We had a chance to spend a brief bit of time this week at Cameron Park raceway with the good folks behind the Hunter EV Festival as part of the Hunter EVPrize and in the leadup to National Science Week.
It was primarily a practice and shakedown day for schools sorting their electric bike entries - we thought it was also a great opportunity to have some of our commercially available Stealth Fighter demonstrators there on show to help give some added inspiration to the school students, teachers and visitors attending.
Whilst the race day itself is on 18August 2013, this was a good opportunity to see how our bikes fare in standard form on a fast GoKart track dedicated to racing, ridden at full power output of 3kw. The verdict? More fun than a barrel of monkeys!
It was great to have a chance to compare the relative stickiness of our Schwalbe Crazy Bobs (on the yellow Fighter) with the Duro Razorbacks which come standard with the Stealth Fighter. Naturally, the Crazy Bobs come up well ahead, with some quite impressive lean angles possible. It's the first time we've seen tread wear getting closer to the sidewalls.
The Duro Razorbacks, as you'd expect with a hard compound rubber, were predictably squirmier on the margins of traction, walking across the bitumen when pressed into hard lean angles. Still, it was manageable and gave good feedback to the rider about the impending loss of traction, allowing me to back off safely without sliding out. After all, we're still talking about the downside risk of hitting tarmac hard at 50km/h, so we're looking to ride within a safety margin.
One aspect we loved about the day was a chance to see what some of the school students had cooked up, with some really novel approaches and inspired designs. it's a great opportunity to blend some practical lessons in science, electronics, maths, physics and construction. Whilst there might be less emphasis on commercial viability, there were one or two designs that leapt out, including some inspired work with plywood. Which of course invites natural comparison against other awesome bikes made of wood. We're always keen to hear of rides with an ecologically sensitive design edge, for which timber is a naturally inspired material.
With a strong emphasis on rider safety and hands on participation, its an event that we'd love to see well supported and attended, so spread the word. Also keep an eye out locally for other National Science week events near you.
Sincere thanks to the supporting sponsors listed at the Hunter EV Festival website. We'll have more material up after race day - we were too busy doing laps to grab too many shots, so we're using images supplied at https://www.facebook.com/hunterevfestival.
Here's a small sample clip - even the wind on the circuit is louder than the bikes themselves..
You'd think that there would be a lot in common between groups of people who share:
It's interesting to observe the comment threads for articles like the following:
It seems from reading through the comments that people fit into roughly three camps: Deniers, Integrators and Challengers
- Deniers take the line that anything with a motor is definitely not a bicycle - human effort alone is what counts, getting to the top of a hill can only be done by the applied use of personal sweat and determination (never mind if you've got a health condition that might compromise your ability to do so);
- Integrators take a more open view, noting that there is merit in giving some level of assistance to riders who need it or desire it, who might be happy to share a trail with an assisted rider, but it's not quite their cup of tea;
- Challengers are open advocates for mixed trail use and wanting to question why they might not be allowed to share trails, seeking well supported evidence to demonstrate why they should be excluded.
The thing is, they also have a lot in common:
Getting those trails endorsed and supported by land managers takes advocacy effort, time, clearly expressed positions and goodwill between the groups. But it can be done.
Using a multi-use trail in a way that endangers any other user risks the viability of that resource for continued use by anyone on two wheels. That too, can be done. It's a shared problem.
IMBA have made their position clear at the present moment, through:
Here's an extract from the first IMBA link
Will IMBA eventually need to retool our approach to sustainable trail design and construction to accommodate these bikes? We recognize the benefits of e-bikes, yet also recognize that this type bike creates many added challenges for land managers and for IMBA's approach to mitigating the impacts of bicycling in natural environments.
I wonder if advice like this would be given if the writer had bothered to actually try an eBike. Once you do, you very quickly realise that they're a long way off being a motorcycle. Especially at the lower end 200W output bikes.
Whilst the two tribes are recognised, their ability to play together nicely is not supported. It seems a little sanctimonious and elitist given the scale of the challenges our planet faces and the extent of population health issues. Which would you prefer: seeing an overweight relative die an early death, or making the modal switch from car-use with a bike that makes the transition easier to going completely unpowered?
I'd ask you to consider, when we have so much in common, why this should continue to be the case when the world needs a combined, urgent and relentless focus on getting onto a lower emissions trajectory - two wheeled transport is a big part of the solution opportunity for doing that. Especially when bikes such as these are fully capable of being charged in offgrid setups.
Sample image of Trailbike erosion.
In one word, NO.
There are substantial differences between the two as a riding platform, both in the way they deliver power and a combination of force vectors that involve contact pressure, rider+bike weight. The trail impact damage potential they DO have comes down to how a bike is ridden. Mountain bikes are still capable of making an ecological impact on trail areas without appropriate trail design, trail armouring or riding styles suitable to the area. You can read more on that at http://flowmountainbike.com/features/please-take-the-time-to-learn/
Of equal importance is thinking about how riding needs to be done in multi-use trail areas where there may also be walkers, horses or other recreational area users (the social impact of riding). That's why we advocate for riding in line with the IMBA Rules of the Trail, and recognise the excellent guidance work of groups like Leave No Trace, who've put out specific trailbike resources which apply equally to riders of all kinds.
The following material is set out on the Stealth USA forums to explain the answers to some of the common questions that get asked about Stealth eBike riding and their trail damage potential.
Does the extra weight mean more damage to the trail? No. Sure the bikes weigh about 30kg more than a heavyish DH bike, but it's not the weight that leaves impression on the ground, it's the pressure (Force/Contact area).
Update: The guys at Flow Mountainbike magazine have been writing a good couple of articles on this exact issue, which we thought we'd include as a courtesy for more reading on the issues associated with shared trail use and the need for respectful, careful riding techniques. Thanks Flow!
Offroad riding - frozen in time or evolving?
There's been some pretty disturbing news coming out in the Hunter recently as Hunter communities opt for vigilante responses to dirtbike rider problems, with tales of wire traps strung across local Hunter trails (shudder). See here:
Cessnock and the Hunter have been the birthplaces of some of Australia's best riding talent - it's easy enough to understand how they're heroes to local kids.
I still remember very well what it was like to experience my first motorbike rides at mates places on their farms, on a mix of old farm bikes, kids bikes and arm-stretching motocross bikes. I still also remember how much thrill there was in buying disassembled motorbikes in tea-chests for a song, to have a go at putting them back together and getting them running. I remember the pester power I would muster to have some time on those farms, in order to have some riding time. I'm lucky my parents took the time to do it. Not every kid is.
I've never lost the appetite for riding, having a string of powerful enduro bikes and off-road riding experiences, but my outlook on adventure riding has changed. I've spent enough time picking up broken people to know the impact of speed and unforgiving terrain, or having the weight of a motorcycle pin you down. I've been fortunate to only lose skin, or break a rib. Others have not been so lucky. If I'd had the option of a lighter bike, lightly powered, that could be ridden quietly, I'd have snapped it up. But it didn't exist. Until now.
As a kid, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a small town with crown land available, not too far away. Like many kids of my day, we took our chances to go into the bush, far enough away from town to not annoy the living daylights out of people. Not all kids have that chance though. Eventually, I was old enough to get my license, buy a registered bike and adventure away, legally.
I've taken my registered bikes into National Parks, state reserves and found some amazing country which I've since taken family back to. I might never have discovered those if I'd never ridden or gone exploring.
I've ridden in dedicated off-road facilities, experiencing thrills, spills and camaraderie, where even experienced riders can fall and break themselves just as badly as a remote National Park.
I've also lived in the ACT for the last 13 years, where we have a world class racing and off-road riding facility at Stromlo Forest Park in close proximity to the suburbs, where off-road riders of all ages and stages can mix together and learn, bench-race or play-race, or just hone skills in new terrain. Dirtbike riders there have had the same challenges of riding trail access, feeling like the poor cousins to their mountain bike riding brethren. But that's changing.
The thing I know now, looking back, is how much noise and erosion the bikes make, and how wearing that can be on a persons psyche, testing a persons patience to the limits of their sanity and reasonableness. It's enough to drive desperate people to desperate acts, as unlawful as they are. I can see how it happens. I sure as hell don't support it or condone it - trap setting is just as likely to seriously injure a licensed, insured rider, or family mountain bike rider, as it is the undesired rider.
I can't help but wonder what a difference might take place if the bikes being ridden were silent, electric, incapable of tearing the ground up in the same way, or going as fast. Whether the local community would back having a dedicated riding facility nearby, where kids could be supervised, or ride their bikes in risk controlled environments, not too far from home, mastering their skills on progressively more complex tracks, on silent, agile, adrenaline inducing but lighter, slower bikes. It's been done elsewhere. At MtStromlo Playground. At DarkGreen Motorsports. At Rays MTB parks in Milwaukee and Cleveland. At Whistler. It's why many of our customers are switching from dirtbike riding to a different option, a halfway point between a mountain bike and a dirtbike. Having a bike with a bit of modest power allows you to create terrain where you no longer need huge downhills to build momentum, within acceptable risk margins.
It can happen here in the Hunter as well. If you want to help me make it happen, let me know.
Here's just one way to reinvent off-road and adventure riding..
Couldn't resist taking the chance whilst on holidays with the kids last week to have a quick crack at some loose berms on a nearby (very degraded) BMX track, which has been cut to pieces over the years by pitbikes, motocross bikes. Track was on a sand base, with lots of loose cover and some berms.
It was interesting seeing how much fun was involved in building up speed to drift into the berm, and the minimal wheelspin created by the motor in those riding conditions - quite different to what I'm used to with enduro bikes. Still achieved an easy maximum heart-rate workout and had quite a sweat up. But that might have been the pneuomnia I was coming down with..
Now that the Hunter EV Festival is all done and dusted for 2012 and we're back into the swing of daily business and the demands of the IT Consulting day job, I've had some time to reflect on the festival and lots of conversations held whilst we were there demonstrating. Before I get into the details of it though, I've been checking out some of the stuff coming out of Interbike 2012 (where Stealth Electric Bikes will be attending and demonstrating - see their nice white Bomber at left), including this moped redux from GasBikes in the USA (below left).
I'd made the point during a brief interview with 1233 ABC Newcastle that this is exactly the kind of stuff being built in sheds all around the country, by backyard tinkerers and kids looking for some easy speed, with some real frankenbikes getting churned out that I don't think I'd throw a leg over anytime soon. I'd also mentioned during that interview that people could make a brief visit to Campbells Store in Morpeth to check out the museum section there and have a glance at an old Malvern Star petrol powered Auto-Byke (pictured below right, circa 1950).
Note the similarities between the two, with the superior standover height, low CoG and comfy saddle on the old skool rig. Just don't ask me to take either of them off-road. Got me smiling when I thought of the advantages of going electric - no more 2 stroke to mix, riding in blissful silence free of fumes, able to enjoy the places I find myself in without creating a disturbance.
Seeing these got me thinking about what's happening with the SmartGrid-SmartCity initiative for Newcastle, which we discussed as part of an industry workshop during the Hunter EV Festival. They'll be using a fleet of 20 Electric Cars across Sydney, Central Coast and Newcastle to do some modelling of electricity demand on electricity grid to see if they can make some predictions about how that load and user behaviour might extrapolate at scale. Current market prices put a Mitsubishi iMiev at around $48,000 excluding OnRoadCosts, giving us a vehicle that has an effective range of 155km maximum.
Gee. Wow. Gosh. Oh My. It reminds me of one of the posts from a US-based Stealth electric bike owner that had participated in a group ride with 15 other standard bikes for up to 145 miles (230km). And had a blast, being able to chat along the way with the group whilst averaging about 25-32km/h. Not that you can do that in Australia, with our 25km/h power assist cut-out limit.
I wonder what sort of modelling went into thinking about the net impact of the iMievs on longer term health of its occupants, who'll remain sedentary. Who'll still be just as stuck in traffic congestion as their non-EV'd car based cousins. Who won't feel the pleasure of wind across their face as they cruise past lines of stuck traffic in their morning commute. Who'll be stuck behind glass, disconnected from their context, coccooned and sated.
I bet they won't be having as much fun as the guys in the video below, who are getting waaaayy more bang for their buck, on a bike that represents a very modest investment compared to an EV'd car. Remember people, an EV car is still a box on wheels that does little to fix congestion issues. They get stuck in traffic too. They also need to be parked, just like any other car. And there's no way you can use one for a quick ride on a local bush trail with all the grin factor and fun that's involved.
I also wonder why someone hasn't yet set up an EBike or Active Transport CRC in a city where obesity is a looming health issue, with some decent cycling infrastructure. Maybe it's because there's plenty of the former, too little of the latter. I'm sure they could do a lot with the $980,000(49k x 20) that's just been spent on Mitsubishi EV's. When I asked the question of attending Infrastructure Australia representatives, health and social benefits don't factor directly in their decision making for community infrastructure projects. Go figure.
It's time for change. If there is anyone wanting to partner on Active Transport research involving Ebike trials as part of that mix, I'm all ears and ready to help. Or perhaps the role they have to play in replacing dirtbikes as an environmentally friendly alternative. Either way, there's more modelling to be done than just presuming we're all buying into a transport future that's centered on car usage. Because that's a one way trip..