"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

The reluctant environmentalist

By on May 31, 2017 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments

By Lief Carlsen

I’m no environmentalist.

I’ve always thought recycling is a waste of time and I smell the strong odor of meddlesome Big Brother in all this talk of Global Warming and carbon footprints.

Lief rides the hills around his home — with a little help from his electric bike.

Lief rides the hills around his home — with a little help from his electric bike.

That said, in one respect I could be a poster boy for the Green Party. Let me explain.

I live on top of a mountain six miles from and 2,300 feet above the town of Chelan in an area called Union Valley. It has always seemed a colossal waste to me to use a 2,500-lb vehicle to transport my 170-lb body up and down the road to town. The vehicle burns about a gallon of gasoline to do this job.

My old Honda trail bike was less wasteful. It burned about a quart per trip but, sadly, it is no longer with us.

I have, on occasion, used a 30-lb bicycle, which burns no gasoline but has the undesirable side effect of leaving me utterly exhausted. Pedaling up the Union Valley Road is serious work.

Imagine my delight when I stumbled across what seems like the perfect solution to this wastefulness: the e-bike. Thanks to a quantum leap in battery technology, it is now possible to pack the punch of a 60-lb conventional lead-acid battery into a 5-lb lithium battery. Match this battery with a small electric motor and, viola — the e-bike.

E-bikes have been around for a few years but until recently they cost as much as a gasoline powered motorcycle that could deliver much greater range, power and speed.

They didn’t seem like a good deal to me — that is until the other day when one of those bothersome pop-up internet ads touted an e-bike for the rock bottom price of $545. On a whim, I ordered it.

What I got for my $545 is a low-end mountain bike paired with the requisite motor and battery. It has disc brakes, 21 speeds and front shocks.

The components may not be of the highest quality but all the essentials are there. Its total weight, bicycle, battery and motor is a mere 50 pounds.

After hurriedly assembling my bike and topping off the battery, I went to town for the crucial test ride back up the hill.

My Cyclamatic Power Plus e-bike has a handlebar controller that gives you the option of three levels of “power assist” and also keeps you informed of how much reserve power you have in the battery.

I started pedaling on level ground without power assist just to get the feel of the bike. It handled like the low-end mountain bike it is.

As the road started climbing and my breathing became labored I pushed the button to activate the lowest level of power assist. The bike surged ahead. I was not expecting that much help.

The motor produces a maximum of 250 watts of power on the highest setting. The lowest setting must be around 100 watts and even that is surprisingly substantial.

The Union Valley Road doesn’t waste time getting steep and I found myself climbing at more than double the rate I climb on my conventional bike.

Mind you, my e-bike is not one of those where you sit back and let the motor do all the work; if you stop pedaling the motor switches off. Call it a symbiotic relationship.

But that’s fine with me. I’m not looking for a free ride. I love the exercise I get riding my bike. It is just that the climb to my house is substantially more exercise than I want most days.

I carefully monitored my power consumption for the first few miles. I was several miles into the climb before the first of four battery reserve lights switched off.

While on the short flat stretches of road, I switched off the power altogether and pedaled along in the traditional manner. I didn’t want to waste any of my battery’s juice.

I needn’t have worried. I still had two lights of battery reserve at the top of the hill.

As for my body’s reserves of energy, the reserves that had been completely drained by climbing the hill on previous occasions, I felt great — capable of climbing the mountain all over again.

I switched to full power for the last hundred yards of the climb and the bike doubled its speed. 250 watts is the equivalent of what a strong man puts out so it was like having Lance Armstrong as a pedaling partner on a tandem bike — without Lance’s bodyweight to slow us down.

Once home, I burst into the house to tell Mary that my experiment had been a total success.

I now have a vehicle that will transport me to town for such errands as retrieving the mail or picking up small items without the need to lug along thousands of pounds of excess steel.

As a bonus, I get a reasonable amount of exercise.

Of interest to my environmental friends is the fact that my trip to town leaves no carbon footprint!

So much for environmental concerns. What appeals far more to my cheapskate nature is the bottom line.

The cost? I did the math: 200 watts (the power consumption of the battery charger) multiplied by three hours (the time it takes to charge the battery) multiplied by 2.7 cents per kilowatt hour (the cost of Chelan County electricity).

That equals 1.62 CENTS! I can make a trip to town and back for 1.62 cents of Chelan County PUD electricity!

Next step: I’m looking into attaching a solar panel to my bike to cut out the PUD.

P.S. Accolades and awards from environmental organizations should be addressed to liefcarlsen@hotmail.com

Lief Carlsen wrote about his and his wife Mary’s tandem bike ride from Chelan to Maine in the very first issue of The Good Life, June 2007.

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