Touring the four corners of the US by electric motorcycle: trip report, lessons learned

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Riding long distances on an electric motorcycle has gotten significantly easier over the past three years.

Each summer over that time, I've traveled 4,500 miles or more on a Zero electric motorcycle.

And in that short time, the available charging systems have gotten faster to such a degree that we are getting close to parity with our gasoline-powered brethren.

DON'T MISS: The plan: to the four corners of the USA on an electric motorcycle (Jun 2016)

In 2013, I rode across the country on my 2012 Zero S with the "Ride the Future" Tour, including a Nissan Leaf, an A2B electric bicycle, and an electric scooter. 

We took 44 days, largely because of the cyclist, to travel 4,500 miles from Charleston, South Carolina, to Google Headquarters south of San Francisco. The event was captured in the movie Kick Gas.

In 2014 I rode my 2012 Zero S on a loop that was about 5,500 miles from New York City to the Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina, to St. Louis, up to Chicago, over to Maine, and back to New York. 

That time I averaged 310 miles a day, with my longest leg a 482-mile stretch from Nashville to St. Louis.  

Zero electric motorcycles in San Francisco, Four Corners of US road trip [photo: Ben Rich]

Zero electric motorcycles in San Francisco, Four Corners of US road trip [photo: Ben Rich]

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In 2015 I got a 2014 Zero SR, which increased my range (and acceleration!) and took me 6,800 miles in 22 days, from New York, down to Mexico, up to Canada, and back. 

Again I averaged 310 miles per day, but it was easier to fit in the miles with a faster charging system. 

This year, I decided to ride through the remainder of the contiguous lower 48 states. I traveled from New York to Seattle, down to Los Angeles, over to Florida, and back.

And this time I was able to average 400 miles per day, with a brand-new charging system that proved to be a game changer. 

Charging is key

The ability to charge quickly is the key to riding longer distances each day. 

In 2013, I charged using the onboard charger at about 1 kilowatt. This meant I could only get a full charge overnight at hotels—where I often charged up with my motorcycle in my room.

In 2014, I used two 2.5-kw Elcon chargers to charge up at 5 kw. That summer I could get a full charge in an hour and 45 minutes.

Pennsylvania state line, Four Corners of US road trip [photo: Ben Rich]

Pennsylvania state line, Four Corners of US road trip [photo: Ben Rich]

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Last year, I used the pair of 2.5-kw Elcon chargers plus the 1.3-kw onboard charger, so I could charge fully in 1.5 hours.

This summer, a DigiNow Supercharger that can charge at up to 12 kW let me charge fully in just 45 minutes, and be on my way.

Other long-distance riders of conventional motorcycles have told me they stick to 300 miles per day, partly because they need to get off their bikes due to vibrations and discomfort. 

I found a 300-mile day to be easy, and rarely rode less than that. Now that the DigiNow Supercharger is being delivered to more bikers, we see more photos of people riding Zero Motorcycles in more and more remote locations.

Selfie in Seattle, Four Corners of US road trip [photo: Ben Rich]

Selfie in Seattle, Four Corners of US road trip [photo: Ben Rich]

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Where to charge

Before embarking, I used both the PlugShare app and the RV Parky app on my smartphone to locate charging stations.

Near populated areas, it was typically easy to find actual charging stations, and then in the countryside I used more RV parks.

On the road, I would call RV parks a day ahead to ask permission to use their equipment to charge for 45 minutes.  Almost every park was obliging.

Typically they would let me charge either for free, or for $2 to $5 at most.  I would stay for less than an hour, so it was typically a short, friendly stay.

Map of electric motorcycle rider Ben Rich's Summer 2016 'four corners of the U.S.' road trip

Map of electric motorcycle rider Ben Rich's Summer 2016 'four corners of the U.S.' road trip

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Trip overview

From New York to Chicago I traveled along familiar territory.  The RV parks across Pennsylvania were all familiar from last year’s ride, and it was fun seeing some of the same people again this year. 

Crossing Ohio was easiest, because the state has RV Hookups at many of its rest stops—so I wouldn’t have to deviate from my path to recharge.

The closest I came to running out of charge happened going up to Michigan. A town had literally 50 plugs in several parking lots—and none of them worked.  Every single one was turned off, and my charge had run very low. 


 
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