Pioneering Electric Motorcycle Riders Complete Two Cross-Country Trips This Week

By · June 07, 2013

Team Moto Electra setting out from Jacksonville, Fla.

Team Moto Electra setting out from Jacksonville, Fla.

Two electric motorcycle teams made cross-country trips across the U.S. this week. Terry Hershner, a green energy and electric vehicle advocate, took a solo trip from San Diego, Calif. to Jacksonville, Fla., riding a modified 2012 Zero S. The other, Team Moto Electra, took a replica vintage Norton Featherbed, that was electrified by Brian Richardson and a James Madison University team led by Dr. Robert Prins.

Hershner set out very early on May 31 from San Diego, and reached Jacksonville on June 5. He ran into a few snags, such as traffic accidents stalling traffic for miles, a large rainstorm in Texas, and a serious problem when the motor failed. Fixing the problem required the overnight delivery of a replacement motor from Zero Motorcycles, and late night motorcycle surgery by Hershner. Total travel time was 5 days 15 hours—including the 40 hours required for the roadside motor-ectomy, to cover 2,659 miles.

This makes Terry Hershner the first to complete a solo unassisted cross-country electric motorcycle trip.

If At First, You Don't Succeed...

Hershner's first cross-country attempt with his 2012 Zero S was last November, when he traveled from Orlando, Fla. to Los Angeles to attend the launch party for the 2013 Zero S. After he didn't quite make it, due to the long distances between charging stations along I-10 in Arizona, he spent the last six months living in California and modifying his bike for long-range travel. The battery pack capacity was increased to 18 kilowatt-hours—the stock Zero S has a nine kilowatt-hour pack—and charging rate was amped up to support a one-hour charge time. Legendary motorcycle designer Craig Vetter also lent a hand with aerodynamics.

Between the bigger pack and improved aerodynamics, Hershner can ride 150 miles or so on a charge, at 70 miles per hour. The one-hour charging system uses multiple Elcon 2500 chargers, for a total 13.5 kilowatt charging rate. It's designed to simultaneously plug into multiple power outlets or multiple J1772 charging stations.

The improved aerodynamic design of the fairing, a shell placed over the frame of some motorcycles, is the result of a few years research and design by Craig Vetter. He contends that motorcycles are aerodynamically inefficient, and with better fairing designs there could be huge fuel savings, whether that fuel is electricity or gasoline. With the fairing, a motorcycle becomes a smooth object that slides through the air—rather than getting pushed against air.

Terry Hershner's bike at the Arizona-California border

Terry Hershner's bike at the Arizona-California border

Mobile Charging

Team Moto Electra is the brainchild of Brian Richardson, of Blue Grass, Va. He built the electric motorcycle on a vintage Norton Featherbed frame, with technical assistance from Dr. Prins and his students at James Madison University. The bike was raced in the 2010-2011 TTXGP seasons, with AMA Motorcycle Racing champion Thad Wolff as the rider. They were the first team to race an electric bike in a sanctioned gas bike race.

They left Jacksonville, Fla. on June 3, and arrived in Santa Monica on the afternoon of June 6. There were no major snags, but they did have to get throttle parts shipped to them while near Tuscon.

For the trip, they upgraded the battery pack to provide longer riding range. The whole team was along for the ride, following along in a van and carrying a standalone generator for charging the bike. Wolff and Brian Richardson, the manager of Moto-Electra Racing, traded off riding duties.

Prior to the trip, Richardson said, “We will travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean using only the batteries in the vehicle.” He explained that Thad Wolff, one of the great AMA Superbike racers of the 1980s, would be racing against the clock.

Ride, Charge, Repeat

The pattern for both Moto Electra and Terry Hershner was to ride for about two hours, then charge for about an hour—repeating this pattern as many times as required.

The goal of both teams was to demonstrate the capability of fast charging for a long-range all-electric motorcycle trip. The 2:1 riding-to-charging ratio is quite different typical electric car trips that have a ratio of one hour of driving to three or four hours of charging. The more challenging ratio of driving-to-charging for most EVs is part of the problem for taking long-range trips in an electric car. Fast-charging potentially flips the ratio.

Tesla Motors and Nissan are investing in nationwide fast charging networks that could feasibly let electric car owners make road trips. Until then, electric vehicle owners have to be enterprising and brave to make long range trips. “At the turn of the 20th century, gasoline powered vehicles were useless for long distance travel,” said Richardson. “There were no roads, no filling stations, and the vehicles were not dependable. Our goal is to challenge perceptions about the useful range of electric vehicles, and set a world record in the process.” Mission accomplished.

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