Who decides on short notice that they want to break the Guinness World Records for the longest e-bike ride? Why not an engineering student getting his PhD in battery technology?
Ravindra Kempaiah is a student who just started seriously riding bikes a few years ago, then studied great endurance riders and met Len Mattioli, aka “Crazy Lenny,” of the highly successful Crazy Lenny’s E-Bikes in Madison, Wisconsin. As Ravi’s interest in e-bikes grew, so did his friendship with Lenny. Lenny advised Ravi on all things bicycle and has since become somewhat of a father figure.
Currently, Ravi is studying nanotechnology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, working with nanobatteries and studying the qualities of different materials as new battery technologies. He’s the perfect person to work on battery technology, and it gave him the idea to try to set the record for the longest e-bike ride while at the same time also promoting e-bikes and showing that they weren’t the antithesis of fitness.
A TALL HURDLE
Ravi wasn’t sure he could pull off such a stunt, but he wanted to try. He talked to Lenny about it, and Lenny pledged financial support for the endeavor, as well as spare parts. He also reached out to Kusi Eggiman, the CEO at Stromer, who set him up with a Stromer ST2 S, a Class 3 bike with no throttle and tremendous range. With such short notice, that was the extent of Ravi’s entire sponsorship package. In addition to his attempt at setting the world record, the attempt would also coincide with the 100th anniversary of the National Parks, and since he’d be riding through a few of them for his ride into the record books, Ravi wanted to tie the ride in with the idea of promoting environmental consciousness and sustainability.
He says that if he had more than a couple of weeks, he might have reached out to other companies whose products he used and liked, two of which included Schwalbe tires and BodyFloat seatposts. He decided on a route from Crazy Lenny’s in Madison to Stromer headquarters in San Diego, California, a distance of over 5000 miles, besting the previous record of 4443 miles held by Troy Rank.
Just because you decide you want to own a Guinness World Record doesn’t mean the company will let you submit for it. They have a rigid set of rules for an attempt like this. Ravi had to record all of it on a GoPro and photograph certain places certain ways, as well as have witnesses sign off on every part of his journey.
Every day he’d set off and have the support vehicle stage about 20 miles ahead each time. This allowed him to ride for an hour, then stop and swap the battery in the GoPro and also restock his fuel and water/Gatorade for the next leg. On just about every other stop he’d swap batteries. The ST2 S was outfitted with Stromer’s highest-capacity battery, the 1 kWh version, and he usually went through three per day. An inverter in the van kept batteries charging constantly.
The first week he did 150–170 miles every day. The second week he had to cut that down—not because of fatigue, but because he had to devote a chunk of each day working on his thesis project on nanotechnology as his department needed the information. That second week he rode an average of 90 miles per day. The next two weeks he put in close to 200 miles every day for an overall average of 169 miles per day over the 34 days. His average speed overall was 22 mph.
Ravi was trying to make the journey in 30 days, but in the end, he missed that deadline by just a few days. Two days were lost when one of the support van drivers decided that the trip was taking longer than he’d expected, so he abandoned the effort and flew home. This left Ravi scrambling to find a replacement driver, which he did eventually.
Surprisingly, there were only four flat tires on the trip. Considering he rode over 2500 miles on highway shoulders that can be rough on tires with broken glass and bits of steel belts from cars, this speaks very well of the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. All of his flats were in the rear tire, and in one a road gator (a piece of a tire with exposed steel belts) sliced all the way through the tire and tube. With the support vehicle nearly 20 miles up the road, it took a while to get back to Ravi and replace the tire and tube in the middle of the night while he was swarmed with mosquitoes.
Since he did the ride in the middle of the summer, Ravi often rode at night when it was cooler. He says his saving grace was the better temperatures, less-likely rain and the standard-issue Supernova light on the front of
the ST2 S.
The support vehicle was on top of making sure there was a hotel booked every day, as well as trying to find a suitable restaurant. Ravi is a vegetarian, and as he rode through the Midwest, he discovered that vegetarian food isn’t always easy to find. He made do with plenty of dried fruits when necessary. He had to go on instinct, as he had no dietitian or massage therapist to help guide him, and trying to get enough food for this monumental feat was one of the harder parts of the trip.
“I felt so grateful for being able to ride through those places and see those things!”
While he was riding, another rider in India bested the Guinness World Record by a couple hundred miles to 4700, fueling Ravi’s determination to keep going and make sure he beat that. Another couple traveled over 10,000 miles in 18 months, Mike Minnick traveled the U.S. on a Yuba cargo bike with his dog Bixby to encourage pet adoption and others have put in mileage, but none of these were officially recognized.
SMELL THE FLOWERS
When we asked Ravi about some of the highlights of this feat, he spoke very fondly of how grateful he felt to see so much of the country this way. He especially loved northern Montana and Wyoming. He likened it to the feeling you get from meditation. He felt something special, saying that the long bicycle tour enriched his very soul. His favorite place was Flathead Lake in Montana. “It’s an absolutely mind-blowing beauty. A raw, wild and unbelievably beautiful place. I felt so grateful for being able to ride through those places and see those things! I felt really grateful, and I think those were the moments I’m really happy about.”
He also was thrilled when he was well into California and bested the new record. He spoke fondly about the happy feeling he had when beating the record!
Ravi isn’t done with records yet. He’s gearing up for setting a new record for the most miles on an electric bike in 24 hours. This one will be indoors on a very specific track, and there are two tracks he’s considering—one is in Wisconsin, the other is near Chicago. He’s waiting on approval from the Guinness people and currently looking for more sponsorship. He’s doing an outstanding job promoting electric bikes and sustainability, and he’s definitely on the right career path with his PhD, as much of transportation is now looking at battery power.
With his knowledge, both intellectual and practical, we’re excited that he’ll be sharing some of that knowledge on the pages of EBA in future issues. Stay tuned for more from Ravi!