The following article is a reprint of our original post at QuietEdVenture - a joint initiative with Nepal based partners to stimulate cycling based tourism as a skills and economic development initiative, enhanced by eBikes if we can get the solution mix right. We've been distilling all our learnings over 5yrs of rugged eBike dealership to work out what can be viable as a fleet bike for such extreme operating conditions and use this venture as a testbed baseline measure when assessing eBike builds.
I first visited the Himalayan region in 2003, a time that coincided with the 50th Anniversary of the Edmund Hillary - Tenzing Norgay Summit. I went there trekking with a close friend and marvelled at the beauty of the mountains, the serenity of the experience and learnt the value of high country tea-houses and hostels and the families who hosted. My friend and I walked the three main valleys of Sagarmatha National Park, seeing micro-hydro schemes, stupas, high passses, the frozen, shifting beauty of glaciers and sharing stories with travellers we'd meet along the way. I had come from a background of Mountain Bike racing and touring in Australia, and was continually taunted by thoughts of how good it would be to explore the region by Mountain Bike. It's an area with inhospitable terrain - no roads, accessible only by walking or yak trains for most, helicopters for the few - and constant geographic movement, causing landslides, slips and rockfalls.
Years later, I crossed paths with a local, Ram Gurung, who shared my passion for high country cycling and the value of two wheels as an alternative to the traditional "foot or Yak" transport options. We stayed in touch, sharing images and stories of high country travellers. In Australia, I had been exploring the role of rugged, off-froad oriented eBikes as a transport option for areas with rugged terrain, augmenting rider effort. In 2017, motivated by the desire to create an alliance that delivers social impact and extra transport options for high country villages, we joined forces to create QuietEdVenture. The fact that Ram had recently fractured his spine in an accident provides him with some downtime to look at how we can scale his efforts, whilst also building in safety engineering + quality controls into the business.
Our mission is to create viable local entrepreneurship pathways for the regions youth, building the capacity of the region to use cycling as an extra transport + tourism option. As capacity builds, we'll be able to look at the extra value offered by eBikes, which augment rider effort and act as a form of portable energy with their onboard batteries. I've been actively exploring this through a related initiative, SolarEdVenture, where we containerise eBikes, capturing and storing renewable energy in a convenient, compact format ready for use by travellers, tourism operators and villages. These can also act as STEAM skills development hubs, training locals in the capture + storage of energy from formats other than micro-hydro, building additional energy security for the regions without further jeopardising their important forests, which are used for lighting, cooking fuel and warmth.
We know that the Himalayas is a region that depends heavily on tourism revenue, with high levels of seasonal variation in tourist traffic. The Nepal earthquakes had a devastating impact on high country villages and tourism numbers - by diversifying the transport + logistics options in the area, we add to regional resilience and their capacity to move supplies, energy + people around in times of need. We welcome you on our journey.
So now you know a little about what we're trying to do - what eBikes do YOU think would withstand this kind of operating environment? We're all ears - our legs + minds are ready to test ride if you think your product has what it takes..keep in mind we're looking for a robust supply chain and world class warranty, manufacturer support (a hard thing to find).
Building Competence + Safe-Fail options
With a varied riding background, we know what it takes to build two wheeled riding competence, as well as some of the downfalls that can arise with increased risk. There are plenty of patches of Australia where I've left some skin as I pushed to tackle a new challenge. There are some things that are fundamental in designing a safe, yet challenging riding experience. Here's our must-haves, with some examples of patterns and anti-patterns that we've seen in different riding facilities.
Competence builds in a progression
As toddlers, we learn to crawl before we walk, walk before we learn to run. Riding skill development is no different. Learning to balance, learning to pedal, learning how to turn without a front wheel washout, or wheelie, or jump. All of these are skills learnt in a competency progression, but all need foundation skills to work from. Having riding facilities that support riders at each stage in their skills progression sequence means attracting a much wider cohort of potential riding families. It's one of the reasons Stromlo Forest Park absolutely nails it in terms of attractiveness as a riding destination, supporting riders of all skill levels with challenges suitable for skill level across a broad range over 50km of designed trails.
Locally, on Central Coast NSW, we've seen two great examples, but at each end of the challenge spectrum:
Pattern: Saltwater BMX Park, for beginner riders, adjacent to a well designed and popular cycleway, picnic facility and playground, with free WiFi, where families are going to naturally congregate and create memories;
Anti Pattern: San Remo Xtreme Sports Park, where 66% of the available lines are Black runs, viable for maybe 5% of overall riders skills levels to tackle safely. The one Green line for beginner riders is on a downslope, with double jumps and bitumenised jump faces/landing zones, guaranteed to shred exposed skin, faces and risk fractures for new riders.
Design for Failure and Safe-Fail vs Fail-Safe
Riders of any skill level and any age are going to make mistakes as they challenge themselves to take on a new skill, whether it be riding a berm, looping out on a wheelie, or jumping high/longer, or more extreme challenges like backflips. Inevitably, that's going to involve some injury risk, so we need to consider how to let kids fail safely, using techniques like: motile track surfaces (gravel vs hard/immobile bitumen); differential heights (set landing zones higher than take off in jump-ups), gap-handling (using a table-top style double jump to handle landing short, instead of a jump face that will cause a trip over the bars when landing short); realistic and achievable gradings (make sure Green is beginner friendly).
Patterns and Anti-Patterns
Here's a simple Compare+Contrast experience. Imagine you're a junior rider, off training wheels, with established balance and pedalling strength, looking to tackle new obstacles.
Would you rather:
a) Learn on a gravel track, with manageable slopes and perhaps a bit of gravel rash (Exhibit A) or;
b) Learn on a downhill slope track, with bitumenised jump faces and landing ramps where you're going to lose a lot more skin when you make a mistake (Exhibit B)?
Design for Delight
Designing a Bike Park is the sort of thing that's best tackled by using a Service Design driven approach to create experiences that evoke joy, rather than drive people away with a bad experience.
Design for Delight.
We are all too aware of the population health challenges of the Hunter region, with spiralling obesity rates and transport modes that do little to encourage human movement and active transport. The need to rethink how we move has never been more urgent, in the face of spiralling rates of chronic disease, mortality and morbidity rates associated with lifestyle risk factors. In the face of this, cycling is well proven as a form of lifestyle medicine that can positively impact health at a whole of population scale when it's convenient, affordable and safe. A large scale epidemiology research case (http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/04april/pages/hard-times-in-cuba-linked-to-better-national-health.aspx) confirmed the impact cycling had in needy times on the Cuban population, with obesity, heart disease and diabetes rates plummeting as the country took up cycling in the 90's economic crisis.
The recognition of our innovation themed offering comes on the back of our Land Forces 2014 (APAC Region Defence Industry Conference) Agile Logistics entry, recognised as an SME Innovation Finalist, where we combine a high capability, Australian designed off-road electric bike with smart portable solar generators from our alliance with Laughing Mind as a Goal Zero dealer.
We've built on that work, with recent partnering alliances with other local innovators like New York TropFest Winner Jason Van Genderen's Pocket Film Academy, using a CargoCycles trike as a "Pocket Film Academy on Wheels", which we plan to have roaming through the upcoming LumenMotion festival in Tuggerah Lake and Newcastle.
To find out more about the detail of what we're looking to bring to the Hunter, you'll need to come along to their Smart Ideas breakfast briefing on 14July 2015 to hear our 90second pitch ;-)
New possibilities for Electric Action riding
With the 2014 Hunter Electric Vehicle Festival now done and dusted, capped off with a 1500 Class win and Energy innovation award, Quiet Rush have started to reach out to new regional destinations to see if we can bring a taste of electric riding action a little further south. The proposed new facility at CASAR Park represents a great option for motor sports enthusiasts of the Central Coast, with the potential to become something more than just a motor-sports venue and broader appeal for boosting already healthy regional tourism numbers.
What we've seen and proven in the Hunter EV Festival is that motor-sports are evolving and innovating in new directions, with exhibitors showcasing cutting edge vehicles in Electric Superbikes, Electric Motorcycles, Solar Racers, Electric Bikes (for On and Offroad action) and Electric Cars. The great example being set by Newcastle based ELMOFO as they redefine racing with their own vehicle, drivetrain and power source systems is a shining example of what's possible, leading to results that see them thumping its petrol powered competitors. Within our own modest racing class, we've experienced the thrill of seeing what its like to ride a bike that blends the best of human and electric performance to create a unique racing format, done at human-scale speed where you can still chat away with competitors whilst racing elbow to elbow in a clean, emissions free racing format.
Within adventure seeking always comes a compromise between adrenaline (proportional to perceived and actual risk) and survivability in the event of adverse outcomes - it's why GP riders often start out racing 125's, before progressing through 250s to higher power machines, honing their race craft, riding and racing skills. With a rehabilitation and human factors background highlighting for us the downside risk potential when things go wrong, we think there's ample space in the adventure sports space to innovate and create a new racing class for introducing new riders, using new zero-emissions machines such as our Stealth Fighter, racing at what we call human-scale speed. We use this to describe a speed that is fast enough to create the perception of risk, induces adrenaline and requires focus, but still occurs within an acceptable risk envelope where the risk to the rider is mitigated by modest power, with lower top speeds, lighter machines and nimble handling. You can read about what it's like to race a Stealth Fighter on a GoKart track to get a bit more background on why it's such enjoyable format, or take a look at others impressions.
With an initial orientation ride offered to Brad Wilson from CASAR Park to get a feel of what its like to ride one of our Australian made Electric Off-Road bikes from Stealth Electric Bikes, we're entering into more detailed discussions to see how we might be able to jointly create an entirely new riding experience, where novice riders can take part in a socially inclusive venue, getting a chance to try powered riding in a low risk riding and racing format. With plenty of sunshine, the CASAR facility is ideal for running an electric race format, powered by solar options, with people able to get a taste of how energised riding can boost their own riding skills and confidence. It can also be a place to participate in non-racing formats, where people of all ages might wish to experience an electric bike, ranging from mild to wild, build their skills and confidence with graded challenge areas (see this example of the The Playground Bike Park at Mt Stromlo to get an idea of what's possible). By combining the option of motorsports and family based activities achievable for all ages, with a road safety and competence building focus, places like CASAR park can help ensure cyclists and motorists leave after days fun at the facility with mutual respect and enhanced road safety behaviours.
In one word? AWESOME!
One of the great aspects of the 2014 Hunter Electric Vehicle Festival is the commitment to parameters for different racing classes so there are common benchmarks for power output to retain a level of competitiveness, an important aspect in Electric Bike racing. In the 1500 class, bikes are limited by battery capacity to 1500Watt Hours (1.5kWh) as the main constraint, with some other racing class regulations. The race takes a similar approach for defining power capacity limits for the High School classes, which keeps the racing competitive and focussed on efficient performance to squeeze the most out of a 384Wh battery.
The Stealth Fighter, with a 3500W motor and weighing in at 34kg, fitted with a set of street tyres like Schwalbe Crazy Bobs is an easy choice for this racing class. Whilst working below class capacity for the battery, Stealth have made sure the power is delivered efficiently for effective range as an off-road electric bike and ready-to ride product. With plenty of suspension travel, there's little risk involved if you find yourself drifting off-track. In fact, it almost eggs you on to give it a go, since this is what it's built for.
1. Human-scale speed: With a top speed of around 60-65km/h, we find that this is an effective human-scale speed for this racing class, which allows for lower risk in the event of a slide, reduced impact and damage to the rider and bike. With a long history in dirt bike riding and mountain bike racing, we know full well the downside risks when things go wrong. Having a set of compliance rules that encourage solid protection for the riders head plus all major joints+points (hands, elbows, knees, feet) helps add to the safety of the rider. The level of adrenaline and attention required still ensures a high level of cardiac output, which can be seen in the race plot below, so there is some interesting stuff happening physiologically as the riders concentrate on the race;
2. Silence: Aside from the Solar Challenge, we can't think of another powered racing class that is so quiet. As you move at top speed around the track, its possible to engage with other competitors in friendly banter, egging each other on, or passing on observations about smelling overheating motors being pushed to their limits, or simply calling a warning during overtaking. It makes for a very social, yet friendly competitive event. Engine sound effects are optional, left to the inspiration of the rider and their engine style preferences (2stroke or 4? Inline or V?) - other riders just hoot and laugh at the fun they've having;
3. Safety: As a business owner and father of 3 young kids, I can't afford to take the same risks I once did - the consequences are far more dire in terms of life impact than if I were young and single. As a Health Professional working in injury rehabilitation I've seen my fair share of people who think they can take the same risks they used to when younger. The body doesn't bounce back as fast as we might like to think it will, and injures more easily than we might expect (go look up Optimism Bias), which is a consequence worth thinking through before committing to a corner overcooked. With plenty of run-off spaces, a GoKart track makes a great medium for racing, with tight turns preventing high speed and rewarding a skilled rider who picks their lines as a counterpoint to a rider on a faster bike, using the full 1.5kWh capacity.
1500 class electric bike racing reminds us of the now defunct 50cc GrandPrix racing class, with teams extracting maximum power from little engines within a lightweight chassis. Its a similar racing format, but made safer and more acceptable with lower speeds and no noise. When combined with solar charging, it makes for great EcoFriendly racing. Loads of fun, easy on the ear and planet, yet exhilarating, adrenaline inducing and within an acceptable risk margin for human limits of the average rider. For anyone using a Stealth in the class, they can rest easy knowing they can then still turn it to off road action that is every bit as much fun when the racing is done. Now I wonder how it might look if we were allowed to actually pedal?
QuietRush wins 2014 HunterEVPrize 1500 eBike class and energy-autonomy award in National Science Week
Quiet Rush are delighted to have won the 2014 Hunter EV Prize 1500 eBike class amongst a diverse team of entries, including converted motorcycles and high powered eBike kit bikes, racing a standard Stealth Fighter as part of our range of Australian designed and made Offroad Electric Bike range from Stealth Electric Bikes. Whilst not designed specifically for tarmac racing, their versatility and leading-edge performance and reliability made the race thoroughly enjoyable, backed up by the knowledge that they can be ridden just as hard in off road settings. The bikes truly are a unique vehicle, developed from Australian ingenuity into an internationally recognised export, regarded by many as the worlds best electric bikes. We relied on quality products from Kali Protectives and Troy-Lee Designs to keep us safe whilst racing.
Quiet Rush was also recognised as an innovator for energy-autonomy, taking 3rd place in the National Science Week Cup-Sparking Innovation in EVolution Prize. Our in-vehicle solar charging system, built with Goal Zero products from Laughing Mind (http://www.laughingmind.com/energy-autonomy.html) attracted a lot of interest over the 2 days, showcasing the possibility of running grid-independent, portable eBike charging systems using solar power as our primary energy source. This makes powered adventure possible wherever you are, providing clean, renewably sourced power for charging a wide range of digital devices and recreational products. Whilst not at the grade of 1st place winner Elmofo with their world-leading electric race-car charging system, we are delighted to be recognised for effort in this category, using consumer products available from Laughing Mind as a Goal Zero dealer committed to innovating in new markets.
QuietRush wishes to acknowledge our sincere thanks to the Hunter EV Festival sponsors for making the event possible, with particular mention of the hard work of the event organising team at the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment at the University of Newcastle.
Quiet Rush particularly want to thank the following parties:
One of the things that makes my Fighter so much fun is the effect it has on helping me up a steep climb when riding with friends. The more technical the climb, the better, as it just makes for a great skills challenge, drawing on balance, traction, strength and line selection - a great mix.
After weeks in front of the keyboard working on projects for Laughing Mind, with a demo ride looming, I headed out for a bit of location scouting today to try and find some terrain with a decent mix of challenges.
One benefit of having moved closer to the Watagans is the extent of trail networks that have been traversed by dirtbike riders over the years. The ride today gave me a chance to put the 'ebikes can't climb like an enduro bike' statement to the test, as well as capture some metrics on rider effort expended. After a quick scout, I found myself on some clearly well used sandstone rock ledge step-ups, clearly stamped with black rubber imprints from riders before me on much larger and more powerful machines. I didn't inspect the terrain closely enough to see if there was perhaps some residual blood stains as well, but am sure that if a string of expletives could leave a mark, I'd have found plenty.
I wanted to see how my little Stealth Fighter might cope with a decent series of step-ups and the amount of effort I would expend in a brief outing, as time was short and I wanted to cover the full spectrum of technique challenge, anaerobic and aerobic workouts. I wasn't disappointed with the outcome! Whilst speeds weren't high, my heart-rate certainly was, which meant two key (usually mutually exclusive) outcomes were achieved - I got a great workout whilst keeping my risk profile relatively low, climbing steep track at low speed/high effort/high concentration, as line selection was crucial. The terrain was all uphill, with a combination of deep slippery ruts, rock ledges and loose surfaces that were easy to lose traction on if care wasn't taken with the right hand and pedal effort. The results of one 30min section of the ride are shown below, captured from my Strava stream (note that average HR here was 165bpm, MaxHR-195bpm, so was working hard):
The overall conclusion - I can still get one hell of a workout, at lower speed and reduced risk, riding silently, without disturbing terrain or other track users / local residents / wildlife, without needing to be suited up like Iron Man - but 3kw is still no match for a larger motor when it comes to raw torque. However, I know which bike I'd rather be riding now and as far as I'm concerned, my Stealth Fighter climbs just fine. I'll be back for more just as soon as I can, with some more suitable tyres than my my Schwalbe Crazy Bobs, at lower pressures for less line deflection - 65psi was just nuts, so Duro Razorbacks for the next effort.
I might even try it at night, just to see how our new lights hold up to the challenge. Longer footage of the ride can be found at the bottom of the page.
Wow. We've been delighted by the interest shown in our bike range on display as part of the inaugural 2013 DiG Festival (Design, Interactive and Green-Tech) and the nice things people have been saying about us.
It's been great to come and support the event in its first year, with some world-class speakers, covering a great variety of topics and workshops. I just wish more Novocastrians realised what an awesome event is taking place right there in Town Hall.
I've included a curated set of tweets that stood out from the pack below:
Our Vimily interviews
We were approach by the nice people at Vimily to answer three questions about DIG. You can see our set of answers
The image below is a record of biostream data captured from Strava during the 2013 HunterEVPrize race, showing elevation, heartrate and speed. Make of it what you will, but one thing is clear - with an average heart-rate of 150bpm, the Adrenal circuit was clearly working well.
We find that having a ride of one of our bikes is the best way to get a proper impression of how they handle in a wide range of conditions. It's why we run our business the way we do, setting times and places to meet up with people, taking the time to understand the context of their rides and background skill levels to give them a tailored demonstration.
In our last blogpost we mentioned having set other riders loose on our Stealth Fighter demonstrator at Cameron Park as part of the HunterEV Festival Prize practice day in the lead up to National Science Week.
One of the lucky 3 riders was the owner of EagleBikes, Rob Luck. Rob has a long history with the off-road riding scene in Australia, so we were keen to hear his impressions of the (brief) ride:
"Another dimension in flat-out fun – that's my verdict from a circuit trial on a Stealth Fighter at Cameron Park Raceway. I've been fortunate enough to have some previous bursts on Stealths at other events we've attended with Quiet Rush and always been impressed. But taking to the track pushed the adrenalin rush to a new level. The immediate observation is that riding the Stealth on a track is more like a motorbike experience than a pushbike experience. The Stealth comes out of the box fast and the acceleration rushes you to the corners at near-motorbike velocities. Adopting a motorbike hunch, you can tip the bike right in to the corner at angles you couldn't achieve on a regular bike or e-bike. And get on the throttle early to maintain corner speed and flow to maintain momentum down the next straight and into the next turn.
(Ed: It's just as well the chequered flag came down. We were wondering if we'd ever prise him off the bike..Thanks for sharing the ride impressions Rob.)