This is all about augmentations of human energy with electric power for cycling
as the most sustainable form of human transportations

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I am a humble farmer in India growing arecanut. I went around the world with a bicycle in 1985 -86 which took me to parts of all northern continents and I spent a year traveling.

My camps in the later part of my bike trip was like deer sleeping and grass may be bent but there is no trash left behind. I have been trying to be of little impact on environment but some efforts look foolish to general society. I believe that simpler and self sufficient life could make us happy.

I had a nasty accident when I crashed my powered hang glider in 1992 that did severe damage to my spine. So I am partially handicapped since then. Poor body balance and constant pain led to less activity. No proper physiotherapy and lack of exercise also meant my muscles slowly becomes atrophied. Syrongomelia development later needed insertion of a silicon tube inside my spinal chord. With severe damage to lower spine, I suffer from sensation problem, urinary inconsistency and many related problems.

I imported ATV from China to go around the farm when we had enough workers and I had to supervise them. Now fewer workers means little point in going around the garden.
This inertia and utter helplessness made me think about a confidence boosting trip.

Plan is to go on a power assisted trike from southernmost tip of India to border of northernmost state, Kashmir. This could be first solo long distance power assisted pedaling trip in India. My whole trip will be GPS plotted on maps and power used for pedalling assist will be monitored. The power assisted trike doesnt mean you can sit back & enjoy. It just makes pedaling easier and lesser sweating.

Recumbent trike with power assist ?
It will be a trike made in UK with rear suspension. Smaller frontal area means better aerodynamics which have allowed recumbent cycles to set every bicycle speed record. A much more comfortable seat means less back, neck, shoulder, and posterior pain and none of those unnecessary trips to the urologist. The rear suspension will be softer on damaged spine.

I do have serious balancing problem that I no longer sit in two wheeler even as a passenger. That is not a problem with a trike. No wasted energy balancing the trike on those slow steep climbs - this is the reason that trikes are believed to be better climbers than other kind of cycles. You can keep moving like tortoise, very slowly without losing balance.

Power assisted trikes are a very good option if one is balance challenged. Many people like me cycling but don't like climbing steep hills. I use it to boost my speed and reduce pedaling effort. The Pedal support kit comes from China. Ezee electric cycles and Pedal assistkits are reputed for reliability and have been part of many expeditions. The trip is basically power neutral as more solar energy generated by 1800 W panels at my home than meager grid power I use to charge my batteries.

With about 40 units of borrowed electricity worth less than INR 150 I should be able to reach Kashmir border if everything goes well. Reva electric car did a cross country trip but that consumed fifteen times more power than what I am using. I should be able to touch 120 km per unit of electricity whereas Reva traverses only 8 km with same amount.

So how far is it?
Perhaps 3500 km, maybe a little more.

Trip will take place in August and September 2010. This should be tolerably good time when it is not too hot or cold in most places. If it gets very cold, I may have to cut short my journey as my bones cannot tolerate cold climate and resume the trip when it gets warmer.

The route

I will be starting from Kanyakumari southernmost tip of India early August 2010 and pedal towards border northernmost state in India,Kashmir. First 800 km will be closer to west coast and then will go inland. If parts of planned route is a horrific highway with mining trucks or so, then either careful timing or a quieter route will be substituted. Heavy rainfall may compel me reroute the early parts.

So how long will it take?
I will do an average of 100 km per day from the day one. Confident of reaching the target in 45 days. A canopy is planned but it will create more aerodynamic drag. So resting in middle of day and when it rains is more logical option. So could add days to the trip if weather is unfavourable. I want to keep it simple as possible.

Target distance bit low

Though I have done 200 km with a bicycle long back, I hope to have more modest target this time. My average speed then was about 20 km per hour and now I realize that with recumbent cycles, I could have easily done thirty percent more. Finding appropriate place to recharge batteries both mine and trike motor’s at rest stops will put a limitations to my goal as I may never find them in ideal circumstances. Age and health conditions also will be hindrance.

The extra rolling resistance will be noticeable on rough roads, and you need to steer three wheel tracks around any potholes in your path. All these factors contibute to two-wheeled bikes generally doing better on very rough and potholed surfaces. Without support vehicle and people will also be limiting factor. Still I am confident of modest 100 km plus every day, possibly more.

I will be carrying a laptop and internet card. So will be uploading GPS tracks, Photos and story everyday. Part of the reason that I am carrying laptop is that my camera and GPS could be virus infected if I use the cybercafé computers. That could prove very expensive for me and I may loose considerable data. If sponsors found and funds permit, my position at the moment can be pinpointed in Googlemap.

I will not be carrying the tent as sleeping out is not logical option. Moreover I need to recharge my batteries overnight and have early morning start. So camping and cooking is ruled out. Some fresh food will be always carried along with sufficient water.

Local interaction.

My trip commences from Kanyakumari, the place where Swami Vivekananda meditated in December 1892 and incidently Vivekananda Kendra is promoting Sustainable Farming, Renewable Energy and Water management , the issues close to my heart.

I need to recharge my batteries constantly – sometime around midday and that will also compel me to have more communication with local people. Just like asking to push a stranded car in middle of road, I need to ask for little bit electricity.

Regular interaction with people who follow me on GPS tracks. Local folk stories and legends will be collected and pasted on the blog provided I still have stamina to comprehend them. During mid afternoon or after six in the evening- PowerPoint presentation can be planned. Rainwater harvest, Solar energy, Low input farming, pedal assist cycling and related topics will be discussed with local people. I will be taking a notebook along for collecting autograph and impressions of people I meet on the way .

I hope to distribute a eight or twelve page booklet costing say INR 5 or INR 10 depending on printing cost – that emphasis simpler living and uniqueness of this technology demo trip. From shoe cleats to aerodynamic seating position there are many specialties of this trip that can provoke curiosity of the people I meet.

I am hoping for a few offers of accommodation along the way and those places could be used as drop points to replenish my supplies. Anyone offering food or a soft bed will be gratefully accepted and hopeful that villagers along the way will open their door. One problem : my Hindi knowledge is just satisfactory.

My journey will be totally alone with no support vehicles and most of the e-biking trips I read about had support vehicles. They also had three or more batteries. Batteries being very expensive, I decided to take just two. I don’t like elaborate support for the trip with a smoke spewing vehicle along.
Makes me remember a Ram murthy cartoon about a minister cycling to Vidhan Soudha with umbrella holding helper in the car published in Deccan Herald thirty years back. Guru Ashokvardhana has suggested to take at least one person along on cycle or motorcycle. Now everybody are busy with their life and my dream need not be theirs too.

I would love if local people join me with their bicycles when I pass thro their town. It will be mostly impromptu procession as my schedule will not be very rigid and I may reach certain places late as I will not be riding after nightfall.

Finding secure accommodation is going to be a every day challenge. I cannot simply park the trike in the road and lock like a car. At the same time I cannot afford to waste time in daylight hours as they are very precious to me and every three minutes I cover one kilometer. So I have to cycle till sunset and till batteries are almost empty. There is a good chance I will be nowhere near any good hotels & So I may have depend on peoples goodwill and hospitality.

Everyday it will be a tight rope walk regarding using battery power. It will be difficult decide which is best, either using power liberally and recharge somewhere midday or conserve power with no planned recharge.

I will be visiting Barefoot college at Tilonia near Ajmer where village women assemble solar equipment. I saw the solar panels first time and used in night schools when I visited them twenty five years back during my earlier cycle trip.

For every revolution of the wheel spins peace, good will and love" -- Gandhi
(referring to the spinning wheel, but I think it applies to bicycles too)

Education authorities seem to be doing their job to inform but not to inspire. This is just tell youngsters that you have lot of hidden talents and potentials. So aim for the sky.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Situation worsening

During my around the world bicycle trip twenty five years back I carried a address card that said

Conserve Energy
Preserve Wildlife
It is the right reserve
for the future

I am more concerned now about habitat destruction than ever before. People are bit aware of worsening of energy situation but totally unconcerned about disappearing flora and fauna.

The economic case for global action to stop the destruction of the natural world is even more powerful than the argument for tackling climate change says a major report for the United Nations. The UN's biodiversity report contends that the value of saving "natural goods and services", such as pollination, medicines, fertile soils, clean air and water, will be even higher – between 10 and 100 times the cost of saving the habitats and species which provide them.

"We need a sea-change in human thinking and attitudes towards nature: not as something to be vanquished, conquered, but rather something to be cherished and lived within," said the report's author, the economist Pavan Sukhdev. The changes will involve a wholesale revolution in the way humans do business, consume, and think about their lives.

The report follows a series of recent studies showing that the world is in the grip of a mass extinction event as pollution, climate change, development and hunting destroys habitats of all types, from rainforests and wetlands to coastal mangroves.

We are increasingly depending on long distance transport for our daily food. For comparison sake, I have generalized the average transport distance involved.

People in towns and cities get

water from 50 km away
Vegetables from 200 km away
Milk from 200 km away.
Food from 500 km away
Electricity from 1000 km away
Fruits from 1000 km away
Plastic trash we throw in water kills fish thousands of kilometers away.

Almost all involve considerable energy usage and wastage. 80 % of these can be locally harnessed if we make effort and prepared to adapt to circumstances.

Bicycles and Public transport can meet most of our travel needs at much lower cost, in terms of money and pollution both at personal level and to the society.

"Speed is irrelevant if you're traveling in the wrong direction."
--- Gandhi

It is time to think it over as we do not have Planet B to go.

This is the intro for the booklet I hope to distribute during my proposed trike trip. This is just rough copy for indication purpose.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Efficient equipment for the trip.

Transportation accounts for more than 35 percent of total energy consumed and emits very high amount environmental degrading chemicals. The whole idea of this trip is about technology demonstration of a viable transportation option. Many of the things I am using here are not being commonly used in India and so am giving the simple explanation.

Cycle is the most fuel efficient transport devise invented so far. When time and convenience taken into consideration Pedal assistance gains upper hand.

The best three energy efficient options can loosely be compared as :
(a) cycling 5 watts per km
(b) pedal assisted cycling 10 watts per km
(c) walking 15 watts per km

I propose to travel about 100 km every day helped by about Rupees 3 worth electricity. Same journey if undertaken by a car will consume five liter petrol costing Rupees 275 or in a motorcycle mean around Rupee 100 worth of Petrol. In fact, the cost of the electricity used is less than the energy equivalent amount of food necessary to travel the same distance. With great health and fitness benefits, electric bicycles do not only put the fun back into cycling, but also makes sense for millions of people around the world. It will also bring smiles to the faces of people I see on the way.

Main efficiency factors can be listed as (1) Clipless Pedals(2) Riding posture (3) Seating (4) Li Ion batteries (5) Geared hub motor and (6) the trailer.
Let us start with clipless pedals.

Besides the derailleur and pneumatic tires, clipless pedals may be one of the most significant bicycle innovations in the history of cycling. Clipless pedals make the rider to be more efficient by providing a better foot-to-pedal connection. What is happening is that a clipless pedal allows the rider to pull up, as well as push down on the pedals when making a complete rotation of the cranks.
Studies have shown that by using cycling shoes you can improve your pedaling efficiency by about 30%. Imagine that over the course of a century ride. You'd have enough energy left to do another thirty kilometer.

People normally keep their foot in the pedals in wrong way observes Rohan Kini The most efficient way to pedal, would be to place the ball of the feet along the axle of the pedal, as shown in the picture below.
This is a pretty common mistake that I see on the road though. Most folks seem to pedal with the arch of the foot ! - writes Rohan. I tend to agree as I have been doing same mistake earlier, like in the picture below.
The cleats make sure that your leg and pedal make contact in most advantageous and efficient way.

Other reason I am using cleats is because the legs are much closer to ground while riding the trike and more injury potential exists. I have noticed that (in my trainer set up) I no longer press the pedal during upcoming stroke as I used to so that it doesn’t fall off. I feel this contradictory pressing wastes some energy.

Next part is seating posture.

This reclined posture considerably reduces the aerodynamic drag. If you study where the energy goes in riding a bicycle you will find out that at speeds over 25 km/hour, 90% of your energy is used to overcome wind resistance, only 10% goes to bearing friction and rolling resistance. Cycling into a strong headwind you become very aware of that fact! I still remember the very bad day long back I had near Lonavala, where the progress on level road was very slow in spite of my best efforts.
The transition from rolling resistance dominated to air resistance dominated cycling takes place at 12 kmph and keeps increasing exponentially corresponding to the increased speed. My average speed during around the world trip was about 18 to 20 km per hour.

When pedaling around Netherlands I happened to see a recumbent cyclist and I could never catch up with him in spite of my best efforts. It was mainly because considerable energy I put in was used up overcoming air resistance and that cyclist was using more of his energy to go forward.

The word ‘saddle’ indicate both horse seat and bicycle seat. The bicycle was created in 1817 by Baron Von Drais for the entertainment. Inspired by a horse, it was made of wood, had two wheels and its rider had to push with their feet on the ground to move forward. With the bicycle evolution this kind of mini horse saddle has remain unchanging. Its size has been reduced to the minimum, generating at the same time many pains because most of rider’s weight is on a too little surface. Curiously we can’t find any other vehicle or furniture with a seating surface as minuscule. It is not only uncomfortable but also leads to lot of health problems.

Recumbent cycles and trikes are a pleasure to ride. Recumbent seats are larger and you actually sit in the seat. You sit slightly reclined, back fully-supported, arms relaxed, neck straight; in a normal sitting position. You aren't perched on top of a narrow saddle which can tend to cause numbness and chafing. You are comfortably seated and can even change your posture once in a while.

Pedal assistance
In difficult climbs and for higher speed the cyclist tends to stand on the pedals making use of body weight. This is very inefficient method that wastes energy by lifting body out of seat. Derailleur gears extended the cyclists horizon considerably. Such difficult circumstances can be further helped with the pedal assist motor. The pedal assistance flatten the hills considerably and you arrive at the destination with little sweat

Early pedal assistance kits or for that matter, most electric vehicle developed so far was powered by Lead Acid Batteries, the technology that is 150 years old. The Lead Acid batteries are very polluting and inefficient. The 100 year old Peukert theory affects all storage batteries but is Worst in lead acid.

The manufacturer's amp-hour rating for a battery might read "186 AH", suggesting that you can draw 1 amp for 186 hours, 46.5 amps for 4 hours, or 186 amps for 1 hour. For a common lead acid battery, the reality for the highest current example is that you'll only get the 186 amps for roughly 38 minutes, 64% of the hour you expected. Your battery power will last longer if you put less load but then you have to carry more capacity batteries .

Lithium batteries power packs are state of the art in battery technology. They are on average 3 times lighter than lead acid batteries. This means a lead acid battery with the same power density would weigh more than 12 kg’s, i.e. it would use most of its energy just to move the battery around. This Peukerts value is less in Lithium Ion batteries that is used by me. This has better storage capacity, longer life and better working performance.

Almost everybody have used Li Ion battery as they are present in Mobile phones and laptop computers. It is also almost a third lighter than NiMH batteries with the same performance. It lasts about 60% longer than conventional lead acid batteries and almost 25% longer than NiMH.
My American cyclist friend Mark says electric assist bikes are heavier and it can be a challenge to find the right balance between weight and extended range. You always have to plan your trips around your battery capacity, otherwise you risk having to go up a long hill at the end of the day with 30 lbs of dead weight in motor and batteries if you are out of charge

The geared hub motor made by eZee that I use are most efficient and dependable one in the market. This has remarkable pedigree as Trans Canada trip by Justin was done using these and they have been part of many adventurous trips. Wai Won Ching, the founder of eZeebikes has “Treat the earth well” as his company motto. He is very much committed to low carbon transport
The Cycle Analyst that I am using is the first digital battery monitor in the world originally designed around the specific needs of electric bicycles and it has become the e-meter of choice of other EVs too. .It tells you the consumption and also allows you to set maximum power that can be drawn from the battery. It can act as speed limiter too. So I will be knowing the power consumed and rate of consumption, so that optimum utilization of available power can be made. Volts, Amps, Watts Amp-hours and Watt hours are some the information it displays.

One square meter of solar panels will make me self sufficient. Aerodynamic design and placement plus wiring of the solar panels are beyond the scope of this trip. For me the batteries are very valuable item as they cannot be easily replaced in India. So I am not putting them at risk by connecting solar panels in parallel. It will also be better to take one thing at a time.

Trailer for bicycle is a untried utility in India that offers immense potential. Trailers have an advantage because the bike itself carries no extra weight, except some on the rear axle attachment (the trailer itself can be loaded with up to 70 kg). This allows the rider to shift weight as if without load. It is much easier to carry the weight in trailer than in the vehicle and about 60 % extra weight possible with the same efforts.

Cycle trailers are detachable, allowing the bicycle to be used for personal transport. They failed in many countries because of added cost and did not click with popular imagination. Single wheel trailers are extremely maneuverable, with the trailer wheel tracking very closely with the rear wheel. These can easily be ridden on narrow passages.

This single wheel trailer was designed by a aircraft maintenance inspector named Philip Novotny who quit his day job to found the BOB (Beast of Burden) trailer company in 1996 and is one of the most popular touring trailers.

I wanted to assemble and carry along a bamboo trailer but felt that I cannot do such a long trip with more chances of trailer falling apart. I would have taken this trailer if I had support staff to assist me and that would have been great. There is chance that I may take single wheel or two wheel trailer and if I fail to get one fabricated soon then will drop the trailer proposal.
Practical considerations have made me to drop this trailer proposal.
Electric pedal assist and better bicycles can make the journey more enjoyable and can displace cars. With them hills on your way are flatter and your rideable range just get longer. One of the biggest advantages is at destination you do not have change clothes or take a shower. Families thinking of second car can certainly use these cycles.

Batteries are expensive to replace and you have to start saving money for battery when you start using electric assist bikes. It is not much cheaper but just environment friendly. Money used to buy petrol daily if kept aside can certainly buy batteries.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Multitasking everyday

There is lot of jugglery of electronic stuff involved in this trip. I am little bit scared because sometimes my movements are clumsy and illogical. Things I could be carrying includes

Mobile phone
Electronic meter installed called cycle analyst.
Notebook computer
Battery charger.

So I have many electronics that I have to transfer data and do resetting every day. Each one have unique operation protocol and I hope I will be able to do that well.

As I have two batteries that has to be charged overnight from single charger, midnight battery swap will become absolutely essential. Waking up middle of the night during summer months and attending to irrigation system is something I am used to but those days I do not spend long hours working on pedals under hot sun.

So all these multitasking may keep me on my toes.