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Jul 13 11 8:30 PM

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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 wheeled vehicles. 

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 proven technology.

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 no warranty.

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.

So, …

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.

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#1 [url]

Jul 13 11 10:29 PM

I don't buy it. Electric motors are great. Batteries stink. That's the problem. I'd rather rebuild old engines than try to fix batteries, as there's no hope in that.

I think you're better off to have a real motorcycle and spend your effort engineering growing your own fuel. That's my strategy. The old XT500 has a bombproof roller bearing motor, completely fixable-- I stripped the whole bike in 6 hours and broke the engine down. Very easy. It is, as far as I'm concerned, the high end of "appropriate technology" as to get better efficiency requires very much more complication, 4 valve heads, multiple cylinders, fuel injection, all that, which works great until it gets to the end of its service life and then it's a dead doughnut. Working on it tonight, I have to talk myself out of the 11.5 to 1 big bore piston kit, of course, as that's really not the world I'm living in anymore. Maybe I'll pick up another engine for play time as they're cheap, but 8 to 1 in the normal world is sane, safe, fuel efficient and still has plenty of go.

I could buy a lifetime's worth of parts for an old bike for 10K. And I'd still have actually go. Figure 2 or 3 piston cylinder kits, figure 50 feet of chain and a tool to press it, figure tires, figure bearings all the way through-- there is no possible way to get to those 10k kinds of numbers and you can still ride a fine vintage machine that isn't a compromise. Of course, you might want to grow your fuel. We can do that here. But that's not impossible. I have no idea where you're going to get the electricity. An old school bike running of of bananas, through a reflux still is technology that's a bit advanced, I guess, but manageable. If your solar/electric thing loses one diode on a circuit board you're history, and there's absolutely no fixing it, no warning, and you're just out of luck.

Keep with appropriate technology. I trust 2 acres of bananas to produce more energy than I do PV's and fancy ass batteries.

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#2 [url]

Jul 14 11 12:58 AM

While Mel Gibson might not have looked so bad ass organizing his neighborhood and carpooling in a 4-cylinder car to go to market, isn't that a perhaps more plausible strategy for expensive gas?

Might I also suggest that us thespians in the crowd put our collective efforts into staging a production of 'Gilligan's Island - The Real Story'. Ciel, I'm hoping you'll agree to play Maryanne, with your partner naturally playing the Professor. I'm sort of in pre-negotiation to get Steve Buscemi to star as the lovable laughable Gilligan.

This could be huge!

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#3 [url]

Jul 14 11 8:48 AM

Just for the record the Ni-Fe batteries will last 50 years or more, why are we not using them? A battery will last 50 years how many could you sell, and you can do them NO WRONG?? Ford did the R&D and made them for electric car and some are still working. No one has done any R&D since then so they are a 50 year old design.  As they are now they are to big and heavy for a bike, but would be great for solar.
Oh and you can still buy them from China 2 volt 2000 Amp.&  50 years but big money (heavy).


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#5 [url]

Jul 14 11 11:47 AM

Batteries can either be heavy and reliable or light weight and fragile.My favorite compromise is NiCad, but these have gotten to be very expensive in comparison to other "advanced" wonky types. I have to tell you as someone who's worked in the trades with cordless tools for a long time as far as I'm concerned they've only gotten worse, and more complicated.  The cutting edge stuff has circuitry and microprocessors too, and that hardly helps reliability. It's completely possible to keep internal combustion machinery junked together for years and the tools to do so are ubiquitous, and require very little in terms of infrastructure.

Darren, I think a couple of years trying to organize community events will turn most anyone in the a Mad Max. While carpooling is a great idea in high density urban environments, that's not our situation. The other issue is cultural. Imagine a carpool leaving Volcano at 9am for Hilo expecting to pick up 6 riders along the way. If your first stop is Glenwood, you're going to need to figure that the first leg of the trip will take 15 minutes, but the rider you pick up may well be a half hour late. They may not show at all, whoopsey tehe! which then makes the ride more expensive for all other riders, but you the driver is already committed to the trip. If the next stop is Eden Roc, same problem applies(scheduled at 9:45)--Mountain View (10:30) Kurtistown (11:15)-- etc., and you find that you'll need to turn around the second you get to Hilo to roll up the hill. And this assumes no one "just needs to stop at the post office" pick up a cup of coffee, "drop something off, it will just take a second" or pee. Not to be negative, but in reality it's far more efficient for me if I'm going to blow a whole day driving and riding around to just spend it making a weeks worth a fuel and then not worry about it. Sure, one will share rides at any and all possible times, but my life and travel likely more involves going to work rather than the store, it's not the kind of thing I can do on irregular or unreliable schedules. I think a lot of people will find themselves in the same spot if they think about it. It's worth thinking about too, as it seems that this could be a "learn to hate your neighbor" kind of experience.

Other options might be "responsible hitching." One could promote a program where participating "thumbers" hold a small sign/symbol by the side of the road, meaning they've signed up, have been checked out and aren't some kind of freak, have an ID card and will pay .25 cents a mile or something like that for a ride. Something along those lines. You'd get picked up pretty reliably in that context, I'd think.

So rideshare is a great idea, but it will take some real commitment, like paying for all your rides up front for a month and if you're not at the bus stop at the prompt time you miss the ride. But commitment in general is the thing we seem to lack most.

Ryan, I like public transit at the best option also, but unfortunately as a program is also often the "lowest hanging fruit" for budget cuts.

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#6 [url]

Jul 14 11 4:00 PM

I'd go for a diesel motorcycle, one that can use multiple fuels, and in particular, raw filtered plant oils (palm, jatropha, soybean, etc). Grow your fuel.

The military has one just like this (called the M103M1), been waiting for civilian sales of it for years now. Someday......

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#7 [url]

Jul 14 11 9:12 PM


Yeah, I'm wondering if 'increased scarcity™' of energy/resources is gonna cause more or less buses. Seems people movement is important enough to an economy that they'd make sure it still happens.

Here's something I'm trying to figure out for myself and I'm guessing you haven't figured it out for yourself yet either, but probably have given it alot of thought. ---> How do you make the work come to you? How could you work primarily in your own neighborhood? I guess guys with excavators do alot of that work in their neighborhood. What other kinds of services are possible on the ag lands that would keep you from having to commute?

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#8 [url]

Jul 14 11 9:47 PM

Hey Ryerro,

Regarding how to get work to come to you...I've been trying to figure that out since I moved here. A certain percentage of it does, but not enough to eliminate travel. On the upside, I've drastically reduced my business trips to the mainland (from 8x/year to 3), which means I increased business in Hawaii (and of course downsized my consumption). While I spend a lot more time on the road than I'd like, I've at least made progress in shifting more work to Hawaii (unfortunately too much in Honolulu). Unless I completely change jobs (like becoming a taro farmer), it's unlikely I'll ever eliminate travel from my life. Although admittedly, reality may end up forcing it on me.

Obviously I've got a completely different "gig" than Jay. On the one hand, it's tough for Jay and the gang up the mountain to have work come to them (into the neighborhood, if you will), as it's a relatively sparsely populated area. Local barter and "town squares" (defined in broadest of terms, meaning that it could be in tents) perhaps could help more folks evolve in that direction.

On the other had, if you consider planting/growing taro "work" (as I'm sure you do), then Jay's work--at least a good percentage of it--is literally in his back yard now. Ditto for raising chickens and ducks and all the other food production happening on Jay's farm.

Truth is, I'm envious as hell that Jay's able to keep all his work on island. Our on-island work is less that 20% of our total business and it's hard to envision it getting much better than that (unless all my off island work suddenly disappears, not a happy way to raise that percentage unless I can replace it here). Oahu is, believe it or not, the fastest growing portion of my business over the last 3 years, in the midst of a recession, mind you. But I'm not bragging here. It's nice business to have, but really stupid to rely on. A big reason I'm interested in learning from you guys.

In the end it's all about "return on investment", not only in dollars, but time, effort and the happiness quotient. If I've got a handyman job for Jay in my neighborhood, you can bet he'll calculate the costs, the value of his time, whether the work interests him, etc., and quote accordingly. If the customer accepts the quote, then Jay jumps in his truck (or on his bike if he wants to pad his margins) to reap his return on investment. If not, he doesn't.

IMHO, anyone who can make a living that keeps him/her in the Puna-Hilo areas is doing well.

A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions - Confucius

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#9 [url]

Jul 14 11 10:29 PM

Hi Tim, that's well put. Too often we ignore the dollars of reality that will be for the foreseeable future very much part of our "sustainable" livings. One of the best things about adopting a "sustainable" lifestyle--meaning more all the time, really nothing more than "scaled to reality" is that it gives one huge empowerment, a huge strategic competitive advantage in the business market.

How to make the work come to you? I can offer some hints on that that will work very well indeed in a 6 or 7 dollar a gallon world. It takes a lot of counter intuitive thought and flowcharts that don't quit, but it's not as dismal as it might seem if one is willing to adapt ahead of time, and invest in the appropriate infrastructure to cope.

We'll have to start a new "secret" topic for that info, though. LOL.

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#10 [url]

Jul 15 11 12:12 AM

I think this discussion has wheeled back around to the sometimes ignored fact that community and its economy are inseparable. "How to make work come to the homestead" is indeed dependent on organizing and maximizing the "local currency" in whatever forms it takes. Certainly my racket of "education" is much more "localizable" in the sense of care, guidance, and role-modeling for young people happening in way more local ways. I teach Japanese high school juniors in Hilo for chrissakes -- well, actually for cold hard cash, but its way far from efficient, effective, or community-enhancing, minus the yen injection of course. Although I remain a little unclear as to the actual community benefit potential of educational software development, something like that seems a viable way to suck fund-age from the global e-bread.

Certainly the spending of money/time/effort for many, many of the things we currently drive and buy could happen in locally empowered subdivisions. Suffice to say that it still seems to me that an appropriate tech, approachable, community media (radio) is a mainstay of the scenario. Never mind the alternate currency that seems sensible in this. If the communicative approach that somehow compelled the (I'll just throw out a number of 300 households that perhaps exist here in Eden Roc) participants to value cooperation above violence -- certainly apathy -- you'd have an actual local economy, hence community in the true sense of the word.

I wonder what that cultural development is that would manifest such a solidarity? I'm pretty sure it's not access to infinite media-wank, but what'd create such a powerful positive feedback loop is oddly eluding, no?

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#11 [url]

Jul 15 11 8:08 AM

I have tried to move my business model to a virtual office with a few people on the mainland to deal with site visits and meetings and me, where ever, doing technical tasks via computer and the internet.  The model looked promising until the recession hit the industry hard.  I hope enough of the remote supported work will come back that the occasional trip to the mainland (during the transition) reduces to no travel (in the end game).  I have concentrated on possibilities for local trips, thinking a trip to Hilo once a month and Kona once (or twice) a year (at end game) and the local farmers market/stores twice a week and friends a bit more.  The bicycle still seems like the best overall solution, followed by the small gas powered vehicle (smallest that gets the trip done).  But, in the end game, gasoline will be way too expensive: bio-diesel fuel and electricity/battery vehicles will likely be the ONLY powered alternatives.
Rickshaws, taxi/bus services and messenger/delivery services will be viable businesses.  The organized friend thing is a possibility, but successful train/bus/plane services are known for the "on time" reputation: which means those not at the scheduled stop at the appointed time are outta luck that trip.  The flip side for that type of business is nearly all costs are fixed, and no travelers on a particular day leads to an unprofitable day.  Either a reservation system or less service will be necessary to force each trip into profitability.
On the flip side, delivery of fresh food might be quite commonplace.  
Hey, Jay got any fresh taro (a stupid question today, but maybe not in the future, when there is local demand)?  How much extra to get Scot to deliver a kilo before dinner time?
I also see local entertainment and festivals making a significant come back.  The Gilligan's Island play might make a once a month run for several years, especially if it is interactive enough to make it different and entertaining enough to bring people back and drag people in from miles away.  
The musicians and thespians will be in local demand and pick-up spending change for being part of the party.  I believe enough in this "future" to design a small stage area into my property development plans.
The secret to this whole topic is to minimize need to travel long distances and develop local commerce.  Think of all the things made far away, used on a daily basis, and figure out a way to make a substitute product out of local material (think medicinals, storage containers, lumber, clothes, etc, ...).  If a small group of farmers (in the broadest sense of the word - food producers), in the area, can grow enough food for the local population to be sustainable, then the rest of us should concentrate on products and services that raise the local standard of living (economic and otherwise). 

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#12 [url]

Jul 15 11 11:55 AM

On the fuel choices it's worth considering:

1. Oil crops for biodiesel require complicated sowing, planting, harvesting, expressing and processing facilities, not capable in meaningful scale for the small homestead. You're not going to be growing crops for bio-diesel. Once one gets past the hype, the bio-diesel "industry" is largely dependent on scavenging waste, something that won't be waste much longer.

2. Sugar cane can produce E100 at a market cost of under 7.00 a gallon with minimal infrastructure. You can do that in your back yard with primitive tools, no additional chemicals. Just some heat.

Batteries, diesel? They don't scale and I can't see a way to make them work in this island. Maybe somewhere else where cane couldn't be grown. . .not here.

You can bet big sugar is on its way back.

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#13 [url]

Jul 15 11 1:20 PM

Right now we have the Heleon Bus that runs fairly regular.
In the future we might think about what some of the other islands
in the Pacific have done. A "family" buys a good sized truck puts benches
around the 3 sides and back and covers it
with a covered wagon type of tarp . Sides can be rolled up or down.
It is painted a bright color and might even have a name.
If you want a ride you go to the edge of the road and flag it down.
You "contribute" a dollar towards the fuel and you ride .
Very informal and it works. The trick to getting passengers is to 
make your runs when people go to work or return home. This island 
has a lot of shift workers at the hospital, long term care facilities,
jail, prison etc. So you could time your runs to those shift changes.

If you could run your truck on  'banana juice'  it would be even better.

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