Since a certain company involved in the electric vehicle revolution is taking a ridiculous amount of headlines these days and months, and since I have been waiting in line for more than two years to buy one particular revolutionary product from this certain company, I have made decisions that force me to take a step back and shift focus a bit.
My latest lease on a small electric car from a certain German manufacturer had run out, and I realized that instead of spending money on a new lease I had to save that money in order to have any chance at paying for the pie in the sky. One consequence of this was the desperate attempt of electrifying an old car with a broken down internal combustion engine, at which I failed miserably. Even worse, I fixed the bloody engine and it now runs happily drinking more gasoline than any old car I have ever owned. Ouch!
I am torn in this situation for several reasons. If I buy a used electric car from any legacy manufacturer I will not be able to afford the one I am planning for, especially because I am certain that any of those low-range cars will have lost substantial value when what I consider the very best electric car eventually arrives in my driveway.
When the wait is over, will I feel the sensation of truly making a difference in the fight to end all burning of fossil fuels? Maybe. Is this product making all other hardware with the same purpose of moving people from A to B look hopelessly outdated? Maybe not.
Also, my son is training to be a mechanic, and that means he has to drive and learn everything he can about internal combustion engines. He will eventually work on electric cars only, we know that, but until then he has to make a living too.
For the time being I have reached a compromise. What comforts me in the solution I am about to share with you is that I have tried to minimize the miles covered by the burning of gasoline and maximized the miles covered by burning of calories. I use old hardware to accomplish the daily commuting needs of all members of my family, because recycling old stuff saves resources too I guess. After having tried numerous electric vehicles in my daily commute, I will never buy a new car with a fossil fueled internal combustion engine. Doing that is madness in my book!
Over recent years I have also done thousands of miles of my commute on electric bikes, but the 37 miles (60 km) a day is not something my son is keen on doing (even though his round trip is 10 miles shorter), and since the local railway is shut down for electrification and has been for 2 years now, the only alternative is a ridiculously slow and inefficient system of buses. For comparison, the fastest bus fare from my home to my work is almost 2 hours each way. By electric bike it’s 1 hour each way. When the train gets rolling we will be back at 45 minutes each way.
However, for some reason nobody knows when the train is ready, so the current setup while we wait is as follows:
Hardware no. 1: A 1971 Smith & Co. (SCO) Mini-bike at a total cost of $150 (recovered from junk). Running cost is negligible. Fits in the trunk of a car and covers the last 10 miles (16 km) round trip to my workplace. Climate impact is none.
Hardware no. 2: A 1987 Volvo 240 at a total cost of $6,000 (Bought as junk for $1,000). Running cost is $0.5 per mile. Used for daily round trip to my sons workplace totaling 27 miles (44 km). Climate impact is disastrous.
I would not have bothered sharing this with you had it not been for a few insights I have had using this old hardware. First let’s talk about the amazing mini-bike.
My late uncle Frank found this bike in a dumpster many years ago and restored it to mint condition. The first time he showed it to me I instantly fell in love with it, and when he passed away a few years back I swore to take good care of it.
When I was a kid this was a very popular bicycle model in Europe, and I still remember how awestruck I was over its most important state-of-the-art high-tech feature: the Sachs Torpedo Duomatic kick-back 2-speed transmission hub with integrated coaster brakes. Even the name is cool.
This unique hub came to market in Germany in 1964 motivated by the need to bring a bike along in small cars like the VW Beetle. The mini-bike came in a foldable version too for that purpose and that’s why an effort was put in to not have cables, but the one I have is not foldable and does not need to be because the trunk of the Volvo is huge.
As I see it, the Duomatic is a legendary piece of old school cleantech. It is extremely compact, and is operated solely by the pedals. Turn the pedals gently backwards and it shifts smoothly up or down between the two internal planetary gear ratios. Turn backwards harder an a powerful coaster brake brings you to a stop. All of this in complete silence.
This all gets under my skin. This old bike does the job perfectly. It’s completely silent. It’s extremely robust. There are no cables. No levers. No maintenance, apart from a drop of oil to the chain and new tires every 5 years. Awesome!
And — well, let’s not talk too much about the old Volvo. Of course I love the old gal, but I just hope that one day I can buy synthetic gasoline made from sunshine and extracted carbon from the atmosphere, so that I can drive around in this beauty without feeling so bad. Or maybe eventually get the blessing of the authorities to convert it to electric propulsion without being ripped of by certification institutions.
Old Meets New
Now, in this context it is actually very interesting that the only electric vehicle manufacturer that I feel compelled to purchase my next car from has the most efficient electric vehicle on the market with refined motor technology that originates from 1838! This particular electric motor type called a Permanent Magnet Switched Reluctance Motor has finally found good use thanks to modern power electronics that can handle a problem called Torque Ripple. Old electric technology in perfect harmony with new electronic technology.
This aligns perfectly with the sensation my old Sachs Torpedo Duomatic gives me, just without the electronics. It all comes down to good craftsmanship. The desire to make something that just works. Something that is built to last. Something so refined that the technology itself is invisible, and just blends into your senses and leaves you with the illusion that your human capabilities have been extended to superhuman levels. No fuzz. No complex interfaces. Just sheer pleasure of movement. That’s what my bike does, and that’s what I expect my next electric car will do. Nothing less.
I’m not saying this sensation cannot be achieved with old gas guzzling automobiles. In fact, I believe the only way the electric car revolution can get sufficient traction is for people to try to drive electric vehicles themselves, because you cannot smooth-talk a dude into buying an electric car if he is in love with his loyal V8 engine that might have served him for decades. No sir, no can do. But let him make a personal decision to try one of these shiny silent wonders of the future, and he will eventually find a way to love them too.
Bottom line: Being forced to use old hardware in my involuntary wait for the ultimate new hardware has made me realize that you can keep your love and faith in the old tech, while at the same time embracing the new tech wholeheartedly.