The state of things
It's been a while since I posted to the Cycle 9 blog. The hiatus was in part due to a lot of grant writing that I had to do for my day job. There's this thing called the "stimulus" that congress passed, and they are trying to stimulate scientific research. And so government agencies like the National Institutes of Health are accepting grant proposals to spend the stimulus money. Well, since I work at a major research university (the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), I was obliged to write some grant proposals. With all the grant writing, the blog was left a bit lonely.
But in the background, a lot has been going on at Cycle 9, in terms of bike stuff. Let's see what I can dig up from the recesses of my memory:
- We got a few of the Marin hardtail mountain bikes in stock. Some folks had asked for a more aggressive looking bike for their everyday riding, and the Marin bikes fit the bill. They make a great platform for an everyday commuter bike, or for an electric conversion. We're not about to switch over to carrying a whole shopful of full suspension mountain bikes. I love mountain biking, but that's not what the store is about. We're here to promote transportation and utility biking. And we have the mountain bikes for people who prefer the look and feel of that to a more road oriented bike.
- We have lots of kids bikes in stock from Marin. They make a nice lineup. We also have the "running bikes". These are bikes without pedals, that the kids use by "running" along while seated on the bike - kind of like Flinstones. My daughter learned how to bike this way, and it was a lot faster that learning how to deal with pedals. Once she was balancing on the running bike, then moving over to a regular pedal bike without training wheels was easy.
- We're getting some of the new "electric mountain drive" assist kits in from Ecospeed. It is a chain-drive electric assist, that has the advantage of using the bike's existing gear set. So they are claimed to be better for steep hill climbing, and to have better efficiency than hub motors. We'll be testing one out extensively, and we'll also have a demo in the shop.
- Speaking of demo bikes, we are also a Stokemonkey dealer (the only one on the East Coast!), and now have a Surly Big Dummy utility bike (great for kid and grocery hauling), with the Stokemonkey installed. The Stokemonkey is like the Ecospeed, but it is designed specifically for cargo bikes like the Xtracycle, Big Dummy, and Yuba Mundo. It is a very high efficiency, quiet motor setup that has power for big loads and very steep hills. Come try it out!
- If you want to charge your electric bike battery faster, we now have a new line of chargers in for the long-life LiFePO4 (lithium ion) battery type. One of them is a dual-voltage dual-amperage charger that puts out 9 amps in "fast charge" mode, fast enough to recharge a 10 amp-hour pack in just over an hour. But since charging batteries fast too often may shorten their life, this charger also has a 4 amp slower-charging mode, that will take 2-3 hours for a full charge. Not only that, it has dual voltage, so it can charge either a 36 volt or a 48 volt pack, at either current rate! We have a few 20A/48V chargers for large electric vehicle batteries. And we have some 6 amp dual-voltage chargers (36 and 48V). In this first run, we only have a few of each kind. Once they're gone, they're gone for a while.
- We now have the small Day 6 frames in stock, available for a test ride. The Day 6 is an extremely comfortable ride like a recumbent bike, but it is more upright. Several folks have come in to try the Day 6 before or after testing a Townie at another bike shop in town, and a lot of them prefer the comfort of the Day 6. The new small frames are designed for people 5'3" and under.
I'm sure there is a lot more to talk about, but let's save that for another post. I want to talk about the economy for a few moments.
Lots of people seem to think we've got green shoots. It would probably be best for our shop to just pretend that is the case and act as if everything is going to be hunky dory tomorrow. But sorry folks, it isn't. I'm a bit of an economics junkie. I do a lot of reading. And there's an elephant in the room. That elephant is:
If I could have used a larger font for that word, I would have. The reason why is I want to emphasize the scale of the problem. Our country is in hawk. Under water. We've sold off our children's future to the pawnbrokers.
This has all happened before... during the 20's. See, back then a similar thing happened. There got to be a very few rich industrialists at the top of the pyramid, and a lot of other folks who were quite poor. The disparity between rich and poor got more and more extreme. But most people didn't know it - because there was a debt bubble. So, while people were getting poorer, they kept feeling richer - because they got more and more in debt. That was the roaring 20's, until it came to a screeching halt in the crash of '29. But ironically, in 1930 there were newspaper reports very much like our "green shoots" reports now. Everything was going to go back to normal. Things would start roaring again. And what happened next? It was three more years until the economy would bottom out in 1933. The middle class was eviscerated. So were the poor folks. A few rich folks were just fine, but everyone else was not. There was a debt hangover that had to be cured.
Well, our debt as a country is bigger now than it was at the height of the great depression, when FDR was doing all-out government spending to try to dig this country out of the mess. Obama is trying to spend our way out of it - but the problem is, the spending is all in the form of ever more debt (not that the alternative of outright printing is any better). But our country can't handle more debt. Our creditors like the Chinese are getting sick of lending us money - because they don't see how we'll pay it back. And they're the only ones lending these days.
To bring it back to bikes, here's the thing: we import well over $500 billion per year in foreign oil. What do we trade this for? Debt, debt, and more debt. Not anything real - the US doesn't produce all that much anymore, except debt, and dollars (which represent debt).
I frequently have conversations with folks about oil. People seem to think there is a "glut" of oil, and that oil prices should come back down. Well, aside from the fact that the "glut" consists of only 20-30 days worth of US oil consumption, there is a much bigger fact being ignored: the price we pay at the pump is a direct correlation to the strength or weakness of the dollar. If the dollar gets stronger, that means oil and gas get cheaper for us. If the dollar gets weaker, that means oil and gas are more expensive for us. The dollar got a lot stronger last winter, which is a major reason why gas prices dropped. Now the dollar is weakening again. While it could do anything over the next 6-12 months (go up or down), the long-term prognosis is absolutely clear: there are too many dollars in the system, and our creditors are getting tired of taking those dollars in return for real, tangible things like oil and manufactured goods. This will not be dollar positive. What that means is that, even if we ignore the major geological constraints on oil supplies (i.e. peak oil), that it is very likely to get much more expensive for us at the pump in the future. We can "drill baby, drill" all we want, and it will be a drop in the bucket compared to what we import.
So, folks, be prepared for increasing costs in the future. Unless our government and the Federal Reserve bank manage to pull off a miracle of getting an economic recovery while holding the dollar's value, we will be paying more and more at the pump.
And cap-n-trade isn't going to help, either. I'm anti pollution and anti-CO2 being released, but this cap and trade thing has me mad. It is just another scheme for some very rich folks to get even richer trading in carbon credits. It would have been far better to just be honest about it and charge a direct carbon tax. And then to use that tax to build things like bike paths, rail lines, and etc. But, no, we'll just let some rich folks get richer, and we will all pay more money at the pump.
So, anyway, why would you want to buy a bike in this economy? Because bikes are one of the very cheapest ways to get around for short and medium-distance trips. Far cheaper than a car. For anyone who is struggling financially and asking "can I afford a bike" - if you can't afford a bike (at least a used one), then you definitely cannot afford a car. Each month of owning a car costs as much as buying a typical low-end transportation bike. Think about gas, insurance, repairs, and parking. Just the other day, someone I know had to pay over $300 to fix the electric window opener on her car. She had a sudden insight - all it takes is a few such repairs, and an electric bike would be paid for.
It's funny that occasionally when I'm riding along on the road, some guy in a big pickup will honk or something, trying to tell me to get off the road. I'm sure that most of these folks consider themselves US patriots. But how can they be patriots when they are dependent on foreign oil? When they are contributing to our large US debt, that will weaken our currency?
There was an interesting discussion on the RootsRadicals about the effect that having a US flag on the bike has with folks who might otherwise treat cyclists with disdain.
In that vein, we're going to do a t-shirt. Here's a mock-up/draft version:
This t-shirt points out that it is patriotic to ride your bike and free our country from foreign oil. Maybe it will help some drivers who "don't get it" to start figuring it out. We hope to have this shirt ready in August. Drop us a line if you want one. They'll be printed right here in North Carolina using organic cotton and chemical free dyes.
Happy 4th, I hope everyone had a great celebration of our country's independence - and I hope we have many more to come.