Solar bicycling enthusiasts gathered at The Hub at Stanford Research Park on June 1, in advance of the kick-off of a 615-mile-long journey the following morning.
Homemade bikes, which all featured solar panels, lined The Hub's pavement. Several bikes were recumbent, meaning the rider cycles in a reclined position, and many included awnings to shade the cyclist while also providing a place for the solar panels.
Roughly eight cyclists planned to complete the trip, first riding from Palo Alto up to San Francisco and then heading south to Los Angeles.
“Some are hobbyists with technical skills; some are high-level engineers. Others are environmental activists (#bankontheclimate) who dream of bringing affordable transportation to the Third World. Others are entrepreneurs who see an interesting emerging market,” project organizer Oktay Ortabasi said in a speech at the event.
The expedition is part of The Sun Trip, a European-based solar biking organization, and follows in the footsteps of the first Sun Trip California, which took place last year and made a shorter loop around the Bay Area.
Program director for Stanford Research Park Jamie Jarvis heard about the trip around the Bay and invited the group to stop by the Hub this year.
“It really fits into what we're doing here because we focus a lot on commuter transportation, trying to get people to work in ways that (create) less congestion, less pollution,” Jarvis said. “Throughout the research park, we have 90,000 solar panels on buildings, so this just seemed like a really good mash-up of what we're trying to accomplish out here.”
The bikes, which are essentially e-bikes equipped with solar panels, are a sustainable, accessible and economical mode of transportation, according to Ortabasi.
“(My solar bike) does more than half the work,” he said. “I can have a setting where it almost drives me; I just pedal a little bit.”
He acknowledged that the homemade bikes look “cumbersome” but said that future mass market versions with smaller parts could appeal to more people.
“What makes Sun Trip so special is that it allows regular people to be ambassadors of solar energy,” Ortabasi said. “When these odd-looking contraptions roll down the street, people can’t help but look and wonder.”
Damian Vinson, a professional tattoo artist who started his biking journey in Georgia last November, said he was inspired to take part in the trip after meeting a solar cyclist in Eureka, California.
“Don't tell any of these other guys, but I'm proof that you don't have to spend thousands of dollars for that stuff,” he said. “All my parts have come secondhand or from the homeless district.”
Ed Myers, who is making the trip with his wife, built his own two-seater solar bike complete with backrests and an awning.
“The design is really for people who wanna ride a rail trail for a day,” he said. “This solar trailer is sort of an extra range extender because people wanted to go longer distance on this trip.”
Myers originally started solar biking in an enclosed bike, in which he commuted to work for over five years in his home state of Virginia. But the bike wasn’t “solar enough,” and he found himself needing to plug it in, so he moved on to his second bike and made sure it had plenty of panels.
“My wife and I decided that it would be fun to do all the rail trails around the country, so we're looking forward to Route 1 down the coast and Monterey,” he said. “I’ve got a summer full of places to go.”
Craig Calfee, who makes bamboo and carbon fiber bikes at his company Calfee Design, brought a solar trailer to the event.
“It has a battery and power wheel built-in with a solar panel as well, so it can charge itself and propel itself onto any bike that you want to hook it up to,” he said.
Calfee also brought a multi-person solar bike made from a single piece of bamboo that he built as a special project for Burning Man.
The group hopes to complete the journey in five days but, especially due to the homemade nature of the bikes, they expect to be making their own repairs along the way, which could slow them down.
Ortabasi plans to document the journey live on Instagram at @sun.trip.california.