Getting Bent

by Ben N on June 2, 2015

So, I MAY have just started tearing apart the Vectrix again… To get bent. Make a recumbent that is…

After my first taste of long-distance riding, I want MORE! So far, the furthest I’ve gone on one charge is 91 miles. But that’s so close to 100, that it’s just BEGGING to be broken! However, that was at “around town” speeds, and I’m fresh out of additional Nissan LEAF batteries. So, the next most logical change is AERODYNAMICS!

Aerodynamics is really about the BACK end of things, so I got started on the back of the cycle, first by removing the rear body panels.

To get the trunk off, I had to remove the plug from the charging cord, pull it through, and then wire it back on again. The wire harness for the tail light and turn signals is all zip-tied to the steel framework of the trunk. A side-cutters made quick work of getting the wire harness off. Without the trunk, there’s no place for the seat to bolt on. That’s fine, I’ll go without for now, but removing the seat also lowers ME by at least four inches! Leaning backwards, instead of sitting up, also gets my shoulders lower, more out of the wind.

Once I got the trunk off, I used the two bolts that held it on to instead hold on a 1×2″ board.

With one on either side, I could then add a cross piece and build a ladder-back chair.

If I wanted to do a real, full-blown stream-liner, one concern that I have is swapping out lighting. The headlamp is a standard 12v bulb, but the rest is dedicated 4V LED lighting. I wouldn’t easily be able to replace the tail and turn signals with more typical 12V LED lights. (The DC/DC output on the bike is pretty minimal, and it switches 4v power for the brake light and turn signals.)

One thing that I thought might be possible is to keep the stock tail and turn signals, but have them mounted at about my shoulder height.

For right now, I remounted them on a piece of wood, lower. That way, the plastic piece that I don’t want to cut off (at least for now) doesn’t poke me, and the wire harness easily reaches without modification.
As far as I can tell, this seems street legal for testing around my neighborhood. I screwed the license plate to the back of the upper cross-member.

side view first recumbent_DSC_4391

Sitting in a recumbent position, the backrest is actually really comfortable. The handlebars are a little too far away though.

After monkeying around a bit, I WAS able to figure out how to get all the trim off the handlebars and see what’s actually under there. It looks like pretty normal handlebar stuff. I think I should be able to loosen the four middle screws and tilt the handles towards me. I’m not sure if that will be enough or not. If not, replacing it with a different shape/length handlebar shouldn’t be too tough.

The wood framing is taller than it needs to be right now. However, it’s also a nice point to begin experimentally attaching tail material.

On the Craig Vetter streamliners, he bases the angle of the tail on being a right angle from this “backrest” bulkhead. I’m not sure if that will be too steep or not, but it’s something to start from.

Anyone have a bunch of political signs for aero-experimenting?

I also took it out for a ride at night. I just installed an LED headlamp. It was $34 from and features a 30 watt CREE lamp. While really bright, the low beam was either angled too low (misadjusted?) or just in the wrong place inside the reflector. The high-beam is great. It really lights up reflective street signs (and animal eyes) at a distance. I also LOVE the color. The cooler blue matches the existing front LED marker light.

IMG_3861‘Til next time, stay charged up!



1st Mini-Road Trip on the Vectrix

by Ben N on May 29, 2015


Yesterday, I clocked 72.3 miles on the Vectrix.

One of the two people that I sold the rest of the Nissan LEAF cell modules to is Nick. He lives in the greater Milwaukee, WI area, and has the same Vectrix as I do. I mean the SAME! It is also a 2007 VX-1 and it’s even red!

His was also in the same condition as mine – dead battery – turn the key and NOTHING happens. However, he purchased his NEW, whereas I got a really good deal on a dead one. So, he was even MORE motivated than me (i.e.- He already had far more money into his…) to get his Vectrix back up and running again.

Nick had already visited me a couple of times, and he was out and helping the day that I actually dropped the LEAF modules into my cycle. Nick is a hands-on guy who knows welding, fabrication, cars, and that sort of thing, but he has little experience working on EV batteries. So, coming to lend me a hand was just free training for him to learn how to do it for himself.

I got a phone call the other day from Nick saying that he had his batteries in and was all set to go. He just needed the charging software upgrade. I have the custom software and the fancy (overpriced) CAN bus to computer device that will let us talk to his Vectrix and load the software.

So, we made arrangements for me to come out with my laptop, meet with him, and load up the software. The day we chose was supposed to be great weather, and looking on the map, he was about 35 miles away. Theoretically, I could fit the laptop in the trunk of the Vectrix and ride there and back (and on one charge if I wanted to!)

So, that became the plan. However, I did want to take side-roads. The freeway is not a fun place for motorcycles – just loud and windy and lots of semi-trucks. Taking the side-roads meant it would be about and hour’s ride or so. I checked the map and also PlugShare, to see what WAS available for EV charging stations on the way. So, I decided to make a day of it. I would hit the road, but leave plenty early so that I could stop at EV charging stations on the way. If not to charge, to at least take a photo, post it to PlugShare, and continue on my way.

IMG_3667I headed out and made my first stop at a Kwik Trip convenience store. Kwik-Trip has been a big supporter of alternative fuels, with many of their stations carrying E-85 (Ethanol) and compressed natural gas. They’ve also started adding Electric Vehicle Charging Stations, which I applaud them for. However, the “chargers” are just a simple 20-amp GFI duplex 120V outlet. But the sign is nice and clearly marked. It’s certainly not Level 2 or a Quick-Charger, but they also haven’t been taking tax dollars, nor have they been using these outlets as a “Look how Green we are!” campaign. They just plain started making outlets available, specifically for EVs. I wrote a story on this a while back. Take a look at that Blog Entry. I plugged-in, then headed inside to grab a sandwich. As I did the clerk commented that I was probably the first person ever to use that outlet. I was only there about ten minutes. How much energy did I get from my charge? Probably about enough to go three miles. Not exactly a fast charge, but it might save a tow in an emergency to a Nissan LEAF driver…

Next, I headed up the hill to Waukesha County Technical College. As far as I know, they STILL don’t have any EVSE. So why did I even stop? Because I’ve charged there before AND they have several solar trackers AND a wind turbine! A while back, I was taking a night class, and it’s just close enough to my house to ride my Kawasaki there and back, although really pushing it if I couldn’t charge. I talked to some of the staff at the school and they said I could charge at the maintenance building. Its parking lot is a fenced area, but doesn’t actually have a sign saying “No Student Parking”. I was able to park there, throw an extension cord over a fence, walk around it and plug in. Not exactly convenient, but it did save me some gasoline.
(When I griped about the lack of EV charging on a forum, somebody said I should just bring solar panels and charge from those. What part of “Night-Class” did they not understand!?)

IMG_3678 IMG_3673After that, I headed over the Marshall Auto Body. The owner is a pretty neat guy. He’s a conservative in the old-school, best possible sense. He also happens to drive a Tesla P85D. Right in front of the shop are THREE chargers! A Tesla Charger, a Clipper Creek J1772, and a new Chademo and CCS Fast Charge Combo. The other Tesla, the P85+, was in the parking lot, but that’s the owner’s OLD Tesla, he wasn’t in. I plugged into the Clipper Creek. There’s a pay-phone-style number pad on the machine, and I entered the code to allow charging. The code is right on the box, and says something like “For free charging, enter code xxx-xxxx”. My Vectrix only has a typical household style electric plug on it. It is NOT designed for use at a J1772 plug. Fortunately, the built-in charger can handle 120 or 240V. I had already built and tested an adapter that would let me plug my cycle into the adapter, and the adapter into a J1772 plug. I did just so and started charging.

Did I mention it’s all solar-powered? You would never know from looking from the road or the parking lot, but the entire building’s roof is covered with solar panels. While I was there, the solar panels were producing about 40,000 watts. I stopped inside to say hello. It’s a very nice modern office space in the front, with friendly and professional staff. Looking through the windows into the shop, I could see BMWs and Mercedes being worked on, but even more interesting were two Teslas Model S. If you get your Tesla in a fender-bender, this is the place to bring it.They get them in from all over. Also, mounted on the office wall was a monitor displaying the Solar Photovoltaic use.
(Marshall Auto Body is also where we will be holding the greater Milwaukee area National Drive Electric Week event. Come on out for a test drive and other fun!)

Not long after I had left Marshall Autobody, I got passed by a Tesla Model S. It was white and low, sliding effortlessly through traffic. I wanted to holler at him and point to the “Electric” decal on my cycle, but he was already past me and quickly widening the gap. That’s NOT to say that my cycle lacks power, and I couldn’t have caught up if I really wanted.  While the top speed is governed by software to about 64 mph, it’s very quick away from a stop. Theres been a few times that I’ve noticed myself really catching up behind cars, and frankly, I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten a speeding ticket yet. (Although a big part of that is the MPH is very small and in hard to read lettering on the speedometer. KPH is very large and in easy to read in white. I still can’t translate in my head instantly from KPH to MPH, and probably never will, at least until I get a ticket…)

IMG_3685 IMG_3688 IMG_3687Next stop was ABB. They were right on the way and have a Chademo charger. There was no way I could use that on my cycle, but I stopped anyways, just because I had never seen it. It’s big unit, about the size of a refrigerator, right in front of their building. There’s a nice sign with information about the charger, how it works, how much power it can supply, and a little note about checking in with the guard the first time you want to use it. I took a look at the plug and noted the power. Some Nissan LEAFs can use this style of fast-charger. My Vectrix has Nissan LEAF batteries. I still have that flood-damaged Mitsubishi iMIEV in my garage. That has a Chademo port on it. I wonder what it WOULD take to add Chademo charging to my motorcycle? I suspect that it would take a lot of me learning about how CAN-BUS communications work…. (If you know of anyone who has done Chademo charging on a motorcycle, please let me know.)
I noticed that right above the charger was a street light. In fact, it happened to be an LED street-lamp. I visually followed the lamp back to the post and down. Sure enough, right on the base of the post, directly behind the Chademo, was a 20 amp 120V outdoor outlet. So here is a HUGE, high-power, very expensive charger, that I can’t even use, and right behind it, humbly un-marked is a plain old electric outlet, perfect for my charging needs. It was pretty much the end of the work-day now, so lots of employees were leaving, many on motorcycles. A few were looking my way, wondering why a scooter would be at a 50KW charger… I headed off to the next location.

Now I had made it down to the neighborhood of my destination, but I was also about an hour and a half early. That was somewhat on purpose. I didn’t know how long I would be there, and thus how long I would have to charge. I really wanted to head back home, non-stop, but with a full charge. While I can theoretically go 90 miles on a charge, I still don’t know for sure how far I can go on a single trip at maximum speed non-stop. I just know that that number WILL be LESS than 90 miles. Also, this is my first ever Lithium project, I just got it all together, and I do NOT want to murder my pack!

IMG_3692So, I stopped at the movie theater. THE RIDGE is a modern mega-theater less than a mile from my destination. It’s big enough that it even has it’s own pizzeria restaurant built right in. When I pulled in to the parking lot, I noticed a vehicle I had to look at. At first glance, I thought it was a Land Rover. Up closer, I could see that it was a four-door Jeep, but with pretty much every off-road aftermarket accessory you could think of: snorkel for the air intake, giant roof-rack, shovels on a rack, front and rear winches, raised suspension, funky bumpers, etc. The best part of it was the lights. Lights everywhere pointed in all directions. Enough light to blind an elephant… And they were all L.E.D. The truck also had an American flag, and various Army, sniper, and “gun-nut” bumper stickers. It’s interesting to realize that everyone has a little bit different idea of what a patriotic vehicle is. (I happen to think that something that gets over 300 MPG and is powered by solar instead of fossil fuels is rather patriotic…)

I looped around the huge building, seeing if there were any outside electric outlets. There weren’t any on any of the parking lot street lights. None on the side of the building. Hey, look, trash compactors! Behind the building were two trash compactors, each large enough to smash a Friday-Night’s worth of mega popcorn buckets down to the size of pancakes. They ran on 480 volts and each had dedicated service disconnects….. And not a single 120V outlet!

Finally, on the last side of the building, I did locate an outlet. It was right next to what appeared to be the employee entrance, and looked newer than the rest of the building. I plugged in my extension cord and Kill-a-Watt to see that it actually had power. (I’m always amazed how many outdoor outlets are turned off or just plain don’t work.) This one worked fine, and was 20 amps with a GFI. I plugged in my cycle, figuring that I would then go ask permission of the Theater Manager. The cycle was technically on the sidewalk, but in front of a handicapped parking area, which had at least 14 parking spaces, none of which were used. The bike wasn’t blocking the sidewalk or handicapped spaces. In short, no trip hazard, no blocking people in wheel chairs, no reason NOT to be parked there.

Right then, I noticed I had missed a phone call from a friend of mine. We were working on putting together an alternative vehicle show coming up in just a few weeks at a big Energy Fair. I wanted to make sure to call him back because I knew there were some important deadlines coming up real quick. I gave him a call, which quickly became an hour-long conversation. During that time, an employee walked past me and in to the theater.

And just after that is when two very stern-looking managerial types came out.

“Um, sorry, gotta go,” as I hung up on my friend. I quickly explained what I was doing – “Electric Vehicle… Range…. Charging… Spend time and money at movies…” I blathered on for a few minutes showing them exactly how much energy I was using with the Kill-a-watt, how movie theaters are a perfect place for charging, as people spend a few hours there,and even had my business card handy. I mean, if I guy has a business card, he has to be legit, right? Not just some crazy guy stealing electricity from a movie theater, right?….

The managers were actually really cool and fine with letting me charge. (I really DID intend to head right inside and ask permission… REALLY. Ask anyone who knows me. I get distracted easily…)
I also want to make sure that people always have a POSITIVE experience with electric vehicles. I try to be an ambassador and preach the advantages, encourage folks to go test drive an EV, etc.

Finally, it was time to head off and see Nick. I had put almost 1.75 KWH into the bike while at the theater, roughly 17 miles of travel recharged. I zipped a mile down the road and spotted the red Vectrix at the end of the driveway. Nick parking his bike there was a great landmark, I couldn’t miss it.

This was actually the home a a relative of Nick’s (his sister’s house?) but it was much closer to my place than his was.
We set up shop in the driveway and the end of the garage. I got out my old laptop, which I already had the Vectrix Scooter Diagnostic software, the CAN-bus adapter, and all the right drivers loaded up. We plugged the CAN-bus into Nick’s bike (way in the back of the glove-box, very hard to get to – why did they put it there?) and booted up the computer.

IMG_3698Tried to boot up the computer…. Why isn’t it booting up? Uh oh. Looks like my old laptop finally gave up. Perhaps bouncing around in the trunk of the Vectrix for a few hours WASN’T such a good idea… We tried hooking up an external monitor and see if it was just the screen that went back, but that wasn’t it either… Next, we borrowed a laptop. I had all the various software and drivers on a CD-ROM and flash drive. However, I couldn’t get the Scooter Diagnostic to run on the 64-bit Windows 7 machine. When I first set the software up on my own laptop, it was a bit of a hassle. Trying to do it in somebody else’s driveway, on a borrowed laptop with the sun setting wasn’t ideal. If I had a few more hours, maybe I could have figured it all out.

Instead, we decided that I could get everything set up on a different Windows machine that I had at home. My old tower computer isn’t exactly as portable as the laptop, but I could mess around figuring out the drivers at my leisure in my home office. Then I could meet up with Nick again and we would upgrade his charger.

IMG_3700We took a few photos of the twin cycles together in the driveway. Both were mirror images of each other, except for the custom decals I put on the back of mine. Nick had also mounted his Cycle Analyst on his instrument panel. I liked the way he did it. He simply cut a square hole right through the plastic, and pushed the back of the display into it. It was a simple friction fit, hiding the wires, and a very clean installation.

Because I charged at the movie theater, and also plugged in right when I got to the house, I had a full charge for the ride home. I took a country road route, which was beautiful. It was just past sunset, so there was still light, but I wasn’t staring due west into a setting sun. It was dark by the time I got into some faster road, and then road construction. The lights on the Vectrix are very bright, and everything other than the headlamp is LED. I had a good view of the road, and including my bright yellow riding jacket and reflectors on my helmet, was as visible to cars as I could be expected to be. There were lots of motorcycle out that night, as it had been a beautiful late spring/early summer day.

I made it home and stabled the cycle. Total trip for the day was 72.3 miles. Total efficiency on the trip home was just shy of 300MPGe, but that was non-stop and mostly at pretty high speed.

I’ll let you know what happens once we finally get Nick’s cycle software upgraded.

Til next time, stay charged up!


Electric Motorcycle Roadtrip Movie?

by Ben N on May 27, 2015


I’m looking for some input from you. Should I make a film about riding long-distance on an all electric motorcycle? Before you get too “Rah-rah-rah” on me, let me explain the details….

To start with, I’ve shot a LOT of YouTube videos. Don’t believe me? Go to my account and watch all of them. There’s over 500 videos. I also have about 12,000 subscribers and 4.7 million views. Not quite as many views as a cat video, but still a fair share. I’ve pretty much put my whole life on the internet for the pas couple of years, at least as far as alternative transportation and renewable energy go.

I’ve also come to realize that I can do some pretty amazing things when the circumstances are right. Learning about new things and trying them out can be very motivating to me. It will keep me working on a project in the garage for hours per day for an entire summer instead of watching TV. Those projects have included an electric bike, an electric Kawasaki motorcycle, an electric Geo Metro, turning that car into a Hybrid (actually winning a pretty big contest with it too!), Open Revolt Motor controller, powering my house off-grid in a blackout from a recycled UPS connected to my motorcycle, Solar Charging, Rocket Grill, Electric riding lawn mower repair….
Well, you get the point.

I’ve also done it all on my own time, with my only budget being whatever bits of cash I can scrounge up. Scrounge is also a pretty good word. It seems to describe where I get all my materials from – everything from a neighbor throwing out a bed-frame to making a road trip to a salvage yard for a Nissan LEAF battery.

I’ve also made a lot of friends working on these projects. In fact, a big part of the founding of the Milwaukee Makerspace was based on guys getting together in Tom’s garage to work on electric cars, modified PowerWheels, and robots. I’ve even become a public speaker at the MREA Fair and Mother Earth News Fairs.

PowerTrain_rough_Jan212013One project I’ve had in mind for some time is building a Plug-In Hybrid Pickup Truck. It’s been my “back-burner” project for some time, and always seems to make slow progress, and with fair reasons. I’m not a skilled machinist, nor do I have much experience with transmissions, nor can I afford a very large Lithium battery pack.

But I already had a pretty interesting idea for the project…..

A few years ago, a guy came out to visit me. Andrew was a documentary film-maker from Hawaii. He was visiting the midwest with plans to film somebody who had built his own electric vehicle. At the last minute, that guy cancelled, so Andrew instead visited some other people in the greater Milwaukee area who were working on EVs, including me and a few of my friends. His concept was to make a feature-length documentary, having somebody build an electric car and then drive it across country. He offered me the chance to be the guy to build the car. It sounded interesting, but documentary films ALWAYS live or die based on funding, and I really didn’t see the project happening. Besides that, there were a few other things I didn’t like. What’s the point of driving a car from Milwaukee to Los Angeles if you just have to turn around and drive home again?

So, that idea for a film project never happened. It DID however, become a trailer for a film that was never made:

I actually really liked watching that trailer. It was nice not to have to turn a wrench and point a camera at the same time. On the other hand, it also had some “mock-drama” in there that I really wasn’t interested in.

DSC_1356When I made the road trip to go buy the Hymotion Prius, my friend Tim (username “Daox” on Ecomodder) gave me a ride down in his Prius. It was a several hour drive, so we had LOTS of time to chat. I was throwing around some ideas about the Hybrid Truck project and the idea of some sort of road-trip movie. I also mentioned that a one-way trip is lame. Something in a circle would be better. There was also a lot going on about fresh water at the time. Some municipalities were having trouble with their wells and wanted to pump water all the way from Lake Michigan, and then return treated sewage wastewater. That had me thinking about how lucky we are in the area to have the largest freshwater lakes in the world, right in our own back yard.

I realized that Lake Michigan is about 1000 miles long if you just drove around its coast. Instead of a one-way-trip, why not “Loop the Lake”? We would end up right where we started. I was throwing these ideas around with Tim when, and I don’t remember which of the two of us said it, but one of us casually mentioned “If you have a 10 gallon tank, you’d only have to get 100 miles per gallon…” to go around Lake Michigan on one tank of gas. That’s when I realized what amazing friends that I have. We say things like “ONLY 100 miles per gallon” instead of “Holy Cow, wow, you get 55 mpg in your Prius, that’s amazing!” Yep, 100 MPG doesn’t phase us at all.

So then I had this idea in my head about building the Plug-In Hybrid Pickup, driving over 1000 miles around Lake Michigan only using one tank of gas. The main thing is that there would be lots of “down-time” while the truck recharged at every opportunity to maximize battery electric use. To fill that time, I would shoot interviews with all the people that I know who are doing amazing things with clean transportation and renewable energy: this guy built an AC Dodge Neon with all salvaged parts, that guy runs his Geo Tracker on ethanol he distills himself, this guy got a job working for Tesla after they saw his home-built electric motorcycle….

The documentary would be part road-trip, part fuel economy challenge, and part “Look at what THOSE guys are doing!” Besides asking the interviewees HOW they did it, I would also ask WHY they did it. To me, people are the most interesting part. What motivates you to do what you do?

But I can’t do a film like that, because I don’t have a Plug-In Hybrid Pickup Truck.
Also, the world of EVs has really changed the last few years. Teslas are surprisingly common. People HAVE done cross-country EV trips. Seems like Nissan LEAFs are as mainstream as anything.

IMG_3031Then, at the beginning of this past winter, I got my hands on a Vectrix electric motorcycle. It was dead as a door-nail, but I grabbed it for a mere $400, and was fairly confident that I could fix it. And I’ve done exactly that, replacing the batteries with those from a Nissan LEAF.

After my first few tentative runs, I was able to see that I could get 91 miles on a single charge. I also built my own adapter so that I could charge it from Public EVSE charging stations, instead of a plain 120V outlet. But being able to go 90 miles REALLY makes me want to try to see if I can break 100 miles.

I barely got the cycle all put together and running, and I already want to modify it. The diffence in fuel economy between low speed and high speed is amazing. I get almost HALF the range at full speed than at “tooling around town” speed. Wind resistance is a crazy thing that way.

I had been reading a bit on the work and the rides that Terry Hershner has done, and I’ve been a long-time fan of the aerodynamics of Craig Vetter. I also noticed that while I had my Vectrix apart that the entire tail/truck section is removable with just four bolts. Which means an entire custom aerodynamic tail could be ATTACHED with just four bolts!

Loop MichiganTo ride around Lake Michigan on a fully electric vehicle with only a 90 mile range would take 12 days. I’m not sure I could even take vacation for that long. On the other hand, an AERODYNAMIC electric motorcycle could break 100+ miles. If it had a more powerful charger(s), getting charging time down to and hour or two would also double my distance per day. I could loop the lake in 5 days. Near Milwaukee and Chicago, there’s lots of EV charging stations, but in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan? Well, there’s state parks and campgrounds that usually have electricity for Recreational Vehicles. What’s an electric motorcycle if not recreational!?

Taking my “Loop the Lake”  documentary film concept and slimming it down to an electric motorcycle version, would it be worth doing? I could still shoot interviews, but theoretically, I would be stopping less often and for less amount of time. Also, I wouldn’t have a passenger. In the truck concept, I would have invited Tim along with to ride shotgun. After all, I’d need somebody to talk at! (Talk to.. Talk with?)

I also really don’t know anything about getting sponsors. Nothing wrong with just plain asking, I suppose. Culvers and Kwik-Trip would both be obvious possible supporters as they are both pretty big in my area. Culvers is a great place to stop for lunch, and they all have Wi-Fi for easy Facebook/Twitter/Blog updates and the trip progresses. Kwik-Trip is a gas station chain, but they have been HUGE supporters of alternative fuels, including CNG. They have even started putting in Electric Vehicle Electric outlets. Those are just 120V, but still handy in an emergency. That and they didn’t take any tax breaks to do it, nor have they been “greenwashing” or overly tooting their own horn. Also, they have good coffee, a prime requirement for any travel.

Budget: How would somebody budget for such a project?
Well, I can come up with some numbers. Just thinking about the basics, I could do it almost for free. I’d just need a little time and enough money for food and lodging. If I can cram a sleeping bag and small tent into the motorcycle, campgrounds are cheaper than hotels! I’d slap a GoPro on the wind-shield and go, but frankly, I wouldn’t end up with a video much better than my typical YouTube fodder.

On the other hand, I know a fair number of people who work professionally in video production, shooting or editing. I could probably get a few of those guys to donate one day each to the project. Any more than that, and I’d have to raise funds to pay them. Other people deserve to eat and pay their mortgage too, especially hard-working professionals. A film would be SIGNIFICANTLY better WITHOUT me behind the camera and editing.

So, in terms of budget, it could be as simple as me, a GoPro, slapping some semi-aerodynamic coroplast on the Vectrix and hitting the road. It would be fun, I’d do it, but it wouldn’t be EPIC! I’d really like to hit EPIC!

I could potentially do some fund-raising through Kickstarter. I’ve been trying to help a friend with his Solar Panel manufacturing fund-raiser. So far, we’ve raised over $70,000 to build waterproof, go-anywhere-off-the-grid-and-still-charge-your-smart-phone solar panels. Of course raising money to fund a film is different than pre-selling a product. But with the experience we now have with crowdsourced funding, I think it’s completely possible.

For a fully-funded project, I’d be looking at something like:

$2000 – Craig Vetter Custom Fairing and related materials
$1500 – Two Elcon PFC2500 chargers (30amps at 240 volts maxes out a single J1772 public EV charger, brings charge time to 1 hr 15 mins.)
Food – $450 (10 per meal, 3 people, 5 days)
Lodging – $1000 (two hotel rooms for 5 nights)
Gasoline – $150 – for film crew vehicle
Film crew – $2500 – Camera operator, $500/day 5 days
Film crew – $2000 – Driver/Grip $400/day 5 days
Drone rental – $? – Because aerial shots make everything look more epic!
Additional Cameras – $1000 – 2 GoPros and real mounts
Riding Gear – $500 – I have a jacket and an OK helmet. I’d want a helmet with bluetooth (talk on the phone to the cameraman) and some real motorcycle pants.
Editing – $? – Editing can be crazy. It’s one of the most important parts of film-making and can also be long and expensive. I could certainly do a bunch of the editing myself, but would as a bare minimum want some help with graphics and music. Maybe even get some local musicians involved on the project.

So, even as a quick and dirty budget, we are talking about $11,000 on up. Do you think that I could raise that between sponsors and crowdsourcing?

What do you think of the idea? Customize an electric motorcycle. Ride it around Lake Michigan. (While I’m at it, I may as well visit Canada, and go swimming in Lakes Superior and Huron…) Shoot interviews of other people doing some pretty amazing things in alternative fuels, clean transportation, and renewable energy, and manage to find electricity anywhere I can. Get Teslas, Zeros, and others to ride with me as they can. Edit it into a wild road-trip film!
I’d be looking at doing this in September. It fits with my schedule well, and is generally good weather.

5 Days of travel and shooting

4 months to get ready for it

3 Great Lakes

2 Countries

1 Rider

0 Gasoline


Your Thoughts? Please let me know. It is too crazy? Is it awesome. Is it “meh”? What would make this better or cooler or more likely to happen. How would you do it?

All input is SO appreciated. Please leave a comment below or on the web forum you found this through.

Thanks so much!



PS: There’s also some possibility of going “Open Source” with the film. If we could gather some folks who are good with video, editing, and music, etc. perhaps enough people could collaborate and donate time to make editing, graphics, and music just one big open-source project?


Vectrix: Cycle Analyst now Working

by Ben N on May 27, 2015


I got the Cycle Analyst working!

It seems that the problem is that I never bothered to program in the sensitivity of the shunt resistor.

All of the ammeters that I have worked with in the past were simple analog ones. I would have a meter and a matching shunt. It just worked – nothing fancy, no programming. However, the Cycle Analyst is designed to work with a wide range of vehicles, anywhere from a small electric bike up to a pretty decent electric motorcycle.

The other part of it is that I forgot to mark down what the rating was of the shunt. Usually, it’s marked right on the side. However, my shunt is now bolted to the back of the battery pack, near the motor controller on the Vectrix, and under the battery box cover and all the scooter trim. Since I had the battery cover off, it was time to stick my head and a flashlight down there to look.

Sure enough, it’s a 0.5Mohm shunt.

The Cycle Analyst menu isn’t that intuitive. There’s only two buttons on the device. Either cycles through the menu, you then hold the button to get into an item, then hold it again to change the item. It’s very easy to miss, and then have to cycle through the whole menu again. After d0ing that several times, I finally properly set the two items I needed.

The first was setting the range. That’s basically “Are you doing a LOW-power vehicle, or a HIGH-power vehicle?”. It allows you to read hundreds of amps in the high mode.

IMG_3636Next, was setting the RShunt value. That’s a number to match what’s stamped on the side of the ammeter shunt. I set it to .5000mOhm. After exiting the menu, I did a short ride on the Vectrix and then also plugged it in for a charge.

The ammeter values looked like they were correct now. (While I don’t know the exact values to expect on a Vectrix, I do know what my electric Kawasaki pulls, and with a 125-amp fuse the Vectrix should be pulling somewhere around 30-40 amps while just cruising around.)

I also happen to know that I have a 10-amp charger. When I plugged in the charger, the Cycle Analyst showed that I was using -9.7 amps (negative use indicating charging.) Pretty close to a 10 amp rating on the charger. The Amp-Hour meter (AH) also counts DOWN when charging. It counted UP while riding the cycle, and then counted DOWN while charging. At the end of the charge, it was pretty darn close to zero. That seems to indicate that I have a fairly consistent battery use and charging. Now that IS counting the DC power into the battery only, NOT the AC power to the charger. By tracking that with a Kill-a-Watt, I can track my total energy use, which is what I use to calculate watt-hours-per-mile, the electric version of MPG or fuel economy. For those who are more used to gasoline cars and Miles per Gallon, a little bit of applied math can create MPGe, or miles per gallon equivalent.

Last night, I played around with a spreadsheet. I have very little experience with those, but it wasn’t that hard to figure out how to make the spreadsheet automatically do a few calculations for me. For example, by entering miles traveled and kilowatt-hours of energy used to recharge, the spreadsheet can calculate watt-hours used, watt-hours per mile, MPGe, and then also average those figures for me.

fuel economy first 200 miles

Tracking my use for the first 200 miles, I’m averaging 336 MPGe at a cost of a penny a mile.

One thing that I’m still not sure about is that the voltmeter on the display of the Vectrix is always 2 volts HIGHER than that shown on the Cycle Analyst. For example, when the Vectrix display shows 147v, the Analyst will show 145-point-something. I have no idea why that happens. Perhaps a diode somewhere dropping the voltage a bit? If you have ideas, let me know.

Stay charged up!



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!

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