This post is a continuation of Successful Rides Saturday!, describing a late-afternoon round-trip along a 13-mile, hilly route—uphill both ways—that is my daily commute.
The second ride – going there
Duvall to the Redmond Overlake area; 13 miles;
A: 0.7 mile @ 25 mph & 316 ft. descent (8% grade),
B: 0.8 mile @ 35-40 mph & 40 ft. climb (1% grade),
C: 1.3 miles @ 50 mph & 80 ft. descent (1% grade),
D: 1.3 miles @ 45 mph & 28 ft. climb (0.5% grade),
E: 0.3 mile @ 35 mph & 171 ft. climb (11% grade),
F: 0.3 mile @ 45 mph & 196 ft. climb (12% grade),
G: 0.5 mile @ 45 mph & 107 ft. climb (4% grade),
H: 3.5 miles @ 45 mph & 481 ft. descent (2% grade),
I: 1.2 miles @ 40 mph & 27 ft. descent (0.3% grade),
J: 1.1 miles @ 60 mph & 13 ft. descent (0.2% grade),
K: 1.3 miles @ 60 mph & 286 ft. climb (4% grade)
(Speed limit data from memory; altitude data obtained from http://www.daftlogic.com/sandbox-google-maps-find-altitude.htm)
With growing confidence after the successful first trip to Monroe and back, the next obstacle to accepting this as a useful commuter vehicle was my actual work commute.
Returning form the first trip around 1:30pm, I checked the scooter’s battery around 4pm to find it up to 99% charge. This time, my wife took the LEAF as the chase vehicle because we were planning to run some errands and grab dinner while the scooter was charging at its destination. This turned out to be very helpful in exposing and working around some weaknesses that I’ll reveal below.
The rain that had soured our Thanksgiving weekend had long given way to a partly cloudy sky and bright sunshine that began to dry out the roads. A 4:30 departure left us with sunlight and some shadow towards the end of this afternoon, and committed us to returning after dark. This would not only be a true test of the Super Scooter’s range against my commute route, but against my typical evening commuting conditions (evening light in spring and summer, and evening darkness in autumn and winter).
This report continues below in segments which are described by their length, speed limit, change of elevation, and slope.
Segment A: 0.7 mile @ 25 mph & 316 ft. descent (8% grade)
Descending a hill was no problem. As with the first ride, the concern was whether the battery would survive a round-trip with enough battery life to climb the last half-mile 8% grade home.
Well, descending a hill was almost no problem. It certainly rolled down the hill without trouble, braked to a stop at the two major intersections on the way down, and kept traction on the wet road surfaces (I of course aimed to avoid breaking or turning while crossing road paint or manhole covers). What it didn’t do quite as expected was regenerate power during braking. The Owner’s Manual claims 30% regeneration is triggered by lightly squeezing the right brake lever, 60% from the left, and 100% if both are squeezed. If either brake lever is squeezed firmly, then friction braking using the traditional disc brakes (right = front, left = rear) are applied.
How the rider is informed of regenerative braking is through the digital dashboard’s speedometer (example at right). In the top-right corner of the display, the amount of current being used by the motor is shown along the curved meter. In the example, 43 amps is being used to propel the scooter forward at the indicated speed of 48 mph. The yellow shading extending counter-clockwise from near the right edge of the scale is used to show power being drained from the battery to achieve this. If a large enough current is being drawn, the shaded region will be colored red. In the case of regenerative braking, a negative number of amps will be displayed and a green-shaded region will extend clockwise towards the right edge of the scale.
What I have not yet experienced is any sign of regenerative braking resulting from use of the right brake lever. Yes, slowing occurred, but I couldn’t tell by looking at the digital speedometer if the motor was converting kinetic energy to recharge the battery or if the brakes were only converting it to heat. However, the left brake lever did cause negative amperage and a green-shaded area to be displayed on the speedometer. Given the steep hills in my area, especially the 8% grade near my house and the 12% grade returning home, I would’ve thought it would be easy to trigger regenerative braking with either brake lever.
Again, the deceleration was adequate; I never felt in danger of not slowing down. What was unexpected was triggering regenerative braking with the right brake lever was either not working, the speedometer didn’t display it correctly, or user error. What will make gathering data about this difficult is that staring at the dashboard while moving in traffic is not safe.
Segment B: 0.8 mile @ 35-40 mph & 40 ft. climb (1% grade)
At the bottom of the hill, I waited at a red light behind a pickup. Although I write “at the bottom of the hill”, the hill doesn’t level out until the intersection. Waiting at the light means facing downhill holding one or both brake levers. If I have to scratch my nose, I can flip up my visor (I wear a full-face helmet) and take care of that with one hand. If I want to take this opportunity to interact with the digital dashboard, I cannot, because the dashboard is a capacitance-based touch screen, not a pressure-sensitive touch screen.
It is November. I am riding a two-wheeled vehicle capable of freeway speeds. I’m not going to ride bare-handed. The dashboard is not going to respond to touches from a gloved finger. Thank goodness there is nothing for me to interact with on the screen at the moment. That said, in my previous post, I did say that I strapped my Windows Phone to the left mirror stalk with a Ram Mount EZ Strap. Sometimes I want to pan or zoom the map, or more likely, dismiss a reminder to uncover the map again. I cannot do those things with gloves on. A friend of mine is experimenting with conductive thread to sew onto a motorcycle glove as an aftermarket adaptation for capacitive touch screens, but that isn’t ready yet.
Turning south onto SR-203, the speed picks up a little from 25 mph to 30 mph, and eventually 40 mph as Main Street heads to the edge of town. These speeds are no problem for the Super Scooter in LO power mode.
Segment C: 1.3 miles @ 50 mph & 80 ft. descent (1% grade),
At the town’s southern border, the speed limit increases to 50 mph on the way to Carnation. With a dip, the road approaches a roundabout, where I take the first exit to cross Snoqualmie Valley.
Making turns in the Super Scooter are almost too easy. Compared to my Suzuki Boulevard C50T, with its greater weight and higher center of gravity, I often find myself leaning too far in the Super Scooter and having to straighten back up again with a roll of the hip to avoid turning too sharply. If I wiggled my behind, the traffic behind me would certainly notice.
Segment D: 1.3 miles @ 45 mph & 28 ft. climb (0.5% grade),
Crossing Snoqualmie Valley is no problem in good weather during the day. In fact, it is very scenic, with Tiger Mountain and maybe even Mt. Rainier visible to the south. What’s a problem is fog and darkness. In autumn and winter, Snoqualmie Valley is often foggy. The road is unlit. Later, I will find out how much of a problem this poses.
Segment E: 0.3 mile @ 35 mph & 171 ft. climb (11% grade)
Dear Reader, you might be wondering why I’m dividing this report into segments. You’ll notice that each segment includes a description of how steep it is. This section of my commute is the reason why I immediately gave Current Motor feedback about hill-climbing when I visited them in May. If the scooter could not climb these grades, then I would not be able to take advantage of it on my daily commute, because a flatlander bike in hilly country would severely restrict the places that it could bring me.
This segment is one of the steepest of the entire commute. It starts at a stoplight that fortunately is almost always green for traffic from the north heading uphill. The King County Department of Transportation obviously knows how much this road is used by commuters to Microsoft from outlying areas such as Monroe, Duvall, and Carnation. Of their many traffic web cams, a large number of them are along this road. Maybe you’ll spot me with one of them.
Even without worrying about the electric motor’s ability to climb this hill, this hill can be pretty scary for plenty of other reasons.
- Until recently, the road had many potholes. Now they are freshly patched.
- The road has asymmetric speed limits: going up, the limit for this segment starts at 35 mph, increasing to 45 mph later, but going down, the first corner is marked as 35 mph, but the remainder drop to 20 mph due to tight turns, low visibility around corners, and the steep grade. People coming down the hill often exceed the recommended speed limit.
- The road is narrow with no shoulder on the downslope side.
- The road is covered by a forest canopy. Even during daylight hours, our Nissan LEAF automatically turns on its headlights in this section of road.
- In autumn, wet leaves cover the road, which don’t dry out during the day due to the shade.
- Further, the recent pavement patches are themselves potentially slicker than the uneven road surfaces they replaced.
- Trucks use this road. If you take this road around 8am, you’re likely to see a convoy of UPS and other delivery vehicles descending from a nearby depot, heading for points east and southeast.
- Gravel trucks with uncovered loads use this road.
And that’s just what one faces going uphill.
The Super Scooter climbed the initial grade around the first two turns a little slowly, but steadily once I switched to HI power mode. I imagine that this was helped by the running start, but I did not stop and retake the hill from a standstill to prove this.
Please note that I was focused on climbing this hill safely so I did not spare attention to other details, such as taking note of the exact speeds I was traveling at each turn.
Segment F: 0.3 mile @ 45 mph & 196 ft. climb (12% grade)
The next two turns get a little steeper than the first, but eventually level out in the next segment, allowing the scooter to reach 35 mph and then gradually make progress towards 45 mph.
Working against me is not only the fight against gravity, but the need to proactively slow down for the turns, which come frequently and sharply. Regaining the speed out of each turn was not quick, but it was steady. It can be likened to climbing the hill in one gear higher than recommended.
Segment G: 0.5 mile @ 45 mph & 107 ft. climb (4% grade)
Once the hill exchanged rise for run, the scooter was able to collect itself to achieve the speed limit for the summit of the hill. Having my wife drive the LEAF behind me buffered me from tailgaters, but I might not have needed to worry. Drivers on this road should be used to slow-climbing trucks, buses, and the occasional overcautious or elderly driver living in one of the senior communities near the summit.
Segment H: 3.5 miles @ 45 mph & 481 ft. descent (2% grade)
What goes up must come down. Redmond lies on the other side of Novelty Hill, so I must descend to reach it. Although the speed limit is 45 mph, that is seldom achieved during rush hour due to stoplights and construction to install a new roundabout to service a newly built hospital nearby.
Also, there is the occasional stretch of steeper grade than 2%, but I will gloss over these until I describe the return trip.
Segment I: 1.2 miles @ 40 mph & 27 ft. descent (0.3% grade)
Avondale Road is the major northeast artery into downtown Redmond, and the choke point for multiple streams of traffic from points north and east. Despite being two lanes wide each way, rush hour traffic seldom climbs above 20 mph due to multiple stop lights and school bus pickup points, not to mention King County repaving projects.
The Super Scooter should excel in these driving conditions in LO power mode.
Segment J: 1.1 miles @ 60 mph & 13 ft. descent (0.2% grade)
Avondale Road becomes SR-520, a major east-west artery serving employees of Microsoft, Nintendo, the Overlake shopping area, Bellevue, Kirkland, and the Medina area where Bill Gates lives, before crossing Lake Washington into Seattle’s University District.
SR-520 westbound starts out with a south-southwestward climb over Redmond Way, a major east-west artery through town, then levels out and curves westward to cross the Sammamish Valley, which drains Lake Sammamish towards Lake Washington along the Burke-Gilman Trail.
The Super Scooter claims 55+ mph speeds, and did achieve them in HI power mode on this trip. Typically, rush-hour traffic is slower than the speed limit, but more scary due to the large number of vehicles on the road with sleepy or impatient drivers who are trying to merge and change lanes all along this segment. I’m more afraid for my safety than the vehicle’s performance regardless of what vehicle I choose to use on this stretch of road.
Segment K: 1.3 miles @ 60 mph & 286 ft. climb (4% grade)
At the other end of this valley is a sharp climb to the left towards Overlake district of Redmond bordering Bellevue. This is where thousands of Microsoft type-A employees cut in line as closely as they can to the one exit lane that serves two exits, darting in and out of gaps between other cars with their traffic-emasculated sport cars, and elbowing their way in with their SUVs, causing tailbacks that reach beyond the previous on-ramp.
As this trip was conducted in the early evening, far from rush hour, I did hum along at about 53-55 mph without trouble, reaching my exit and turning into my building’s cavernous underground parking lot where four ChargePoint L2 charging stations are available. Two of these also have L1 chargers (110V plugs) available, so I plugged it in, just to prove to myself that my ChargePoint card worked.
Distance traveled: 13 miles
Time taken: < 30 minutes
Battery charge consumed: 36%, leaving plenty left for the return trip.
Despite seeing enough battery remaining for the return trip, my wife and I left the scooter charging while we ran some errands in town. From her experience in the LEAF, taking exactly the same route home doesn’t guarantee exactly the same energy consumption. It takes more energy to climb a hill than can be recovered by regenerative braking (especially if you can’t figure out how to reliably trigger regenerative braking).
We returned about 90 minutes later to find the scooter fully charged. The sun had long set but the fun had yet to begin.
Stay tuned for part 2b—the return trip. Spoilers ahead:
Lessons learned from this trip
- At night, the headlamp is not bright enough. My wife thought the vehicles behind me had brighter headlamps than mine. In this age of high-intensity halogen and LED headlamps, incandescent headlamps don’t hold a candle, pardon the pun. The scooter’s headlamp doesn’t cast enough light to fight the night blindness caused by oncoming vehicles and the glare of the digital dashboard. It also doesn’t cast light far enough forward (I estimate 10 feet and would feel safer with at least 40 feet illuminated) to make riding 40 mph on unlit roads safe.
- At night, the digital dashboard screen is much too bright—it impairs night vision and distracts the rider’s attention from the relatively dim headlamp for the rider’s attention. In foggy weather—which is common at night where I live—I fear that the area around my head will be brighter aglow than the road ahead. It would be better at night for the dashboard to have a dark background, not a white background.
- The digital dashboard is not operable with gloved fingers, regardless of whether the scooter is stopped or in motion. Using a pressure-sensitive screen would allow gloved fingers to operate it, like Garmin Zūmo or TomTom Rider GPS units. I don’t plan on removing my gloves every time I want to interact with the dashboard. See “There is no footbrake” below for why.
- The non-digital telltales in the dashboard that are lit by small incandescent bulbs or LEDs are are too bright night or day, washing out the icon that is supposed to identify the telltale. The rider must memorize the position and color of each telltale to recognize it. For the turn signal and high beam telltales, this is easy because the colored film that the light bulb is supposed to shine through is opaque enough to give good contrast to the turn signal symbol, but the “Throttle Live” telltale has a transparent film with a white checkmark printed on it, offering no contrast against the night-vision impairing glare of a bright green light bulb behind it.
- There is no footbrake to permit the rider to remove a glove with both hands to interact with the digital dashboard at a full stop on an incline, because one hand must remain on a brake to prevent the scooter from rolling forward or backward.
- It is too easy to unintentionally roll on the throttle. I’ve accidentally triggered the electric motor while maneuvering the scooter for parking. Yes, the scooter has a reverse gear, and I’m very grateful for it, but when the motor is not needed for pushing the bike around, it is much too easy to forget that the key is in the ON position and accidentally send power to the motor with a twist of the wrist. Adding (more) resistance to the motion of the throttle would help.
- It is too easy to (accidentally) push or allow the scooter to roll forward off its side stand. One must be careful not to park facing even slightly downhill if only the side stand is deployed. One must be careful not to lean or bump against the scooter such that it will roll forward if only the side stand is deployed. The Owner’s Manual not only doesn’t caution the user about proper use of the side stand, it does not even once mention the center stand. I am extremely grateful to Current Motor co-founder John Harding for taking the time to instruct me in the use of the center stand. Without it, the bike would have fallen down a couple of times already, marring the beautiful fairing before I’d even shown it off to friends and family.
- There is no parking brake to prevent the scooter from sliding forward off its side stand. A gasoline motorcycle can be left in gear to immobilize it. A motorcycle or scooter with an automatic transmission cannot be left in gear. It would be helpful for parking the scooter on a slope if the scooter had a built-in parking brake to immobilize it. I might have to remember to bring a chock, just like I bring a kickstand plate with my motorcycle for supporting the kickstand on grass or gravel.
- There is no mention of the center stand in the Owner’s Manual at all, even though the side stand is mentioned and the scooter is equipped with both a side stand and center stand. Even though this is the first vehicle I’ve owned with a center stand, I am very grateful to have learned how to use the center stand because it is too easy to accidentally bump the scooter in crowded parking scenarios or park the scooter on a slope such that its weight will roll it off its side stand and fall. I would highly recommend that the reader be told about the center stand and recommended to use it instead of the side stand whenever possible.
Questions raised by this trip
- Can the touch screen please be designed with gloved fingers in mind? I don’t ride without gloves, and no motorcycle glove (I’ve seen winter gloves in Costco unsuitable for motorcycle safety) I know of is equipped with material compatible with capacitive touch screens.
- Can the digital dashboard’s brightness be made dimmer at night? Automatically would be best, but user-configurable would be a workaround.
- Can a foot brake (like non-scooter motorcycles use) or a parking brake (like the Suzuki Burgman uses) be added an option on future models of the Super Scooter? There are too many hills in areas like Seattle and San Francisco to permit the rider to use both hands to do something while stopped on an incline. Example user scenarios made difficult by hand-only brakes (and no glove box near the handlebars, for that matter):
- Freeing both hands to do something that cannot be done with one hand (e.g. opening or closing a zipper, retrieving something from a pocket, adjusting one glove with the other hand, performing a two-finger gesture or thumb typing on a smart phone screen)
- Pulling a motorcycle glove off of one hand with the other hand to interact with the digital dashboard’s touch screen
- Visiting a drive-through window on a slope (e.g. paying for ferry tickets, food or drink at a fast-food restaurant)
- Resting the hands that are cramping up from holding one or both brakes while stuck in stop-and-go traffic on a hill (e.g. waiting on the hilly approach to a ferry terminal to get to the ticket booth)
- Can the throttle offer a more resistance—and proportionally increasing resistance, for that matter—so that there is more haptic feedback to the rider?
- Can a cruise control be added so that zero throttle and WOT aren’t the only two throttle positions that are easy to maintain without causing strain on the right wrist?