Custom Lettering on the Vectrix

by Ben N on May 18, 2015


Yesterday, I was busy running errands, but had the chance to swing by the Milwaukee Makerspace. That’s a hackerspace in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Bayview neighborhood.

I wanted to stop in to see if I had left my Solar Death Ray there. I had promised a friend that we would use solar power to burn his shirt during his Kickstarter Campaign, but I must be the world’s worst Mad Scientist, as I managed to misplace it. Sure enough, when I stopped in, I found the three-foot by four-foot lens gathering dust by some of my other equipment.

While I was there, I also wanted to make use of the Silhouette Vinyl Cutter. It’s a small computer-controlled machine (which looks rather like an inkjet printer) that can move a sheet of paper or vinyl back and forth and control a cutting blade side to side. In this way, it can cut any shape on an X-Y axis, including custom graphics for vehicles.

I typed up a simple in the Futura font, loaded up a one foot square piece of self-adhesive vinyl, and pressed “Cut”. The machine started whirring away and zip zap, a minute later, it was finished.

This morning, I applied the graphics to my Vectrix. First, I had to pick the “waste” vinyl from around the lettering. Then, I picked out the middle of the “O”s, “P”, and “g”.

Next, I unrolled a bit of transfer paper – basically just a really wide roll of masking tape. I pressed the letters, face side down, on to the transfer paper, then peeled away the wax-paper backer.

After cleaning the Vectrix, I lined up the graphic on the back of the bike, pressed it into place, rubbed down the lettering, then peeled the transfer paper away.

DONE! Nice, clean, legible lettering that won’t come off.

Now, when I’m off at fuel economy and educational events people will know where to go to check out all my projects!

Til next time, stay charged up,

PS: still playing around with range testing. I can do at least 67 miles per charge. Look for a post on the manual cell balancing system soon!


Vectrix Range Testing

by Ben N on May 10, 2015


The minute that I posted that I had the LEAF cell modules in the Vectrix electric motorcycle, people started asking me “But what’s the new RANGE!?!?!”

The answer is that I simply did not know. The only way was to ride the cycle until the voltage got down to the lower cut-off point. However, with a 90 mile theoretical range, that might mean me riding for an hour and a half at 60 miles per hour! Since I originally installed the LEAF cells, I simply haven’t had much time available in good weather to ride the Vectrix….. until yesterday.

In the morning, I made a trip out to Madison, Wisconsin (in our Prius, NOT the Vectrix) to meet up with some folks from the Madison Hybrid Club. I brought with photos of my cycle and got to show them off a bit. The project got lots of good comments.

After I had made it back home, I decided that I finally had a little time available to myself, and the weather wasn’t too bad; overcast, but not raining. So, I donned my gear and headed out on the Vectrix through the city and onto the country backroads. Traffic was light, so it was nice not to worry about tailgaters or other things distracting me from riding and checking my distance and voltage.

Zipping along the country roads, I realized how nice it was to be traveling almost 65 mph and able to smell the spring Lilacs, instead of exhaust fumes.

I was headed in the right direction, so I stopped at my sister’s house. Both she and my brother-in-law were at home. He was doing yard work and didn’t notice me until I honked my horn. He could hear gravel crunching, but not the sound of the cycle itself. Fred has always been interested in big scooters, so I knew he would want to see it. The both of them complemented how nice the Vectrix looked.

IMG_3297As Fred was examining it, he exclaimed “No way, I worked on these!” The cycle has some fancy name-brand parts on it such as Pirelli tires and Brembo brakes. One name brand I hadn’t noticed was the lights, which are the Speaker brand name. It turns out that my brother-in-law worked in a light factory a few years back. They made specialty lights for vehicles. No, not lights for Ford or Chevy, but off-road vehicles, ambulances, and other specially applications. And the line that he worked on was “Line 4″ where they made the most specialty and short-run products.

“What year was this?” He asked. I told him 2007. “These were on my line. I made these.”

Fred had a big grin, seeing a finished product version of the components he had worked on.

IMG_3303While there, we also checked the trunk capacity of the Vectrix, which as it turns out, is more than large enough for a miniature dachshund.

After that, I continued joy-riding the country roads, and headed back the general direction of my house.

I took Breens Road, which curves around a small lake and weaves through scrub oaks. When I got to a stop sign, a sport bike pulled up at the same time on the right. He took right-of-way and I followed him. I had NO PROBLEM keeping up with a “crotch-rocket”. On any curves that we took a little too fast, all I had to do with twist the throttle the opposite direction and scrub a little speed with the regenerative braking – no down-shifting (or shifting at all!) I could clearly smell the other cycle’s combustion exhaust and how much louder it was than my cycle was obvious as well.

I rode past the biker bar (Hogg Alley), it looked like it was a bagger convention. By now, the weather had turned nice. It was a beautiful day. There were lots of motorcycles out and enough classic cars to make me wonder where the classic car show was going on. (I never did find out!)

IMG_3320I also wanted to stop by the new Kwik-Trip gas station. It’s a pretty large regional company (Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota), which has been very supportive of alternative fuels, including installing compressed natural gas fueling stations along the interstate. Some of the newer stations also have Electric Vehicle Charging. However, it is NOT Level 2! Instead, there is simply a 20-amp, GFI, 120v outlet with a sign stating ELECTRIC VEHICLE CHARGE STATION.

I have rather mixed feelings on this. On the one hand- hey free electricity! On the other, it’s only a regular wall outlet. It takes a SIGNIFICANT amount of time for most vehicles to get a useful amount of energy from an outlet like this. But again, at least the electricity is available and free. It might be really handy for somebody in an emergency situation. Also, as far as I can tell, Kwik-Trip did NOT get any tax incentives or any other reward for putting these in. They just started doing it. They also haven’t tooted their own horn over it. I’ve seen essentially ZERO green-washing – no press-releases or anything else saying “Look at us, aren’t we great for putting in these stations!”.

I zipped up to the gas station and headed over near the vacuum cleaner, where the charging outlet was. I backed in, popped the trunk, and plugged the cord into the outlet. I then headed inside for a cup of coffee (Kwik-Trip has good coffee) and a couple of quicky-mart loaves of bread. When I came back out to the cycle, I realized that it was NOT charging! I checked to make sure the plug was pushed all the way in. (It was.) I pressed the TEST and RESET buttons on the GFI. The GFI was fine. I pulled out my Kill-a-Watt and plugged that in. Nothing. No power. There was NO ELECTRICITY going to the ELECTRIC VEHICLE CHARING OUTLET! Hmmm. Seems like a design flaw there. On the other hand, I was probably the first person EVER to try charging there, so probably nobody else would have even had the chance to notice there was no power.

IMG_3322The other oddity of this charging outlet was it’s location. It’s right next to the automotive vacuum, which makes sense, because they have already have to run power to that part of the parking lot for the vacuum. However, the spot that you would park an electric vehicle at to charge ALSO has a sign proclaiming RESERVED PARKING VACUUM CUSTOMERS ONLY. Sounds like some mixed signals being sent here. Perhaps you can only charge your EV if you clean it as well!

I let one of the store employees know that the outlet wasn’t working and then headed back home.

On this trip, I noticed a few things. For starters, I was watching the volt meter pretty closely, but the farther I rode, the less I paid attention to it. Range anxiety goes away once you realize how SLOWLY the battery is being used. I also noticed that I could easily catch up with cars, and it’s easy to speed. In the States, we use Miles Per Hour, but the speedometer on the Vectrix has Kilometers Per Hour dominating in bold white lettering. MPH is in much smaller and in a hard-to-read red color on the interior of the dial.

I also realized that riding an electric motorcycle makes me feel like a super-hero. (You HAVE seen AVENGERS 2, right?) Just twist the throttle and ZIIIIIIINNNNNNNGGGGGGGGG! Super-powers! Off you go. My yellow riding jacket and Open Revolt t-shirt even feel like a bit of a costume. I may only be a junk-yard Tony Stark, but perhaps that means I can be “Scrap Iron Man”?

At the start of my ride, the battery pack voltage was at 146 volts. At the end, it was at 140V. I figure that the useful voltage range on my setup is between 146 and 133 volts. So, I used about 46% of the battery pack. The trip distance was 43.1 miles. 43.1/.46=93.7

IMG_3328Over a 90 mile range! Can that be right? I have no idea. It sounds high, but even if I’m off by a third, a 60 mile range is still WAY more than I need. Of course, how many amps are being pulled effects range as well. I did about half this trip at maximum speed and half in mixed riding. I think it was a pretty fair approximation of “real-world” riding.

I parked the Vectrix in my garage and did NOT plug it in to recharge. That way, I can just keep riding and see what my real range on a single charge is, even if I can’t do it all in one trip.

Stay tuned, subscribe, or check out my YouTube channel for all the latest on this project.

Keep Charged Up!


PS: I did another 20 miles on the bike today, bringing the total this charge to 67.6 miles. My best guess is that I still have about 10% more capacity in the range of the battery I want to use, which would bring real-world single charge distance to about 75 miles.

PPS: On my next charge, I did 91 miles, and used 6.42KWH to recharge.


What Elon Musk got Wrong

by Ben N on May 1, 2015

Now I happen to be a pretty big fan of Tesla Motors. They’ve done more work than anyone to show just how cool Electric Vehicles can be.

So, when the video premiere was released of Elon Musk revealing the new POWER-WALL, I was pretty excited. That is, until the end of the video….

Near the beginning of the presentation, Musk shows a chart of atmospheric CO2, with the classic “hockey stick” projection of exponential growth now and into the future. Of course, this is NOT what we want. The presentation then shows how renewable energy, combined with home battery technology (Tesla’s new product…) can get us off fossil fuels and stop the increase in CO2.

However, the last slide of the presentation shows exactly that – a flat line in CO2 production in the not-so-distant future. However, even in that prediction, CO2 is still going up in the near term. CO2 levels are ALREADY TOO HIGH. We need to get them DOWN! It’s generally thought that we need to be around 350 parts per million for long-term climate stability, whereas we are already above 400ppm.

So, Elon Musk got it wrong.



Not to be one of the neigh-sayers here. There are some folks out there who drive me a bit crazy, saying that nothing is ever good enough. “Why bother driving an electric car, you are just burning coal that way?”

Nope. I’m not going to be one of them. I love the work Telsa Motors has done, and I’m pretty sure Musk is now up there with Edison. (Not technically a genius, but an AMAZING business person who can assemble an incredible team to change the world.)

We NEED big corporations to be able to make technology that’s affordable and “off-the-shelf” that everyone will want to use. But we also need EVERYBODY doing something. Seriously – every solar panel that goes up, and every lightbulb you turn off when you leave the room helps.

So, yes, Thank you Tesla and Mr. Musk for the work bringing home battery systems to the masses, but let’s ALL get out there, plant a tree, conserve some energy, and save the world.

For some more ideas on DIY home energy use, check out the Poor-Man’s Smart Grid and the Solar-Powered Swing-Set.

Stay charged up!


PS: A PowerWall is likely the quickest way I will every have a Tesla in my garage! In the mean time, I’ll just have to settle for my 400-watt swing-set. Look for posts this summer about my Solar-Powered Garage!





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LEAF Batteries are in the Vectrix!

by Ben N on April 20, 2015

IMG_3018Well, this past Saturday was a big day for the Vectrix upgrade project!

I got the battery in and the Vectrix IS NOW RUNNING ON NISSAN LEAF CELLS!

In my last video, I showed you how I got the battery together – 18 LEAF cell modules sandwiched together with spacers and threaded rod. This time, I installed an ammeter shunt, wired up the pack, got the batteries actually INSIDE the cycle, connected power, hooked up a Cycle Analyst, and got all the covers and trim back together.

To start with, the Cycle Analyst bike computer that I purchased uses a shunt, which needs to go on the negative end of the battery pack. I had some scrap fiberglass angle material and decided that it would be good to mount the ammeter to. I measured the fiberglass, then cut it and drilled a hole so that it would be mounted to the top two threaded rods of the battery pack.

IMG_2988 IMG_2989Next, I mounted the ammeter shunt to the fiberglass angle  with a pair of 1/4-20 bolts. To electrically connect pack negative to the shunt, I repurposed one of the original Nissan LEAF pack bus bars. I removed the orange protective cover, bent the bar to shape, drilled a hole in it to match the shunt, and added a section of heat-shrink tubing. Then I connected the bus bar from pack negative to the shunt, and tightened down both bolts.

IMG_2991On the positive end of the pack, I planned to reuse one of the LEAF pack main power cables. I also needed to attach a very small wire to the positive end to power the Cycle Analyst. I noticed that the original Vectrix NiMH battery pack used the same size bolts as the LEAF cells, and that a few of the terminal bolts were tapped for tiny screws that mounted the temperature sensors. I removed one of those bolts and used it to attach the cable to the LEAF pack. The tiny screw in the head of the bolt will later be the power connection for the bike computer.

IMG_2995I was also trying to decide if I wanted anything between the cells and the bare frame of the scooter. I had some fancy “Tool Box Anti-Slip Material” and cut some out to fit the bottom of the box. I also cut a piece to go in the far front of the battery box and held it in place with some 3M Super 77 spray adhesive.

That was about the time that my new friend, Nick, showed up. Nick also has a Vectrix, the same make/model/year/color as mine. Essentially, he has THE EXACT SAME BIKE. He purchased 18 of my LEAF modules from the pack and is planning on doing the exact same upgrade I am. By showing up and lending me a hand, he’s also learning how to do this on his own cycle.

IMG_2998With an extra set of hands there, it was time to put the battery in the bike. We hooked the lifting strap on to the battery, connected that to the chain hoist, and started lifting. With the cycle centered under the hoist, we got the battery right where we needed it, and then lowered it back down, making sure that the pack was ALL THE WAY FORWARD in the compartment, and not letting the extra bit of threaded rod hit on the motor controller or anything else.

There’s only a very small gap on either side between the battery and the frame. I took an old political sign (corrugated plastic) and cut a pair of one-foot by one-foot pieces to slide in on either side of the battery.

After that, we ran the positive cable along the metal bracket that was on the top edge of the battery, and zip-tied it down. I even happened to have “High Voltage” Orange zip-ties! We connected the black negative cable from the motor controller to the other side of the ammeter shunt and tightened it down as well.

The next big moment is “Pre-Charging” before making the final connection to the pack, in this case the positive cable. I had a 100 watt / 120V lightbulb which I used to complete the circuit BEFORE connecting the positive cables. This lets the capacitors in the motor controller fill more slowly than they otherwise would, preventing a blown fuse or worse. After that, it was just a matter of tightening the connections, making sure they were insulated, and then protecting them from physical vibration (which mostly consisted of zip-tying things in place….)

To wire the Cycle Analyst, I threaded the cord through the glove-box hinge, through a frame grommet hole, and into the battery compartment. The Black and White wires connect to one side of the shunt, and the Blue wire to the other side. That only left the Red wire, which had to be all the way in the FRONT of the battery box. I stripped out the red wire, only to find that there was also a yellow and green wire cut off and hidden inside. Pulling on one of those wires was an easy way to split open the cable sheathing. I had another cord which was two conductors. I stripped both ends of both conductors of that cord. I then crimped the red bike computer wire to that cord, and then a very small ring terminal to the same end of the other conductor. That way, I could add a switch to the opposite end of the cord to turn the Cycle Analyst on and off. I screwed down the small ring terminal to the positive end of the battery pack on the fancy little temperature sensor screw on the + terminal. Both the Cycle Analyst and its power switch are temporarily going in the glove box until I decide where I want to permanently mount them.

After that, it’s just the less exciting process of reinstalling the battery cover, trunk switch, trunk release plate, trim cover, and seat. I DID remove the fans from the underside of the battery box cover. The LEAF cells do NOT heat up the way the original Vectrix NiMH cells did, and the upgraded charger software actually disregards the fans and the temperature sensors.

The project still isn’t done. Items of note that still need work are upgrading the main fuse from a 125A to 200 amp and connecting the BMS wire harness to some sort of connection that I can use to hook up a balance charger. Neither of those had to be finished this weekend, and were’t stopping me from going for a spin around the block. I hopped on the scooter and took it for a very mild ride around the neighborhood. Everything seemed to work fine. The Cycle Analyst was on and working, even though it’s temporarily stuffed in the glove box and still needs calibrating.

After the ride, I plugged the cycle in to charge and was AMAZED as how much quieter it is without those two  large fans under the seat.

That’s it for now! There’s a local Clean Transportation event tomorrow that I wanted to have the cycle ready for, and I’m feeling pretty pleased to have met that goal. You can still look forward to more on this project as I figure out how to balance charge the cycle, mount up the Cycle Analyst, and eventually put a new fuse in there.

Til next time, stay charged up!
-Ben N


The next step in the Vectrix battery upgrade with the Nissan LEAF cell modules is to figure out how to hold them together in the motorcycle.

Since I started off with an entire Nissan LEAF battery pack, I had a few of the components that originally held the modules together inside the pack. That included the threaded rods, nuts and bolts, and flat steel plates the cells mounted to. I was hoping to reuse as much of these materials as I could; not only does it save money, but it’s less materials to go out to the scrap bin as well.

IMG_2949To start with, I cut one of the bottom plates from the battery pack down to just one cell module wide. These plates originally held four stacks of cells on either side of the battery pack. A cut-off wheel in an angle grinder zipped through the steel pretty easily. The plate already has threaded holes in it – 6mm – for the long bolts originally used. The rear section of the battery pack had a set of long threaded rods (also 6mm) but the threads were only on the ends. If I cut the rods short, for my 18 module battery pack, the threads would be gone on one end or the other. Also, I don’t have any equipment for machining threads on to rod. In addition, metric parts in the United States are still oddly expensive at any local hardware store. Threaded rod measured in fractions of an inch is cheap, but in mm it’s pretty pricey, and that’s only if you can find it.

IMG_2957Interestingly enough, quarter-inch is just a hair larger than 6mm when it comes to threaded holes. And since I DID already have a 1/4″-20 tap, all I needed to do is just tap RIGHT THROUGH the existing 6mm holes – no other drilling or machining needed at all. Once I tapped out the four holes in the plate, I could thread cheap 1/4-20 threaded rod in place. Since the finished battery itself will be 24 inches long, I cut the threaded rod to 25.5 inches to allow for the end plates, the nuts and washers, and some room to get all the cell modules in place before compressing them. Again, an angle grinder with a cut-off wheel works great for cutting metal, including the threaded rod.

I had also ordered a Cycle Analyst, which just recently arrived by mail. I opened it to take a look and it’s pretty straight-forward. The main two things I need to decide are where I want to mount the display itself, and how I want to mount the ammeter shunt on the negative end of the battery pack.

Once my basic plate-and-threaded-rod was together, I could start stacking the cell modules onto the framework. I had already done sort of a mock-up, loosely assembling the cells with the original smooth rods, making sure I had enough spacers, and that I had the cells in the right order. There are “Right-Handed” and “Left-Handed” modules. The polarity is opposite between the two and I needed to make sure that they alternated so that the bus-bars and electric connections would all correctly place the cells in series.

After assembling the cells, I made sure they were all straight and square (I used a nice large old carpenter’s square to check this) and then tightened down nuts on the back end until the pack was back to the original 24 inches. Before I originally disassembled the LEAF pack, I counted how much space was taken up by 18 modules all squeezed together, and it came to exactly 24 inches. I figure that by now recompressing 18 of them to 24 inches, that the cells are held together nice and solidly in the exact same way as they were in the LEAF.

Once the modules were together, I put the bus bars with their orange plastic insulators on top, snapped them in place, and installed the terminal bolts and the center tap screws. Oddly, I accidentally broke a bit of the orange plastic while installing the terminal bolts. Right after I did it, I realized that the first bolt I put in spun the whole bus bar clockwise, which was to the OUTSIDE of the plastic, where it hit and broke the relatively brittle insulator. On the rest of the terminals I installed the bolt on the end of the bus bar where if it did spin, it would push the bar to the INSIDE where there was considerably more material to resist any breaking. Of course, it was only just that one bus bar that moved at all. The orange plastic covers still snapped over all the terminals just fine when all was said and done.

So, what’s next?
I need to figure out where the ammeter shunt for the Cycle Analyst will go. It needs to be on the negative end of the battery pack. Part of the reason I designed the pack with + to the front and – to the back was knowing this and that I would have a little space at the back, but not the front. I also allowed a little extra threaded rod with the idea that maybe I can mount the shunt right on the rod going through the battery pack. That should hold it in place well, and it will be in a convenient location between the battery and motor controller.

I’m also hoping that my new friend, Nick, can stop over this weekend and lend a hand. With him and the chain hoist, it should be pretty easy to put the entire pack at once into the cycle.

‘Til next time, stay charged up,


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