My Bicycle and Trailer
Recently I posted a blog titled Driving Lessons.
That writing focused on spiritual lessons and revelations gleaned through a focus on the vehicles that my daughter Kristin and I have owned. This post continues the theme as I share some meditations related to the bicycle that I use as my primary form of local transportation.
Most of my readers are familiar with the fact that I do not own a home, or an automobile. The Father provided for me a 1972 Carpenter School Bus that I have converted to a motorhome. The bus is mechanically sound, and cranks and drives fine, but I rarely drive it anywhere.
The Dreamer - With Champ Standing Watch
(Click on any image to view larger)
The Father has directed me to park my bus at various locations. I typically stay for long periods of time in a single location, and so far my treks between locations have been very short. The longest trip I have taken in my bus was driving from Middle Georgia to Jekyll Island on the Georgia Coast about 17 months ago. Round trip, the journey was about 400 miles. The bus gets only 5 MPG, which translates to 80 gallons of premium unleaded gasoline for the trip. The cost of gas being what it is, paying for fuel ran into the hundreds of dollars on what was a relatively minor trip. When gas hits $5.00 a gallon I will be paying $1.00 for every mile I travel in the bus.
Because of gas prices, and also the impracticality of unhooking the bus from sewer, water, electric, and the trailer behind it, and having to pack everything away inside the bus, I do not use it for local transportation. I have had baskets on my bicycle for quite some time and have used them for carrying groceries, mail, and other assorted items. I enjoy bicycling, finding it to be good exercise and a pleasant way to get about and see the outdoors.
When the Father relocated me from the small campground I had stayed at in Montezuma to my present rural location last November, the distance to the post office increased from approximately 4 miles one way, to 14 miles. My daughter has been gracious to retrieve my mail which largely consists of correspondence from men in prison who receive the newsletters I send out, as well as financial gifts from the saints who are led of the Spirit to send contributions for my support.
It takes my daughter a bit out of her way to retrieve my mail and bring it to me. Kristin stays extremely busy as she works a full-time job and is involved in a large number of ministry activities and social events with the members of her church. She has been traveling out of state more often to participate in prison ministry, youth ministry, etc.. Recently there have been times when my daughter was unavailable to retrieve my mail. This led to some concern on my part about being able to respond to people in a timely manner.
The terrain here in South Central Georgia is relatively flat, but making a 28 mile round trip trek on my bicycle in the heat of the summer is more than I wanted to tackle on a regular basis. I have deliberately chosen to not own a car as I would like to live as simply, and inexpensively, as possible. I did purchase a motorcycle in 2011, but abandoned the idea of riding motorcycles anymore when a 91 year old woman ran into me in Macon as she was trying to turn across my lane to get to the hamburger joint she had set out to visit. (Talk about a Big Mac Attack
All that has healed up satisfactorily, but I am no longer eager to drive a motorcycle through cities and other congested areas. I am not diminished, however, in my desire to ride a bicycle. Some may suggest that a bicycle is no safer than a motorcycle, but there are often bike lanes, or shoulders of the road on which to ride a bike, and one does not have to mix it up with automobile traffic to the extent one does on a motorcycle. When I ride my bike into town and have to cross a busy street, I have the luxury of waiting for a suitable break in traffic before crossing. If one is on a motorcycle they have to move with the flow of traffic.
Me Wearing Bike Helmet
I do wear a bike helmet, with a rear view mirror attached to it, for safety when riding my bike. The small rear view mirrors that attach either to a helmet, or to one’s glasses, are wonderful. I much prefer them to handlebar mounted mirrors. It is nice to be able to see what is coming up behind you, and how much clearance they are giving you, without having to turn around and look.
Not desiring to have the added expense of a car that would require that I purchase gas, insurance, and provide for regular maintenance on it, and knowing that I could not tow a car behind my bus since I am already pulling a trailer, I began to look at other options to get me to the post office, and other destinations that were further than I wanted to peddle completely on my own steam. I began looking into mounting a motor on my bike to give me some added range.
I was familiar with gasoline motors on bicycles. I owned one previously, and I have a friend who has used them on his bikes. They tend to be noisy, require frequent maintenance to keep them running properly, and you have to deal with purchasing and storing gas and oil. Another alternative was electric bicycle motors.
Like many electrically powered devices, electric bike motors have made great advances in recent years due largely to advances in battery storage technology. I have a battery powered chain saw that surprisingly does a very respectable job at sawing up wood. See the following blog post:
I also have a battery powered weedeater, and lawnmower (more on that in a later post). Yet, when I began to look into electric bike motors, I was still surprised by the power and range available. Electric bike motors come in three main varieties: friction motors that sit over the top of the tire; crank drive motors that use the bike’s chain to drive the wheel; and hub motors that are built into either the front or rear wheel, and spin when power is applied. After spending time researching the various types, and determining which one would work best with the bicycle I own, I chose a front wheel hub motor.
Front Hub Motor
The image above shows the type of hub motor that I purchased. The power is controlled by a throttle on the handle, similar to what one would find on a motorcycle. There is even a cruise control button provided so that the rider can set the bike at a certain speed and maintain it. (This is not a true cruise control, for it only sets the electrical power going to the motor at a steady level. If you go up hill, or down, the bike will vary in speed, but it will maintain a constant speed as long as the grade of the road remains consistent.)
With the hub motor I bought, you have to purchase the battery separate from the motor. The reason for this is that people have different needs relating to power and distance to travel. The hub motor from Golden Motors will run on anything between 24 and 48 volts. Of course, you will not get as much torque, or top speed, at the lower voltages. Some may do well with a 24 volt 10 Amp Hour battery. Depending on variables such as weight of the rider, and type of terrain being ridden, a person may be able to travel at 15 mph for about 15 miles with this battery. I opted for the beefier 48 volt 15 amp hour battery. It fits in a bag on the rear rack on my bike. It will cruise up to 27 MPH on a flat road without peddling, and it has a range of 50-70 miles, depending on how much peddling I do to assist the motor.
The bag behind the seat holds the battery. It is not a small battery, nor particularly light. Yet, in comparison to older battery technology such as the lead acid batteries found in most cars, it is much more compact for the amount of power it provides. The battery is a Lithium Iron Phosphate battery, abbreviated by its chemical designation of LiFePO4. Considering that the battery will push me along for more than 50 miles at speeds up to 27 MPH, it is a remarkable piece of engineering. The battery is rated at 1500 recharges, and is estimated to last for 5 years before needing to be replaced. At 1500 recharges, you could essentially use the electric motor 300 days a year for 5 years, which is far more than I anticipate.
The hub motor and battery do add considerable weight to the bike. Yet it is far lighter than a motorcycle, and even lighter than a typical moped. The reason I opted for a front hub motor, rather than a rear hub motor, is that I have to ride down dirt roads for miles before I arrive at paved roads. The dirt roads become very sandy when it has not rained for more than a week. Handling is much improved when the front wheel pulls you through the sand, as opposed to the back wheel trying to push the bike forward through loose sand. Because I can pedal and apply force to the back wheel while the hub motor is applying force to the front, I basically end up with all wheel drive on the bike. This improves handling in dirt, mud, and sand.
I have had the electric motor now for about a month and have made four trips to Montezuma to the post office and grocery store. It is 28.75 miles round trip. I generally keep my speed around 20 MPH, as this feels comfortable. The entire route is down country roads, and I have very few cars pass me. The only exception is about a two mile stretch in town. I very much enjoy the ride. I peddle almost constantly, as I need the exercise, but I am not having to exert myself strenuously. I feel like the bionic man as I am exerting a modicum of energy and getting tremendous results.
After making several trips with my bike, using only my baskets for carrying things, I decided to purchase a small trailer to pull behind the bike. I can do my grocery shopping in a small town just 4.5 miles from my location, but they do not have much variety, and their prices are high. By doing my shopping in Montezuma, or another nearby town that has a Kroger, Walmart, and Publix, I can save considerable money. However, I have to be more conscious of purchasing items that require refrigeration, which is part of the reason I bought the trailer. I purchased two fabric insulated cooler bags that fit perfectly in the trailer, and they keep my groceries cold, or even frozen if I add some ice to the bags, while making the trip from the store back home.
Fabric Cooler Bags in Trailer
There are many different types of bike trailers. Most of them connect to the spindle that goes through the rear wheel of the bike. There are advantages to that type of trailer, but I opted for a trailer that I could connect to the back of my bike rack. The trailer was actually designed to connect to the seat post on the bike, but I modified it slightly to attach it to the back of the bike rack.
Trailer Hitch on Bike
It strikes me as somewhat funny to see a trailer ball hitch on the back of a bicycle, but this has been working well. Yesterday I rode my bike into Montezuma and picked up a watermelon and bag of Vidalia onions at a produce stand before heading to the grocery store and picking up some more items. The trailer is hardly noticeable behind the bike. It rides quietly, though it was somewhat noisy when I first purchased it. The hard plastic crate was bouncing noisily on the metal frame. The noise went away when I wrapped the bottom frame with ½" foam pipe wrap. You can see the pipe wrap in the photo below.
I am sure some are curious about the cost of upgrading a bike with an electric motor. The upgrade cost me about one thousand dollars. My bike itself, which is a Trek Alpha 7300, cost about $500 when I purchased it. For those used to purchasing their bikes at Walmart, $1,500 certainly sounds like a lot of money for a bike. However, I am not a casual rider. My bike is my automobile replacement. I ride my bike most days. Sometimes it is just to take my dog on a five mile run, but my bike is also my primary means of local transportation.
The hub motor itself was a bit over $300. The battery is where the main expense comes in. The large capacity, 48 volt LiFePO4 battery was about $600 of the cost. Consider, however, that the battery supplies power in the same way that gasoline powers a car. This battery will last me for 5 years, and 1500 recharges. The average driver will spend $600 on gasoline in a few months. With gasoline at $3.50 a gallon, it would cost me $175.00 to fill the 50 gallon tank in my bus one time. AAA Auto Club of America estimates that the average driver travels 12,000 miles annually and the average fuel efficiency of their car will be in the 20-25 MPG range. Taking the midpoint of 22.5 MPG, that equates to 533 gallons of gas purchased by the average American each year. At a price of $3.00 per gallon, that is $1,600.00 a year spent on fuel. Over five years that would be $8,000.00. That makes the $600 investment for the bike battery look pretty attractive in comparison.
Because I have solar panels to charge the auxiliary electric system in my bus and trailer, I can re-charge the bike’s battery at no cost. This means, even if gasoline is restricted in coming days, or if I have to live off the grid where I do not have shore power to plug my bus into an electric outlet, I can still charge my bike’s battery and use it for transportation.
There are other advantages to riding a bike, however. I very much look forward to the days that I make the trip to town on my bike. The ride through the countryside is beautiful. As I ride my bike I proclaim to the Father my thanksgiving for being able to enjoy the beauty of His creation. I ride by fields planted in corn, cotton, sorghum, peanuts, and other crops. There are dairy farms, with cattle to be seen. I drive past pecan orchards, and delight to listen to the birds, frogs, and other animals that can be heard along the way. When driving in a car, you miss so much of the world about you.
Being insulated inside a car can be a good thing if you are in adverse weather, or driving through somewhere unpleasant, but oftentimes it ends up shielding the driver and passengers from many beautiful and pleasant things that Yahweh has created. My trips on my bike are times when I express my praise and thanksgiving to the Father for a great many things.
A few days ago Champ and I were out on a bike run and six wild hogs ran across the road about 50 feet in front of us. (Yes, Champ took off after them, but he soon returned, realizing he was outnumbered.) I often see deer, rabbits, armadillos and other creatures when out on my bike rides. I get to see an array of flowers that I would miss if I were in a car, and I have time to stop and smell the roses (so to speak). There are certain areas I bike through that are pungent with honeysuckle and wisteria. The aroma is heavenly, and I cannot pass through these areas without giving thanks to the Father. Of late, I have enjoyed stopping to pick wild blackberries. I get the blackberries, and the Father gets my praises.
I do enjoy riding in a nice car. That actually becomes a problem for me. When I have a car it is too convenient, and too easy, to make a trip somewhere. I find that I make unnecessary trips to the grocery store, or restaurant, or Walmart, when I have a car. I spend money on things I do not need, and I am far more prone to impulse purchases. Not having a car causes me to be more selective about my trips to town. I am not likely to make a 30 mile round trip bike ride to go grab a hamburger and fries at the fast food joint, or to make some impulse purchase at the store.
Recently, my daughter traveled to Pennsylvania for five days and left me her car to drive. I found that I was going somewhere every day. It was so easy to do so, that I thought little about it. America is known as a nation of automobiles. Many Americans, including most Christians, have assumed that owning a car is both a normal and a good thing. My daughter purchased her Volkswagen Jetta recently from a young college student who said he was “downsizing” by selling one of his cars. He still had three other cars after selling the Jetta, including two Corvettes. It is quite common for families to have 2, 3 or more cars.
I have thought about these things recently. I have wondered how much the lives of Christians are impacted by the conveniences they own. How many people stay on the go from early morning to late at night because they own a car and it is so easy to travel? How much time is wasted sitting in front of the television, or surfing the Internet, because they are so readily available? How much time has been taken away from a quiet, contemplative life, from Bible study and prayer, because it was so easy for Christians to pursue any impulse of the soul?
As I look at many of the great men of faith in the Bible, I find that their lives stood out in contrast to the culture around them. At a time when men were relocating to cities, and building permanent lodging places, Abraham dwelt in tents and lived as a wanderer in the land of promise. His son Isaac, Isaac’s son Jacob, and Jacob’s sons continued this pattern. When Daniel and his three young friends were taken captive into Babylon they refused to eat the king’s meat, or to defile themselves with that which was unclean. Daniel was known by those around him to devote three times each day to spend in prayer and devotion to Yahweh. The actions of these men were atypical of the day. They did not conform to society, but lived as aliens and strangers in the land.
Have the conveniences of a materialistic society become a stumbling block to those called to walk as spiritual men and women? When was the last time you spent time outdoors viewing the wonders of God’s creation and expressing thanksgiving for the things that Yahweh has made? This past week I stood outside eating a ripe plum and marveling at how exquisite the taste was. I looked at this succulent fruit, so full of rich colors and satisfying to the palate, and I thanked the Father that He was so gracious that He made a food for man that was not only nutritious, but also delicious, and appealing to the eyes. As I have stood out in the yard I have admired the beauty of a variety of butterflies that abound at this time of year. I have laughed as I watched my dog chasing frogs through the grass, or bounding through the tall sedge with his nostrils filled with the scent of field mice and rabbits. Champ will pounce on one tuft of grass after another, excited by the creatures that he knows inhabit these hidden places.
Champ - July 5th
Back in 1999 I was a willing victim of Christian materialism. I rolled out of bed in my nice home, rushed through my morning preparations so I could be out the door and off to work. A major portion of my day was spent serving my earthly masters so I could pay for all of the trinkets and baubles that society said were necessary to experience a fulfilled life. In the evening I would return home, and my family would pile into the car to go to some meeting or activity. We would often eat out, and stay on the go until late in the evening. On the days we did stay home, various entertainments competed for our time. When the day was over there was very little time that any of us had spent in communion or conversation with our heavenly Father.
When Yahweh called me to surrender the rule of my life to Him in 1999, I had no idea how radically He would alter the things I considered normal. My life has become less cluttered with material goods. My time has been liberated from service to the maintenance and payment of all the things I owned. It may take me two hours to ride my bike to the post office and store now, when I could have gotten there in ten or fifteen minutes before. Yet, I am enjoying the trip. I am delighting in the view. I am speaking to the Father all along the way.
The point of this writing is not to convince you that you need to get rid of your automobiles and get a bicycle. Rather, it is to encourage you to reflect upon the impact that the conveniences of life are having upon you. It is to invite you to consider that there are other ways of living beside the standard American lifestyle. It would be well for the saints of God to spend time considering their ways, rather than being carried along by the tidal flow of society.
I would not have known how much benefit there is in riding a bicycle to the grocery store had I not yielded my life to adopt that manner of living Yahweh chose for me. If you too would yield your life to go wherever Yahweh directs, and to do whatever He commands, you will find that a great many things you accepted as normal and beneficial were actually hindering you.
Does the convenience of having a car tempt you to stay on the go so much that your devotional life is suffering? Are you spending so much time and money on the upkeep and maintenance of your present lifestyle that you have little left over to share with those in need? The next time you are about to jump in your car to run to the store, or rush over to the fast food place to pick up dinner for your family, ask yourself if doing so is truly benefitting you, your family, or others. Could you do without? Could that $20 or $30 dollars spent on a single meal be saved by preparing something at home? Could there be a bonding and maturing time as a mother taught her children how to prepare a meal from scratch? Would the savings provide you with the funds to help others who are in need?
What if you were able to save more than $7,000 on gas over a five year period by using an e-bike as your primary transportation? Whom could you minister to with that money? What may seem a sacrifice before committing to it, could prove to be a great blessing once it is embraced. You may meet people you would never have encountered if you had continued to drive by, secreted inside of your automobile. You may gain benefits in health, and in alleviating stress, as you get some much needed exercise. You could begin to see the multitude of wonders in Yahweh’s creation that you had been zipping by without noticing before.
Children unaccustomed to riding a bike need training wheels. Riding on two wheels requires a person to develop and exercise their sense of balance. With four wheels you need no balance. Perhaps that is why so many Christians are riding around in cars, and so few on bikes? I know, I am being silly in suggesting such a thing, but perhaps there is some profit to asking whether you would be better served on two wheels than four. Perhaps it is time to take the training wheels off and to restore some balance to your life.
Heart4God Website: http://www.heart4god.ws
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P.O. Box 804
Montezuma, GA 31063