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Motorcycles Set Electric Touring Records

Well, it may still be years before you cruise cross-country on an electric Gold Wing or the like, but early in June, two motorcyclists smashed existing travel times. Terry Hershner went from San Diego to Orlando in six days on his heavily modified 2012 Zero, fighting traffic, adverse weather, and a failed motor. Terry’s bike has changed a lot since I spoke to him earlier this year — Craig Vetter helped with a fairing that makes the bike look like a two-wheeled Conestoga wagon, battery capacity has doubled to 18 kilowatt-hours, and there are enough fast-chargers on board to dim the lights of a small city. Terry’s bike can now travel 150 miles at a steady 70 mph and charge time is reduced so he can ride two hours for every hour he spends charging—that’s a huge leap from the usual one-to-four (or more) ratio most electric vehicles offer. He cruised his last leg—90 miles—at a steady 85 mph.

Terry’s bike would seem to be a ringer for the cross-country electric record, but then the forces of science came in the form of the Moto Electra, which you may have seen on the “Cafe Racer” TeeVee show. It’s been competing in TTXGP and other racing events, and is notable for using a Norton Featherbed frame and fairing. The old-timey look shouldn’t fool you—builder Brian Richardson, working off his farm in Virginia, had the help of Dr. Robert Prins at James Madison University’s engineering department. He and his team have developed the Electra into a pretty impressive tourer.

With AMA racer Thad Wolff and Richardson trading off riding, followed by a support team with a high-output generator (cheaters!), the bike left Jacksonville, Florida and arrived at the Santa Monica pier 84 hours later. Like Terry’s Zero, the bike can ride two hours for every hour it spends charging. The only snag was some trouble with the throttle, but the trip, along I-10, seemed uneventful.

Charging stations are being added daily, and though having the kind of battery and recharge capacity of these two bikes is outside the realm of possibility for most consumers, the idea that electric motorcycles will be capable of speeds, ranges and recharge times that will make them competitive with gas-powered products is no longer an absurd dream.

43 Comments

  1. Andyj says:

    Not many realise that most of Terry’s mileage comes at no cost to him.
    I disagree about his charge rate taking up anything like that of a small town. Terry can connect both sides of a charge post. Each a single phase of 16A @ 240V. That’s only two air conditioners.
    Sleeping overnight while charging he can charge as slow as he cares!

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  2. TomS says:

    I see that Vetter’s design aesthetic hasn’t changed much. :)

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  3. Norm G. says:

    wait, i don’t understand, did he make the trip in the “eddie vetter” trim or no…? east coast it’s there, but once on the west coast not so much. or are these 2 different bikes…?

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  4. Wendy says:

    A case where swapping out the original mechanicals of the bike make it more reliable. Too bad about the John Player Special, though. They are sweet bikes.

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  5. Azi says:

    It’s great to read stories like these and be reminded that there’s still individuals out there with pioneering spirit. I also didn’t realise that Craig Vetter is still active in the motorcycle scene. Well done everyone!

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  6. Craig Vetter says:

    Conestoga Wagons conquered the west! Prairie Schooners. Ships of the plains. Actually there was a practical reason for every feature in American covered wagons. The curved belly helped to jiggle the load to the center… things like that. They were the shape they had to be – to be pulled across America by oxen. At the time, there was nothing better.

    The Vetter Challenge Streamlining is the shape it must be to go 70 mph, into fierce winds, protecting the rider and carry a useful load. It is the shape that makes a unit of fuel go twice as far! There is no better design, which is why I call it the “Last Vetter Fairing”

    I’d say that we are in good company with the association. Who likened it to the Conestoga Wagon? Brilliant!

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    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Conestoga Wagons conquered the west!”

      fastforward 150 years and the “AEROstoga wagon” conquers i-10.

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    • xootrx says:

      Craig, I put thousands of miles on my Windjammer fairing back in the 70′s/80′s. It was a simple matter of swapping it between bikes as I upgraded. Thanks for the great products, and all the good memories. I saw half the country, and rode in relative comfort, because of my Windjammer.

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  7. bikerrandy says:

    Well, neither of these part MC devices were made for riding(too much weight) thru curvy roads. They were only devised to see what it takes to go cross country on straight roads w/o stopping for gas fuel as needed. With the rider and the rest of the machine filled with apparatus to succeed for the goal…………with a LOT of backup to accomplish this….whatever that is.

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    • Motowarrior says:

      Both bikes were prepared for their specific objective of crossing America in a short period of time. Thad had a support team, and Terry really did not. Both were milestone efforts. Can you compare them to the accomplishments of Cannonball Baker? Probably not yet, but they both did what had not been done before. For that they should be applauded by their fellow motorcyclists.

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    • protomech says:

      Terry’s bike probably tips the scales at around 600 pounds, “wet”. Pretty heavy considering the stock bike clocks in at 340 pounds .. but in the same ballpark as many other touring bikes.

      Moto Electra had the support truck with generator to demonstrate the feasibility of fast-charging. Terry had .. whatever he could carry inside the fairing stowage and the existing US EV charging infrastructure (J1772, RV plugs, and occasionally 120V outlets).

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    • bikerrandy says:

      1 more thing I can say from experience is if the Vetter version had to pass thru any sidewinds it would be blown all over the road.

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  8. Terry says:

    Thanks everyone for the comments! I’m preparing another epic journey as we speak. If you have facebook you are invited to follow along. http://www.facebook.com/lifeoffthegrid
    Will be departing from Florida to New York to Seattle to Mexico in about a week. Look forward to your comments.

    - Terry

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  9. MUSTAFA IBRAHIM says:

    Just a small point: There is no such thing as a featherbed fairing. This fairing is a copy of the one Peter Williams designed 40 years ago, most notably used on the John Player Norton racers.

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    • Gabe says:

      Crap! I knew that…just poor writing on my part. I should have written, “Featherbed frame and vintage racing fairing.”

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    • Paul Blezard says:

      As a friend and admirer of Peter Williams, I feel duty-bound to point out that he designed much more than just the fairing for the John Player Nortons. He designed the chassis too, the most successful of which was a Monocoque of his own design, on which he famously won the 1973 F750 TT at record speed. The 1974 racer, on which he was very nearly killed in 1974, was a trellis design. But even the road-going Norton Commando bikes did not have what would now be called Featherbed frames. FWIW I took the photo of Peter with the 1973 TT-winning monocoque machine which appears on the inside flap of his autobiography. PNB
      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Peter-Williams-Designed-Redline-Books/dp/0955527856

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  10. motowarrior says:

    By a strange set of circumstances, I became involved in both cross country attempts. Thad Wolff, referred by our mutual friend Don Bradley, called me to get my advice on the best way to negotiate Jacksonville’s morning traffic. As a Jacksonville native, I was able to give him a bit of advice, and we had a chance to talk at length about his venture. The next day I flew to Austin for a family visit, and I was greeted by an email from Craig Vetter, who had become my friend years ago when he was the Riding Into History Grand Marshal and I was chairman of the event. I knew nothing of the Zero team until Craig contacted me, but Craig needed some help from those of us in Jacksonville. Since I was in Austin, I got Larry Meeker, another Riding Into History past chairman, to help out. I also contacted my friends in the media, and we were able to assist Craig and the Zero guys. The folks behind Terry in the photo are mostly Riding Into History volunteers. Celebrating the history of the motorcycle annually is one thing, but playing a small part in making motorcycle history very cool. Congratulations to Thad, Craig, Terry and everyone else involved! PS. I’m definitely not going to be the one to tell Craig about the conestoga comment…

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  11. goose says:

    Dirk, please tell me in what way Terry’s bike resembles a conestoga wagon? I’m sorry but calling one of the few motorcycles designed by the brain, instead of that other organ, a ninetieth century, wooden wagon needs to be challenged. What it looks like, if anything, is Zeppelin, another very low drag machine.

    Back to the article, great job by all! Ebikes are just starting to develop, they will keep improving at a rapid rate while ICE motors don’t have room for a more than incremental changes. These guys are real pioneers.

    I highly recommend Vetter’s site http://craigvetter.com/ if people want to find out about the really great work being done by Vetter and his merry band of milage nerds to undo 80 years of BS about low drag motorcycles.

    Goose

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    • Gabe says:

      I wrote this story, and I had Conestoga Wagons on the brain because I was riding in Colorado earlier this week when we saw an actual Conestoga wagon on a cross-country trek. It was a hell of a thing.

      I think I was talking more about the back half of the bike, the way it’s a long, curved tent-like shape. I’m friends with Terry and he’s got a great sense of humor and probably got a laugh out of the gag. Note I also said it LOOKS like a Conestoga wagon, not that it IS a Conestoga wagon.

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    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Dirk, please tell me in what way Terry’s bike resembles a conestoga wagon?”

      personally i was thinking nacelle #3 on a dc-10…? lol like a rorshach test, i guess what you see here depends on your influences.

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  12. Gary says:

    Let me see if I can predict how this discussion thread will go (massive eye roll).

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  13. Vrooom says:

    What would be great is the ability to swap a discharged battery for a charged one at places as ubiquitous as gas stations, similar to propane bottles. Of course everyone would have to standardize on batteries and that would be tough.

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  14. xootrx says:

    I’d love to see a hybrid some day. It would ease the apprehension about getting stuck between charges. Yes, it would be heavy, and not a whole lot of fun, just like hybrid automobiles. But it would eliminate the need for charging stations altogether. With current technology, that would appear to make more sense for commuters than an all electric bike.

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    • xootrx says:

      So Craig Vetter is still doing his thing, eh? I had one of his Windjammer fairings way back in the day. It was a great product. Glad to see he’s still at it.

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    • Rick Steeb says:

      If your commute exceeds the range of a stock Zero, then you need to move or change jobs!
      ;D

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    • todd says:

      A hybrid motorcycle makes almost zero sense. Unlike a heavy, aerodynamic car, which needs all its power to accelerate and very little power to maintain speed, a motorcycle uses very little power to accelerate and much of it to maintain speed.

      In the motorcycle, the engine would be running nearly all the time and the battery/motor would be a fairly inefficient transmission. The most efficient drive train for a motorcycle would be a constant rpm diesel spinning a belt driven variator (scooter) transmission.

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      • Norm G. says:

        re: “A hybrid motorcycle makes almost zero sense.”

        correct, but least of all for any of the reasons you cite.

        it’s an issue of form factor… a space issue. there’s simply not enough there (space) to locate all the necessary components to make a hybrid… a “hybrid”. 25lbs of sh!@t into a 5lb bag this. could you miniaturize it…? hell, i don’t know…? but what i do know is you’re talking a WHOLE ‘nother exorbitantly expensive R&D path in addition to the exorbitantly expensive R&D path of the basic idea, that itself hasn’t been successfully realized.

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      • xootrx says:

        Nothing ever makes sense until someone does it. Then everyone just kinda stands around and says “Oh, so that’s how you do it.” Riding an electric motorcycle across country doesn’t make any sense either, and yet two different team have just achieved it. We can see how it was now, but before it was accomplished, I’m sure many would have said it makes zero sense.

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        • xootrx says:

          Typos, typos, typos. I’ve gotta stop typing stuff before my second cup of coffee.

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        • xootrx says:

          While we’re talking about it, let’s take a look at electric bicycles. The most popular setup these days uses a conversion kit made by Crystalite. The motor is in the hub of the bike’s wheel (front or back, depending upon preference). Other manufacturers put the batteries in the other hub. A hybrid motorcycle could use that kind of a setup, with the engine in the traditional location. The batteries could be carried in side bags, or a top loader, or both. Newer battery technology is giving us lighter batteries these days. As I said, it would be heavy, slow, etc., initially, and very expensive, but I believe it’s doable. And you certainly don’t get from point A to point B without refinement, but the refinement process happens with everything we see these days.

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    • Paul Blezard says:

      Jeez, you yanks are so bloody parochial! Piaggio have been making hybrids since 2009!!!! http://green.autoblog.com/2010/07/07/piaggio-launches-mp3-hybrid-300ie-scooter/

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  15. MGNorge says:

    That is way cool! Congratulations to all!

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