Shawne Martinez is a southwest Portland stay-at-home-dad who puts his bikes to good use as a volunteer with Meals on Wheels, a yard sign deliverer for PBOT, and as a coordinator for the Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue (PNWSAR) Mountain Bike Team.
“I would have to be conservative with the pedal-assist if I wanted to make the trip on one charge.”
— Shawne Martinez
It was a foggy morning when we started off at 10:00 am. Our destination: Gateway Green Bike Park.
From where we live near the Multnomah/Washington county line in North Tigard/Southwest Portland it would be a 40-mile round trip to east Portland with 2,200-feet of elevation gain. I knew this would be a stretch for the battery on our electric-assist cargo bike. The cold weather, weight of a 5-year-old (and her bike) and the steep grades of the southwest hills would test our battery capacity. I would have to be conservative with the pedal-assist if I wanted to make the trip on one charge.
For months I’ve been seeking out public power outlets for charging opportunities. I’ve had a bit of “range anxiety” on long trips, concerned that we may run out to battery power and get stuck having to push the bike uphill. Surprisingly many outdoor outlets I find do not have power. (I carry a 110vac outlet tester with me.) Some outlets are locked, others have a keyed switch. I didn’t know of any public power outlets near Gateway Green, so we’d be hoping for the best mileage possible.
The Shimano control panel on my Bullitt cargo bike showed a starting range of 93 miles in “Eco” mode. As you use higher levels of pedal assistance, your range decreases. Some of the climbs on the way ‘down’ to the Willamette require using the highest level for me and the load. I constantly have to remember to switch back to Eco or the “Off” mode after a steep hill to conserve power.
We made it to Gateway Green with about 50% battery remaining. That might sound good, but most of the climbing is on our way home. I also had to keep in mind that I tend to use more e-assist towards the end of a long ride.
After the kid did 20-30 laps on the new pump track, (the new park is amazing) it was time to head back. I barely used the assist all the way to Sellwood knowing that the battery was getting low. I was definitely getting a workout! Everything was looking good until we hit “The Wall”. The climb from the Willamette River up to Barbur Blvd is a real battery-eater. I’ve done it on a regular (non-assist) cargo bike with the same load and barely made it. I went from being optimistic about getting home without stopping to being concerned as I watched the range drop quickly.
“We weren’t going to make it home. I made the executive decision to flip a u-turn.”
30 miles left. Then 20, 10. We passed Burlingame Fred Meyer to start the climb to Multnomah Village and the battery range dropped to just a few precious miles. We weren’t going to make it home. I made the executive decision to flip a u-turn and coast back to the grocery store.
A previous public power outlet search had revealed a live strip of outlets at the electric shopping cart charging area near the front door of Fred Meyer. We locked up at the bike rack, removed the battery from the bike and headed in.
We plugged in and started charging. Slipping inside the second set of doors I grabbed the first thing I saw: a bag of tangerines. With one eye on our battery we hit self checkout and “paid” for our few cents of electricity. 15 minutes of charging seemed like a good amount. I pulled the plug and reinstalled the battery on the bike.
Now the display showed 8 miles of range. Would it be enough? Not only did we have the uphill to Multnomah Village, but then the climb to Capitol Highway at Taylors Ferry and a couple more hills after that (southwest!). Off we rolled with fresh tangerine on our lips, hoping for the best.
Morale soon shifted as range inevitably dropped again. 7. 6. 5. Would we have to make another stop? The power outlets at the Spring Garden Park picnic shelter are padlocked (why is that?). Could I get us home on muscle power? Range 4 miles, now 3. It held at 3 for a long time — not sure if that was a computer glitch or a helping hand from the bike gods — but up we went over Capitol Highway’s muddy shoulders and onto the narrow trail on Taylors Ferry Road.
2 miles, 1 mile, 0.
The motor kept pushing us over the last hill near Dickinson Park even with zero showing on the range. We coasted the rest of the way home just as the sun set. Test complete. Mission accomplished. 39 miles, 5 hours and 20 minutes of riding, one battery.
This ride was a test of our particular bike setup with the load we usually have. I discovered that a single charge (or single battery) is not enough to get us to Gateway Green and back. E-bike charging infrastructure would help tremendously. I could also get a second battery (but those can be expensive). Maybe we could get some of those outside outlets unlocked to let folks charge their devices and their transportation? A few cents of electricity can take you a long way on a bicycle.
For more on bike charging infrastructure at Gateway Green and other public spaces, see this post in the BikePortland Forums.
— Shawne Martinez, @RescueEwe on Twitter.
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Shawne is a prolific urban rider who has put thousands of miles on his e-cargo bike, often with his young daughter in tow. He lives on Portland’s southern border with Tigard and is a member of the City of Tigard Transportation Advisory Committee. Read more of his adventures here.