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June 3, 2010
Ray LaHood: "People Want Out of Their Cars"

In March, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood surprised delegates at the National Bike Summit, when he jumped up on a table and proclaimed that national policy would no longer “favor motorized transportation at the expense of nonmotorized.” It was a watershed—a direct statement from the US czar of transportation that fuel-efficient auto technologies, such as hybrids and electric cars, are only part of the solution.

"People want out of their cars, they want out of congestion, they want to live in livable neighborhoods and livable communities,” LaHood told the crowd.

Despite the federal support for electric-drive cars--$2.4 billion in grants and $25 billion in low-interest loans for retooling – it will take a decade or more for hybrids and EVs to rise above their niche status. The greenest cars are still cars—which require tons of energy, produce lots of emissions, and erode the quality of life along increasingly congested roadways. And after all, bicycles are the only true zero emissions vehicles.

Mr. LaHood, the 64-year-old former Republican member of the US House of Representatives, outlined the new policy in his blog. He called on state and local governments to go beyond minimum planning and maintenance requirements to provide convenient and safe amenities for bikers and walkers. “Walking and biking should not be an afterthought in roadway design.” Transportation agencies are urged to take action on a number of fronts, including the creation of pathways for bike riders and pedestrians on bridges, and providing children with safe biking and walking routes to schools.”

In a follow-up tweet, LaHood wrote, “More cars on more roads may not be the best way to move people more effectively.” The response from the blogosphere was almost all positive. One enthusiastic commenter wrote on LaHood's Facebook page, “Finally we have a Secretary of Transportation and not a Secretary of the Automobile.”


Blame for Gulf Coast Spill Begins at the Pump

If you're mad about the spill, think about what you're driving.

The devastating oil spill in the Gulf Coast will embolden green transportation advocates to push harder for change—from fuel-efficient cars to public transportation and bicycle use. But that change won’t happen until drivers make a fundamental connection between their oil use, oil spills, and other severe environmental and economic risks.

Electric-drive cars, especially those fueled by electricity instead of petroleum, could play a key role in reducing the need to drill. The good news is that electric cars and plug-in hybrids are finally coming to market, but they are trickling out while the spill in the Gulf gushes out. The current spill is not an isolated event. Between 2001 and 2007, there were 356 oil spills of varying degrees of seriousness on federal lands and waters alone.

We could get angry at Big Oil, or at negligent federal regulators, but consider this possibility: Nothing will change as long as the average driver—not just hybrid and EV owners—fails to connect the dots. That’s why author Lisa Margonelli’s clever idea is maybe about the best we can muster right now: “We should print the risks [of using oil] on every gasoline receipt, just as we label smoking’s risks on cigarette packs.”


 "Electric cars are not for everyone. They only meet the needs of 90% of drivers."  Ed Begley

On this page:  Electric Bikes, Lawn Mowers, Electric Cars

After seeing Who Killed The Electric Car (a must for anyone who is reading this page), we soon found ourselves at an electric vehicle conference in Wenatchee, WA in May 2007.  It was nice to show up in a Mercedes with a 1400-mile range on vegetable oil and be the OLDEST technology in the parking lot (not even worth showing off).  This crowd is way beyond internal combustion.

With the efficiency of EVs compared to any internal combustion vehicle, coupled with the simplicity in construction and maintenance, it was great to finally see some real electric cars.  As advised by the veterans we met, we jumped into electric assisted bikes as a learning avenue for the real deal (4 wheeled vehicles).  After 2000 miles during two summers of riding various models of electric assist mountain bikes around Bozeman, I am still surprised at how much fun they are.  They are more practical than a car in many ways.  Instead of getting less exercise, we found we just rode 2-4 times further in any given day and still burned off plenty of calories.  The more I ride ebikes, the less I want an electric car.  People like to think that bikes are only to be ridden when looking for some exercise, and ebikes don't change that - you can still put in the same amount of effort, you're just going 2-4 times faster and further.  Add a trailer and the car really starts to collect dust.  Using a 'kid' trailer I can collect 150 lbs of vegetable oil at a time, or groceries, or building materials, etc. with ease. 

Watch our time-lapse transportation video proving the efficiency of biking vs. car travel

I challenge anyone to beat me with any other mode of transportation on a random list of 10 errands around town, anywhere within the 35 mph speed zone.  Ebikes have the speed of a car in town, but with all the advantages of a bike (parking at the door instead of jammed up in a parking lot, moving to the front of the line at stoplights and stop signs, utilizing alleys and sidewalks when a street is closed).  My bike computer confirms it, with an average speed of at least 15 mph.  I can do a 4 mile errand loop in 45 minutes that would take 2 hours in a car!  Another nice thing about ebikes is the silence.  Good brakes are a necessity.

If you need to brush up on your bike maintenance skills, go to the Bike Kitchen on Tuesday evenings.   If you want to learn more about bike based business ideas check out

So what is an E-bike?
An ebike is a regular looking bicycle that has an electric motor in the hub of one of its wheels.  You should pedal upon starting out but I don't break a sweat unless I want to.  You'll get more range by pedaling even a little.  The kit consists of an entire wheel (front or rear) which is basically an electric motor with spokes and rim built onto it, the motor controller, throttle, and battery - that's it!  Ebikes should be thought of as a very lightweight (55lb) motor cycles in many ways, except they require no license, permit, insurance or registration.

Here is one of my first ebikes: 
The motor on this one is in the back wheel, the battery is behind the seat tube, and there's a twist grip on the right handlebar to send juice to the motor.  It tops out at 18 mph, takes 2.5 cents to charge up and has a range of 10-15 miles depending on how hard you pedal.  The motor and the rider share the work load, and it doesn't matter to the bike who or what is doing the work. 

There are a dizzying number of e-bikes out there and kits for mountain bikes as well.  Most complete ebikes are expensive, around $2000, and top out at 18-20 mph.  Kits are much cheaper with a $900 price tag, allow you to use your existing bike, and have a higher top speed.  Here is the kit I recommend, which fits onto most any bike: (look at the 4825 'Power System Only' link) and then power it with the LiFePO4 Life battery:   Note:  Jan 2012, this motor is temporarily discontinued but the company is looking for a new supplier.  It's a great combination price wise and speed wise, and the current motor offered is over twice the price so let's hope they find a replacement!

I used to use lithium polymer batteries from Battery Space but they have a dismal life of less than 300 charges and aren't worth the light weight aspect.  The LiFe battery is rated at 2000 charge cycles, is less expensive, stores more energy since it's 48v and still 10 amp hours, is capable of 26 mph on my Roadrunner motor, and has a range of 20-25 miles depending on type of tires and amount of pedaling on your part.  It consumes 5 cents worth of electricity to charge the battery.  I prefer a front wheel motor which balances the bike weight-wise and gives you all wheel drive for winter riding.

Whatever kit you choose, stay away from the lead acid batteries - they ruin the biking experience with their weight and bulk.  The lithium battery is $425 of the $900 total kit cost, but it's worth it. 

IF YOU WANT AN EBIKE but need some help deciding which components to buy, and would also like some help with the installation, Choice Energy has the solution:  for $100 we will help you get up and running quickly with the best components available.  To learn more, email us here

Cordless Lawmower:

So you don't want/need an ebike or car?  There are plenty of other products using the same principle.  I purchased a cordless electric lawnmower from Ace Hardware in May 08 and it worked great for the last three summers - mowed 4 lawns on one charge, $0.05 in electricity (.5 kwh)!  If you can't mow your lawn with one of these then you should think about how big your lawn is.  Lawn chemicals are petroleum so they not only kill the life in your lawn and toxify the bugs, birds, pets, fish and animals but they have a carbon impact as well.  Generally you can spend less on a garden than on keeping your grass green.  Kentucky Bluegrass doesn't even have good protein for feeding livestock such as sheep, goats, or horses.  Springhill Sod Farm now wells native fescue sod which uses half the water, needs less mowing, greens up 3 weeks earlier in the spring, and stays greener though the dry part of the summer and fall.  There's a perennial grass marketer at the Saturday farmers market if you want to release some of your lawn to native plants and flowers:  You'll have to survive the bluegrass advertising on their web site and skip to the wildflower sod page.

Order this lawnmower from Ace Hardware, $350  587-5401, you'll need the Item Number:  7197031.  It takes about a week to arrive here.

Mobile lawn mowing on custom kit trailer
Here is the link for the trailer kit:
More info on our All Electric Mowing Service

Electric Vehicles:

The S10 trucks are the best vehicle to convert to electric, in my opinion.  Hundreds of them have been done around the country so there are good plans available, and you can find them with blown motors for very cheap.   The total cost for a cold climate EV is roughly $22k.  It will do 70 mph, have a 40 mile range for mostly in town driving, and will cost $.05/mile in electricity.  And you don't have to wait for the electric car of the future to become available.

How much does your current vehicle cost to own and operate?  Take a look at this cost calculator:  The average car in the US costs over $600/month, sucking up 17% of our income.  That equates to over $1M in retirement savings even at 5% interest, or enough to send 2 kids to college - simply by having one less internal combustion car!

For info on EVs and electric scooters, we are fortunate to have Eco Auto where you can just go down and buy a 35-mph EV or scooter (a scooter looks like a moped but makes no noise and costs much less to drive).  Entrepreneur Ron Gompertz has done a tremendous job of raising awareness here in the Gallatin Valley and providing products for those who can see the dead end in petroleum cars.  Electric Auto Assc, let's put MT on the map!  Check out their EVs For Sale page for a great list of electric cars, bikes, and lawn equipment, plug-in EVs, etc.  From this site, you can access all you want to know about EVs, from where to buy new EVs, used EVs, EV conversion kits, facts on emissions, battery recycling, and much more.

What to do:
- subscribe to the email list to be receive updates on electrics
- help build an electric car, either from a complete kit or individual components






Renewable Energy Integrators