A few months ago I took a Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle on a reasonably lengthy road trip from Carson, California to my home in Reno, Nevada. That one didn’t go so well, and I really only have myself to blame. The bike did more or less what it was supposed to do, but it was the loose nut attached to the handlebars (that would be me) who screwed it all up. I felt like I owed the bike a second chance to prove itself, taking everything I had learned and working with the LiveWire to make it happen.
Everything went fine this time! Well, everything went sort of fine. A long trip on a short-range EV motorcycle is still kind of a pain in the ass, and the charging infrastructure could still use some work, but thankfully progress is being made. Just the difference between November and February I noticed several more chargers installed along my route which made the journey easier. Let’s go through the timeline of the trip to see what needs to be done better, shall we?
I left home in Reno, NV with a full charge after sun-up on Monday morning around 8AM. I saw temps as low as 15 degrees on the first leg, and the route was mostly uphill, so I cut it short at just 54 miles to be conservative. As with my previous trip in November, my first stop was the one that caused the most consternation.
The EV Go station around the back of a Shell on I-80 was frankly a fucking disaster. Not only was the station itself buried under a wall of ice, but there were several thousand pounds of snow hanging precariously overhead. If I’d been under it when it decided to let go, there’s no telling how dead I might be. After taking the risk, I had to haul the thick DC Fast cable out of the snow which took a decent amount of my strength to accomplish. I tried the station on the right first, and it connected to the bike but wouldn’t deliver any juice. In the process of plugging in the station on the left, I noticed the plug-end of the cable had broken apart and exposed some wires inside. Not only is there a potential shock risk there, but once plugged into the bike it wouldn’t clip the connector in, so the bike and charger couldn’t complete the handshake.
This is a learning opportunity for EV charging station companies. For one thing, these stations need not only overhead coverage for the station, but for the parked car as well. There’s a reason gas stations have had canopies for decades, and it’s usually weather related. Especially in an area at over 6,000 feet above sea level, there’s no excuse for snow to bury your charger. I am a completely able bodied human, but the fact that this station was labeled as “handicap accessible” is completely absurd.
Thankfully I had plenty of range left, so I scooted a few exits down the highway to a Chargepoint station for a fill-up. Again the charging cable was buried under feet of snow, but this time at least the parking lot in front of it was cleared of the white stuff and I could get reasonable access to it. I like the Chargepoint app and how easy it is to use, but mandating a smart phone to make your car or motorcycle move is a step too far. People talk about the electric car push leaving America’s working poor behind, but I think that this could be a deeper gap to bridge than the pricing of the vehicles.
The next station I used was the Electrify America in Rocklin, California. Once down out of the mountains I was starting to warm up a bit and shed some layers into my backpack. EA’s charger hardware has improved since my last run in on the LiveWire, as it played nicer with my phone this time. But crucially, it has a credit card reader right on it, so if your phone dies or you still use a non-smart device, you can just swipe your Visa. Plus they just look cool.
It was smooth sailing all the way down the spine of California from there to my final stop for the night in Buttonwillow. On a normal motorcycle, this would have been a one-day trip. If I’d really pushed myself, I probably could have made it in one day, but I wanted to limit my hours of riding after dark and wanted to have a leisurely and fun ride. I made it about 425 miles in that first day.
One minor hiccup on the trip happened at my penultimate stop. The charger in question was a free CalTrans charger based at a CalTrans facility. Unfortunately, it was well after dark and placed three miles from the highway in a very open and unforgiving area. I’m 6’2″, 300 pounds, and riding a Harley, so most people probably wouldn’t fuck with me, but an opportunistic ne’er-do-well might prey on a solo traveler quietly charging their Bolt or what-have-you. It seemed a little creepy. I’ve definitely used some creepy out-of-the-way gas stations in my travels, but for the most part they are well lit and usually have an attendant on site to call 9-1-1 if things get pear-shaped.
The Buttonwillow exit thankfully had a nice Chargepoint station across the street from my hotel, so I plugged in while I got checked in, unpacked, and set up in my room, then went back to pick up the fully-charged bike an hour later. Despite the hardest mattress I’ve ever experienced, I slept like a baby that night.
The next morning I made the jump from Buttonwillow to face off with an old nemesis. The Chargepoint station in Lebec was the one that was the cause of all of my consternation in November, as once I managed to get the dead bike started up again and charging, that DC Fast station decided to
shit the bed on me, leaving me basically abandoned for another 90 minutes while I waited for the extra slow L2 charger in town to give me enough juice to make it ten miles down the highway.
My second round with that charger went about as well as the first. For some reason this specific charger in Lebec does not want to connect to this bike. In both instances, it plugged in and charged for about three minutes, delivering 1 kWh of power or about 6 miles, before faulting and shutting off. Unplugging, signing in, pre-paying, and plugging back in allowed the two systems to talk again, but this time for only about one-tenth of a kWh. A third try put the charger into system fault and it shut itself down. Same exact problem, despite Chargepoint reporting that the station had been “fixed” and other users plugging into it in the meantime.
Unlike last November, however, there was an extremely convenient municipal charging station just two miles away at a highway rest area. I hopped over there, plugged in, and the whole trip was back on course. For free, no less!
The second day took me back east a bit, as I was headed for the lovely Inland Empire town of Temecula. Another quick trip after my business in Temecula was conducted, saw me hopping back to Carson to deliver the bike back to Harley. Run 65 miles, stop for a 40 minute juice-up to 80 percent, run another 65 miles. Most of the trip was exactly that. It was rather uneventful, if a bit slow going.
As I already knew well, the LiveWire was not built for highway cruising. Especially not with a large gentleman like myself in the saddle. I’m about as aerodynamic as the broad side of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and nearly as dense. All that being said, aside from a few charging station minor mishaps which caused slowdowns, but not stoppages, this ride was much closer to problem-free than my last long-distance attempt.
If you’re not in a hurry, it’ll get you there. This was a bittersweet trip, as it meant I had to give back my favorite loaner motorcycle ever. Not only was it an incredible canyon runner, but it was an excellent daily commuter. If you don’t expect it to be able to go more than 400 miles in a day, and you know the limitations of the existing charging network, you can get most places in relative peace.
Interestingly, this bike was by far the most talked-about thing I’ve ever been in or on. I had more strangers come up to ask me about it at charging stations than anything else. Even people who have electric cars didn’t know that electric motorcycles exist. I hope that more people learn about them, because they’re exceptional fun.
In all this trip from February 1 to February 5 was around 1050 miles of travel, I paid EV Go $44.79, Chargepoint got $27.29, and Electrify America received $13.76. That totals up to $85.84 or around 8 cents per mile. That’s more or less what I paid to ride a bagger bike home from SoCal getting just shy of 40 miles per gallon. Some fast chargers are more expensive than others, but if you’re using it as an around-town bike, charging at home is practically free. I can charge this motorcycle on my home electricity for around $1.50, and generate solar charging for free.
So, no, a LiveWire isn’t the ideal bike to take on a cross-country ride. But in a pinch, given the right infrastructure and route, it can do it.