This project has been in the wings for a while. I just recently started work in earnest, and the results have been really interesting, so am ready to share some details.
I’ve been following advances in small, efficient electric motors and battery technology, particularly when applied to alternative forms of transportation. It’s been a hot topic for the past decade, though mostly among esoteric backyard tinkerers and hobbyists.
Much progress was driven by robotics programs at universities and advanced technology high schools, national engineering competitions, and even the military. Lately it’s been breaking more mainstream, especially in areas like electric bicycles, where there is a large worldwide market to make the economics of mass production both affordable and profitable.
A few years ago I bought a recumbent trike with the idea of using it as a project.
I’ve missed riding a conventional two wheel bike. At my age, the discomfort in neck and wrists and butt took the joy out of it, so I mostly gave it up. A recumbent was a viable alternative that could get me back on the road again, and it’s been great fun as just a human powered bike. Very comfortable – you essentially have a reclining lounger wherever you go. Very fast on flat ground, and it screams going downhill, because the profile is so low there’s far less wind resistance than a conventional bike. And in some ways it’s safer – balance is not an issue, and you don’t have far to fall if you go over.
Added benefit: I could easily strap on a basket so my little buddy could ride along. He loved to ride along.
There are tradeoffs, though. Being so low to the ground means you have less visibility – both to see and be seen. When climbing hills, you can’t stand up on the pedals to use your weight for driving the pedals. It requires all leg muscle. Gearing down works fine – I can climb mountains – but speed over ground is reduced to a crawl. When Terri and I go for rides – she on her two-wheel hybrid mountain bike, and me on the trike – she kicks my butt going up hills. Then I fly past her going down. She’s also more mobile, able to make sharper turns and go off road on rough ground and narrow paths, while I am pretty much confined to smooth wide trails and paved roads.
But, still, I get to ride again. The tradeoffs were anticipated. And a fast trike makes a good platform to experiment with electric power. Though some issues are not easily overcome, like visibility in traffic, adding electric pedal assist will eliminate the hill climbing issue.