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No Bailouts Necessary: Green Transportation

Unless you have been trapped in a cave for the last seven months you are well aware of the disaster overtaking the American automobile industry. Our government is using billions of taxpayer’s dollars to prop up an industry that has been one of the leading facilitators of numerous ills in our society, which will also take billions of dollars to repair, if it is even possible to do so. 

Air pollution which contributes to increased medical costs, urban sprawl, a negative balance of payments from importing oil and global warming can all be traced at least in part to our addiction to the automobile. Now that I’ve ranted about the autos effect upon our society I also greatly acknowledge that we all, myself included, greatly enjoy the mobility and freedom provided by the pernicious machine. We can’t live with ’em and we can’t live without ’em. What are we to do?

A lot has been written about the currently nonexistent plug-in electric car. This machine when it finally hits the market could help solve some of our problems but current pricing estimates place the car in the forty thousand dollar range. I’m sure of one thing, it won’t solve many problems if you don’t sell them and at that price I’d hedge my bets.

However, there is one personal transportation option on the market that fits into all of President Obama’s initiatives for energy self sufficiency, global warming (reduction of green house gases), health care (exercise and weight loss), environmental protection (reduction of air and water pollution), and infrastructure renewal.   That option is the Electric Bicycle.

The electric bike using lithium batteries (traditional lead-acid is very environmentally harmful) can go, depending on load factors and riding habits, roughly twenty miles at twenty miles an hour on one charge. It is almost completely silent, gives off no emissions, does not use foreign oil, does not require much room to operate or park, never needs a tune up and provides exercise. It eliminates many of the drawbacks of riding a traditional bicycle for basic transportation while having few of its own. I recognize that not many of us are hardy enough to ride a bike in the rain, snow or freezing cold but that applies as well to motorcycles, motor scooters and traditional bicycles. The electric bike can get you farther, faster without arriving at your destination soaked in sweat. It can operate in many places where other motorized vehicles cannot and makes taking hills a cinch. Riding five or ten miles to work is no big deal and you can simply pedal around bottled up traffic. Usually the lightweight batteries easily detach from the bike and can be carried into your place of work or school for recharging.

Some electric bicycles offer high tech extras such as LiFePO4 batteries that are good for a thousand recharges, regenerative braking that helps recharge the battery much as a Prius does, and internal gearing to generate more torque for uphill climbs. Most electric bikes use what is referred to as a hub motor. This is not a traditional gear or belt-drive motor but is built directly into the hub of one of the wheels. This motor contains two internal rings of opposing magnets that when power is applied causes the wheel to spin. Such motors need little service and never require oil changes, spark plugs or new belts.

Electric bikes come in several of styles. There are the traditional “beach cruiser” and mountain bike styles as well as electric folding bikes, tricycles and “road bikes”.   The electric folding bikes are particularly interesting. Smaller and lighter than a traditional bicycle, they easily fold up and fit into a car trunk and can be carried on a commuter or subway train with little effort. You can take the train to your stop, unfold the bike and pedal on your way. They are also useful for those who live in tight quarters and have no external place to store their ride.

For those of you that are moderately handy with tools, there are a number of electric bike kits on the market that allow you to adapt an ordinary bicycle into an electric bike. One company, Worldwide Electric Bikes, has a particularly well-designed kit that has many of the features I previously mentioned. These electric bike kits do not require a high level of mechanical ability to install. A few common hand tools, a basic understanding of how things go together and the ability to read directions is all that is required. However, if you don’t know the difference between a crescent and a hex wrench, you may wish to buy a pre-made bike or have someone install the kit for you. If you do choose to go the kit route, you can end up with a much more powerful and sophisticated bike for substantially less money than a factory built electric bike. 

Electric Bicycles in all forms have long been a staple of personal transportation in Europe and Asia where there are hundreds of thousands in operation. In the United States bicycles have traditionally been dominated by the toy or recreation market or for the dedicated enthusiast. In both Europe and Asia, cycling has been a traditional means of basic transportation. I believe that this is going to be more and more the case in this country. People are avidly seeking relief from the high financial and societal cost of automobiles. The electric bicycle, while not a panacea, is definitely poised to help provide a portion of that relief.

Electric Bicycles are inexpensive to purchase, require no license or insurance, have a negligible cost of operation and are totally “green”. So, what’s not to like?

 

http://www.worldwideelectricbikes.com

   

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