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 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!

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Mini road trip and EV charging - Fuel Economy, Hypermiling, EcoModding News and Forum - EcoModder.com
May 29, 2015 at 2:09 pm

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jarkko Santala May 29, 2015 at 12:05 pm

EVTV is working on a CHAdeMO kit for any DIY vehicle. Should work fine with your Vectrix. Although you won’t get the full benefit since the battery pack is lower in voltage. Just up to 120A at whatever your charge voltage is. They’ve got it working on video in Ireland already.

2 ACG May 31, 2015 at 9:23 pm

You are making the dream come true. Keep up the good pioneering work.

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