The Biker with the Electric Car

I haven’t been following the Harley LiveWire much, nor any of the other electric motorcycle options. Why?

Because I’ve been following electric car development for just over 10 years, I know where battery tech and the electric charging experience is at, and I’ve had experience with a Tesla Model 3 for a while now.

Story time: I recently attended a board of directors meeting for ABATE of Wisconsin in Wisconsin Rapids. Given the cold weather (more on this later) that meant a single charge (310 miles under ideal conditions) wouldn’t do it round trip. A stop at a Supercharger in Oshkosh on both legs of the trip was in order. Some quick facts based on the state of battery & charge in 2018:

  • Lithium Ion battery tech at this level does not last as long if you fully charge & discharge it every time. The suggestion is no more than 80% charge for daily community, only 100% for road trips.
  • On a NEMA 15-50 (dryer outlet) at home, you’ll recharge around 30 miles per hour of charge.
  • On a standard 10 amp/110 volt circuit, you’ll charge 1-2 miles per hour of charge.
  • Going faster and accelerating quickly uses a lot more juice. This is true of gas as well, but we tend not to think of it.
  • Cold weather decreases the range of lithium ion batteries for reasons we won’t explore here.

So, hitting the cruise control at 75mph at dawn when it’s 15 degrees outside meant the 80 mile trip to Oshkosh from my house took the battery down 120 miles of ‘range’. No worries, I pull into the Tesla Supercharge at Oshkosh and plug in. This is a specialized 80w circuit that piles in well over 100 miles per hour of charge. At least at first…

  • The closer you get to filling up a lithium ion battery, the slower it charges.

I’m able to nap a little bit, but I’m there for a lot more than an hour before I’m approaching full. Having seen what a lead foot did to my range, I slow down a bit and head to the Hotel Mead in Wisconsin Rapids and my ABATE meeting. There’s around 180 miles of range left as I park.

  • The battery will drain about 1% per day in ideal conditions, and more when it’s cold.

Sitting in the board meeting, I can see the battery range dropping. Quickly. It’s still between 15 and 20 degrees outside. 180 miles comes and goes… 170 miles comes and goes… 160 … range is dropping by the hour and visions of being towed back to Oshkosh are dancing in my head. I ask the hotel if I can plug in outside and someone graciously fetches me an extension cord. The bleeding stops, we have a great board meeting, and I drive home the next day.

I have good reasons for buying an electric car, but my two-wheeled freedom machine will be a gas-powered American V-twin for a long time to come.

Tesla has had 10 years at the breakneck Silicon Valley pace to build a nation-wide network of proprietary charging stations. The stations are meant to be able to get you “about anywhere” with their lowest range car, which is 200 miles. I don’t think anyone seriously thinks the LiveWire will have this kind of range, or that Harley will build a nationwide network of chargers. People who don’t realize how much tire inflation, wet roads, cargo weight, aerodynamics, acceleration, and hills affect their energy usage might be in for some difficult rides.

I ride to get away. In order to reach critical mass, companies are building electric infrastructure closest to where most people want to go most of the time. That’s the opposite of where I want to go on two wheels. I also stop in less than 200mile increments to stretch and sunscreen: adding in staggered charging station stops would make long trips painful. How fast will it charge? I don’t want to stop for a minimum of an hour every time.

For urban riders and those who primarily commute, electric bikes might be an option. I’ll be burning dead dinosaurs for a long time to come.

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