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?

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EV Motorcycle Documentary - Your input needed! - Fuel Economy, Hypermiling, EcoModding News and Forum - EcoModder.com
May 27, 2015 at 1:01 pm

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 CZ-EV May 27, 2015 at 5:01 pm


I haven’t watched all 500 of your videos but have viewed quite a few of them. You have built quite a following for 300MPG.org.

The road trip around the lake seems like a cool project and who knows, with your fan base, a Kickstarter campaign would probably raise more that enough to get it off the ground. I will be watching and will try to give some support for the Road Trip Documentary.


2 Kirk May 28, 2015 at 8:07 pm

Hi Ben,

Back in 2011 when you were looking for a really big idea for an electric trip over on Ecomodder, I suggested looping Lake Michigan, so I feel like I have a small part in this already. I say go for it, even if it is just you and a gopro. I’ve ridden my gas powered Yamaha FJR on loops around the lake twice now. Beautiful trip which I can imagine would only be better with the quiet hum of an electric motor rather than the angry buzz from a gas 4 stroke.

On a different note the Scala rider G9 just dropped from a close to $500 retail price to $200 for pair a of Bluetooth headsets. I picked some up for me. I still have some cheap Chinese 500m intercoms that I got off ebay a couple years ago for $80. I would not recommend the cheap Chinese ones for riding a gas motorcycle as they can’t be heard over about 70 mph and listening to music with them is torture, but I think they are down to around $40 for a pair. They might be fine at lower speeds and without engine noise.

Kirk (FXSTI on Ecomodder.com)

3 Chris Voss May 28, 2015 at 10:55 pm

Ideas for your bike to make it have better range, ceramic bearings, carbon wheels, bearings coated with tungsten disulfide. These changes made a massive improvement on my road bike. Also run the maximum rim width for the tires you’re running. Keep that sidewall vertical. Use low viscosity lubricants wherever possible. Good luck!!!

4 Ben N May 29, 2015 at 8:55 am

Hi Kirk,

Yes, you can see how long this idea has been rattling around in my brain. I remember that looping Lake Michigan did originally come up as an idea on Ecomodder, but I didn’t remember from who. I guess that this point, I’m planning on some sort of a road-trip no matter what, but it would be great to really do it up right, documentary style.
I invite anyone with an alternative fuel vehicle to come along. We can make a rally out of it.

5 Ben N. May 29, 2015 at 8:55 am


6 Nikki June 1, 2015 at 3:27 am

Hey Ben,

Sending you email 🙂

7 ctrlburn June 1, 2015 at 7:49 pm

Zero S 11.4 owner (the only other vehicle seen charging at the Kwik Trips) between you and Madison with a fading Vectrix in the family. So I am a follower trying hard to keep up and gain more insight.
To not complete at charging stations I have a sunroofed 2000 Jetta TDI that summers on 100% BioDiesel that could be a reasonable camera car (and driver if needed) befitting your theme at no vehicle or fuel cost to the project.

8 CurtisnTricarico July 12, 2015 at 6:26 pm

Reading about your plans to loop Lake Michigan reminds me of readng The Martian, where the guy who’s stranded on Mars has to get 1 rover to go almost a thousand miles with two rovers’ betteries, all the buildings’ rooftop solar panels (to help make oxygen, too) at 20 miles a day, all in under 45 days in order to get an rescue evac. Cool book, full of math!

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