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we heart electric bikes
July 19, 2008 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Bicycles are the most efficient mode of transportation; walking is a distant second, followed by crowded vans and motorcycles, with everything else being relatively equal. This may change soon. WSJ online jokingly tests a new plug-in electric bike versus a standard racing model.
posted by Brian B. (82 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
If 'everything else' is basically tied for fourth, I'm going to drive to work in one of these. That will rock.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:13 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Heh, I just did some math about this the other day.
posted by sciurus at 12:15 PM on July 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


In Beijing they sell kickass hybrid pedal/electric bicycles. They have removable plugin battery packs and included bicycle alarms, and at around US$70 they are drastically more affordable than the $2000+ XU450. I'm surprised they haven't caught on like wildfire with all the $5 per gallon gasoline these days.
posted by mullingitover at 12:22 PM on July 19, 2008


"...the motor won't power the bike unless the rider pedals..."

Well, what's the point of that?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:23 PM on July 19, 2008


Hey sciurus, do you happen to know how much fossil energy it takes to produce a gallon of milk? I know there is some controversy over this regarding ethanol.
posted by Brian B. at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2008


After watching a hawk cruising around all day without flapping its wings, I'd say gliding has them all beat.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:30 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, what's the point of that?

Maybe it's like a matching funds donation scheme.
posted by Brian B. at 12:30 PM on July 19, 2008


I feel guilty for thinking this, but I love seeing so many more people bike commuting and using mass transit in my city. We had to buy more buses, and they're building bike trails and lanes aggressively now.. I totally want gas to shoot up to $10 a gallon and stay that way until it runs out.

One thing I don't like, however, is having electric, and now even the occasional gasoline bicycles zipping by me on the trail.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:50 PM on July 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


stuff and nonsense. Where do you live and how far is it to get to your job? Shopping for food etc etc
My wife would spend a third of her day getting to her job and another third back. Does that make it smart to go by bike?
posted by Postroad at 12:52 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't know about fossil energy, but this link indicates that a gallon of milk produces about 3.35 pounds of CO2, which is what we really care about in the end anyway, right?
posted by sciurus at 12:52 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think the pedaling requirement is brilliant. It's the perfect way to stretch out the battery life, while sneaking in a little exercise at the same time. They just need to offer a better range of gears. 8 speeds total is pretty underwhelming, and it sounds like the motor is not powerful enough to overcome the lack of lower gears on steep hills.
posted by inparticularity at 1:01 PM on July 19, 2008


I'd be more interested in a less expensive conversion kit for ordinary bikes, obviously replacing the wheel. So you start bicycling with some electrical assist, but eventually abandon it for the exercise, and ebay the used kit.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:14 PM on July 19, 2008


"...the motor won't power the bike unless the rider pedals..."

Well, what's the point of that?


It's a regulatory thing. In many jurisdictions, at least in North America, an electric bike must not be able to provide any power until you get it moving first, or else it is considered a scooter and you need a driver's license to use it.

They just need to offer a better range of gears. 8 speeds total is pretty underwhelming, and it sounds like the motor is not powerful enough to overcome the lack of lower gears on steep hills.

I built a somewhat similar electric bike from a kit and an old mountain bike. I live on top of a pretty steep hill and I'd be quite happy with 8 gears, though I do have a somewhat more powerful motor. You don't really need the granny gears when you are only supplying 50% or less of the total power.
posted by ssg at 1:20 PM on July 19, 2008


It would also make sense to attempt to charge the battery with the evergy from braking rather than incur a dead loss by using discs.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:20 PM on July 19, 2008


So, humans are more efficient than engines? This isn't really surprising.
posted by sunshinesky at 1:24 PM on July 19, 2008


"stuff and nonsense . . . Does that make it smart to go by bike?"

Perhaps not, but then again, maybe it just makes it dumb to live that far from where you work.
posted by oddman at 1:26 PM on July 19, 2008 [28 favorites]


I bike to work every day, being lucky enough to live close by. I also have made some trade offs to be near work having commuted 3 hours a day at one point and realizing I might as well have a 2nd job.

Here in San Francisco I have seen a marked increase in bikes (and not just fixies though there are tons of them as well). Personally I'm not so upset about high gas prices, we need to change how we live as Americans and start being less wasteful.

The only change I'm not happy about is the increase in 2 stroke old-school mopeds that the hipsters ride in the bike lanes. I hope they don't catch on any more than they have already. The smoke and smell they made are worse than any suv.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:28 PM on July 19, 2008


Please don't flame me as this is a post about electric bicycles, but I absolutely LOVE riding to work and back on my Segway. 3.8 miles either way.

I heart almost any form of alternative transport for short urban commuting.
posted by lonemantis at 1:28 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Last I checked, barges still had bicycles beat on efficiency. You'd have to choose your commute pretty carefully to take advantage of that, though.

Electric-assist bicycles like this (and conversions) aren't too uncommon where I live.
posted by hattifattener at 1:32 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just saw someone on a converted bicycle last week; it had an 89cc gas motor on it. The guy who did the conversion is a handyman, and said it took a little doing, so something like this isn't for the faint of heart. Here and here and here (electric conversion ) and here (gas conversion) are a few places to start.
posted by MetaMan at 1:36 PM on July 19, 2008


Postroad writes "Where do you live and how far is it to get to your job? Shopping for food etc etc
"My wife would spend a third of her day getting to her job and another third back. Does that make it smart to go by bike?"


Two grocery stores less than 10 blocks away, work is less than 3 miles. The two shopping centres those food stores anchor (plus the Canadian Tire) basically supply all my shopping except for tools and a biweekly trip up the hill to Costco and a few other specialty shops. Mind you I use my striaght up bike now but it'd be nice to have an assist when I visit my father about 20 blocks away.

Something like this with even half the range would be awesome, especially at a tenth of the cost like mullingitover indicates.
posted by Mitheral at 1:36 PM on July 19, 2008


It would also make sense to attempt to charge the battery with the evergy from braking
I just read this last week(scroll down)
Recovery range only around 5-10 per cent
posted by MtDewd at 1:47 PM on July 19, 2008


It would also make sense to attempt to charge the battery with the evergy from braking rather than incur a dead loss by using discs.

The bike in question does have regenerative braking, but you still need some friction brakes for quick stops.
posted by ssg at 1:50 PM on July 19, 2008


I think the pedaling requirement is brilliant. It's the perfect way to stretch out the battery life, while sneaking in a little exercise at the same time. They just need to offer a better range of gears. 8 speeds total is pretty underwhelming, and it sounds like the motor is not powerful enough to overcome the lack of lower gears on steep hills.

It may be that pedaling is required in order to best know which gear it should be in order to maximize the use of the motor. It sounds reasonable anyway.
posted by Brian B. at 1:53 PM on July 19, 2008


Dear Mr. Oddman

do you know hoqw many people in America live far enough away from their jobs so that they are not able to bike to work? If I worked (example) in Manhattan and lived in Brookly, then I would take the subway, not a bike. But most Americans do not have subways availab le nor do they live close enough to jobs to bike there. If all moved within bike distance, you would be sort of like living in India. It is totally unrealistic to think that that many people can move to cities or be close enough to them to be able to bike to work. Transportation must begin with present realities.
Imagine taking a job in (say) San Francisco. How man ypeople can now afford to live in that nice city? Now, say you are married and have 3 kids. Do you do without a car? Do you bike from Oakland etc to S.F.?
posted by Postroad at 1:57 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


After watching a hawk cruising around all day without flapping its wings, I'd say gliding has them all beat.

Last I checked, barges still had bicycles beat on efficiency. You'd have to choose your commute pretty carefully to take advantage of that, though.

gliders:thermals :: barges:currents :: bikes:hills
posted by scope the lobe at 1:57 PM on July 19, 2008


If all moved within bike distance, you would be sort of like living in India.

You say that as if India is not a real place. Like its the setting for some allegorical tale about all that might go wrong with civilization.
posted by scope the lobe at 2:08 PM on July 19, 2008 [20 favorites]


Transportation must begin with present realities.

Present reality no. 1: Looks like cheap oil is going away.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:11 PM on July 19, 2008 [10 favorites]


Speaking of present realities, it should be remembered that the genius behind plug-in electric vehicles is to avoid oil imports and be able to domestically produce our own energy with coal, nuclear, wind and solar. The genius behind employing the bicycle is to add leg power to that, thereby increase health, spur battery research, avoid parking issues, avoid emissions, and to offer a variety of standard safety features not available on regular bikes, such as headlamps and horns.
posted by Brian B. at 2:19 PM on July 19, 2008


Dear Mr Postroad

do you know how much longer the Murkin "not like living in India" lifestyle can continue? Are you sure that your three kids will each live 25 miles from work and commute (alone!) in their cars?
posted by phliar at 2:21 PM on July 19, 2008


Roads: "Don't need 'em, don't want 'em."

I wonder where this lands on the efficiency scale.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 2:22 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


In the future, we'll all live in the same building as we work, and meals will be provided by the company.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 2:29 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


In the future, we'll all live in the same building as we work, and meals will be provided by the company.

Sort of, but more elasticity is better for both parties. Living in the vicinity in a residential zone would do the same trick.

The bike in question does have regenerative braking, but you still need some friction brakes for quick stops.

I wonder if a spare tire could be rigged as a flywheel to capture braking energy mechanically in order to gain a quick start after stopping, and thereby preserve more power overall.

I just saw someone on a converted bicycle last week

Metaman, I'd like to see the electric conversion kit you linked, but I only got the motorized one it seems.
posted by Brian B. at 3:09 PM on July 19, 2008


scope the lobe : No, gliders are far far better because you can always use thermals, always. All you need is the time to sit there while it carries you up.

Postroad : Oh, bike riders are very happy with present realities, meaning they by a smaller but more expensive place in the city, bike to work gaining exercise and saving money, your houser retains value when suburban house prices crash. win! :)
posted by jeffburdges at 3:12 PM on July 19, 2008


It may be that pedaling is required in order to best know which gear it should be in order to maximize the use of the motor.

I would guess that the pedaling requirement is closely tied to the regenerative breaking. If you aren't pedalling and the bike is moving then the bike knows that you're just coasting and can recharge the battery. As soon as you start pedalling then the bike knows that it can suspend recharging and add in some wattage for you.
posted by talkingmuffin at 3:15 PM on July 19, 2008


...Transportation must begin with present realities...
posted by Postroad at 1:57

posted by George_Spiggott at 3:17 PM on July 19, 2008


I like how they refer to the guy on the bike as an amateur cyclist, omitting that he is an amateur bike racer (a damn good one, too--I know him).

At the end, the guy on the electric bike admits the steep hill overwhelmed the capacity of the motor, and if that were the case, I'd hate to be pushing a 50-lb bike up a hill. No mention of how much this contraption costs.

Metaman, converted bikes are all over Cuba (and other developing countries). They're noisy and I can't imagine terribly good with omissions.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:50 PM on July 19, 2008


I ride a Currie electric scooter to work (about .9 miles each way). It's enormous fun as well as costing about $0.01 per mile. I can get away with charging it at work.
posted by Foosnark at 4:00 PM on July 19, 2008


I can forsee in the relatively near future a need for a freak lane for all the weird alternative transportation options emerging and not really fitting into the current urban form. Having just bought a Strida folding bike I feel like I'm a cross between Mr. Bean and my 5-year old self as I ride it to the train and get on (illegally) during rush hour.

I want showers and lockers at every workplace. That would solve nearly all my problems. Hell, I could just run to work. All you speeding, noisy, rubber-consuming, Iraqi chain-oil righties would eat my dust.
posted by jimmythefish at 4:04 PM on July 19, 2008


> I want showers and lockers at every workplace

Showers are the key problem with biking to work that nobody talks about. It's gonna be 100°F here on Monday; I feel sorry for anybody with a desk next to the guy who decides to bike to work. Maybe they'll have to send an anonymous email to their smelly co-worker.
posted by sdodd at 4:26 PM on July 19, 2008


Heh. Speaking of 'freak lanes,' I just got back from Chile, which still has horse-drawn buggies on the (singular) national highway.

As for brakes, in doing long distance and a bit of racing cycling, I've mainly learned to avoid them whenever possible, which turns out to be most of the time. Wasted energy, ya'know. (Don't worry, though; they do get used at every stop sign. And really all the time inside city limits, come to think of it.)
posted by kaibutsu at 4:48 PM on July 19, 2008


You say that as if India is not a real place. Like its the setting for some allegorical tale about all that might go wrong with civilization.

As much as I love India, in many ways it is a perfect allegory for all that might go wrong with civilisation.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:52 PM on July 19, 2008


As much as I love India, in many ways it is a perfect allegory for all that might go wrong with civilisation.

... You haven't been around much have you?
posted by Upal at 5:07 PM on July 19, 2008


In Beijing they sell kickass hybrid pedal/electric bicycles. They have removable plugin battery packs and included bicycle alarms, and at around US$70 they are drastically more affordable than the $2000+ XU450. I'm surprised they haven't caught on like wildfire with all the $5 per gallon gasoline these days.

mullingitover-- do you have a link for those bikes?! 70 dollars is an amazing price for an electric bike. Even paying a tariff or import tax on top of it would be super cheap.
posted by zardoz at 5:18 PM on July 19, 2008


You haven't been around much have you?

funnily, i've been to around a fifth of that list.

The number of people living in slums in India has more than doubled in the past two decades and now exceeds the entire population of Britain, the Indian Government has announced.

India’s slum-dwelling population had risen from 27.9 million in 1981 to 61.8 million in 2001, when the last census was done, Kumari Selja, the Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, said.

The figure is the latest illustration of how India’s recent economic boom has left behind millions of the country’s poorest people, raising fears that social unrest could undermine further growth.

posted by UbuRoivas at 5:21 PM on July 19, 2008


So we're basing a civilization’s prosperity on a numbers game of homelessness?

As a numbers game, why don't we include Australia’s land mass and population (7,741,220 km² 21,350,000 persons) to India's (3,287,590 km² 1,132,446,000 persons).

Perhaps, over-crowdedness has a part? Maybe, that's something that's not necessarily controllable?

Raising fears that social unrest could undermine further growth.

The countries in that list have already fallen if not well on their way; a better way of grading civilization downfall could be amount of social unrest, economic downfall, corruption, etc... that already have manifested, happened, measured. Not speculations and conjectures. We could always abort countries that are “on their way” if that would please you.

I'm just saying, India is definitely not a perfect allegory for all that may go wrong. North Korea, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Iraq, Sudan, there are many others that are a better example than a country whose economy is doing well.

To quote a bbc article:
The world's largest democracy and second most populous country has emerged as a major power after a period of foreign rule and several decades during which its economy was virtually closed.

Sounds exactly! like a civilization gone wrong.
posted by Upal at 5:53 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I came across this term paper a while ago. It claims that power-assisted bicycles have a lower lifetime energy cost than regular bikes.
posted by Krrrlson at 6:11 PM on July 19, 2008 [4 favorites]


From Krrrlson's term paper link:

Conclusion

Despite the intuitive sense that electric bikes would require more resources than
regular bikes, life-cycle analysis shows that they actually consume 2-4 times less
primary energy than human riders eating a conventional diet. This conclusion is
largely due to the considerable amount of transportation and processing energy
that is associated with our western food system.

From a sustainability perspective, the best battery chemistry for electric bicycles
is the lithium-ion cell. In the optimum scenario it can deliver nearly 1/3rd of all the
energy put into manufacturing and charging to the wheels of a bike. Since lithium
batteries have a high energy density, they are also desirable from a rider’s
perspective because only a lightweight pack is required. Unfortunately, the
current high-cost of lithium batteries generally makes them less favorable then
other chemistries from an economic perspective.

posted by Brian B. at 6:22 PM on July 19, 2008


ok, a correction: Somalia is a perfect allegory of all that might go wrong with civilisation.

India is certainly very impressive in its history of relatively peaceful democracy given the constant challenges of population pressure & poverty. As an Indian friend of mine loves to quip, "the fact that the country doesn't split at the seams and fall into utter chaos is all the proof you need that God exists"

(usually followed by a comment on the power of up to a billion daily acts of puja)

But back to the topic...man, how good are Hero bicycles? They're like a human-powered version of an Ambassador!

posted by UbuRoivas at 6:23 PM on July 19, 2008



$70 for a new electric bike is a bit low. At the moment the exchange rate is about 1 USD/6.9 CNY, so have a look at this: http://search.china.alibaba.com/offer/%E7%94%B5%E5%8A%A8%E8%BD%A6/c1221.html . Alibaba is an ebay/craiglist type site, and this is a search of brand-new items. Even if you don't understand the Mandarin, you can get a good look at the models and price range for new electric bikes here. Those are pretty representative.

And then the thing to consider with those is that batteries wear out after a few years (anecdotally I've gleaned 2 years as the average), and those cost a good $70-$150 to replace, so all that is worth taking into consideration when looking at an electric bike. Plus, it's not easy to say whether Chinese merchants would service you in the US very easily. Don't get me started on battery theft.

Also, in the US, the laws governing what is a scooter, motorcycle, bicycle, and what isn't are insanely complicated, which you know, but don't discount the costs of compliance testing, licensing, and all that jazz. Here in Beijing they're classed purely as bicycles, requiring no license, only a 10 CNY ($1.40) registration fee to get plates at the local police station. And then traffic liability laws, so long as you weren't doing anything illegal, mean that basically, if a car hits you, it's their fault, and they're responsible for any costs incurred. So no insurance!

It's pretty sweet here as these little bikes are concerned, but keep the factors that allow those prices to exist in mind. In the States, in a completely different regulatory environment, you're gonna pay a lot more. I will say though, that most of the American models seem to be a lot higher-performance than the ones on the street in Beijing. Guess you get what you pay for. :)
posted by saysthis at 7:04 PM on July 19, 2008


Electric bicycles are a very valid form of transportation for commuting, and even for long distance, and are the most environmentally friendly form of transport currently practical for most people. I did a group ride from Melbourne to Sydney last year, and we had a non-electric cyclist with us for some of the days - he couldn't keep up the pace for the long haul [we were doing around 120km per day] but he did well for short bursts. So don't assume the human will win just from one [fairly inconclusive] trial there by the WSJ. Not only that, but if they'd been testing total energy consumed, they'd also find the electric bike winning hands down - though the diet of the cyclist also plays a pretty big part, too.
posted by wildilocks at 7:19 PM on July 19, 2008


I can forsee in the relatively near future a need for a freak lane

If there is such a thing as a freak lane, I'm on it.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:20 PM on July 19, 2008


A lot of motorcycles don't even get the fuel economy of a Prius, and they don't carry four people, and they suck commuting in the rain, and they suck in accidents, but of course they accelerate like cheetahs and can make their own lane.
posted by caddis at 11:08 PM on July 19, 2008


Yeah, loving the idea of a freak lane! A good idea for a transition stage as we figure out which new types of transport are going to work out.
posted by harriet vane at 11:09 PM on July 19, 2008


If all moved within bike distance, you would be sort of like living in India.

No, it would be sort of like living in the Netherlands.
posted by rhymer at 1:10 AM on July 20, 2008 [10 favorites]


If all moved within bike distance, you would be sort of like living in India.

No, it would be sort of like living in a city.
posted by silence at 1:51 AM on July 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


I have an instant proposal for improving more energy efficient transit, that goes for any city with a public bus system. For any major road with a bus route, where there's more than 1 lane in a direction, make the rightmost lane for busses, taxis, and bicycles only. And right-turning cars too, at intersections.

One of the major issues with bike travel is how dangerous it feels. With multiple lanes of traffic travelling at 45 mph, that's already a lot for drivers to pay attention to. A bike going at 15 mpg near the shoulder is not so easy to spot. There is a lack of respect for bicycles, and many drivers act like bikes shouldn't be on "their" roads at all.

The point is that an electric assist doesn't fix the problems with bike commuting. Anyone who thinks he'd bike to work if it weren't for the energy required to pedal up a hill I don't think has really tried it. There are other, more pressing problems with bike transit.
posted by cotterpin at 2:27 AM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, everything else is not "relatively equal" - those US statistics on the wikipedia page look absurd compared to most countries. For instance the figures for urban trains have 31.5 passengers per vehicle with an efficiency of 2,996 BTU/mi. According to this page the london underground network has an overall average efficiency of "150 Wh/passenger km travelled", which translates to 823.5BTU/mi if my calculations are correct - or 3.6 times more efficient than stated on the wikipedia page.
posted by silence at 2:41 AM on July 20, 2008


I absolutely LOVE riding to work and back on my Segway. 3.8 miles either way.

is there enough charge left in the battery for getting over to the magic castle?
posted by Hat Maui at 2:50 AM on July 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'd love to ride my bike to work, but I also like getting to work in one piece. There are precious few bike lanes in Atlanta and drivers here are not exactly what I'd call "bike friendly".

It also occurs to me--I can think of certain kinds of jobs that I wouldn't want to live near. Wouldn't expecting people to live close enough to their jobs that they'd be able to commute in a reasonable time on a bike relegate certain classes of workers to living in crap areas?
posted by elfgirl at 6:34 AM on July 20, 2008


I made the switch to nearly all bicycle transportation 6 months ago. The one exception is back and forth the nine miles to work (though I did switch to a four day work week) and I would totally ride that too if there was simply a good, direct bike route there. Even in a place with crappy weather 9 months of the year and lots of hills, I am amazed at how easy it has been to do this. All you need is a little planning, fenders on the bike and some big waterproof panniers. All on a bike that cost $300 10 years ago when I got it. Yes, I do own a tv and I do watch it.

Electric bikes are neat and you do see more and more of them around here, maybe they are a good option for people with health problems but honestly, what prevents more people from getting around on bikes is the mindset and lack of infrastructure. It's pretty amusing to see people like Postroad complain about how a less car-dependent lifestyle is impractical, but implied by their complaints is their apparent satisfaction with spending hours in traffic and ever increasing percentages of their income on transportation.

Everything in life is a choice.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:47 AM on July 20, 2008


Also, everything else is not "relatively equal" - those US statistics on the wikipedia page look absurd compared to most countries.

Well, this guy got much of his data abroad, including Russia, and here is his conclusion:

9. Conclusions

The very low rolling resistance of a steel wheel on a rail is partially canceled out by the high weight of passenger trains. The higher weight also means more energy used for accelerating and climbing grades although some of this could be recovered by coasting and regenerative braking. Aerodynamic drag is low for a train at moderate speed but increases rapidly (with the square of the speed). Thus one may say that passenger trains are potentially energy efficient, but in actual practice such trains turn out to be little more energy-efficient than the automobile. What institution changes are needed to realize the potential of rail's inherent energy-efficiency are not clear. Neither private ownership nor government monopoly has been very efficient in providing passenger service.


Other pages say the same thing, but don't have as much data to back it up.
posted by Brian B. at 9:16 AM on July 20, 2008


From the perspective of passenger volumes: These data should lay to rest any claim that light rail, commuter rail, or even most heavy rail lines are anywhere near as productive as freeways.

These data suggest that, for an average urban area outside of New York City:

* Light rail makes sense as a transportation investment if its cost per directional route mile is less than a fifth of the cost of freeway lane miles (two-fifths per route mile);

* Heavy rail makes sense if its cost per directional route mile is half or less of the cost per freeway lane mile (or equal per route mile);

* Commuter rail makes sense if its cost per directional route mile is a tenth or less of the cost per freeway lane mile (or a fifth per route mile).

Few if any rail transit projects of the last decades or any proposed today meet these criteria.

posted by Brian B. at 9:24 AM on July 20, 2008


http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/4315#comments_top

What is a Human Being Worth (in Terms of Energy)?
posted by rough ashlar at 10:02 AM on July 20, 2008


rough ashlar's link
posted by Brian B. at 10:16 AM on July 20, 2008


I hate scooters with a burning passion.

There are scads of them in this town. The riders are all a bunch of fuckwits who think of themselves as pedestrians, except when they think of themselves as automobiles: consequently they do not heed any of the conventional rules of the road. One second they're lane-splitting with busy traffic, the next second they're scooping a pedestrian crosswalk light, the next second they're on the sidewalk, and a moment later they're riding in the left half of the left lane. Not a goddamn one of them wears appropriate riding gear, uses signals, or pays the slightest bit of attention to what's going on.

We need to introduce mandatory rider training and tough enforcement of traffic law. Those fuckers are a hazard to everyone around them.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:48 AM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


The riders are all a bunch of fuckwits who think of themselves as pedestrians, except when they think of themselves as automobiles:

I think bike lanes are generally assumed to be a good idea in most places, and needed for bike traffic if we're going to have any bike traffic at all. No scooters allowed.
posted by Brian B. at 10:53 AM on July 20, 2008


I wonder if the current atmosphere will be more conducive to electric assist bikes. My boss bought one about 5 years ago (he only lives about 3 miles from work, but it's all steeply uphill on the way there). He rode it for a while, but got constant verbal ( sometimes the threat of physical) attacks from people struggling uphill on normal bikes got to be too much. So he parked it in his garage and takes his bmw to work.
I swear that something about spandex turns people into jerks, the hardcore guys at work (with their multi-thousand dollar bikes) make unrelenting fun of one my co-worker's bike (he paid a few hundred on craigslist, which I personally think is too much for a commuter bike). This is not the way to win people over.
posted by 445supermag at 10:54 AM on July 20, 2008


@Brian B - but that number I quoted was from the ACTUAL measured energy usage of the London underground system. It's not a guess or a prediction of a hypothetical system. Assuming that TfL aren't just lying, those are the real numbers for a rather rickety and inefficient Victorian train network with pretty old and inefficient trains (largely from the 60s and 70s, and largely without fancy new stuff like regenerative braking). And it's the average efficiency over the whole network - i would imagine that the efficiency of very populous trains in central london is probably double the number I quoted (but that's just a guess based on passenger numbers in central london vs. further out).

The passenger co2/km for London underground is 68.9g/km. The co2 for the US average 25mpg car is around 218g/km (according to this page, and for (generally smaller and more efficient) Uk cars seems to be about 180g/km (according to this much more comprehensive page). As far as I know there is no production car that can get anywhere near 68g/km, though small motor bikes and mopeds would probably be able to do better. It seems to me that those numbers are quite difficult to argue with.

I would 100% disagree that the page you link to lays to rest the claim that railway networks are as productive as freeways (whatever that means) - for a start the study seems entirely concerned with the costs of building infrastructure. If you factored in the costs (economic and ecological) of manufacturing, maintaining and fuelling millions of individual vehicles urban freeways would look insanely expensive (even without counting secondary costs such as increased medical costs from air pollution etc.). If you live in NYC or London, for instance, it's quite probable that you won't bother owning a car, because it would just be a nuisance and the public transport is good enough that you never need one.

There's a clue in your post where you say that the conclusions hold "for an average urban area outside of New York City". That was part of the point I was originally making - NYC is probably the least "US" city in the US - it's dense and centralised, and the heart of the city is designed for people and public transport. Most US cities are driven by the needs of the car and as a result are huge sprawling inhuman deserts impassable without a car, with the majority of surface area apparently given over to car parks and with the population living in giant sprawling suburbs where every house is surrounded by its little patch of defensible grass (and a couple of garages of course). Most cities in the rest of the world aren't like that - they tend to be designed to be walkable, often have decent public transport systems, and people live in greater density (and much higher efficiencies). The study you quote only seems to suggest that in cities that are designed around cars and have inadequate public transport systems, people tend to drive more than they take the train - not really much of a surprise.
posted by silence at 11:06 AM on July 20, 2008


the hardcore guys at work (with their multi-thousand dollar bikes) make unrelenting fun of one my co-worker's bike (he paid a few hundred on craigslist,

Your friend has humiliated their obsession with a cheap purchase, so they are defending their pride. I would just remind him to always ask what their parts cost and how much they weigh, and then follow up by asking if there are any better parts they should buy instead?
posted by Brian B. at 11:15 AM on July 20, 2008


I swear that something about spandex turns people into jerks, the hardcore guys at work (with their multi-thousand dollar bikes) make unrelenting fun of one my co-worker's bike (he paid a few hundred on craigslist, which I personally think is too much for a commuter bike).

Are they hardcore as in "we're in shape, we can go really fast, and we actually have need for our expensive bikes and spandex - Hardcore" or "we're out of shape and go about 7 mph but we sure spent thousands of dollars on our bikes and spandex because spending a lot of money is the American way of Doing it Right - Hardcore"? I tend to pass a lot of the latter in my jeans on my few-hundred-dollar singlespeed, which I guess could engender some jealousy.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:18 AM on July 20, 2008


Silence, feel free to change the wiki page at your leisure, but show your numbers to them, because you are contradicted by many experts and are quoting a biased source. A brief search revealed this past discussion when quoting a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) claim in America:

On Mar 17, 12:44 pm, eph wrote:


> "A BART commuter gets the equivalent of 244 mpg when taking the train.
> That's about 10 times the efficiency of an average
> car."http://www.bart.gov/news/features/features20040729.asp
>
> That's interesting, because I get:
>
> http://www.bart.gov/about/reports/congress.asp
> 97 million trips/year
> 13 mile average trip length
> 3 million/month in electricity
> 360,000,000 kWh - assume 10cents/kWh
>
> 360000000/(97000000*13) = 285 Wh/passenger mile
> 285 Wh = 972 BTU
> 125000 BTU per US gallon/972 BTU * 1/3 efficiency factor = 42.5
> passenger mpg
>
> Where's the joke? 42.5 mpg is in line with US average numbers. 244
> mpg is not.


When your figures reveal massive trains that must run on schedule, empty or not, to be the same efficiency as a full fleet van, I would still question it, despite the source.

Pdf about electric assist rickshaws in India as a viable mode of mass transit.
posted by Brian B. at 11:52 AM on July 20, 2008



Your friend has humiliated their obsession with a cheap purchase, so they are defending their pride.
He's a (socially autistic) geek and unable interpret social signals, so thankfully (in this case) it just goes right over his head. On the other hand, I wish some nasty comments would affect him (i.e., "You know, taking a virtual shower in World of Warcraft doesn't help you smell better...).
posted by 445supermag at 11:53 AM on July 20, 2008


Brian, your response does sound a bit like just sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting "I'm not listening". Did you read the page I linked to? It's pretty specific. Here's the bit we're discussing :

Resource Use
Total electricity supplied
1391 (gigawatt hours)
Percentage of energy used which is renewable: 16%
Carbon efficiency: 68.9 g CO2/passenger km travelled
Energy efficiency 150 Wh/passenger km travelled

The BART might have a PR department that lies through its teeth, but apart from providing you with a rather undignified rhetorical manoeuvre I don't see how that has any relevance at all to the numbers I gave. Actually, the number given by TfL (150Wh/km) is pretty close to the number your friend comes up with for the BART in the text you quote (285Wh/mile = 177Wh/km), so there doesn't seem to be much disagreement with the actual numbers here. Perhaps part of the reason for the difference is that BART seems to carry 97 million trips per year, whereas the tube does 1014 million. The BART has 104 miles of track, vs the London underground's 253 miles - the Tube carries more than 10 times as many passengers, but has only a bit more than twice the length of track. Remember my original point about the shape of US cities vs, for instance, european cities? London is a denser city and the public transport system (though far from perfect) is pretty comprehensive- like in NYC, a car seems like a stupid idea in London, and I only one of my friends who lives there actually owns one - therefore the public transport system gets used. A lot. Have you been to London? The Tube is ubiquitous - that's how people get around. I suspect the BART has an awful lot more empty seats, because it isn't really a viable point-to-point city-wide system.

By the way, I'm not particularly partisan on rail vs. road (in case that's what you think I'm arguing - it's what you seem to keep coming back to) - personally I think trains make sense for transport arteries, but busses are enormously much more efficient for the last mile.
posted by silence at 12:25 PM on July 20, 2008


Silence, you've repeated yourself three times and your math is still hidden. Show your numbers. The calculations above show a result on 972 BTU and you claimed 823.5 BTU above, which isn't far off, but your claims are.
posted by Brian B. at 12:35 PM on July 20, 2008


miles / km ?
posted by silence at 1:08 PM on July 20, 2008


from your text :
> 360000000/(97000000*13) = 285 Wh/passenger mile
> 285 Wh = 972 BTU


From TfL :
Energy efficiency 150 Wh/passenger km travelled
150Wh/km = 241.4 Wh/mile = 823.69645 BTU/mile

I think I discussed my hypothesis about the possible reasons for the apparently greater efficiency of the Tube in my last post.

Now, what is the actual point you're trying to make ?
posted by silence at 1:19 PM on July 20, 2008


Now, what is the actual point you're trying to make ?

You somehow avoided this conclusion, although you used figures form the same post:

125000 BTU per US gallon/972 BTU * 1/3 efficiency factor = 42.5
> passenger mpg


The chart you took exception to by a factor of 3 is almost the same mpg, quoted from the US Dept. of Energy analysis that was cited in the wiki. You can debunk it if you want, but I've been here for the last four posts waiting for you to do so.
posted by Brian B. at 1:31 PM on July 20, 2008


Now I think I understand. The wikipedia page you linked to quotes a number of "2,996 BTU/mi" - about 3 times the 823BTU I calculated - that's where the 3x factor I got was. The wikipedia page is presumably assuming an energy conversion factor of 1/3, whereas it seems quite possible that the TfL number may be for electricity consumption, whereas the Wikipedia page is for source energy consumption (which I agree would be more legitimate, and humbly beg forgiveness).

What makes me think that this might not be the case (and that TfL may be quoting source energy numbers) is that TfL have an overall carbon audit figure of 68.9g CO2 per passenger km which is consistent with the 2005 UK Department for Transport carbon trail figures for Railways (combination of diesel and electric trains) of 60g per passenger km (see page 29 of this analysis document). According to this page from the US Environmental protection agency the combustion of one gallon of gasoline produces 8788g of CO2. If the TfL trains were doing 38MPG/passenger then one would expect them to produce CO2 emissions of 8788/38 = 231grams/mile/passenger. The TfL figures (and the government Department for Transport figures) both seem to be about a third of this - so I'm back to the 3x factor again.
posted by silence at 4:08 PM on July 20, 2008


A less convoluted version of the calculation I did above :

If the carbon trail audit for TfL is 68.9 grams / passenger km
And one gallon of gasoline produces 8788g/CO2 when burned
Then (purely in terms of carbon emissions - not energy used) I make the "gallon of gasoline" equivalent to be 8788/68.9 = 127.5 km = 78.9MPG (the factor is about 2x the number on Wikipedia, not 3x - I forgot to convert km to miles in the posting above)

Anyway, I've written to TfL to ask them exactly what the numbers refer to. If I get a reply, and comments are still open on this thread, I'll post their reply here.
posted by silence at 4:30 PM on July 20, 2008


I would love for us to do away with our car. I hate driving, and lived without doing it until very recently. I run to work in the mornings (10km) and either drive or bus home (my partner works near me so if he drives to work in the morning I can pick up the car in the afternoon). But the reality is that getting our family of three to where we have to be during the week - work, preschool etc. - is near impossible without a car. We often do trips by bike (with four year old in the bike trailer) including grocery shopping, and will do it in all kinds of weather. But the fact is the hassle sometimes is just too much and we go in the car. And I live in a city with an attempt at a cycle path network.

Much of the issue is not fuel prices but urban design - many cities around the world are simply not designed to be traversed unless you have your own vehicle, or have lots of time to get about. Better public transport, less sprawl, more effective cycle and walking alternatives are going to be required in a lot of places before people even consider using their cars less.
posted by Megami at 6:11 PM on July 20, 2008


Wouldn't expecting people to live close enough to their jobs that they'd be able to commute in a reasonable time on a bike relegate certain classes of workers to living in crap areas?

I'm not sure this is any different from the situation we have right now, where the relative housing prices of crap versus non-crap areas relegate certain classes of workers to living in them because they can't afford to live anywhere else.

That is to say, right now, you might have some sort of very noxious industrial site, but none of the (relatively well-paid) workers live anywhere near it — why would they? It stinks. Instead, other people poorer then them, who have no control over the plant, get stuck living next door, commuting to their jobs in some other area, while the plant workers live somewhere else and commute in.

I think a situation where the plant workers (who might, conceivably, have some way to affect how it's run) live near the plant, and the other workers live closer to their jobs, would work out better for all concerned. It's not going to eliminate the poorer people getting stuck in less-desirable living areas (nothing ever has and nothing ever will), but at least it would do away with some of the needless commuting.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:35 PM on July 20, 2008


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