Smile Politely

Not gonna let ‘em catch the Green Riders

As electric-assist bicycles are becoming more common and reliable (and less expensive — heck, Wal-Mart has one for $279), it’s becoming easier to make that cross-country trek you’ve always dreamed about. Brother and sister duo Oliver and Catherine Bock (pictured above) dubbed themselves the Green Riders and left their childhood home of Palo Alto, Calif., on April 22 with the goal of traveling to Washington, D.C. by June 22. You can see their route here and track their progress through their blog here. Also, learn more about the bikes they’re using here.

The point of their journey is to promote sustainability and meet with people along the way who are making positive contributions in that regard. They’re also gathering signatures on a “Declaration of Interdependence” which they plan to deliver to President Obama when they reach our nation’s capital.

They should be pulling into Champaign-Urbana somewhere around the time that this article posts. While here, they’ll be stopping by Lincoln Hall on the U of I campus to check out some of the renovations underway that will make that building more energy-efficient. Also, they’ll be attending the monthly Electric Vehicle Club meeting Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. at the University YMCA.

Oliver Bock took a break from their travels somewhere east of Fairfield, Iowa, to answer some of my questions via email.

Smile Politely: Are you on schedule for where you hoped to be at this point in your journey?

Oliver Bock: We are completely on schedule since we agreed early on that getting to the events and appointments that we had pre-arranged was more important than traveling every mile under pedal power. We have portaged a few times to both keep us on schedule and to keep us safe. (Big winds took us off the roads twice.)

Smile Politely: What sort of physical and mechanical problems have you experienced to this point?

Oliver Bock: Physically we are getting stronger but we are also quite tired. Our spirits are good and are often buoyed by the support we get from people [along our journey].

Mechanically we have had very few problems and none that have stopped us. Only one flat tire so far and our batteries are carrying us much further on a charge than we had anticipated.

Smile Politely: How much effort would you estimate that you end up expending compared to if you were riding non-electric-assist bicycles? What’s your average speed on flat terrain?

Oliver Bock: Compared to non electric bicycles we are doing probably less than half the amount of work. On the other hand we are still on the road for many hours a day which does take a toll.
Our average speed with no wind (almost never happens) is about 20 mph.

Smile Politely: What’s the biggest misconception that people that you’ve met along the way have about the journey?

Oliver Bock: People think that our pedaling charges the batteries. We get very tired of explaining that it doesn’t work that way.

Smile Politely: Have you had any negative interactions with vehicle traffic? How would you describe reactions to what you’re doing?

Oliver Bock: I was flipped off once and we had a very polite email from a woman who was worried about us riding to close to the middle of the road. We had a very friendly exchange. We’ve had some vehicles come uncomfortably close as well.

People are quite impressed and very interested in what we are doing and what we are learning. Since our project includes the whole umbrella of sustainable solutions as well as the electric bicycle adventure, it’s a rather complex story but when we get a chance to tell it, it seems to really resonate.

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