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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Driving 60 mph for better gas mileage: a slow-lane odyssey (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Driving 60 mph for better gas mileage: a slow-lane odyssey
Chris Bridges
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So I was watching the local news, mostly because I was too lazy to change the channel, and they did a piece on gas mileage. Specifically, on how HIGH GAS PRICES COULD BE KILLING YOUR CHILDREN and, incidentally, how driving 60 mph is the optimal speed for best gas mileage.

According to CNN Money: "In a typical family sedan, every 10 miles per hour you drive over 60 is like the price of gasoline going up about 54 cents a gallon. That figure will be even higher for less fuel-efficient vehicles that go fewer miles on a gallon to start with."

(Figure based on driving 100 miles, something to do with drag coeffiencies and other things I didn't care about.)

Plus other tips like checking your tire pressure, keeping your windows closed, not having gasoline balloon fights, things like that. But apparently the most significant gas savings came from driving slower, avoiding sudden starts and stops, using cruise control, etc.

Well, I drive a '93 Suzuki Sidekick, and I commute about 70 miles a day roundtrip. Gas at my corner station hit $3.60 last week. This seemed like a good time to try this particular theory. So Wednesday I filled my 10 gallon tank and commenced to keep to the slow lane. I'm going to post here on my findings. It's Science!

The very first thing I noticed is how difficult it is to fight peer pressure on the highway. When you're constantly being passed, the urge to just hit the gas a little and keep up with all these idiots is incredible, at least for me. My usual highway speed is 70 (*cough*75*coughcough*80ish*) and I rarely have to think about maintaining a speed, it just happens from long habit. Now I'm forcing myself to maintain a (for me) unnatural speed and having to check the speedometer every few minutes.

The reactions from other drivers also surprised me. I keep to the slow lane. I don't let traffic bottle behind me; if someone matches speeds I speed up or slow down to provide a way past me. But drivers still tailgate or wait till the last second to go around me, nearly clipping my bumper on the way past. I've been snarled at, as if my slower speed was somehow unAmerican. Maybe it is.

More as I go. Anyone here tried this?

[ April 26, 2008, 10:58 AM: Message edited by: Chris Bridges ]

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fugu13
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I don't have any regular driving that would take me up to that speed, though I'll be driving to Chicago in mid-May for an anime convention. The actual sweet spot in mpg will vary by vehicle, so I'd suggest keeping good records and seeing if you can identify it on your vehicle.

But yeah, by keeping your speed down you can reduce your gasoline consumption per mile on the highway, that's definitely true. Since highway driving is part of your regular commute, going a bit slower can make a big difference over time in gasoline expenditures.

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Chris Bridges
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This does, of course, add time to the commute. No firm idea of how much yet since travel on I-4 is wildly variable at the best of times with construction and other drivers and the occasional wreck to creep past. So far it seems to have added maybe 5 - 10 minutes to my drive, which doesn't sound like much until you factor in my terrible time-management skills.

I like to think I'm a fairly intelligent person. I'm aware of consequences. I can plan for the future. And yet every morning I wait until the very last minute I can possibly leave the house and still hope to get to work on time before thinking about heading to the car. Somewhere in my head there's a setting that remembers the best time I ever made it to work (on a Sunday morning, maybe, with not a car or cop in sight the whole way, and the wind with me) and uses that to plan my schedule. Ignoring such trivial things as weather, acts of God, needed errands, or any of the other thousand cars on the road with their own ideas about my place in their day. So I am constantly hurrying to work, always wondering where all my time went.

I'm sure that has no effect on my gas mileage whatsoever.

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ElJay
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I've been doing it for awhile, and I did notice a difference. I actually read recently that the real mpg sweet spot for most cars is 45, but you can't exactly do that on the highway, and 60 is where the drop off in mpg gets steep. Using cruise control when you can helps a lot. I also focus on taking my foot off the gas as soon as I see a red light and coasting towards it until it changes or I have to break, rather than maintaining speed and braking. That one pisses a lot of people off, you'd be amazed at how many people speed up to pass you and pull in in front of you just to have to hit the brakes for the light.
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Morbo
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Yeah, those racers to the redlight are stupid/frustrating. I love it when I pop the light and still have my momentum when it turns green. I imagine their teeth grinding as I cruise past them.

Did you see that Mythbusters where they checked the drafting behind a semi myth? It actually works. Of course the closer you get the more benefit, but even at I think 20-30 ft separation you get a reasonable boost. Too bad that's an unsafe following distance . . .

Chris, I wait until the last minute to leave too. It's a serious problem with me that I've worked on with little progress. [Frown]

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Pegasus
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Where I live, the state routes, that is, a road with 2 lanes and a double yellow line down the middle, are somewhat hilly. The speed limits are usually between 40-55, which is good for fuel milage. The thing that doesn't work well however is cruise control on hilly stretches. It will actually increase your mpg because of all the downshifting and high engine revs to get up to speed. It's much better to temper your speed yourself.

not that you're supposed to use cruise on these roads... [Roll Eyes]

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steven
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"Yeah, those racers to the redlight are stupid/frustrating. I love it when I pop the light and still have my momentum when it turns green. I imagine their teeth grinding as I cruise past them."

I do this too. I don't particularly enjoy frustrating others, exactly, but I really go through a lot of lights on my way home, spaced really close together, on a road that's otherwise designed for speed (long straight stretches, multiple lanes, traffic that's rarely very heavy at all). It's really tempting to try to catch all the lights this way, even when the butthole brigade* is roaring up from behind me, cursing me as they go zooming by, only to have to brake heavily at the red light.

*the actual term I use for them in my mind is a bit fouler, but otherwise very similar.

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Dagonee
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quote:
Originally posted by ElJay:
I also focus on taking my foot off the gas as soon as I see a red light and coasting towards it until it changes or I have to break, rather than maintaining speed and braking. That one pisses a lot of people off, you'd be amazed at how many people speed up to pass you and pull in in front of you just to have to hit the brakes for the light.

That's a good thing to do on a lot of roads. But in the city, where there are lights every block, that can stop cars from making it through the previous light and make them have to brake abruptly to avoid blocking the previous intersection.

I've witnessed a single driver doing this cut the capacity through the previous light by half or more. It can double my commute time and I doubt it's a net gas savings taking all of the traffic into account.

Outside the few areas where most roads fill up at the light all the way back to the previous intersection, though, it can be a good idea.

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Morbo
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Dag's right: heavy traffic or timed lights change the equation.
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steven
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"That's a good thing to do on a lot of roads. But in the city, where there are lights every block, that can stop cars from making it through the previous light and make them have to brake abruptly to avoid blocking the previous intersection."

I'd never do it if people couldn't get around me. There are too many nuts out there. Somebody got fatally stabbed in a road rage incident maybe 10 miles from my house, in a very rural area. Only a total moron would actually stop, get out of the car, and engage in a physical confrontation with someone in a situation like this. It goes without saying that the nutjob may have a gun, and it's harder to get away from a bullet, and it's quite possible to fire a gun from a moving vehicle. Ish.

I mean, I get mad on the road, too, but I'm pretty much always too focused on getting where I am going to chase some fool down and beat him senseless, or stop my car, wait to be approached, and beat him senseless. Why are you even on the road unless you're trying to go somewhere? It makes no sense to me to let emotions that happen as a result of getting somewhere stop you from getting there.

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Dagonee
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I'd like to clarify that I didn't get the impression ElJay did what I described: since she said that people pass her, it doesn't sound like the same situation at all. Her post just brought this to mind for me.
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steven
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I would also like to point out that it's probably actually a little dangerous to do the 60 mph thing when everybody else is doing 75 or 80. I'm on major roads very rarely, but when I am, I try to do the average speed of everybody else. Crashes are much more likely when everybody is not doing the same speed. I think it's also worth pointing out that fatal crashes actually decreased when the speed limit was increased from 55.
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ElJay
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Yeah, in downtown or other situations where there are lights every block it would be plain silly to drive that way. Or during rush hour. But I specifically time my commute to avoid rush hour, so I don't drive in it very often. (Yay for flexible work schedules!)
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mackillian
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I just have to say, I really, really detest it when people block intersections. Not you guys, I mean the people who, even though the green light is about to change, or it's already yellow, will still pull into the intersection and fill it up so that no one has anywhere to go.
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steven
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"But I specifically time my commute to avoid rush hour, so I don't drive in it very often. (Yay for flexible work schedules!)"

Teh seriously. I think the ideal schedule starts at about 9:30 or 10 and goes 'til about 6:30 or 7:30. I have done 11-8 for almost a year now.

Rush hour blows. I'd almost rather be in a physical fight every day.

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Dagonee
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quote:
But I specifically time my commute to avoid rush hour, so I don't drive in it very often. (Yay for flexible work schedules!)
Yay, indeed. I just had my schedule that let me avoid both rush hours yanked for no good reason. [Mad]

quote:
I just have to say, I really, really detest it when people block intersections. Not you guys, I mean the people who, even though the green light is about to change, or it's already yellow, will still pull into the intersection and fill it up so that no one has anywhere to go.
I agree. Along the same vein, I hate people who turn right on red in front of someone trying not to block the intersection. In those situations, sometimes I have to choose between blocking the cross-road's right tun lane or never getting a chance to go. If it's a right-turn only lane I'm blocking, the choice is easy. Otherwise, it's a moral dilemma.
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Eaquae Legit
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quote:
Originally posted by mackillian:
I just have to say, I really, really detest it when people block intersections. Not you guys, I mean the people who, even though the green light is about to change, or it's already yellow, will still pull into the intersection and fill it up so that no one has anywhere to go.

I try really, really hard to avoid getting stuck in an intersection like that. I won't pull into it until I know I can get out again before the light changes. It's just one of those things my mother drilled into me. Most people understand the principle, but I've had some nasty responses.
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Glenn Arnold
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quote:
Of course the closer you get the more benefit, but even at I think 20-30 ft separation you get a reasonable boost. Too bad that's an unsafe following distance . . .
You can get a decent boost behind a semi at 70 or 80 foot separation. Still too close at 75 mph, but I've done it, just to see what happened.

And yes, doing the speed limit does improve your mileage. My old Mazda 323 typically got about 37 mpg highway, but I could get 45 mpg at exactly 55 mph. My Prius typically gets about 45 highway, but I can get 58 at 55 mph.

Driving 70 to 80 feet behind a semi I can get 49 MPG at about 70 to 75 MPH (in the Prius), but it's hard to find a semi at exactly the right time, traveling at a speed that's constant enough that you can fly in formation with it for any length of time. Plus someone always decides that they can safely cut the 80 feet following distance in half and pulls in between you.

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El JT de Spang
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quote:
Originally posted by Morbo:
Did you see that Mythbusters where they checked the drafting behind a semi myth? It actually works. Of course the closer you get the more benefit, but even at I think 20-30 ft separation you get a reasonable boost. Too bad that's an unsafe following distance.

Did anyone really think this was a myth?

-----------

Anecdotally, I drafted a semi once. I was in Mexico, and I was about 30 miles from any sort of civilization and I was way below E. I literally had the choice of drafting, or being stranded on the side of the highway in Mexico, with nothing but desert inside a day's walk. Anyway, I followed a semi at probably a car length or two (totally deserted road, going about 45mph). Got excellent mileage. Far better than the usual.

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BlackBlade
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quote:
Did anyone really think this was a myth?
Well it was more a function of is the gain from drafting substantial, negligible, etc.

I'm thinking of buying a scooter, or more probably a motorcycle in order to save at the pump.

What drives me insane is when the yield on green light goes first followed by the left turning light, and since people are so used to it being the other way around, they just sit their while the left turning light is illuminated and I have to blare my horn at them.

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advice for robots
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I've been thinking about getting a scooter, too. Or just getting a good bike and figuring out how to get across town on it every day.
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MattP
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I bought a scooter last year to drive to a park and ride about 7 miles away where I meet a carpool. It's been great having a 60mpg+ vehicle that cost very little and requires very little maintenance. A few times I've taken it all the way to work, about 30 miles away. It makes the trip OK, but it takes an extra 15 minutes since I have to take surface streets.
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DevilDreamt
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[rant] The important thing to remember when drafting a semi truck is that it will, more likely than not, annoy the truck driver. Especially if you drive in their blind spot, but even if you never enter their blind spot, they're going to worry that you will.

Think of it like this: When you follow a truck too closely, you cease to be in control of your own vehicle. You're no longer driving, the truck driver is driving for you. You can't see the road ahead of you, all you can see is the back of a truck, and if something happens, you're going to be relying much more on his (or her) reflexes and decision making than your own. IMO good drivers are in control of their vehicles at all times, and they're not comfortable driving with so little information on the road ahead.

Good truck drivers are aware that they're driving more than just their own vehicle while on the road, and drafting is something that will inevitably happen, but that doesn't mean they want or need the added responsibility of driving your vehicle for you. [/rant]

[ April 27, 2008, 09:26 AM: Message edited by: DevilDreamt ]

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Nighthawk
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I haven't had a car in four years. I laugh at all of you having to pay for gas... HA! [Wink]
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mackillian
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quote:
I try really, really hard to avoid getting stuck in an intersection like that. I won't pull into it until I know I can get out again before the light changes. It's just one of those things my mother drilled into me. Most people understand the principle, but I've had some nasty responses.
Me too. I've also had some fairly nasty responses. I always want to point to the signs that say DO NOT BLOCK INTERSECTION.
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BannaOj
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*thinks wistfully about a scooter*
Given my latest health revelations, I've been trying to figure out what to do about my commute, job, and a bunch of other things.

Not that this is the place to go into them, but I just realized that given the joint condition it is now known that I have, even a scooter (although a scooter might not be as bad as a motorcycle) is a bad idea, and that I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to bicycle like I used to, because the risks start outweighing the benefits really fast.

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The Rabbit
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BannaOj, That's so sad. And bicycles are generally considered easier on the joints than things like running. Is the problem with your knees and ankles or is it more in the back, arms and hips. If its upper body stuff, maybe you could find a recumbent that positioned you better than a regular bike?

[ April 28, 2008, 05:32 PM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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BannaOj
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
Is the problem with your knees and ankles or is it more in the back, arms and hips.

Yes [Smile]

Rabbit, I appreciate your concern. I recently found out that have some form (exactly which is still being determined) of Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, it's also sometimes called (although there is some conflict of definitions particularly in the US vs the UK) Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III (the catch all "type" for the less severe or obvious inherited forms.)

The orthopedic doc I just saw for my *latest* sprained ankle, is the one that put my case history together to get at this issue. Basically some kind of collagen in my joints is partially defective, which is why I'm "bendy" and hurt myself so often doing things which normal people have no problems with, like walking the dogs. The defective collagen comes from defective DNA (probably a bit from both sides of the family, not one specific parent) so short of major advances in gene therapy I'm stuck with it for the rest of my life. So it's everywhere, not one specific joint.


Of course it is something I've always had, and the signs were there since infancy, so in one sense living with it isn't horrible, because it explains all the odd injuries I've had all along. But in another sense I need to re-evaluate my life in light of the new facts in order to try to keep my body functioning for as long as possible.

While there are things that I can try to do to improve what I've got, my body is always going to be more accident prone than the average persons. I can work on strengthening muscles evenly, because they always have to compensate for the weak joints. But it has to be done very carefully, because uneven muscles can make the joints worse rather than better.

I'm currently in Physical therapy and will be for a very long time. I am experiencing a lot of pain, because having the right ankle in a aircast walking boot, is putting increased pressure on the left hip, and the rest of my body seems to be falling apart trying to compensate for the imbalance from the sprained ankle.

So yeah, I'm a tad introspective at the moment. Should I be able to ride my bicycle again, yes. Should I ever go pell-mell downhilling on it again? Probably not. Should I get a scooter? Probably not.

Will a recumbent bicycle help? I've been considering it. It would mean that I'm closer to the ground, therefore there isn't as far to fall, so hopefully when I do fall (and it isn't an "if" but a "when" there would be less damage.)You can get decent recumbent tricycles for extra stability, and I could maybe get a deal on one because my father Knows People. But for the moment, I'm just not sure. I wish I had a clearer path. But a lot of it we aren't going to know for a while. It is going to be months before we can really assess the effectiveness of the physical therapy, for improving the condition of my joints, rather than just trying to use it to minimize the pain while the latest ankle heals.

P.S. For those who might ask, Oral collagen supplements are no help, because they just give your body more collagen ingreedients. If your body has a defective recipe (bad DNA) you are always going to end up with something just a little bit "off". You can't magically change the DNA to give it a new "recipe" short of gene therapy.... and this isn't considered to be something where the rewards exceed the risks for that kind of messing around.

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BannaOj
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P.P.S. Right now I am one of "those people" as far as slow driving goes. Driving is actually one of the most excruciating activities for me. The right foot is essentiallly immoble so all acceleration, deceleration has to come from my hip and legs, which causes my hip joints to ache. I physically can not exceed 45mph, and I have to start moving my seat forward at about 35 in order to put enough pressure on the accelerator to go any faster. I am only driving on surface streets, to work and back, not driving on the highway or anywhere else, which also kinda sucks. Riding a bike as an alternative to driving is even less of an option when you've got a giant boot on your right foot.

(No I can't drive leftfooted because the left foot would have to maneuver around the right foot's cast which would be even worse.)

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Artemisia Tridentata
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I've mentioned before that I ride a bike to work and around town most of the time. However, as a genuine Geo-Batchlor, I do drive "home" a couple of times a month. The commute is ideal. 600 miles with only one stop light and very little traffic. I often drive for over an hour without seeing another vehicle. My commute car is an old Taurus (90) with a v6 and a wimpy cruise which needs attention to maintain speed on the hills. My feeling (not at all scientific) is that the break point for my car is about 75 mph, faster than that and the milage goes down. Slower, and the milage dosen't seem to improve. I use about 9 gallons to my first refuel point and 9 to destination. The big discrimintator is wind. With a headwind the fuel usage jumps to 11 or 12 gallons to refuel. As my broker is want to tell me, past performance is no guarantee of future results. I'm not sure you could pay me enough to "draft" behind a semi. I was drafted once and that was enough.
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The Rabbit
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BannaOj, I have a sister in-law with Ehlers Danlos. She has one of the more severe forms which affects her heart and vascular system as well as her joints. I sincerely hope yours remains type III. If I'm remembering correctly, quidscribis has it too and someone else here at hatrack -- maybe ketchupqueen? I seem to know an inordinately large number of people who have this supposedly very rare disease.

On the subject of bikes, My brother in-law who is legally blind has a greenspeed recumbent trike which he uses to commute year round in the cold and snowy north. The thing is an absolute riot to ride and incredibly stable even on ice. I'm not sure you could flip the thing if you tried but you can spin donuts with it. [Big Grin] Its enough fun that a couple other members of the family have bought them too. They all have the tadpole trike version (two wheels in front, one in back) which is more stable and has some nice engineering advantages like no need for a differential. The things are pricey but as I said loads of fun and really really stable.

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pooka
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My husband got a 150 cc scooter two years ago, though it died (bad valve). I think the daily 45 mile round trip was a bit much for it at the speeds he goes, and he's probably a bit bigger than it was meant to carry. He got a 250 this time. I'll be getting off the roads soon, with our move to Utah.
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BannaOj
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Grin. My parents have two of these:
http://www.greenspeed.com.au/gtt.html

The first one they got used, the other I believe was custom made for them.

My mother, who currently doesn't have a bicycle that is actually "hers" is talking about getting an upright tricycle for herself, with a large basket to go grocery shopping and the like.

In CA, my family really had a "culture" of bicycle riding, that doesn't seem as feasible to me here, just because of the weather.

AJ

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BannaOj
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I think I really want some sort of HPV. I want something that can protect me from the weather. I understand farings seem to be used more for speed than weather protection. I've been googling a bit and can't find any that are doing it to protect oneself from the elements instead.

Maybe I should go into business...

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pooka
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Ooh, that tandem trike would be mighty tempting to my husband. The only thing I worry about is visibility, but I guess you could put a bunch of flags all over it. Or maybe some arches that can be designed to actually give some lift.
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PSI Teleport
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"I also focus on taking my foot off the gas as soon as I see a red light and coasting towards it until it changes or I have to break, rather than maintaining speed and braking. That one pisses a lot of people off, you'd be amazed at how many people speed up to pass you and pull in in front of you just to have to hit the brakes for the light."

The reason this ticks ME off is because someone is braking without using their brake lights. People may be flying around you because they didn't notice you were stopping until they got a lot closer to you.

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pooka
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Yeah, I can't help wondering if you save that much gas if you cause 3 people to accelerate around you and hit their brakes harder.
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PSI Teleport
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"I think I really want some sort of HPV."

I think they vaccinate for that now.

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BannaOj
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[ROFL]
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pooka
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That reminds me of the time my daughter asked was HPV was, and I said What?! and it turned out I was the one who posted it, and it meant Order of the Phoenix.
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ElJay
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PSI, you're going to have to trust me that that isn't the case. The primary road I do this on is four lanes with stoplights about every half mile. Traffic is very light when I drive on it. It's not like everyone's following 20 feet behind one another and then all of the sudden I'm slowing down without braking. The people I'm talking about have at least a block to notice they're approaching me, usually more. And if I'm more than half way to the light, I don't start slowing down because I know it will change before I get there.
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mackillian
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About the coasting to braking vs just braking immediately, which is better for your actual brakes?
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Pegasus
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quote:
Originally posted by mackillian:
About the coasting to braking vs just braking immediately, which is better for your actual brakes?

Well, actually coasting or mostly coasting to a stop uses much less braking power so your brake pads and rotors will wear out at a slower rate.

That should not be confused with downshifting and using the engine as a brake, that method will prematurely wear out your engine, which is not a wear item, like brake pads & tires. Also, it does not save fuel over just using brakes.

Another point to be considered is that the gentle and careful driving style will probably save in maintenance costs, extend the life of the vehicle (thereby putting off a new payment) and give you a higher eventual resale value. These savings will quite likely outweigh you fuel milage savings, although it is a bit harder to do a comparison with real numbers.

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Glenn Arnold
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Your brake lights come on a lot earlier than your brakes engage. If you just apply light pressure to the pedal the people behind you will know you're slowing down.

And yes, the less you use your brakes, the longer they last, as Pegasus has pointed out.

One of the advantages of the Prius is that since it uses regenerative braking, the brakes last a long time. I didn't have to change my front brakes until my car had 80K on it, and I still haven't changed the back brakes, with about 100K on it.

{quote]I understand farings seem to be used more for speed than weather protection. [/quote]

I have a fairing for my bicycle that is strictly for weather protection. I bought it when I used to ride my bike to work in the winter, and it made a huge difference. I don't remember the brand and I don't know if the company is still in business. I've had it for almost 20 years.

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Lord Solar Macharius
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This is little overly tangential to the conversation, but whatís the legality of installing an LCD sign in the back of your car? Iím going to assume a laser is right out.
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BannaOj
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These are teh awesome
http://www.bluevelo.com/Order_from_Europe.html

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Shan
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Good lord. I had to spend two hours one way on I-5 the other day, and trying to maintain 60 mph just about got me killed. Semi trucks who are SUPPOSED to go no faster than 60 mph were on my hiney and barreling down with no intention of slowing down.

Other vehicles were flying around at 80 mph.

You take your life in your hand going 60 mph around here.

*still trembling*

I tried again on the way back down I-5 -- and if anything, it was worse, so I gave up and got back in the groove.

I did use less gas keeping it at 60 mph on the way up then I did on the way back, but until the speed limit is dropped to 60 mph for passenger cars as well as trucks, it won't be safe to drive that speed on the freeway.

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Nighthawk
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On I-95, if one tries to keep the "three car length" rule - or whatever it's called... the minimum safe distance for tailgating - he'd probably wind up going backwards.
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Tstorm
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I wish I could bike to work year-round. Biking in Kansas in the winter absolutely sucks. There are the occasional warmer days to be thankful for, but on the whole, I'm just a cold-weather wimp.
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Flaming Toad on a Stick
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I usually walk to wherever I need to go. But then again, I could walk to the other side of town in an hour, so nothing's really too far.
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