Saturday, May 31, 2014

Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Forum and Demo

The UVEV Demo and Forum was a blast!  There were about 20 owners and 3 dealerships that had signed up, and what actually happened was a full capacity crowd.
(Click on images to enlarge.)
Every spot in the parking lot was taken and then some.  We had to enlist Erin Sterner and Sarah Simonds to direct traffic (thanks for your help!)  There were about 250 people in the parking lot, networking with owners, taking test EV rides and ebike rides, a race car display and electric motorcycles, and electric vehicle builders.  It's been two weeks since the event, and I can still feel the tremendous energy from the group.
Part of the center parking row was used for parked display vehicles and ebike rides
Later in the evening when the crowd had gone inside for the presentation, I took this photo looking down the center row.  On the left were two electric Motorcycles, my Solar Electric Cargo Bike, the Dartmouth Formula race car, and a Tesla.  On the right were Zoombikes eBikes, a private owner eBike, a Smart EV and a Volt, a modified Prius from Randy Bryan with a larger battery pack and 120 volt power generator (see for more info), and a modified Ford Ranger pickup truck with a hybrid electric drive designed and built by Margeaux Leblanc, a Dartmouth student, (for more info see her website:
My display was the bike, (which was out for a test ride in this photo), the new battery box for the next bike with an explanation of the modules inside it, and a poster explaining the use of electric Cargo Bikes as a car substitute.  The person in the green shirt is Keith Dewey, who drove his SmartEV up from Londonderry, a one way distance of 65 miles, and had 40% of battery range left. He recharged his car at the King Arthur Flour public charging station before heading back.
The eBikes were constantly in motion.  In the distant left is a private owner mid motor eBike, the center is my solar electric cargo bike, and on the right is one of the Evelo bikes that Larry Gilbert of Zoombikes ( brought.   At one point I had the chance to ride up the access road hill on the cargo bike side by side with an Evelo, and the cargo bike was much faster.  The 500 watt motor was stronger than the Evelo motor, however it also turned out that many people preferred the Evelo regular frame style for commuting rather than the bakfiets frame with the extra cargo box.  All I could do was point at the battery box and tell them about the upcoming longtail....
Since this is a blog about bikes, I would like to emphasize a point that I think almost everyone at the event did not fully appreciate.  This graph is the 4'th slide from the evening's presentation- notice the energy use of bikes.  Electric cars are a big improvement over gas cars, but a bike is another order of magnitude better.  This can be seen in my records from last summer's energy use for the solar electric cargo bike of 13.2 watt hours per mile, which is equivalent to 2553 mpg.  Some weather protection and racks can be added to a bike for utility use, and it will still be far better than any other mode of transportation.  We need to question our belief that it is necessary to have 3,000 or 4,000 pounds of metal around us to get us down the road.  Or, to quote Thoreau speaking in a time before there were cars- "How many a poor immortal soul have I met well nigh crushed and smothered under it's load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five feet by forty, it's Augean stables never cleansed, and the labor of one hundred acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and woodlot."  Now the best way to reach Walden pond is by car via a large highway.  Even back in the 1940's my mother used to drive out to the beach there with her teenage friends from South Boston.

There were 12 test rides (bringing the total to about 100) on the bakfiets before heading in for the presentation:
Some people rode slow
Some people rode fast
Some people just cruised along.

I have to confess there were two accidents with the bakfiets.  A friend of mine was riding around the curve near the display, and fell down.  After making sure she was OK, I got on the bike to try to figure out what was wrong (because I had never fallen down on it), and I fell down.  It turned out that a brief shower had moistened the pavement, and for several feet on the curve there was something like silicone on the road that became slippery.  After 10 minutes it had dried out enough to be normal traction again.  This was more than strange, as I'd ridden the bakfiets in light to pouring rain before, and even last winter on frozen roads with snow and ice, where the only problem had been spinning the rear tire if I pedaled hard while the motor was on.  (Studded tires could have helped.)  Traction has been superb.  I can now say the mode of falling for a bakfiets is a roll onto the side, and the damage is scuffing up the back corner of the box.  My friend ended up laying on her side, I stopped on my back, and then we both stood up and looked at the bike.

When my sister heard about the falls, she told me that I should build tricycles, and that she would not put her granddaughter Maddy in my bakfiets (even though Maddy would be protected inside the box).  This actually made me feel better about my plans for building the next two bikes as two wheelers, because sometimes when my sister tells me to do something, it's turned out better if I don't.  I've got some educating to do here- I don't think she understands that the severity of a crash is directly related to the speed, and thinks a bicycle crash is the same as a car crash.  However I will say that there are better places to fall than in front of a couple hundred people at an event you organized to show how good electric vehicles are.

On the left is Bill Cable with his Zero electric motorcycle, and the right is Ted Dillard with his modified Yamaha electric R5.  Ted is the organizer for the Mount Washington ALT Energy Summit, with many types of electric vehicles climbing to the top.  More information on this year's September summit can be found at: 
The "gas tank" is a hollow shell covering controllers and batteries.

Arthur Bledsoe and Eric Din show the drive system on the Dartmouth Formula Race car to Ted Dillard.  (The white car in the background is a Tesla that drove down from Burlington.)  The students drove the car for 3 parade laps around the parking lot.  Dartmouth has just won the Formula Hybrid Competition held by the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) for the second year in a row, you can find out more at:

The DFR car was packing a lot more battery than my bike (this is one side).

The event was well documented.  Briana Spangler filmed for WRJ CATV (video at, and Eva Sollberger (usually from Seven Days) and Wendy McArdle filmed interviews of car owners for the VT Energy Action Network (  Several photographers were also taking pictures, including Sarah Priestap and Maggie Cassidy for the Valley News.  You can read their coverage at Event Introduces Area Drivers to Electric Vehicles, and also a supplement they wrote about charging stations and a little about my bike at Ready, Set, Charge: Maps of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations.  In addition, there were interviews on Royalton Radio's GreenZine and Mark Johnson's show on WDEV in Waterbury, and a mention on Vermont Public Radio.  The VPR story is at

Many more EV's were lined up around the circle at the entrance, with the owners offering rides around  a 3.8 mile loop along the Connecticut river and up into Norwich, or 2.4 miles over to the charging station at King Arthur Flour.

Various Nissan Leafs, Mitsubishi I-MiEVs, Teslas, and Ford Focus and C Max's lined up at the test ride circle.  A frequent comment was how quiet the cars were, as drivers waited for pedestrians to notice there was a car waiting to pull out.  This photo was taken during the presentation, the rides continued on through it, which was not planned.

Almost as if it were part of the event, a Vermont Railways train rolled through on the track between the museum and the river.  Larry Gilberts of Zoombikes ( in the blue shirt is watching test riders on some Evelo electric bikes that he brought to the event.

Dave Roberts of Drive Electric Vermont ( gave the Forum presentation to about 150 people.  Drive Electric Vermont has been given the task of promoting and coordinating EV development in the state, and they have a lot of resources available on their website- they are the ones to speak with if you are a car owner with questions, or a business who wishes to install a public charging station.  (The slides from Dave's presentation can be downloaded here.)  Along the right side of the room were displays from the Mount Washington ALT Energy Summit, charging your EV with a solar array (from Enfield Energy Emporium), Drive Electric VT info, the other UVEV forum co-organizer Sustainable Energy Resource Group, and on the left were ChargePoint public charging stations and Voltrek (, Lamoille Valley and St J. Ford, Solar Fest, and my group- the Upper Valley Sierra Club.  In the last few years the national Sierra Club organization has become more proactive, and now has programs promoting both renewable energy and electric vehicles.  Their EV events organizing info page is at  

My role in this event was easy, as I had talked to many of the participants last summer while I was out with the solar electric cargo bike and simply needed to pull everyone together for an event.  I'd like to thank Bob Walker of SERG for helping with the logistics, and the Montshire museum for cosponsoring, but the people that I think deserve most of the credit for how well this event turned out are the car owners:
 Julie Mullen with her Ford Fusion, and Alan Johnson with his Nissan Leaf,
each talking with several people about their cars.  Multiply this enthusiasm
by a couple dozen owners, and repeat several times during the evening.

Thank you to Catherine Cramer, Keith Dewey, Bob Jacobson, Kim Quirk, Tofer Sharp, Julie Mullen, Alan Johnson, Linda Gray, Charlie Reibel, Lucy Gibson, Greg DeFrancis, Kathy and Jeff Parsonet, John Minelli, Phil Desmond, Richard Lammert, Todd Lockwood, Charlie McKenna, Wendy McArdle,  Margaux Leblanc, Ted Dillard, Bill Cable, and several other car owners who dropped in and I don't know their names. 

One step towards bike infrastructure and Electric Vehicles for a more sustainable transportation system.  I'd like to end with a song that Alan and his kids sing while riding in their Leaf:

Electric Car, by They Might Be Giants

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Battery box for second bike

The second bike is a longtail and although the frame is being stretched, several compromises were still necessary for fitting the battery inside the frame.  The goal was to place the battery low and in the center of the bike for better handling.

(Click on images to enlarge)
Preliminary measurements showed the battery was too wide to fit on the chain stays and needed to be above the chain.  However it looked like the rear rack could fit above it, and be used to hold the top of the box in place.

I was open to making the box out of sheet metal, fiberglass, thin plywood, or heat molding sheets of plastic, but since the battery was wide, I decided to use sheet metal.  The first design had sloped front and rear sides to match the seat tube and rear fender angles, but this interfered with the front derailleur, and because the side wall when laid out flat would have had a Z shape requiring more seams or material, it was simplified to plain vertical sides.  I also wanted to avoid any sharp square corners but did not wish to get into two axis compound curved panels, so I chose a simple vertically rounded front, and tapered the tail after the battery down to the width of the fender.  This gave the box a tear drop shape, which probably does not do much for aerodynamics because it is in a turbulent air flow area, but looks reasonably decent.

Going roughly left to right:
-Metal scrap bucket and magnet for cleaning area (people and animals walk barefoot here), snips, files, hammers
-Sheet metal from local hardware store.  The black paint on the stovepipe is a plus- besides preventing rusting it is good for writing on, and if you are careful will work as a primer too.  Stovepipe can be a bit thin for structural purposes, (this was 24 gauge, 0.022"), but if you use corners, folds, and curves in your design to stiffen panels it can be made to work.
-Cereal box template, top and bottom plates with bent lips on corners, and side wall with front curve started
-You will also note special tools #Maytag washer agitator counterweight, #Volvo transmission U joint flange, #Wide flange I beam chunk from construction job I was on, #Satellite dish (old style) azimuth mounting pole, #Digital Equipment Corp dot matrix printer bars (these things are solid!), that have taken years of experience to collect....  These are used mostly as mandrels, sometimes as long straight edges.

The basic box is styled after a NEMA 3R box, with an rolled flange around the top that overlaps the sides to keep water out, and a removable side cover that slips up underneath the top.  If water comes in the front edge I'll put a stick on gasket on the cover.  The bottom plate is 1/16 inch smaller than the top, (it will nest inside the top), to allow the sides to fit without distortion.

This is a trial assembly after the pieces were bent.  I rolled the edges of the opening to strengthen them and prevent sharp edges.  The bottom and side rolls are 5/16", but the top is 9/16" for a better lap over the side cover.

I do all my grinding and welding outdoors in the driveway for fire and fumes reasons.  If you get into doing this, don't mess around with the safety aspect.  It's possible to weld something like painted or plated metal (or we wouldn't have galvanized farm gates or road sign posts) and survive short term, but these coatings are neurotoxins and eventually you will wish your body worked a bit better.  It's better to prep and do the job correctly, and the welds will come out stronger too.  Basic safety equipment I use is glasses, ear muffs and gloves for grinding, and a face shield for welding.  A couple of things specific to this work is long sleeves and pants (both for sparks from grinding and the UV rays from welding), and work gloves for when you are handling sheet metal are a good idea.  I sliced the tip of one finger off on a sharp edge years ago. The simple enclosure of 4' x 8' sheets cut in half that I use is a great shield for containing grinding spray, preventing other people or animals from viewing the welding arc or torch (it can cause eye damage similar to looking at the sun), and blocking wind for either welding or painting, but still allows good ventilation and lighting.

The enclosure is held together by one hook and eye screw in each of the upper corners.

Since my gas torch would have severely warped the sheet metal, I used MIG welding, (I don't have a TIG setup).  If I was going to do a lot of boxes, I'd probably get a spot welder.  This photo is the bottom edge outside corner, you can see that I ran for only an inch at a time before rotating around the box to another section to let the metal cool down for minimizing warping.  When ground down this weld gave a nice smooth corner with no sharp sheet metal edge.

All the welding was done using solar power only.

After the box was finished I added sheet metal interior partitions for the battery, and module mounts with either studs or nuts welded in.  Because the space was tight, I dressed the welds and primed as I went along.  All of the edges are deburred, and most of them also have a rolled lip to prevent any possibility of an electrical wire getting cut. The battery partition lips were rolled around a wire to increase their stiffness.

The key switch hole (upper right in the previous picture) needed a flared lip on the curved front to hold the switch in place.  A 14 mm socket and 3/4" brass close nipple with a bolt up the center were a good press and die set with a minimal bearing surface width, so that it fit into the curved wall fairly well.

Normally I would not have painted the box at this stage because it will be scratched while the frame is being built around it, but I wanted to bring it to the Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Forum.  You can see the finished lip for the key hole in this picture.

Modules mounted inside the box:
-Upper left is the motor controller
-Lower left is the data logger
-Center is the battery (it will have 1/8" foam padding around it)
-Upper right is the key switch
-Middle right is the solar controller
-Lower right will be the DC to DC converter (in the wiring harness) for lighting 

The cover is not made yet, the frame is next as I want to be sure the pieces are fitting somewhat close to plans, and order new parts or change plans if necessary.  For example I wanted to check the leg to battery box clearance before going any further- I knew from building bicycle blenders this could be a problem.

My elementary school Principal Judy Callens and Town Manager Bob Stacey making smoothies during a national healthy eating week.  Originally I built these bike blenders for Transition Town Hartland, but they have proven to be incredibly popular and I've brought them around the Upper Valley for 10 to 12 other events each year for the last 5 years.  Kristin Gage of the Vermont Farm to School program has just done an amazing thing and convinced the Randolph tech school to build 4 more, which are now being used in 3 school systems as part of an approved agricultural curriculum.

The second bike blender has a rear platform cut from plywood, and I had to deeply scallop the front edges to prevent them from hitting the rider's thighs.  Before going further on the longtail frame, I wanted to be sure the battery box didn't have this problem.

I cut the rear triangle off the donor bike and made a wood stand to hold the pieces in the correct locations.  After clamping it together I got on and pedaled- there was 3-4 inches of clearance to thighs, and 1.5-2 inches of clearance to heels, which is good to go.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

May news

Things have been a bit busy, and progress on the second bike has mostly been ordering the last of the parts.  For this post I'm going to summarize several events, starting with the next one coming up:

There will be an Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Forum and Demonstration on May 15 at the Montshire Museum in Norwich, VT.
What:  Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Forum and Demo
Where:  Montshire Museum Porter Community Room, Norwich, VT
When:  Thursday, May 15, 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm

Please join us for an Electric Vehicle gathering and presentation.  There will be 17 owners and 3 dealerships with their cars on display, followed by a presentation about Electric Vehicles in Vermont.  The schedule is:
-5:30 to 7 pm- Car viewing, and talking with owners and dealers outside.  7 of the owners have offered to give test rides, and the dealers may also allow some test drives,  Vehicles on display will include Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Ford Focus, Ford C-Max, Toyota Prius Plug-in, Tesla Sedan and Roadster, Nissan Leaf, Smart EV, Chevy Volt, Dartmouth Formula Racing electric race car,  Mt Washington 2013 Summit Electric Motorcycle, Zoombikes Electric Bikes, and a Solar Electric Cargo Bicycle.
-7 to 7:30 pm- Dave Roberts of Drive Electric Vermont will give a presentation indoors about Electric Vehicles in Vermont.
-7:30 to 8:15 pm- Discussion with Dave Roberts, sponsors, car owners, and audience questions and answers.
Displays inside will also include Voltrek Public Charging Stations, Charging your vehicle with a solar array by Enfield Energy Emporium, and the Mt Washington ALT Energy Summit.

Free and open to everyone, if you have questions about electric vehicles this will be a good event to attend.

Sponsored by the Upper Valley Sierra Club, Sustainable Energy Resource Group, Montshire Museum of Science, Zoombikes, Lamoille Valley Ford Hardwick, Lovering Mitsubishi Concord, and Twin State Ford in St Johnsbury.

I've organized this for the Upper Valley Sierra Club, along with cosponsor Bob Walker of SERG.  It was relatively easy, as I had already talked to many of the participants last summer while out with the Bakfiets.  There are a couple of neat things about this event.  First- both a racing electric motorcycle (from the Mt Washington ALT Energy Summit) and a racing formula car (from the Dartmouth college team) will be present (not to say that my solar electric cargo bike isn't worth the trip all by itself...)  Second- 7 of the owners have volunteered to give test rides, they are into it!  (there will also be test rides on the Bakfiets.)  There is going to be a lot of expertise here, if you are in the area it should be very interesting.


The talk by Steven Strong on April 18 was great:
(Click on image to enlarge.)

A little over 100 people attended, and afterwards half a dozen came up to me and said what a great presentation it was. He went through a long list of projects, many of which were firsts, and added some commentary about what solar can do.  Other than drilling for fossil fuels, the U.S. doesn't have an energy policy, and he included a video by Bill Maher that quoted half a dozen presidents from both parties saying that "Energy Independence" was a national priority.  I feel that Steven did me a big favor by agreeing to speak, and would like to take this chance to say thanks.  Several people attended who I have done solar site assessments for, and I think Steven's presentation helped bring solar power out of their future thinking into something they can do now.  As the banking community also starts to understand solar better it is starting to change from a high risk loan category (with high rates), into something that is more dependable and stable than projects based on oil.  If people like Steven continue to help educate us about solar, there should be some good changes coming along.


I had to write a 200 word summary of this project for a conference, and it seems like it would be good to copy it here for people who haven't read the first posts:

"The high efficiency of bicycles allows solar to directly provide a significant portion of their propulsion energy, giving a longer range, larger load capacity, and accessibility to more riders. Three electrically assisted cargo bikes are being built for long term energy monitoring and user trials. The first bike is a Bakfiets type frame with a geared hub motor and 60 watts of solar, the second bike is a longtail frame with a direct drive motor, regenerative braking, and 100 watts of solar with a mobile solar controller, and the third bike will have a mid drive motor and 200 watts of solar built into a simple bodywork with 48 volt microinverters. Data is being collected on drivetrain efficiencies, power production and usage, roadway shading, bodywork, and driving patterns. Last year the Bakfiets used 13.2 Wh per mile (equivalent to 2553 mpg), at an average speed of 14.9 mph and a range of 64 miles. The average motor load was 199 watts, and depending on terrain solar power provided about 25% of the energy needed. The third bike should approach enclosed Ultra Light Vehicle usefulness while requiring less energy, be well designed for Vermont road topography, and get more than half of it's power from the sun."


The Bakfiets is going to be in the  "The Strolling of the Heifers" in Brattleboro-

I'll be going down for just the parade and bicycle petting zoo on June 7.  This trip was instigated by Dave Cohen, a fellow cargo bike enthusiast and ecopsychologist.  He feels that cars disconnect us from our environment, (they do), and has convinced Burrows bike shop to sell Yuba cargo bikes as an antidote.  He is also working to bring some ELF enclosed bikes to his town.  I am not keen on the ELF for reasons I'll explain in the fourth post on bicycle bodywork, but for Dave's purposes it could be very good.  Brattleboro has old streets, many are narrow, and a large bike like the ELF has to take the lane.  This should promote some serious discussion about bike infrastructure, and Brattleboro is a good place to have this discussion.   Dave has also been working with state rep Molly Burke, and he has been appointed "Cargo Bike Expert" to the Go Vermont! commuting program. He would like to set up a loan program of several cargo bikes for towns and other bike shops, and I may help with the technical (electrical/mechanical) part.  I hope he gets some funding.


Liz Canning has reached her goal of $40,000 on her "Less Car More Go" cargo bike film Kickstarter campaign..  It has spread pretty far, I started getting notices about the film campaign from European bike blogs.  She is now trying to meet matching dollar challenges in the last couple of days of the drive.

There was also another cargo bike movie, "Power to the Pedals", ( ) that just had it's first showings in Boston.  It follows Wenzday Jane in her Metro Pedal Power business, building delivery bikes in Somerville:

Power to the Pedals: Wenzday Jane and the Culture of Change Trailer from Heather Merrill on Vimeo.

Wenzday's movie seems like one of empowerment, while Liz's movie is crowd sourced, and has stories from many riders.  I've seen parts of Liz's movie already, and it explains cargo bikes, but also is a lot of fun.  I'm hoping to see Wenzday's movie soon, as I can relate to building bikes.


After ordering the last bike parts for the second bike, (speedometer, data logger, wiring), I've started building the battery box.  I've given up on the 48 volt battery, it arrived after 13 weeks (promised delivery was 7 to 8), and turned out to be exactly the same size as my older 36 volt battery, and 2 pounds lighter.  (Both are 20 Ah).  When I asked for an explanation of how a battery can store 1/3 more energy and be smaller, the company replied "it is the new cells"- but no data sheets are available.  There is not much I can do short of shipping the battery back, or cutting it apart. I've decided to wait and find out from the Cycle Analyst how good the battery is.  Endless Sphere forum had a good discussion about buying from China:

"pay quick, ask no questions, deal with what you end up with, expect the worst..hope for the best. typical buy from china method."  It seems that assemblies like batteries fare worse, and components like cells can be bought with less trouble.  To me it seems like buying from an Odd Lots store- you can find very good deals but you have to take what ever is the surplus of the moment, because the battery you buy from China is the product of a one time contract, not a supply chain.

Since the two batteries are the same size, they will fit in the same size battery box, which will make comparing battery and bicycle performance easier.  I've put together the top, bottom and sides of the box, and am working on inner partitions.  Pictures coming up!