Through the introvert's gauntlet
It's not working, it's... networking.
Sorry if I left you hanging, readers! My excuse is that I had back-to-back academic visits at the beginning of this week. (I call this “The Introvert’s Gauntlet.”) Preparing for these visits monopolizes my creative energy for a few days beforehand, and on each visit I give a science seminar and have a full schedule of one-on-one meetings, speed-dating style. I’m really happy with how things went, but this introvert is feeling a little fried today!
There’s no rest for the weary, though. My Amtrak to Tucson is Friday night (in two days), and I need to make sure everything is in good working order before setting out. I have good news about my derailleur: I took it to a bike shop in Pasadena, and a mechanic confirmed my fears: “Yeah, your bike got pretty banged up.” Luckily, the resulting misalignment was all in my derailleur hanger — a sacrificial piece of metal that is actually meant to bend instead of more sensitive parts. It was an easy fix, which he didn’t even charge me for. What a guy.
I’ve put many miles on the bike since that fix, and it’s riding smoothly. I've actually been marveling at how my e-bike is already reducing my dependence on cars. For instance, I considered borrowing my friends’ Prius to drive to UCLA on Monday, but the estimated transit time, with traffic, was a shocking 2 hours. I'm certain that sitting in stop-and-start traffic would have started my big day off on the wrong foot, so I decided against driving. Plus, isn’t this the blog where the guy takes the bike on the train?
The e-bike + public transit route I opted for turned out to be quite an urban adventure. I first coasted the 3 miles and 1000 vertical feet down out of the foothills to the nearest Metro station. To get onto the Metro, I took my bike through a sequence of elevators (up onto a pedestrian bridge over the freeway, down to the platform). Not all train cars have a spot for bikes, but it was easy to find one that did. Two transfers and about an hour later, I emerged roughly 3 miles from UCLA, and zipped the rest of the way to campus on the bike. Total transit time: 1.5 hours, and the bike segments were downright enjoyable. I also found that my commuting adventure was a natural topic of conversation in my meetings, which helped me connect with folks amidst all the science talk. Double win!
I have to say, though, that riding the Metro was a sad experience overall. The Metro is not popular in LA, and I can see why. While the trains ran on time and the route coverage seemed good overall, there were a lot of people who were clearly using the train as shelter. There was rampant hard drug consumption on the platform and on the train itself, and I was yelled at by a manic man who came barging into our train car. When I mentioned to a professor at UCLA that I had taken the Metro to campus, he replied, "Yeah, I took my kids on the Metro once. Never doing that again." It's a sad state of affairs, and a clear example of how different crises can interact — robust public transit is a crucial climate change solution, but in LA, the vast numbers of unhoused people are an obstacle to growing the Metro ridership.
Caltech on Tuesday was an easier commute — about 6 miles each way to and from suburban Pasadena. I spent the day at a house that was formerly occupied by the Caltech provost, but is now home to the Climate Modeling Alliance (CliMA). All told, over the course of the two visits, the bike traveled about 20 miles and up 2000 feet of elevation and still had a bit less than half charge remaining. I'm extra excited because all of that mobility was powered by... the sun!
That's right, I've been charging my bike's battery with my solar panel, and it's working great. Time for a little energy math. The capacity of my bike's battery is 400 watt-hours. What's a watt-hour? Watts measure the rate at which energy is flowing from one thing to another, whereas watt-hours measure an amount of energy. For example, a toaster uses about 1000 watts while it's toasting, so if you run a toaster continuously for an hour, it will have consumed (1000 watts) x (1 hour) = 1000 watt-hours of energy. My e-bike battery, at 400 watt-hours, can theoretically provide a power of 400 watts for one hour, or 100 watts for four hours, or any other combination that integrates up to 400 watt-hours.
So, how hard is it to charge my bike with solar? My solar panel is rated at 110 watts, meaning that it will produce 110 watts in ideal conditions (i.e., on a perfectly clear day, with the sun shining directly onto the panels). The sun stays fairly low in the sky during the winter, but I've had no trouble tilting the panels to compensate and getting about 100 watts out. At that rate, it only takes four hours of good sunshine to fill my e-bike! It feels great to have fueled my commutes to UCLA and Caltech with an afternoon of captured sunshine. And with these numbers, I'm feeling very confident that I'll be able to keep my bike charged on the trip, even at campsites without electrical hookups.
Alright, math lesson over. I feel like I need a nap, but I hope that’s just my hangover from the visits. I’ll be back soon with more trip updates!
Thanks for reading The $7K Omelette! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Thanks for taking us along for this part of the ride, onto university campuses and through public transportation, and for the lesson in watts and watt-hours. I love thinking about how your journey there opened up new conversations! It is really sad that so many people turn to public transportation, libraries and other facilities, due to our society's failure to provide for their basic needs: shelter, healthcare, employment, etc. I'm looking forward to each installment, and thank you for taking the time to write, even after long days!