Vectrix: Maiden Voyage

by Ben N on March 2, 2015

Today was the maiden voyage on the Vectrix electric motorcycle. (Click the video above to see!)

I put on my long underwear, grabbed my best thick gloves, and headed over to where I’ve been working on the cycle. I powered it up and took it down to the road to get ready for the first ride.

IMG_2323The cycle booted right up, and I noted that the battery meter was all the way to the top (the first time I have ever seen that) and I was given a 45 mile estimated range. The odometer was at 1006 miles.

I twisted the throttle and Vectrix took off – VVVVRRRRRRRRRRRR! The combination of electric motor and planetary gearing gives a unique sound. To me, it certainly sounded loud, but I’ve never ridden another Vectrix to have anything to compare it to!

The Vectrix feels great. The seat is big and comfy, with the passenger section of the seat snugging right up to the small of my back. The heavy battery gives a low center of gravity and it always felt nicely balanced. It feels like a large vehicle when compared to my Kawasaki KZ440 EV.

IMG_2325The regenerative braking works great. It’s a manually controlled, by rolling the throttle in the reverse direction, and variable – the further you twist the throttle, the more the braking effect. (It also throws on the brake light.) If the Vectrix is at a stop, you can use the same backwards twist to activate reverse – a handy feature for quick Y-turns or parking.

I topped off the tire air pressure at the cabinet shop down the street. The business is run by a friend of mine, and my dad owns the building. Both of them were there, so I got to show off the cycle a bit.

I was testing the cycle on a side street, which dead-ends. There is almost no traffic there, but in the cold of winter, many side-streets buckle, making some nasty bumpy bits, not fun for cycles. Still, I zipped up and down the road a few times, including one time driving as fast as I was comfortable on those road conditions. Lets just say the Vectrix definitely has a higher top speed than the Kawasaki!

I also found out that if you leave the turn signal on, after a minute, the cycle starts beeping at you… with the horn. For a moment, I feared that it was some sort of low battery warning, but then I realized the turn signal was on and when I stopped it the horn beep stopped as well.

IMG_2333My total test drive was 4.6 miles, and the estimated range remaining was 36 miles. So, I started with an estimated 45 miles, drove 4.6, and had 36 miles left! If those numbers hold true, then I have about half the estimated actual range. While 23 miles doesn’t sound like a big number, that might work fine for me. When I run around in the summer, doing errands, banking, a trip to the hardware store, etc, it’s commonly about a 10 mile round trip. And there’s really no way to know what the actual pack capacity is until really using it.

Keeping in mind that the entire pack was at 1.9 volts when I got it – so low it wouldn’t even turn on the LED trunk light, and that that’s what got me such a good deal buying the cycle, even 20 miles of range in the battery pack is pretty darn good. I’ll likely just use the cycle and have some fun with it whatever its limited range happens to be. In the future, nothing is stopping me from upgrading the batteries to Thunderskys or Leaf cells.

Til next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

 

 

 

end: 36, 1010.6,   3 bars missing on battery meter

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Vectrix FINALLY Works!

by Ben N on March 2, 2015

Yesterday, after filming the TRANSPORT EVOLVED episode, I headed back over to my Dad’s garage to work on the Vectrix. Unlike the day before, I had my CANBUS adapter with, so I could connect the cycle to the computer. One nice thing was that I let the cycle charge overnight, so I FINALLY had MORE than half a charge according to the battery display. Estimated range was 35 miles. (No idea how true that actually is or not, but it’s the highest estimate I have had so far!)

IMG_2303 IMG_2305With the Vectrix plugged-in to the computer, I didn’t see any faults. I used the graphing feature, and set that to display anything with “fault” as part of the description, and still didn’t see any faults. Next, I set the graph to just show throttle, motor controller voltage, and motor controller current. I could see a correlation between throttle and current, but only the tiniest amount of current. The controller was getting throttle signal, but just wasn’t pushing power through for some reason.

The problem occurred sometime between having the cycle all apart on the shop floor and being put back together. So, I reasoned that I should just take it back apart.
Sure enough, after I took it apart, the cycle worked again.

IMG_2312I still haven’t pinpointed the problem, but here’s what I THINK it was. There is very little room inside the bike back at the motor controller. Something as simple as one cable crossing another can make it “too thick” and when the battery cover goes back on, it can press against the cables, possibly pulling one enough to make a back connection. Also, when torn back apart again, I realized that I had missed a spacer that holds the motor controller cover on. The cover is aluminum (a conductor), very light-weight, and rather flexible. I think that without that one spacer in there, with the battery cover back on, it may have pushed against the motor controller cover and flexed enough to contact some component coming up from the controller board, and grounded the connection.


I took out the rear battery, took off the motor controller cover and reassembled it. Is there any trick to getting and holding those spacers in there?

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Man, was that a pain!!!!!! There’s no room to work, no way to get your hand in there to hold the spacer, get the cover in the right position, and the screw through. And there’s THREE screws and spacers! I finally realized that the screw and spacer are both steel, and almost everything else is aluminum, so I put small magnets on the spacer, screw, and my screw-driver to magically hold everything together while I got the motor controller cover back on.

I put the battery back in and re-cabled it up, including using the light bulb as a resistor before making the main quick connection in the middle of the pack.

After I got the battery cover on (and it did feel like it fit better this time, although it’s never easy to get on,) I tested the cycle and it was working. Only after that did I reinstall the trunk release bracket, trim, seat, etc.

IMG_2319FINALLY, the Vectrix is working under its own power, with its original batteries inside and the whole thing put together. Of course, by the time I was done with it, it was cold, dark, and late. No time for a maiden run, and I have NO idea of the quality of the batteries, but I hope to shoot some riding video soon.

 

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Notes from TRANSPORT EVOLVED

by Ben N on March 1, 2015

In case you happened to see me on today’s TRANSPORT EVOLVED, I thought I’d share some links to projects mentioned in the broadcast.

 

Most recent work on fixing up the Vectrix electric motorcycle – LINK

Geneva Auto Show Magna Hybrid Car - http://www.autoblog.com/2015/02/26/magna-mila-plus-hybrid-concept-geneva-official/

Blog entry about my trip to Vienna - http://300mpg.org/2012/06/25/adventures-in-austria-part-1-autos-energy-austrians/

Solar Swing-Set – Direct DC charging of electric motorcycle - http://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Swing-Set-PV-Playhouse/

Solar School Bus - http://www.jsonline.com/business/101441264.html

Poor-Man’s Smart Grid - http://www.instructables.com/id/Poor-Mans-Smart-Grid-Blackout-Protection-by-UPS-/

US Air Force and Vehicle to Grid technology - http://electriccarsreport.com/2014/11/nissan-leaf-participating-v2g-project-los-angeles-air-force-base/

 

Thanks for watching! I’d write up some more, but I’m off to go do some more work on the Vectrix!

Stay Charged-Up!
-Ben

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VECTRIX – Assemble!

by Ben N on February 28, 2015

Today, I spent the afternoon putting the Vectrix electric motorcycle back together.

After originally taking it apart, manually charging the batteries, connecting them with jumper-cables, and finally getting the cycle to communicate with a computer, it was time to put it all back together.

I started by removing the jumper cables that I used as an extension to the battery pack. Always fun to remove those, being careful not to bump anything else…

Then, it was on to the two halves of the battery pack. The front pack has to go in first, along with the battery temperature sensor wires and circuit board. To lift the battery, I used a length of chain, (making sure that the plastic cover was on top of the battery and that there was no way for the chain to short circuit the cells) and attached it to the two threaded rods in the center of the battery, and screwed the nuts over the top. It’s no easy task to lift the battery – it’s about 100 lbs. and sort of an awkward move to get in into the cycle.

I fished the temperature probe wires through the frame of the cycle and plugged it in to its connector.

Getting the rear half of the battery in place is even a little trickier. It fits VERY snuggly since the other half of the pack is already in. Besides that, all the wires to the motor controller are in the back, including the main + and – wires from the controller to the battery.

IMG_2273I connected the main power wires to the + and – posts on the rear battery. The entire battery pack is arranged in such a way that the final connection is made by plugging in the quick disconnects in the middle of the pack. Officially, service technicians are supposed to make the final connection first through a “special tool”. One which I don’t have. Instead, I have a 120VAC light bulb. All the “special tool” really is is the right connectors and a resistor. I used a 100 watt light bulb, with some alligator clips to make the connection. The light bulb glowed for just a moment as the motor controller’s capacitors drew current. Once that was done, I plugged the quick disconnect together to complete the pack.

IMG_2277With the battery in and connected it was time for the main cover, which has the cooling fan built it. That covers the entire battery pack and the controller and other electronics. The big trick is to fit the back end of it UNDER the bracket that holds the trunk switch. After fiddling with  it a bit, I found that  the best way to go is to use a flat pry bar to bend that flap and pop the main cover under it.

From there on, it was a matter of installing the pile of bolts that hold the battery cover, installing the trunk release bracket bolts, and finally the seat screws.

I also dusted off the cycle. Besides the later of salt from the original ride in the bad of my truck during the first snowstorm of the season, the cycle was also now covered in sawdust from sitting in my Dad’s wood-shop.

IMG_2283I opened the man door and maneuvered  the cycle out of the shop to the driveway. It was a nice sunny winter afternoon – about 15 degrees, but blindingly bright. I booted up the cycle and all of the correct lights came on – no errors. The dash gave me an estimated 21 miles of range. That’s not nearly what the cycle was originally designed for, but seeing as how the cycle wouldn’t even turn on at all when I first got it, it’s pretty good.

However, when I twisted the throttle, nothing happened. Well, not nothing. I heard a weird noise from the back of the cycle. Sort of a cogging electronic squeal. I instead tried reverse and nothing at all happened. Sighing disappointedly, I returned to the garage and got a jack so that I could test the cycle with the rear wheel in the air.

Again, I got pretty much the same results, with the exception that reverse at least TRIED to spin the tire. Going either direction with the throttle, I got a tiny bit of movement. Do I have voltage but not the CURRENT to spin the tire? Is the encoder bad? I was able to spin the wheel just fine when everything was torn apart in the shop.

Well, back to the drawing board. If you have ever seen this problem on your Vectrix, please let me know! Otherwise, I’ll just take everything apart and see if there is anything visibly wrong with the controller card.

Til next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

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Yes we CAN! CANBUS communications

by Ben N on February 21, 2015

Yes we CAN! Not just a presidential election slogan, it’s an enthusiastic exclamation of being able to communicate with the Vectrix electric motorcycle to a laptop using the CAN-BUS system.

I finally got the two to talk. All it took was buying the correct (over-priced in my opinion…) adapter and correct drivers.

I purchased a Grid Connect USB-CAN adapter  and cable to go with it. Once I had the software loaded on my laptop, I headed over to where I’m working on the Vectrix and set up the computer. Of course I still couldn’t connect to the Vectrix right away, so I visit the V is for Voltage forum once again to figure out what the trick was. User “Kocho” had posted a link to the correct driver for the adapter. Once I downloaded and installed it, the adapter worked!

I’m now able to talk to the Vectrix, although frankly, I’m not sure all of what I’m looking at. In the Scooter Diagnostic software, I could see the pack voltage and some other information, but nothing that struck me as instantly useful. For example, I’ve heard that as the original cells go bad, they tend to heat when charging, but in the temperatures listed I didn’t see any single number that was significantly higher than any other.

I was fun to see some of the other info listed, and the charting feature looks pretty useful as well. Also, does anyone know what “VPE” means in the upper right corner of the Summary screen? I have no idea.

Stay charged up!

-Ben

 

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