Commuting Carbon Nuetral: HPV Hybrids

This is something I struggle with. I live with a 38 mile round trip commute. There is no public transportation, and car pooling is difficult as each department has staggered start times. While there are beautiful country roads with passable shoulders for biking, there is that whole Winter thing, and the 38 mile daily commute is pretty daunting-even in my MTB racing days of yore.
Closer to work housing gets alot more expensive, and with the market this flat it would be difficult to offload a house on the freeway and not lose money.

These are the 2 year old arguments that led me to purchase my 2001 Honda Insight 18 months ago. In the summer I can go to work 4 days a week on 2 gallons of gas. Not too shabby! In the Winter it climbs to about 3. But we were running the math this weekend trying to find a way into acreage before I turn 40 and selling the Insight would save about $10k in the next 2 years between payments and insurance. That would knock 1-2 years off the Get Beo a Farm plan.
On a random Google trip this weekend I was looking for a Farm Bike. I have this weird fantasy of a very low geared quad Human Powered Vehicle (HPV) with a payload capacity of about 1 cu yd that I could put tools and veggies in and pedal out to the Back 40 with on my farm. I swear I have seen them, but recent searches have come up dry, though if anyone needs it, it is this guy. I did find some really sweet bikes that are pretty close from a small company in Montana called Light Foot Cycles. Their PediTruck is just about perfect, and they also sell one of the most reasonably priced Cargo Trailers for bikes I have ever seen. Spending $4k on a pedal truck for the farm is a joke, but I like looking at quirky bikes-if for no other reason than to re-assert my geekiness. Then I stumbled on the part that makes this a Carbon Neutral Post.

Light Foot Cycles sells a really slick power assist system. They sell 2-3 electric options, but they didn’t seem to be strong enough for a 40 mile commute-I really got turned on by their gas option. They take a teeny tiny 1.5hp (your neighbor’s lawnmower has 6.5hp) Honda 4-Stroke which is clean enough to pass CARB’s small engine laws. When attached to one of their slick recumbents it will power you to 25+mph (
with fairing) as long as you have fuel-basically a long distance gasoline/human hybrid that would only add about 30 minutes each way to my commute. They don’t give any economy figures, but with mopeds getting upwards of 100mpg I think this could do up to 500+ if you pedal enough on the uphills-heck the fuel tank is only about 1 cup!

But that is still not true carbon neutral. Back to that Honda 4-stroke. Any engine this small is carburated. And anything carburated can run on any alcohol mix you want with relatively little tinkering (ok-it takes alot of tinkering, but no computer hacking so I can do it with enough books, tools, and patience). E-85 is becoming more available, but I am a do it yourselfer, so I want to make my own. I posted in June about the possibility of using my favorite crop, Sunchokes, to make 1600 gallons of ethanol per acre. While I only have about 200 sq ft of Sunchokes, that would still be enough to make about 70 gallons of alcohol (someone check my math)-enough to power my HPV hybrid for about a decade (35,000 miles?!?). Plus if I tune the engine right (and get back inshape), I might hit 30mph average speeds.

A Light Foot Cycle with the ethanol modified power assist would be about $3k and a weekend or two of sweat equity- I could limp through carpooling in the winter and catch up on my reading. That extra $7k would also make the cold November commutes feel a little warmer.
Not sure how serious this is-selling an Insight because it uses too much gas seems extreme, but trading a car in on a bike feels like a step in the right direction. Regardless I think getting past the stigma that some bike commuters have against motor assisted bikes, and learning to start thinking of them as HPV Hybrid’s could open up alot of options for alot of people.
Be the Change

3 Responses

  1. Check out the dutch cargo bikes. You can check Clevercycles in Portland. They sell some Dutch cargo bikes I believe.

    Of course you could also just buy a nice Burley or Bikes at Work work trailer to pull behind a normal mountain bike.

  2. Matt beat me to it. A Bakfiets with a cargo cover would do the trick, you can play around with aftermarket electric assist if you needed some extra power for cargo or when you are beat.

    I’m not sure I’d use a Bak for a 38 mile RT commute everyday… I’d stick to my road bike or commuter for that – but for around town, on your farm (stick to dirt roads or hard packed fields) you’d have cargo capacity and comfort.

    In addition to the traditional 2 wheel bak there is a 3 wheel version available…

    As per the 38 mile commute… the more I ride, the more I want to ride, the easier riding gets. Winter riding is a challenge – baby steps and you could find a way to do it most of the year on a regular bike, without burning oil or any sort of farm brewed concoction. Studded tires, dynamo lights, some good outerwear. Yes, you’d probably want to hitch a ride when there’s a huge dump of snow in the forecast – but shouldn’t people stay off the roads anyway when there’s that much snow coming down?


  3. Thanks Guys!

    The Bakfeits is beautiful! I agree, Mike, it is alittle much for the commute, but it would be a much prettier way to get produce to market.

    Thanks for the advice on commuting which will be useful even if I go with a hybrid, but even in my prime MTB racing days I was only good for average road speeds in the 17-20mph range. My time is not my own between helping with the kids, co-running a small business, and working on several municipal and county commitees. Oh, and then there is my actual job. Add that all up and I would like to see average speeds in the 25-35mph range to keep commutes reasonable which is beyond my legs.

    Plus, the mad scientist in me would like the challenge of brewing my own liquid sunny fuel.

    Thanks again for the advice and link to the Dutch Bike!

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