First Charging with Power Supplies

by Ben N on July 26, 2015

Yesterday morning, I got my first chance to charge my cycle with the Mean Well power supplies.

First, I wired the output of the three in series, connecting black to red, black to red with automotive butt connectors with built-in heat shrink. The metal cases of the power supplies are isolated from the DC outputs, so there’s no worries about short-circuiting if the cases touch. The most positive and most negative connections were then attached to a short 125 amp Anderson disconnect repurposed from the Vectrix’s original NiMH battery pack. (The metal cases of the power supplies are isolated from the DC outputs, so there’s no worries about short-circuiting if the cases touch.)
On the AC input side, I connected all three power supplies in parallel, soldered the wires together, and heat-shrinked them.

IMG_4455Next, I cut a piece of plywood a little larger than the power supplies to have something to mount them down to.
After that, I had to open up the Vectrix to get at the battery pack and electric connections. I wired a matching Anderson connector to pack positive and the far side of the Cycle Analyst ammeter on the negative side of the pack, so that the ammeter will track any energy used for charging.

After that, I started experimenting with charging.

Connecting the Mean Wells and plugging them in, the ammeter showed 6.7 amps of charging, which perfectly matches the information on the spec sheet. To start with, I am only using the Mean Wells as a “bulk charger”, there is no control (yet) to turn off the power supplies. I did have hooked up one “Cell-Log” – a tiny display that shows the voltage of individual cells. I checked that while charging to make sure no individual cell would get over-charged. The Cell-Log also has a High Voltage Alarm, which can activate an output, for example, to turn off a relay to disconnect AC power to the power supplies.

IMG_4457The Mean Wells were pulling just over 1000 watts on the AC side.
I also plugged in the Vectrix’s stock charger, which is set to 1500 watts. I have two circuits in my garage, so I ran each of the chargers to its own circuit, as 2500 watts would blow any breaker. With BOTH chargers running, the Cycle Analyst showed 16.2 amps going into the battery.

Several people have asked me about HEAT in the electric motorcycle, whether from charging, or heating of the batteries simply from powering the cycle. I have a non-contact thermometer AND a Flir thermal camera (for iPhone 5). I thought I would try them out to see what type of temperatures the batteries, power supplies, and cables reach while charging.

IMG_4463 IMG_4470To start with, I simply put my hand on the power supplies. They were warm. Not hot hot, but fairly warm. When checked with the IR thermometer, they clocked in at 130 degrees F. On the thermal image camera, they show up as warm but not nearly as hot as some other parts of the cycle – specifically ANYTHING BLACK. It was a nice sunny day. Anything dark colored and in the sun got HOT fast! The back seat of the Vectrix showed up at 166 degrees F! Too hot to hold my hand against!

Turning my attention to the batteries, the orange plastic covers that go over the top of the terminals were slightly warm. (A lot cooler than if they were black!) Not much of the actual cell modules is visible, but what was looked rather cool on the thermal imaging. It seems that the aluminum cases of the cell modules, agains the aluminum battery-box frame of the Vectrix acts as a giant heat-sink.

Other items of note when it came to thermal imaging:
The Mean Well power supplies while charging didn’t get any hotter than my paved driveway in full sunlight did.
The extension cord that I was running to the power supplies actually got hotter than the power supplies did.
Splices in the power cords got hotter than the rest of the cords. You can see this in the one thermal image where the output wires of the Mean Wells come together.

I’ve only done some “bulk-charging” with the Mean Wells so far. It did in fact charge the bike faster, using two chargers instead of one. Of course, I had to use two circuits and extension cords, but both could easily run on a single EVSE J1772 connection (typically 240V, 30A.) or an RV park connection.

Next, I’ll have to start experimenting with turning up the voltage a little higher on the Mean Wells to charge the battery pack to a higher voltage than the stock charger is set to. Theoretically, I can charge my battery pack to 151.2V. (4.2V per cell.) My stock charger is set to charge to 147V, but in reality, checking it against the Cycle Analyst volt meter and my multimeter going straight to the battery pack, I’m only charging to just over 145 volts. I’ll try charging to a higher voltage with the Mean Wells, monitor it with the Cell-Log, and then see how many miles I can get out of a “fuller” battery charge.

My brother and his wife were visiting from out of state, so we had a family dinner at my parents’ house. He took the Vectrix for a ride to check it out. It was interesting to see and hear somebody else riding the cycle. While the bike DOES have a very distinct gear noise to it, it doesn’t carry very far. The cycle is extremely quiet from any sort of distance at all. I had the same experience when a friend came over and rode my electric Kawasaki for the very first time – from a few feet away, there’s plenty of chain noise, but at any other distance, it’s basically silent.

That’s it for now. Til next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

 

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Charging with Power Supplies

by Ben N on July 24, 2015

I recently got back from traveling to Ohio to participate in the Craig Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge. (For full details, visit THIS blog entry…)
One of the lessons learned on the trip is I NEED BETTER/FASTER CHARGING.

I wasn’t able to complete the ride on my Vectrix electric motorcycle, partly due to the batteries not being charged to their fullest capacity and partly to lack of FAST charging. Either or both may have let me complete the fuel economy challenge. Another factor was rain! One of the other electric riders was using external chargers which were NOT waterproof. Pulling those out, setting them all up, and doing it someplace dry was challenging and time consuming. (It also makes electric motorcycles look like a bit of a science project, instead of a cool and fun plug-n-play ride!)

So, it’s time I did something about upgrading the charging on my Vectrix.
To start with, the Vectrix already has a built-in charger. It’s 1500 watts, and can run on either 120V or 240V, although it still charges at 1500 watts either way. That means there’s no real advantage to charging on 240V AND the charger can’t be turned down! It really needs its own circuit. I can’t charge on a 15 amp circuit that has anything else on it. At the Mid-Ohio Vintage Days motorcycle event, it was very difficult to find an open circuit to charge at that wasn’t being shared with some other power use.

After the experiences of the Vetter Challenge, and chatting with some friends a bit, I decided the best way to go is to use Mean Well power supplies. Specifically, I purchased six HLG-320H-48A power supplies. Each is weather-proof and outputs 48V. By connecting three in series, I can get the voltage that I need to charge my cycle. That creates a 960 watt charger. While that’s NOT a huge amount of power, (remember that my existing charger is 1500 watts) it gives me quite a bit of flexibility in charging.

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Here’s why:
Waterproof.- just plug in and go – no goofing off in the rain pulling chargers out of Pelican Cases. The lack of fans on the power supplies also means that they are very quiet.
120/240V operation.  The power supplies will run on any AC voltage from 90 – 305V, including RV outlets and J1772 connections.
Current Draw Flexibility. By having 3 chargers instead of one (my stock charger, and two chargers built from strings of three power supplies,) I can simply plug in as many (or few) chargers as is appropriate for the electricity available. If only a 15 amp 120V circuit is available, I can just run a 960 watt charger. If I need to draw even less current, the Mean Well power supplies have a current potentiometer, which can be dialed-down as needed. By plugging in all the chargers, I could use up to 3400 watts – more than double what my stock charger provides.
Higher Voltage Charging. One thing that I found out on the Craig Vetter Challenge was that I was NOT getting the full capacity of my battery pack simply because of the voltage my stock charger is set to. It’s set up to “charge to 80%.” The idea there is that it is easier on the batteries, and will prevent over-charging. It also means I can’t ride as far on my battery! By setting one of the two strings of power supplies to a higher voltage, I could use that one to get a “fuller” charge when I need it.

So far, using these power supplies to charge sounds pretty good! So what’s the down-side?

They aren’t actually chargers. The main thing about chargers is that they automatically shut themselves off. Power supplies are designed to continuously supply a steady power to run electrical devices. (I believe the main use for these power supplies is things like LED Street-Lights.) So, I will need to find a way to SHUT THE POWER SUPPLIES OFF. A super-simple way to do it, if I’m just standing around waiting for a fast charge, is to simply monitor the charge, then unplug the power supplies when the battery is most of the way full. The power supplies would only be used as a “bulk” charger and then the stock charger would finish off the charge.

Alternatively, a timer could be used to cut the power to the supplies after a certain amount of time. However, the best way to do it would be to use a battery monitoring system of some type to disable the power supplies once a certain maximum voltage has been reached on any cell. I already have a few “Cell-Logs”, which monitor voltage on multiple cells AND have an alarm out feature. When the high-voltage alarm goes off, it will trigger an output, which could be set up, for example, to disconnect a relay to turn off AC power to the Mean Well power supplies. This is the system I am leaning towards right now.

The other thing that I didn’t think about until plugging in the power supplies to test them is that IT’S HARD TO EVEN TELL WHEN THEY ARE ON! Without fans, there isn’t any fan noise. There aren’t even any small lights indicating power. In short, NOTHING to show that they are on at all, other than my volt-meter showing me the combined 150V output! One easy solution may be to simply to use an ammeter or Kill-a-Watt to see the power use.

Next, I’ll have to actually wire up the power supplies. I need to connect the AC input power in parallel and wire up a standard wall outlet plug to it. On the DC output side, I need to connect the three in series and connect the ends to the battery pack of the Vectrix. The means opening up the bike and deciding on where the cables run. I still want it to be waterproof but might also want to easily remove the power supplies. Sounds like an Anderson disconnect might be the right way to go.

If you have any good tips and tricks on making solid weather-proof electrical connections, please let me know! Otherwise, I’m off to start crimping, soldering, and whatever else I need to do to build a charger!

Stay charged up!

-Ben

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“300MPG.org’s Electric Vectrix Wins Craig Vetter Fuel Economy Competition!” is the headline I would love to be able to tell you.

Unfortunately, it only exists in my imagination.

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Nope. Truth be told, I was a complete amateur who simply showed up, NEVER having been at this type of event before on a vehicle unmodified other that a larger than original battery. Not only that, I’ve really done very little range testing on my bike. I’ve only put on about 500 miles on it so far.

So, when we took off this weekend in the Craig Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge we had no idea how far I would get or not, and as it turns out, it was more the not…

IMG_4343Sunday, July 12th, a number of competitors showed up at the Splash Harbor Comfort Inn in Bellville, Ohio. Most were unusual-looking motorcycles to say the least – all nose-cones and fishtails. The route was roughly 70 miles each way. There ended up only being three electrics there, which included me on my Vectrix, Kraig Schultz on his home-built electric recumbent motorcycle with an airplane cockpit bubble, powered by Chevy Volt cells, and Richard Goff on a Zero with a fierce WWII style coroplast nose.

Due to some relatively small battery pack sizes, Kraig and I decided we would take a slightly different route, and Richard went along with too. There was a “chase vehicle” available, with a trailer, in case of any break-downs, which we decided we did NOT need to follow us. Kraig would be leaving directly from the Motorcycle Hall of Fame ( which was the destination/break of the race, followed by a return to the start.) If I decided I was running low on juice, I could always plug in somewhere. My Vectrix may not have a battery as big as a Zero, it at least it’s proven to be reliable!

I was planning on leaving my cycle at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, (assuming I even made it there in the first place) and then just come and get it with my truck when I was leaving after the event.

After a photo opportunity (and strapping a GoPro to my helmet) we all took off, with the electric group peeling off right away. The roads in the area were very nice. Good country roads, pleasant for zipping around on. The only exception was a single stretch of road, which was more potholes than pavement for half a mile! The weather wasn’t ideal, it was raining slightly when we left. Of course, I was the most amateur of anyone there. Many guys had full rain gear or leathers. At least I finally got myself a real motorcycle jacket! Fortunately, it never rained too hard, although the weather definitely affected our fuel economy. Later on, the weather cleared up, and it was pretty nice.

We took breaks at relatively regular intervals. I was checking the amp-hour counter on my Cycle Analyst. While cruising, I was pulling about 30 amps at 45 miles per hour. My cells are rated at 60 AH. Theoretically, I could ride at 45 miles per hour for two hours and go 90 miles. Of course, that’s only theory. Actually out riding tells you reality pretty fast.

We noticed a car following us for a while. It turned out to be Burton in his Honda Element. He owns a Zero electric motorcycle, which he is currently modifying for aerodynamics, but wasn’t able to have it there for the event. Instead, he became our unofficial chase vehicle and did a little filming with his GoPro anytime we stopped.

The road we had chosen was about 60 miles long. I know that I don’t actually get a full 60AH out of my battery pack (partly due to how the software of the charger is set. Unfortunately, I don’t have any manual control over how full I can charge the battery!) So, I was guessing that I could actually get about 40AH out of the pack. At the half-way point, I had used up almost exactly 20AH. Hmmm. This was going to be close….

We stopped at a park. It was a nice town park right on the corner of our route. Kraig leapt off his cycle to go check out what was available for electricity at the park. It turned out that not only were there plenty of 20 amp 120V outlets, but there was also a dozen 14-50 RV power connections! When I was looking at the route on a map, I wanted to find a charging station somewhere around the middle of our ride, but there simply weren’t any. Here, completely unmarked on any map was a perfect place to stop on a motorcycle road trip and get a full charge while eating lunch!

IMG_4356 IMG_4360 IMG_4358I took a few photos of the electric outlets and park sign and added it to Plug-Share, a user-generated map app which shows locations of public electric power for charging – anything from a volunteers front porch electric outlet to Nissan Leaf Dealerships to campgrounds with RV power.

After that, we hit the road some more, but by our next stop, I had used three quarters of my estimated available power, yet were only 2/3rds of the way there. Uh-oh. Not all that far ahead, I decided it was time for me to stop. My battery was getting down to 128V under load, and that was as low as I wanted to go. Below that, battery voltage starts plummeting…

We pulled over in front of an old farm-house. The next thing was just for me to find a place to plug in. The “NO TRESPASSING” sign at the derelict barn looked discouraging. Burton made jokes about how far I should stand away to be out of shotgun range. Looking a couple blocks east, there was a waving American flag in front of a large pole-barn looking place – likely a municipal building of some sort. Kraig zipped over there on his NASA-inspired cycle, and returned a few minutes later.

“It’s a Harley dealership! They have an electric outlet in front, a bunch of rocking chairs, and are happy to let you charge!”

Richard Goff, with the largest battery of the three electrics, decided to continue on to get to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, while Kraig, Burton, and I went to the Harley dealership, and I plugged in. We were only 7 miles from our destination! I was discouraged that I wasn’t able to complete the ride on a single charge, but the fall-back plan WAS simply to plug in somewhere, all I needed was an outlet. Unfortunately, I only have a SLOW charger. One of the big reasons why I came out to the event in the first place was to meet up with two other electric motorcyclers (who were NOT able to make it) and talk about fast-charging with them.

IMG_4366 IMG_4365Our best back-0f-the-hand math said I would need an hour of charging for 10 miles of range. Once we were all settled and charging, Kraig decided to keep riding to the museum while Burton and I sat in the rocking chairs and discussed fast-charging and aerodynamics.

At 59 minutes, I was putting my jacket back on and buckling my helmet when I got a call from Kraig, “They’re all done at the museum. The truck and trailer will come pick you up.”

Oh no. Not the trailer of shame! The “Ha Ha, you couldn’t complete the course” trailer! Oh well, I was going to need a ride back to the race track anyways (where my truck was.) Once the truck got there, we loaded up the Vectrix, and I hopped into the tiny jump-seat in the back of the pickup truck. Moments after we were on the road, one of the tie-down straps gave way. We stopped and saw that the entire one side my my grab bar had snapped off! *sigh* I re-lashed down the cycle, this time popping the trunk and actually finding a steel frame member to hook to.

IMG_4373It was still an hour’s ride back to the hotel where the race started! Eventually, we caught up with all the other riders. It’s strange seeing a flock of finned and faired motorcycles out on the open road. By then, we were most of the way back to the hotel. All the cycles pulled in to the gas station next door and started filling up, saving receipts for the fuel economy calculations.

IMG_4322After that, it was just saying good-byes, then back to the racetrack, where I needed to load up my Vectrix, along with the fairing I had purchased from Craig Vetter.

Kraig Schultz reported that he went 64.14 miles, using 5,920 watt-hours from the wall, for 92 watt-hours/mile or  $0.011/Mile. That’s 1.1 cents per mile!

I wasn’t able to get a full charge until I returned home, but I used 6.13kWh (including the charging at the Harley dealership) to go 55.8 miles. That works out to 109 watt-hours per mile, or 1.4 cents per mile or 80 cents for my whole trip. You can also look at it as 309 miles per gallon equivalent.

Well, I gotta say, I’m disappointed that I couldn’t complete the race, but just being part of it was an awful lot of fun! Had I known about that park ahead of time, I could have easily left a little early, charged while there, and made it to the Museum, then done the same on the way back! Alternatively, some improved aerodynamics and slightly better charged batteries could have gotten me there non-stop! Oh well, guess that’s what NEXT YEAR is for!

Stay charged up!
-Ben

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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 Amazon.com 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!
-Ben

 

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1st Mini-Road Trip on the Vectrix

by Ben N on May 29, 2015

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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 300MPG.org 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!
-Ben

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