Two bikes, one jug, Zero DSR - 2ERide the 2021 TAT with an electric moto coast to coast

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Am.E, Aug 8, 2021.

  1. Am.E

    Am.E Been here awhile

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    2021 TAT - Preamble

    They say you can’t go adventure riding on an electric motorcycle.

    We say; challenge accepted. Like many others, riding the Trans America Trail (TAT) coast to coast is a trip we’ve been looking forward to for a while. Unlike most, we’re captivated by the madness of trying to ride the entire route on an electric motorcycle; a feat that appears to be just barely possible in 2021. We hope our modified 2021 Zero DSR is up to the challenge.

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    For those that don’t know, the TAT is a roughly 6000 mile route across the continental US via back roads and as many unpaved roads as possible. It’s a bucket list trip for many riders, including us. There are numerous popular threads about this fabled journey on ADVRider; hours of YouTube content, an active facebook group, and TAT stories are a source of inspiration and amusement for those of us who like to wander on two wheels. People ask endlessly pointless questions about what bike to take. The answer is never an electric bike. (Our favorite TAT stories are obviously the ones of people riding it on totally inappropriate machines – Shout out C90Adventures, KiwiGroms, and apparently some goofballs on CT125s).

    We started our TAT adventure at its easternmost point at the Atlantic Ocean on the coast of North Carolina, and have made it 760 miles west along the TAT to Whitetop, VA as of the start of this ride report. Will we make it another 5000+ miles to the Pacific Ocean in Oregon on the Zero?

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    In fairness, anyone with any sense isn’t going to go multi-day adventure touring off the paved roads on an electric motorcycle. Not yet anyway, not in 2021. Electric motorcycles are plenty of fun, but are not yet a replacement for a gas bike if you want to travel, especially if you want to follow an off-pavement overland route. Battery range and energy density are still too low, charge times are too long, the weight is too heavy, the cost is too high, and the charging infrastructure does not support rural travel.

    Road trips (as in, traveling on paved roads) on an electric motorcycle are already pretty easy. People are already riding coast to coast on Zero (and other electric) motorcycles without trouble. The charging network in the US is extensive and growing rapidly. The TAT, however, is an entirely different story. By design, the TAT often takes travelers through back country areas with little or no infrastructure. Finding enough gas to follow the route on most dual sport and adventure bikes is largely not a problem, but pulling off a TAT run on an electric moto with limited range requires substantial planning and custom bike modification.

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    2021 Trans America Trail (TAT)

    Fortunately, neither of us ever seems very concerned with whether or not our motorcycle adventures make any sense. There will be a future when traveling by electric motorcycle isn’t much of a compromise, and can offer some interesting advantages. That time is not now. Riding the entire TAT on an electric motorcycle in 2021 is definitely pushing the boundaries of feasibility, and we want to see if we can do it.

    To put it in perspective; after knowingly significant (and absurd) expense and modification, the 2021 Zero DSR Kevin prepped for this trip is essentially like trying to ride the TAT on a grossly overpriced V-Strom 650 that only has a 1.5 gallon gas tank, which takes an hour to re-fill. It’s a bit ridiculous. There’s a reason we don’t think anyone else has tried this before.

    Your cast of characters:
    Kevin (ADV GoneToPlaid) and his 2021 Zero DSR, which he bought new at the end of 2020. This is a big deal, as Kevin almost never buys his vehicles new. He’s been talking about getting a Zero for many years, and I’ve told him countless times to just buy one already so I can stop hearing about it.

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    Me and my Yamaha WR250R, which might be my favorite motorcycle I’ve ever owned, and with which I am irrationally obsessed. I’ve apparently been assigned the role of support vehicle for this TAT trip, although I don’t remember agreeing to that.

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    (I apparently don’t have any good photos of me and my bike from this part of our trip. We’re sometimes not great at documenting, too busy riding. Maybe I’ll replace this one later).

    Kevin and I absolutely love to travel by motorcycle. We’ve done a fair bit of road touring, a trip to Alaska and NWT, and several BDRs. Riding coast to coast across the US on the Trans America Trail (TAT) has been on our list for a long time. This year is it; we’re pushing back hard against all the other demands on our time, and paying the opportunity cost. Screw it, life is short, we’re going riding. While we love our gas bikes, we’re both fans of EVs, and are really excited that good EVs (cars and motorcycles), are finally available. I can see a full EV replacing my hybrid car (Chevy Volt) in the near future, but I don’t see an electric motorcycle as a replacement for any of our gas bikes any time soon. The challenge of trying to take an electric motorcycle across the US on the TAT just made the whole trip that much more alluring. This is going to be a fun twist on a trip we were already going to take. (Maybe, like, type 2 fun. We’ll see how this goes).

    If we make it, we might be the first to complete the TAT (using Sam Correro’s tracks) on an electric motorcycle (or maybe any electric vehicle). (Being first doesn’t really matter to us, but it will be neat if we are). Does anyone else know if the TAT has been done with an EV yet?
    #1
  2. modiorne

    modiorne Adventurer Supporter

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    I have to say, interested in how this one plays out.
    #2
    drdubb and Am.E like this.
  3. Am.E

    Am.E Been here awhile

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    Us too! :lol3
    #3
  4. bajadogs

    bajadogs n00b

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    It is the future and it's not easy, yet. That's why I love it. I'll be following and wishing you the best. I've been dreaming of riding a Zero the full length of Baja. It will happen someday.
    #4
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  5. ROAD DAMAGE

    ROAD DAMAGE Long timer Supporter

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    Following along and wishing you the best. :thumb

    Seems that initially the Zero will only take slightly more planning on where to camp with hookups, until you get towards OK where people/infrastructure begin to get more sparse. I'm thinking that then the planning becomes a little more mission critical.

    Curious to hear about the Zero mods and it's average range at TAT speeds.

    I hope y'all "knock it out of the park!"
    Thanks for taking us along with you. :wave
    RD
    #5
  6. GoneToPlaid

    GoneToPlaid Ludicrous Speed

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    I figure we make it to the Witt Rd. crossing near Tellico, whereupon I slip, crash, and get pinned under the bike and electrocuted. It's not the end though. It's the beginning - of my supervillain origin story.
    #6
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  7. Dan Alexander

    Dan Alexander still alive and well

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    :clap
    #7
  8. Scribe

    Scribe £Bob£

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    Hell yes! Down with hydrocarbons (eventually)!
    #8
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  9. Am.E

    Am.E Been here awhile

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    NCNC
    2021 TAT – Building a Zero DSR for the Trans America Trail

    (Note: if you just want to hear about the trip, skip this post. This is where we geek out on EV charging and bike prep. These were substantial challenges to overcome to make the trip even conceivably possible. In a few years, its probably going to be pretty easy to ride the TAT on an electric motorcycle, but for now, well…)

    Prepping the 2021 Zero DSR for the TAT is an exercise in maximizing the capabilities of Level 2 AC charging. Those with experience will tell you that taking a road trip on an electric motorcycle is far more about charge time than it is about battery capacity (range).
    However, if you want to charge fast, it takes money, and mass. For the cost of the aftermarket level 2 chargers we purchased for our Zero alone, you could probably buy an entire (small dualsport) bike that would do the TAT. Then there is the problem of finding a place to mount them.

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    These are HEAVY and BIG to put on a motorcycle
    In the future, ubiquitous level 3 DC fast charging will solve the mass problem, at least. You won’t need to carry around a bunch of heavy chargers on the vehicle itself that are only used while stationary at a charge point, as that is handled by the EVSE at the charging station. We don’t live in that future yet. (New Zealand does though, check out their amazing DC fast charging infrastructure, and this guys cool trip touring the South island on his Energica). None of Zero’s bikes support DC fast charging (which can charge at hundreds of kW), and the DC fast charging network in the US can’t support a TAT run yet anyway. The best we can do in 2021 is Level 2 AC charging rates (3 to 13 kw rate or so), which is possible with public J-1772 chargers (J Plugs), Tesla destination chargers (not superchargers), and RV campgrounds with 50 Amp service (NEMA 14-50).

    On bike choice

    There are electric motorcycles available in in the US in 2021 that use DC fast charging, but bikes like the Harley Livewire or the Energica make trade-offs that make it even more challenging to ride the TAT than taking the Zero. The battery capacity and range on the Harley is prohibitively low, the bike can’t use any level 2 charging, and it’s very much a street bike (and we’re not Charley Boorman or Ewan McGregor who can get special, custom build Livewires from Harley). The Energica is also a very street-oriented “sport” bike that weighs 600 lbs. It has the range, and the fast charging, but there aren’t enough DC fast charging stations in the US yet, and riding it would be like trying to take ‘Busa on the TAT. Hayabusas are great and all, but there is no way I’d ever try to modify one to go adventure riding off the paved roads for thousands of miles. (We’re debatably not quite as insane as that guy that went RTW on an R1 ). Between charging types, range, charging network, and vehicle design and use case, the Zero DSR is the only electric motorcycle currently on the market in the US that seems even remotely feasible for riding a lengthy off-pavement route like the TAT.

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    Stock 2021 Zero DSR just after we bought it. Poor thing doesn’t know what’s coming.
    Make no mistake, however; despite it’s somewhat adventure bike appearance, the Zero DSR is much more of a street bike than a dirt bike. Weight, wheels, suspension, ground clearance, and overall vehicle dynamics are roughly similar to a bike like the Suzuki V-Strom 650, which is not exactly known as an off-road bike. Its ok as a gravel road cruiser. (The stock riding position on the Zero felt similar to riding my former Ducati Monster, actually; small, dense, and with a long, low reach to the bars, and short seat to peg distance).

    The DSR has a bit longer suspension travel than a pure street bike, and a 19-in front wheel, which makes it the closest thing to an electric adventure bike on the market. The stock ergonomics make riding in the standing position awful and almost useless, but that’s easily modified to be workable. The main problem is range and charge time.

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    Its not as dirty as it looks
    From the factory, the Zero DSR has a couple of options for battery capacity. Doing the TAT requires choosing the maximum battery capacity available. Even then, we aren’t sure that it will be enough range for the longest sections between charge points. The problem is that choosing the 3.6 kWh Power Tank (extra battery) option, for a total of 18 kWh nominal capacity for the bike, meant we could not have the factory level 2 fast charger. The extra battery takes up the space otherwise available for the factory level 2 charge “tank,” (located in the traditional fuel tank position on the bike). You can either have the Level 2 “fast” charge tank, or the extra battery power tank, not both.

    If you can’t have DC fast charging, Level 2 AC charging is the only somewhat reasonable way to charge during the day (for a motorcycle anyway, it’s practically pointless for car travel), as it means you can fully charge in a bit over an hour, or more likely, top up in ½ an hour or so.

    The bike we purchased came with the stock level 1 charger (120V, 15amp – the standard, ubiquitous North American wall outlet) located under the bike protected by the skid plate. Level 1 is a good choice for charging overnight, but it’s an intolerably slow way to go across the country, at least for us. Thomas Tomczyk rode to Patagonia on a 2012 Zero S with a 9 kWh battery and level 1 charger. This kind of blows our minds. That is seriously impressive, and must involve way more patience than I have. That was a really slow trip. A full charge at level 1 of the 18 kWh battery pack on our 2021 DSR takes over 10 hours.

    Thankfully we’re not the only ones who want to solve the max battery plus fast charging problem. The aftermarket provided the Diginow Supercharger, which is unfortunately no longer in production. The Diginow system allows use of up to four 3.3 kW chargers, which can accept 120 to 240 VAC input, and then convert that into the 90 to 116 VDC that the Zero battery needs. We were able to source a used set of 4 chargers, giving a maximum of about 13 kW charging rate and allowing a charge time of just over an hour (the 1C charge rate. Any faster would void the Zero battery warranty).

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    This is totally going to work. I think.
    How we Charge the Bike

    With the Diginow chargers installed, and the stock level 1 charger removed from the bottom of the bike, there are a variety of options for charging our zero, instead of just the slow, standard wall outlet:

    The best way to charge this setup is with a dual J-1772 EVSE (J-plugs). There are tens of thousands of public J-Plug charging stations around the US, and many are free to use. The charger boxes Kevin designed and built are like narrow panniers, with 2 chargers on each side. Each side has a J-1772 socket feeding that pair of chargers. To use the J-plugs, we just roll up to a charging station and plug in the two charger boxes. This gives the full 13.2 kW charge rate.

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    Standard J-1772 plug (JPlug)
    However, J-1772 chargers are mostly in cities and towns, and the TAT route mostly isn’t. Another way we can charge is with a 50-amp RV socket (NEMA 14-50), found at most RV campgrounds. It supplies 208 or 240v, at up to 50A peak but 40A continuously. This is enough to supply 3 Diginow chargers (14A AC each). We have an adapter for 14-50 sockets that splits into 3 sockets for the chargers. Also common at RV campsites is a TT-30 socket, often in the same box as the 14-50. A TT-30 supplies 120v at 30A, sufficient to run the fourth charger at half power using another small adapter. Overall, this gives 11.5 kW charge rate at RV campgrounds, which is still quite good. The caveat is that unlike public chargers, you have to ask before charging (or at least, you SHOULD ask before charging). So far, every campground we’ve used has let us charge for free (a full charge uses less than $2 worth of power), but we always offer to pay.

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    NEMA 14-50 adapter
    Another way to charge is with Tesla Destination EVSEs (NOT Tesla Superchargers, which are DC chargers), which are found at many businesses, hotels, and B&Bs. These supply 40 or 80A at 208-240 VAC, much like a J-1772, except that they use a special Tesla connector. The TeslaTap Mini adapter converts this over to a J-1772, which is then plugged in to the socket on our chargers. We just have one TeslaTap for now, allowing a 6.6 kW charge rate, and are considering getting a second one. Often, though, there is a Tesla EVSE next to a J-1772, so we can use one of each to charge at 13.2 kW.

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    TeslaTap Mini adapter
    Slowest is a standard wall outlet, the NEMA 5-15. This provides 120 VAC at up to 15A, just enough to run a single charger. (It tends to max out a standard 15A circuit, and the Diginow doesn’t let us turn down the amp draw, so sometimes we trip breakers when slow charging). This is just fine for charging at home and overnight, as it will be charged and ready to go the next morning. It also works well when camping by an outlet, or staying at a motel. Slower charging is easier on the battery, too. For mid-day charging, though, it is quite slow and can take up to 10 hours for a full charge. Sometimes, more than one wall outlet is available on separate circuit breakers. With enough cords, all 4 chargers can be plugged in this way, allowing a 6.6 kW charge rate, or a little over 2 hours for a full charge.

    Being able to charge from basically any non-DC charging source means there are enough charging options to make the TAT route technically possible. At least, mostly, we think. By range there are a few sections where it’s only just possible to make it if we stick to the .gpx track as published. If there is too much elevation gain, too much sand or other power sucking surface, or we have to re-route too far, we’re going to run out of juice.

    Our main resource for finding J-plugs and Tesla destination chargers is the PlugShare App, and there are lots of resources, google maps and several popular apps, for finding RV Campgrounds. It’s been a significant mapping project to scout the entire route for places with power where we can plug in.

    What does not work with our setup is any form of DC fast charging. The Tesla Superchargers are the best-known example, but only Tesla cars can use them. Up-and coming is the CCS standard, and CHAdeMO has never had much traction in the US. These put the power supply in the EVSE instead of the vehicle, saving weight and cost in the vehicle and allowing much higher charging rates (hundreds of kW). However, all DC fast charging standards are designed to work with higher pack voltage than Zeros use at present, and thus are incompatible with our bike. Hopefully someday CCS stations will be widespread and Zeros will be able to use them. LiveWire and Energica can already use CCS, and Energica is talking about a 3C charge rate – 20 minute charging.

    Ok, we bought the bike and the chargers, now what? – Nuts and Bolts: weight, volume, durability, and cooling, aka Are you SURE this is a good idea?

    We chose to mount 4 of the Diginow chargers, which weigh about 8 lbs. each. Add that to the already porky 463 pound weight of the bike with the extra battery, and you are definitely into large adventure bike weight territory at about 500 pounds before luggage.

    Figuring out where to mount the chargers was a bit of a project. The idea is that most people mount them under the bike in place of the stock level 1 charger, and protect them with a skid plate. To us, this seemed like an ill-advised location for an adventure motorcycle. We’ve ridden a few BDRs so far, including the COBDR, which shares some tracks with the TAT, and don’t think the chargers mounted under the bike would survive the rocks and water crossings (they are intended to be waterproof, but I’m not convinced they are really fully submersion proof). We’re not aggressive riders by any measure, but the nature of off-pavement riding means the bottom of the bike gets beat up. There just wouldn’t be enough ground clearance on the Zero. If we want to make it to the Oregon coast, we were clearly going to need a different solution for mounting the chargers in a more protected way, while still allowing for the required cooling.

    What we settled on was two small custom aluminum panniers, on each side of the rear wheel, mounted as forward and low on the bike as is reasonable, in a mostly futile nod to mass centralization. The boxes are 14” long, 13” high, and 3” thick, using 0.080″ material. Each is just large enough to mount 2 Diginow chargers, wiring, control box, and J-1772 socket. There is a gasket-ed rear hatch to reconfigure the plugs for charging from different sources, and the main 13”x14” side cover (which also has a gasket) will come off with 12 screws if needed for maintenance. There are also aluminum loops welded on to the outside of the box for Rok straps, to attach our existing Adventure Spec Magadan luggage, which we like.

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    3D Model of the charger box
    Kevin did all of the design and layout in CAD, and then had a local shop fabricate the boxes. After test fitting, he took them to another local shop for powder coating. The boxes are aluminum, but the brackets that attach them to the bike are steel parts that Kevin fabricated once we had the aluminum boxes in hand. The balance of the parts came from a variety of sources, including AutomationDirect, McMaster-Carr, Polar Wire, Amazon, and many other vendors.

    The final product attaches to the bike with four bolts, and with two wiring connections. Kevin re-routed two parts of the wiring harness with connectors to a higher position to avoid submersion in water crossings, but there are no cuts or splices into the stock wiring harness in any way. No permanent modifications are made to the bike to add the aftermarket chargers. It is possible to remove the entire charger sub-assembly and return the bike to stock.

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    Test fit went as expected. Top strap modified for stiffness and to fit under the seat.

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    Anatomy of two Diginow chargers. Heat sinks and fans since removed.

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    Custom laser cut spacers for wire relief. Thermal paste for good measure.


    The aluminum boxes both house all of the charging equipment, and also act as luggage racks. The chargers are IP67 rated, but the box is pretty tightly sealed as well for good measure. The overall width is only about 2 inches wider than the racks on Kevin’s WR250R, because there is no muffler in the way.

    The chargers mount to the inside face of each box, facing the rear wheel. There is an air gap on the other side (outward facing) between the chargers and the side covers, so that the side covers and luggage do not get too hot when charging. The inside face does get hot after a while – there’s not quite enough free convection to properly cool the chargers. The original design of the chargers used large heat sinks and fans, but they take up too much weight and volume. Fortunately, we don’t need continuous duty, only an hour or so at the rates that eventually cause the chargers to get too hot. As it turns out, the mass of the chargers and boxes soaks up what can’t convect away, such that the chargers only hit their temperature limit and automatically back off power after 45 minutes or so at full power. Towards the end of a charge cycle, the chargers go into a constant voltage mode anyway, regardless of heat, so power starts dropping off for the last 20% of the charge, reducing the heat generated. Therefore, no action is required from us during charging; generally by the time the chargers are starting to hit their temperature limits and are backing off power to compensate, the batteries are almost full, and power would be dropping off anyway. It tends to work out pretty well, but on hot days, and if we’re in a hurry, we have a little spray bottle with water, which can be used to spray these inside surfaces and cool the chargers. We were surprised at how much that small amount of water cooling speeds up that last bit of charging. It works remarkably well. It’s the lightest-weight and simplest solution we could come up with, even if it is a PITA and definitely not mass-market friendly. Good enough for NASA though: https://planetaryvision.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-porous-plate-sublimator.html (There is no way we are adding any sort of active water cooling to this thing, the weight and complexity are definitely not worth it).

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    While this may be a one-off, custom build, and thus definitely a prototype, we wanted to make it as reliable as possible. Kevin took care with design, build practices, wire routing, and industrial, automotive grade component selection, with an eye for surviving thousands of miles of dusty, bumpy road. If something rattles, it will beat itself to death. If a wire wiggles against something, the insulation WILL wear through. Adventure riders ask a lot of their machines, and factories spend a lot of money and time on development. We obviously don’t have those resources, but we thought it was important to make a serious effort to at least try to keep the charger boxes from being the weak link. We think they are pretty nice for being home built.

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    Farkle List for the Zero DSR that’s not charging related

    • 3.5” bar risers allow 6’3” Kevin to stand while riding. This required a longer front brake line, but the control wiring reaches.
    • Tank Bag – Enduristan Sandstorm. Fits great, and is rain proof. Switched SAE power cord and USB charger.
    • ABS Switch – Handlebar mounted switch that cuts power to the ABS module, so it can be switched on the fly for off-road riding, then back on for pavement. (The ABS was definitely not desirable in the dirt, it was very annoying and potentially un-safe; it’s not the fancy off-road ABS that the new high end adventure bikes have, which works well and is awesome).
    • GPS Mount
    • LED headlight – Cyclops H4. More light with less power. Also unplugged the running light and license plate light to save another 6W. (Shh, don’t tell anyone). (No, 6W does not really make a difference).
    • Barkbusters Storm Handguard Kit for KTM 790. It’s hard to find a handguard that fits this bike.
    • Removed passenger footpegs. They won’t fold with the charger boxes in place, and are thus dangerous.
    • Chain kit for 2018-2021 DSR 10-08127. There is no way the stock belt drive was going to survive the TAT. This kit came from Zero with a 12T front sprocket, which geared it too low and made the speedo/odo wrong. Replaced with a JT Sprockets JTF565.15 15T Steel Front Sprocket, and now it is within 1%.
    • Smaller rear turn signals to clear the J1772 sockets.
    • Airhawk dual sport seat cushion. The stock seat is…..not comfortable.
    The final build of our TAT ready Zero DSR looks like this:

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    TAT ready Zero DSR


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    Rain and dust proof so far.

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    Don’t laugh. This mud guard works.

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    Wish it had off-road ABS. This switch just turns it off instead.

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    Bar risers, GPS mount, hand guards.

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    Why is this sprocket so big Zero, why?

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    J-1772 socket. There are two.

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    The tank bag is mounted through the hole in the frame. works great.

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    Not wide.


    After a bunch of testing and development time on this project in Spring 2021, a lot of which was our own learning curve with owning our first true EV, now we’re ready to actually do some riding. Also, this is definitely not the cheapest or easiest way to try and ride the TAT, in case you haven’t figured that out.

    Frequently asked Questions

    After all of the above, the the Zero we’re using to complete the TAT performs as follows while fully loaded for travel:

    1. How far can you go on on a charge?
      Answer: It depends. Range is heavily speed dependent, and aerodynamics play a huge role. Its completely possible to drain the battery in as little as 60-70 miles by riding highway speed (65 mph+) uphill into a headwind while fully loaded for the entire charge. Riding normally (not too slowly, but not aggressively) on a mix of back roads and forest roads usually yields about 120 miles, with a little to spare. Hyper-miling by keeping the speed down to about 30mph or so gets 180+ miles. 200 miles is theoretically possible, although we haven’t tried it yet (I might die of boredom first). We try not to plan on more than 100-120 miles between charging, so that there is some margin for error (closed roads, etc.).
    2. How long does it take to charge?
      Answer: It depends on the charging source. A full charge takes just over an hour with fast level 2 charging, and up to 10 hours with level 1. Full charges are rare, most charging is topping up when there is an opportunity.
    3. How much does it cost to charge?
      Answer: A full charge uses less than $2 worth of power at typical retail rates in the US. Many public chargers are free, but the cost of pay chargers varies widely. In general, electricity cost per mile is like buying gas for $0.75 per gallon.
    (Cross posted from here: https://amytracker.wordpress.com/20...lding-a-zero-dsr-for-the-trans-america-trail/)
    #9
  10. BuiltnotBought

    BuiltnotBought Perpetual Project

    Joined:
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    Ontario
    This will for sure be interesting.
    #10
  11. hbski

    hbski Adventurer

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    Jan 28, 2018
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    SoCal
    A lot of good impressive work!

    Have you considered small fans in the charge boxes while charging? Even without an air inlet, increased convection inside the boxes due to some circulating air would allow more heat transfer to the box walls and thus conduction to and convection from the outside of the box.

    -Hbski
    #11
  12. Ol Man

    Ol Man Long timer Supporter

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    Apple Valley, Calif
    Nice description of the bike and modifications, now on to the ride.
    #12
  13. Am.E

    Am.E Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2012
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    NCNC
    2021 TAT – Part 1 – Starting the Ride on the AOS

    With both bikes prepped and ready to ride, and far too many hours poured into a many tabbed spreadsheet and creating a .gpx file full of potential charging points, it was finally time to go riding. (No prior moto trip has required a spreadsheet, unless you count our packing list, just so you know).

    We left our house for Part 1 of our 2-part TAT ride the day after the Colonial Pipeline hack made the news, but we didn’t know that. Our myopic trip preparations before we left meant that we had not been paying attention to the news, and thus started our road trip totally oblivious to the predictable upcoming gas shortage on the east coast of the US.

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    2021 TAT part 1 of 2. Tat route in blue.

    To make matters worse, the power tank on the DSR had some sort of failure two days before we wanted to leave. The bike was totally disabled. After scrambling to get a part, Kevin was able to remove the power tank and get the bike running. This meant we now had 20% less battery capacity and range, making the most challenging part of our upcoming ride even more challenging. After some research, we knew we could never do the whole TAT without that power tank, but our planned Part 1 trip from the east coast through VA seemed do-able.

    Resolving the power tank issue would have to wait. We did not want to be at the coast in June, July, or August, when it was hot and muggy. Plus, we had the time to take the Part 1 trip now, during fantastic weather in May. One in the hand, as they say; who knows what could prevent us from taking this trip later. We left 2 days later than planned, and 4 days after the power tank failure. The bike was flawless for the entire 1400 miles it took to get back home.

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    Next time I’m going to Rochambeau for use of the second plug.


    Our first stop on the road trip out to the coast and the start of the TAT was a charge stop, and

    already a lesson in electric vehicle travel. There was only one charge point station in the parking lot of this rural electric co-op, with two J-plugs. Except, one plug was in use by a woman sleeping in the Gen 1 Nissan Leaf (poor thing). Most vehicles can only use one J-plug anyway, but our travel modified Zero can use two, and thus charge twice as fast. This rest break took close to an hour and half, instead of 45 minutes. On the plus side, charging was free, the co-op parking lot was a comfortable, quiet, shaded public park like experience, and the weather was really nice.

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    Helicopters and skydiving and fast charging oh my

    Our next break was much more entertaining. I count this in the plus column for electric vehicle travel, as we never would have come here on gas bikes. We stopped at a regional airport with a bunch of action. There was skydiving, a helicopter flying around, and neat general aviation aircraft to see. We ate a picnic lunch, used the nice restrooms in the FBO, and the charging was fast and finished nearly before we were.

    After packing up our tent at the excellent Cashie River Campground in Windsor, NC, we rode a bit down the road and enjoyed an eggs and oatmeal breakfast at a park table overlooking the water in Elizabeth City, NC. It was windy and a bit cold, but what a fantastic location to enjoy a meal.

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    By mid-morning we had arrived at the coast in NC. The ride south on the main road paralleling the beach took us past Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. While not for us on this trip, you could do worse than spend a few days in this area.

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    North Carolina Coast

    Start of the TAT on the coast at Nag’s Head, NC.

    Arriving at the beach at Nag’s Head marked the start of our TAT trip at its eastern most point. Unfortunately, nice views of the water were hard to come by. We had forgotten about the extended sand “dune” that’s almost continuously present between the road and the water, not to mention the dense development of beach housing and lodging, obscuring the beach and the ocean from view. You can’t ride your motorcycle on the beach anywhere in this area. Oh well, here’s the proof, the “we were here” pics at the Atlantic Ocean. Now all we have to do is ride 6000+ mi west, following the TAT to the pacific coast in Oregon.

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    Atlantic Ocean, start of the TAT in Nag’s Head, NC

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    We are hilariously bad at selfies

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    This photo at the start of the TAT has everything. I accidently caught one of several “zero delay factor” incidents. I suspect this is like the “Ural (sidecar) delay factor”: when you ride something weird, people come and ask you about it. The Zero sometimes attracts even more attention than typical moto travel.

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    Smoothie was delicious

    We’re also charging at an outlet mall, which is a terrible pun that’s obviously impossible to resist.

    Most important, however, is my smoothie, which I picked up during our lunch break. The Zero was done charging before I could finish it, but I didn’t want to throw it away. It was quite tasty. This is when I made an important discovery: my new tail pack has cup holders, of all things. (Who needs a GS when your WR has cup holders?) To my surprise and delight, the smoothie did not fly out and make a green mess everywhere. On one of the long bridges over the water on the way inland, we had to wait in traffic while a sailboat passed through the swing bridge. Being able to relax while overlooking beautiful ocean views with a picturesque sailboat, sipping my smoothie in the warm breezy sunshine, while physically sitting on my motorcycle, is not a luxury afforded to any of my previous dual sport trips. I was very smug in my decision to travel with my smoothie that afternoon.

    Naturally, despite being intended as an off pavement route, the start of the TAT on the east coast is all paved roads. There are very few dirt or gravel roads in this part of the country, and going all the way to the coast is especially pointless from a riding perspective. The riding that most of us are looking for doesn’t start until you get to the foothills and mountains in VA, when you get scenic, curvy pavement, and increasing mileage on gravel farm and forest roads. Take me to the mountains over the beach any day.

    Back at the Cashie River campground in Windsor, NC, I could not resist staying in one of their tree houses for a night. Seriously, look at these things, aren’t they neat? It’s not just marketing; the little cabins really are at least partially supported by the trees. The one we stayed in had a tree right through the middle. The entire cabin moved and creaked a bit in a way that was a bit disconcerting. I had to sleep with earplugs, as the popping and creaking would have kept me awake and needlessly alarmed :) The Cashie River Campground is practically right on the TAT route, and definitely recommended.


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    Our third day on the road was our first full day of following the TAT route. It was also when we discovered some mistakes in our planning process that meant we did not have enough range to make it between the planned charge stops. Oops. Oh well, the learning process is all part of the adventure, and once we realized where we went wrong, getting it right from then on became easier. (One needs to be careful with measuring distance using .gpx tracks. They are not necessarily a faithful measure of a very curvy road, or are sometimes just wrong. Combine that with math errors in a spreadsheet, and a few of our charge leg distances were very, very wrong). Thankfully, we realized our mistake before we were stranded, and were able to find another public charger in time, albeit with more of a diversion from the route than preferred. We figure that at some point on our way across the country we’ll end up begging for power from some unsuspecting rural resident, but the goal is to use public infrastructure and not bother anyone as much as possible.

    Heading northwest along the AOS (Atlantic Ocean Spur) of the TAT into VA gets increasingly more attractive. The landscape gets hillier, and the route finds more unpaved back roads through beautiful forest and farmland.

    Virginia also has many “rail trails,” former railroad grades that are now multi-use walking/bicycling/horse trails. The TAT crosses the High Bridge Trail (State Park) near Farmville. We wanted to keep riding the TAT at this point, but bicycling rail trails is definitely a leisure activity that calls to me.

    Holiday Lake State Park is right along the TAT route just east of Appomattox VA. Its also the location of the Horizons Unlimited Travelers meeting in VA. (HU is held at the 4-H center, not the public campground. It’s a good time). The park is a lovely place, but they seem quite proud of it. All of the camping spots are RV spots with power and water, and they want $45 to tent camp.

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    Holiday Lake State Park

    This stick lodged itself in one of the blocks, but luckily did not puncture the tire. As an aside, the stock Pirelli MT60 tires on the DSR wore out, really, really fast. The rear tire was basically toast after 3500 miles, and we were surprised when it looked at one point like that it might not make it through this small, week-long trip.

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    Close Call

    In all our trips, we rarely seem to run across dispersed national forest camp sites at the right time of day to stop and camp. This one in George Washington and Jefferson National Forest was perfect; someone had cut logs that we used for a table and chairs, and it was right next to a creek.

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    He cooks. I take pictures and make helpful suggestions.

    The downside of primitive camping on the electric bike is that the bike is not charged in the morning when you leave, and on this occasion, we had less than 20% battery when we stopped for the night.

    Cross posted from here: A2Blog
    #13
  14. ROAD DAMAGE

    ROAD DAMAGE Long timer Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2007
    Oddometer:
    3,815
    Location:
    Steamboat Springs, COLORADO
    Amy, you're a great story teller! :thumb

    Thanks to you two for all the time invested in chronicaling your adventure.
    #14
    Am.E likes this.
  15. Motochimp

    Motochimp Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2020
    Oddometer:
    159
    Location:
    Bend OR
    I’m not sure I have enough nerd in my bloodstream to keep up but I will be following this one closely and wishing you both good luck!
    #15
    BigStu, norton73 and Am.E like this.
  16. Am.E

    Am.E Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2012
    Oddometer:
    483
    Location:
    NCNC
    Thanks, that's a huge compliment for me. I'll probably be less wordy while trying to post semi-live on the road. Main event countdown has begun.
    #16
  17. Am.E

    Am.E Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2012
    Oddometer:
    483
    Location:
    NCNC
    Definitely could have titled this "TAT on a Nerd bike."
    #17
    Motochimp likes this.
  18. Am.E

    Am.E Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2012
    Oddometer:
    483
    Location:
    NCNC
    2021 TAT – VA

    Most of the east coast TAT is fairly easy to ride, and as it turns out, relatively easy to find charge points, even for an electric motorcycle with limited range. The majority of our pre-trip planning was fairly straightforward. As we rode along, our confidence in being able to travel on the Zero grew, and the trip became much less about getting to the next charge point, and more about enjoying the riding, scenery, and travel on two wheels, like any other moto trip. However, the section near the end of the AOS that meanders an extended distance through the national forest in VA definitely posed the greatest challenge thus far for finding a place to plug in while still staying true to the TAT route.
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    The AOS is largely paved, but scenic, with a few gravel roads here and there

    Enter Ft. Lewis Lodge & Farm in VA. Fort Lewis was originally settled by Colonel Charles Lewis more than two centuries ago as a small stockade to protect the strategic western end of the Shenandoah Mountain pass from Indian raids in the 1750s, and was one of a series of fortifications along the frontier during the French & Indian War. The property is now a luxury B&B located in the middle of nowhere on thousands of acres of beautiful forest and farmland. We were not paying customers, but when we called ahead, they said, sure, come on in and charge your bike.

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    The downside is that unlike B&Bs we had seen previously, there was no level 2 EV charger (J-Plug or Tesla destination). Two 120v circuits run from their pavilion bathroom was all we had. Despite taking 3 hours out of our morning to charge, the location meant we did not resent the time. It felt like luxury. We made breakfast at a table in their upscale pavilion, used their (very nice and clean) bathrooms, connected to their free wifi for a rare and welcome data connection, and walked down to the river. You might think we were the slowest to get on the road around 10 am that morning, but four adventure riders on KTMs riding the MABDR, which also runs right through the area, only left a few minutes before we did.

    Ft. Lewis Lodge is a beautiful oasis, and looks to be a unique B&B. I would absolutely like to go back, its one of the few places that would be worth the “special occasion” price point. Despite not being motorcycle or EV enthusiasts, the owners and staff were quite friendly and supportive of both. (They even host a small dual sport rally/event every year). If you are riding the TAT or MABDR, Ft. Lewis Lodge gets two thumbs up from us.

    The Shenandoah valley area of VA might be one of my favorite places to ride. Or just exist. The pics we took on this trip do not do it justice. This area and north through WV are just wonderful. The end of the AOS and the TAT in VA are where the riding starts to get good.

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    I love that the TAT goes out of its way to go through Burke’s Garden in VA, a unique place we always look forward to visiting. We hadn’t been in over a year at this point, and were delighted that someone had re-painted the iconic Pepsi mural.

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    The smooth gravel road going into Burke’s Garden on the south side of this unique geologic feature is a lovely inclusion on any overland route, and if you don’t thoroughly enjoy riding the paved road on the north side, you must not like riding motorcycles. It’s twisty nirvana.

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    As an aside, I don’t know why, but I was somewhat surprised to learn how much of the TAT and the MABDR share tracks in VA. We rode the MABDR in 2018, and I hadn’t bothered to display both routes on the map at the same time, but when I did, significant portions of both routes are shared from Damascus all the way north through the Staunton area. If choosing again the future, I would take the MABDR more often in this section, as the TAT skips some fun unpaved roads in favor of some (still nice) paved back roads more of the time.

    Back of The Dragon
    The lunch break and charge stop at the moto destination/biker bar/coffee shop/food truck at Back of the Dragon in Tazewell, VA, was like a microcosm of motorcycling culture in America.

    Even the parking lot was self-segregated by sub-culture. The large Harley group parked all together all across the front. In the corner, there were just a few adventure/sport touring style bikes. The handful of BMWs all parked together on the side of the building. And then there was us; all the way around back by the fence were my small dual sport, the predictably lone electric bike, and a one point, a DRZ400 S.

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    There was a space force flag. I regret not getting a pic.
    The large Harley group that showed up at BOTD on this day simply could not have embodied the stereotypical Harley culture any more if they had tried. They rode into the biker bar parking lot en masse on their large, heavy, shaking, excessively loud machines covered in leather and chrome, sporting the complete costume, including leather vest and patches, fringe, and half helmets more suited to compliance and style than function. The entire group walked straight through the building, after making a pit stop at the bar for beer, and occupied most of the tables on the back patio next to where I had just sat down with my sandwich from the food truck to enjoy a nice lunch with Kevin in the shade of the building. We couldn’t help but overhear the conversation. In between the sips of beer and puffs on the cigarettes, how long can one possibly carry on a banal conversation about drinking? Which alcohol you like and what you don’t. Why you can’t drink tequila any more. It was like Bubba (Forest Gump) listing all the ways to cook shrimp, but for liquor.

    I was briefly relieved when the conversation turned to the actual riding. Back of the Dragon is trying to promote itself in the model of the very famous Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap on the border of NC and TN. Route 16 in VA is not as tight and twisty as US 129, but it is an exceptionally wonderful ribbon of curvy pavement to ride. There are a lot of excellent curves to enjoy in this part of VA, and that was apparently a problem for some of these riders. “My arms got so tired from all the curves I had to stop in the middle of the road to take a break. I started to back up traffic, but I think they understood.” My eyebrows rose at that one.

    It would have funnier if it wasn’t so expected. I couldn’t be mad though; they were a friendly bunch out having at least as much fun as were. Still, we grabbed our obligatory Dragon photos and left just before they got back on the road, full of beer.

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    So much potential for goofy pics, and this is all we got. Lame.

    Our end point for this part of our TAT trip was supposed to be in Damascus VA, a quirky little mountain town where, among many other activities, you can rent bicycles and ride the Virginia Creeper Trail (Another rail trail, which is apparently a thing I like). We figured we’d charge at one of the campgrounds in town, and find somewhere to stay.

    All of that went right out the window when we rolled into town, with 11% battery on the Zero. The place was over-run with thousands of people. After a gregarious (and very drunk) guy let us plug in for a bit at his RV site, we started to look around. Large groups of people, men and women, were jogging through the streets in shiny skirts and costumes. There was live music, and vendors. More people seemed drunk than not. Leave it to us to inadvertently roll into Damascus during Trail Days, an event centered around thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail, and one of the town’s largest annual festivals. The place was so full that people were tent camping on the lawns of private residences.

    Ok, as much as the party looks fun, we are obviously not going to be able to stay here. Time for Plan B.

    Our last camp site for this segment of the trip was at the Creeper Trail Campground in Whitetop, 20 miles outside of Damascus and further down the TAT along paved roads. It’s right on the TAT, recently re-opened and remodeled as of Spring 2021 after a 4+ year closure, and run by a fantastic and interesting couple who are motorcycle and mountain biking (among other things) enthusiasts. They’ve got big plans for the place, although it’s already a nice campground. We will definitely be back.

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    Conclusion, Part 1 TAT on a Zero

    So what of the gas shortage? Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss. Kevin’s bike doesn’t use gas, which worked out nicely, and by the end of the trip I felt even more smug about installing the “super tanker” oversize 4.7 gallon gas tank on my WR. We had gone merrily on our way for most of a week with no trouble at fuel stops, riding all day, and often staying overnight in areas with no cell data or wifi, before we saw our first lines at a rural gas station. Even then, we just assumed it was a local problem, and rode on by. It was most of the way through VA and almost a full week into the trip before we were clued in, and learned that at the worst point, nearly 70% of the gas stations in NC were completely out of gas. What idiot decides to take a road trip during a gas shortage? Apparently we do. Ah well, adventure. We learned nothing; the worst consequence of our ignorance to the outside world was that I had to put regular instead of premium in my tank at one stop.


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    TAT in VA

    The weather this May was outstanding; sunny and dry, and a bit cooler than expected. The overnights were a little too unusually cold, and down around freezing, and then in typical fashion, the days turned hot and 95°F the week after we got back. Still, I maintain, May and October are the best times to travel in this part of the country.

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    TAT in VA nearly in day ride range from my house
    Stats and some thoughts on EV moto travel for Part 1 of our 2 part TAT trip:

    On riding an electric bike: 1) the instant torque you always hear about is no joke. This thing likes to go fast, not far, and it wants to go right now. It takes substantial right wrist discipline not to constantly drain the battery in fits of hooligan ecstasy. Kevin looks forward to the shorter distances between charging, so he can just ride however he feels like without worrying about range. There were way more opportunities for this than we anticipated. Off pavement you can roost all the time, at will, or sometimes by accident. I’ve learned to leave much more following distance. 2) Riding forest roads without engine noise is like magic. So many people lament the lack of audio cues and engine noise that’s missing from electric vehicles, but the trade-off is sometimes entirely worth it. You can hear the birds signing while riding. You can hear the tires squirming for traction, even when riding normally. It’s immersive, somehow both exhilarating and peaceful, and completely addicting. It’s like combining all the best parts of mountain bike riding and motorcycling, without any of the down sides. On the faster paved roads it matters less, wind noise at highway speed makes the difference less noticeable, but on a forest road, I am envious that Kevin is on an electric bike, I want one.

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    I really love this part of the country
    On pace: We assumed the electric moto would mean a slower pace of travel, but after this first week, we’re not so sure. Pace is really dependent on riding conditions, and travel style. It’s a bit hard to compare from trip to trip. For pavement touring, we budget higher miles, but for a BDR/TAT/Off-pavement style trip, we assume averaging about 150 mi/day, which includes some down time. This has proven to be a generally useful number, although any given day can vary widely.

    On this trip, we averaged about 160 mi/day, including one rest day at my parents’ house of 0 miles. (If you don’t include the rest day, we averaged 175 mi/day on moving days). The paved portions during the first few days of the trip were between 200-230 mi/day, which were very easy, relaxed days. None of our days were long, and we weren’t trying to cover more distance. For us, these distances are not very different than other BDR style dual-sport/adventure/overland/off-pavement trips we’ve taken on gas bikes, which was a little surprising. We averaged the recommended 160 mi/day on the Smokey Mountain 500 last year, for example, which I thought was plenty for that route, although I think the SM500 generally has slower roads than the TAT.

    In general, the longer we travel on motorcycles, the slower we go. Even on gas bikes, we mostly don’t ride a lot of miles in a day (unless we succumb to go fever, which still happens now and then). It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and we like to keep the riding time under about 8 hrs a day if possible, including copious breaks for drinks, snacks, and picture taking. Lots of riders like to try and complete long overland routes in the shortest time possible, and often ride 300+ mile days; we are not those riders, and find that style exhausting and not very much fun. Plus you miss a lot and don’t have time to enjoy much of anything. Eating contests take all the joy out of food, you will not find us trying to complete an Iron Butt.

    This style of moto touring definitely does not suit all riders, but if you are like us, we were quite satisfied with the pace of travel. Some days definitely had lower mileage, like when it took 3+ hours to charge during the day after not charging overnight. But for us, it turns out that the electric bike has not made a big difference in average daily miles so far. Overall, it’s been much more like a typical moto trip than we were expecting. On a pure pavement route, there are a lot of places where the level 2 charge network would easily enable a 300 mile day. We rarely ride more than that in a day anyway (on the east coast, which is much denser and slower than western US riding), even on our street bikes. We found ourselves less and less occupied by the bike being an EV, found the experience less limiting, and far more about the normal tasks and experiences of motorcycle travel, than we had assumed. It was a fun ride.

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    TAT VA
    After arriving home, we quickly decided that we could hardly wait to ride the rest of the TAT. Kevin immediately returned to the task of having the power tank fixed or replaced. Given that it took over a month to buy the one we have, we hope we can get it resolved before leaving again in August. It’s a bit hard to focus on work – all we want to do is go ride.

    Cross posted from here: A2Blog
    #18
  19. GoneToPlaid

    GoneToPlaid Ludicrous Speed

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2013
    Oddometer:
    34
    Location:
    North of Greensboro, NC
    Hbski, we have thought about fans but space is tight and simple is good. I do use a desktop fan when charging at home. The water spray on the outside works quite well, though takes some attention. We've had a design freeze for a couple months, to allow us time to test. 2500 miles with the chargers, and no problems. After the TAT trip, I may experiment some with small fans as you suggest.
    #19
  20. cavebiker

    cavebiker Old School Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2004
    Oddometer:
    1,962
    Location:
    Hayward, WI
    Super cool great challenge and what an adventure. Good luck!
    #20