Sunday, June 30, 2013

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Here's an unusual parking job.  It's a regular parking spot but I pulled the back wheel onto the curb so that the cable lock can reach the barrier. 

It's been raining almost every day the last few weeks here in Maryland so I finally decided to drill some holes in the rear battery compartment to keep it from filling with water.  It was just in time since I took the ELF down to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this morning.  It was looking like rain before I left and sure enough before I arrived at my destination it was pouring down rain.  At the end of the day, the battery compartment was empty of water, but it did pick up some sand from driving around on the Mall.

Here's the ELF with a bit of the Washington Monument, wrapped in it's scaffolding, visible on the left top of the picture.  As usual, the ELF drew a crowd.
I decided to drive down to the Mall using the Capital Crescent Trail.  Usually the trail has a lot of joggers and bikers and it's just wide enough for two ELFs to pass each other.  The busiest part is between Bethesda Ave. and Little Falls Parkway, so I drove the ELF across Battery Lane and down Glenbrook to Little Falls Parkway to avoid that section.  The ride downtown on the trail went quite smoothly.  There were a good many bikers and joggers but the threat of rain probably reduced the numbers considerably.  The ride downtown is almost all downhill so I hardly used the motor at all.  I was also saving the battery for the ride home.   It was starting to rain lightly just as I was arriving in Georgetown along Canal Street and began raining steadily as I emerged onto Rock Creek Parkway.  I used Google Maps to direct me to the Smithsonian via Constitution Ave.  The ELF kept up with traffic quite well along the several miles ride in the driving rain.  I was probably going about 20 along the route and the roads were quite smooth and two lanes allowed faster cars to pass.  At one point a moped rider passed me in the rain and he was clearly getting a lot wetter than I was.  


I've noticed that the ELF windshield does a very good job of staying clear of water.  The reason?  It pitched extremely steep so the water just rolls down the front.  The back window is a different story.  As you can see from this picture, the back window is getting a lot of spray from the back wheel.  I wonder if there is any way to install a rear fender.  I no longer have an overhead rear view mirror so it's not really a requirement to see out the back window.  But it does get messy and I have to clean off the dirt and sand from the trail pretty regularly.

The ride home after the concert was really interesting.  The sun had come out so I figured the Capital Crescent would be packed and decided to take Rock Creek Parkway instead.  Once again, the ELF did a great job keeping up with traffic in the city as I drove along Constitution Avenue and followed the signs for Rock Creek, under the Kennedy Center, and past the canal.  I was going between 20 and 25 mph the entire way along that route and then drove up Rock Creek Parkway past the exit for Mass Ave. and past the Zoo all the way up to where the road is closed for cars.   The road was quite smooth and the twists and turns were really fun in the ELF.  At one point I misread the signs at the intersection of Piney Branch so went an extra mile looping up and back to Rock Creek.   Back on track I played tag with a recumbent bike as I was pedaling on the flat road to preserve battery (and get a little more exercise) and then passed him going up the big hill.  It was a great ride home and it didn't even rain any more.

When I got home I decided to take advantage of the sun to start recharging the battery.  After less than an hour it started looking like rain again so I brought the battery in to charge.   It was about 2:30.  Then something really surprising happened.  The charger was still going until about 8:30.  So, it took 6 hours to recharge the battery!  I knew that I had used the battery a lot this morning, but usually it takes about 2.5 hours to charge.  Maybe this is how long it takes to charge a dead battery. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

All solar recharge

Today I decided to go all solar for recharging the battery. It was a mostly sunny day here with some scattered clouds throughout the day but no rain clouds in sight. I rode into work on the normal route using the motor on all of the uphill climbs and pedaling on the flats and downhill stretches.  The minor maintenance work I completed this weekend really paid off. The brakes were nice and tight, the seat stopped rocking, and the back window stayed closed since the lock tabs no longer turn on their own.

After arriving at work at about 8:45 I disconnected the main power plug and left the charge wire connected with the ELF facing westward and the sun shining down on her from behind.

I took my lunch break at 1:00 and drove the ELF down the road to the quodoba. This is about a one mile round trip ride with a small hill around our office  and a slight incline along the main road. I probably only ran the motor for about 5 minutes and left the main power plugged in for 1/2 hour before leaving the ELF in the sun for the afternoon. 

I left the office at 5:30 and travelled on the big roads on the ride home. This meant using the battery for the motor assist for a higher percentage of time than usual.   I arrived home in just under an hour with the motor still cruising.   No worries!

The battery took about 3 hours to charge on the wall socket which is about 1/2 hour longer than usual.  I guess it started a bit lower than usual so that makes sense.

All-in-all this was a good experiment since now I know that the solar charging really can get me all the way home.  Of course I'm still going to use the wall socket on cloudy days until I can get a more accurate way to read the battery level.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rainy week rides

This week was unusually rainy for this time of year. The ELF was fantastic to ride in during several rainy rides mostly to work and, as I've said before, I really can't tell that it's raining until  I notice raindrops accumulating on the windshield.  

I've added a piece of aluminum foil over the second battery bay to keep it from filling with water but there haven't been any rides in a true downpour to test if it can handle the volume.  

The trails are pretty messy and the ELF keeps getting dirty from them so I've had to spend a few evenings or mornings wiping down the various surfaces. Mostly it's getting spray behind the doors and a little on the panel behind the seat. And of course, the back window gets a bunch of spray from the back wheel.  I've been able to let the rain wash away the bulk of the dirt after I got home and then just wiped away what's left in the morning. 

I've tied a tarp to the fence and covered the back of the ELF to keep the exposed part of the back wheel and chain dry.  
One morning when I arrived at work the forecast showed big rain storms so I put a large plastic garbage bag over the back wheel.  That day it rained really hard about an hour before my ride home so the mesh seat was a little wet when I sat down.  But the back wheel was nice and dry. 

Someone cut the ropes holding back the barriers on old Columbia pike so I had to bring more rope on Tuesday to tie them back again. I guess I need to get more rope and just plan to carry it just in case  

As usual lots of people yelling "nice bike" and one guy in a truck stopped when I pulled over to make an adjustment so he could write down the information. He seemed very excited. 

I've tried riding up the hill on route 29 between Lockwood and Southwood several times. The ELF does about 25 for the downhill part and then keeps about 20 the rest of the way up the hill. It's not too bad since the cars have two other lanes to pass me and the speed limit is 40 on that stretch of road. I still prefer the sidewalk but its definitely faster driving on the road. 

I've also tried riding down Sligo Creek Road from Dennis to Forest Glen which is a nice smooth piece of road mostly a gradual downhill grade. It's marked 25 so the ELF can keep up with traffic no problem. But once again, even though its slower, I prefer the trail since I can pedal through that section and get more exercise. 

I need to do some general maintenance this weekend. Tightening the brake cables an checking the gear cables and checking the tire pressure and replacing the overhead rear view mirror and tightening the seat screws and back hatch screws. 

I figured out that the best way to access the front wheels is to prop it up on something by pushing on the body above the front of the door so it goes up on two wheels. 

The range anxiety is completely gone since I've had no dead battery even on days when I left the headlights on for most of the ride. I've also been able to pedal more now that the clipless pedals are securely attached to my shoes. 

On the other hand the solar panel has proved effective on sunny days. I left it charging from 8:30 to 4:00 one day (including a quick jaunt over to the panera for lunch) and the battery finished charging on the office power in less than 30 minutes.   Next week I'm going to let it charge until I leave at 5:30 and then we will really find out if its charged!  My wife also bought a killawatt meter for measuring the power use on her leaf and I'm going to use it after one of my rides next week to see what the charger uses. 


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Speedy ELF

The ELF is really fast!  Now that I've been measuring using the iPhone Speedometer App, I've been able to gauge her performance.  Yes, I'm convinced the ELF is female.  It's pretty obvious, isn't it?

The last few rides I've really been impressed at the amount of power the motor has.  This is especially evident when climbing steep hills.  I was in a hurry on Thursday night so  decided to try driving on 29 up the hill between Lockwood and Southwood.  The ELF maintained a good 20 mph all the way up the hill.  I remember trying the same hill on my bike and dragging along at about 6.   This is why I always ride on the sidewalk on the bike.  

Here are a few screen snapshots of the Speedometer.  The first was on a flat surface just pedaling.  Alright, I might have used the motor to get up to speed and it was probably a gradual down hill but this is about the right speed for just pedaling.  It was also before I got my fancy new clipless pedals (see pictures below).

The question everyone always asks is "how fast does it go?"  I found a nice flat road with a good smooth surface and let her rip.  The ELF got up to 25 mph and stayed there.  I'm pretty sure the governor is keeping it from going above that but the motor certainly could handle faster.

The fastest I've gone on the ELF is around 33 and this screen snapshot of 31 was while pedaling down the hill going north on Route 29 between Southwood and Lockwood.  I'm pretty sure that on a longer and steeper hill she would go faster but so far this is my record.

The trip summary for my ride into the office indicates that the distance was 10.04 miles and the average speed was 12.5 mph.   I was taking it pretty easy on this morning and not trying to break any speed records.  The speedometer app stops measuring when you come to a stop so the average only includes the time and distance measurements while moving.

Per the request of one blog comment I've taken a series of pictures and videos of the ELF.  The first one here shows my brand new Shimano clipless pedals.  I took the ELF for a test drive with these last night and they really make a big difference in the amount of power I can generate from the pedals.  I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's commute!

The disk brakes are still making some noise, especially when backing out of the driveway, but they seem to have settled in and mostly work noise free.  I've had to adjust the cables near the brake handle a couple of times as they've stretched.  If you look closely at the left side brake you can see the electric wire going to the brake light sensor.  This little sensor uses a magnet attached to the brake wire and I've had to re-attach the sensor a few times since it keeps popping out of the strap.  I think I need to add another strap to keep it from popping off.  Anyway, as you can see from the picture of the rear brake light below, it's working fine now.

Here's a nice shot of the motor from the side.  I've been trying to keep the chain from rusting by applying chain oil after every rain.  I've got a little stack of bricks that I put under the frame on either side of the back wheel hub and then I run the motor slowly while dripping oil on the chain.  This works really well, but I needed a second person to hold the throttle.  I'm thinking of using a clip or rubber band to hold it in the future.

Here's a shot of the pedal side chain (and dog).  I've been oiling that one (not the dog, the chain) by sitting in the seat and pedaling backward while dripping oil on the chain with a paper towel on the frame to catch spray. 

Solar panel connection on the roof.

Yes, the brake light works!

Here's the magic power box hiding in the storage bay.  You can see the green light glowing when the power is plugged in.   Everyone on the ELF team at Organic Transit signed my ELF as a reward for participating in the Kickstarter campaign.  Nice!

Here are a few shots from behind the battery looking forward.  When I want to charge the battery in the sun I disconnect the gray power cable and leave the green and red charge cable connected.  That way there is no draw on the battery from the electronics.

The little black squares can be rotated to adjust the seat angle.  There are 4 sides to a square (in case you didn't know) so that means there are 4 different seat angle options.

The throttle is that little thumb lever on the right hanging down from the handle just under the bell.  The nuvinci hub CVT is controlled by turning the handle on the left with the (upside down) indicator of what part of the hill you're climbing or going down.

Here's a shot taken through the windshield looking down.

The Nuvinci hub has two cables and here you can see the parking brake lever locked in place.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Rainy Day Ride into the Office

This morning's ride was really the first one where the weather would be considered "rainy".  I waited until the rain slowed before loading up the saddle bags and climbing into the ELF.  A quick wipe of the windshield to remove the big raindrops and I was on my way.

I'm sure it was raining off and on during my entire trip into the office but I really couldn't tell.  Certainly the first part of the ride on the gravel bike trail made a mess of the back window and although I stopped to take off my jacket, I didn't bother to clean it off since that would have required dumping a bunch of water on it to avoid scratching it.  Besides, I really don't look out the back window through the overhead mirror much given that it's so small.  Mostly I use the side mirrors.

The ELF did fine through the various streams running across the muddy bike path and since nobody was out I was able to cruise along relatively quickly.  When I got to the light at Connecticut Ave. I had to back off the side of the road to avoid getting splashed by the cars and buses whizzing by.

I decided to turn on the running lights for the run down the hill on route 29 but there really weren't very many cars on the road so it was probably a waste of electricity.  As I started up Lockwood, it seemed like maybe the lights were having an influence on the power of the motor so I switched them off.

As I turned left from Lockwood onto the service road behind White Flint, there was a car coming the other way and one coming out of the service road so I sped up to make it in time.  I was surprised by the front wheels as they went into a skid as I made the turn.  If I had been going much faster I might have spun all the way around.  But, instead I recovered quickly and continued on my way.

By this time I had remembered to turn on the new speedometer app which seemed to be doing a pretty good job of reporting my speed.  My average speed for the last 2.4 miles of my ride in was 13.9 and the maximum speed registered 31.2.  The nice thing about this app is it also registered altitude so I can compare the house to the office to see how much of a climb I've been doing.  It's going to be interested to see how fast the ELF really goes, but from the little bit I've already seen, it's definitely able to go faster than 20 mph on a flat surface.  I saw that even going up the very steep hill at the end of my ride I was able to get it up to about 16 mph and I wasn't really pushing it. 

When I arrived at the office it was raining lightly so I got a little wet unpacking the saddle bags.  I had wrapped my computer in a plastic bag since I suspected it might get wet from the bottom where the back wheel is visible at the bottom of the storage compartment.  Sure enough, both saddle bags were wet on the bottom.  I hadn't wrapped my clothes inside their saddle bag and the shoes were at the bottom so only one sock got a little wet.  I wonder if anyone in the office will notice I'm wearing one biking sock and one black sock :p

When I removed the battery I noticed that the second battery bay was full of water.  I might need to drill a small drainage hold into the bottom of it so that water doesn't accumulate under the battery.

The sun came out for the ride home and the temperature was just perfect.  There were still a bunch of puddles around but the roads were mostly dry.   When I pulled up the the light at Georgia Avenue the driver in the car to my right rolled down his window to ask if the ELF was purely pedal or had another energy source.  The lady in the car on my left rolled down her window to take a picture just as the light turned green.   At least one other guy rolled down his window just to say "I like your bike".  It happens so often I really can't keep track of the number of times someone complements the ELF.

The iPhone speedometer gave me a better idea about how fast I was going.  When I was going down the hill on Lockwood I got going up to about 30 mph.  Going up the steep hill on Old Columbia Pike pedaling and with the throttle all the way down I got up to about 18 mph.  When I crested the hill the speed was more like 22.  I didn't really get a good measure of the maximum speed on a flat surface while driving with just the motor, but it seems like the 20mph limit is about right. 

This evening I spent some time cleaning the dirt and sand off the ELF.  The body and windows are really easy to clean with just a spray bottle and soft cloth.  Most of the dirt and sand that had been on the rear window after the morning commute had already been washed away by the hard rain earlier in the afternoon so all I had to do was spray and wipe away the remaining dirt.  There was some dirt spray on the front and top of the storage compartment behind the seat which I saw the last time it rained too.  This time there was some sand accumulated on the square frame just in front of the back wheel but it had dried so I was able to just push it off with the rag.   I wiped the dirt off the wheel rims and the aluminum frame behind the front wheel which had a light amount of dirt. 

I also applied some Finish Line Dry Lube to the drive chain by rolling the ELF back and forth about 6 feet at the top of my driveway.  Then I pedaled backward to apply the same lube to the pedal side chain.  After that I wiped off the dirt and excess oil from both chains which weren't terribly dirty given all the rainy riding. 

Now the ELF is ready for another sunny day tomorrow and will look great for all those folks checking it out on the road :)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Going to the Market

I took the ELF shopping today.  First stop - the Farm Market at Bethesda Elementary.  This kid just couldn't keep his hands off the ELF.  As usual I got several people asking questions.  Everyone wants to know how fast it goes.  I've really got to install a cycle-computer so I can answer that question with some real data.  So far I've been quoting the Organic Transit 20 miles and hour without pedaling, faster if you pedal.  I wonder if the iPhone GPS is good enough to give me an accurate speed.

After the Farm Market I stopped at the Giant.  The ELF trunk easily held both a large watermelon and gallon of milk.  The saddle bag was also full of fruit and veggies.   Yum!

Washington Folk Festival

I took the ELF to Glen Echo park for the Washington Folk Festival and it was a hit!  

Here's how I strapped my trumpet in for the ride.  I just wrapped the shoulder strap around the cleat and used a rubber gear tie to secure it. 

I parked the ELF in front of the Spanish Ballroom where I was about to play the trumpet with Machaya Klezmer Band.  The ELF drew a lot of attention and I got a real kick out of just standing back and watching the crowds of people checking it out.

So many people checked it out that I really didn't need to do much explaining.  The funny thing is how many people put their kids on the seat or climb in themselves just to see how it feels to sit in the seat.  My wife says I should put up a sign to stop people so they don't step on the "Not a Step" plastic and end up breaking it.  But I'm not really worried that anyone is going to damage it since most people are trying to be careful.  

It was also a hoot seeing people posing for pictures with the ELF.   It was like traveling with a movie star!

Here's the new speaker/case that amplifies the iPhone and stores your sunglasses and/or keys.  I used it during the commute to work on Friday and it really cranks out the tunes.  This is the Hipe brand one with a rechargeable battery and auxiliary input from any music player or even a USB mem-stick.   I had to extend the velcro to wrap around the square frame.  It's available on Amazon for $29.99.