Pedal on, pedal on, pedal on…

Getting ready to head home.  I have our CSA share in my panniers.  The Goat has the dog food on his bike.
Getting ready to head home. I have our CSA share in my panniers. The Goat has dog food on his bike.

I haven’t been able to ride to work much this spring and summer and I miss it.  So this week’s blog is about my pedelec (electric assist) bike, how much I love it, and why.

My trusty steed.
My trusty steed.

First of all, what is a pedelec bike?  There are a number of different types of electric bikes.  The 2 most common are the pedelec and the twist and go/throttle type.   A pedelec bike assists the user based on the user’s pedal power.  The device bases the assistance level on a number of things like pedaling rate, pedaling force and speed.  It can tell if you are struggling and assists accordingly.  The twist-n-go/throttle variety is the type most people are currently familiar with.  As the name implies, you turn it on and it assists.

My pedelec bike is a pretty slick machine.  Again, it basically senses when I struggle and assists.  If I stop pedaling, the bike will stop moving.  This is not the throttle type bike that people think of when they hear the words “electric bike”.  I still have to pedal for my bike to move.  When I start out at  the beginning of the season each year, I use about 1/2 of the battery power on my 34 mile day.  By the end of the season, I barely use any of the battery charge.  I like being able to watch my battery charge fluctuate over the course of the season because it gives me a way to see my progress as I use less and less assistance.  So far this year, I use about 3 of the 8 bars on the gauge over the course of my day.

My pedelec bike is a Specialized Globe cargo bike with a Bionx conversion kit.  We purchased the conversion kit from Rapp’s Bicycle Shop in Butler, opting for the rack mount over the frame mount because the bike had a built in rack.  The Goat put my pedelec bike together in 2012 and that summer I started bike commuting a few days a week.  I averaged 3 days a week during the Daylight Savings months.

The Bionx system I use has a rechargeable battery.  I can select the level of assistance from 1 – 4 and then it determines how much assistance I need during the ride based on how much I struggle and the level chosen.  Level 1 is the least amount of assistance, level 4 the most.  This is another way I can monitor my own progress over time.  At the beginning of the season, I may need level 4 to make it up a hill, but by the end of the season, I might not  use any assistance.

One of the cooler features of the BionX battery is that I can recharge the battery while I ride.  If I’m going down a steep hill, I can flip the switch to “regenerate” and the spinning of the wheel will create a charge and store it in the battery.  This is a great feature for areas like ours where we have hilly terrain and it also acts like a drag brake and slows me down to a speed that doesn’t scare me to death.  Towards the end of the season, I will also switch to “regenerate” on flat sections of my ride and recharge the battery myself – this does, however,  increase the resistance.

Getting ready to ride home with The Goat.  My bike is on the left.  The Goat's Big Dummy is on the right.
Getting ready to ride home with The Goat. My bike is on the left. The Goat’s Big Dummy is on the right.

So why did I decide to get a pedelec bike?

My commute is 17 miles, one way.  Not a bad commute by most American automobile commuting standards.  And for some, bike commuting 17 miles isn’t that big of a deal.  But for me 17 miles one way was just a wee bit too far.  I knew I could ride to the shop, but then how would I get home?  The fact that it was just 17 miles also made me dread driving, it just seemed like a waste of gas to drive a distance that almost seems short.

Part of the reason it just seemed a bit to long is that I have allergies.  Not your typical hay-fever and seasonal allergies.  My immune system is on 24/7/365.  With out going into details, this means that I am always tired or I wear out pretty fast, even when I’m in good physical shape.  Remember the last time you had a bad head cold?  Remember how tired you were, just worn out, like you couldn’t get enough sleep no matter how much you tried?   That’s me, almost always.  When your immune system is always fighting something, your body is constantly working.  It’s exhausting.  (And please, do not bother posting “cures”.  I’ve tried them all and currently am on a pretty good combination of natural/holistic and Western treatments that work for me.  I can trace my type of allergies back to my great-grandmother which means after 4 generations, it’s just in my DNA.)

I could dream about bike commuting, but didn’t see a way to make it a reality.  Thirty-four miles in western Pennsylvania was just a tad bit to much for me to pull off on a regular schedule.  That’s when the idea of an e-bike started to bubble to the surface of  The Goat’s thoughts.  Hmm…what if there was a way to help me pedal when I was tired and assure me that I could still make it home at the end of the day?  It also helped that The Goat is a bike mechanic and a bicycling advocate, so he is aware of the new technologies and systems, like the recent advances in pedelec technology.

I am a weather weemeonebikenie, and have poor night vision, so I really only bike commute actively from May through October.  Part of the weather factor is that both my internal temperature and the temperature in my shop run cold.  I have to be able to stay warm once I start to cool down after the ride to the shop.  If you are a cyclist or athlete, you know how dangerous it can be if your core temperature drops and you can’t get bring it back up.  Even if I leave extra warm clothes and layers at the shop, I worry about this early and late in the season, especially during the wet months.  Wet and cold can be a bad combination for me.

Weather is one of the things that’s been holding me back this year too…this spring was a bad one for scattered severe thunderstorms, tornado warnings, flash flooding, hail warnings and general unpleasantness.  While I don’t mind riding in a summer rain, 17 miles in a thunderstorm is not for me!   But I think those days are past  for this summer, based on my lack of sinus headaches and general blue skies of late.

When I do get a chance to ride to the shop, it’s glorious!  I talk to the Guinea hens, ring my bell at the geese, follow a creek, sing to myself, talk to the crossing guards and construction traffic controllers, and get a chance to unwind.  It might take me longer than most people who commute by car, but how many people spend 1 – 2 hours in the car commuting, drive to the gym, spend at least an hour working out and then drive home?  My daily commute might be 3 hours a day when I bike commute, but I just did the same thing as the person in the previous scenario, in close to the same amount of time, and I probably enjoyed much of that time more than they did.

As you can see from the photos, the Globe is a cargo bike.  My usual setup usually includes dual panniers and at least 1 water bottle, ( some times my tea is in the second bottle mount in a travel mug that fits the mount) and a bike mounted air pump.  I usually have rain gear, a change of clothes, lunch, my I-pad, wallet, a first aid kit for me and one for my bike in the panniers.  This year The Goat gave me some Buffs for our anniversary, so I wear them over my mouth and nose if the pollen, diesel fumes, or dust get too bad.  I usually wear and exercise dress and padded bottoms.  I find that the distance I commute is a difficult one to dress for, because most commuting clothes are designed for shorter commutes, and most cycling wear is designed for the serious rider, so my “kit” falls somewhere between the two.


To learn more about electric bikes and things bike commute related, check out these links:

Aerotech Designs.  A local manufacture of bicycle wear.  Mostly US made.

Bicycle Times.  Issue 26 had an e-bike primer.  Their reviews also sometimes include different electric bikes.

BionX.  My set-up uses a BionX system.

Electric Bike Magazine.  They are a British publication, so the where to shop and some regional bits might not apply, but the FAQ section is great.

Nuu-Muu.  My favorite exercise dress, affordable and US made.

Rivendell Bicycle Works.  Not electric bike related, but a good article about bike commuting.