In response to the problem that I encountered on my commute to work December 7th, Terry Richards of Current Motor flew out to Seattle this week, ahead of a busy weekend for Current Motor at the Detroit Auto Show! (Yes, a motorcycle company at an auto show!)
Due to a flight delay, he lost precious daylight hours and ran into rainy rush-hour traffic, but thanks to his GPS, and the tool box he was allowed to bring with him as checked luggage, he arrived safely, quickly identified the cause, fixed it, and taught me how to check for it and prevent it in the future! He even improved the scooter‘s acceleration and showed me how to tweak it myself!
Although it was a typical Seattle rainy winter night, we needed to test the fix before he left, so we went for a test ride. Chris and I took the LEAF and led Terry on the scooter. Of course I was interested in trying out the scooter’s new power levels, but I felt that it would be helpful for Terry to experience first-hand the scooter-challenging hill for himself. In the dark. In the rain. In the cold. Uphill and downhill. Just like I did every day and night for a week.
Certainly not to torture Terry. Let me get that cleared up right away. This was not revenge or retaliation. The goal was to give Terry an opportunity to take back to Current Motor valuable experience that he could not get from just reading this blog or looking at elevation profiles. Experience that would help inform the company about the kinds of scenarios their customers face that cannot be easily replicated on the streets of Ann Arbor. While the test ride Terry led me on in May in Ann Arbor was under the best possible conditions—midday on a clear spring day along flat or low-gradient hills at city speeds—tonight’s test ride was extremely challenging but completely typical for my commute.
Up the hill: If the scooter’s circuit breaker failed again, it would be better for him to feel how the scooter was performing and see what its instruments were telling him at the time of the failure. He would know what amount of throttle was necessary to climb the hill, and how the scooter responded to it.
In the dark and the rain: Two of the pieces of feedback I’d given Current Motor were concerns about the low brightness of the headlamps on the road and the high brightness of the digital dashboard screen in the face. These combine with the rain to make the headlight beams nearly impossible to see on the road. The rain makes the road surface reflect less headlamp light back to the rider’s eyes because the water on the road is reflecting it up and away from the rider like a mirror. The digital dashboard’s bright backlight—otherwise ideal for reading the dashboard in ambient daylight—destroys night-adjusted vision, making the road ahead difficult to see, never mind what’s left of the reduced glow of the headlamp on the road.
Down the hill: As if riding in the dark with poor night vision wasn’t bad enough, the hill is steep. The hill is twisty. The hill is unlit, except for the Your Speed Is SLOW DOWN SLOW DOWN SLOW DOWN signage on every 20 mph tight corner. And potholes recently patched on that road add irregular rectangles of extra darkness, compounding the problem of nighttime darkness, the lower retroreflectivity of wet pavement, and the glare of oncoming headlights. Not to mention the increased glare of headlights of oncoming traffic.
Why is that glare worse than normal? Three reasons: (1) vehicles on that road are more likely to be pickups, SUVs, and delivery trucks, (2) vehicles are more likely to be more expensive and newer models, and (3) the vehicle’s body (and therefore its headlamps) are pointed more upward than normal due to their acceleration up the hill.
Why is (1) a problem? Because the headlamps of these vehicles are mounted higher off the ground, where they are more likely to shine in the eyes of car drivers and motorcycle riders.
Why is (2) a problem? Along my commute, there are two or three new housing communities that house many Microsofties and other higher-income families. They are more likely to have newer and more expensive vehicles. These are more likely to have higher-intensity headlamps.
Why is (3) a problem? When some vehicles push uphill, its tail end drops a little and the front end points upward, which aims the headlamps higher than normal. Or, if we factor in those newer cars with high-intensity lamps, we find that some of them also have a feature that tries to automatically adjust the aim of the headlamps for hills. Sometimes that feature doesn’t do what it should.
In the cold: Oh, this is winter, by the way. Had Terry arrived even one day later, we wouldn’t have been able to safely test the scooter on this hill because of snow and frost, the first snow to stick on the ground this season. Unfortunately, this means that I haven’t been riding the scooter since this night because snow fell the following two nights. Terry timed his visit perfectly!
As for what happened on the test ride itself, after being prepared to pull over and make any necessary repairs, it was fortunately rather uneventful. Terry made it up the hill past the point that had defeated the scooter on December 7th, saying that the tweak he had made to the motor controller allowed him to climb the hill with throttle to spare. With that success behind us, we returned home (there was no need to recreate the entire commute), where he packed up his gear and got ready for dinner.
Chris and I took Terry to dry off and fuel up after a long day of travel and minimal airline food for a bite at our favorite local pizza joint (he wouldn’t accept anything fancier), where we discussed the results of the test ride, and had a nice conversation about electric scooters, about the electric car he was looking forward to (an electric Fiat 500), and about J1772 adapters that could be used with the scooter. Finally, we indulged in a delicious apple crisp for dessert, which we hadn’t tried before.
After dinner, Terry was eager to return to his hotel for some shuteye before his return flight. With a long day behind him, made longer by the 3-hour time-zone difference and a busy weekend at the Detroit Auto Show ahead of him, it was no surprise. I do regret not getting a photograph to commemorate the visit, though.
Thank you very much, Terry, for taking the time to fly out here in person and fix the scooter!
Good fortune to you and Current Motor at the Auto Show!