I don't want to get all Mr. Rogers on you Dear Reader, but I had an encounter this morning that made me ponder: who are the people that you'll meet in Biketopia? Maybe that's a Sesame Street reference. Darn random unpredictable public programming so unlike that of my youth!!!
Who are the people you'll meet in Biketopia? I can list off a huge number of license plates of people you will not meet in Biketopia, but its much harder to glance at someone and say definitively that they will have a home in Biketopia...unless of course they are riding a homemade recumbent bike with electric assist.
Meet Chris. He works at NREL (pronounced suspiciously like "ENRON") and rides his franken-beast of a bike 23 miles one way from up north.
We met as he blasted past me coming off the Clear Creek Trail onto the frontage road. At first I only noticed a BSO in my periphery, but it was soon apparent that it was something more.
Now, let me give you a brief background of my brain-workings these days. I know its rude to drop fellow commuters, but I decided if I'm going to ride Leadville, if I'm shooting for sub-9 hours, if I may dabble in mountain bike racing, I need to be the fastest thing on two wheels between Arvada and Golden. So I decided I needed some rabbits, and not the runny babbits Bean and I see on our commutes. Enter my fellow commuters.
Anyway, I immediately recognized the frankenbike as a homemade job but I didn't see the battery or the rear hub before the bike moved over in front of me and blocked my view. So I applied force to my pedals and gave chase. And the homemade recumbent continued to pull away from me.
He coasted down the incline to the stop sign and I pedaled harder. No gain. We started up the incline toward 32nd and I grunted my defiance into the clear morning air and renewed my efforts, ravaging the pedals and bearing down on destiny. The 'bent cyclist cruised up the hill at an easy cadence, ever increasing the gap between us.
HEY! I thought, He must have an electric assist motor! But I continued to pedal, pedal, pedal until he was out of sight. The same thing had happened to me once before as an apparent octogenarian rocketed past me on a mountain bike as I climbed a short hill on the way home one day. I wasn't poking that day either.
At the traffic light at 32nd I caught the mad doctor. As I pulled up beside him he said, "You're a climbing machine!"
I barked: "HA!" and told him he was a beast, but immediately asked if he had electric assist. As the light turned and we crossed 32nd he chatted freely about his build. The bike is homemade, aluminum stock with an exterior battery. He has a charger in his cubicle. He rides about three days a week, only when the weather is good and he only rides the homemade contraption. It has front and rear suspension from a mountain bike and a hardshell cargo case behind the seat. He's also wired up twin LED headlights in mounts which run off of the battery. There is 5,000+ miles on the bike. I wish I had gotten a photo.
When I implored him to go on and not wait for me (I felt I was slowing him down) he said, "Why, so I can get to work sooner?" We both agreed it was better to enjoy the fine weather on the way in than to stress about getting there as soon as possible.
He admitted it was more fun to "chase" a roadie on his electric powered wonder-bike than to outright pass them and tempt them to keep up. In one instance he had a roadie try to leave him for miles, checking over his shoulder, pedaling harder, but never able to drop the advantaged recumbent.
Anyway, I have always been leery of electric assist bikes, and while I don't see myself getting one anytime soon I will concede they fill an important niche in cycling. Confronted with a 23 mile commute (one way) year round I doubt I could muster the muster to do it even as often as every nice day. But with a little help in the form of electric assist I can see the expanded possibilities.
An electric assist bike might be a fun future project.
And then THIS is an awesome idea, but maybe a little challenging for my limited engineering abilities...