Category Archives: Mobility

September 2019 Solar PV and EV Numbers

The past month was surprisingly similar to the same month the year prior:

Sept 2019 solar

Almost 416 kWh of clean, green electricity from the funky yellow sun.  All in, including 100% of my EV charging needs, I ended up down ~122 kWh for the month.  The weather was schizophrenic this month bouncing from cool fall weather to hot and humid.  The third week of the month felt like the dog days of August with 90 degree temperature readings and similar humidity levels.  Needless to say, the air conditioning got turned on to cut that down a little bit.  Until that point I was running ahead in terms of production versus consumption.

For the month I drove my Nissan Leaf EV 755.1 miles with an average efficiency of 5.9 miles per kWh.  For the month I required ~128 kWh of electricity for my mobility.  Compared with the F150 that the Leaf replaced, I avoided emitting ~879 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere assuming that I drew electricity from the grid at an average carbon intensity for my region.

For the first nine months or so of the year—my Leaf arrived the second week of January—I have driven a total of 5,893 electric miles at an average efficiency of 5.2 miles per kWh.  The total C02 emissions that have been avoided versus the F150 that the Leaf replaced are 6,733 pounds thus far.  Again, this assumes 100% of charging occurs from the grid with an average carbon intensity for the region.

Interestingly, the total amount to charge my Nissan Leaf for the month–~128 kWh—was about how much I was “down” for the month in terms of solar production.  This aligns with my original estimates where my initial sixteen panel PV array would provide ~100% of my electricity needs.

As the weather turns cool and the pumpkin spice flows freely I am waiting on an install date for the solar array expansion.  The plan is to add 8 360 watt panels to my existing 16 290 watt panel array.  This represents a ~59% increase in solar capacity and given the new panels will be on the same azimuth it should represent the same amount of increase in terms of actual production.

The increase in solar array capacity should account for more than 100% of my Leaf’s charging needs and provide a cushion of excess production for additional electrification.  The future is electric.

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Labor Day in Lincoln, Nebraska Leads to…

Bikes and beers of course.  Were you thinking I was going to say University of Nebraska Cornhusker football?  Hah!

As a loyal University of Iowa alumnus going to spend a long weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska I was not going to participate in any game day festivities.  Instead I was going to attack the Homestead Trail south of town.

Last year over the Memorial Day weekend I went on a ride that covered a portion of the Homestead and Jamaica North trails.  At the time the temperature was hovering around 90 some degrees with an equal percentage of humidity which forced me to cut my ride short.  Heading back to my truck I vowed to return.

The route from just south of Lincoln at the trailhead off Saltillo Road southward to Beatrice is a little over 30 miles.  Round trip I expected this ride to take about 4 hours assuming I could keep a consistent cadence on the gravel.

The morning started out cool and humid.  How humid?  Like fog dripping from the sky humid.  Like trailside grasses sagging under the weight of morning dew humid.  At least the trail dust was kept down by all the moisture in the air.  One can really tell that it has been a wet spring and summer in Nebraska just by the density of the greenery along the trail.  It is damn near jungle-esque.

Traffic on the trail was light.  A few ultra-runners early on, but almost completely depopulated by mile ten.  I passed a few people on bikes the rest of the way.  If you want to be alone with your thoughts on a bike I highly recommend the Homestead Trail.

The trail surface was in good condition for most of its length.  Somewhere around mile 20 the trail was scarred by what appeared to be quad bike tracks that whipsawed across the width of the gravel surface.  It was as if someone deliberately came out after a rainstorm and dug deep tire tracks in an effort to frustrate cyclists.  If so, that is just sad and belongs in the hall of shame next to the guys who “roll coal” next to cyclists at traffic stops.

I have got to be honest, the trail is a lot of this:

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If it looks really flat that is because the trail is really flat.  Over 60.34 miles—out and back to Beatrice—I gained a total of 479 feet.  That is right, just an average of less than 8 feet of elevation gain per mile.

I made it to Beatrice:

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Barn wood…it’s not just for people from Waco, Texas:

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Caution: Animal Holes…my new favorite sign:

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The reward for achieving my goal of riding to Beatrice and back was a trip around Lincoln to try out a few, new to me breweries.  My legs were rubber after sixty miles of riding, but I was game for quick pit stop by White Elm Brewing and Code Beer Company in Lincoln.  Both breweries put out a well-made IPA.  I really only had the energy to sample a few beers before heading to dinner and bed.

Like before, I will be back.

Going Back to a Flat Bar Yet Again

There are certain themes I seem to come back to time and time again.  When it comes to my bicycles the past is prologue which means it must be time for me to give up on the drop bars and return to a flat handlebar setup.

After several thousand miles and two different drop bars—the OEM compact set and a reused 44cm Salsa Cowchipper 2—I spent a weekend rebuilding my primary bicycle into this:

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Let’s get a few things out of the way before the drop bar mafia makes their presence known.

Compared to the variety and comfort of flat bar grips the usual drop bar solution of grip tape basically sucks.  You can point me to extra cushioned tape or thick natural cork tape or gel pads under tape…it all sucks compared to a set of Ergon grips.  Plus, I can never seem to wrap a bar neatly or in such a manner that the grip tape starts to come undone in less than a month.  My Ergons are held in place with a single bolt and stay rock solid.

When it comes to hand positions, which is the primary reason that the drop bar mafia claims to love drop bars, I found myself riding almost entirely on the flats or hoods.  You know what those two positions look a lot like in my current setup?  The two primary hand positions.  Hmmm…

Additionally, the position on the flats of my Salsa Cowchipper 2 never felt wide enough.  It was the most comfortable position for my hands, but it felt like someone was squeezing my shoulders inward.  That is not a sensation that is particularly comfortable on a big day ride.  I could have opted for a wider drop bar or gone to a bar with more flare.  However, that would have made the outer hand positions feel wider to a degree that was also uncomfortable.  Do you see where I am going with this?  I could not find a good spot to put my hands for a long ride.  Any ride over the two hour mark really started to hurt my hands and wrists.

In addition to switching to a flat bar I switched out the OEM Shimano Sora 9 speed drivetrain for a SRAM GX based 10 speed drivetrain.  Both setups utilized a single 42 tooth chainring up front.  If this setup looks familiar that is because it is reusing parts from a prior build I did on my old bicycle.  Hilarity, so to speak, ensued when I discovered late Sunday night that the derailleur cable for my rear shifter was about an inch short.  Naturally, no bike shop was open and my build had to wait to be completed until Monday evening.

A big shout out to the guys at Goldfinch Cyclery in Cedar Rapids.  When I could not get my drivetrain to shift accurately—it would not get into the largest cog—they got everything working lickety split.  Turns out you need to exaggerate the alignment a little bit to get everything working.  Who knew?

Stuff I Like: Rock “N” Roll The Absolute Dry

I will admit that I do not clean and lubricate the drivetrain of my bicycle nearly enough for the amount of riding that I do.  Compounding this fact is that a lot of the riding that I do is north of the paved section of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.  This is the section of trail where a weird amalgam of crushed limestone, loose dirt, sand, and whatever else has been spread over the years comprises the surface.

In the 1990s and for probably a decade or more afterward I was a firm believer in the lubrication powers of White Lightning.  Not the white lightning of rural American fame, but the chain lube that used to promise a quiet and clean running chain.  Somewhere along the line the formula changed or my expectations changed.  No longer was it the preferred choice.

After a series of products recommended by the Internet, friends, not so friends, and whatever I call those dudes who ride recumbents in jean shorts I was at my wits end.  Why?  All of the lubes I tried seemed to become a mass of trail dust, grease, and other gunk within a few rides which necessitated scrubbing my drivetrain clean with a stiff bristle brush.  Is there anything more tedious than spending a weekend morning scrubbing your cassette?  I thought not.

On the recommendation of the good folks at Goldfinch Cyclery—best bike shop in eastern Iowa—I bought a bottle of Rock “N” Roll The Absolute Dry:

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Like Popeye’s Chicken in the oft derided Adam Sandler classic film Little Nicky, this stuff is the shiznit:

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All right, early aughts nostalgia aside The Absolute Dry is the answer to my lube prayers.  That sounds all wrong when I say it out loud.

Here’s the deal: I put this stuff on when my drivetrain starts making some noise and I generally forget about it for a week or more.  What more can I ask out of a bottle of chain lube?  Oh wait, it also does not create the mini mountains of trail crud that seem to result in using more moist lubes that promise to endure miles of abuse.

If you ride a lot of dust strewn miles get a bottle of this stuff and save your weekends for riding.

Note: I bought two bottles of The Absolute Dry with my own money and of my own volition.  I receive no compensation or reward for suggesting that this is an awesome product.  There is no influencer pimping going on here.

Stuff I Like: Revelate Designs

2019 has been a year of really dialing my bike for “big day” rides of 50 to a 100 miles.  It’s sort of a no man’s land between regular rides and the long rides that a lot of bikepackers undertake.  It’s also the sort of riding that is super prevalent here in eastern Iowa.

The requirements for being on a bike for several hours and tens of miles from home are the ability to deal with any mechanical gremlins that arise, have enough food on hand in case you begin to bonk, and be prepared for dramatic changes in weather.  The last requirement is key.  You may end up packing a compressible down jacket for a ride that may end in short sleeves.  That is spring in eastern Iowa.

On my bike right now I have a Terrapin System 8L and a Mag-Tank:

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The Terrapin System 8L replace a much more traditional seat bag that had just enough room for my phone, spare tube, mini pump, and a multi-tool if I spent a few minutes arranging everything just so.  Do not ask what happened if I had to actually get anything out of said seat bag.  It was reverse Jenga in all the wrong ways.

The benefit of a seat bag like the Terrapin System 8L?  Variable size.  If you do not need to carry a jacket or a burrito as big as your head just roll down the bag insert, close the one way purge valve, and clip it into place.  Want to carry a puffy, rain jacket, gloves, and a five dollar foot long?  Just unroll the insert, stuff it full, and get to pedaling.  About the only downside to bag like this is that the inside is one big compartment.  It’s liberating in that there are no internal obstructions to limit your packing imagination, but at the same time it can get a little bit jumbled.  I am considering sewing my own tool roll to contain some of the chaos.  More projects!

Before the Mag-Tank I had gone through a few top tube or stem tops bags, but ended up binning them after a few rides because nothing ever seemed to work.  The Mag-Tank is about the perfect size to hold my smartphone, driver’s license, keys, cash, and some trail snacks in an easy to grab location.  In the past I have stored these same items in a seat bag.  The problem?  To really access a seat bag you have to get off the bike and root through the bottomless pit.  Ugh.

Now if I want to take a picture of something on the trail I just pop open the Mag-Tank, which has a snazzy magnetic enclosure as opposed to Velcro or a zipper, and grab my phone.  All from the saddle.  If you need or want more space there is a larger Mag-Tank 2000, but that seemed like overkill if I was also going to be rocking the Terrapin System 8L.

My only real gripe with the Mag-Tank is that the strap for fastening to the top tube was obviously intended for more voluminous carbon or allow frames.  It was pushing things to the limit when I tightened down the strap on my steel Breezer Radar.  Granted, the tubes on my bike are of the very skinny old school steel variety.  I was left with a lot of extra strap.  A little scissor surgery remedied the offending flap.  Sure, this bag is limited to this particular bike but when am I going to change rides?

After approximately 1,500 miles so far this season of mixed surface riding in eastern Iowa I can safely say that these two bags have solved all of my cargo carrying concerns.  At least one thing has been figured out this summer.

You will notice that my bike now has a flat bar.  Updates to follow.

Note: I received nothing from Revelate Designs or anyone else for this post.  I bought both products with my own money and intend to keep using them until the end of time.  Okay, that might be a little extreme.  Regardless, there is no paid product pimping here.  I did use my REI dividend and bi-annual member coupon to reduce the sting a little.  These products are great, but they are expensive.

Cracking the Electric Vehicle and Solar Photovoltaic Code in April

April felt like the month where I cracked the code on this whole electric vehicle thing.  How so?  After averaging 5.0 miles per kilowatt hour (kWh) in March and considerable less in the prior two months I ended April at an average of 5.4 miles per kWh.  Over the course of ~630 miles of driving I saved ~724 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions compared with my prior ICE vehicle.

Since mid-January when I acquired my used Nissan Leaf, I have driven a total of ~2,214 miles and saved ~2,456 pounds of carbon dioxide.  Not to mention saving ~$230 in fuel costs, which is a number that is sure to go up as fuel costs are creeping up here in eastern Iowa along with the spring time temperatures.

The story gets even better when you factor in April’s solar production:

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The numbers are not dramatic in and of themselves.  However, for the month—including the electricity that I used to “fuel” my EV—I produced ~95 kWh in excess of my needs.  For the month of April my house and my car were more than fueled by the sun.  That is the future.

Imagine what things will be like when I increase the generating capacity of my solar array by almost 60%.  Based on my calculations that will allow for more than 15,000 miles of electric driving per year which should cover both my and my wife’s commuting miles in town.

Spring has Sprung: March 2019 Solar Production and EV Stats

Can you tell the exact time when the snow finally melted in Iowa and it began to feel like spring?  I will give you one guess looking at the image below:

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It was like someone opened a door and spring rushed in looking for treats like a good boy.  I said it last year and I will say it again this year…I need to get a roof rake so that I can brush the snow off when it refuses to slide off my solar panels.  The way these things go it will probably be a very light snow year next season and the roof rake will sit in the garage unused for months.

It is my hope that April sees a production number on par with the prior year as the previous few months have really been mediocre in terms of solar production.  There is something ironic about getting an electric vehicle at the same time that my solar production fell off a cliff.  Oh well.

Speaking of the Nissan Leaf it also had a month when it became obvious that the weather had turned.  I drove 603.4 miles at an average efficiency of 5.0 miles per kWh.  This compares with average efficiencies of 3.6 and 3.9 miles per kWh in January and February respectively.

Two factors played into this efficiency increase: warmer weather that resulted in less use of the resistive heater and better knowledge of how to wring out mileage from the vehicle.  It is kind of amazing how you can optimize your driving along a route without resorting to any crazy hypermiling or vehicle modification. This is the kind of improvement that makes me wonder how much efficiency we can wring out of the transportation system without having to resort to draconian measures.

Over the course of the past two and a half months I have driven a total of 1583.6 miles in my Nissan Leaf.  That has saved 1731.9 pound of CO2 versus my prior vehicle and cost a total of $49.34.  The emissions and cost numbers are based on me using grid electricity for the entirety.

As an aside, I utilized a public charger for the first time this month.  In practical terms it was super easy.  I pulled up to one of the two spots at my place of work, tapped my Chargepoint RFID keycard, and got to charging.  There has been a lot of talk about infrastructure for charging and how it impacts the widespread adoption of EVs.  In my experience, the publicly available charging infrastructure is not the major hurdle to adoption for a lot of people.  Unlike urban areas, the suburban area that I live in is rife with attached garages where people can charge their vehicle at home overnight.  Within line of sight of my garage are two houses with Tesla Model 3s and in conversations with the owners I have found that they also rarely, if ever, utilize public chargers, including Tesla’s vaunted Supercharger.  It is just not necessary for the majority of driving that takes place in an average day.  Heck, I only used the charger at work to ensure that my Chargepoint card worked so that I could take my Leaf down to Iowa City in the summer.