors, plus tons of competitors and knock-offs as well as
kits and parts and pieces all over ebay and elsewhere. Electric bikes, as a standard mode of
transportation, are the future.
So, two things got me thinking about this post: Jays
motorcycle project and an article in the magazine Home Power. The article got me re-thinking about
the Zero DS I lusted after a couple of years ago when I picked up an almost
new, low mileage Suzuki DRZ400 for less than half the cost of the techno wonder. The Suzuki is simple and
efficient. It gets 70 MPG and I
have after market soft bags, so it can carry some groceries. It is some of the best of the old and
And, as it turns out, cost is the big issue with all these new
electric units. First, there is no
used market yet. And used electric
vehicles are suspect, because the batteries are so expensive and difficult to
evaluate on a test drive. When
buying used, think of it as buying a battery with bicycle like accessories and
All things being equal, I would drive an electric
Lotus-Tesla hybrid (hybrid in manufacturing, not technology) sport car on the
rocky roads of Fern Forest and HPP, reworking the bottom side of aluminum space
frame with every rut. But, at
$120,000 plus, out the door, the price is just too prohibitive for any sensible
person. It is sleek and beautiful
and at the equivalent to 200 MPG, it is technological artistry at its best.
The Nissan Leaf is the egalitarian
version of this vehicle with hideous looks, twice the technology and half the
spec points – it lacks any glamour at all. It is cheaper, but at $45,000 (out the door with quick
charger installation), the tax rebate just don’t make it work unless gas is $10
per gallon or more.
Back to reality
I test rode the Zero X and DS models and I here to say, they
represent the technology of the future.
The X was light and nimble.
Compact geometry made it a bit tight in the sitting position and a bit
short in the standing position. I
have rode Honda 90s and 100s all my life and they are undersized for me: the X
had the same feel. For most people
it would not be an issue.
The motorcycle feels a little loose. The forks seem undersized for the load,
especially on heavy braking. Light
off road duty, for sure, and no jumps.
The plastic trim a little thin.
The chain sounds a little tinning. With no gas tank, you would think the center of gravity would
be lower, no improvement in handling, over the Hondas, I could notice.
When riding all you hear is the tire noise and the chain
noise – it is eerily quiet. If you
ever hear the chain on a gas powered motorcycle, when it is running, panic sets
in. It might take some time to get
used to it.
The battery pushes the center of gravity higher than it
needs to be. The battery pack
being very large and cubic shaped for such a small frame.
But, I saw a sales guy demonstrate loading
into a pick-up. I’m not sure I can
properly describe it: it was like a dog jumping into the bed of the truck with
the tail gate down. Point it in
the right general direction while off to the side, hit the throttle, lift the
front wheel, climb in the bed, hit the throttle again, using the massive torque
to launch it and it jumps – up and in with no ramp.
The DS was similar, but slightly heavier. Designed for on-off road duty, street
legal and good for about 58 miles per charge with a top speed of 50 MPH. Cheap to charge, especially off grid at
about 3.5 KWH per fill up (2.3 hours duration). The range is practical on the island, but motorcycles are
rain challenged [read wet] on the east side. Enthusiasm for open road riding under changing weather conditions –
is not optional. The motorcycle is
available with optional soft panniers, and a there are rumors of a back-up
battery in the works. At $10,500
plus tax, it is an expensive toy now and a likely a coveted prize post peak
oil. There are a few rebate and
tax credit possibilities, but remains expensive by any measure.
Zero has several more models plus several competitors that
are getting good reviews: most notably Brammo, Vectrix and Quantya. But, so far they are all dealing with
the same technological limitations and high costs.
After the technology improves and the down hill side of post peak oil hits, Harley and the other
motorcycle manufacturer won’t be able to give away inefficient gas powered
motorcycles. Electric is the future.