Monday, July 31, 2006

The cargo trike gets some help

Kyoto, sporting new rear wheel hub motor.

For a while now I've been pondering electric-assist for my cargo trike (aka, "drumtrike"). As with many heavy, load-carrying vehicles not much effort is needed to maintain cadence on flat terrain. Like a big ship in the water, once it gets going it's fine. But starting up, or worse, climbing a hill, and forward motion becomes a real effort. I can be pedaling at 15 kph, and then hit a small overpass or bridge and drop to 5 kph. Just slowly winch my way up and over while cars speed past and while beginning to sweat.

For instance, those familiar with Ottawa know there's an incline in front of the Chateau Laurier as Wellington St. rises up to Parliament Hill. You don't really notice it in a motor vehicle, and on a typical 2-wheel bike you just gear down a bit to get yourself over. But with Kyoto carrying me and 200 lbs. of gear it's a real effort to get up that hill at anything less than a crawl. My current Sunday gig is based at the foot of this hill. Great fun heading there, but I have do the grind back up (at least the big sweat happens after the gig, not on the way there!). On the 30C+ days we've had this summer I've occasionally felt a bit light-headed and / or nauseous from the exertion, and it's not a good feeling. And there are some other spots in town like this, like any time I head due west from my place, which requires going down the escarpment and then back up over the O-train tracks.

My friend Juergen, the guy who helped me build the trike (and did the welding for free!), has gotten into the electric-assist business. Check out his website: He is a member of EVCO (Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa), and they are successfully lobbying the Provincial Gov't. to change the outdated laws that prevent electric (and e-assist) vehicles from being used on public roads. Juergen has been waving the e-assist carrot in front of me for a while now, and I have been resisting, mainly because I've wanted to try and make Kyoto happen under my own power. But while living car-free is a noble goal, as a drummer I still have this stuff to schlep around, and with pedal-power only I'm limited as to the distance I can go (in terms of time spent getting there), and what sort of shape I'm in when I get to the gig. It's not fun showing up to a wedding or corporate event drenched in sweat, then, after setting all the gear up, finding a place to rinse off and don the penguin suit and look presentable for the event.

So, if there ever was an application for e-assist, a cargo vehicle like mine would be it! Juergen had a sweet deal for me, so this past weekend I triked over to his place, and a Wilderness Energy BL-36 kit was installed.

20" (406) wheel with hub motor. The spokes were a bit loose, so they got tightened up.

Throttle, controller box, and kill switch (on brake lever)

Battery pack (consisting of three 12-volt, 7-amp hour SLAs), and charger.

Hub motor wheel, with zipties holding the wiring harness under the frame.

Throttle control installed. This was the most comfortable position, so the rearview mirror's bar-end mount was removed. I'll add on a bar-end that can fit into the open end of the handlebar.

Controller box mounted under cargo box. This was quickly tossed together, and needs to be re-done, as the box is partly upside down and its bottom is vulnerable to moisture.

For now, the battery pack just rests in the cargo box. A hole was drilled to let the pack connect with the controller.

I'm not using the brake lever that came with the legally-mandated kill switch, as it's for a canti brake, not the v-brake I have on the trike. For now it's mounted until I decide to keep this complete kit, and then wire the switch into the v-brake lever.

This kit was designed to be added to a standard 2-wheel bike. So adding it to a heavy cargo vehicle means it will have to work harder, and so we may have to modify as we go. While testing at his place, Juergen hooked in a current meter, and preliminary trial runs showed that with 200+ lbs. in the cargo box and adding full throttle made the voltage really drop. So when the throttle is needed I should ease into it a bit if I want the batteries to last the trip. This battery pack will be fine for a few kilometres of distance, but a larger pack will be necessary for more extended use (though of course that pack would be heavier...).

And so I headed home. I used the assist to get up one bridge a little more quickly (even though I had no cargo to carry, it's still a long slope and with motor traffic behind me why not get over it ASAP?), and again to clear a wide intersection a little more quickly (mainly just for fun). Otherwise it was pedal power as usual for the 6 km trip. The next morning (yesterday) saw the first trip moving drums. The goofy thing was that the hole I had drilled to pass the battery's cable to the controller was done while the battery was inside recharging (I was rather hot and tired). I had mounted the controller under the box quite nicely, forgetting the shortness of the battery's cable. Doh... So when I went to hook up the battery the next morning I realized I was not going to have assist on the way to the gig, as I had no time to correct my error! To add to the fun I picked up bandleader Steve's small PA set-up (in return for him picking me up in his van for long, rainy, or winter trips), so I had at least 2o0 lbs. to deal with. I got to the gig just fine (one short hill I just sweated up), and when I had a break I just snipped the zip-ties and moved the controller over to where it is in the photo above so that the cables could connect.

At the end of the gig I got the trike loaded up and made my way to the intersection, and then up that hill. The motor worked very nicely, keeping me a little more with other traffic, and also without feeling like my heart was going to explode. It does not really add to my top end speed, and while that would be helpful for extending the trike's range, I'll already gain travel time by not slowing to a crawl on hills like this.

The main drawback is that if the trike is being left unattended I must remove the battery pack and take it with me (on the Sunday gig the trike is parked in a corner of the plaza we play on, so no concerns there). The tiny 12-volt battery I've been using for the trike's lighting system hides in its small box, and that sometimes get left to Fate. But the big pack needs to come with me, and it's not something I'd want to carry around for any length of time. This will be even more so if I go to a bigger pack, so once I settle on things I'll look into building a locking battery compartment under the cargo box. Add 36-volts worth of solar panels and the batteries might be able to stay there! Hmm...

Oh, and while at Juergen's Kyoto got some tailgate stickers. The 'gate of course already sports the Kyoto "license plate", and a few weeks ago I also added a hand-drawn Flying Spaghetti Monster emblem. I think I'm becoming a devout Pastafarian. ;)

Many thanks to Juergen for his help in getting this assist concept together! If you think you need electric-assist for any of your bikes, he's the one to talk to:

Sunday, July 30, 2006


This past week I breathed a sigh of relief.

My niece Marianne, who is 17, left a few weeks ago to visit family in, you guessed it, Lebanon. Many of her Mom's family still live there, and while Marianne has visited quite a few times over the years this was her first solo trip. I remember Jon (her Dad, my bro) telling me that she had left the previous weekend, and the next night after his call was when the stupidity began.

The village she was staying in is about an hour north of Beirut, and bombs even fell up there. She was able to get out safely with some other family members, making their way back to Montreal via the boat to Cyprus, and then the plane home. While we are very happy that she made it, we're all of course are concerned about the fate of those who must remain because it is their Home.

The perpetual Middle East turmoil makes me think of the Bush Administration's demented thought processes, and this linked commentary sums it up nicely for me:

There's a lot of political blather going around these days, and I don't wish to add to it, but the stuff happening right really makes my blood boil...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Sent to me by Doug Y. - thanks!


Subject: Illegal Immigrants.

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration.

The unflinching arrogance of the Bush Administration is prompting the exodus among liberal citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray in public, and agree with Bill O'Reilly.

Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal-rights activists, and Unitarians* crossing their fields at night. "I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn," said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage borders North Dakota.

The producer was cold, exhausted, and hungry. "He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken. When I said I didn't have any, he left. Didn't even get a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?"

In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but the liberals scaled them. So he tried installing speakers that blare Rush Limbaugh across the fields. "Not real effective," he said. "The liberals still got through, and Rush annoyed the cows so much they wouldn't give milk."

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons, drive them across the border and leave them to fend for themselves. "A lot of these people are not prepared for rugged conditions," an Ontario border patrolman said. "I found one carload without a drop of drinking water. They did have a nice little Napa Valley cabernet, though."

When liberals are caught, they're sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumors have been circulating about the Bush administration establishing re-education camps in which liberals will be forced to drink domestic beer and watch NASCAR.

Liberals have turned to sometimes-ingenious ways of crossing the border. Some have taken to posing as senior citizens on bus trips to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half-dozen young vegans disguised in powdered wigs, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior-citizen passengers. "If they can't identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we get suspicious about their age," an official said.

Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and renting all the good Susan Sarandon movies." I feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just can't support them," an Ottawa resident said. "How many art-history majors does one country need?"

In an effort to ease tensions between the United States and Canada, Vice President Dick Cheney met with the Canadian ambassador and pledged that the administration would take steps to reassure liberals, a source close to Cheney said. "We're going to have some Peter, Paul & Mary concerts. And we might put some endangered species on postage stamps. The President is determined to reach out.


*I was raised Unitarian, so that line really had me on the floor.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

JazzFest, BluesFest, MeowFest...

(thanks to Mike B. for "MeowFest")

Ok, so Jett's not thrilled with travel either. He made about as much noise as Kitty did, increasing along with the bike's speed or the ambient traffic noise. But he was fine once at the vet, and not so noisy on the way home. While stopped at a busy intersection he let out a good one, and a little kid nearby tugged at his Mom and said "I hear a cat" and she said "really? I don't think there are any cats around here". I just look up at the sky and whistle...

Guess he's going to lick his way out of the cage...

After letting him out he sat and thought for a moment, then came back for a forgiveness hug...

... and then off to the back yard for a recovery snooze.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Trip to the Vet

It was time for Kitty's annual check-up, and of course it had to be on the hottest day (so far) of the year (33C). Here's the routine: Kitty goes into her carrier, the carrier goes into the cargo trailer, the lid gets put on the trailer to keep visual stimulation down for her. But not today - I figured she'd be a rather unhappy feline in this heat, so the top stayed off and the breeze generated by cycling kept her from overheating.

carrier inside trailer

there's foam padding underneath to smooth the ride

She meowed on and off for the first half of the 2 km journey, but then settled down to the odd complaint. It was fun passing pedestrians, as they heard "meooow!" but couldn't quite figure where it was coming from. Once we got to the Vet she was fine, and her examination did not take long and she got her shots and then back into the carrier. She didn't meow as much on the way home, and once back indoors she quickly forgave me for my transgression. On Thursday it's Jett's turn, and this will be his first trip by bike, since when I got him last year he had already gotten his shots...

"OK, you can put me and that stoopid camera down, and let me out!"

Saturday, July 08, 2006

random fun

Went to Value Village last week with my friend Wenna, and while she found a cool jacket, I came away with the grand prize, a gotta-be-one-of-a-kind-it'll-fetch-big-bucks-on-eBay Oscar the Grouch cookie jar!

OK, so he looks more like a cross between Oscar and ET, which might lower the eBay bidding... ;o)

And on my last trip I found a fun hat. Now, I'm not generally a fan of ball caps (think they look best only on ballplayers and kids) but they are handy while gardening, mowing the lawn, etc., so why not do such things in style?

And while this has nothing to do with secondhand stores, a good photo of Jett (who does happen to be a "previously enjoyed" cat ) in full snooze mode:

tandem fun

A while back the re-Cycles Bicycle Co-op received a donation of an old CCM tandem. Single speed with coaster (back-pedal) brake, old 26 x 1 3/8 wheels, probably built back in the 1960s.

Upon close inspection at the shop we noticed that the top and down tubes had been re-welded to the head tube. Also, even though the frame was very clean there was rust on the bottom tube, and even a small split in the metal about 1/2" long. So, the bike couldn't be sold until that was dealt with. I brought it home, hoping to eventually get it to Juergen's (he did the welding work on my cargo trike) so we can braze on a sleeve or some other kind of fix.

In the meantime, I put two hose clamps around the split so that the bike could at least be taken out for some rides to see was it was like. The verdict? The crappy front sidepull brake did not do a very good job, even with better pads. The coaster brake was also not very good, needing an overhaul. Also, one speed meant for a workout on such a heavy bike. So I got an idea...

One of those modern cruiser replica bikes had come into re-Cycles, with damage to the front end. But it did have a very new Sturmey-Archer 3-speed rear wheel with coaster brake! So, that came home for the tandem, and I realized that since it was a mtn. bike 26" wheel (ISO 559) I should change the tandem's front wheel to match it. This meant changing the fork, and a side benefit to that was it allowed the fitting of a modern V-brake for much better stopping power (and the new back-pedal brake is great as well). And as I thought this through I got an even more brilliant (or twisted) idea - use a suspension fork! The re-welded head tube gave ample evidence of the front end not liking the stress of bad bumps, and suspension would ease that. So I found a cheap fork, changed out the headset, and voila:

(yes, that's a cheap cable lock around the front end)

definitely has a bit of rake to it...

ding-dong bell for captain, honky bulb horn for stoker

shiny almost-new 3-speed

3-speed cable routing to cope with frame tube layout and double chain set-up

Verdict? Much better! Also, I added quick-releases to the seatposts so the bike could easily be adjusted to different rider sizes. The stock fenders had to come off, but I was able to squeeze the cruiser's fat rear fender in there. I could not make any fender I had fit the front end due to tight clearances, so on a rainy day the captain gets wet toes. The 3-speed could use a larger cog to lower the gearing a bit, as 3rd doesn't get used all that much, but that's a mod for another day...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Sunday Fun, Part 2

This coming Sunday sees me back at my regular summer gig with the Steve Berndt Jazz Quartet (we were interrupted for two weeks by the Jazz Festival, of all things...).

We play from 11:00am to 2:00pm at the Metropolitan Restaurant, located at Sussex and Rideau, in the new building between the Chateau Laurier and Chapters. We play outside on the plaza, so even if you don't want to pay for breakfast you can grab a a coffee or gelato at Cafe 'M' and sit at the little tables. Or heck, just walk by and wave Hello!

And if you're really lucky, I just might be wearing my Serious Artiste sunglasses...

Sunday Fun, Part 1

This coming Sunday there will be a fundraising show at the Bronson Centre for DanceAbility, the Ottawa School of Dance's groundbreaking program to open the world of dance to the disabled. Director Shara Weaver has put together a varied program for the evening. I will be performing with the Grasshoppas, and we open the show.

Other performers include: Ottawa Voices, City of Moves, Dr. Lee and the Sufi Girl, and the Steve Wint and DanceAbility hip hop extravaganza.

Sunday July 9th, 7pm.
Bronson Centre - 211 Bronson Ave. (1 block north of Somerset).
Street parking is free Sundays, but it'll be more fun to ride your bike. ;o)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jazz festival gig

While I did rant (below) against the local paper for its lack of coverage, our show was a great success! The venue was sold out, and we got a standing ovation, to which we responded with an encore. It was a huge thrill for me to drum with an ensemble of this size - I am in control of the tempo and dynamics, and everyone must follow. If I do it right it sounds amazing, and if I get slack there's nowhere to hide and everyone knows its me! :P

What I really like is the change in contrasts that are available with such a group. With a piece like the Cuban Fire Suite it's pretty much full blast with blazing trumpets and swirling reeds. Or we play a soft ballad like Isfahan (played beautifully by Jivewires altoist Sandy Gordon), where I just play gently with brushes.

Director Adrian Cho has been receiving some glowing reviews (including one from Jacques Émond, the Festival's Director) and posting them to our website, and we'll have photos very soon on the Gallery page. If you haven't yet visited the site, this page has both audio and video clips from last February's performances, along with photographs of this and the shows in 2005 (before I joined).

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Ottawa Citizen: kiss my musical ass

A open letter to the Ottawa Citizen:

Regarding your coverage of this year's Jazz Festival, I do not understand why you chose to ignore the Impressions in Jazz Orchestra's performance at the NAC. No reporter sent, and not even a mention in your wrap-up review (in which you do find time to whine about the jam sessions...).

Why were we overlooked? Is it because we're "local", and thus perhaps perceived as untalented or not worthy? It could not have been the music; it's not every day you get to hear an augmented Big Band (standard line-up plus 2 French horns and tuba) play music by Ellington, Coltrane, and Kenton; music that is rarely heard because it needs a large and expensive group to make it happen; music that in many cases has never been heard in Canada before. No, it couldn't be that... it must have been because we're local.

Look - we were the only Ottawa group to take part in that NAC series, with over 20 of Ottawa's finest professional musicians. And Adrian Cho worked extremely hard to bring us all together (imagine trying to schedule rehearsals with over 20 busy people?). And we musicians got paid, but he did it all for free. He even paid for the arrangements that came in from New York out of his own pocket. That's called dedication, out of a desire for nothing more that to hear this great music get played.

And it seems that you people could care less. Thank you so much for being a true supporter of live music in Ottawa. Any wonder there's no real jazz scene in this city, when you know the local papers won't bother to tell anyone what's going on! Maybe you'll enjoy a jazz festival full of "acts from elsewhere", because if local talent cannot find work (due to lack of promotion) it either 'quits and gets a day job', or just moves (as many have) to become part of that great "elsewhere".

Monday, July 03, 2006

Trike at work

I used Kyoto to get to last Friday's Jazz Festival gig at the NAC. The weather was perfect for the 2 km glide across town, and I cycled up to the Artists Entrance and loading dock:

I rolled right into the dock, and the attendant came out with a "WTF?" look on his face. But he quickly figured it out, and was very helpful. He ran and got a dolly for me, and once the drums were loaded on I said "I need to go park this thing outside" (since one is almost never allowed to leave a vehicle at a loading dock unattended for any length of time), to which he replied " no need, you can lock it up right there to that railing. I'll tell the security guy". Sweet, sez me. ;o) It made for a very easy load-in and load-out.

Of course, those pesky reflective pieces do far too good a job with the camera's flash...