This summer I traveled more than 3,200 miles, solo, on my solar bike from Ventura, Calif., to New York City, to raise awareness about solar energy and healthy living.
One of the greatest takeaways from the journey was that solar technology works. The SunPower panel flawlessly charged the electric bike’s battery, giving me an unlimited range. And it provided so much more, a visual hook for curious minds to learn more.
Here are the few fast facts from my solar bike adventure:
- 81 days on the road
- 13 states
- 3,276 miles
- 767,988 cycling revolutions
- 19 sit-down meetings (discussing wellness with businesses & municipalities)
- 2 crashes (no major injuries!)
- 8 flats (all caused by the metal mesh from blown-out tires on highways)
- 2 cable breaks (the joint where the two solar wires are soldered to the battery charging cable)
- 3 slow motion topples (sometime I forgot my feet were snapped into the bike pedals)
But there is so much more to this odyssey than can be portrayed by just the numbers. It is the impromptu conversations that have colored my days.
The rig did its job. It acted as a conversation tool, drawing in curious people and activating their minds.
You could think of my solar bike as the white ball, the cue ball, in a game of pool. I’ve bumped into more than 300 solids and stripes along the way and through our dialogue, perspectives on solar have rolled in new directions.
Solid solar knowledge
In California, Arizona, New Mexico, New Jersey and New York I ran into more solids – people who could see that I was on a bike with a solar panel. Therefore, the conversation was focused around:
- The cost of solar. Solar has become more affordable but for many there is still a perception that it is expensive and complicated. The solar bike has been a great example, allowing people to get up close and personal with the technology, which is less complicated than they realized.
- Ways to finance solar, with the Power Purchase Agreement perking interest since it requires $0 down and offers immediate savings.
- The different forms and applications of solar. Thanks to SunPower, I was able to customize a traditional panel into a flexible, lightweight form. This innovation has sparked creative ideas about how people could apply solar to their homes.
While the solar panel was evident for the solids, many were stumped as to what I was actually charging. The assumption was that I was using the panel to charge my phone, computer and camping appliances.
Specialized has done a phenomenal job seamlessly integrating the motor and battery into the Turbo S electric bicycle. Add me to the picture, wearing a cycling outfit and pedaling alongside the motor, and I understand why it might be hard for people to see that I’m riding an electric bike. It’s a stealthy, quiet, clean machine.
Stripes of uncertainty
As I rode through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and Pennsylvania, more stripes started coming into play – people who were not quite as solid or as confident as to what I was riding. Some of my favorite comments:
- Is that a table for you to sleep on when you camp?
- Do you use that sheet to sit under and shade yourself?
- I saw that thing attached to your bike; is it a ladder?
- And my all-time favorite, are you going windsurfing with that thing? (the person was dead serious when asking this question)
From these questions I realized that in many states solar energy has not yet become visible. It was the greatest reward to be a solar ambassador. Next time they see a magic solar panel, they will know that it is producing clean energy.
Chalk it up in New York
Once I reached New York, I added a little blue chalk to my pool stick to make the impact of solar more powerful. Engineer Kingsley Chen at SunPower and my CTO, Dad, rose to the occasion once again. Instead of having the solar panel charge the battery, they created a bypass so I could use the solar panel to run a blender. And it worked.
I blended solar-powered smoothies outside Patagonia, Lululemon and at a farmer’s market in Union Square. People were able to witness the power of the sun as they drank an ALOHA smoothie. It was the best way to engage more people, celebrate solar energy and share tales from my epic adventure.
The winning shot
And the eight ball – the winning shot to my solar bike adventure – is that I am not an out-of-sight, out-of-mind paradigm. I hope I left a strong enough impression not only on the people I met along the way but also on those who heard my story through the media, and that they take the next step to explore if solar is right for them.
It’s time to break free from traditional power sources and discover the energy of the sun.