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Hundred Watt Hybrid sets off on Eco Tour across America


June 7, 2011

Next stop, the West Coast - the Hoovers began crossing the U.S. in a hybrid human/electric vehicle (Photo: Popular Science Magazine)

Next stop, the West Coast - the Hoovers began crossing the U.S. in a hybrid human/electric vehicle (Photo: Popular Science Magazine)

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To the continued annoyance of his father Pierce, twelve-year old Nash Hoover was forever leaving his bedroom light on when he wasn't in the house. Determined to teach him the real value of wasted energy, Nash's journalist father popped the young wastrel on an exercise bike that displayed the amount of energy being produced and told him to pedal away until he managed to produce enough watts to power a standard incandescent light bulb. Then the pair had the notion of spreading the now fully-learned lesson by traveling across America in a vehicle that uses no more energy than a light bulb left on each day.

Pierce Hoover had considered charging his (now) 13-year old son for the amount of electricity he wasted by leaving lights on when no-one was at home, but with the bills only adding up to cents rather than dollars, such an action was hardly likely to leave a lasting impression on the youngster. The message was driven home with the aid of an exercise bike which, while only requiring a moderate pace to achieve the 100-watt light bulb's energy requirements, needed considerably more effort from Nash to match the power needs of his video gaming system.

The discussion didn't end there, though. "Nash and I wanted to demonstrate how much we could do with the energy we'd save by turning off one light," says Pierce Hoover. "Together we set the goal of crossing the country on the power of one bulb per day."

The journalist already had some build experience from converting an old golf cart into an off-roader named the Swamp Crawler a few years back, and so set about designing and building a lightweight vehicle capable of taking the two of them on a 4,500-mile (7,242 km) journey from Yorktown, Virginia to Portland, Oregon.

Hoover and son came up with a four-wheeled, side-by-side two-seater, human-electric hybrid vehicle with a fast-turning, stand-alone EcoSpeed brushless electric motor connected to the vehicle's existing chain drives, and a roll bar structure to the rear of the vehicle to afford some crash protection for the occupants.

While hub motors could have been used for electric assist, Hoover needed a configuration that could be easily maintained on the road using readily available parts and which had less of a power requirement on hill climbs (and there'll be lots of those along the chosen route - from the Appalachians to the Ozarks to the Rockies). The multi-sprocket drive system uses a chain rather than belt drive for similar reasons.

The EcoSpeed solution also benefits from a speed controller with Velociraptor microprocessor that rations the power based on factors like the condition of the battery, the load on the motor, and working temperatures.

The custom-built four-wheeler has a top speed of 25 mph (40 kph) - so that it can be legally classed as a bicycle by limiting its power output and speed - and is said to achieve the equivalent of over 1,000 miles to the gallon (.24 L/1000 km). The vehicle gets its power from a combination of onboard 1,400 watt-hour battery pack stored in the trunk at the rear and kinetic energy from pedaling. It's available energy supply is limited to 2,400 watt-hours per day, which is the equivalent of a 100W light bulb left on all day.

The intrepid father and son team intend to travel a good 60 miles (97 km) every day, while stopping off at various towns and cities along the way to spread their energy conservation message. By comparison, Hoover worked out that an electric golf cart would get about 10 to 12 miles (16 to 19 km) per day on the same energy ration. To offer some protection from the (hopefully) blazing summer sun, a soft top cover runs from the full-width windshield at the front to the roll bar at the back.

A travelogue of the adventure is being posted by Popular Science Magazine, which is also sponsoring the trip together with GE. Regular updates are also being sent to the Eco Tour's Twitter page.

After posing for the press in New York on May 31, the Hoovers and their Hundred Watt Hybrid set off for the first full day of the Eco Tour from Yorktown, VA the next day. At the time of writing, they are about to hit the hills outside Charlottesville, Virginia.

We wish them luck.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

I'm not sure this can be "legally classed as a bicycle." Most laws strictly define electric bicycles as two or three-wheeled vehicles, regardless of maximum speed under electric power. Four wheels is one too many.


Too bad this poor kid has to support his Hippy father\'s church of Eco-Sanctimony. Other kids get to embrace forward-looking technology that accomplishes great things. But, like the Amish, dad\'s Eco-soul will only be saved with giant leaps backward in time to show us all what sinners we are.

With gigantic untapped power sources on earth, in the earth, and the sun, the rest of us will create a better future that advances the human condition. Without guilt.

Todd Dunning

Todd, between you and Mr Stiffy I wonder about the type of people who comment here.

I\'d love to do something like this with my daughter. It would be a fantastic adventure of a lifetime. The hybrid bike is purposefully extreme to draw attention to itself and in that way get people talking and thinking about the sort of technology you (Todd) mention. It\'s called publicity and it is what people use to be newsworthy so they get a chance to spread their word. I\'m quite certain this \"Hippy Father of the Church of Eco-Sanctimony\" is well aware that the bike is impractical. The whole thing stems from him being cranky about his son never turning his light off, not from some deep seated desire to have everyone pedal a power limited bike around the country.

Grow a brain, honestly. And leave the Amish alone, they aren\'t hurting you or forcing you to reject modernity.


No kidding, Scion. Amen.


Looks like they\'ll be traveling over part of my usual bike route. Old route 66 between Rolla and St. James MO. I\'ll have to keep track of their progress and join them for a ways. I\'d love to have build something similar to this.

Mike Kling

Dear heros at Gizmag, as soon as you implement a vote up/down function for comments, can you please add a thumbs up for me to Scion\'s comment above. Oh, and Todd, can you please point me to all the great work you\'re doing personally to create a better future for us all? I\'m so looking forward to that.

Russ Pinney

I\'m reading some of the comments. Yes, this is not showing any new technology. Yes, this will not make any difference as far as influencing people to save energy. People have been doing things like this for years and no effect.

This is just about a son and his Dad doing something together. As far as its signifigance on Gizmag, its a \"Puff Piece\".


\"Oh, and Todd, can you please point me to all the great work you\'re doing personally to create a better future for us all?\"

Scion and Russ, we all do great work all day long and it all contributes to a better future as you know. We call it \'the way the world works\'. And Gizmag features many great forward-looking innovations of course.

It\'s what Greenie Utopians are completely ignorant of. So it becomes their duty to lead the rest of us morons out of the mud. Only their priestly robes could point the way to their radically new technologies and innovations that improve the human condition... like quad cycles with the \"EcoSpeed\" brushless motor.

It\'s breathtaking that so many will fall for snake oil \'solutions\' to make you feel good inside. None of us will ever consider driving something so backwards and useless. Maturity lets you accept the reasons why.

Todd Dunning

And the name-calling and rudeness are necessitated by what?


I don\'t think every endeavor must involve new technology to have value or to be noteworthy for a popular science magazine. Often it just takes a willingness to get your hands dirty which can lead eventually to new ideas. The Wright Brothers certainly were an example, and the same criticisms were made of them (hopefully without the epithets). So were all those kids who were out there bulding rockets and telescopes in the 1950\'s. A fair number of them went on to create innovations, but it was those simple, early efforts that made it possible.


It Could be a \"Better\" vehical or it can be what it realy is, A vehicle for an idea that more can be done with less and a little energy saved can go along ways.

Joseph Mertens

This vehicle, in it\'s builder\'s opinion, is evidently what is needed for the purpose - a low power trip across the US to show what is possible given the passion and resources to do so.

Hopefully they will pass the zero-emissions message along to others they meet / pass on the way. I do hope they have a set of PV panels on the roof so they are not drawing on grid power...?

It also looks like Junior will be paying for his past sins - did you see the size of Dad? Hopefully one achievement will be to drop a few inches of the waistline (or both of them) and he will be able to spend a few extra years with his son in his old age. Just so long as their route doesn\'t go from fast food joint to fast food joint...

Go guys!

Andrew Cox

Well, Todd, spoken like a true believer in the church of \"that whats fit me you is all anyone could ever want, or that the market should offer.\" That is no way to inovation...unless everyone is you. And let me join those who are offended by your anti-Amish slurs.

Per \"impracticality? based on what metric? for what purpose? You might have once upon a time somewhere heard the term market segment, or perhaps niche market? Remember the IBM exec once said the home computer market might at tops be about 5 or 6? And trains? dangerously fast said the expert opinion of the day- man was not designed....Cars? why they frighten the horses!

As for you and stuck in the mud? wouldn\'t dirty my hands pulling you out. Darwinian of me? perhaps! Why not!!

Walt Stawicki

The fastest bicycle in the world runs on man power only (150Watts) and its top speed is 130 kph or 81mph here is the video. Add a 300W motor and you can sit back and it will take you any where without breaking a sweat.




Another point: you\'ve got to appreciate the science behind setting the arbitrary limit of 100 watts. Wasn\'t it Ken Mattingly who painstakingly worked out the details of a re-entry plan for Apollo 13 using something like 25 watts in a craft designed to use hundreds of watts? That was a remarkable thing. This is where experimental science shines, pushing back the boundary of what is possible in ways that theoretical science is unlikely to ever do.


Not that I imagine Paul Ridden or any of the other good people at Gizmag have time to read every comment posted here - but just in case you do please be assured that the reference to \'heros\' in my previous comment was not meant in any way to be sarcastic. I love this mag - keep up the great work. Apologies to all if it was interpreted differently.

Russ Pinney

It sounds like the Dad had a neat idea of teaching his son to not take energy for granted, and it turned into a paid/sponsored bike-trip vacation. Popular Science and GE sponsored it, so it makes for good press all around.

True, there\'s nothing innovative here other than the way the science was applied, but that appears to be the point.

\"Watts\" wrong with that?

If the dad was a Hippy member of the Hyper-Environmentalist Church or Green Living, his son would have had a LED or low-watt CFC bulb in his room. Wouldn\'t be wasting anywhere NEAR 100 watts.

Jamie Nichols

Small is beatiful and economical too!


While I strongly agree with scion, I also admit that I enjoy reading Todd and stiffy

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