Thursday, December 23, 2010


Buying a LEAF is not rational. Here's why:
  • It never pays to buy a new car You lose too much in depreciation as soon as you drive it off the lot. From a purely economic perspective, the optimal strategy is to buy a 3-year old used car.
  • Never buy version 1.0 of anything The LEAF has a new motor, new battery, new telematics. There are going to be problems with the car, hopefully minor, probably annonying.
  • The cost savings aren't there (yet) With gas at $3.00 per gallon and electricity at $0.11 per KWh, you're basically at par with a Toyota Corolla XLE. On the other hand, if gas goes to $4.00 a gallon and stays there, you'd be ahead with the LEAF to the tune of $2500 after 5 years.
On the flip side, reviews like this drive me crazy:
"Of course, the Leaf and Sierra HD are designed for totally different purposes. Despite all the attention paid to the Leaf’s electric drive train, it is essentially a midsize family car designed for commuting, running errands and weekend getaways. In contrast, the Sierra HD is a workhorse built for carrying work crews and heavy equipment to construction sites..."

How many days per week do you spend "commuting and running errands" versus "hauling heavy equipment to construction sites"? Did you know that Lowe's or Home Depot will rent you a pickup if you really need one?

So why buy a LEAF? Because the idea of an electric car is just so cool. Because life three standard deviations from the mean is much more interesting. And let's face it, no one buys a new car for economic reasons. If you did, you'd buy a bus pass. Or a bicycle.

Friday, December 10, 2010

On the Grid

Our charging station was installed yesterday. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we're buying a Nissan LEAF™. Delivery of the vehicle should be in a few weeks, so we're getting our infrastructure in place. Until there's a network of public charging stations, our LEAF will mostly be recharged at home.

So what is the impact of a LEAF, on the grid, and the atmosphere? The charging station is on a 240V/40A circuit, slightly larger than what an electric clothes dryer plugs into. But we won't use all of the circuit's capacity. The battery charger is actually inside the LEAF, and is limited to 3.3 kilowatts (KW), slightly less than the clothes dryer or an electric oven, and slightly more than a dishwasher. It's also about half of what a typical central air conditioner uses. So not really a big deal.

What if everyone in my neighborhood gets an electric vehicle, and we all start recharging at midnight? Do we have a problem? Look at it this way. Already, pretty much every oven and plasma-screen TV in the neighborhood is going Thanksgiving Day, all day long. No brownouts so far. And all the turkeys get cooked.

Now, what about carbon footprint? If all we've done is move the CO2 emissions from the tailpipe to the power plant, have we really accomplished anything? The answer is: it depends. There are a number of ways to generate electricity: coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar, and hydroelectric. The amount of CO2 produced depends on the source:


Pounds of CO2 per kilowatt-hour (KWh)



Natural gas










One KWh of electricity will propel the LEAF approximately 4 miles. We can calculate a "miles per gallon equivalent" (mpge) for the LEAF by taking the amount of CO2 produced by the source and comparing it to the CO2 produced by a gasoline-powered vehicle. Burning a gallon of gasoline produces approximately 19 lbs of CO2. Using this information and the table above:





Natural gas










Fortunately, no utility is 100% coal-powered. Typically, a mix of sources is used. Our local utility, Puget Sound Energy, is balanced among coal (32%), natural gas (30%), and hydro (36%). Plugging in at home will give us 70 mpge. Across the lake, Seattle City Light is almost all hydro (91%), with a little nuclear (4%). If we recharged downtown, our mpge would jump to almost 1600. American Electric Power, the largest power supplier in the Southeast, uses primarily coal (66%) and natural gas (22%), yielding an mpge of 44.4

So, a LEAF recharging in Georgia is roughly equivalent to a Prius. That same LEAF recharging in Seattle has a carbon footprint 40 times smaller. I'm not keen on moving across the lake, so it looks like my next move is to install a nuclear power plant in the backyard.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

December 8, 1980

It was going to be a long night. Greg, recently emancipated from parochial school, had discovered both marijuana and the White Album. He'd been spending increasing amounts of time in his room and not in class, indulging in both.

We were in my room, cooking up the latest batch of popcorn when Hoover burst in. “Somebody shot John Lennon.” Later, “somebody” would acquire a name and his 15 minutes of fame, but all we knew then was that the world had changed and not for the better.

“Better check on Greg.” He wouldn't take this well. The vacant stare told us all we needed to know. “Helter Skelter” was playing on his stereo. We didn't have much time.

“Hey, Greg. Let's get out of here. Go outside. Get some air.”

Even though it was nearly midnight, we headed out into the snow. Needed to find some way to keep Greg occupied. Kurt recruited him for a snow sculpture, while the rest of us busied ourselves clearing ice off the sidewalk in front of the dorm. Students heading home from the library would stop and ask what was going on. Having heard they joined us, either at the sidewalk or across the street with Kurt and Greg.

I took a break from chipping ice to help with the sculpture. It was a hand, flashing a peace sign, with a headstone. Perfect. After a couple of hours, the sculpture was done, the sidewalk was clear, and Greg was at peace.

Later that morning, as I was getting ready for class, I looked out my window at the sculpture. One of the fingers was lying beside the hand, having either fallen off or been broken off deliberately. I hurried with my coat before heading down to fix it.

I looked out the window one last time and saw someone kneeling beside the sculpture. They read the inscription on the headstone, then gently picked up the finger and put it back in place.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Still here...

I'm still here, just not blogging. Lots going on, both personally and professionally. We're getting close to taking delivery of our Nissan LEAF, so I'm going to be devoting some bandwidth on this blog to our experiences.

I have made a few other changes, primarily with respect to cycling. I decided to give up racing, on the road at least. I found myself spending more and more time on my mountain bike, just being out in the woods. So I sold my race bike and bought a singlespeed cyclocross bike. I've really come to appreciate the simplicity of a single speed drivetrain. Efficient. Robust. Direct. More than anything else, I have been trying to reduce the complexity of my life. The mnmlist, among other sources, has helped me to remember what I used to know.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Crying over spilled oil

I'm having a difficult time generating outrage over the ecological catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. What did you expect? The earth is running out of oil. We are now drilling holes 3 miles deep, under a mile of water to feed our addiction. I've heard the remark, "We can land a man on the moon. Why can't we plug a hole in the ground?". The difference is we can equip men to survive on the surface of the moon. We can't equip them to survive at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Outrage? Where was the outrage over Ixtoc, off the coast of Guatemala? What about the 5-month leak in the Timor Sea? Nigeria? Northern Alberta? Ecuador? Who will cry when this happens again (and it will) off the coast of Norway? Madagascar? Sri Lanka? Greenland?

Extraction of the planet's resources is a dirty and dangerous business. And yet we continue to consume. Every one of us is responsible for what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico. At least now it's happening where more will take notice.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Best Bike

"What's the best bike?" A fair question, but one not readily answered. Where are you going? Across town or across the country? What route will you take? City street, paved path, or forest trail? Do you plan to carry anything with you, or just the clothes on your back?

Don't overlook the most important question: Why? Why do you choose to ride? Ethos or eco? Do you ride to save the planet, or to save yourself? Once you know your own heart, the bike will reveal itself to you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Turning over a new LEAF

No, not the truck. We just put down a deposit for a Nissan LEAF. And no, I haven't given up bicycles, either. The LEAF, if we're lucky enough to get one, will be primarily used by the significant other. Her commute is similar to mine, around 20 miles round-trip. So the 100-mile range of the LEAF covers it nicely, with plenty to spare for a side trip to the grocery store. For longer trips, we'll rent something with a gasoline engine.

So why the picture of the Big Ugly Truck (BUT)? It's to highlight the absurd criticisms typically leveled at electric vehicles. "Oh, they're expensive". "The range is too limited". "You'd need a second car". Ummm, couldn't you say exactly the same thing about the BUT? The example pictured above lists for almost $50K. With the miserable gas mileage, the range is less than 300 miles between fill-ups. And do you really want to use something like the BUT as your daily commuter?

Maybe you do. Maybe buying a vehicle is less about practicality and more about image. And so if that's acceptable when your choice is a 150+ MPH sports car, or a 400+ horsepower truck, why isn't it acceptable when your choice is a sleek-looking electric car with limited range?

Updated (4/27/10): In answer to the question "Who could possibly need a truck like this?", Motor Trend posits, "...the Raptor is apparently proving popular among Texas ranchers who regularly drive across rough tracks to the farthest corners of their property". Texas ranchers that like to frighten their own livestock being an underserved market, I guess.

Monday, March 15, 2010

One Less Car

Trying a little experiment for the next couple of months: seeing if we can live with one less car. We've kind of been doing this for a while, anyway. The minivan has spent most of its life in the driveway, but now we're committed. Well, sort of:

a) We loaned the minivan to the church, and we'll get it back this summer. And we could probably "borrow" it back in an emergency.
b) My oldest is home on break this week, so we have an extra car if we need it.

But I don't think we will. It may take some advance planning, but we should be able to pull it off. Wife has a car. Offspring #2 and #3 have bus passes. I have plenty of bicycles.

Ironically, the biggest challenge may be arranging transportation to my bicycle races, since they usually take place a couple of hours outside town. So I may have to ride the race bike over to a teammate's house and carpool. It's not used to carrying me and a backpack, but we'll survive.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Put the Car Keys Down

Tried to destroy myself this weekend. Racing is just around the corner, so I'm putting in some hard miles to get ready. Sunday afternoon, I'm lying on the couch and starting to think about dinner. Check the refrigerator. Need milk. Need beer. Need to go to the grocery store. Pick up the car keys.

Think some more. Dog needs a walk. I need a walk to flush the lactic acid out of my legs. Put the car keys down and pick up the backpack. Twenty minutes later, we're at the store. Dog gets a treat and some water. I get the groceries. Twenty minutes later we're back home. Groceries got. Dog walked. Legs flushed. "QED - Quite Easily Done", as my high school math teacher would say.

Monday and the significant other has a medical appointment. She can drive herself there, but won't be able to drive home afterward. Pick up the car keys.

Think some more. Nope, that won't work. Car can take me to the clinic, but how do I get two cars home by myself? Put the car keys down and pick up the bike. I ride over to the clinic, put the bike on top of the car, and drive both of us home. QED.

Oftentimes, a car creates more problems than it solves.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Bahati Foundation

Short post and a cool video. Rahsaan Bahati is one of the top sprinters in the US. Three-time winner of the Manhattan Beach GP, Athens Twilight, and 2008 US Criterium Champion. The Bahati Foundation, "works with local communities to provide inspiration, insight and opportunities for underprivileged youth through the sport of cycling". Cool idea from a cool dude. And he plays a mean snare:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bicycles Against Poverty

A group of Bucknell University students have created a unique aid project that combines sustainable transportation (bicycles) with microfinance. Bicycles Against Poverty provides bicycles to low-income families through a loan/lease program. From their website:

"The mission of Bicycles Against Poverty(BAP) is to use bicycles to encourage community cooperation, to improve accessibility of important resources, and as a tool for economic development for low income families in and around the world."

I'm already a fan/lender with Kiva, and you know how I feel about bicycles. And yes, they are planning on expanding the program to Haiti, and had been even prior to the earthquake.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Too Cold to Ride?

Deep winter
and my partner
calls to me:
"Come out!
Come out and play."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Send Money

This will be a short post. Haiti needs help. Send money. There are many organizations sending people, supplies, food, and water. (You) send money. Here are a few (send money):

Doctors Without Borders
The Salvation Army
Partners in Health
Save the Children

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Damn, this traffic jam!

It's been a lonely slog this winter. Especially the first two commutes of the year, when I didn't see another cyclist out on the road. Can't blame them, really. Mid-40s, dark, and raining didn't exactly make me leap for joy to be out riding. Forecast was for rain again this morning, so imagine my surprise to see stars and the moon when I went out to get the paper. Do I ride the nice bike? Better not press my luck. Rain bike it is.

I pull up to the stop sign at the bottom of the first hill to wait for cross traffic. And the cross traffic is: another cyclist! I make my left and pull in behind him. We wend our way to the bottom of the second hill and: the light is still green! Through the intersection, and cyclist #2 turns right, but up ahead I can see: cyclists #3 and #4!

Down the third hill, we pass cyclists #5, #6, and #7 coming up the hill. Stoplight at the bottom, and cyclists #8 and #9 pass through. Onto the bike path, turn right at the next street and I leave #3 and #4 to head north. I make my solitary way for the last mile, but it was nice to have the company this morning. Pulling into the parking lot, I'm greeted by this (can Spring be far behind?):

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


aim·less (ām'lĭs)
adj. Devoid of direction or purpose.

I'm not going to log my miles this year. I've been tracking myself for several years now, so I can predict with reasonable confidence that I'll bicycle somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 miles this year, and will drive somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 miles. So I won't bore you with the daily details.

Instead, I'm going to highlight the unexpected, the unique, the serendipitous. Call it a return to randomness.

Saturday, January 02, 2010


In the end, after spending the last two years of the cat's life arguing among Shiba Inus, Huskies, Terriers, and Portuguese Water dogs, we ended up getting an animal of indeterminate pedigree. The lower half and rear portion had definite Golden Retriever tendencies, but the front upper quadrant wandered into the Shepherd regions (German and Australian).

It was more useful, therefore, to think not in terms of what he looked like as much as how he behaved. Although the ears were a dead giveaway. Whereas the rest of the dog was something you might approach with hesitation, the ears flopped over and betrayed his true character. Harley might be pushing six years and sixty-five pounds, but inside he was all puppy.