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I am building a small electric go cart type vehicle. How do I calculate how much power I will need? ?

I’ve considered doing a force diagram, but I don’t think it will help. Friction is assumed zero (ideal) at the axles. I need the minimum horsepower allowable to move the vehicle at a known speed and weight. Any ideas?

Alright, I was wrong to assume that friction was zero. I actually don’t know what the coefficient of friction is, but the vehicle will be using bicycle wheels.

Its a small lightweight aluminum frame. I estimate with the driver, it will be 300 lbs. Speed requirements is about 15 – 20 mph.
A little more info: The vehicle will have four wheels and yes, it’ll be chain driven.

But again for the power, I assume this is calculated with force diagrams and applying Newtons Law. So we have the forces we have are normal force, weight (gravity), friction, drag and the force require to overcome friction/drag right? Will the friction be at the axles?

Asked by:sprocket rocket


  1. billrussell42 says:

    You are actually building this?

    Then you can’t consider friction zero, as in a real world situation, most of the power is used to overcome friction.

    To move at a fixed speed with no friction and no air resistance, takes zero power.

    What is the speed and weight?


  2. andrew b says:

    If you intend building this cart then you can’t consider friction is zero
    its a real world situation therefore you must consider friction because most of the power will be required to overcome the friction and air drag.

  3. wingstwo says:

    Bicycle wheels have very low friction, especially with relatively narrow and high pressure tires. Wind resistance is the largest component of friction for all but slowest speeds.

    Figure about 1/2 HP or 350W for your 15 – 20 mph on level ground and smooth surface, assuming an efficient drive mechanism like a chain (not a friction wheel), and typical bicycle frontal area. A little more for wide, low pressure tires and upright rider, less for narrow, high pressure tires and reclining driver.

    For verification, look at electric bicycles, this is their average power for that speed.

    Note that acceleration is pretty slow if you don’t have more power than this! Also, may need gearing to get full power over range of speeds, especially while accelerating.

    Force diagrams make little or no sense for power calculations.

    The bearings are quite low friction, essentially negligible. The tires will give significant rolling resistance, especially if wide and low pressure. Racing tires will slice rolling resistance dramatically. Since the spindle or axle is the only contact point for the wheel to the chassis, the force obviously acts through the axle, but also has a rotating component. Caculating actual forces is both difficult and of no practical value; structural loads far exceed loads from friction, and the forces are not useful in determining power.

    At speed, most friction is due to aerodynamic drag. Find an online calculator to help. Determine the frontal area, estimate the Cd from the shape, then use the air density to calculate the drag. For rolling friction, find an online calcualtor that includes rolling friction for bicycles with different types of tires.

    Take the output of the motor, derate by transmission losses, typically 2% to 10%. Determine drag/friction force as function of velocity, then solve for velocity in:
    Power = force * velocity.

    Determine acceleration from F = ma, where F is the excess force. Excess force is the drive force from the reflected power of the motor through the drive chain using P = F * V (at the motor rotational velocity for that speed) less the drag. This remaining force accelerates the cart. Integrating the acceleration yields the estimated response.

    Finally, check the torque and power curves of the motor, reflecting them through the power transmission mechanism, to assure the motor is producing max power at max velocity, and the power train delivers sufficient torque to operate the go cart over the entire speed range. Operating at a lower power point for the motor at top go cart speed will result in unexpectedly low final velocity.

    PS, sorry for spelling, Yahoo refuses to spell check.

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