By Pat Young
For Hometown News
John Esposito and his wife, Kathleen, live in a comfortable Port Orange home.
They each have a vehicle, but neither one fits in the two-car garage. That's because Mr. Esposito, a self-described "tinkerer," has appropriated the garage for his workshop, where his ever-active mind is forever creating things -- most recently an electric bike.
"I wouldn't describe myself as an inventor," he says. "But I'd like to help with the overall problem with global warming and reducing our dependence on carbon fuels."
That's where his interest in alternative energy transportation kicks in.
The seeds for his "lifelong interest in electrical propulsion systems" were planted years ago in his youth, when he said he "put motors on everything," from model planes and cars to go karts and bicycles. That morphed into machining, wood-working, electric hobbies, radio control, computers, anything with wheels, and many things that make music.
He built many musical instruments, including a banjo he taught himself to play.
Mr. Esposito has degrees in physics and electrical engineering from the State University of New York-Buffalo. As an aerospace and satellite engineer, he worked for Lockheed Martin, General Electric and Hughes Aircraft Co. in California, Seattle, Washington, New York and Pennsylvania. He worked on many launches at Cape Canaveral for both shuttle and Titan programs.
The semi-retired engineer said, "I worked with a lot of pioneers and innovators in avionics and space industries. I got very interested in alternative energy transportation."
His interest in electro-mechanical systems continues to grow.
A Florida transplant of one year, he now spends a lot of time on E-bikes (electric bicycles), building a few for himself as a hobby, and then for friends.
He noticed electric bicycles were selling -- big time. In China, sales went from 56,000 to 120 million in 12 years. They now sell more than 30 million a year. In Western Europe and India, sales are similarly explosive.
There is a "massive uptake" worldwide, except in the United States. But the U.S. is becoming more "bike centric," he believes, as we become more energy conscious.
The cost of using an electric bike compared to a car is dramatic. It costs about 20 cents to charge an electric bike (to go about 35 miles). A week of commuting costs about a dollar, compared to a car at about $40-50 in gas. (Of course, there is the foul-weather factor and the time factor.)
The electric-assist bike (E-bike) travels at about 20 mph, similar to a Moped. (In Florida, if an E-bike travels 20 mph or less, it is an assisted bike, not a motorcycle.) The E-bike is a new concept in transportation, according to Mr. Esposito. Also known as a Pedelec ("pedal-electric"), this human-electric hybrid is a normal bike with a lithium ion battery and a small electric motor, increasing the range and speed of the bike.
"So, for the person who wants to commute to work or the store without getting sweaty, these bikes are a great solution," he said. He added they are good for the person of limited physical ability as well.
"However, for a fit/normal person who utilizes bicycles for exercise and enjoyment, the E-bike opens up new vistas. A 40-mile ride is now routine, expanding dramatically both the distance and duration of the bike riding experience while still getting excellent exercise."
An E-bike can be bought online or at a bike shop for between $1,400 and $3,000. To build one costs about $600.
"Bikes are the most efficient mode of transportation humans have invented," Mr. Esposito said. "But with the advent of new lithium ion batteries and lightweight motors, they represent a breakthrough in transportation."
But Mr. Esposito not stopping with bikes. He's working on an electric propulsion for kayaks, and he's thinking of building an electric trike for people with limited mobility. He's also thinking about an economic way to convert cars to electric.
"I'd like to take one old car and put an electric motor in it," he said. "From a hobby point of view, we have all these wonderful cars around us, and I'd like to figure out a way to convert them economically."
He's working on a solar charging station for batteries, to extend the E-bike's potential. He routinely travels from Daytona Beach to Ormond Beach and back in a few hours on his E-bike, saying he gets plenty of exercise and enjoys the scenery. He noted not many people are using E-bikes -- yet. But those who do ride them find the bikes handy, especially when crossing causeways or going up hills.
He's looking for like-minded individuals who have an interest in E-bikes, and he's thinking of starting a MeetUp group for this. (Interested people can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
"Technology is going to get a lot easier to use," Mr. Esposito said, pausing, the wheels turning in his head. "I might even put an iPhone app on a bike."