2 Days to go.

by Ben N on August 31, 2015

I managed to get some more work on the cycle today!

After finally finishing off the last few pieces of aluminum, I built a wood framework around the trunk, based on the coroplast piece I had already cut. I was using a very light-weight plywood. It’s sturdy enough to be a shelf, without adding much weight. I also like that it’s a light color. One thing I’ve always found to be true is to make the inside of dark things a LIGHT color. Finding something in the bottom of a black bag in the dark is always trouble. Light colors are good for interiors!

IMG_5027Next, I set to work building the hatch for the cargo compartment. This is a door that goes over the opening in the fiberglass backrest. I made a template from some scrap coroplast, trimming it to fit, shaping it, and finally copying it to some 1/2″ plywood. I installed a pair of flat hinges at the bottom to connect the door to the frame.

To install the lock, I drilled a 3/4″ hole near the top. A retaining ring goes on the back, then the tumbler slips in, a big nut on the back, the lever, and tighten it all with a screw. I can open and close the hatch with just the key, and use it as the “handle” as well. I stuck some thin closed-cell foam weatherstripping around the edge to seal the hatch. It also makes the hatch and lock close firmly, instead of rattling!

Next, it was finally time for the coroplast!
I only had one full-sized sheet, which would have to cover BOTH sides of the motorcycle. The framework is about 5 feet long at the bottom and 3 feet at the top. I figured that as long as I cut the 8 foot long plastic at the right angle, I would be alright. Sure enough, I managed to measure twice and cut once, and ended up with two perfect pieces.

IMG_5036I clamped the half-sheet to the left side of the bike and looked to see how it would lay out. Basically, I stabbed holes with an awl through the plastic into the holes I had already drilled in the aluminum framework. I did the ones on the top first, then worked my way down. After I did that, I trimmed the excess plastic on the bottom. There was enough sticking up on the top that I decided to simply fold it over, instead of cutting it off. I figured that that tied the sides in to the top, further reinforcing the structure.

Once I was all done, I basically did the same on the right-hand side.

One bit of trickery I still had to deal with was mounting the rear turn signals. They are an odd curved shape, specifically designed to match the curved rear end of the scooter. Instead, I wanted to move them up high and attach them to a boxy structure. I finally decided that the best way to attach them would be to drill a hole through the steel bracket they were already on, and then bolt that to the aluminum angle that the brake light was attached to.

IMG_5047I drilled a hole through the bracket. As I was lifting the turn signal up to position, it slipped out of my hand. CRACK. The light bounced off the pavement. As I picked it up, I could hear the terrible rattle of something broken. On closer inspection, there was only a small crack in the corner, but the diffuser over the LED itself had come loose. I would have to take apart the entire light to fix it.

IMG_5048I set down and dug around for a way to fix it. After fiddling with a flat-blade screwdriver for five minutes, I managed to pry the lens off the rest of light without otherwise damaging it. Inside, I simply snapped the LED diffuser back in place, right on the circuit board. The crack didn’t look bad. It should be fine if I leave it alone. Luckily, I happened to have some RTV sealant handy, so I applied that before putting the light back together.

As I was bolting the turn signal to the frame of the bike, my neighbor across the street, Greg, stopped by. He was out mowing his lawn, and his curiosity wouldn’t let him stand it any longer. I explained about the bike, the battery pack size, why I was building this weird tail on the cycle, and about the LOOP THE LAKE trip.

He told me about his fairly recent motorcycle trip, taking the ferry across Lake Michigan and then heading north, including crossing the Mackinac Bridge.

“I bet it gets windy on the bridge sometimes,” I mentioned.

“Oh, they close it if it’s too windy!” replied Greg.

Yipes. I already have people asking me how the bike will handle with a cross-wind. Now, that might not even be an issue, an ENTIRE BRIDGE could be closed. Oh well, there’s always the ferry.

IMG_5053While chatting with Greg, I plugged in the turn signals, then flipped the bike on to check them. The right signal glowed – constantly – Oh no. It really WAS broke! After checking all the wiring again, I realized that I had mistakenly plugged the license plate light cable into the turn signal connection. While the brake light uses a completely different connector, the turn and plate light use identical connections. After swapping for the right wires, the turn signal worked as intended.

Greg went back to mowing his lawn, and I continued working, installing the left turn signal light. I also bolted in another small piece of angle aluminum which should help keep the turn signals from vibrating. I tested the lights and they all work. With the license plate back in place, technically, I think the cycle is finally street legal once more!

I put the piece of coroplast on TOP of the cycle and popped in the plastic fasteners. After that, I taped some joints with cut pieces of self-adhesive vinyl. It should be pretty waterproof now, although after I did it, I noticed how the shiny black vinyl looks like garbage bags. I do not want a cycle that looks like it’s held together by garbage bags!

IMG_5060Other than an unusually high amount of self-inflicted damage, it was a pretty good day. Yes, I was wearing mechanic’s gloves. NO, they don’t stop crushing injuries or spinning drill-bits…. ‘Nuff said.

IMG_5065Only two more days to go. I still have lots of things to do, including packing, seeing my little girl off to her first day (ever) of school, and dealing with more red-tape from the county to get my garage rebuilt. But, the big things on the bike are done. Except for the seat. I don’t actually have a place to sit yet. I suppose that if I want to ride 1,000 miles on an electric motorcycle, the battery box should at least have a little padding.

Like I said…. details.

Stay charged up!





4 Days to Go…

by Ben N on August 29, 2015

IMG_4996It’s only four days to go before leaving on the Loop the Lake tour, and I still have WAY too much to do!

After two very full days of some unexpected work I had to do, I got a chance to continue working on the cycle.

To start with, I picked up a lock from the hardware store. This is just a simple style like what might be on a desk drawer – a simple tumbler that turns a metal finger. Part of the design of the cycle is that the opening in the back-rest/bulkhead acts as a door to the storage compartment. I’d like to keep my gear somewhat secure while I’m away from the bike. Having a LOCKABLE compartment is pretty nice.

I installed the lock in my test piece of 1/2″ plywood, and sure enough, learned that I always need to do something wrong the first time, so I can do it RIGHT when I do it for real. In this case, I found out that the retaining ring that gets pounded into the wood has an orientation to it. It has to be aligned so that the lock points straight up when locked.

IMG_4981I also had a concern about keeping my smart phone charged on the trip. I’ve been running it in GPS mode, which is important because I keep traveling down roads I’ve never been down before. However, running the GPS all day is really hard on the battery. Unfortunately, the 12V power plug on the cycle has never worked. I looked at it and still couldn’t find out what the problem is. Even then, it was only ever designed for 500 milliamps.

The Cycle Analyst has a spare output on it for power. This is whatever the pack voltage is, limited by a fuse to 500 mA. However, half an amp at 150V is still 75 watts! That’s a LOT of power for a phone! The output is a barrel connector. I purchased a matching female connector and then wired it to the female end of an old two-prong extension cord. That way, I end up getting 150vDC out of an AC-style power connection. The first thing a modern cell phone charger does is converts AC power to DC power. If it happens to be getting DC power at an appropriate voltage in the first place, it’s just skipping a step and doesn’t care!

IMG_4984Once I had the pig-tail adapter all soldered and heat-shrinked, I tested it with my multimeter for continuity and then plugged in and tested for voltage. Everything looked good. I plugged in my iPhone charger, the power cord, and lastly, (cross my fingers) the iPhone itself. Bloop! The phone chimed in with a confident “Now Charging” chirp. Works great! In fact, I should be able to use an iPad charger (rated for 2 amps) and USB splitter to charge the iPhone and a GoPro or two at the same time.

I also mounted up the speedometer sensor for the Cycle Analyst, although I haven’t had a chance to road test it yet. That should send speed and distance information to the cycle computer, and let me track range and watt-hours-per-mile efficiency.

After working on the lock and electric systems, I continued building my aluminum aero/cargo tail. I still had some additional pieces of cross-bracing to add. Next, I worked on cutting a piece of light plywood for the recycling bin to fit into. That gives me some “drop-down” storage to work with. I’ve seen trash cans used as panniers on bicycles and as vertical storage on teardrop camping trailers. Plastic bins are also simple, durable, and weather-proof. This bin is big enough for my tent, tools, and some of the other gear I will be traveling with.

IMG_4993_turnedIn further discouragement, yet ONE MORE power drill died on me. This was the “It’s old but works fine” drill that I got from my Dad. Fortunately, this one was easy to take apart. The brushes are almost shot and the armature was very black and dirty. I cleaned the brushes, pulled them out a little further with a pick, ran some extra-fine grain sand-paper over the armature, and put it all back together. After that, it worked again.

I also got the tail light properly installed. The wire harness just exactly reaches, and I had room to mount the license plate just behind it. Essentially, I moved the entire back end of the cycle up to behind the headrest. Standing back a distance, it all seems very visible, and may even be an improvement over the stock cycle.

IMG_5006To attach the corrugated plastic cover to the frame, I was planning on using plastic automotive interior body panel fasteners. These are little “Christmas Trees” with a big head. Just push them through a hole, and they stay. At my local auto parts store, a box of 5 was three and a half dollars! What!? Pretty pricy for some little bits of plastic. I immediately ran home to see what they would cost in bulk, mail ordered. From a certain online retailer, it was $4.99, including 2-day shipping for a box of 100. Needless to say, I placed an order. That was two days ago. In my mailbox today – perfect timing – were my fasteners.

These fasteners are designed for a 1/4-inch hole. Perfect, as I was using 1/4-20 screws for assembling the aluminum. I could now install these fasteners without even having to switch out drill bits! I used them on a few test pieces and then to install the wood around the recycling bin and also some coroplast for the very bottom of the bike.

IMG_5003I’m just about ready to start covering the framework, but had a few more little things to do first. For one, will everything actually fit? I loaded up my sleeping bag, tent, duffle bag, camera bag, and tripod into the back of the bike. It looked good, everything fit! There’s a piece or two of angle that I need to replace with flat stock to make the coroplast fit well. Other than that, I think I’m ready to skin the frame.

I also got to talk on the phone with my friend, Ryland, who is planning on meeting me for a section of the trip up to Green Bay, WI. We are working on the details, as he’s from further west in the state, and the charger on his cycle isn’t as fast as the THREE I have installed on mine, so we are figuring out the best way to ride together for a section of the trip. If anyone is available on Friday, September 4th to give a friend a ride from Green Bay to Two Rivers, WI, please let us know!

One more day down, and not too many more to go.

‘Til next time, stay charged-up!

{ 1 comment }

Progress and Setbacks

by Ben N on August 27, 2015

It’s only one week until I leave for the LOOP THE LAKE trip. Am I ready yet? Well…..

IMG_4949I HAVE made some good advances on my aero/cargo tail. After seeing how much gear I needed to bring with me, I decided that I really needed something better than a passenger seat to carry it all. I already had some long-term plans for aerodynamics improvements for entering next year’s Craig Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge. So, I started building the tail.

The framework is built from aluminum – mostly angle, 1/8″ for the main pieces and 1/16th for the secondary pieces. The aluminum bolts to the bottom of the battery box, the fiberglass backrest/bulkhead, across the trunk (original grab-bar front mounting point) and across the very back end of the cycle (rear grab-bar mounting point.) Mostly, this involved me making a lot of cuts with my 4.5″ angle grinder and drilling holes with a 1/4″ bit.

Which leads to the frustrations…
I’m on a bit of a time crunch now, and I’m just working on the project as much as I can. I was FINALLY in the groove, cruising right along building the tail when – bzzzzt – my cordless drill stopped working. Huh? Try again. Nope, not working. Wait, it spun a tiny bit, for a moment. OK, try the battery on another tool. Hmmm. That one works fine. It’s probably the switch on the drill that’s the problem. If not, then the brushes. Either way, it’s a fair amount of work to take apart, examine, troubleshoot, and repair. Time I didn’t have.

IMG_4955That’s fine. I’ll just use my good old reliable corded drill. Bzzzzzt. What!?!?! Wait! The exact same thing just happened on my corded drill!?! Awwww come on!!!

Now, I’m standing in my driveway with about another 100 holes to drill, and no power drill to do it. Sigh.

I called my Dad. Fortunately, he was home and said he had an old, but perfectly good corded drill I could have. After a trip to my parents’ and back, I was in my driveway again, borrowed drill in hand, and making more holes.

I’ve pretty much just kept adding more triangle to the tail until it didn’t seem to flex anymore. A rectangle with an X inside it seems like a nice and simple way to build the box and include cross-bracing. When the frame is finished, I’ll cover it with a weather-proof material.

IMG_4971Except that I didn’t really have any material yet. So, it was time for another road trip. I called Midland Plastics several times, but never got an answer in their retail store. (A friend of mine later said that they are always really busy there.) Instead, I just drove there. Midland is a plastics distributor where you can get pretty much any kind of plastic material you want – ABS, PLA, Syrene, rod, sheet, whatever. They also sell retail and most of what’s in their storefront is scrap pieces from their custom cutting. I asked for 4×8″ sheets of corrugated plastic. Those go for about $15 each. (At Home Depot, they had some, sold as sign material, for more than $10 for a 30″x32″!) In the “drops” bin, I saw a number of sheets of black coroplast, about 2′x3′. It was selling for a dollar a pound. I grabbed a pile of the smaller sheets, ordered a 4×8, paid, loaded it all in my pickup and headed home.

The other thing slowing down working on the cycle is that I had an unexpected work project come up. It’s three solid days (very long days, including the weekend) of work that I was NOT expecting. For a while there, it was also going to be a last minute half-day as well, which then cancelled the moment I put away the project, all my tools, and got cleaned up!

That brings my 7 days of prep time before the trip down to 4. And one of those days is going to be my little girl’s first day of school, which I don’t want to miss.

In other good news, the wire harness IS long enough for me to mount the tail light ABOVE the tail. This is the high-visibility “Third Brake Light” position. It will be a little tight for getting the turn signals in, but I think I should be able to mount them appropriately. The license plate will most likely go right on the end of the tail.

I was also able to borrow an extremely small tent, which is good because it packs up so small, and a sleeping bag that is warmer than the one I own. Last time I camped near Lake Michigan, it was freezing rain all night!

I still have to skin the tail, build a lockable door for it, remount the chargers, build a seat (I removed the original one to fit the backrest!) add a 12V/5V out for running my phone and GoPro’s, AND work out all the details for meeting up with everyone on the trip.

Whew! Is that all? I know I’ll still have to pack, buy some food, and other general trip planning. Guess it’s time for me to get back to work!

Stay charged up,



Loop The Lake Official Route and Timeline!

by Ben N on August 18, 2015


First official route map

It’s official, I have a route.

After a number of range tests, I’ve decided that 150 miles per day is what is going to work for this trip. The longest I’ve traveled on the Vectrix so far on a single continuous charge is 75 miles. Traveling at faster speeds, about 60 miles is what might be expected for my range. With this in consideration, I turned to an internet map, and a couple of EV planning tools, including PlugShare and RVParky. (While RVParky is a campground map, it’s a great ALTERNATIVE way to locate electricity!)

The general plan is to be able to charge the cycle at LEAST once per day. More likely than that is one and a half or two times. PlugShare is a map app which shows where EV charging stations are, including ones that businesses and even private home-owners volunteer to share. Looking on PlugShare, there’s great stretches of this route where charging points are 30 to 50 miles apart. That’s almost perfect. I can go from one to the next, charge while eating lunch or exploring the area, and then continue on my trip.

However, once you get away from the cities, particularly rural Wisconsin and the Michigan Upper Peninsula, EV charge stations get to be few and far between. Too far. Fortunately, there’s also camp-grounds and RV Parks! A little mapping of the far north end of Lake Michigan shows me that even up there I’ll be able to charge and continue my ride, although at some points I’m sure I will wish I would have just a little more juice!

The other day, I went 150 miles on the Vectrix. What I realized at that point is that I don’t WANT to do any more miles than that in a day. If I tried, I would only have to ride much FASTER (which means using higher speed limit, busier, straighter roads) AND I would also need to spend MORE time charging. Add that up and it would also mean very LONG days and take all the fun out of it. No, sir, 150 miles in a day will be plenty. That also means I’ll be able to travel over 1,110 miles in one week. (Actually 8 days, when you count that I would leave first thing in the morning, and return last thing at night…)

I can handle a one-week road trip. Should anything happen (flat tire, etc.) that sets me back, needing to extent the trip by a day or two won’t be the end of the world.

I live about 35 miles WEST of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The plan is to travel to Milwaukee, point north, and then keep making right hand turns for the next 1,000 miles or so. OK, it’s a little more complicated than that. The route will zig-zag just a little as there are some specific people I want to meet up with on the way. A big part of the route is determined simply by where there are EV charging stations or campgrounds with electricity so I can always keep the cycle charged up.

The plan for now is to leave on the morning of Thursday, September 3rd, and return on the evening of Thursday, September the 10th.

Day 1 – Sept. 3 – From Oconomowoc, WI to Two Rivers, WI
Day 2 - Sept. 4 – Two Rivers, WI to Escanaba, MI (Possibly joined by another EV motorcycle on this leg of the trip)
Day 3 – Sept. 5 – Escanaba, MI to St. Ignace, MI
Day 4 – Sept 6 – Cross the Mackinaw Bridge to lower Michigan, to Traverse City, MI
Day 5 – Sept 7 – Traverse City, MI to Muskegon, MI
Day 6 – Sept 8 – Meet up with other electric motorcycle riders in the area and ride to Holland, MI. Continue riding to Either New Buffalo or Benton Harbor.
Day 7 - Sept 9 – Travel from last stop, through Indiana, into Illinois and to western Chicago suburbs.
Day 8 - Sept 10 – Western Chicago, Il to Milwaukee, WI and back home to Oconomowoc, WI.

Of course, all this is subject to change the moment I get a flat tire, find a non-working EVSE, or melt some wiring!

Also, there is NO WAY I have enough cargo space to bring with a tent, sleeping bag, clothes, and video camera. All that gear gets bulky fast and I’ll need to protect it from the weather and keep it from getting carried off while the cycle is parked unattended and charging. Earlier this summer, I got a chance to participate in a Craig Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge. Although I couldn’t even finish the first half of the race, I learned plenty and got a great look at what some other people were doing, modifying their cycles.

I also purchased several fiberglass components from Craig himself. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to build a full-blown streamliner before the trip. However, since I need the cargo space anyways an AERODYNAMIC tail may make sense. It could improve the fuel economy AND give me a space to store my gear out of the rain! It would also be a great place for Sponsorship graphics. (No, really, feel free to sponsor me… Click here.)

To add an Aer0-storage tail, I’ll have to remove the back end of the Vectrix, including the trunk, lights, and rear fenders. I would then build a storage tray (from aluminum?) support it with aluminum angle, and then inclose the whole thing with either coroplast or “milk-paper”. I had half of an old political sign handy, so I started mocking up roughly what this would look like.
The fiberglass “back-rest” form-fits around the rider, and then other material (coroplast, etc.) will draw the air back to a point behind the cycle. The hole in the middle of the back-rest can be filled in with plywood to make a lockable door to the storage compartment.

What will it take to ACTUALLY build this on the bike? I don’t know, I’ve never done it, but Craig Vetter has a very nice LONG thread all about it.

Remember, you can keep up to date on the project, right here at 300MPG.org. Look for a few YouTube videos when I work on the aero-storage tail in this coming week. (Heck, why not subscribe while you are there!)

In other news, I need to remember to pack my rain jacket and order myself some rain pants. I got caught in the rain the other day by a rogue micro-thunderstorm. It poured just long enough to really soak me for the day. It’s no fun riding soggy! Lesson learned – bring rain gear and spare dry clothes!

If you have a favorite restaurant, know of other hidden gems or roadside oddities along this route, please let me know about them!

‘Til next time, stay charged up!


PS: The map is close, but no dead-on to the route I will follow. Google maps only lets you manipulate a map with so many steps to it. But it’s pretty close to the route I’m taking.

PPS: If you have an electric motorcycle, Tesla, DIY crazy vehicle and to ride with me on this trip, please let me know! I’m also accepting invitations for couches to crash on….



Please help support LOOP THE LAKE!

by Ben N on August 14, 2015

LOOP THE LAKE is a do it yourself road rally, to take place in the first half of September, 2015, where electric motorcycles will travel over 1,000 miles circumnavigating Lake Michigan, without using a single drop of gasoline.

Rider and film-maker Ben Nelson will be making the complete journey, joined in sections by other riders, and shoot a documentary film about the trip, including interviews with some of the most interesting and creative people on both sides of the “Third Coast”, building clean transportation projects and finding out what motivates them to do so.

The route of the trip will roughly follow the coast of Lake Michigan, traveling clockwise, hitting public electric vehicle charging stations, camp-grounds, and major cities. If you know of a great place to stop, something interesting like a Hackerspace or unusual attraction, please let us know!

You can help by donating to the project! Donations will help directly make the project happen by helping pay for food and lodging, motorcycle gear and upgrades, camera rentals and blank media. The more money raised, the better the documentary. With no funds, you will see lots of GoPro footage of Ben eating Ramen Noodles by the side of the road. With major funds raised, we’ll have some great interviews, might be able to get some rest by staying in a hotel for a change, or even hire a cameraman or quadcopter operator for a day or two!

Donations can be made through GoFundMe at: http://www.gofundme.com/loopthelake
Alternatively, you can also donate with Paypal here at the 300MPG.org donation page.

Stay up to date by subscribing to my YouTube channel, visiting the LOOP THE LAKE page right here at 300MPG, or our community page on Facebook!