Thursday, 31 August 2017

109th Walk of the book BAGGED!

In addition to completing "Dawn Hanna's Best Hikes in SW BC" in 2007 and "103 Hikes (5th edition)" in 2015, I now have completed the 5th Edition of "105 Walks in British Columbia's Lower Mainland"!

Ok, maybe somewhat less of an accomplishment, sure, but for 10+ years on rainy days and through injury recovery I've been chewing at the edges of this one and and happy report I've now seen them all.

This book, like when I finished 103 hikes, was quite outdated, and there are newer editions but the reason I like to "bag" books cover to cover is to introduce the "random factor".  Especially with this book, what it did was allow me to explore parts of Surrey or the Sunshine Coast, for example, I might never have been inclined to check out. I now feel more in touch with my home (the Lower Mainland) as a result.

Many of these walks could not be more flat,.. hardly worthy of walking your dog.  Others,.. full on hikes with elevation gain.  They were nothing if not inconsistent.

My final walk was South Elphinstone Heritage Trails which turned out to be logistically painful unless I wanted to pay for my car on the ferry to Langdale, both ways, only for a 3 hour hike.  In this case I rode over solo, climbed the hill from the ferry by bike, locked up and switched to my hiking boots. FINITO (actually it was a pretty tough trail for an out of shape guy recovering from an injury).

Looking back, I think of all the trips and people I did them with (many of these I did solo) and sure they were not all super exciting adventures,.. but the whole experience was what mattered.  Owls, history, and just something to do after work instead of TV. It was good enough for me to seriously consider walking the gaps between the 5th edition, and the lists in editions 6 and 7.

I'll release a list of "worth doing" sometime soon (and the "these were crap" list also).

The hikes:

UBC Gardens
Pacific Spirit Park
Chancellor Woods
Point Grey
Jericho Park/ Spanish Banks
English Bay
False Creek
Stanley Park
Renfrew Triangle
Champlain Heights
Burnaby Heights/ Trans Trail
Capitol Hill
Burnaby Mountain
Burnaby Mountainside Trails
SFU/Stoney Creek
Burnaby Lake
Brunette River
Deer Lake
Molson Way (Central)
Molson Way (South)
Burnaby Fraser Foreshore Park
Mundy park
Shoreline Trail
Sasamat Lake/ Woodhaven Swamp
Belcarra Regional Park
Buntzen Lake
Colony Farm Regional Park
Ridge Park Loop
POCO Trail
Woodland Walks (Lower Burke Ridge)
Minnekhada Regional Park
Seaview/Baden Powell
TransCanda Trail/ Nelson Creek
Point Atkinson
Cypress Falls Park
Black Mountain Loop
Cypress Bowl
Baden-Powell Trail (Hollybrun Ridge)
Lower Hollyburn
Brothers Creek Trails
Hollyburn Heritage Trails
Capilano Canyon
Bowser Trail
Baden Powell Trail Grouse Mountain
Mosquito Creek
Upper Lonsdale Trails
Lynn Headwaters Loop
Rice Lake
Two-canyon Loop
Hastings/Lynn Loop
Historic Mushroom Loop I
Historic Mushroom Loop II
Goldie Lake
Dog Mountain
Mytery Lake and Peak
Baden Powell Trail
Indian Arm Park
Lulu Island Dyke
Richmond South Dyke Trail
Richmond Nature Trail
Deas Island
Brunswick Point
Boundary Bay Regional Park
Crescent Beach
South Surrey Urban Forests
Tynehead Regional Park
Derby Reach Regional Park
Campbell Valley
Aldergrove Lake Regional Park
Matsqui Trail
Seven Sisters Trail
Teapot Hill
Coquihalla Historic Trails
Chatham Reach
Alouette River Dykes
Pitt Wildlife Management Areas
UBC Malcolm Knapp Research Forest
Mike Lake
Alouette Nature loop
Gold Creek Trails
Kanaka Creek
Rolley Lake and Falls
Hayward Lake
Hoover Lake Forest Trail
Mission Trail
Weaver Lake
Campbell Lake Trail
Sasquatch Provincial Park
Killarney Lake
Porteau Bluffs
Shannon Falls
Squamish Estuary
Four Lakes Trail
DeBeck Hill
Evans Lake Forest
Brohm Lake Interp Forest
Brohm Lake
Crater Rim Loop
Cheakamus Lake
Shadow Lake Interpretive Forest
Soames Hill Regional Park
South Elphinstone Heritage Trails
Triangle Lake
Mount Daniel
Skookumchuck Narrows

On to complete DWYT, and Car-free BC...

Monday, 28 August 2017

There and back again - E-biking to SFU

Earlier this week I returned my borrowed e-bike for the 2nd time and so ends my experiment to determine what my future with e-bikes would be.

I tried to approach it scientifically.  I tend to be a bit obsessive with all things transportation related and want to be practical and not driven by emotion if the "right choice" for cost, time, and convenience is not what I expect.

With this installment of the Momentum Mag E-bike Library checkout I had a plan ready:
  • try testing the edges of a commute by e-bike (how far can I get in 1 hour in any direction).
  • what are some challenging commutes that would completely change (for a cyclist) if hills were not an issue
  • understand more about how the battery really works and drain it to zero.
SFU and back:
SFU is about 20km from my home, but more importantly on a mountain. By car it would be a 40 min commute in good traffic conditions and by normal bike close to 1.5 hours (also 1.5 hours by bus).  In other words, further than I ever want to commute on a daily basis.

The first 10km of my journey was my old commute (see below): flat, and one of the best routes fro non-stop travel in the lower mainland.  Once you hit Boundary though serious undulating hills begin and then there is the mountain itself.

For part 2, all I could think was that I was happy I had electric assist,.. a nice route but hilly. Unfortunately this is when I began to regret using too much assist for the first 10km. I had used 25% of my battery by the foot of the mountain. I had to use mode 3 and 4 the entire ride up.. and though it was thrilling to be able to cut through that distance so fast,.. I got there with 42% battery left. Seen the movie Gattica? I had not budgeted for the full trip home....

I plugged in to ensure I didn't get stuck but the 125km range clearly is misleading,.. that could only be possible in optimal flat conditions or seriously mindful riding.  I also took this chance to test the controversial Bionix ability to charge using negative settings on a steep downhill. Many poeple say this is a myth but I did manage to gain 3% back by descending the mountain.  Not much, but tell that to someone 1% short of home!  I got home by hypermiling it,.. but I might aswell have been riding a non-assisted bike for most of it.

My old commute(s):
I also took the time to ride 2 of my old commutes because I knew exactly how long they took on my regular bike.  As everyone probably knows,.. bikes usually win out on most shorter commutes because there is not walk to the bus stop, parking lot, or even car,.. it is all motion and bike paths tend to be designed for less stopping.
My last job was right on the Central Valley Greenway route so mostly flat and straight for about 10km (and less than half the lights of the equivalent car commute).  I was shocked that even with hitting the lights pretty well, a 35 min ride only dropped to 27min. I felt like I was flying but I think only the hills were significantly faster.
My previous commute from the Fraser River up Ontario was way faster however.  Something like an hour cut to 35 min. The hills are where this matters,.. clearly.  


Would I buy an e-bike? 
Despite the high entry price, yes, but not right now. I think it is inevitable when I'm older and can't cover the same distances I can now.  Also, I'm not that fit these days so reducing my exercise effort is probably not the best idea.
What might change that is a medium-long but hilly commute to a job.  A 4k bike could be worth the investment if you are no longer taking a car to work 5 days a week.  To make it work, you'd need:

  • a place to charge at work
  • **secure storage (these bikes are very valuable and I simply would not trust street parking)
  • the right commute - especially imagine a 2 car family being able to replace car #2 with a 5 k bike that only uses electricity (and very little of it).

I should also mention something else. I have been nursing a messed up knee. The ebike allows you to take a ton of pressure off of your joints when you are starting from a full stop.  It allowed my to get exercise for the last 2 weeks.. where I otherwise couldn't.  This cements my above comment about when I'm older.

If the price of the bikes were to drop, I could imagine buying sooner. 

Lastly, make no mistake about it... these are FUN. If battery tech changes and you could do a 2 day camping trip without charging,.. I could also see buying sooner.

Other learnings?
  • Using anything beyond mode 1 or 2 on flats is wasteful,.. once you are up to speed on this bike 1 or 2 is enough to keep you going faster than you can ride a normal commuter.  Sure you can ride faster in mode 4,.. but not 2X as fast and your battery will pay the price for marginal gains on speed.  
  • I felt weird on some bike paths riding a partially motorized vehicle.  It was more that I felt people thought I was cheating,.. but if you are riding 25km to work.. (anywhere with mixed use paths I actually slowed down to a safe "minimal assist" setting)
  • Everyone that tried the Ohm was blown away.  I think most people think e-bikes are like electric scooters and less like bikes. These really are like being a superhuman cyclist and Ohm did a great job.  For now, while you can use better roads and routes than cars can and cycling in Vancouver is still young,.. this really is a way to construct the fastest commute and everyone should be sure to check these out and just use road sense when other people are around.  Think of it more like "extended range and less effort" than "super fast".

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Riding an E-bike: more than around the block

Testing any kind of bike (or car for that matter) is a strange thing if you ask me.  Bikes and cars are some of the biggest investments in a person's life yet a 15 min test drive (and hopefully some research) is enough for us to decide what we will drive to work in every day for potentially 15 years...

When my father was deciding which e-bike system to buy 4 years ago, he had no choice but to select based on "rides around the block" and word of mouth on a relatively untested technology.  That being said, somehow he had decided he was getting one even before trying any.

I however, want to answer the questions:
  • Do I want an e-bike at all? 
  • If so, now or later? 
  • Which kind?
  • How would the investment of an e-bike impact my need for a car or future car purchases?
  • What is my use-case and justification for an e-bike?
  • What have I not considered?
Fortunately, the Abus/Momentum initiative I mentioned in my last blog post allowed me to borrow a bike for almost 2 weeks (I'm on my second rental now). So back in June that is what my wife and I did.  She booked the EVO MD-2 and I took the Ohm Urban.

Our 2 bikes
Right out of the gate when we picked up our bikes it became clear our 2 models were the best options in the fleet (the purchase price should have tipped me off).

Though both bikes had serous pedal assist power, the Ohm had more and just seemed less like a bike and more like a "vehicle".  The power in both was impressive, the power of the Ohm,.. insane.  I'm a strong cyclist so with my actual leg power the 4th mode allows you to ride 40+k/h uphill

 The Ohm also has a "turbo boost" (that is what I call it), which allows you to actually not pedal and get power for a few seconds.  I found this a nice feature for starting from a stop light if I had not geared down or I just was lazy and needed some umph to get balanced and start pedaling.  This feature should not be under-rated (it is part of all Bionix implementations unless I am mistaken).

The EVO-2 doesn't have shocks but I was surprised to look at the relative weights,.. the EVO is not much lighter but the Ohm's tires and shocks give you an almost motocross sort of feeling. The Ohm is a cadillac for sure, but it also has $1500 higher price tag.

For specs on these bikes go here:

First Impressions

The first thing anyone on an e-bike wants to do is get a sense of how much battery power they have. Range anxiety is a legit thing when your bike is heavy enough to be a boat anchor without the pedal assist.  I could pedal the Ohm powerless but only on flat or downhill.  

With both bikes it became clear that the 125+ km range estimates are for optimal conditions.  If you rode full tilt in the 4th mode,... it would be less than half of that (but to be fair the readouts help you understand that and the distance is a variable,.. I do not feel like I was mislead).

Full tilt you can easily get the Ohm up to 45kph on the flat. However, it is rare you can do that in a city.  It is fun to play with doing that in a safe situation but realistically the real advantage is not increasing average speed by riding everywhere faster, but rather by reducing the pain of the things that slow you down: hills. Hills hills hills are what e-bikes are about.

I'm a natural hill climber on a bike but I also am pretty analytical about route planning,. it became obvious that the flattest route was not always the "best route" for a commute.  I had to reprogram my mind for this new capability. 

On our first charge, another key difference was discovered.  The EVO has a huge charger AND you have to remove the battery.  The Ohm plugs in like your laptop.

After riding them a while
  • Clearly e-bikes are "a thing". People interested in them or that also own them want to talk to you and try it, and they are almost always impressed. I have heard very few non-success stories, the usual jist being that it allowed people to do more for less effort and still stay active and leave the car at home.
  • The shocks made every speed bump a sweet jump!
  • I can still get a leg workout but sweat much less and get where I need to go
  •  They are so expensive,.. we didn't want to leave them anywhere (yes, even with an Abus lock).  Years ago I thwarted a failed attempt to steal a part off my dad's bike outside of a restaurant.  E-bikes look different and the battery alone you probably have to remove and take with you.
  • They are also heavy.  I constantly found myself wondering if Ohm could have made the bike lighter and more "like a bike".
  • These things are as expensive as a second hand car.
  • People give you dirty looks when you ride by fast.  I tried not to use much assist when on regular bike routes and still think pedal assist is nowhere near as dweeby as people with the fake pedals riding electric scooters but noone will agree until the try one and realize it is still a bike requiring work.

What next?

Despite having a blast riding these bikes, I still hadn't really answered my questions.  Namely, what would make it worth investing 4-5k?  That is what I'm setting out to do on my second "borrow" from the program.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Have you tried an E-bike?

Image result for ebike engineIn Europe and Asia e-bikes (pedal assisted) are a significant portion of new bike sales and have been for many years. The trend is clear, e-bikes are the fastest growing segment of bike sales since 2012 and even then they were something like 9% of all bikes sold.  In North America, and even cycle friendly cities like Vancouver,.. they are still rare to see and continent wide, are supposedly less than 1% here.

Have you tried riding an e-bike?

There are so many models and approaches that trying one may not translate to trying them all.  What is clear to me and most that do try them is that anyone that has concerns about hills,... this is the solution.  Anyone getting older or has has knee injuries but needs to remain active,.. you should be looking at an e-bike.

For me, the attraction is extended range and speed of commuting.  In Vancouver, our infrastructure for cycling is getting to the point that if you are lucky enough to commute along certain routes, you may actually to do 10km faster than your commute in a car,.. with a normal bike.  Now remove the hills from that,. and you can see the appeal.

My father rides an e-bike (his is a Bionix kit added to a bike he already owned). Although at 80, he is a strong cyclist,... but he'd never go from Point Grey to West Van on his bike for coffee with the guys if it were not for the electric assist.  It has allowed him to stay active and given him a much larger range for doing trips car-free (or shortening trips if the weather is not optimal).
Abus locks and Momentum magasine have teamed up with several successful e-bike manufacturers to tackle the ignorance factor here in Vancouver by setting up a free e-bike lending library, allowing up to 2 week signouts (much like a library book).

Although I've ridden early e-bikes, I'm also aware they have come a long way so have decided to try some of these bikes (and blog about it) in an effort to share my experiences in this blog. It is my secret hope that Vancouverites, especially those that may never ride a non-pedal assist bike on a regular basis, see this as a way to remove certain barriers, and might consider e-bikes as a an option for their commute and Vancouver's growing traffic and parking issues.