Saturday, May 29, 2010

My First Look at the New "Corporal" Sharrows

Last week I was pleasantly surprised to see new sharrows being put down by PBOT on Williams, north of Killingsworth. Later, I also surprised to hear there were new sharrows installed on Holman as well. I was expecting the new sharrows on Holman as part of its designation as a new bike boulevard, I just wasn't expecting them so soon.

"Sharrow" is a contraction of shared lane and arrow. They help people on bicycle identify bike routes and safe lane placement, and make other road users aware that people on bikes are more likely to be present

The new sharrows are much larger than the old bike route signage, as seen below, and use bars similar to a corporal's rank insignia to indicate direction of traffic. They're much more visible to cars as well.

Below are some pictures of the new 'corporal' sharrows. Much like a geologist's rock hammer, the Samba is included for scale. It's a size 9.

1) The old bike route designation.

2) A detail of the new corporal sharrow; I'd need longer legs to get the whole thing in a single shot.

3) A direct size comparison.

4) Sharrows are regularly and frequently placed along the street.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Metro + Gracie's Wrench: Building Better eBikers

Today I sat in on a brown bag lunch meeting about ebikes at Metro. Metro recently added an electric bike from The eBike Storeto their vehicle pool, and the brown bag was a required orientation session for interested users. Tori Bortman of Gracie's Wrench presented a comprehensive and compact informational session. In addition to the regular bike basics about moving safely in traffic, she covered some ebike-specific details. "Cars don't expect you to be moving as quickly as you can be, and the increased weight of the ebike can require more stopping time than you're used to at first," she said

"You know, I rode here today, and I enjoyed it, but when I first arrived, I wasn't well, dry," Bortman said. Ebikes will enable Metro employees to ride to meetings, saving fuel, parking expenses, and other fleet maintenance expense. Based on their smiles while test riding today, they might even have some fun getting there, too.

(Personally, I was happy to finally get an in-focus picture of Tori!)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Welcome Hard Drive Readers!

You may have found me today through the Oregonian's story about electric bikes. I've posted this as an open forum - if you've got a question or comment to share, feel free to post it as a response here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Portland's Eneloop: The Mayor's Perspective

I recently had an opportunity to talk to Mayor Sam Adams about his office's new ebike. As you may recall, Sanyo recently donated one of their Eneloop ebike models to the Mayor's office (they also donated one to the Mayor of Salem). Since hearing that, I've been curious as to whether the bike is getting much use and what his staffers think of the bike.

Mayor Adams reports that his staff really likes the bike, and that it enables him to regularly ride his commute in work clothes (suit and tie, in his case) without the necessity of a shower at the end. It's difficult to see in the photo, but he was also wearing a helmet from Nutcase, which is based in Portland.

Additionally, the Mayor pointed out that if more people were aware of electric bikes, bikes "would easily pick up 10% in mode share". As Portland looks to expand bike share into the "interested but concerned", ebikes can help address a lot of those concerns.

All city employees also have access to the A2B ebikes in the city motor pool as well.

Metro also recently added an electric bike to their motor pool. In several brief conversations with test riders during the recent Bike There! map launch, riders reported that they found the ebike to be a viable alternative to checking out a car to go to a meeting downtown.

It will be interesting to hear more long-term feedback on fleet electric bikes.

Where's Your Eneloop?

Here's a story from the Salem Statesman-Journal about their local bike-to-work day. Interestingly, the story mentions an Eneloop ebike, given to the city by Sanyo. Portland's Mayor's office was recently given an Eneloop, and Mayor Sam Adams can be seen here enjoying the ride during last weekend's Sunday Parkway.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ride Report - Sunday Parkways, NE Edition

Sunday May 16th was the first of 5 Sunday Parkways for 2010. Portland's signature summer car-free event, Sunday Parkways have been growing in popularity since they started 2 years ago. This year was no exception; despite early rain, there was a strong turnout all day, and even after the saw horse barricades came down, there was heavy pedestrian/bike traffic in the neighborhood surrounding the route.

Last week I posted a preview of the route; I was happy to see that I was pretty close in my suggestions. Alberta Park seemed to be the busiest park; the intersection of Prescott and 37th was secured with police officers, and the addition of Woodlawn Park was enthusiastically embraced. The exit from Woodlawn Park up 13th street was probably the narrowest constriction point on the route; Ainsworth was the most pleasant riding - the median made for divided traffic, and it was mostly parked-car-free.

I visited all the parks starting at 10am. There was ebike-related action at each park. While I was at Woodlawn Park, it rained a bit, but SoupCycle, who delivers in Souplandistan via ebike, was already slinging soup.

Alberta Park at 10:15 was already crowded. Wake at The eBike Store was up and running - not surprisingly, RainMates chaps seemed a popular item. With the broad open ball field, music venue under cover, jungle gyms, and copious food carts, Alberta Park promised to get busy quickly.

On the way to Wilshire Park I spotted someone on an ebike - an eZee conversion kit. It's rider wasn't actually using the motor, though, as he was riding with his son. Wilshire Park sported a Best Buy booth, where they were demoing their ebikes.

The ride down 37th to Fernhill was a nice downhill. At Fernhill, Singing Planet eBikes was doing brisk test ride traffic, answering lots of questions, and enjoying their cul-de-sac location.

Riding back up Ainsworth, I saw another ebike - an older gentleman riding a Currie conversion with his sons on non-ebikes.

Doffing the PDXebiker helmet, I ventured out later with a big mix of friends and family. We had a great time at Alberta Park, eating epic burritos and free Clif bars, enjoying face painting and a brisk game of frisbee. As the route closed, we headed to Woodlawn Park to volunteer to help with folding up tables and chairs.

In conclusion, Sunday Parkways kicked off this year in a big way, and I was glad to see ebikes seamlessly fitting into the mix. I'm already planning for the North Portland route. If you're considering going, please consider volunteering - it's easy and makes a huge difference!

One Week With: Pathfinder ST

I recently spent a week with the Pathfinder ST ebike, courtesy of The eBike Store. It proved to be a solid bike, nicely accessorized, at a good price point, with only a few minor complaints.

The Basics
The Pathfinder is distributed in the US by Boomer Bicycles. It's a mid-battery, front hub motor ebike, based on an aluminum frame. Front suspension forks mellow the bumps, and the cruiser style handlebars and gel seat make for a comfortable, upright riding position. Front disc and rear drum brakes provide stopping power, and a 7 speed Shimano internal rear hub provides a wide range of gearing. Electrically, it's based on Ezee electronics: running 350 watts at 36 volts, and comes standard with a 14 amp-hour battery. It weighs in at 62lbs, and tops out unpedalled at 20mph. MSRP is $2,195. It offers a throttle control as well as 2 pedal assist settings.

My Impressions
Initially, I had not expected to like the step-through frame, but found I quickly appreciated the low step-over height. The Pathfinder is a reassuringly solid ride. The combination of the thick aluminum tubing used in the frame, large Schwalbe Big Apple tires, a generous seat, and broad handlebars make it feel larger than it is. The mid-frame battery placement keeps the center of gravity low. That said, at 62 lbs, it's not MAX-friendly if you want to hang it. Additionally, the stretched frame to accomodate the mid-frame placement of the battery means it doesn't fit in a Tri-Met bus-mounted bike rack.

A headlight and tail light are thoughtfully integrated into the electrical system. Also included standard is a rear wheel cafe lock - a short push locks the rear wheel to the frame. This won't prevent complete removal of the bike, but does prevent it from being rolled away. There is also an accessory chain available, making it easy to lock to a bike rack or other permanent structure.

Since the Pathfinder offers a combination of throttle and pedal assist, I tried to isolate both functions in performing a range test. Test ride conditions were a mix of flat and gentle hills; stop-and-go riding ala running errands. Using the throttle at full and pedalling as little as possible, I managed to get almost 17 miles on a charge. After switching to another fully charged battery, I followed the same general route using the pedal assist at its highest setting, and got almost 25 miles. Carrying the second battery was awkward - although it mounts easily and locks securely, the battery can be a bit awkward off the bike, as it lacks a handle. An accessory battery bag is available. When focusing on speed rather than efficiency, I found top throttle-controlled speed to be 20mph, pedal assist level 1 speed about 13mph, and pedal assist level 2 speed to be 17mph.

Minor Complaints
When I first received the bike, I noticed occasional noise from the rear drum brake. This lessened as my test continued. The front disc brake provided firm stopping power, even when wet. I did notice a strange intermittant noise from the front wheel; I believe it was the fender briefly rubbing on the tire. It didn't appear to be adversely affecting tire wear.

In practice, I found the Pathfinder to be a comfortable ride. Though it features a 7-speed hub, I found I usually selected the gear that yielded comfortable cadence at cruising speed, and used the throttle to smooth the sometimes "surge-y" acceleration to that speed, rather than shifting through the gear range. At speed, it's stable, predictable, and easily slowed down.

If I were to purchase a Pathfinder, I would definitely include the accessory locking chain as well as rear baskets. With these additions, it would be a solid dependable ride with lots of utilitarian value. Reflecting this, the Pathfinder is being used as rental and tour bike at Pedal Bike Tours as well as a fleet vehicle at Metro.

"Dude, Totally Rockin'"
Solid range, extendable with a little effort
Throttle/pedal assist mix
Integrated lock and lights

"I Dunno Man..."
"Surge-y" pedal assist at low pedal cadence
Intermittant rear brake noise
Occasional front fender rubbing
Not MAX/bus friendly

(Note: the Pathfinder has the disadvantage of being the first bike I've reviewed. In this space, I'll update this review with comparisons to other models as I test them.)

How Do eBikes Fit Into Transpo Mix? PSU's On It

Geoff Rose, the Director of the Institute of Transport Studies and Transport Theme Leader in the Monash Sustainability Institute at Portland State University is presenting a seminar on the electric bike as a part of the transportation mix. The seminar is Friday, May 21, from Noon to 1pm, in Room 204 of the Distance Learning Center Wing of the Urban Center on the Portland State University campus

Here's the abstract of his presentation:

A variety of types of electric bicycles are now available to consumers in America and around the world. While there has been strong uptake of these vehicles in China, there remains uncertainty in other markets about their ultimate potential as a transportation mode. The technology is evolving in ways that are likely to better meet traveller's needs and the growth of this mode presents both opportunities and challenges. Since they have implications for transportation policy, planning and operations it is appropriate for the transportation profession to consider these vehicles carefully. This seminar will review developments and emerging issues with this form of transportation technology.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Metro Adds an eBike; Come Check It Out!

Today, Oregon Metro added an ebike to their motor pool. It will be available for employees to use in lieu of a motorized pool vehicle. Based on a few minutes in the lobby as it was handed over, it will be a popular alternative to borrowing a car. As a prerequisite to riding the Pathfinder, Metro will require that employees complete a basic bike/ebike safety class, to ensure they're ready for the road.

The bike Metro purchased is a white Pathfinder ST from The eBike Store. I spent a week in a long term test of this model, and found it to be a comfortable bike and an easy transition into ebiking.

Later this afternoon (4-6pm), Metro is hosting a launch event for the latest iteration of the Bike There! map. The Pathfinder will be there to check out, as well as their new cargo bike, goldsprint races, free tune ups, and a lot of other bikey fun. Metro offices are located at 600 NE Grand.

Update, May 21:

Here's a video produced by Metro highlighting their new bike options: the aforementioned ebike, as well as a cargo bike.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bike Route Planning: NE Holman

I briefly hung up the PDXebiker cap today and attended my first local bike planning input meeting, presented by PBOT. They're making some changes to NE Holman to create a "neighborhood greenway"; since we live nearby, I was attending as a neighbor, as well an interested ebiker.

I'll post links to their website after they upload details, but I was impressed with the quality and depth of analysis that obviously went into the plan. I was also surprised to see a strong turnout and enthusiasm and a high degree of engagement from the audience. I even saw some familiar ebikers!

One of the more exciting parts of the upcoming plan is expanding a small pocket park across NE Holman. It will retain bicycle and pedestrian paths, but increase the size of the park significantly; there was strong vocal support for this part of the plan from the audience.

In short, its good to know that this kind of work is going into building out our bicycle infrastructure. As ebikers, it's important that we lend our voices in support of this as well. I'm going to try and make a point of attending more of these sessions in the future.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sunday Parkways Preview: North East

(I'm a big fan of Sunday Parkways; I have been since they started 2 years ago. This year, I'm planning on doing a preview of each of the 5 routes, sharing my experience and opinion on the route, as well as ebike-related points of interest along the way. Conveniently, I was test-riding a Pathfinder ST ebike over the weekend, and had a chance to check out the NE route. Also, please consider volunteering to be an Intersection Superhero - it's fun and a great way to help out!)

Sunday Parkways, Portland's signature summertime neighborhood event series, launches May 16th. The Northeast version is one of my favorite routes. Last year, we hosted a backyard bbq for the extended family and fielded a crew of ~25 on a wide variety of bikes, skateboards, scooters, etc.; logistics prevent a big production this year, but we're still planning to ride. You certainly don't have to ride to every park on the route, but here's what I'm looking forward to.

A big change for this year's NE Sunday Parkway is the new Woodlawn Park loop - adding a 4th venue and additional mileage is a great change to this route, so I'm starting there this year. With a well-developed play structure, ample picnic tables, and wide grassy lawn, Woodlawn Park and the cluster of restaurants on nearby Dekum St. is a little-known but much-loved part of the neighborhood. While here, be sure to check out Soup Cycle - Jed and Shauna will venture out of Souplandistan to offer the best in soups and salad. They also deliver weekly via ebike. Entry and exit to the park across Dekum St will be interesting; I'm sure the SP team will have it under control.

I'd recommend riding south up 8th Ave to Ainsworth; 8th is a little wider than 13th, and it maximizes your time on Ainsworth. Ainsworth can be a challenge to share with cars, as there's not much room to pass, but car-free, its a divided 2-way dream to ride. If this year is like last year, there will be Otter Pops in the median.

I think Alberta Park is going to be the center of the action this year - it's central on the route, has a solid roster of vendors and musicians, and will again feature the bike skills course. The skills course is fun to watch, but challenging to ride. It seems there's always one spot I can't get past, but I've been practicing. While in Alberta Park, check out The eBike Store, and grab a free map from the Columbia River Crossing folks.

From Alberta Park, I'd recommend back-tracking to 17th and heading south. This will take you by the Community Cycling Center on Alberta Street, a great chance to top off your tires, or grab something you didn't know you needed from their dollar bin. Beyond Alberta, we start climbing to Going St, then turn east to follow the ridge. The roads are wide and fairly shady, and as I recall from last year, a fun ride. An intersection mandala at Shaver and 37th marks the turn to Wilshire Park.

Wilshire Park offers the most food vendors of any of the parks on the NE route. Best Buy will be there, talking about their electric vehicle offerings. Pedal Bike Tours, who offer ebike rentals and ebike options on their tours, will also be in Wilshire Park this year.

From Wilshire, I'll head north up 37th Street to Fernhill Park. This is the longest straight leg of the route, and traverses the tricky s-turn at the intersection with Prescott. It's nice to pass through this intersection while heading downhill, so I'd recommend the counter-clockwise route on this loop. Also, 37th isn't as shady as 17th; last year I recall it got pretty warm riding uphill, ie southbound, on 37th.

Fernhill has a great off-leash section for the dogs; for Sunday Parkways, they'll have food vendors and an array of vendors, including a climbing wall. Be sure to check out Singing Planet's electric bike rentals. As the picture shows, the grass is filling in quickly at Fernhill.

Logistically, Wilshire and Woodlawn Parks have the most picnic tables, but last year there were temporary tables set up in several parks, so seating shouldn't be an issue.

"I Love This Route!"s
Alberta Park
The bridge in Woodlawn Park

"Keep an Eye Out For..."
Intersection at Prescott and 37th
Intersections at Dekum/7th and 13th

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pedal Bike Tours to Offer eBike Options, Courtesy The eBike Store

This week, Pedal Bike Tours(PBT) and The eBike Store, both of Portland, Ore., are announcing their partnership to bring ebike options to PBT's guided pedal tours.

The team at Pedal Bike Tours is excited about the opportunity. When asked how his guides felt about the extension, PBT owner Todd Roll reports their enthusiasm, and that they recognize the potential for ebikes to open bicycle tours to a whole new audience. Adding an assisted option addresses concerns from those who may have previously been wary about their capabilities to make the distance, or climb any hills the tour may include. PBT's guides, selected specially for their local knowledge and communication skills, will receive additional ebike-specific training to supplement their existing repair and maintenance skills. With an average group size of 2-3, PBT guides will be able to answer questions about ebikes, entertain, and educate customers about the sights on their selected tour.

Initially PBT will offer ebike models from Pathfinder and Giant via The eBike Store. They can be utilized in several ways:
* as part of an existing tour - ebikes as a $10 upgrade
* ebike-only tours
* ebike rentals, up to 3 days

By leveraging Pedal Bike Tour's customer service and fleet maintenance experience, Wakefield Gregg of The eBike Store sees this as a natural extension of the services he offers, and formalizes his response to customer requests for rental bikes. "It's a great way to see if an ebike will complement your lifestyle - much more so than a ride around the block," he said.

If you purchase an ebike from The eBike Store within 30 days of rental, the rental charge is applied to your purchase price. I've been riding a similar Pathfinder model for a week, and have found it to be a comfortable and dependable ride.

Ebikes will be available at Pedal Bike Tours starting this Wednesday, May 5th. Rental rates are $12/hr, $50/8 hrs, $68 for 24 hrs, and $105 for 3 days.

The eBike Store, at 201 N Alberta, has been open a year, and carries exclusively electric bikes, as well as offering conversions, service, and accessories. For more information about ebikes, contact Wakefield Gregg at (503)360-1432.

Pedal Bike Tours, located at 2249 N Williams in North Portland, is in its second season offering regularly scheduled tours as well as custom options and bike (both electric and non-electric) rentals. For more information or to schedule a tour, call Todd Roll at (503)877-2453.