Road-Trip Testing & Charging Adventure!

by Ben N on August 4, 2015


Yesterday morning, I decided the head out on the Vectrix to start determining how far I could ride on my 9KWH Nissan Leaf battery pack in real-world riding conditions.

Because there are so few public EV charging stations in my area, I decided to head up to a particular state park. If needed, I could charge at one of the electric sites at the campground there. I pointed my bike north and headed to Pike Lake State Park, near Hartford, Wisconsin. This is about 30 miles from my house. Keep in mind that I only went 55.8 miles in the Vetter Challenge, so a round trip there and back would be really pushing it.

On the other hand, since I now have two chargers built from Mean Well power supplies, I left with my battery charged to 150V, instead of the typical 145 that my stock charger charges to. That SHOULD give me a little more range.

It was a beautiful morning. I took the side roads. These are the ones that don’t even show up on an internet map, unless you keep zooming in. I paralleled what would have been the main northbound road in my area. Although I was only a mile or two over from it, it made a world of difference. There was barely any traffic. The road rolled up and down through farm-land, the scent of cows and hay in the air. I’ve been in this area for about ten years now, but have NEVER gone down these particular roads before. Well, there’s a first time for everything…

What surprised me was that it really didn’t feel like it took that long to get to my first destination. That’s probably because of the sense of discovery, not knowing exactly what was around the next bend. I almost stumbled on the camp-ground at the state park, as I came in from a back road. (I had to take a photo of the sign when I later left through the main entrance.)

IMG_4586I pulled in to a camp site and parked the bike, noting my voltage, trip odometer, and several other pieces of data on a scrap of paper. I checked the electric box there; it had 50, 30, and 20 amp service in it, but the 50 amp was plugged with mud. (Who does that?! Punk kids!?) I had already traveled 31.9 miles, and was planning on stopping for a while at the park, so I thought I would just plug in and “opportunity charge”. The camp-site that I stopped at still had the “Paid through….” paper tag hanging on the post, although those campers were already gone. I figured that just like a parking meter with time still left on it, I could charge here with no hassles. I plugged in my stock charger to the 20a 120V plug, left a note on my cycle (“I’m just charging, here’s my phone number if you need the cycle moved, etc.”) and went to go check out the observation tower at the park.


IMG_4587It was about a 15 minute hike to the second-highest point in the county, followed by a 60 foot climb. While the shoes I was wearing were great for motorcycling, they weren’t nearly as good for walking on rocks and sampling stumps up the newly created path to the tower. Once I finally made it to the top, I was rewarded with a great view of the area.

When I returned to the cycle, my Kill-a-watt said I had been charging for 45 minutes and that it put through 1.25Kwh from the wall. Theoretically, that’s about 10 miles or so of range charged-up. IMG_4595IMG_4596Next, I headed in to town to grab a snack, including a coffee at the good gas station. That’s when I realized how badly I miss the cup-holder in my truck. I’ll really need to instal a cup-holder on this cycle. No, I’m not going to ride around one-handed, but it would be nice to be able to take a drink with me. I also noticed an outdoor 20A outlet at the gas station, and thought I would check it out. I flipped up the cover and YAhahhahaAAAAAAHHH – HORNETS! Note to self, wasps seem to like to make nests in infrequently used electric outlets….

IMG_4601I headed back home.
Again, I followed small side roads, and would turn to follow any time I would see a “Rustic Road” route sign. Sure enough, they really were beautiful rustic roads – plenty of curves and hills to make motorcycling fun, yet they were lower speed, which also keeps my amp-draw low and is good for my battery range. I continued home on a completely different route than I had used to come out.

Back home, I had a few things I needed to get done. I plugged the bike in, and since I have my own EVSE, plugged in all three chargers to that. In an hour’s time, I had put 23AH into the bike. (The battery is rated at 60, but the most I have gotten yet is only about 40, so the one hour charge was about half the battery pack!)

Next, I decided to head out the opposite direction to Ottawa Lake, the state park that I had visited the other day, first testing out my Nema 15-50 adapter. Again, I took the side roads, noting that although I’ve headed that direction many times, there were a few turns I had never been down.

Once at the park, I headed toward the camp-ground area. At the very first camp-site there was a permanent pavilion and the camper was there with his classic Honda Goldwing, but it was a non-electric site, so I kept rolling past. At the first empty electric site, I pulled in, and plugged in the bike. This site had 30 and 20 amp connections, but no 50 amp 240V power.

IMG_4600I walked towards the front of the campground, only to encounter the camper at the first site with the Goldwing. (Gary? Jerry? Arg! I gotta get better with names!) When I mentioned that I just pulled in, he said “Yeah on that electric scooter! How do you like that thing?” I was amazed that he noticed it was electric. We got to talking. It turns out that he used to race velomobiles, and even once raced against the current land-speed world-record holder of a human-powered vehicle. We got to talking about recumbents, electric bikes, and aerodynamics. How I manage to stumble on talking to such interesting people, I’ll never know. After I said goodbye, I checked my watch and realized that I had already been charging for 45 minutes! I think the important thing to remember is that if you ARE going to plug in, do it FIRST! Otherwise, when you ride such an interesting vehicle, just saying hello to somebody could set your charge back 45 minutes!

I walked up to the ranger station and took a look at some literature there. There was a map of another campground, not too far away, in the same section of state forest. Since I had already hit two camp-grounds and checked them out, I may as well hit a third!

When I unplugged my cycle, the Kill-a-watt said I had put in 2 Kwh from the wall. I rode off through a few miles of forest to the “Pine Woods” campground. There are some good-sized sections of forest in Wisconsin where quite some time back, foresters planted red pines after loggers had come through. This now makes some pretty large areas of towering pine trees with red-gray trunks. Pine Woods is a fairly large campground right in the middle of one of these areas.

IMG_4603I waved to the camp host as I rode through the entrance, down to the first of three large loops of camp sites. This is a year-round camp-ground, so it’s mostly pit toilets (as there is not plumbing to freeze in the winter) and otherwise fairly primitive. There was only one electric site, a handicapped site right next to a bathroom. Checking that electric box, I saw that it was both infested by wasps AND had mud plugging up the 240V connector. (Really! Who keeps doing this?!)

I rode through the second loop, eventually locating the electric site. This one had two tween-age girls sitting next to the electric box, with earbuds plugged into their heads, and their iPhone power adapters dominating both of the 120V outlets. I said hello, but I don’t think they heard a word. At least they didn’t roll their eyes at me…

I had to go past the camp host again to get to the third loop, so I stopped in to say hello, spotting three deer as I did. I talked with “Stu” and his wife, an enthusiastic couple hosting this camp for the month of August. They couldn’t get enough of the electric cycle and had plenty of questions. I explained how I was sort of scouting and doing research on the best way to go long distance and recharge on my cycle so that I could do a road trip, and how I thought state park camp grounds could play a role in it. Our conversation was cut short by a park ranger showing up, alerting the camp hosts to a missing person. I waved good-bye and went to check out the last loop.

In the third loop, I finally located the one electric site, this one occupied by a retired couple, sipping wine at a folding table next to their pop-up camper. They waved, so I pulled in to say hello. I explained what I was doing, and asked if I could check on the electric box. Sure thing, of course I could. Their camper was plugged in with the 30 amp connector. This still left the duplex 20 amp AND the 240V 50 amp connections open. (And without hornets or mud-plugged connectors!) I also asked what their reply would be if some stranger on a motorcycle pulled up and asked to use their electric outlet. They were very welcoming. In this case, I could have had my choice of power connections while not inconveniencing the campers at all.

In fact, perhaps the best way to recharge an electric motorcycle at a campground is simply to go visit somebody who already has rented the electric site and simply ask to plug in. That way, the electric is “paid for” and there isn’t even the notion of “stealing” electricity.

After a chat about the Upper Peninsula and the Blue Ridge Mountains, I waved goodbye to the retirees and finally headed home. It was about sunset. I cruised the side road, hedged in by pines, and even found a freshly paved section of road that was all down-hill for a good stretch. If you think going down hill on a bicycle is fun, you should try it on an electric motorcycle, zipping along silently. The best part was the big “ZERO AH” reading on my power meter as I did so.

Finally back home from my day’s adventure, I checked the odometer. 113.6 miles. This is the furthest I have ever ridden an electric motorcycle. And while it wasn’t on a single charge, I think it is starting to show that road trips, with appropriate opportunity charging and planning, are completely possible on a DIY-style electric motorcycle!

IMG_4606I did track all the voltage, distance, AH in, and other data on the trip at each stop. Rather than bore you with that, I’ll just give you the summary.
Total miles: 113.6
Total power used: (as tracked at the bike with the Cycle Analyst) 9951 WH
Total Forward current: 69.8 AH
Total Regen current (this includes both charging and charging by regenerative brakes): 41 AH
Total Opportunity Charging Time: 2:45 (1:45 @ 1500 watts, 1:00 @ 2500 watts)
Average Voltage 142.5

Average Efficiency: 87.6 WH/mile (That is tracked at the bike, it does NOT include wall-charger inefficiency.I have found that with the way I ride, average efficiency including from-the-wall loss is usually around 100h/mile.)

As a proxy for a real road trip, I did learn a few things:

  1. I should install a cup-holder
  2. Watch out for bees inside electric covers
  3. Try finding charging locations with interesting things (or food) within walking distance.
  4. Get lunch first. If food isn’t in easy walking distance, get a “to-go meal” first, then go to the charging station and plug in while eating.
  5. Gloves or sunblock. If you don’t wear gloves, wear sunblock. Sunburn on the back of the hands is unpleasant.
  6. Opportunity charging works, just make sure to get plugged in right away before doing anything else.
  7. Laminated Sign. I scribbled a little info on a scrap of paper, including my cell phone number, so that if somebody else needed the camp-site or if say, a park ranger, had any questions for me, they could get ahold of me and I could talk to them or move the cycle as needed. Knowing that I will want some information on the bike, I should probably make a nice laminated sign that explains what I am doing and why and have it look good!
  8. In general campers are nice friendly folks, willing to help a person out. If they weren’t social, they would be off hiding on some private land somewhere, instead of at a public camp-ground.


That’s it for now. Looks like I’ll just keep working it a bit more to see what I can get out of the cycle. Just by charging to 150V instead of 145 gives me about 10 more miles range. Taking advantage of opportunity charging gives me plenty of confidence about getting to the next location. Knowing that campgrounds work pretty well in place of public EV Charging Stations means I can get to and from a LOT of places I couldn’t get to otherwise.

Til next time, stay charged up!


PS: I also saw a hawk, three deer, and two Sandhill Cranes. ADVENTURE!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Scott August 6, 2015 at 1:52 pm

If you ever want to go south, you can 110v plug in at my farm in whitewater/lagrange area.

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