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).
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?
Since writing our last post on eBike charging off grid using renewable sources we thought it was time to give a bit of an update of our current approach. Our partner company, Laughing Mind, is now a dealer for Goal Zero portable power products which gives us ready access to an awesome range of portable power products from Goal Zero. People might have caught a glimpse in some earlier posts from Stealth, appearing on Pinkbike.
Our two favourites from the GoalZero Product range from Laughing Mind so far include the Guide 10 kit and Yeti 1250 Solar Generator.
Goal Zero Guide 10 Kit
We use a Goal Zero Guide10 Kit for slinging across our backpack, providing power on the go for charging up smartphones and our camera batteries, or giving us power on the days when we're exhibiting. We'll be using this setup at the 2014 NSW EV Festival later this year, along with a range of other upcoming shows - we think its perfect for athletes and adventurers on the move who need power in the field. It powers iPads, smartphones, cameras and keeps some market stall based friends of ours juiced up through the day, supporting them in mobile retail and image creation.
A Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Solar Generator (shown under the front wheel of the blue Fighter) provides power for the heavy lifting, keeping a fridge running, recharging our Fighter and occasionally customer Bombers as well as providing solar sourced power for mobile office duties when the Guide 10 Kit is occupied- laptops, iPads, smartphones, cameras and our lights.
We're able to keep the Yeti1250 charged up as a backup power source, using either grid sourced power from the wall or using the Goal Zero Boulder 30 Solar Panels in a portable array. No more need for carrying fuel or dealing with buzzing petrol powered generators. Just silent, clean charging.
With more products coming up for release in Australia later in 2014, we're going to enjoy acting as a test lab to help refine the ideal product mix for Laughing Mind's Energy Autonomy initiative, as well as bike owners looking for clean, portable, rugged power products. If you want to take a closer look at them, just get in touch, or be sure to schedule the NSW Electric Vehicle Festival into your calendar for 16-17August, 2014 where we'll have them on show.
One of the interesting aspects of running an eBike is the extent to which you can eliminate fossilised fuel dependence out of your riding - as the folks at Shrinkfoot have identified, your EV power source does matter. We get quite a few enquiries from people living offgrid, disconnected from electricity mains and running self-sufficiently with their own power generation.
The bikes are well suited to being used in these kinds of settings, but we need to address some of the issues of equipment specification to make it clear for owners and prospective customers what sort of capacity is required. Of course, an EBike is going to have a larger footprint than a standard bicycle, but that footprint can still be minimised.
The Stealth Bomber has the largest battery capacity in the Stealth range, which requires at least the following:
In our case, since we're mainly using a Stealth Fighter as our preferred demonstrator, we've opted for a middle of the road, RV-style configuration that consists of the following:
Whilst there are nicely prepackaged RV style kits such as this, they do take up a fair bit of space. In our case, we wanted a bare-bones setup that minimised space requirements and could be transplanted readily between fleet vehicles. So, we opted for an alternate inverter/charger and portable PV as the main changes from this example prebuilt bundle.
Other options that we considered on the way through this exercise were some of the products available from GoalZero, including their Yeti off-grid generator and panels (shown below). We'll be taking a closer look at that setup over the next few months.
This means that when we're attending ebike or sustainable living events, we're now power independent and have plenty of juice on hand for running a mobile office from our van, along with capacity to do a replenish charge in the event we drain the battery of one of our demonstrators.
A setup like this provided us with ample power to recharge at the recent 2013 HunterEVPrize race between qualifying practice and race time. It also forms the basis of our mobile office for the work we do at Laughing Mind, providing us with a high level of flexibility for working anywhere, anytime.
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.