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No Gas at the Pumps ... No Power in the Grid

By Craig Vetter

Tags: fuel economy, gas mileage, motorcycle, streamlining, Craig Vetter,

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No Gas At Pumps

No Driving … No Generators ... No Toast

Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Do I think it is going to happen? Probably not. I certainly hope not. But it is possible and if you are reading this, it has crossed your mind too. (At another time, we can discuss how it might happen.)

In the meantime, “No gas at the pump … no power in the grid” is an important scenario for us to consider. After all, Western civilization – that is “us” – is based upon cheap and available energy. What are we willing to do for that energy? Will we go to war for it? Will we give up our standard of living? Do we want to figure out how to live better on less energy? I choose the latter. Two questions, then: How much energy do we really need?

Vetter Homesite

And: Is it possible to harvest that power from our own land?

This, then, is the subject of this blog. 

We will begin with transportation, which is my area of experience. Since 3 out of 4 gallons of fuel we use for transportation is imported, we are not living within our budget of energy. Spending money for fuel is making us poor and others rich. Some of these people want to kill us. Therefore, it is in our best interest to live better on less fuel.

Vetter in 67 at Colorado

A Whole Generation Rode With Me

I began designing for motorcycles in the 1960s - a period when cars got 12 mpg and motorcycles got 40 mpg. I was proud that my streamlined fairings helped motorcycles be better transportation because every gallon of gas we burned went 3 times as far as a gallon in a car. However, by the late 1970s, some cars, like the Honda CRX, got 40 mpg while the motorcycles people wanted were getting less than 40 mpg. Disappointed in the direction of things, I sold my business.

How would I help motorcycles lead the way again in fuel efficiency? What would we have to do to get three times the mileage, like cars were getting? Was 120 mpg even possible? Nobody could tell me.

The answer came when I had the occasion to interview Jerry Branch of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Jerry is famous for making Harley-Davidson racers go fast. I asked Jerry:

“What do you do?”

“I make engines have more horsepower,” he said

“How do you do that?” I asked

“By burning more gas and air”, he replied.

Jerry Branch

Burn more gas and air!

Today we want to burn less gas and air. This means we need to learn how to live on less horsepower.

 Here was the key to living better on less energy!

How much horsepower did it really take to propel a person down the road in real conditions? Jerry did not know. Nobody seemed to know. To find out, I hosted the Craig Vetter Fuel Economy Contests of 1980-85.

Fuel Economy 1985

After six years of competition, the resulting machines were very tiny (just big enough for a person to fit into) and streamlined (round at the front, pointed at the rear. It turned out that streamlining was the key to going through the air with less horsepower. Streamlining is only one shape: round at the front and pointed at the tail. With streamlining, we discovered that it was possible to go 55 mph on 3½ horsepower. 3½ horsepower! Why, most lawn mowers have more power than that! Didn’t Jerry tell us that it was horsepower that burned fuel? With streamlining and 3½ horsepower, we could go over 450 miles on a gallon of gas - at 55 miles per hour!

In an address to the designers of the world at World Conference of ASID / IDSA San Francisco, I explained what we had learned:

A DVD of that event, “How they got 470 mpg in the Vetter Fuel Economy Contests,” is now available. You won’t learn this in schools.

In the next blog: How much power does it take today when the speed limit is 70 mph? Will we be able to harvest that power at home?

If these kinds of gains are possible in transportation, might the same gains be possible in powering our homes? Pumping our water? Growing our food??

Are you beginning to see the possibilities?

Go to my web page and see what has been done. Come back and talk.

dick stewart
11/28/2011 5:48:14 PM

Hey Craig! Ain't social networking wonderful? In 1967 you and I (and your brother Bruce) were at the University of Illinois. You were studying Industrial Design and I was in the School of Architecture, but when we were not doing all-nighters on design projects we hung out with the motorcycle crowd. I remember drag racing against Bruce's 5-ported YR-1 on the unopened stretch of I-74 on my Triumph T-100. I won, but my bike was shaken to pieces at the end. When you created the prototype for the frame-mounted fairing, my roommate got the first one for his Yamaha YDS-3 and I got the second for my new YR-1. After graduation and a tour in the Army, I saw your Triumph triple custom in the offices of Road & Track in Newport Beach and immediately recognized your design style. I stilll have the Vetter decal for my fairing. I used my Terlingua Racing Team decals instead. I'd love to hear from you after all these years.

sean wenger
1/17/2011 11:09:44 PM

Hello Craig, Thank you for posting your answers to your questions. I was hoping that you would get more feedback on this topic as am not about to move from my country any time soon.. I also noticed that the replies "thus far" don't seem to address the situation your Blog Topic suggests. Perhaps I over-stepped when I posted those questions that I would consider. However, I am curious if there is anyone else out there willing to post on their experience. If we run into a problem (no gas, no power) how do we answer to that situation? I do realize that the answers will not be universal and that is exactly what I would like to see (different reactions to the same scenario). Homesteading seems reasonable (for my situation) but how do I go about that? How does a homestead run without Gas and Power? Also.. I see there is a "Racing for the RIGHT reasons" on your Home Page. Are you re-opening The Vetter Fuel Economy Contest? I would love to race against you; for the RIGHT reasons. In reality, we are racing together, towards a best response; not only to the challenge of the contest, but to the challenges of our time. Crimson

craig vetter
1/10/2011 9:43:07 PM

Crimson: The answer to all those questions is best summed up like this for me: Move to a place where it is not too warm and not too cold with water and good soil. I moved to such a place 30 years ago. Everything gets easier when you begin like this. Where I live, the natives slapped mud on themselves to stay warm. They picked berries that grow all year 'round. They fished. Live was easy. It is not hard to live here. Where some of my relatives live, it is 20 degrees right now. Do you see how answers to your questions are not universal?

sean wenger
1/1/2011 2:29:18 AM

Is it possible to harvest that power from our own land? Who's land were you going to harvest your energy from? We are all directly linked to our enviroment. There are many ways to harvest power from an area. What lifestyle were you planning on living in the area? If you take the latest an greatest gear out into the wilderness and something breaks would you be able to repair or replace it? Would the raw elements break you down? Would you be able to thrive off the land refueling your systems; replacing and keeping your tools sharp? Would you be able to barter with your neighbours? Do your neighbours aspire to the same ideals and morals of conduct and responsibility that you do? Do you even know your neighbour?

sean wenger
1/1/2011 2:06:35 AM

How much power do we need? Sustain homeostasis. What do we really need to be independent? We need a system that will keep us alive and well through life's unplanned events. And be able to maintain that system under our own power. Do we have an effective way to deal with the waste from that system? Could we come back to an area and live there again after harvesting what we needed from it? Or would we leave a stain that would scar the area, and remove it from the Natural cycle of things for longer than a lifetime? Do we poison for our power? Do our ends justify our means? The goal is not to be of the majority. The goal is to ensure that you are not counted among the ranks of the insane. How much energy do you need to responsibly maintain sustainable homeostasis in your environment?

abbey bend
10/29/2010 5:00:42 PM

We have gone on an interesting journey in the United States and now people are complaining about where the journey has lead us, but let us look at who is really doing the complaining! The people that complain the most are the ones most interested in the government taking care of them or controlling everything for their idea over other's ideas. This is exactly what has already happened! We have large stores and large suburban neighborhoods/HOAs because we told the government we did not want a farm next door, we did not want a factory next door, we did not want a (you fill in the blank) next door. Well we do not have anything next door any more. If you live in an area where some of the might be occurring, you often are living in a very undesirable part of town. We have the massive rail commuting in the East for this very reason; people have no interest in living next door to anything. We have a very few people lamenting about this but have no real idea about what it is like to live next door to a farm, mill, factory! People hated it when it was the way of life and people will hate it if the government makes it the law of the land again. The government is who screwed everything into the ground by creating Urban Growth bounders, zoning laws, tax advantages for the wealthier people in government, and instant slums with public housing and welfare. I do not care where you want to live, the areas naturally segregate themselves, it has nothing to do with mobility, just laws!

craig vetter
9/12/2010 8:13:49 PM

Vetter responds to comments to “No Gas at the pumps…” My streamliner is in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio. The Rifle winner is in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. The Honda “Spud” was crushed.

t brandt
9/10/2010 10:39:19 PM

@TA: Who's talking about a community, much less Utopia? I'm just talking about neighborhoods. Prior to about 1960, most city dwellers had no more than a 20 minute commute to get to work, usually by foot or public trans. In the 50s, on my block in Chicago, there were 30 2-flats (ie-60 families) and only 3 cars among us- and they were only used for special occassions- the "Sunday drive." Cheap fuel and a rising standard of living allowed sprawl. Now commuters will pass each other in opposite directions on their hour-and-a-half commutes, to get to their respective work places, 10 minutes from the other guy's house. That doesn't make sense, but cheap fuel allows it. BTW-Zoning laws by the Nannycrats "protecting us" complicates things: now we can't have dirty factories near our domociles. Of course the ultimate protection is their policies that force factories over to SE Asia.

9/10/2010 7:50:25 AM

followed the link where they asked the designer about the bike that got 470 mpg Is your Fuel Economy bike still around? Where? Honda had the machine crushed about 2006. ---------- seriously wtf?! they CRUSHED IT?!?! you think this would be in a museum somewhere. no one in america at the universities or some enterprising students haven't followed this up? i would think the market for an after market kit would be GINORMOUS!

charles j_3
9/10/2010 6:40:56 AM

@TA I might add that you get more privacy in England that you ever can find amongst the busy bodies of suburban America. What's more it is EXCRUTIATINGLY BORING in suburban and rural America. Not so in rural Europe. Today more young educated people are migrating back into the cities to share in the rich culture and delicious foods that immigrants bring us. So that idea of yours to desire to live far away from others is outdated and a mentality that is being dropped. "Communities" are already appearing in Detroit including sustainable homesteads and other cities throughout the country because of the freedom here. Maybe you need to get with the program.

charles j_3
9/10/2010 6:27:11 AM

@TA I hate to break it to you but it is you who is not living in reality and living in the "dream world" called American society built for cars. People don't have to "pull" together and live in communes to live without cars and sprawl. Maybe you haven't traveled much but most of the people of the world live like this. In fact take that trip to England someday and discover that today you can visit many towns and small cities where you can buy a house where you are both within walking distance of downtown and the next local farm. How do I know this? I've done it. They aren't living in communes either. Almost every little village and hamlet is serviced by rail or some other form of public transportation. But to go about your daily life there you can walk. Where my grandmother lived we used to walk to the farm (about 3/4 of a mile away) and get our FRESH milk. While on the way home we'd buy fish from the fishmonger selling his morning's catch. There were no hippy lovin communes here. Now where I live in Detroit the closest grocery store is over 2 miles away. It's ridiculous how much driving we have to do just to go about our daily lives. My better half and I walk 3 miles a day with the dog just for excercise but it doesnt seem like we are crossing much ground. In Europe that 3 miles would bring us to the next village. How nice it would be to be able to walk everywhere again. It would be so free and liberating. Seriously, we need America and to return to reality.

sean wenger
9/10/2010 6:19:01 AM

I don't need a car to goto work. Google or whatever for "winter action riding on electric bike" (YouTube video I did for Power in Motion). With many people wondering about the future of our planet and BP in the news recently. I don't have many hits, but was hoping to get the massage out that we have options available. I have been riding for 2 winters now and this creation (the bicycle) has been my main mode of transportation for my work commute (year round). I have a strong interest in developing a new project (Highway Bike) high speed electrically assisted. I wanted to do so by converting a Y-Frame bike to a recumbent with a Cruzebike kit. What I am hoping is that there is a set of front forks (or some kind of mod) that will allow the rear to run up front with a disc break set. The reason that this is important (to me) is because of the high speed. I will require full front and rear disc breaks to slow down and stop from the high speeds that the unit will be running at. Since the posting of the video on YouTube by Ken at Power in Motion, I have upgraded to a hydraulic 8" disc on my SwissBike. I hope to run the same or greater on this High Speed bicycle project.

9/9/2010 9:14:21 AM

Horsepower is an artificial measurement originally created to sell steam engines. When it comes to your 450 mpg vehicle, I'd prefer to know how many foot pounds of torque it delivers to the ground, since one can manipulate horsepower by modulating rpm.

todd reece
9/8/2010 5:56:37 PM

@T Brandt "Like the good old days" The only time that was happening was when there was very little integration and everyone lived in "their" neighborhoods for most of their lives. They attended churches and schools together with the very same people they lived beside... Natural culture separation worked for thousands of years... And suddenly it changed 40 years ago....and wow, whats happened since? Look deeper into the dynamics of what you wish for, you might just surprise yourself with the real knowledge of why the humans grouped together in "cliques,and like minded others" in the 'good 'ol days". Proofs out there.

todd reece
9/8/2010 5:47:53 PM

@ t. brandt.... I'm sorry, but you are not living in reality... now before you pop a cork, let me explain. #1..In your dream world, everyone would pull together and live as a cohesive community.. An thats fine on a small scale (ie, a commune).. But once more population (or immigrants ) start coming into the commune, these elements start bringing their culture and their ideas into the smoothly working machine... Things that would normally be approved and done without much thought, begin to take longer because of more opinions and counter-ideas. #2 S.Sprawl is exactly the result of people longing to be AWAY from others and population density of the cities. Once they are there, businesses follow in order to satisfy the 'burbanites needs to "be away, yet close" to things they desire. The whole community thing is a wish and if looked into further works ONLY with people with like minds/ similar culture. But because of laws and regulations, these communities are now illegal as you cannot discriminate against anyone for anything. So the dream of a perfect world with these close knit communities is fantastic and worthwhile on a small scale, but without the ability to select and choose the inhabitants, there will be the inevitable decline over time. Once a community has reached a certain threshold, the dynamics of the community will change and it will cease to exist as it was designed.

t brandt
9/6/2010 10:59:38 PM

We can continue to push the boundries of fuel efficiency by building impractically small & slow vehicles, but we can save even more fuel by changing life style. Living in neighborhoods designed to meet human needs: stores, schools & work places located within walking distance of our homes, like in the old days before suburban sprawl started gobbling up good farmland and natural habitat, would save even more fuel than using Mopeds-with-doors, as well as addressing those other two important environmental problems. Wasn't it Caroll Shelby designer of the Cobra, who said, "Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?" ;-)