Falmouth's Joe Hackler Designs Electric-Powered Bike ***2012 Staff Picks***

Chances are that in the last four years, residents have witnessed a man pedaling a bicycle through the roads of Falmouth at unnatural bike speeds, with a large motorcycle helmet on his head, and possibly even with two older children strapped onto the rear of the bike. This is not Lance Armstrong training, but Joe Hackler, a green-living, do-it-yourself guru riding his homemade, electric-powered bike.

"I've always loved bicycles and have always been searching for big gains in efficiency," Mr. Hackler says of his bike. "This was it. It makes me feel like I'm 20 again. It's a blast."

From bio-diesel to photovoltaic panels and solar heating units, Mr. Hackler, a Hatchville resident, has been into green technology since he arrived at New Alchemy Farm in 1991 where he currently lives with his wife, Karen Schwalbe, and two children, Alden and Eliza. His home built e-bike, which he has been perfecting for the last four or five years, has become his primary mode of transportation.

"I was into bio-diesel because I was into the idea of growing fuel. But I was still driving around vehicles that weighed over two tons," Mr. Hackler says. "For most of my needs of commuting back and forth from work, I could use something with 10 percent of the weight. And I've always liked bikes."

With a bike that weighs nothing in comparison to a car, Mr. Hackler is able to cut spending on gas and significantly reduce his carbon footprint, something that has been a concern for him.

While he may be ahead of the pack in terms of green living, he is still humble to point out that he is no perfect green activist. "I think the notion of sustainability is not just a catch phrase but an important thing going forward," he says. "I'm not doing a very good job, but at least I'm trying... if fossil fuels stopped flowing tomorrow, I'd be better off but still in for a bad storm."

I've always loved bicycles and have always been searching for big gains in efficiency. This was it. It makes me feel like I'm 20 again. It's a blast.

                                                  Joe Hackler

Mr. Hackler's electric conversion took him about half a weekend to put together and cost him around $1,000. His recipe is to attach a hub motor to the rear or front tire depending on preference, a battery lodged somewhere out of the way on the bike, a throttle on the right handlebar, and an electric controller, all attached to a regular old bicycle. Then he wires it all together. "It's a simple wiring diagram," he said. "Any kid could put it together today. It's as simple as putting together a stereo or something similar to that."

The controller takes power from the battery when the hand-held throttle is opened and then channels the power to the motor. Everything a normal bike has, including gears, pedals and chains, Mr. Hackler's bike has as well. He can ride it as a normal bicycle if need be, and, he adds, "If my chain came off in a busy intersection, I can jam on the throttle. It adds safety."

Most of the money, about $600, went to an efficient, 40-volt lithium battery. "You're expecting a lot from the battery. Prices are coming down, but you really don't want to skimp on the battery," he explains. As to the lithium battery: lead, he says, is too heavy and doesn't last long.

Generally speaking, a battery charged for up to four hours can last Mr. Hackler about 15 miles of cruising at top speed or over 20 miles at lower speeds. The bike, with a full ride aboard, can reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour. A trip from Hatchville to the Children's School of Science in Woods Hole, with two children on the back, can take him about half an hour, depending on traffic. If the battery runs out, Mr. Hackler's electric bicycle can be peddled like any other mountain or road bike.

He now has four functioning bikes currently sitting in his garage. His favorite, and the one he is most seen riding around on, is his cargo bike with the longtail extension on the back. It is Ms. Schwalbe's favorite as well because of its stability and leisurely riding position.

Mr. Hackler does not expect to sell his bikes but treats his electric bike as a hobby. He does not think he could compete with market prices. But, he adds, for the DIY troubadours out there, "The reason to do it yourself is because if you put it together, then you know how to fix it. If you buy it, [and it breaks] you won't know what to do next. If it came from China you won't have much support. You're on your own, but it's not hard to make."

Mr. Hackler does not ride his electric bicycles on the Shining Sea Bikeway. "The bike path does not usually go where I need to go," he says.


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