One of our biggest concerns in our family is food security. One of the easiest ways to get food security is to grow most of your own food. With a very small garden, we have managed to easily grow and harvest about 75% of the food we eat on a daily basis. The only foods we don’t grow are things like rice which is water and labor intensive and beans which are also incredibly labor intensive. At some point last year we decided to build a greenhouse to grow food year round, but we didn’t want to heat it (we are off grid) and we had a budget of $4000. After about 500 man hours of labor and less than $4000 for materials, we’ve created something we are pretty proud of and that doesn’t seem to usually dip much below freezing even without heat.
I slowly approached the door feeling a strange combination of fear, shame and excitement. The house was a small one lost back in a bundle of old growth hemlocks far from the road. It was made from natural edged wood hand planed and lovingly put together. None of the angles were straight and none of the boards were square but it held a strange kind of appeal that most square houses did not. The door started to open and my heart skipped two beats.
Travelling to China about 10 years ago I was surprised and overwhelmed by the proliferation of electric bikes. It seemed like everyone everywhere owned an ebike. Hundreds of them would be lined up inside the super markets for consumers to impulse buy a new bike while they were busy with their morning grocery shopping. They were attractive looking and cheap, but most of them ran off lead acid batteries and in general were heavy and not that powerful. I toyed with the idea of importing them to the US to try to sell them here, but once I started to research the shipping costs and the weights I realized it was pretty impractical.
Over the last 10 years batteries have gotten much, much cheaper and far more powerful. There is a new explosion of interest in electric bikes in the US as people look towards reasonable solutions to deal with the escalating costs of owning a car as well as all the time wasted stuck in city traffic. The traffic in Ithaca has gotten particularly bad on Rt 13 and often seems backed up for miles all the way to Stewart Park. The traffic and lack of parking in town was starting to drive me totally batty.
A new store opened up in town called Boxy Bikes owned by my friend Larry Clarkburg that specialized in selling ebikes. I swung by and tried out a used Giant Twist ebike he had for sale and I instantly fell in love. It was a love affair that would interfere dramatically will my sex life and anything else I would want to do for the next several months. I jokingly thanked Larry for destroying my life every time I saw him. The first time I used my electric bike in town I was amazed at how quickly I could get from one place to another. No more waiting for traffic, no more driving around looking for free parking, I could arrive right at the doorstep of the customer site and had a lot of extra time to spare. The best part was that I was no longer isolated in my car in an artificial environment that separated me from people on the street. People I knew would wave hello, I felt like part of the community instead of an outsider just driving through.
This was just the beginning, I had bought one ebike from Larry, but I started spending countless hours on the online ebike forums reading mods people had made and crazy ebikes that would use tens or hundreds of thousands of watts. An entire community of people were on the cutting edge of ebike development, and they were all doing it in their garage. I had stumbled on the golden age of ebikes and I was hooked. I would stay up till odd hours in the morning trying to learn everything I could and then I would wakeup at 5:00 AM and start in again on the forums. It became a complete and all-consuming obsession.