Category Archives: Blog

All posts (most recent first): a mix of latest news, progress, disasters, rants and raves, mileage, power produced… along with other DIY off-grid, sustainable projects that might be of interest. To isolate posts on a specific subject (e.g. ‘chain’ or ‘design’ or ‘others’) click that Post Category in the “Categories” menu to your right.

Hugh Piggott course in Ireland this June!

Whether you want to produce your own electricity, or simply cut your grid-dependence, I’d highly recommend this Hugh Piggott course. It’s simply brilliant. One of the best and most empowering courses I’ve ever been on in my life.

You don’t need any knowledge or experience of welding, carpentry or electrical work. Nor do you need to know about volts, resistance, current or other such stuff (take it from someone who didn’t know his amps from his elbows before he began this turbike project!).

Your gender doesn’t matter either. Both men and women have enjoyed and learned heaps on past courses with Hugh.

All you need are an ability to work with your hands and an open mind. Oh, and as it’s in Ireland, some warm and waterproof clothes and boots might be in order!

Visit BuildYourOwnWindTurbine.com to learn about fees, booking, accommodation etc.

 

Balanced. But bracing needed.

A half-day of twiddling… making a new, thinner, front plate for the alternator… attaching the racers rear-wheel cogs again… balancing the turbine with bits of lead flashing… and it is paying off. Because most of the thumping and thudding is gone when I pedal.

I say ‘most’  because, when pedaling fast enough to produce more than 13.5v, there are still times when the chain skips over some cogs. The resulting thud and jolt is nerve-wracking to say the least. Never mind what it might be doing to the bike, chain, turbine or floor!

In case you are daft enough to take on this project yourself, what I think is happening is that the alternator is being pulled forward, toward the bike, with every down-ward pedal. As this is when I’m applying the most force, and that force has a beat / pulse in it, a pulsing momentum begins to build up in the turbine.

Then, not being a robot, one of my downward pedals is slightly weaker/stronger or slight out of rhythm and !!-BANG-!! the chain skips a few cogs on the alternator. At a guess, that problem is exacerbated by the fact that the wood in the pallet might be bending slightly allowing the turbine lift and tilt toward the bike with every downward pedal strokd.

But what it all amounts to is that the chain sporadically slips/skips a few cogs and there’s a massive chunk from behind me. Which ain’t good for turbine, bike or rider!

So the next step is to brace the alternator against the bike training stand. Once done the unit should finally be functional enough to allow me make electricity  in comfort. Without fear of chains jumping or alternators getting thumped to bits!!

Losing balance

Finally persuaded a friend to visit and turn the pedals while I watched to see if I could spot what was causing the jumping around. From what I could see the cause is most likely to be balancing… or lack thereof.

The wobbles are tolerable while the turbine turns slowly. But once things begin to speed up it takes on a regular pulsing sound and movement – that might be exacerbated by the shape of the piece of metal onto which the cogs are welded.

Talking with Eirbyte about this, the solution might simply entail replacing the existing wooden disk with a larger one. Then putting lead weights on various parts of that bigger disk to balance the rotor as it turns.

I might also replace the existing piece of metal onto which the cogs have been welded. Because it itself is probably not helping. However I could balance the turbine without doing that… so it’s really a cosmetic desire.

But then again, this yoke is sitting in my house so it’d be nice for it to look good! 8)

That said I’ll only do it if grinding off the current back plate could be done without damaging the cogs.

But now have hope that I can get rid of the thumping and vibrating. It’s about the only thing stopping me clocking up the miles!

 

I’m not HEAVY enough-!!

The inspiration can be slow sometimes…

… but my battery weighs a good 20-25kg and seems weighty enough to keep the back-end of the pallet from jumping so much.  Which is great in that the impact vibrations are practically nil on the alternator now.

But now there’s a new problem: I’M NOT HEAVY ENOUGH-!!

I thought my weight would be sufficient to hold the bike stand (& bike) down onto the pallet. That there would be no need to clamp the turbo trainer down onto the pallet.

But last night there were plenty of small lift-offs during a 23-min pedal. Which put me in mind of cycling along a bumpy Irish road (although the bumps in this instance were regular and predictable!).

Hard to tell while pedalling and looking over my shoulder, but the bike jumping up might be due to a combination of

  • the chain between bike and alternator being too taut so the bike now wants to move back toward the alternator (seeing as the alternator can’t move forward now, the bike moves backward toward it);
  • the pallet wood being too soft and so starts to bend up under the tension.

So it looks like a better pallet is definitely on for starters. A ‘euro’ pallet would do nicely. Hopefully that, combined with a less taut chain,* will resolve things. If not then I’ll have to invent a brace from alternator to bike stand.

More tweaking-fun ahead-!!

 * Should just be a matter of moving the chocks holding the turbo trainer in place. Simple job of unscrewing and moving them back slightly.

The racer! Finally-!!

A few hours measuring, looking and drawing suggested it might take two or more days to break apart the old and invent a new bike stand. Fine if one has the time; but I don’t.

So I ditched the M18 and M20 nuts idea, and moved toward a turbo trainer stand. Jumbletown and Freecycle couldn’t provide so I went shopping. But. given their weight & size, when postage was added to even the basic models I was as well off buying local.

So I did!

Was sorry I didn’t do this months ago-!! Because barely 24 hours after getting it to the house I’ve managed to fit my racer up and finally can pedal the turbike in comfort 8)

 

However, mounting the whole lot on this particular pallet is not ideal. Because the gyroscopic forces mean the alternator unit tends to jerk toward the bike with each pulse from my pedalling. Which might be okay if the back-end of the pallet didn’t also lift of the floor!

The jumping is tolerable at lower pedal rates. But when pedalling at 13.7 volts or more the distance from alternator hub to bike-axle shortens too much during some of the jumps. Which causes the connecting chain to jump and clunk badly. This means that not only might the chain fall off at any moment, but the alternator is receiving regular jolts and bangs… not good. Not good at all.

So I’m considering two things.

  1. Find a good euro pallet (they’re much heavier). Put some serious weight on the back-end of it.
  2. Brace the bike stand and alternator unit away from each other. Perhaps a metal bar between the two (but how to do this without damaging the turbo trainer…?)

The fun will continue it seems-!! 😀

P.S. The original mountain bike is on it’s way to Galway courtesy of a fellow Sligo Freecycle Member who had a friend in need there!

Racer should be an option soon!

Because I found that an M18 nut will fit snugly onto the right, and an M20 onto the left, of the quick release back axle. I will have to grind a slot a few mm deep into the M20 nut to allow for the quick release lever – and hopefully won’t damage the blue locking inser (because it seems to provide some cushioning and grip*).

But it’s not simply a matter of drilling holes in the existing stand for some threaded-bar clamps. Because the current stand is far too narrow. So I think I’ll replace it with a built-for-purpose stand and weld that to the generator’s frame.

Then I can freecycle that uncomfortable mountain bike out of my life! 🙂

* The blue locking insert may not provide enough cushioning against vibrational / noise while pedalling. If so, I’ll try inserting some rubber washers. Or might step up the nut sizes to allow for more rubber to be inserted (e.g. M20 & M22).

Ooops – the bike stand!

Finally, energy and some spare time combined nicely today and gave me a chance to bring my racer onto the scene. From which I learned that the frame for holding the bike will need considerable adjusting if it’s going to take my racer! 🙁

Firstly, the angle of the main strut of the support frame is nowhere near the angle of the back forks of my racer. So the clamp wouldn’t grasp the frame properly and would also be likely to damage the frame – by focusing pressure on too small an area at the top of the forks.

Secondly, the clamping arrangment at the top of the support frame is too low to the ground for my racer. It would need to be considerably higher to take my racer while also keeping the back wheel off the ground.

Thirdly, even if the clamping system suited, the angles involved (plus the extra inch in diameter of the racer’s wheels) would leave the racer’s cogs closer to the alternator. So the chain connecting the two would have to be shortened by a link or four to ensure it remained reasonably taut and functional. The trailing edge of the back wheel was also going to end up v. close to the leading edge of the stator. Not good. Not good at all, at all 🙁

My initial thoughts are that a modified-trainging-stand-arrangmement is the answer.

One which supports the bike via cup-shaped-clamps at the level of the back wheel axle. But it will also need to allow the bike be slid forward and away from the turbine before clamping (so as to ensure the connecting chain is kept reasonably taut). Time and experimentation will tell. But that arragenment appeals initially. Because not only will it allow quick release of my bike to get out the road but should also allow other bikes be hooked up.

In case I ever get a new bike with bigger wheels.

Or friends want to charge their own batteries on bikes that suit their body size.

Assuming my friends are as mad as I am of course! 😀

Anyhow, time for the pen and paper. Then some grinding and welding as I DIY a bike training stand.

 

It’s not the battery (or so it seems)

Sorry for the long delay – been away a lot and not had time to invest in the project itself or the website.

I left the grid-powered battery charger trickling juice into the battery for about 48-hours. Battery voltage went up to 12.35 or so.  I checked it over the subsequent days and it seemed to hold around the number. Then I got very busy and did quite a bit of travelling… but now, over a month later, the battery voltage has dropped only marginally to 12.27v.

That suggests the issue is NOT with the battery.

So I’m left now to try and figure out whether:

  1. I just didn’t put in enough pedalling for long enough. After all I had deliberately drained the battery to ‘inverter-cut-off-alarm’ so maybe it was just that more pedalling was needed than I thought (mind you the general belief is that when you can get the input charge up to 14.5 volts the battery is as charged as it can be*).
  2. there’s something amiss with the rectifiers or something else within the turbike unit itself.

It might take a while before Eirbyte.com are able to visit with their fancy testing gear. So maybe in the coming weeks I’ll drain the battery a small bit (maybe charge a laptop) and then see if I can pedal-recharge it back up to 12.3volts. If it stays there then the issue was a pedalling deficiency 😉

But if it drops then there’s something wrong with the turbike’s electrics.

* But maybe that theory isn’t quite accurate and I just needed to do more pedalling?

Battery problem?

In my last post I mentioned I’d peddled for over 40mins and the voltage seemed to be settling about 12.0 – 12.1 volts.

Turns out those voltage readings weren’t reliable. I’d come out every few hours to do a few more turns and the voltage would have dropped by anywhere from 0.2 to 0.5 volts. It took another 45mins of pedaling (during which I finally began to hit 14.5v during intense bursts ) before it became clear that the voltage seems to be settling about 11.9v.

I talked this over with Eirbyte.com and they felt those kinds of numbers hint at there being a problem with the battery. It does not seem to be holding the charges I’m giving it.

To check this out, I intend to charge the battery electronically to be sure I’ve got it maxed. Using grid electricity is not something I wanted to do in this project, but this seems to be the only way to make sure I’ve recharged the battery to full capacity. Then I’ll see what voltage it holds.

If it’s not at least 12v then I’m back to the shop to get money back and (hopefully!) find a better battery elsewhere. Because no one deserves €115 of my money for a battery that doesn’t work after just one complete discharge.

And so it begins…

… the real learning!

The battery in my old Apple PowerBook (PowerPC) doesn’t hold a charge for longer than maybe 10 or 15mins. So I’m pretty much reliant on an external source of electricity. It’s not the biggest power drain in my office but at 65w (max), and running for hours at a time, it is definitely the biggest consumer.

So how long can I feed it from the turbike-charged battery?

Well, today I ran the computer almost non-stop for 11 hours. For perhaps 5 hours of that time I was also running my 11w daylight-mimicking desklamp. After 11 hours the inverter alarm sounded meaning it was time to pull the plugs to prevent over-draining the battery. The voltmeter showed 11.3v left in it.

So I took the battery out to the garage, hooked it up and started pedaling. The going was tough (the resistance is heavy!) and after 40mins of on-and-0ff pedaling the battery voltage now seems to be hovering about 12.05 – 12.10v.

At no point during that pedaling did I get the volts beyond 13.3v. So all the signs suggest there’s a good bit of pedaling left to do yet! It will be interesting to see how much longer before I hit 14.5v (the suggested point to stop pedaling in order to prevent over-charging).

It’s not my plan to ever discharge the battery this much again. So maybe 4-5 hours would be the max I’d draw out of it on any one day (less when I get a new laptop that charges its own battery while drawing juice). Hopefully that means it could be recharged with 15-20mins of cycling. But only time and experience will tell.

I’m still very new to all this volt-monitoring and stationary-bike exercising, so all I can be sure of right now is that

  • mountain bikes are ridiculous machines to try to cycle efficiently on
  • the sooner I get my racer installed, the better
  • long-term I think I’ll augment this system with photo-voltaic panels
  • the pedaling in one position, for extended periods, with a constant pedal rate against a steady resistance could make me very good at time trials (watch out Fabian Cancellara!)