Thursday, October 29, 2009

Will Electric Motorcycles Catch On?

I stumbled upon a news article in my local paper about two guys riding from Detroit to Washington on electric motorcycles. The two men were recreating the trip of auto industry leaders who converged on Washington to beg for billions in bail-out money. The two hope to convince the president to extend the Energy Department’s Grant Program to include two wheeled vehicles and also expand the Federal Tax credit already available to electric vehicle buyers under the Economic Stimulus law to include electric motorcycles.

The pair rode the Enertia, Brammo’s electric motorcycle, 700 miles in 45 mile increments to reach Washington. The motorcycle weighs 280 pounds, has no gears, shifting or clutch, has a top speed of 60 mph and plugs into any wall outlet. It takes four hours to fully charge the 6 Lithium Ion Phosphate batteries (made by Valence) for a cost of about 30 cents. Their target market is the commuter. You can buy one for $12,000 at Best Buy.

My first reaction while reading the article is that no one I know would buy one. Neither would I. First, I am not crazy about taking my travels in 42-45 mile increments. Then, where do I plug this baby into? If I have mechanical trouble (or in this case electrical trouble) where do I go? I felt I was being too harsh at the onset, so I dug further to find more answers.

The pair put up a website to promote their trip and asked for volunteers along the way for places to plug in the bikes. They would reimburse the cost of electricity if asked. Not many of us want to tap all our family and friends for electric hookup on our next trip. Nor do I think they want to entertain us for four hours while we get charged. As for repairs, call the Geek Squad at Best Buy. First, I NEVER shop Best Buy for personal reasons, so that is out. For all you others, I don’t remember seeing too many Best Buys along the rural routes of our great Nation. So you would certainly have to be a commuter within the city limits.

There are two other components to electric vehicles that I always wonder about, and that is the claim of reducing our individual carbon footprint. Isn’t the power supply I’m using provided in large part generated by fossil fuels? By using wall outlets powered by fossil fuels we are merely shifting carbon emissions from vehicle to power plant. Currently, only 11.1% of our power in the United States is generated by renewable energy.

Now let’s think about the batteries. A regular car has one battery. The Enertia is powered by six. The Lithium Ion Phosphate batteries are good for 2,000 charges. I may never need new ones, but help me get rid of them once I do. They are hazardous waste after all.

While the intent at reducing carbon emissions is a worthy fight, those who develop electric and hybrid vehicles will have to step it up. There is technology already at work by which the vehicle itself recharges the batteries. This technology is already at work in some hybrid busses around the country. The motorcycles in this instance need to have a longer range than 45 miles. Many people I know commute that distance one way each day. Will the company they work for let them plug in at work? My guess is “no.”

In Europe, where the electric motorcycle is already being used, the makers had to add “fake” engine noise to draw customers. Brammo understands this and has built in noise. However, I don’t think a little fake noise is going to make up for the lack of shifting, distance riding, and lack of power outlets available to the general public at this time. The riding season is short in northern climates too, limiting their use. The claim on their website that if you can ride a bike, you can ride the Enertia is a frightening claim. Take a look at a few statistics from random cities around the country of those who purchased scooters last summer when gasoline prices were sky high. If you’re on two wheels, you need riding training. Period.

Right now, the Enteria is too expensive, has limited range and limited use in Northern climates to save much energy or have much effect on your carbon footprint. Brammo is focused on too narrow a spectrum of the population in my opinion to be successful. Inner city and urban riding is scary enough in congested traffic on a motorcycle with limited profile even with louder noise levels. Do you want to try that on a smaller, very quiet electric motorcycle, without rider training? Now there’s a frightening thought.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Who Needs Halloween?

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember my posts Unsolved Mysteries Part l, and Unsolved Mysteries Part II. While these incidences are peculiar and unexplained, they are by no means stand alone incidences in my life. Recently, there have been a number of small unexplained occurrences that have the hair standing up on the back of my neck.

A few years ago, our company moved us into new space. The inside was completely gutted and fitted out to suit us. We moved in and began to enjoy the new space with all its upgrades and features. Then the strange little things began to happen. They were nothing of consequence really. We thought that with a building full of people someone may have just forgot a light, for example, or that with the rush to occupy, the workers had cut a few corners with the wiring etc. Sometimes, we could not come up with a reasonable answer to some of the weird stuff going on. With The Common Man Restaurant just down the street and long know for its paranormal activity, our receptionist began to jokingly ask if our office was built on an old Indian burial ground.

I can’t blame forgetful employees any longer for the strange stuff that goes on. As with many companies these days, our building has long been empty of the throngs that used to walk the halls. I am relegated with my few colleagues to one corner of the premises. While I am very thankful to still be employed, it is getting a bit creepy to take care of the place.

There are days when I am the only woman in the building. I walk into the ladies room, enter the stall, and within a few moments the paper towel dispenser by the sink discharges a sheet for me. For a while, I thought maybe I was activating the sensor when I passed the mirror, or that the stall door caused a reflection of some sort the set it off. I went to great lengths to test these theories and avoid the triggers I imagined. The paper still dispenses without hand activation. Now I just say “thank you” into the empty room.

One morning, an employee approaches me and tells me the lights are on upstairs. She has noticed them from outside while parking her car.
“Not again!” I moan.
Those darn networked lights have never been right! I walk to the master panel and there is no indication that the lights are on upstairs. I work the buttons a few times thinking maybe I can reset the switch. To be certain they are off, I make the trek upstairs. I enter the suite and the dang lights are on. I go to the upstairs master panel and the switch is off. I work that a few times to no avail. I walk around the suite looking for the alternate switch. I work that a few times and the lights finally go off. I don’t like this suite; there is a broken office window. One day it was fine, the next it was shattered. It creeps me out and I leave the suite.

I decide I better walk the entire top floor in case more lights are on. Our building used to house developers and to protect “secrets” all the doors have card readers and access is limited to those with access cards. I walk the entire top floor using my card to get from one place to the next. As I head to the last and furthest reaches of the building, one of the card readers at the door to a former lab beeps. I stop and look at it. The indicator light goes from red to green. It clicks and I know the lock has released. My access card in hanging from my hip, but is on the opposite side from the door. I cover it with my hand. I watch the access panel. After a moment or two, it clicks, letting me know the door is now locked. The indicator light changes from green to red. “OK” I think “that’s enough.” I don’t check the rest of the building but make my way back to the first floor.

When I’m safely back, I calm down. It dawns on me that if my card had somehow triggered the lock, it would be recorded. I use my access card to enter the secure room. I log into the machine that monitors the doors. The current activity scrolls up onto the screen. I see my name listed near the lobby stairwell, suites one and two, and so on as I moved through the building. Where is that lab door? I can’t see it activated. I scroll through again and still don’t see my name near that door. I take each line one at a time. Not only is my name not recorded near that door, the door itself has not been recorded as being activated. Since I know I was fully awake and did not dream this, the hair is once again standing up on the back of my neck. Who needs Halloween? If the season doesn’t give you enough goose bumps, stop by the office and I’ll give you a tour.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Read Me in RoadRunner Motorcycle Touring and Travel Magazine

If you are not a subscriber to RoadRunner Motorcycle Touring and Travel Magazine, you may want to pick up a copy of the Nov/Dec issue at the newsstand. Flip to page 94 to begin reading an article that I collaborated on with my good friend David Headley.

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon the call for submissions at the magazine’s website. As I read through the guidelines, I knew instantly what I wanted to write about. This favorite ride is something we do first thing in the spring, or the last thing in fall. While we may take the same route for the most part, it is almost a different ride each time. The fall foliage changes things that much.

The guidelines call for 10 to 20 high resolution photos. Dave was the man for this, and he did not hesitate one breath when I asked if he’d like to help me out. I worked on the text for a bit to get an idea of what we should photograph. Off we went on July 4th for a very long day of stop and go as we photographed nearly every inch of the 130 mile loop. Dave shot 190 photographs. That was the easy part. The hard part was deciding which 20 we would send along with the article.

I had a blast writing the article and thumbing through all the photos reliving the day again and again. Part of the submission guidelines asked for a map and if possible a GPS file to be submitted with the route description. I gave myself an education tweaking that route in MapSource, because although I am good at downloading files and following them to some extent, I have never actually drawn up a route on my own. You can download the file for Garmin GPS units at the website. While you are there you can read the text and look at some of Dave’s photography.

One of the most interesting aspects we encountered on July 4th was the courtesy that folks extended to us as we set up our shots. Many stopped their vehicle so as not to disturb our photo; they slowed, waved and were generally cordial and friendly. The bonus too in taking photos on Independence Day was the fact that many town centers were bedecked in banners of red, white and blue.

No sooner do I put the stamp on the envelope to RoadRunner when Dave is asking when we are going to do the next article. You don’t have to look far for ideas. New Hampshire is prime motorcycle riding territory. While many folks will think “White Mountains” or “Kancamagus” there are more great roads in New Hampshire than just the tourist attractions.

Here are some photos taken by Dave that you won’t see in the magazine.

Want to see more of David’s photography? Visit his Flickr site. Let him know what you think. He’d appreciate hearing from you.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

California Bike Week's Love Ride

Two years ago Andy and I attended California Bike Week. Back then I wrote about how much fun we had at the show. Each year as the time rolls around again I like to check the website to see what’s new and exciting. One of the major attractions of California Bike Week is the Love Ride. The Love Ride was founded in 1984 by Oliver Shokouh to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. (Having two nephews who died at a much too young age of this terrible affliction, it is a charity of interest to us as you can imagine.) Over the years the Love Ride has grown to raise money for dozens of other children’s charities. To my dismay, I saw announced on their website, that the Ride this year has been cancelled. The poor economy is cited as the reason for the cancellation.

Instead of the Ride, Glendale Harley will sponsor an autograph session with Peter Fonda to commemorate the 40th Anniversary “Easy Rider.” The event will take place at the dealership. The Ride is such a big draw that its cancellation had a domino effect in that several other venues were cancelled as well. All of Friday’s events, including Wall of Death, Stunt Shows, Ride-in Custom Bike Show will not take place. The Wall of Death and the Stunt Shows are two of the events I enjoyed the most. While the Love Ride has been cancelled the founder hopes that folks will still consider a donation to the organization’s charities.

Check out their website for full details and the address of Glendale Harley. If you live in the area and were thinking about going to the show I am interested in hearing about your adventure. Or better yet, if you are patient enough to stand in line for an autograph from Peter Fonda, get a second one for me! And while you are at it, if possible consider a donation to one of the organization’s charities. After all, while we may be missing out on a bit of fun, it’s the children who are really losing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

~ The assumption that seeing is believing makes us susceptible to visual deceptions ~
Kathleen Hall Jamieson

The neighborhood was taking part in a town-wide yard sale on Saturday, so we decided to take advantage of the increased traffic to unload “stuff” we never use. Andy pointed me to the front hall closet to seek out items for the tables. At first I didn’t think there was anything in there that I wanted to part with, but I managed to fill two crates with “stuff.”

Andy walked around the yard, pulling “stuff” to the roadway. Over the years he’s collected quite a bit of “stuff” of his own. Some of this “stuff” I have been complaining about for years.
      “What the heck do you need so many 55 gallon plastic barrels for?” I moaned time and again.
      “They might come in handy for something” he would reply.
He sold five of those barrels easily for $5.00 each. Not too shabby.

One of the items Andy pulled to the roadway was a dilapidated utility trailer. It looked like nothing but wood rot and rusty hinges Sure the frame and tires were good, but look at it! A gentleman with a broad brimmed hat stopped, took one look at it and paid the asking price right then and there. He said it was perfect for towing behind his yard tractor. Not to mention, once he fixed it up, he could haul his goats out into that field he needed trimming. The saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” was never more evident as at the neighbor hood yard sale that day.

As for my “stuff” I decided that sentimentality has no place in a house if you are looking to de-clutter. To that end, I placed on the table just for the ladies several sets of earrings that once belonged to a beloved aunt. The earrings were a colorful array of costume jewelry; all flowers. I had bright yellow sunflowers, blue and white orchids, and roses of red and pink all in miniature versions of their real life counterparts. While the ladies examined them and a few sold, it was the yellow jackets who found them the most interesting.

Through each hour of that day yellow jackets worked feverishly in the weak autumn sun to collect as much nectar before the long winter sets in. Time and again, they came to crawl all over those earrings, befuddled by their appearance yet covering every inch diligently. They persisted, never giving up on the assumption that these would produce nectar if visited enough times and inspected thoroughly.

Watching the yellow jackets gave me an opportunity to once again learn a valuable lesson about life. How many times do we waste valuable energy repeating the same mistakes? Had Andy not insisted I clean the front hall closet, it would still contain two crates of junk I never use or want. Just because I thought something was of no use, didn’t mean others thought the same. The bees taught me again that appearances are deceiving and that once we assume a thing is so, we are most certainly mistaken.

With the town-wide yard sale, I assumed I’d unload a few unwanted items and put a few extra bucks in my pocket. What I carried back into the house was a lesson so much more valuable than that.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Girl Gear

If you’re like me, you are always on the lookout for decent women’s riding gear. Now you guys have plenty of selections out there to choose from but women have been neglected in the selection department for a long time. I have often visited women’s riding gear sites purported to be developed by women with selections solely for women, only to be discouraged at what I find. Either the stuff is all pink, offers little real protection, or is in bad taste. So it was with skepticism that I clicked on the link for Girl Gear.

As soon as the page refreshed my eyebrows went up in surprise. There on the home page was a photo of a model wearing one of the jackets. First, the model was not (excuse my selection of words here) a bimbo. She looked like a real legitimate rider. The second thing that caught my eye was that the jacket looked like something I would actually wear. In fact a few years ago I searched high and low for a decent women’s jacket that did not stop short at the waist. The model in this photo is wearing a tasteful jacket that reaches below the waist and looks comfortable. I don’t know about you ladies, but I prefer not to have cold blasts of air shooting up and down my spine for miles on end.

I decided a look around the website was in order. I found an unusual pair of chaps, in that you use your own belt to secure them, by sliding a flap at the hip under and over the belt, and then snapping it at a height that is comfortable for you. Interesting concept in design. There are three selections for short sleeved tee shirts, with a saying on one of them that is reflective of a counter attack to the men’s line. It was the only one I disapproved of. The other one says "'s all girls want to do" which I don’t have a problem with at all. The third tee is something I would certainly wear. It has a V neck, a style of shirt I’m fond off. This one reads “Yes, I ride” with motorcycle in small pink print. The body of the shirt is black with white side panels. I think its attractive looking enough for me to forgive the pink print in the word “motorcycle.” There is a long sleeved shirt in pink as I suppose there are women who do like to wear pink. There is also a tank top available. I have been known to wear a tank top now and then, so no problem here. The prices too are all in line with typical riding gear.

While the selection is minimal, I was pleased overall with what I saw. I’m sorry that I missed checking out their gear at Americade in June. If you are like me and like to touch and feel before you buy, there are a couple of upcoming events where you can check them out. The first is at the International Motorcycle show in Minneapolis MN coming February 5-7, 2010 and the International Motorcycle Show in Chicago, IL from February 19-21, 2010. If you go, drop me a line and tell me what you think.

*photo from Girl Gear website.