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.


ವನಿತಾ / Vanitha said...

Good Luck and All the Best for your inspiring Journey.
- Vanitha.

Harsha Vastare said...

Sir its truly inspiring journey. HAPPY JOURNEY

Anonymous said...

Great to see your spirit and adventure mind...

Big cheers!! :)

prabhurangan said...

Chake De Govind... All the best.

Anonymous said...

Very motivating Sir!!

Sandeep Tuppad