Returning to the commute

Welcome back, readers.  After being off the scooter for quite some time now, the weather has let me ride on and off again.  I am happy to report that the scooter has successfully completed three more commutes to work.

One successful week of commuting in December ended in a confidence-dropping breakdown.  One visit from Current Motor engineer Terry Richards later, the malady that sidelined the scooter was found to have a very simple solution: tighten two screws.

Then…quiet.  No riding due to temperatures near freezing, rain, or fog.  Well, there was one day that was worth riding to work in, but I used my gasoline motorcycle just to make sure that its battery hadn’t died and its fuel hadn’t gone bad in the tank after being unused for a couple of months.

Finally last week the clouds parted and let the sun warm and dry up the roads long enough to provide three good riding days.  It was a good feeling to be back in the saddle, back to work on two wheels, powered solely by electricity.  My heartbeat rose a little, cresting the first hill where the breakdown had occurred twice previously, but the scooter had clearly passed that challenge after Terry’s one-screwdriver repair, so I shouldn’t have worried.

Was anything different?

Yes:  the throttle was reprogrammed to provide a little bit more acceleration, which was helpful for climbing the steep hills near home with a little bit of throttle to spare.

Yes:  I received instructions for how to lower the brightness of the digital dashboard so that it would interfere less with my night vision on the unlit roads on my commute.  Dimming the dashboard made the digital speedometer noticeably less bright during the cloudy sky’s ambient light of the morning’s commute, but not invisible.  I don’t know what it will look like at high noon on a sunny day yet, though.  When I returned home after sundown, the dark stretches of road were easier to navigate.  Now that the digital dashboard is dimmer, the blue high-beam light stands out more at the highest point in the center of the dashboard console.  Because the headlamp is less bright than other motorcycle headlamps, I find the high-beams helpful on certain stretches of unlit road, including the steep twisty hill near home.  When there is traffic behind me, their headlamps shine brighter than the scooter’s, but when I’m the only vehicle on the road, high-beams are my friend, and the relatively bright high-beam indicator lamp is my new enemy.  As before, my workaround for this is to tilt my head up and look down my nose so that the dashboard is hidden beneath the chin protector of my helmet.  I understand that a number of the details of the dashboard were designed for great daytime visibility, and it is possible that some of my feedback from my test ride at Current Motor headquarters in Ann Arbor under bright midday sunlight back in May of 2012 might have influenced some of those details, but some allowances will also need to be made for safe operation at night.  Hopefully solutions can be found that will make the scooter safer to ride at any hour of the day and night.

Yes:  along exactly the same commute, the battery consumption increased slightly.  Previously, a round trip to work consumed 66% of the battery.  13 miles x 2 trips = 26 miles.  If 26 miles consumes 66% of the battery, then 100% would agree with the advertised range of 40 miles.  After the acceleration adjustment, a round trip seems to consume closer to 70% of the battery.  Although the scooter’s maximum speed hasn’t changed, the speed with which I climb the steep hills near home has increased as a result of the slightly greater acceleration capability.  There’s no way that I (or any safe driver) can climb the twisty hill at 60 mph, but increasing my climbing speed from ~25 mph to ~30 mph means that I’m using more electricity than before along the same stretch of road.

What didn’t change?

Although acceleration was increased slightly, the top speeds didn’t change—low-power mode is still limited to 45 mph and high-power mode to 55-60 mph.  Given that the scooter shows about 30% of charge remaining when I return home, my commute is still something that can be completed with some power to spare for a short errand or detour.  Even longer errands or detours are possible if they can be planned in advance, because I can recharge the scooter at work in a few hours.  Getting into work early enough means that an L1 (110 V) charging station should be available, which will fully charge the scooter by noon.

I’m very happy that the winter is yielding to more ride-friendly weather, and that adjustments have been possible to make the scooter safer to ride it in the less-than-ideal conditions (steep hills, darkness) of my commute.

What does the future bring?

With the scooter back to active duty, a couple of projects immediately come to mind.

Add more light to see the road better and see further ahead at night.

At right, you see a motorcycle equipped with a light bar that provides extra illumination on the road.  This is what I have on my cruiser, and the extra light makes a big difference in my confidence when riding at night.

On the scooter, the low light available from its headlamp could be solved with a replacement to the existing headlamp bulb, a supplementary lamp, or even a bright lamp worn on the helmet.  (No, a bicycle helmet lamp wouldn’t be bright enough.)

Today I visited a new motorcycle show called Euro Moto Northwest where a vendor called Cyclops Adventure Sports sells lights for mounting to helmets and vehicles for offroad activities.  With what little I know of motorcycle parts and wiring, replacing the existing headlamp bulb runs the risk of making a mistake that would cause the headlamp to not be lit anymore.  Adding bright but low-power auxiliary lights that can be powered from the scooter’s cigarette lighter would eliminate the risk of losing the headlamps and replace that with the risk of getting tangled in the wiring between the cigarette lighter port and the handlebars and of drawing too much power from the battery.

If wiring a new light to the scooter’s battery or attaching it to the scooter’s fairing was not an option, a bright helmet light would not only be useful on any bike I rode, but it would also turn in any direction my helmet was facing, independent of the direction of travel or the rotation of the handlebars..

Reduce glare from the dashboard indicator lights.

It would be unsightly to cover the indicator light ports with tape or permanent marker, but with what I learned from Terry about opening the dashboard console, it might be possible to add some color gel where the indicator light bulbs shine through to reduce the glare from the high-beam indicator.

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