If you follow electric motorcycles, you'll likely have heard of the legendary Terry Hershner.
Terry likes to ride. Scratch that: Terry loves to ride. He also loves pushing the envelope, and happens to be pretty good with electronics.
Back in 2012 he bought a Zero S electric motorcycle, the first model that could go 100 miles on one charge.
Then he teamed up with Harlan Flagg at Hollywood Electrics, and built a bike with the charging capacity to take long trips and recharge much more quickly than any other electric motorcycle.
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The goal was the Vetter Challenge, a motorcycle race that uses realistic riding conditions to find the most efficient motorcycle that can really perform.
This year's challenge was the ride from Wendover, Utah, on the California border, to Tooele, Utah, including fast highway speeds on Interstate 80, some state roads that were mostly straight, and some tight winding mountain roads.
Route of 2014 Vetter Challenge for motorcycle with lowest energy costEnlarge Photo
The total distance was 171 miles, which exceeds the range of every stock electric motorcycle available.
With help from Harlan Flagg for faster charging, and from Craig Vetter to streamline his motorcycle to the max, Terry decided to compete for the title of most efficient motorcycle in the world.
This year's Vetter Challenge was to travel 171 miles at highway speeds for the lowest energy cost. The winner would be the motorcycle with the lowest cost-per-mile that covered the entire distance--and averaging 80 mph.
There are no production electric motorcycles that can do this. The closest is a Zero S with a Power Tank that can cover about 88 miles under those conditions.
In the end, Terry covered the 171 miles to win the challenge (all competitors traveled together) at a total cost of 1.3 cents per mile.
2014 Vetter Challenge for motorcycle with lowest energy costEnlarge Photo
The next closest competitor was Fred Hayes--the reigning champion--riding a diesel motorcycle, who came in at 2.3 cents per mile.
After the 171-mile race, Terry continued another 35 miles to recharge (for free) at the Utah State Capitol Building using its Chargepoint stations.
That means he was able to go more than 200 miles on electricity, recharge in 1.5 hours, then ride back the same distance. That gets very close to parity with gasoline bikes.
Riding 200 miles at a stretch makes most people want to take a break, and 1.5 hours for a full recharge isn't a far cry from a reasonable lunchtime.
While parity hasn't been reached, that kind of riding distance-to-recharge time gets closer to the riding characteristics of most road trips (with the exception of the Iron-Butt Association).
What it means for future
First of all, nobody is going to build and sell this motorcycle. It looks weird--and only a few people in the country will be so compelled to ride electric bikes over long distances that they would consider buying such a bike.
Terry Hershner competing in 2014 Vetter Challenge for motorcycle with lowest energy costEnlarge Photo
Second, this setup is very expensive. Each charger is basically $1,000, and the extra batteries retail for $2,500 each (though you can often get them for less secondhand). Adding this all together would make a motorcycle that costs $30,000 to $35,000.
However, we can learn a lot from Terry's journey about where to look for improvements in electric motorcycles over the coming years.
First, aerodynamics are an easy way to get more miles. Right now both Zero and Brammo motorcycles are sold naked, meaning they have no fairings to route the wind around the rider. If either company figured out a way to improve their aerodynamics without adding much weight, it would help increase range without expensive batteries.
Second, charging times need to drop substantially. There are a variety of ways to do this, and right now they are pretty expensive. One way is to include a larger on-board charger, but that adds weight and takes up space that could be used for more battery capacity.
Terry Hershner electric motorcyle, 2014 Vetter Challenge for motorcycle with lowest energy costEnlarge Photo
Or, makers could include multiple chargers so the rider could plug into more than one Level 2 J-1772 plug at a time. Terry does this and it works as long as there are two chargers available.
The least expensive and most effective way to reduce charge times is to have a CHAdeMO DC fast-charging system where there is a network of CHAdeMO chargers available. Zero Motorcycles now offers this as an option on all of their motorcycles.
CHAdeMO chargers are becoming more prevalent along the coasts and in Tennessee, making this a more viable option with each year.
Using DC Fast Charging system means you don't have to fit a charger on your motorcycle, which saves weight and space--but you lose the backup of plugging into any wall outlet for a much slower recharge.
A recap of Terry's exploits
In November and December of 2012 Terry went across the United States for the first time--starting in Florida, getting stuck in Texas, then accepting a lift in a van to make it to a motorcycle show in Los Angeles.