Green Transportation

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MPX (Mother's Pickup eXperiment) deserves its own header, and mixing MPX with MAX is confusing (even to me) so I'm calling this post MPX's first update. You can read the MPX project overview here.


Here's MPX (Mother's Pickup eXperiment) on its way home from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. I had just crossed over the Oregon border when I took these photos, and as you can see it was taken last year. How can you tell? Because it isn't raining.

Yes folks, we're currently celebrating the annual Oregon Rain Festival. We don't have the least pleasant winters in the country—not by a long shot—but our winters are serious enough to interfere with testing. Mileage when it's cold and wet and windy is significantly worse than mileage when it's warm and dry and calm, and if there are rules of thumb for “How much worse is it, Jack?” I sure don't know them...but summer-and-winter are apples-and-oranges when it comes to comparative fuel economy testing. And so, for now, we have to rely on last year's preliminary test data, but that's enough to show that this streamlined bed cover gives a good bang for the buck. I can't be precise yet, but over-the-road fuel economy has gone from a smidgeon (see what I told you about precision?) under 25 MPG to within spitting range of 30 MPG. That's like finding a gallon of free fuel every 150 miles or so—Free Fuel In The Wind, to quote Phil Knox. If that doesn't impress you, think of the savings over the life of the vehicle: if MPX's first owner streamlined the bed the day it rolled off the showroom floor, it would have saved well over a thousand gallons of gas by now.

Which ain't bad for a DIY plank-and-plywood bed cover, which you can crank out in a week of evenings for around $125 in materials. It also offers most of the features you expect in a bed cover, such as keeping your possessions dry—and with the addition of a hasp and padlock, keeping your possessions in your possession.

This is not exactly an aerodynamic breakthrough. Lots of eco-modders have made their own (enough that there's a generic name for them; they're known as “aerocaps” among us high mileage zealots) and they average between 12 percent and 15 percent in claimed highway mileage improvement. It makes you wonder why you have to Do It Yourself...if they're that great, why aren't aerocaps commercially available? We'll have to get into that in another update.

Check out the 100-mpg car page for all Mother's MAX stories, and Kinetic Vehicles to make your own Max.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


I apologize for September's lack of blog post—I was running around doing stuff, including attending the Seven Springs MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, where I ran a little workshop on the Mother's Pickup Experiment (MPX). Just before I left, I shot this video where the MPX, unmodified from its stock form (a 1994 Toyota Hilux with mumbledy-mumble miles on the clock), was the control group for a rolling resistance reduction demonstration, starring MAX.

MAX has obvious features to decrease its aerodynamic drag (though not so obvious in this video because I was working on some body mods that day and the doors and windshield were removed), and it also has some more subtle features to decrease its rolling resistance (Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max tires and Lucas Oil synthetic lubricants), which is a catch-all phrase meaning “all the drag that isn't aerodynamic drag.”

Rolling resistance is all the little frictions—the drag of the wheel bearings, the drag of the gears stirring up the fluid in the transmission, the drag of the tires flexing as they roll—that dominate the total drag package at low speed. Rolling resistance (unlike air resistance) is pretty much constant; if you pushed your car with a bathroom scale between you and the back bumper, the poundage the scale would read would be about the same at a steady 1 mph or a steady 5 mph (or in theory, in a vacuum, a steady 50 or 100 mph). One result of this is, if you have a slope that is steep enough that your car will start rolling, it will keep rolling.

The access road at my local airport has a slight slope—slight enough that you sure don't notice it when you walk on it, it's only about an inch down for every ten feet forward. Most of the time you don't notice the slope when you park on it, either, because most cars just sit there. In fact, the first time I got out of MAX out there and MAX wandered off on its own, I was pretty surprised. Since that day, I use the parking brake all the time*, regardless of how flat the road feels.

So here's the video, with my usual goofball production values (or lack thereof). It only takes a minute to watch, and I hope you enjoy it.

Check out how to make your own MAX.

*It's such a habit now that I left the parking brake on for my first take of this video. For the second (and last) take, I blocked the driver's side rear wheel with a dime-sized piece of gravel, which was an easy rollover, and looked much more professional than pushing and grunting and going nowhere.

Video by Jack McCornack

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Bicycle. Image Credit: Ian Sane

According to statistics, the US release the second highest amount of carbon emissions in the world, after China. A staggering 33% of the US carbon emissions that are released comes from transportation, with 60% of the transportation emissions coming from gasoline for cars and light trucks. This means that transportation is the second largest contributor of U.S greenhouse gas emissions after the electricity sector.

Since 1990 greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have increased by roughly 18%, which is largely due to an increasing demand for travel. Furthermore, the number of vehicles travelled by car and light trucks has increased by 35% from 1990 to 2012. Again, this is for a number of different reasons ranging from population growth, economic growth, urban sprawl and low fuel prices early on in this period.

Although efforts have already been increased to reduce the amount of carbon emissions created by transport, such as the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) taking coordinated steps to enable the production of a new generation of clean vehicles, through reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improved fuel use from on-road vehicles and engines, from the smallest cars to the largest trucks, there is still a lot more that needs to be done if the US are ever going to achieve their goal of reducing carbon emission by 30% from 2005 levels, as announced by President Obama.

How to Reduce Transportation Emissions

Efforts should be increased to encourage more U.S. citizens to change their travel habits and make more eco-friendly choices. Whether it is public transport, car sharing or walking/running/biking whenever or wherever possible. It would be beneficial to introduce more incentives for Americans to actually travel in a more environmentally friendly way, such as the bike to work scheme that is being used in the UK. If UK businesses opt into the bike to work scheme, both employers and employees can benefit, including getting a bike for a discounted price, saving money on traveling costs, get more fit and healthy as well as significantly reducing their carbon footprint. If more American businesses had a scheme similar to this, it would all contribute to making the U.S a greener country. 

Although it would be great if everyone could run, walk, bike everywhere and get public transport at any point of the day, in reality this is not at all possible for every U.S citizen. However, that doesn’t mean to say that people can’t travel in a more green way.  60 percent of transportation emissions come from gasoline for cars and light trucks, but this figure could significantly be reduced if more U.S citizens opted for ‘green’ cars. For example, a gasoline-powered car that gets 20mpg releases 20lbs of CO2 in comparison to a plug-in hybrid car that gets 100mpg releases just 4 lbs of CO2.

Buying a Green Car

One issue that might be raised from this point is the expense of buying a newer ‘greener’ car, which many U.S. citizens may not be able to afford. However, it could be argued that many green cars have been made to be affordable to a large target market. Alternatively, there is the option of car financing which again is something that many UK citizens have chosen to do in order to get the car they like as well as obtain a greener lifestyle. For example, Simon Gray at Credo Asset Finance, who offer car finance in Norwich, is delighted to see so many people seeing the benefits of car finance:

“We are delighted at the increasing interest in people coming to us for the best car finance deals around so that they can get the car they want at an affordable price for them. As ‘being green’ has become an increasing important issue for many consumers’ lifestyles, we have seen a growing interest in people opting for cars that are better for the environment.”

So, although strategies are already being put in place to reduce the amount of carbon emissions released by transport, perhaps America should introduce some more strategies to reduce transportation emissions even further in the U.S.

Photo Credit: Ian Sane


My friend Jim* has his MAX on the road now. He has around 500 miles on the clock so far, and wrote some comments on a homebuilt car forum we both subscribe to:

I topped off the tank got on the expressway and drove 55 miles an hour North for 80 miles to visit a friend. The friend drove the car for 10 miles or so & we noticed a storm coming from the east.
Dropped my friend off and drove the car home at 65 to 75 miles an hour to avoid most of the rain 170 miles and put in 2.3 gal. OR 73.9 MPG or $0.05 per mile. Must finish the top.

Yeah, well, if you want to outrun storms in a MAX, your mileage is going to show it, so Jim needs to finish the top. Jim does aircraft fabrication for a living, he's a skilled and talented craftsman, and it's no shock that his car looks prettier than my car, and I expected his top to look nicer than mine too, but I wasn't expecting to see this photo two days later...


...or this photo a day after that.


Jim used 2” thick expanded styrene insulation board, cut blocks to shape, glued them together in place on his car, and sanded them smooth. He then covered it with fiberglass and carbon fiber cloth, laminated together with epoxy resin. This description does diminish the skill involved (it's a bit like saying, “Michelangelo took a large rock and knocked off all the pieces that didn't look like David”) but that's how it's done.


I particularly like the double-bubble look, which was common enough in sports cars of The Day, and the windshield is pretty neat too, it's a mid-50s GMC pickup truck windshield made into a split windshield by taking 14” of glass out of the middle, and flipping it upside down to make it lower and more acute.


I'm looking forward to copying this top for myself, it sure looks a lot nicer than my current ragtop. You'll be reading more about this reader-built MAX soon, right here on this blog.

*I'll be meeting Jim in person for the first time in about a month, I'm driving the MPX truck to the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs and Jim's on my route. Much like Will Rogers, I have many friends I haven't met yet.

Photo by Jack McCornack

Check out to make your own MAX.


Providing practical riding information for cyclists everywhere is the goal of the CycleMap app from Ratomic Lab. The cycling app indexes the most popular bike paths around the world, which makes pedaling your way around a foreign locale easier than changing gears. Want to ride into downtown Gothenberg from Kortedala? No problem. Fancy a leisurely spin around Tokyo? CycleMap has you covered.

Developed by Oliver Carbonneau, CycleMap was conceived after the developer realized there weren’t many good smartphone apps for bicycling. Eventually, Carbonneau decided to open-source the application, making it possible for anyone to add to the app's vast index of bike routes. Currently, CycleMap includes 1.346 million kilometers' worth of paths around the globe.

Funding from entrepreneur David Boudreault has allowed CycleMap to offer a free version as well as a “pro” version, which costs $4.99. CycleMapPRO not only lets users know the type of path — gravel, pavement, dirt — but also allows users save their search history and favorites. The Pro version gives directions to nearby bike shops for riders in need. Don’t own a bike? No problem. CycleMapPRO also shows the locations and availability of bike share stations in 176 cities.


bike rackAmtrak’s latest efforts to modernize its cars will improve traveling by train for bicyclists. Previously, cyclists had to keep their wheels in cumbersome boxes when riding the rails, an inconvenient task for commuters living in the Northeast corridor. To remedy the situation, the company has just begun field-testing a new baggage car design that features collapsible shelves for luggage. The shelves double as bike racks when not in use.

Joe Boardman, president and CEO of Amtrak, says, “It’s clear that Americans want a national system of intercity passenger rail and Amtrak is moving ahead to build new equipment to meet customer demand.” During the testing phase, the new cars will travel along the Northeast corridor and will be tested for speed, breaking, stability and, of course, baggage handling. When testing is complete, these new baggage cars will be implemented along all 15 of Amtrak’s long-distance routes. 

In addition to new baggage cars, Amtrak has already given the green light to new diner, sleeper and baggage-dormitory cars. “We’re excited for this next phase of the new equipment journey into revenue service and hope you are, too,” says a company spokesperson. Amtrak hopes for the new baggage cars to be ready for use by the end of 2014.

Photo by Amtrak



Congratulate me! I drove MAX south of San Francisco about a month ago to the Maker Faire Bay Area and won the Maker Faire Editor's Choice award for our class. What is our class, exactly? That's hard to say. It's sure not the Amazing Vehicle class, because we were outclassed numerous times on that front; every time I turned around I'd bump into an amphibious dragon boat or a high speed cupcake or a steampunk submarine...or a 25-foot-tall mechanical octopus shooting gouts of flame from its tentacles.

Maybe there was a Street Legal Vehicle class, but probably not—conformity to standards is not a strong motivator at the Maker Faires (note the “e” in Faire) so I doubt we'd get our own class for dotting the Ts and crossing the Is as required to get a license plate.

I know I didn't get it for workmanship, either. The guy right next to me, Nick Jenkins, had a car he'd built from scratch (with a number of Kinetic Vehicles body and hardware parts, I'm proud to say) that looked a lot like MAX looked in its Escape from Berkley trim...or a lot like Dave's MAXine which attended last year's Maker Faire Bay Area...except Nick's car looks like it rolled off the showroom floor and into a restoration shop, and from there to a museum where curators applied bugs to the headlights to give it a simulated “used” look. It's a work of art in the old-school sense of the phrase, whereas Dave and I (and the guys who built the octopus) subscribe more to the how-soon-can-we-get-this-on-the-road aesthetic.

DIY Philosophy at the 2014 Maker Faire

Compared to MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS, the Maker Faires draw folks who want to see stuff more than who want to learn stuff, and while Maker Faires are indeed a celebration of the Do It Yourself philosophy, it seems the majority of the spectators came to admire DIY from afar. And though MAX was generally well received, a surprising (to me at least) number of people thought I was trying to pull something over on them with my claim of 100 MPG on the freeway. One guy grinned and said, “You must really baby it.” No, sir, when I baby it, I get 120 MPG.

So maybe I won the High Fuel Efficiency Vehicle class, but fuel efficiency isn't a huge motivator at the Maker Faires...wait a minute, that's not completely fair (or faire, as the case may be). They do honor efficiency, and efforts to make our world greener, but art for the sake of art is honored as well. Since many of the objects d'art are huge and flamboyant (a word one rarely gets to use literally) they get well-deserved attention, and only a nitpicker such as myself would note that, for example, a flaming octopus typically runs through 200 gallons of propane a day. To quote Butch Cassidy, A small price for beauty.


The curiosity is killing me, so I've emailed the organizers for clarification of MAX's class. I'm guessing it's something like Non-Flaming Vehicle Under Six Tons but I'd like to know specifically.

Photo by Jack McCornack

Check out to make your own MAX.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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