Alfred Simkin, assistant professor of biology, has always had an interest in inventions.
“It was the first thing that I wanted to do when I was a little kid,” Simkin said. “I thought it would be awesome.”
His love for inventions and desire to make a more efficient vehicle inspired him to rig his bike into one that runs off electricity. Unlike most Elon professors, Simkin can be seen commuting to campus via bike and parking underneath the solar panels next to McMichael Building.
To power the electric charge of the bike, Simkin used a solar panel that was originally given to him as a gift. After figuring out how to power a car battery with the panel’s electric currents, he translated it into powering the bike.
The solar panel, known as he Elon Photo Electric Trailer, was created by engineering students with a grant from SGA. The project was advised by Scott Wolter, associate professor of engineering. Without it, Simkin would be unable to charge his bike.
“Basically, we are using arrays of polysilicon photo voltaic devices fabricated into an array, producing a solar cell,” Wolter said. “The solar cells are tiled together to produce a solar panel like you would see on our trailer outside the engineering workshop behind McMichael.”
The electric bike can go 10 miles on a charge when traveling at 30 mph or 25 miles on a charge at a speed of 15 mph. With Simkin’s short commute, he can power the bike for three days of rides to and from work with one full day of sunlight.
Because of the short distance he travels, Simkin knew that a bicycle would be a more efficient form of transportation, but one of his concerns with a regular bicycle was the safety aspect.
“When you’re on a bicycle, you’re going slowly and cars are passing you,” Simkin said. “They’re really close, and when they pass you it feels dangerous. They don’t always add enough room.”
With his electric bike, Simkin is able to travel at the same speed as a car, allowing him to share the lanes without any worries. When the electric feature is turned on, the bike is able to travel up to 30 mph without pedaling.
With a bike, no insurance is required and no gas is needed, which provides tremendous savings compared to traveling by car. Simkin began thinking of his bike primarily as a car, which helped him to rationalize the transition. Usually, people use their cars to drive short distances and run errands around town.
In addition to the more practical reasons, Simkin also thought about the technical element in terms of resource depletion.
“I was really interested in the fact that, at some point, we are going to run out of energy,” Simkin said.
But, even when something is attempted to be more energy efficient, some energy is always lost as heat.
“We need to find a way to use less energy to do the things that we like to do that use a fraction of the energy,” Simkin said.
In only a couple of hours a day, using the weekends to make some minor adjustments, Simkin was able to successfully cut down the use of energy with his bicycle.
The parts that he used came from a company based in Canada called Luna Cycle, and the assembly instructions were found on Canadian bike seller Gary Salo’s YouTube channel.
Additionally, Simkin used the Maker Hub for part of the construction of the electric bike. Both the Maker Hub’s Anderson powerpole system and a pair of ratcheting crimping pliers were used in building the solar charging station behind the greenhouse.
Simkin sometimes uses his bike leisurely without the electric feature and has also assisted a couple of friends in creating their own electric bikes.
This is a decision that he takes pride in, and feels as though it won’t be long before it becomes more popular in the United States.