How many 50-year-old fathers take their 13-year-old sons with them on a cross country trip in an experimental electric hybrid bicycle?
At least one.
It all started as a way for Pierce Hoover to show his son, Nash, that electricity isn't free and that he shouldn’t leave the lights on when they aren't being used. So he made Nash pedal out 100 watts of power. The pair are from Winterpark, Fla.
It developed into Eco Tour 2011, sponsored by Popular Science magazine and General Electric, taking a homemade electrically-assisted bicycle on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail from Yorktown, Va., to Astoria, Ore.
The frame of their vehicle is a Lightfoot Microcar, which takes two bicycles and puts them side by side to form a cart with many small modifications and custom parts for it to endure the 4,200-mile trip.
After researching vehicle types and biking trails, they began to strip, build and modify the new vehicle starting in the spring. After several months, the vehicle was ready, Hoover said.
But even in the beginning, there was never any doubt they would actually go through with it.
“I guess that's my nature,” Hoover said. “When I was 18, right out of high school, I jumped on a sailboat and went to England and spent a couple of years backpacking. I've always been that kind of person ... Once I came up with the idea, of course we were going to do it.”
Hoover said the batteries can typically go about 70 miles before needing to recharge. It costs only 4 cents to go from no charge to fully charged. The batteries and the EcoSpeed motor are key for the trip, he said, not doing all the work but giving them the boost needed to make the trip possible.
“The motor is like having Lance Armstrong on board but not really working hard,” Hoover said.
The vehicle already has proven it can go over mountains, and despite several days of setbacks along the way, the Hoovers hope to make up the time once they get out to flatter country.
Although there are numerous maintenance issues and problems that come up since the vehicle is a prototype and this is the field test, Hoover doesn’t get overwhelmed with possibilities and just deals with the problems as they come.
“It's like eating an elephant — one bite at a time,” he said.
The pair stayed in Danville for the weekend to ride out the latest wave of hard weather, which their vehicle’s windshield and cloth roof couldn't stand up against, Hoover said.
Stopovers also provide an opportunity for Nash to work on his online history summer class and update their blog at www.onebulbtour.com.
But the threat of bad weather won’t stop them from trying to complete their trip.
Hoover has been out at sea during hurricanes and knows that, with obvious safety exceptions, sometimes you have to just suck it up.
The pair have a great source of inspiration for when storms and roads get rough.
“Last summer when we were researching this in Darby (Montana), we were sitting in a restaurant when this guy pulls up on a unicycle,” Hoover said. “And he is pounding the same route from Yorktown, Va., all the way to Montana heading to Oregon on a unicycle. I told Nash at that point if he can do it, we have no excuse.”