Introducing Our 2015 Smart fortwo Electric Drive

We’ve been a one car household for about a year now. Last year, it was rare that both me and Michael needed the car at the same time, so it wasn’t that much of an inconvenience. Our commutes have changed since then. With winter coming, neither of us wants to be the one having to take a motorcycle out in the rain, or making our partner ride in the rain while we drive in comfort in the Leaf. Time for a new car.

Choosing the car

We are already half way through a 2 year lease on a Nissan Leaf. The Leaf has treated us well, and has let us transport friends and family on occasion. It is also equipped with CHAdeMO, so it can handle longer distance travel needs. A second car would be strictly a work commuter, basically filling in for a motorcycle while keeping us out of the elements.

We prefer keeping all of our vehicles in the garage. We have a two car garage with a bonus alcove. Our Leaf and our 3 motorcycles fit quite handily. The last time we had 2 cars, it became quite the hassle to get the bikes in and out of the garage, so they went under-utilized. If we got a small car, we might be able to get all our vehicles to not only fit, but be able to get the bikes in and out easily without having to pull a car out first.

I also wanted a car which wouldn’t break the bank. I’ve been thinking about trading in my gasoline motorcycle for an electric motorcycle, and getting an expensive car wouldn’t leave enough in the budget for that.

The Smart is about as small as they get. I learned they could do highway speeds, and had more than enough range for my 26 mile daily commute. I talked to some people who had gasoline Smart cars who were pleased with the handling (aside from the stiff suspension), and claimed the car could handle more cargo than it looked like it should. Next step, a test ride.

Michael and I went to the Smart center of Seattle. They had exactly one Smart Electric Drive in stock. We drove it from the dealership out to Mercer Island and back. It handled well enough, and would certainly be more comfortable in rainy weather than a motorcycle. Leasing it from the Seattle dealership would have cost almost as much as our Leaf lease though, and it had a solid roof rather than the standard panoramic roof I had been coveting. We left the dealership, deciding maybe the Smart wasn’t for us after all.

Acquiring our own Smart

Over the next several days, the weather turned colder and wetter. I thought about my alternatives for my winter commute, and still really wanted an enclosed vehicle. The next closest Smart dealership was out of state, the Smart center of Portland. I decided it couldn’t hurt to see if they could help me get a Smart Electric Drive, preferably with that panoramic roof. After all, they had 30 in stock at the time, compared to Seattle’s one.

After several email, text, and phone call exchanges, not only had I secured a Smart electric with a panoramic roof and heated seats, but they offered me a lease deal far less expensive than Seattle could offer. $1800 down, under $150 per month with the battery assurance program. They sent me the paperwork via FedEx, we signed and sent it back. They arranged to have a company ship the car to me, which actually came out to be less expensive than had I tried to go to Portland and pick up the car myself. They took care of the Washington sales taxes and vehicle registration for me. The entire experience was much easier than I had imagined. Within a week of sending my first email inquiry, my new Smart was delivered to me at work.

First impressions

The Smart car doesn’t have as much power and torque as the Leaf, but it does well for such a small car. The suspension is stiff, so you feel a lot more road imperfections. The car creeps forward without touching the accelerator, just like a gasoline car or our Leaf, so very intuitive there. Acceleration is smooth and responsive. It feels surprisingly stable in corners. The small turning radius makes parking a breeze. I’m personally enjoying driving a less common EV around town, although I’m not sure how many people have figured out my car is not your average gasoline Smart.

The panoramic roof is one of my favorite features. When I’m sitting in stop and go traffic, I can look up and see the trees climbing into the sky rather than stopping at my roof line.

The Smart has been quite fun to drive. It is so nimble and easy to maneuver, and as an electric it is quiet, has no annoying engine vibration, doesn’t stink up the garage, and I never have to take it to the gas station. Even as a barely beyond basic model, it has aux and USB ports, automatic dusk sensing headlights, and a rain sensor to adjust the speed of the wipers.

After one week of owning and operating the Smart, I am pleased to report I am well satisfied with my purchase. I think it’s safe to say Michael feels the same, since he has borrowed the car several times already.

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Added a windscreen to my electric motorcycle

[Originally posted to http://brammoforum.com/index.php?topic=2960.]

I just picked up a National Cycle Deflector DX and ran into two problems while assembling it.

1) I’d incorrectly measured the diameter of the handlebars.  The parts I’d ordered are for a 7/8″ bar and the Empulse handlebar might be thicker (one inch?).

2) There are many cables zip-tied along the handlebar except for the gap in the center next to the keyhole.  Clamping something on top of these wires would likely damage them over time, but the gap in the middle of the handlebar isn’t wide enough for two mounting clamps with quick-release knobs side by side.

I wondered how other Empulse owners installed this screen.  In the photo, I positioned the shield approximately where it belongs, but of course it’s not attached properly–the windshield’s clamps are resting on the mirror stalks instead of the handlebars.

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Good news, though.  After getting over my reluctance to cut the zip ties guiding wires along the handlebar (picture 1), and going ahead with attaching the clamps that seemed too narrow in diameter to fit on the handlebars (picture 2), the rest of the assembly wasn’t much trouble (picture 3).

National Cycle customer service said that the clamps were meant to be a little small, but would expand to fit over time.  I guess they have a point, because if I’d gotten the 1” size, it might have been too loose.

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Here are two front views.  It’s hard to see unless you know what you’re looking for, which is just fine with me.  The idea is to have a windscreen that doesn’t take away from the look of the bike.  A tinted windscreen would have drawn attention to itself.  This is a sport bike, not a cruiser, after all.

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The way I initially installed it, it rests on the headlight fairing.  I don’t yet know if this will cause wear marks to appear on the fairing, but after one test ride, it doesn’t appear to have done any noticeable damage.

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From the top, looking down the windscreen edge-on, you can see that there is plenty of clearance for the dashboard.

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So with the screen attached, I went for a test ride.

The screen was securely attached and didn’t wobble or change position at speeds of up to 50 mph, despite the 1/4″ gap between the halves of the clamps on the handlebar.

I was hoping that the wind would be deflected above my head so that there would be less noise around my helmet, allowing me to ride without earplugs and hear my helmet radio.  However, the screen didn’t calm the air around my head.  Instead, because the screen only came up to my neck in height, what it protected was my chest, leaving everything from the top of my shoulders and above in the wind.

Although the screen fits in front of the dashboard, when I try to tuck behind the screen to be protected from the wind, it is uncomfortable fitting my head behind the screen.  Not that I’m inflexible, but I feel like I have to compress my spine because I can’t slide my rear end further back to make room for my head without running into the sudden upward curve of the seat to where the passenger would sit.  Also, with my head that low, I’m either knocking the helmet into the screen or craning my neck to look forward properly.

Initially, the windscreen was angled parallel to the forks.  I will see if tilting the windscreen more vertically will help.  If that doesn’t help, maybe I can rest the bottom of the windscreen on the top of the dashboard to raise the top edge closer to my eye height, where I’ve had success with windscreens on cruisers and scooters.

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If these workarounds fail, then I might have to return the screen for something taller than the 15” height of the Deflector.  Maybe something 20” in height?

Posted in Brammo, Motorcycle, Riding | Tagged | Leave a comment

RE: Open letter to the members of the Washington State EV Caucus

In quick response to my open letter, I was happy to receive the following e-mail from Representative Dick Muri (28th District, Washington State).  I’m glad that these representatives appear to be open to input from the public instead of trying to base their decisions solely on their limited personal experience with EVs.  It’s not clear what kind of input they seek, though, so it’s difficult to know what information would be helpful to share with them.

What would you want to share with lawmakers on the topic of EVs?  What do you think they need to hear?

 

From: Dick.Muri@leg.wa.gov
Subject: RE: Thank you for making history by joining the first-ever Electric Vehicle (EV) Caucus– but don’t forget that electric motorcycles are EVs, too!
Date: Tue, 16 Dec 2014 19:40:04 +0000

Michael

Thank you for your encouraging note. As you know, I am passionate about the economic and environmental benefits EVs bring to our state. The EV caucus had a great meeting last week with members of both parties from both the House and Senate. We were able to trade ideas, share insights and personal experiences, and find common ground as we look to advance EV friendly policies in our state. All of the ideas that you mentioned below were discussed. Please continue to share with me your ideas and experiences with EVs – there’s a good chance they may come up the next time we meet. Your insight on your experiences with your electric motorcycle was very helpful.

 

Dick Muri

28th Legislative District State Representative (Position #1)

360-786-7890 (Office JLOB 424)

253-439-9797 (personal cell/text)

Click Here to Receive my Legislative Updates

Posted in Lawmaker | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Open letter to the members of the Washington State EV Caucus

Background:

As a member of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, I heard about a request from John McCoy, Legislative Director for SEVA, asking people to write to our Washington State legislators to thank them for recently creating an EV Caucus to “support the advancement of low-polluting, electric cars.”

As an electric motorcycle enthusiast, this immediately prompted me to deviate from the form letter that Mr. McCoy provided to stress that electric motorcycles are EVs, too!  Below you’ll find the result.

 

To:

mark.mullet@leg.wa.gov

chad.magendanz@leg.wa.gov

Joe.Fitzgibbon@leg.wa.gov

Andy.Hill@leg.wa.gov

Pramila.Jayapal@leg.wa.gov

john.mccoy@leg.wa.gov

ed.orcutt@leg.wa.gov

Dick.Muri@leg.wa.gov

jake.fey@leg.wa.gov

 

Subject:

Thank you for making history by joining the first-ever Electric Vehicle (EV) Caucus — but don’t forget that electric motorcycles are EVs, too!

 

Body:

Dear Esteemed Senators and Representatives;

Thank you for your historic decision to form an EV caucus in Washington State.  I hope that your work helps encourage the public to replace gasoline vehicles with electric vehicles, and sets a good example for other state legislatures and the nation as a whole to do the same to reduce air pollution and our dependence upon oil from any source.

As both an electric car driver and electric motorcycle rider, I bear my fair share of financial responsibility by paying the same $100 road maintenance use tax per vehicle (RCW 46.17.323) to replace the equivalent tax on gasoline prices at the pump, but I do not see similarly equal sales tax relief from RCW 82.08.809 because a motorcycle is not included in the wording “passenger cars, light duty trucks, and medium duty passenger vehicles.”

What is it about alternative fuel motorcycles that does not merit the same incentives?  What merits to motorcycles need to offer to meet or exceed that of “passenger cars, light duty trucks, and medium duty passenger vehicles”?

I would like to convince you of the merit of including electric motorcycles among the alternative fuel vehicles that you discuss by pointing out the following advantages that they offer not only over gasoline vehicles, but all “passenger cars, light duty trucks, and medium duty passenger vehicles”:

  • Electric motorcycles consume less than half of the electricity to travel the same distance as an electric car.  I have measured this with my electric car and my electric motorcycle along exactly the same commute.
  • Electric motorcycles consume less than one-third of the space to park an electric car.  I have seen as many as four motorcycles fit in one compact parking space.  Even one carelessly parked “passenger car, light duty truck, or medium duty passenger vehicle” can make the two parking spaces next to it unusable.
  • Motorcycles of any kind are allowed to travel in HOV lanes, allowing commuters to get to work more quickly.
  • Because much traffic congestion is caused by single-occupancy “passenger cars, light duty trucks, and medium duty passenger vehicles”, motorcycles (and future electric vehicles such as the half-width two-wheeled car being developed by California startup Lit Motors) offer commuters a way to downsize their vehicle to match the number of occupants.
  • Assuming that air pollution, traffic congestion, and limited parking are serious problems facing–and caused by–commuters driving to and from work in single-occupancy gasoline-powered “passenger cars, light duty trucks, and medium duty passenger vehicles”, incentivizing commuters to replace their gasoline vehicles with electric cars only mitigates the pollution problem.  Adding electric motorcycles to commuters’ choices of alternative fuel vehicles gives them the flexibility to choose a vehicle that might not only fit their lifestyle and commuting needs better, but mitigates all three problems.
  • In all other ways, motorcycles and their riders are subject to the same traffic laws that other vehicles and their drivers are, so why treat them differently with regard to taxes and incentives?

Does this not suggest that alternative fuel motorcycles should no longer be excluded from the definition of the word “vehicle”?  That electric motorcycles are EVs just as much as electric cars are?

This session, I look forward to your support of key EV initiatives, which include:

  1. Extending the sales tax exemption for green alternative fuel vehicles past July,
  2. Extending the definition of “green alternative fuel vehicle” to include green alternative fuel motorcycles,
  3. Supporting additional highway fast charging infrastructure to finish the West Coast Green Highway on I-5 and extend this benefit to the state’s other highway corridors, and
  4. Updating building and electrical codes to make future buildings EV ready.

In addition to your efforts to include motorcycles among the classes of vehicles you’re discussing,  I would also be very interested in your ideas for getting the state’s electric utilities more involved in supporting transportation, and extending home charging to existing multifamily buildings as well.

Thank you for taking this historic step, and I hope to see legislation pass in the 2015 session that is designed to encourage rapid EV adoption.

Sincerely,

Michael Johnson

Duvall, WA 98019

Electric car lessee: Nissan LEAF, manufactured in Tennessee

Electric motorcycle owner: Brammo Empulse R, manufactured in Oregon

Electric scooter owner: Current Motor Super Scooter, manufactured in Michigan

Posted in Car, Lawmaker, Motorcycle, Person, Praise | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The Electric Motorcycles on Display at The November 2014 International Motorcycle Show in Seattle

[Updated to mention the incredible attention our e-motorcycles received from passers-by in the parking garage.]

In this post about the motorcycle show:

  • Only one electric motorcycle seen, and it wasn’t for sale
  • Special parking kindly set aside for recharging electric motorcycles
    • We almost didn’t attend the show because people in the garage wouldn’t stop asking questions about our e-motorcycles!
  • Speculation about what this year’s absence could mean for the future of electric motorcycles
  • What am I doing to support the e-motorcycle industry?
  • Have I gone 100% electric? 

International Motorcycle Show travels from city to city, bringing people in touch with local and national motorcycle manufacturers and related companies under one roof.  In the recent past, electric motorcycle manufacturers like Brammo and Zero Motorcycles have been among the exhibitors.  Even KTM once showed off the Freeride E, an electric dirt bike a few years ago.

Only one electric motorcycle?  Seriously?

As a recent EV convert and motorcyclist, I’ve been eagerly following the progress of these e-motorcycles and looking forward to what new products each manufacturer would bring to each year’s Motorcycle Show.

What was I looking forward to at this year’s Seattle show?

  • Based on their past appearances, a return of the big, proud display by Zero Motorcycles, touting their recently announced 2015 models.
  • Based on their recent signing on of Seattle E-Bike as their Seattle dealership, a confident presence by both Seattle E-Bike and Brammo, touting their successful end-of-summer sale extended through the end of the year.
  • Based on their recent release in Europe of the C Evolution electric scooter, even if it isn’t sold in America, I hoped to see a model on display at the BMW booth to solicit demand for this product here.
  • Based on the (1) increased presence of electric motorcycles at the show over time, (2) that Seattle is the #4 city in the nation in EV adoptions, and (3) the precedent they’d already set, a FreeRide E on display by KTM.
  • Based on the incredibly popular Project LiveWire Experience tour, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see it at the Harley-Davidson booth to further drum up interest.
  • Based on the surprisingly large number of 2014 debuts by a number of promising newcomers to the e-motorcycle industry, I was holding my breath for a chance to see and sit on the Sora by LITO Green Motion, the Ego by Energica, or the 2013 Pikes Peak winning LS-218 by Lightning Motorcycles.

So which of these expectations were met?

Only Harley-Davidson presented an electric motorcycle, and one that the company has made no promise to ever bring to market.

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When will Project LiveWire™ motorcycles be available for purchase?

Project LiveWire™ motorcycles are not for sale. This is a journey we’re taking with our customers to discover how good we can make the ride. We’re taking the Project LiveWire™ motorcycle experience around the country this year, and continue in the US, Canada and Europe in 2015. We’ll gain feedback from real riders on what they are looking for in this type of vehicle from Harley-Davidson® Motorcycle. Any final decisions about whether to bring an electric motorcycle to market – and when – will be made at a later date.

If this was a reflection of the progress electric motorcycles’ have made in the marketplace, it would be a disappointing one.  And, I believe, an incorrect one.

Special parking for electric motorcycles?

Prior to entering the exhibitor hall, I arrived in the parking lot immediately to the right inside the 8th Avenue entrance to the Washington State Convention Center to find a number of 110V outlets waiting under a sign that read “Electric Cycle Charging Station”.

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Pictured:  Brammo Empulse R and Zero DS parked and charging

The bike was easy to park.  Leaving the garage to attend the show was the difficult part.  And a lot of fun!

Between parking the bike and removing my riding gear, the Brammo got a lot of attention from people who were passing between the parking garage to the show.  They couldn’t figure out why a motorcycle was plugging into an electrical outlet, they were drawn in by the bright colors, they were curious about a motorcycle type they’d never seen before.

Almost every group of passers-by turned their heads or approached with questions.  Staff of local race tracks, apprentice elevator technicians, squids (just kidding).  They almost always asked about the basic questions like range, or how long it takes to charge, or how fast it goes (it is decorated like a race bike, after all), but some asked detailed questions that I hadn’t been expecting, like whether the motor was AC or DC, whether it was brushless or not, or exactly what the battery chemistry was.

When my friend with the Zero DS arrived, the questioning from curious passers by continued.  It was very difficult to reluctantly but politely disengage to make our way to the motorcycle show ourselves.  Clearly there is a lot of earnest interest from the public, so it is surprising that the e-motorcycle manufacturers chose not to attend this year.

How did it come to pass that electrical outlets were made available for recharging?

Two years ago, I e-mailed Ed Barnes, the VP of Operations for the Washington State Convention Center, asking him if electric vehicle charging stations would be available so that I could recharge while I attend the 2012 show and be confident that I could return home.  At the time, I had a Current Motor Super Scooter that would barely make it to the Convention Center, never mind get home again.  I needed every opportunity to recharge.

That e-mail did not receive a response.  Given that I contacted him less than a month prior to the show, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  There was no time to arrange a response, even if he wanted to—I’m sure that he was much too busy with preparations for the show.

In 2013, after getting to know the Super Scooter better, I realized that not only would getting to the show even with a full charge be quite a feat, the December weather in Seattle was against it.  We decided instead to take our 2012 Nissan LEAF, which by that time we knew well enough to trust that it would have enough charge for the entire round trip.

This year, after taking possession of a Brammo Empulse R with the help of local dealership Seattle E-Bike, I wanted to try to ride to the show again.  This time though, I wanted to give the WSCC staff a reasonable amount of time to respond to my request, so I contacted Mr. Barnes with two months to spare.  After including a local EVSE representative in the conversation, I received two pieces of very encouraging news:  (1) 110V outlets would temporarily be made available in time for the show—not just for me, but for all electric motorcyclists that wanted to park and recharge before returning home, and (2) a permanent EVSE installation was planned for 2015.  This means that not only would a temporary recharging solution be available for electric motorcycles be able to recharge during their riders’ visit to the motorcycle show, but some time next year, all electric vehicles—cars or motorcycles—would conveniently be able to recharge while they parked.

Mr. Barnes, thank you for making this possible!  Because of your decision, my friend and I were able to recharge our electric motorcycles and return home safely.

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Pictured:  My motorcycle’s battery recovered 35% of charge in 2.5 hours at 110V

The future of electric motorcycles

In a Facebook post inviting my motorcycle and e-motorcycle friends to this year’s motorcycle show, I drew their attention to the news about the electric motorcycle charging opportunity.

Afterwards, I looked up the list of exhibitors to find out which of the e-motorcycle manufacturers would actually be present.  As mentioned above, I found neither Brammo nor Zero on the list.  After asking the convention center to go out of its way to make e-motorcycle charging possible, this was an embarrassing discovery.  Further, assuming that WSCC was well aware that fewer electric motorcycle manufacturers were attending this year’s show than last year’s, it is a tremendous demonstration of good will deserving our appreciation.

In reaction to my report that Brammo and Zero would not be present, someone shared my disappointment and expressed concern that these manufacturers were doing themselves a disservice by not being represented at this show.

From the point of view of someone like me eager to see what the e-motorcycle industry has to offer the public, it is easy to become disheartened.  Companies one hoped to see don’t show up, as if they’d given up or didn’t care to promote and sell their products to anyone, anymore.  Companies who do show off an e-motorcycle make no promise to bring one to market, dampening excitement by frustrating potential customers or doing nothing to discourage skeptics.

I struggled to reply to this.  I did reply, but it’s hard to quote out of context here.  Instead, let’s say I’m pinning my hopes on the optimism shown by the sheer number of companies that have not only not given up, but are entering the market.  Brammo and Zero not only continue to sell e-motorcycles, but come out with new models and have solicited funding to develop new products, new business models, and expand their operations; that three new e-motorcycle manufacturers (Energica, Lightning, LITO) have made their market debut just this year; that major motorcycle manufacturers like BMW (C Evolution) and Harley-Davidson (Project LiveWire) have showed promising signs of taking electrics seriously; that related electric vehicles are also undergoing research and development (the electric unicycle from Ryno Motors, the half-car / enclosed motorcycle by Lit Motors, the several examples of electric aircraft).

We’re talking about electric motorcycles, but other electric vehicle types are the topic of serious R&D, too.  Pick a type of vehicle that is integral to our daily transportation needs, and it’s very likely that someone is trying to figure out how to make an electricity-powered version commercially viable.  Right now.  If not now, soon.  Why should motorcycles be singled out as the one form of transportation that will remain gasoline-powered?  In this light, I shouldn’t even harbor the shadow of a doubt that electric motorcycles as a class of vehicles will continue to improve.

For the impatient among us, we can of course be frustrated by companies that appear to not be taking every available opportunity to advertise, to get in front of potential customers, and to make the improvements and price reductions that would address our many concerns about the marketability of their products.  When we don’t know what a company is doing or why it has done something, we can be hasty to project our hopes and dreams onto them and view their actions or inaction as a betrayal of our expectations; we are hasty to pave the gaps in our knowledge with assumptions and desires and draw indefensible conclusions from them.  We can accuse companies of sitting on the sidelines missing short-term opportunities, not knowing that they are already taking action that they believe will lead them to future long-term successes.

For the impatient among us, it is painful to play the waiting game.  But wait we must, unless we join them, understand them, and/or contribute to their success directly.  For those of us who are not directly involved with those companies, one of the few ways that we can contribute is to become early adopters.  Reward them for what they have done so far and fund their future success.  Sitting and waiting doesn’t help them.

What am I doing to support the e-motorcycle industry?

Two years ago, my wife and I took the plunge and leased a Nissan LEAF to show support for Nissan’s decision to produce affordable electric cars, to show that workplace charging is something that our employer would have to factor into its facilities budget sooner or later, to show local businesses that installing EVSEs is another way to attract paying customers, to show electricity utility companies that they have to prepare for what amounts to a new fad in power hungry appliances that many homes can be expected to have in the future, and to show local government that EV charging infrastructure is as important to plan for as gasoline stations are to gasoline-powered vehicles. 

Two years ago, I entered a sweepstakes to win a Current Motor Super Scooter to see whether e-motorcycles are toys or terrific, and to give early-adopter feedback to the company so that their future products would be even better.

This year, I bought a Brammo Empulse R because while the electric scooter was an adequate commuter, I lived in too rural an area for its range and power to really be taken advantage of.  Also, I was impatient to proactively contribute towards the development of e-motorcycles and enjoy even less-than-ideal ones now rather than passively wait several years for them to catch up.  E-motorcycles are already fun, even if they’re not quite touring bikes yet.

Have we gone 100% electric? 

Not yet, but here’s what we have done:

  • We’ve gone from two gasoline cars to one hybrid car to one all-electric car.  We don’t plan to purchase any more gasoline cars.  If we need to travel long distances, we’ll fly, go by train, or rent a car.
  • We’ve got an electric scooter and electric motorcycle, but haven’t gotten rid of our gasoline motorcycles yet.  We still occasionally take motorcycle road trips that exceed the range of our electric two-wheelers, and it is cheaper to keep our gasoline vehicles than to rent them when we need them.
  • We’ve got solar panels that in the summer are not only more than enough to power the appliances, but power our all-electric car and all-electric motorcycle, and in our first year resulted in a credit of $700 from our electricity utility.
  • For grins, I’ll even mention that we even have electric yard tools even though gasoline ones exist. 
    • Our first lawnmower is electric.  We’ve never owned a gasoline lawnmower and don’t plan to. 
    • Our first hedge trimmer is electric.  We’ve never owned a gasoline one and don’t plan to.

So our gasoline motorcycles are holding us back from an all-electric garage.  And limitations in currently available electric motorcycles are holding us back from replacing the gasoline motorcycles—limitations that we’re sure to see addressed, but probably not as quickly as we’d like:

  • Range
    Our gasoline bikes can travel about 120-140 miles per tank of gas, and refuel at easily found gas stations.  The Brammo can go 50-60 miles on a single charge, but can only recharge from public EVSEs that are significantly less common than gas stations, or 110V outlets that you have permission to use (try to plug into a wall outlet at a shopping mall and mall security will unplug you if you’re discovered; try to ask for permission to plug in at a gas station’s outlet and you’re unlikely to get a helpful reaction).  50 miles is great for commuting (or riding the bike from home to the dealership for service, but it’s not great for touring.  Our gasoline bikes can travel about 120-140 miles per tank of gas.  Yes, a Zero has almost the same range, but that brings up the next point.
  • Charging speed
    Gasoline drivers or motorcyclists will scoff at the time it takes to recharge an electric vehicle, bragging that they can refuel in minutes instead of hours.  DC Fast Charging (in the form of CHAdeMO for most of the US) promises 80% charge in about 30 minutes.  However, Brammo does not offer this charging speed and Zero only offers it as an $1,800 add-on under controlled conditions that are so restricted as to be useless.  Brammos can natively recharge at L2 EVSE in 3.5 hours.  Zeros cannot connect to an L2 EVSE without a $300 adapter, but even so will charge no faster than L1 (110V) speeds, which takes 10 hours or so without one to four $600 bulky external chargers.  There has been some recent news about battery chemistries that support faster charging, or supercapacitors that can be reenergized faster than a chemical battery can be recharged, but these have not been deployed in any commercially available electric vehicle on two or four wheels.
    • As an aside, I wondered whether a Zero’s larger range beat out a Brammos’s faster charging speed.  At 60 mph, a Zero will reach a destination 100 miles away sooner than a Brammo because the Brammo has to stop to recharge for 3.5 hours at L2 every 50 miles but the Zero doesn’t.  However, a Brammo will travel 250 miles faster than a Zero because the Brammo will have stopped to recharge 4 times for 3.5 hours each while the Zero will have stopped to recharge 2 times for 10 hours each, so the Brammo will have only spent 14 hours charging while the Zero has spent 20 hours recharging.  Starting somewhere between 200-250 miles, the Brammo takes and keeps the lead.image
Posted in Brammo, Car, Comparing, Current Motor, EVSE, Motorcycle, Unicycle, Zero Motorcycles | Tagged | 6 Comments

A Beginner’s Guide to Electric Vehicle Charging

A friend has been curious about electric vehicles for some time, but like many people, has been waiting for a desirable combination of range, features, and price. Recent developments are pushing him closer to making a purchase decision, so he’s interested in learning more about how they work–in particular how they recharge.

As much as electric vehicles (EVs) resemble traditional gasoline-powered vehicles, how EVs recharge is probably the least familiar. I’ve been asked to provide an introduction to EV recharging options. As this will be useful to anyone wondering about the care and feeding of an EV, I’ve put together this blog post to share this information widely and help demystify the topic.

The information I gathered to write this article is publicly available on the Internet, with much of the material sourced from Wikipedia and web searches for relevant images.

In outline, this post will describe how plug-in electric vehicles are recharged, outline the choices for EV recharging, list which EVs can use each, and show how you can find recharging opportunities while out and about.

How do you recharge an electric vehicle?

If you can think of a type of gasoline-powered vehicle, you can probably find its electric equivalent today. There are electric trains, buses, trucks, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles. Even boats and airplanes powered only by electricity are available for sale to consumers.

Most of us are familiar with gasoline-fueled vehicles that have a tank that is filled with liquid fuel.  This fuel is consumed during the vehicle’s operation until the tank is empty.  Rather than let the vehicle become unusable, most of us refill the tank before it is empty at a convenient gas station.

How this works for plug-in electric vehicles is similar.  If it helps, think about the common battery-powered devices you’re already familiar with, such as laptops, cell phones, or electric toothbrushes:  use it until the battery is too low, then plug it in to recharge it until it is usable again.

Of course you shouldn’t drive away while the vehicle is still plugged in, the same way you shouldn’t drive away from a gas station while the gas nozzle is still in your gas tank.

For your battery-powered appliances, plugging into any wall outlet will let you recharge.  For EVs, you can either plug into a wall outlet, or a machine called a charging station or EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment), which is just a fancy name for a machine that is designed to recharge EVs.

A familiar battery-powered appliance

An electric car

An electric motorcycle

Use your battery-powered device Drive your electric vehicle Ride your electric motorcycle
2014-08-11 Low Battery Warning after two trips to the hospital (3) WP_20140719_013
Use it until the battery charge is low or empty Drive it until its battery charge is low or empty Ride it until its battery charge is low or empty
Find a nearby electrical outlet Find a nearby charging station, or let your vehicle’s GPS find one for you Find a nearby charging station with a handy app or web site like PlugShare
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Recharge the battery Recharge the battery Recharge the battery
Continue using your device Continue driving your electric car Continue riding your electric motorcycle

EVs come in different types, that affect how they can be recharged:

Abbr. Unabbreviated Meaning Methods of Recharging or Refueling Example Vehicles
BEV Battery Electric Vehicle An electric vehicle that stores its energy in on-board rechargeable batteries. These batteries are the only source of power for propelling the vehicle.
  • Plugging into a wall outlet directly
  • Plugging into a wall outlet indirectly through a portable EVSE
  • Plugging directly into a Level 2 or Level 3 EVSE
  • Through regenerative braking (a process similar to how bicycle dynamos work)
PEV Plug-in Electric Vehicle A vehicle that has rechargeable batteries that can be recharged from an external source. The vehicle is propelled either by the electrical energy stored in the batteries, or other sources of energy, such as an internal combustion engine (ICE) or fuel cell, or both.
  • (same as a BEV)
  • If the vehicle includes an ICE, it can refuel with gasoline and propel itself even if its battery is empty
  • (all BEVs)
  • (all PHEVs)
PHEV Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle A hybrid electric vehicle whose rechargeable batteries can also be recharged from an external source instead of only by using the ICE as a generator.
  • (same as a PEV)
HEV Hybrid Electric Vehicle This kind of vehicle only uses gasoline as a fuel, but diverts some or all of the energy from the ICE and from regenerative braking to recharge the on-board batteries that assist in propelling the vehicle.
  • This kind of vehicle can only be refueled with gasoline, and its batteries recharge only by operating the ICE as a generator or by recovering energy through braking

EV recharging choices

Except for the Tesla Model S, some electric motorcycles (Zero FX), and electric bicycles, EV batteries are typically not removable for charging or easily swappable with fully charged batteries. This means that a power source must be connected to the vehicle so that energy can be returned to the batteries. In the United States, plug-in EVs typically come with one or more sockets that each fit a standardized plug, or come with one or more adapters so that the vehicle can be connected to such equipment. In the United States, these power sources come in three categories, known as levels, which are proportional to the voltage of the electricity that they supply to the electric vehicle. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_car#US_Charging_Standards.

In summary

(assuming a vehicle with battery pack that offers an 80-mile range)

Level 1 = 120 volt AC wall outlets, with charging times exceeding 8 hours

Level 2 = 240 volt AC charging stations, with charging times exceeding 4 hours

Level 3 = 50-500 volt DC charging stations, including Tesla Superchargers, with charging times on the order of 1 hour

Level 1

Level 1 refers to the conventional wall outlets that supply 120 volts of alternating current (120VAC). Some EVs, such as electric bicycles, the Current Motor Super Scooter, and Zero Motorcycles (pictured below) either come with a cable that can be plugged directly into the wall outlet, or a garden-variety extension cable can be used. Other EVs like the Nissan LEAF (pictured below) come with a portable EVSE that takes the form of a box that has two plugs–one that goes into the wall outlet and the other that connects to an appropriate socket on the vehicle.

A word of caution: before plugging your vehicle or your portable EVSE into a wall outlet, please make sure that the EVSE’s current draw does not overload the circuit.

Another word of caution: before plugging your vehicle or your portable EVSE into somebody else’s wall outlet, please ask for permission first. Some EV drivers report hostile or uncooperative reactions from businesses such as gasoline stations, even if you offer a token amount of money in exchange for the cents of electricity that you need to be on your way.

Some examples of Level 1 EVSE

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A Zero S is seen plugged directly into a standard 120V wall outlet Nissan LEAF portable EVSE with 120VAC plug on one end and J1772 connector on the other; the J1772 connector plugs into a port in the front of the LEAF
[Source] [Source]

Level 2

Level 2 refers to 240V AC power supplies that are typically machines dedicated for the purpose of recharging electric vehicles and can be installed in homes and parking lots. Prices for home units are below $1,000 and dropping. Some electric utilities such as PSE even offer subsidies for purchases of home Level 2 EVSE.

When they were first introduced a few years ago, these EVSE were free to use, but in the last year or so have started charging fees per unit of energy drawn or per unit of time spent connected. EVSEs that charge a fee usually also require the customer to use an RFID-equipped membership card that itself costs a nominal fee to acquire. Some EV dealerships offer customers the use of their EVSE without charge. Some EV dealerships are generous enough to make their EVSE free for any EV owner to use, customer or not.

Some examples of Level 2 EVSE

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Seen here is a Brammo Empulse R recharging at Level 2 in Ashland, Oregon. The cable from the EVSE is plugged directly into the J1772 socket on the top of the motorcycle; to the right is seen a Level 3 charging station that is not in use. Both EVSE are manufactured by AeroVironment and in this case are part of the West Coast Green Highway, which serves Washington and Oregon. The open charging door in the front of a Nissan LEAF is seen here with two charging ports visible and the Level 2 charging port in use; the other charging port is for Level 3 charging
[Source] [Source]

Level 3

Level 3 refers to 480V DC power supplies that are also machines dedicated for EV recharging, but are typically too expensive for home use (costing tens of thousands of dollars to purchase and install) and are thus usually only found in EV dealerships and parking lots. In the United States, these usually support the CHAdeMO protocol, which is supported by adding optional equipment to the Nissan LEAF, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Tesla Model S, and Zero Motorcycles. The Tesla Supercharger network is the other DC fast charging solution available in the United States. It is currently proprietary to Tesla Motors and only its vehicles are supported by this network, but that may change in the future.

Some examples of Level 3 EVSE

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Seen here is a Mitsubishi i-MiEV charging from a Blink Level 3 EVSE Seen here is a Nissan LEAF with its charge door open and charging from a Level 3 EVSE (manufactured by AeroVironment for Nissan) via its CHAdeMO plug (the orange plug is for Level 2 charging) Seen here is a Tesla Model S charging from a Tesla Supercharger, a DC fast charging system that currently no other brand of vehicle is compatible with or may charge from
[Source] [Source] [Source]

How do I find these charging stations?

Once you have an electric vehicle, where can you recharge it if you’re running low on charge and can’t make it to your next destination? If your EV comes with a GPS, it will likely include a feature that will display the locations of nearby charging stations on the map.  It might also be able to offer you turn-by-turn instructions for how to reach the nearest charging station.

If your EV does not come with a GPS, you can use PlugShare on your PC or smartphone to display available EVSEs on the map.  PlugShare lets you review and upload photos of charging stations, but if you encounter one not already on the map, you can register for an account on PlugShare and add it so that other EV owners may make use of it. Reviewing an EVSE is helpful for other users because it lets you report whether a charging station is in working order or not, which can alert other EV owners to rely on it or to avoid it.

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http://www.plugshare.com/
Posted in AeroVironment, Brammo, Car, Chevrolet, Current Motor, EVSE, Mitsubishi, Motorcycle, Nissan, Puget Sound Energy, Recharging, Tesla, Vehicle, Zero Motorcycles | Leave a comment

My June distraction…

In my previous post, I alluded to something that distracted me from my savings towards a 2014 Zero S electric motorcycle.  That distraction turned out to be a limited edition 2013 Brammo Empulse R, #6 out of a series of 32 built to Eric Bostrom’s specifications for electric motorcycle racing.

There was a long story behind it, but the short of it is that I bought it from a gentleman in Texas who was sad to part with it, but could not take it with him where his employer asked him to relocate.

Normally, these things would run close to $20K, but he let it go for $14K…and paid for shipping…and it only had 28 miles on the odometer…and it was brightly and garishly colored!  It would go so well with my high visibility yellow jacket and helmet!  How could I pass this up?

Sure, Brammos get less range (~60 miles at highway speeds) than the 80-100 highway miles of the Zero S or SR with Power Tank, but the Brammo can charge from empty to full in 3.5 hours, whereas the Zero would take over 10 hours to do the same.  I would rather not have to check into a hotel room every 100 miles of travel before going the next 100.  Also, despite the CHAdeMO adapter Zero sells, many CHAdeMO DC fast chargers don’t support charging battery packs with voltages as low as 100V, which both the Brammo and Zero have, so even having a CHAdeMO charger on board the Zero would only allow me to charge at a subset of the already rare CHAdeMO stations in my area.

Sure, I can only go about 60 highway miles at a time, but I can take advantage of many Level 2 charging stations around the Puget Sound.  How plentiful are they?  Search PlugShare.com for Seattle, Washington and look at all the green pins.

So what do I think of it?

It’s awesome.  It’s full of surprises.  I had no idea that I would feel comfortable on a sport bike, until I took a test ride back in April for Microsoft’s Earth Day Electric Vehicle Show that I organized.  Just a couple of weeks before that, I’d taken a test ride of the 2014 Zero S, which I posted about previously.  Both bikes perform well.  However, the Brammo is so much more comfortable.

I’ll have to write about it in more detail later, but yet another topic has caught my attention recently, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

In the meantime, here’s a video of one of my first rides.

Posted in Brammo, Shopping, Zero Motorcycles | 1 Comment