Saturday, August 23, 2008

My abnormal normality...

I went grocery shopping this evening and it struck me along the way how the way I do it is so normal to me, but so obviously out of normality to what I see people around me doing. The roads were filled with cars scurrying around, going to shopping or dinner or whatever, and there I was on my electric bicycle hauling a cargo trailer with a fine selection of cloth bags.

I've been doing this for several years and have gone through several iterations of bicycles. The practice has improved considerably but it could stand to be even better. And, no, "better" does not mean doing the shopping trip with a car. "Better" would mean finding a more convenient cargo bicycle combination, with a better electric motor, perhaps some turn signals and good quality rear view mirror and good quality horn, etc.

The current bike is an Electra Townie 21. Despite the name, the Electra brand bicycles are not electrified but I do think it's highly appropriate to electrify an Electra bicycle. The motor is an old Wilderness Energy 36 volt hub motor mounted in the front wheel. I have a lithium-iron-phosphate battery pack. I've constructed a really bright lighting system using LED lights meant to be used for car accent lights. And the bike has the Cycle Analyst monitoring system to help me know how much electricity is being used, the current voltage, current speed, etc.

I like the Electra Townie because of its relaxed seating, feet somewhat forward, my torso sits straight up so I can see the world, rather than leaning over the handlebars confining my view to the pavement. I think my next bike will be a Recumbent.

I use a trailer I found at a shop which specializes in roof racks, so I don't know why they had a trailer for a bicycle but there it was. It has a hitch that hooks to the bicycle frame, it has sides made of a wire mesh, and it's not exactly the sturdiest thing in the world but it does haul four bags of groceries. To help I attach over the top a mesh cargo net meant to be used on motorcycles. FYI I've collected a list of links about bicycle cargo trailers elsewhere on this web site.

The bicycle as configured travels at 15 miles/hr or so with modest pedaling, faster if I pedal hard. It's very silent and a very pleasant relaxed ride.

The trip to the grocery store is 1.5 miles, close enough that it's ridiculous to fire up the gas car for the trip. Except, there are a lot of people who do exactly that. 1.5 miles is close enough to walk.. though.. I can hear echo's of this scene from the movie American Beauty, "Walk? That's a whole mile!!". The real problem with walking to the grocery store that distance is, how would you carry the groceries home? But, I see some of my neighbors do this, as there are some who walk towards the grocery store and then an hour later I'll see them walking back carrying bags.

Somewhere between these two extremes, walking and driving the car, is where I operate. If I lived next door to the grocery store I'd walk, and in fact I did a couple times live next door to grocery stores, and I did walk to them. However given that bicycle cargo trailers exist then of course it makes sense to use them for shopping trips.

Riding my bicycle uses a miniscule amount of energy, yet allows me to do a full shopping trip. If I were to walk and carry the groceries by hand I'd feel the trip was tedious, and my arms would get tired. Riding my bicycle does give some small degree of exercise and as I said accomplishes the goal much more competently than if I were walking, and in a much more sustainable fashion than if I drove the car.

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