Sunday, August 28, 2011

My new bicycle

Gosh! - I wondered some time ago - why, to go to work, day after day, I'm forced to pollute and waste money and resources into fuel, financing oil multinationals and warlords, driving a car without even enjoying it?
I like to drive, but when there is a journey to make! The positive aspect of this activity is linked to the need to escape from everyday life. The path from home to work instead is always the same, and it's even is annoying to have to pay attention to driving. In my case, then, it would be more nice to be enraptured by the charms of the bucolic woods of chestnut trees, rather than focusing on narrow roads and hairpin bends.

Actually, there is the bus. But for me it's uncomfortable, because the schedule does not match with my working hours. I certainly can not blame them: the line is designed to serve a small town. In other words, it is an invaluable service on the emergencies, but really impractical for everyday needs. When I used to live in Turin, and even before, when I was commuting by train between the province and the city of Milan (in that case the problem was to cover the journey between home and the station), I went by bike. And I liked it! it's a silent, efficient, quick and practical medium. And I especially liked the type of phisical activity.
I'm not a sporty type. I do not like sports without any practical purpose. I think it's absurd to waste resources (money, energy, time), in comforts gaining a sedentary lifestyle, but then again wasting some more (for example in the gym) to remedy the problems caused by

altitude profile of the route between home and work, detected by GPS
that lifestyle. Rather, it's better to use our energies when we need.
The bike, from this point of view is perfect, if it is compatible with the route that has to be covered. In Turin, for example, I had planned a route about 15 km long (a little longer than the needed) that passed through a city park and the towpaths of the Po, the Dora and a service channel (I had to deal with traffic in only a few points).

Where I live now, there is big problem. The way between home and the workplace is exactly 10km long. Not much, but my house is located at an altitude of five hundred meters more than the office. On average, then, the slope is 5%. Of course that 5% is not constant, and in some places the slope touches 10%. At this link there is the altimetrical contour of the path. Within that graph, my home is at about the fifth km. The office is, then, 5 km before the beginning of the graph and in those 5 km there is a similar slope. That climb is not impossible. On the opposite, the accurate documentation in website, dedicated to "climber" cyclists shows that it is a classic in its genre. One can see bounches of them, especially in the weekends, with their super-technological bicycles, in their tight sportsuits with their shaved legs. All dripping proud sweat despite their calves with a circumference comparable to my stomach (and it's not small!), But with a very different tonicity. Those people can bear the slope for sure. But I think they also would never consider to do it every day to get home after work.
And, as I said above, I am not an athletic dude!
No, forget it! The bike would never be the solution!

...Unless ...

...Unless there is someone who helps to push.

That's the idea!
I search for informations about it, on the Internet and at specialized stores.
Eventually I found the shop "Punto fotovoltaico" at Galbiate (LC), licensee of the brand "Ecoveicoli" (which, as one can easily guess from the name, sells eco-friendly vehicles), and I bought it.
This is an electric bicycle with pedal assistance.

Okay "electric" - you can say - but what the hell does it mean "pedal assistance"?

There is a precise legislation that allows such a vehicle to be approved just like an ordinary bicycle (so no driving tax nor insurance nor helmet nor driving license).
(...) Shall also be considered bicycles with pedal assistance those vehicles equipped with an auxiliary electric motor having a maximum continuous rated power of 0.25 KW, which is gradually reduced and finally stopped when the vehicle reaches 25 km/h or before, if the cyclist stops pedaling.
Official law No. 31/February 7, 2003 (translation of mine)
In other words there is an electric motor that helps to propel the vehicle only when the pedals are moving. The engine stops pushing if you do not pedal, or, of course, if you brake. The push is inversely proportional to the speed until you reach 25km/h, when the power stops pushing. I have the feeling (but I'm not sure) that the speed is calculated on the rotation of the pedals, and not of the wheel, which is not the same thing, 'cause it depends on the shift (to an equal  speed the engine seems to push more with a high gear).

My bike, pictured in the photo, is a Dinghi Special 24", with the setting "Export".
I have pondered the purchase. My indecision was based on the need to confirm that this method would allow me to overcome, more or less easily, the climb that I described above. I was not convinced that the the bike could manage.
At the end of the guy of the store helped me to overcome the question, allowing me a test-ride. One Saturday morning he and I jumped on the two candidate models, and we went for a long ride (with a slope a little less and about half the distance).
The difference between the two models lies in setting "Export". Aside from some touch of look, and the suspensions on the fork (useful but not decisive) the improvement that justifies the 450 euros extra of the more equipped one is the expensive lithium-ion battery instead of the lead one.
In addition to the ecological advantage of the lithium battery, during the test I found out that the lowest total weight of the bike + the battery (already heavy for the Export model) and above all a greater immediacy in the delivery the full power could really be the determining factor in my decision, given the criticality of the track.

I have already rode four times the path from home to work and back.
The first leg, of course, is easy. It takes more or less at the same time it takes by car. I always live the engine off but I hardly do any hard work (the road has only two climbs almost flat and very short). I arrive at work rested and refreshed in the morning crisp air. The only flaw is that I can not listen to the news at Popolare Network radio station (I think i will pose a remedy to that with a small radio set).
The back hand, istead, is quite challenging. Especially in this period, rather hot at that time also over here in the mountains. The climbs are tough, despite the aid of the engine. But the fatigue is bearable. It takes about forty minutes (less than twice the much by car).

At the end, I am satisfied with my purchase. But I've still got some minor criticisms:
- The bike, when the engine is on, has a green light that turns red when the battery is low charge. Unfortunately, when this happens, i am allowed for a couple of miles uphill. So, not to risk, i charge it every time, and that is not recommended if you want to give the battery a long life (the best is to plug it in only when fully discharged). It would have been better if it had a system a little more complex, like the one i have seen in the higher model ("Frisbee"), where the state of battery charge is shown in detail by a potentiometer. In that case, perhaps I could venture to make two journeys with a single charge (*).
- Dinghi Special 24" has a rear gearbox with six-speed derailleur (from 42/13 to 42/34). In some parts of the route, the climb would require an even shorter one, as it is in the "Frisbee".
- Going down, on the slope, given the weight of the vehicle (and of the rider), i have almost always to keep the brake engaged. It's a pity to waste that energy. Wouldn't be wonderful to have a system that uses it to recharge the battery?

The bike costs 1321 euros, but I had a discount to 1200, plus 15 euros for the basket. I then "decorated" it with a device that measures the speed and the distance (23 euros at Decathlon). I also bought a helmet (16 euros), which is not mandatory, but advisable.

(*): The producer says that a charge bear 80km on level ground or 40km uphill. It is a purely hypothetical measurement, because of course it depends on many factors, including the steepness of the climb, the rider's weight and strength that he impresses to the pedals (and thus the speed of travel).