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Welcome everyone to the first Solar Bike newsletter, a short letter that I hope to post and keep everyone updated with any interesting or useful electric bike or renewable energy news I can find. In this issue I provide you with a brief history of Solar Bike, a link to a really good read of an inspiring trip some Japanese trauma patients undertook to cross Australia on some snazzy panasonic electric bikes, some very important hints to prolong your battery life, a method of improving the "ugly strap" look of battery bags and a reminder of the upcoming "Underground Retro-fit Bicycle Race" being held this Saturday. I sincerely hope that other people will send me their own articles, pictures, links or ideas for future newsletters!

Solar Bike is a relatively new business that was started in April this year. Its aim is to eventually have a bicycle that runs on hydrogen, produced from green algae. The business was actually only started so that we could apply for research grants to fund this purpose. However, with startling interest, amazingly fun bicycles and a great way to reduce car usage we are trying to keep the business running and develop products further. The distant aim of having a solar-algal-hydrogen-electric bicycle is not something that happens overnight. The first step was to procure motors that were suitable to provide good assistance and batteries that would endure quite rough treatment and allow travel for over 30km. The next step was to get this all solar powered. We find that with an 80W panel, this is possible for about 25 km travel a day in Perth summer but in winter I still need to use the mains power once or twice a week. The next aim is a big step and will involve either selling lots and lots of kits or getting some research funds from somewhere. Here we want to use hydrogen to produce electricity through a fuel cell stack and have this run the motor. Then we want to produce the hydrogen from solar or other renewable systems. Finally, the greatest step is to improve the efficiency of algal hydrogen producing systems so that they can produce enough to fuel our electric bicycles - this is a really tough step and I hope there are some smart research scientists out there working hard nights in the lab!

The initial stages of finding motors and batteries proved quite difficult, frustrating and expensive. A shed full of burnt out batteries and motors is testament to this. However, with foolish stubborness and some good luck we believe that we have good motors and batteries finally. In the first month or two of business product failure was about 10 - 20%. It's now down to less than 5%. Generally problems come from a wheel being dropped on its cable side at some point, controller failure or what I can only believe is a complete lack of mechanical aptitude. I've also experienced battery failure once. I see the life of the battery suffering if they are not taken care of so I will address this critical point once again. But first, a story of some inspiring riders who came from Japan to Perth and made it to Sydney on some electric bikes. Kind thanks to Chris who housed these riders and bicycles in Perth and put me onto their story.

The riders came from Japan and were sufferers of some type of trauma, typically road accident, work injury or sports injury. They came, promoted trauma research and conquered distances that make my back, bum and genitals ache just thinking about it. They used electrically assisted bikes supplied by Panasonic that could achieve speeds of 25 km per hour. The motor does not look like a hub motor but seems to work on the front gear. The battery sits in that silly position in front of the back wheel. When will they put it within the crossbar I wonder?
panasonic electric bike

These bikes were being tested on this cross-Australia ride and are now being pulled apart back in Japan so I hear to see how well they performed. I also hear that they aren't for sale yet but will come on the market soon for a cool price of about $5000. I still think the simple kit that most of us readers are using is better but it's nice to see an emerging technology. There is a blog written of the journey and I encourage you all to read it (start at the bottom), you feel inspired by these people and nearly feel like doing it yourself.

Coming to battery safety, before reading ahead, please click here to see what happens when a lithium ion battery explodes and therefore the need to be careful with them. So now I have your attention, please take care of your battery, the event of an explosion as in the video is highly unlikely but points to remember are: always use an appropriate lithium ion battery charger, avoid heat (put insulation between the controller and battery) and don't let it short out. The batteries I've provided use a "relatively" safe chemistry, LiFePO4, and they also have battery management systems to prevent damage but always play it on the safe side, needless to say it's not wise to incinerate these batteries. I hope that you have all put a switch on the battery now and are turning it off whenever it is not in use. The new batteries will come with switches hopefully but those of you who already have a battery need to put one in, or disconnect it from the controller when not in use. Wire the switch into the positive wire (red) going from the battery to the controller, put it in after the fuse if you can and turn off power when not in use. The reason being that there is current still going into the controller, this has two problems, one is that your system is live (the controller is still a little warm if you feel it) and the second is that it will drain your battery. Also, it's important to recharge your bike after each ride. Always try and keep your battery fully charged to ensure it lasts a long time. It's really not good to run them flat. Be careful about lending your bike to friends, they will run it flat and not recharge it as diligently as you I've recently found.

Next I'd like to show a method of putting the battery bag on the bike so you can get rid of the strap (idea courtesy of Rob). It looks much better I think and gives more accessibility to the components inside. I'll be getting aluminium battery boxes made but until then it's the battery bag. The method is best shown with a picture, so here it is.

battery bag method

The final thing I'd like to share with anyone in the vicinity of Perth is the upcoming Solar Bike Race - to be held this coming Saturday. Click here for a flyer or else assemble ocean side of Daglish station (Perth) at 11.30am.

A big Thank You to everyone who was kind enough to send me a product review back. I appreciate the time you took writing it and look forward to posting your reviews on the website soon. Please also send along some pictures of your bicycle if you'd like them up there too!

Happy Cycling,

Matthew Timmins, November 2009


1st race results