Frequently Answered Question

There’s just the one for now. I fully intend to add more later.

I’ve been asking questions about solar bikes since 2006 when I first got it into my head that I wanted to build one for myself. I’ve been answering questions about solar bikes since 2007 when I started riding around Oakland, California with my first solar ebike prototype. It’s mostly the same 5 or 10 questions over and over. Basically, my life is like Groundhog Day.

An early version of this FAQ is still online. Most of that content is still relevant with the notable exception of my take on regenerative braking. In 2007, I wrote “regenerative braking would only add 2-3% to the battery’s range” based on a my reading of a white paper which in turn was based on outdated assumptions. I now have an ebike with regenerative braking and it extends my range by 10% on flat roads and 20-40% in hilly terrain. I love being wrong about stuff like that. Regenerative braking is awesome.

It’s electric… so you don’t have to pedal?

I get this one all the time so you might think I’ve gotten good at answering it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I find it’s a source of frustration. When linguists discuss the challenges of communicating with extraterrestrials, they point out that the basis of communication is a shared frame of reference. I believe this is my problem: the person asking lives in a completely different world from my own. They’re an alien.

My sense is that these aliens haven’t been on a bike since they first got their driver’s license and would only consider riding a bike if their car broke down and there were no other options. Perhaps they view bicycles as toys for children, Spandex-wearing yuppies and eccentric eco types. They hear electric bike and immediately think “Finally! A bicycle without all that bothersome pedaling!”

But I like pedaling! I didn’t get an ebike because I lost my driver’s license to a DUI or because I have a physical limitation that prevents me from operating a normal bicycle. I got an ebike because I wanted to build a solar powered long distance touring machine that would double the daily range of a fully loaded touring bicycle on a trip around the world. It’s a hybrid. The electric motor and pedal power are not mutually exclusive. They go great together. Think chocolate and peanut butter, not chocolate or peanut butter.

This question is typically asked with a hopeful expression so I suspect the alien my new friend is not looking for a lecture on semiotics. I suspect the answer they’re looking for goes like this:

Yes. The motor is powerful enough to make the bike go without any pedaling whatsoever. You could just use the pedals as foot pegs if you really wanted to.

Next time, I’ll just lead with that.