"Electric Terry" Hershner interview part 1: An electric motorcycling icon

Electric Terry and his cross-country-record-setting Zero bike, at Craig Vetter's apocalypse-proof compound in the California hills
Electric Terry and his cross-country-record-setting Zero bike, at Craig Vetter's apocalypse-proof compound in the California hills
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Luke Workman, Terry Hershner, Charger and Loz Blain grab some pizza in Santa Cruz
Luke Workman, Terry Hershner, Charger and Loz Blain grab some pizza in Santa Cruz
Electric Terry with Charger draped over his shoulders – a common sight
Electric Terry with Charger draped over his shoulders – a common sight
Craig Vetter and Terry Hershner have become fast friends in the last few years
Craig Vetter and Terry Hershner have become fast friends in the last few years
Electric Terry and his cross-country-record-setting Zero bike, at Craig Vetter's apocalypse-proof compound in the California hills
Electric Terry and his cross-country-record-setting Zero bike, at Craig Vetter's apocalypse-proof compound in the California hills
Not your standard dash arrangement
Not your standard dash arrangement
Electric Terry's record-setting bike in Craig Vetter's garage
Electric Terry's record-setting bike in Craig Vetter's garage
Luke "LiveforPhysics" Workman with "Electric Terry" Hershner and the ever-present Charger
Luke "LiveforPhysics" Workman with "Electric Terry" Hershner and the ever-present Charger
Charger rides Terry's shoulders as much as she rides his bike
Charger rides Terry's shoulders as much as she rides his bike
September 15th, 2014 charging with four J plugs in Irvine, CA on the way to complete the first Iron Butt
September 15th, 2014 charging with four J plugs in Irvine, CA on the way to complete the first Iron Butt
Moments after completing the 1st cross country trip on an electric motorcycle June 5th, 2013
Moments after completing the 1st cross country trip on an electric motorcycle June 5th, 2013
July 19th, 2013 on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado
July 19th, 2013 on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado
May 20th 2014 with Terry, Luke Workman and "Doctor Bass"
May 20th 2014 with Terry, Luke Workman and "Doctor Bass"
Replacing the motor in Houston, Texas June 4th, 2013
Replacing the motor in Houston, Texas June 4th, 2013
July 7th, 2013 arrived at the border to Mexico after finishing the BC2BC Electric Vehicle race
July 7th, 2013 arrived at the border to Mexico after finishing the BC2BC Electric Vehicle race
On the road
On the road
November 20th, 2013: crossing the country again with a longer tail section
November 20th, 2013: crossing the country again with a longer tail section
June 1st, 2013: entering Texas
June 1st, 2013: entering Texas
Wyoming June 27th, 2013: crossing the country again
Wyoming June 27th, 2013: crossing the country again
July 14th, 2013: Lake Tahoe, on the way to Ohio
July 14th, 2013: Lake Tahoe, on the way to Ohio
Meeting Craig Vetter for the 1st time: Feb 26, 2013
Meeting Craig Vetter for the 1st time: Feb 26, 2013
Terry and Craig Vetter, May 28th, 2013 in Carmel, CA, one day before crossing the country
Terry and Craig Vetter, May 28th, 2013 in Carmel, CA, one day before crossing the country
Electric Terry with Charger
Electric Terry with Charger

Some brands have fanboys, others seem to inspire true believers. I'd have to call Zero Motorcycles one of the latter. As pretty much the first performance-forward electric motorcycle company, and by far the longest lived, Zero's Scotts Valley headquarters is a mecca to a network of serious lithium-heads spread out across the continental United States and beyond.

Zero's bikes are an absolute revelation, if expensive; a glimpse into a battery-powered future where gears and clutches and oil changes are things of the past, torque is abundant and you rarely have to "fill up" outside your own home. But they're so obsessively engineered, by such a team of mad geniuses, that they seem to inspire a certain sort of owner that's willing the roll the sleeves up and hack the hell out of them.

That's the kind of person that seems to become a Zero superfan – and there were dozens upon dozens of these folks in attendance when I poked my head in at Zero's 10th anniversary party in 2016. Many had ridden great distances to get to Santa Cruz for the celebrations, looking to hook up with folks they were familiar with from internet forums and Facebook groups. Many were hoping to run into some of the luminaries around the periphery of Zero, like proper mad genius Luke "LiveforPhysics" Workman, with whom I've had some hilarious times over the years.

Another is "Electric" Terry Hershner. Originally from Florida, Hershner has been heavily into eco-friendly living and transport for ages, converting diesel cars to run on French fry oil and gutting his home to run off solar and get off the grid long before that was a thing. Hershner became the first guy to cross America on an electric motorcycle back in 2013, with a virtually unrecognizable 2012 Zero S ZF9, festooned with extra batteries, multiple fast chargers and a gigantic semi-streamlined fairing he built with aerodynamics pioneer Craig Vetter. He later used the same bike to complete the famous 1,000-miles-in-a-day Ironbutt challenge.

Long-distance riding is tough on an electric bike, and was tougher five years ago when Terry had to battle long charging times, poor fast-charging infrastructure and battery levels that drop fast at highway speeds. And that's how Electric Terry made his name, getting out there and doing stuff nobody else was willing to try, fudging new charging solutions and doing long hours on the road to promote electric mobility. It's impossible to say for sure, but there's a fair chance Terry has done more miles on electric motorcycles than anyone alive. He's now on the national board of the Electric Auto Association, working to push electric tech forward as it moves into the mainstream.

Electric Terry with Charger draped over his shoulders – a common sight
Electric Terry with Charger draped over his shoulders – a common sight

Everyone in the Zero community knows who he is, either for the records, or for his associations with Zero, Vetter and Hollywood Electrics. He's impossible to miss in a crowd, be it his mop of yellow hair or the ice-blue eyes of the manic sled dog draped over his shoulders like an expensive and very active fur. While seemingly never short of female company, Terry's primary companion is Charger, a Pomeranian cross Husky who rides everywhere with him on the tank of his motorcycle, and who has grown to more than double the size Terry expected. Charger's energetic sled dog demeanor and wildly wagging tail make them absolutely unmistakeable on the road.

I spent a few days with Terry and Charger in Santa Cruz, and managed to record some fascinating conversations with this larger-than-life character, which I'm delighted to be able to share. What follows is an edited transcript of part one, starting out as we took a road trip out to meet fellow EV pioneer Mike Corbin and check out his new electric three-wheeler car, the Sparrow 2. We started out by talking aerodynamics, and asking the number one question Zero doesn't like to answer:

Loz: What, to your knowledge, is stopping Zero from making a sports-type fairing?

Cost. If an OEM makes a fairing, it has to pass all sorts of testing. Whatever headlight goes in there has to pass all sorts of underwriters' laboratory standards, and DOT standards, and all that testing isn't free. You have to pay to have the testing done.

Right now, to keep costs low, Zero uses the same headlight that, for instance, the Brammo Empulse uses. It's just an off-the-shelf headlight that's already been DOT approved. If they could build a fairing that headlight could pop straight into, that'd be perfect. But if you're going to make a fairing, you want it more sloped like an R1 or something, so that headlight wouldn't really work.

I have no doubt it'll happen eventually, but the numbers aren't there to warrant the expenditure yet. But it's by far the lowest hanging fruit.

Craig Vetter and Terry Hershner have become fast friends in the last few years
Craig Vetter and Terry Hershner have become fast friends in the last few years

When I first started working with Craig Vetter, he asked me "how would you like to double the range on your Zero?" I said "absolutely, that'd be great!" He said he'd put one of his fairings on a Ninja 250 and ran it side by side with a standard one. And one bike will get 60 mpg, and the other will get 120. It's just amazing.

And that was just the beginning. My latest fairing, which has a full bellypan, and doors, and some more refinement to the tail section… I got the range to be three times what the original range on the Zero was at 75 mph (121 km/h). Last May I went 300 miles (483 km) on a single charge at 70 mph (113 km/h).

Let's put it this way, when I finally got where I was going, I had to pee so frickin' bad! I said "I'm never riding this far again." Anyone who says they need more range than this is frickin' bonkers.

Loz: So at that point, it's all about charging.

All we need now is to be able to plug in and blast charge, and get back like 50 percent of your charge in 10 minutes. You'd have to hit it with, like, a 3C or 4C charge rate. And then, once you're done peeing and had a quick water break, you just unplug and go, because you've already filled up so much…

Filling up a lithium battery is a lot like filling an empty milk jug with a pressure washer. If it's completely empty, you can squeeze that trigger and just blast it in there. But almost right away, you've gotta start backing off the pressure or the water will start foaming out – and that's where you can get actual physical damage to the battery. You can get lithium plating that then can cause catastrophic failure. So they limit the rate of charge to prevent that.

Electric Terry's record-setting bike in Craig Vetter's garage
Electric Terry's record-setting bike in Craig Vetter's garage

When you first start blasting lithium into a cell, every single ion has a receptor site to go to, and it's all fine. But as you start filling up, if you keep blasting them in at a super fast rate, they start kind of bouncing around, going "oh, I can't go in that hole, I gotta back up," and then it's like "hey, you can't back up, I got 10 guys behind me, let's go, let's go, jam it in there!"

If everything's going in nice and slow, everyone's got room to move around, and you can finally fill up every last possible receptor site.

So that's why when we say "blast charging" we're talking about when you're down to 10 or 15 percent, you stop at a quick charge place, and literally in the time you take to go pee, you can blast that thing back up to like 50 percent. After that you'd have to slow down. But you can recover a huge amount of range, and if you have a 300-mile battery, and you can blast back 150 miles of range in 10 minutes, that's pretty much game over. Nobody's going to complain after that, unless the charge stations aren't where they want 'em to be.

That'll take care of itself in time, as more and more electric vehicles come onto the road, and hopefully everyone gets over onto the same charging standard.

Loz: Which has never happened successfully in the past. Remember that XKCD cartoon? That's how you end up with more standards!

That's true. But it'd be really nice if every single car out there could use every charge station.

Loz: But even at this early stage, it's already fragmented. You've got the Nissan ones, you've got the Tesla ones, you've got the J1772 and the CHAdeMO, and some of those don't necessarily fit everything they're supposed to be rated for…

That's right. So luckily the CHAdeMO and the DC Combo, the CCS, they found out that for about 5 percent more cost, which is nothing, you can take a station designed for one, and put the second one on it. You just need a little communication software to figure out how to make it work.

Here's something we're working on. There's a product for the Zero bikes called the Supercharger. The Supercharger can handle an incredible amount of power going in. The problem is finding a single station that can deliver that amount of power.

So we're going to end up using the Tesla high power wall connectors, the destination chargers. There's thousands of these things, 10 times as many as there are Superchargers. And what Tesla does is call up high end hotels and say "hey, how would you like to attract some high-end EV driving customers to your hotel? Because guess what, we'll send you some Tesla chargers as long as you pay for the installation and the electricity." So there's thousands of these things, and they're the easiest way to get a lot of power in fast.

Loz: So you've found a way to charge a Zero on a Tesla plug?

Yes. This is not the Supercharger, this is the high-power wall connector. But it can charge at 80 amps, 240 volts input, which is about 20,000 watts output. That'll charge a 10 kWh Zero in 30 minutes. So we have a molded socket, a female socket that matches the male Tesla plug. It's nothing proprietary from Tesla, it basically uses the J1772 standard.

The Superchargers, those have special encryption. You can use those too, but it's much more complicated. You have to have CAN communication that'll tell the station the VIN number of the car, and it also uses the cell phone connection that's built into every Tesla, so it checks whether that cell phone connection for that VIN number is in the area.

But you can use a temporary, short range cell phone jammer, and if you jam the signals, the Supercharger just checks the VIN number and searches for you on the map. But if a cell tower is down, it's not gonna tell a Tesla it can't charge. So the default if it gets no signal is to let you charge. I'm sure that's a huge FCC violation and can get you into a ton of trouble, but if you really wanna know how to do it, if it's a life and death emergency, that's how.

Luke Workman, Terry Hershner, Charger and Loz Blain grab some pizza in Santa Cruz
Luke Workman, Terry Hershner, Charger and Loz Blain grab some pizza in Santa Cruz

Loz: I love the way everybody in the Santa Cruz area seems to be some kind expert in their field, and they're all collaborating on so many projects. It feels like it doesn't matter what you're trying to build, there'll be someone in this town who can help you do it.

Yeah. I was originally from Florida and I came out to visit. And I met so many people out here, serious people who were doing the same kind of stuff I was doing. Back in Florida I was doing it all by myself, nobody to talk ideas out with. And I came out here, everyone speaks the same language. I was like "shit, I'm not going home. This is where I gotta be."

That's literally how I got out here, I took a cross country trip and never went home.

I started out in North Carolina, went to NC State University in Raleigh, NC. I started a company called Gas Free Earth, where I was taking diesel-powered Volkswagens and Mercedes, and converting them to run on pure vegetable oil. Not biodiesel, I mean once you're done cooking your French fries, you take that and pour it right into your Mercedes and it runs fine.

However, in the winter months, when there was snow on the ground and it was freezing, I'd tell all the customers they needed to put a little diesel in the car to thin out the vegetable oil, because it won't flow when it's really cold.

And of course, every time it froze overnight I'd get a ton of phone calls and emails "hey, my car won't start!" And I realized I couldn't trust customers to do what they were supposed to do. So I decided to move the business down to Florida where you never see snow and it just doesn't freeze.

But just before I came down from North Carolina, I'd built my first electric motorcycle and I was really excited about the potential of electric. So I focused more on building some electric toys, like a 55-mph (89-km/h) electric skateboard and some other things.

Loz: Jesus, I've ridden some 25-mph ones and they scared the shit out of me.

Yeah. I think it was originally called the EADS, and it had three lead acid 3V batteries in there that were kind of crappy. We took those out, and I think we figured out that the motor controller could handle up to 60 volts. So we put, like, 59.8 volts of lithium in it. And the motor probably wasn't too happy, but hey, it got up to speed and it was great!

We got an awesome wakeboarder, one of the greatest out there, Reed Hanson, we had him ride the thing down the Orange Blossom trail up through central Florida. So there's cars doing like 45 mph (72 km/h), and here's Reed passing them on a skateboard. Ha ha!

Off The Grid Appetizer

So when I got to Florida, I had an opportunity to get a house that was on a lake, with lots of wind coming off the lake – there was no trees to stop the wind flow. It was being renovated at the time, the housing crisis had just happened. So this house had been all gutted inside, the wiring and plumbing had been ripped out of it, and when the mortgage crisis hit, they suddenly couldn't qualify for the loans for the materials to finish the renovations. They had to foreclose on the house for pennies on the dollar.

But I said "hey! That's a perfect base for me." I'm not even going to put any wiring in the house, I'll throw some solar panels up and run cords to everything I need to power, and not have a utility bill and see if it can be done.

So we started what we called the "off the grid house" in Florida. We were charging the electric motorcycle we had there, and a few electric bicycles. The motorcycle had a range of like six to eight miles (10 to 13 km), so we had plenty of power to charge that up.

But in 2012 I decided to get a Zero ZF9, which had 100 miles (161 km) of range, and I realized that I could only charge that bike about once a day, and not always fully. And that bike was so much frickin' fun that I'd go out and ride it, and come back and want to charge it so I could ride some more. It doesn't work too well when you don't have access to ample electricity. It wasn't a problem for anyone else out there!

So that's what got me looking into fast charging. I couldn't wait like eight hours if I went to some public power outlet somewhere, just so I could get home. I had to work out how to charge it quicker.

Zero had its own fast charge solution, which was accessory Delta Q chargers – big square yellow boxes. You would've seen them out the back in the factory. You could run up to four of them, including the one that was inbuilt. They'd charge the bike in about two hours, but that was still not acceptable to me.

And I realized that was just because of a Zero hardware limitation. It basically came down to the charging accessory ports were only 10-gauge wire, they could only handle about 30 amps in, you physically couldn't charge it any faster. But obviously, when you're accelerating down the road you're pulling a heck of a lot more amps out of the battery than that.

So I just had to find the cables coming out to power the motor, and send power back in through those to charge the battery. And that's what I ended up doing. I got some Elcon chargers that pushed about three times more power than the Delta Q. So I got two Elcons and four Delta Qs for a total of about 9,000 watts.

So when you got to a charge point station, you'd plug the two Elcons and two Delta Qs into the J1772 head for about 7,000 watts. And then two of the Delta Qs, that was 1,800 watts, you could run that out of the Level 1.

Loz: And you'd push that back in through the controller?

Yeah. So the bike had to be on, the contactor had to be closed. And that's how I charged for forever. That's how I was able to originally attempt to cross the country.

I decided to ride all the way across the United States in 2012, from Florida to California. I was hoping to make it in about five days, but I hit West Texas and everything's just so stretched out across there. The charging stations on the map, there was just nobody in Texas driving electric vehicles to check these things were working and accessible.

June 1st, 2013: entering Texas
June 1st, 2013: entering Texas

So I'd planned ahead of time that I was going to use these stations. And four times, I'd get there and find out I couldn't use any of them. Like, they'd be behind giant security gates with video surveillance. So there was a charging station at the power plant, but civilians couldn't get in there and use it.

I made a big fuss about this with Chargepoint. Why are you going to put them on the map if nobody can use it? So they disappeared off the map shortly afterward. Mind you, the count didn't go down, Chargepoint would still say "we've got this number of charging stations out there," but if you actually count how many are publicly available versus how many are private, it's about four to one. If you look at their map, it'll tell you there's, say, 30,000 stations out there. But if you actually count them, there's more like 7,000 you can actually get to.

Loz: And other ones are just for employees, or whatever.

Right. And there's a funny story about Google. One of the fringe benefits when you work for Google is free charging for your electric vehicles. And that was popular, you can imagine the kind of people that work there are right into electric cars.

So at some point they found themselves with so many people charging that the main power feed to Google wasn't big enough to handle all these cars charging at the same time. They literally couldn't put in any more charging stations.

So Chargepoint came up with this great idea called power sharing. So everyone gets to work at eight in the morning and plugs their cars in. And it'll charge the cars back and forth, sharing the power, three kilowatts to each car. And at the end of the day, all the cars are full. But every car isn't blast charging all day long, which is a huge drain on the grid.

Loz: I guess we'll see these sorts of problems on a wider scale as more people go electric.

Yup. And that's where a thing called Smart Charging comes in. You'll have two-way communication between the grid and the car.

There'll be a day when, say you've got a row of 20 electric cars plugged in. And you'll be able to choose a setting on your car that says "eh, I just need to be fully charged by five o'clock so I can get home. Or I need at least 40 percent charge by 4 pm to get home, and if there's extra power available, then great, top me up."

But it's going to be a two-way system. Because when the building's air conditioner system kicks in, instead of losing 50 percent of the energy just by drawing through transmission lines over miles and miles of distance to get seven kilowatts of power to get this air-con compressor motor started, what's going to happen is, the battery from the car, which can deliver 50 kilowatts when you step on the gas, it's just going to give a little bit of power backwards and it'll go to the building.

We'll have completely distributed generation of electricity.

Terry and Craig Vetter, May 28th, 2013 in Carmel, CA, one day before crossing the country
Terry and Craig Vetter, May 28th, 2013 in Carmel, CA, one day before crossing the country

Loz: That'll need another standard, won't it?

It will need a standard. I know they've been working on it for a while, but I haven't heard anything official released yet. It'll basically be a CHAdeMO port that can feed power backwards.

Loz: So it'll be like peer-to-peer charging…

That's right. If the grid was really in demand, and a car comes along and really badly needs a charge, all the other cars have been plugged in all day next to it, and they can give a little power each and charge it.

It'll all be determined on cost. People can figure out how much this'll degrade a battery. If we're talking about a couple seconds here, a couple seconds there, it's probably going to be insignificant. And somebody will work out a cost, so that when you feed power back into the grid, you'll get financially compensated for it. And if you don't want to do it, you don't have to, but there'll be a good financial incentive for you to do so.

We've got a lot of interesting stuff coming, for sure. Honestly, I expected all this to happen a lot faster than it has. It's been slow but steady.

Loz: I wonder how much people will ever really need to charge their cars on the road anyway. I mean, for 99 percent of the time, you'll charge it overnight, slowly, at home. And the range on pretty much every electric car out there now, you won't get close to that range on your average commute, go to work, do some shopping, pick up the kids. I'd guess you'd rarely need to use an external charge point anyway.

I agree. Right now, the way I want people to view electrics is this: if you've got more than one vehicle in your family, make sure one of them is an electric car. And you and your family are going to fight over who gets the keys to the electric 99 percent of the time.

I know so many families who get an electric, and then find their gas car is just sitting there because nobody wants to use it. And people are finding, for that 1 percent of the time you need to do a long road trip, it's cheaper to just rent a gas car when you need it than to have one depreciating in the driveway all year round, and insuring it, and servicing it. Or you could just hit up a friend for that 1 percent of the time. Hey, how'd you like to borrow my Zero for a week while I ride your CBR600?

I think we'll get to a point where we've got solid electrolyte batteries that'll do 300 miles on a charge – aerodynamics will be part of that, of course – and we'll be charging up to 50 percent in 10 minutes. And every single day, a charging station is being put in somewhere you want to use it at.

A charging station could basically be at every building, because they've got a power connection to every building. You can't have a gas station at every building. Once you can go as far as you can in a gas vehicle, and you can fill up basically just as fast… One day we'll be able to charge an EV in five minutes, which is about what it takes to fill a gas tank. And if it takes the same time, but you can do it in more places, then you win on all fronts with the electric.

Meeting Craig Vetter for the 1st time: Feb 26, 2013
Meeting Craig Vetter for the 1st time: Feb 26, 2013

Loz: So tell us about your early cross-country record attempts.

When I first decided to go cross-country, it's because I got invited to the 2013 Zero release, which was being held at Long Beach, California, on December 7th, 2012. An email went out around Thanksgiving saying "anyone who'd like to attend, come on over," and I thought I might try to do that.

I drove the motorcycle first down to Miami for Thanksgiving with some friends. Kind of as a shakedown, because I'd done some changes to the bike and I kind of wanted to make sure it was all reliable.

So then I left around November 30th and started to go north again. I made it to Texas by December 3rd or 4th. I had like three or four days to make it to California. And I was making, like, 40 to 60 miles (64 to 97 km) every two to three hours. It doesn't sound that great now, but back then it was impressive.

But when I got into Texas, it was more like 40 to 60 miles every eight to 10 hours, because I was having to charge it off regular 110 volt outlets. All the chargers I'd planned out on the map turned out not to be accessible to the public. I'd drive to a charge station, and find it behind a locked gate with security cameras. It really started setting my time back. I lost 32 hours in four inaccessible charge stations.

And by that point, I'd figured out that even if everything else went perfectly, I wasn't going to make it to this release party on the 7th. And it was more important to me to get there than to set a record, so I called a friend, got him to meet me in El Paso, Texas, and we rented a van, pulled the back seats out, strapped them to the roof, and took the bike to California in the van.

So that was my first attempt. I made it a good two thirds of the way. But the last third through West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and East California was all just desert. It killed us.

July 19th, 2013 on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado
July 19th, 2013 on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado

Loz: So were you "Electric Terry" at that point?

No. I didn't become Electric Terry until right after I did the first Ironbutt. I guess it was right around that time. That first attempt was in December 2012. I got out here to California, met Craig Vetter, got to know the people at Zero real well. Got to know the people at Cycle Gear. Elcon charging guys, too. A lot of people started to get behind what I was doing, and wanted me to take it further.

I started adding batteries to the bike, getting faster charging. I was the first person to use two J-plugs on a bike at the same time. And once we decided to do the Vetter fairing, that was going to be huge.

We were at Craig's, doing the first fairing, doing everything by hand and we figured it was going to take maybe two to three weeks, maybe a month to get it done and looking finished.

And I'd been there a couple days, and the next morning I've got 500 text messages, emails, alerts on my phone. "Terry, did you see the news? Are you going to try to beat this?" And as I'm waking up wondering what the hell they were talking about, I saw there was an electric motorcycle team called Moto Electra that had announced they were going to leave to cross the country on an electric motorcycle on June 1st.

They were leaving from Florida, and they were going to try to make it to California in four days. At the rate we were going, we were planning to finish building that fairing by about June 15th.

So I told Craig about this, and we made the decision to fast-track this thing and get it done by about May 28th. I was up for about three days at the end, trying to get it done on almost no sleep.

On the road
On the road

Loz: That's not a good state to leave on a cross-country motorcycle trip in!

I was literally falling asleep on the drill press a couple seconds at a time. I left to go to LA, where Harlan Flagg from Hollywood Electrics helped me put two more Elcons on it, so I could use three J-plugs and charge even faster.

I had to leave from Carmel, all the way down to Los Angeles, and I decided to start my official timing from San Diego. And I finally left San Diego a little after midnight on May 29th, I think.

I made it to Texas within the first 24 hours.

Loz: How far were you going on a charge by then?

I was doing about 125 miles (200 km) at highway speed. The stock Zero did about 40 miles (64 km) at full highway speed.

Loz: I remember sitting on a Zero bike from that era, on the freeway watching the battery number go down in front of my eyes…

Yeah, so to get it from 40 miles to 120 miles was huge. Our battery pack was bigger, and we had almost double the aerodynamics.

So within 24 hours I was in Texas, around midnight the next night I crossed the state line. I was planning to get to Jacksonville to meet the other guys before they left. In fact, Craig Vetter had written me a letter to give to them. He knew the other rider, Bjorn something-or-other.

And the letter said something like "I wanted to wish you luck on your first electric motorcycle to cross America attempt. I was going to send this by mail, but it would've taken days to get there. So I'm sending it with Electric Terry here, who's crossing the country on an electric motorcycle."

It never got delivered, though, because I got to just outside Houston, and my motor sprocket came loose. I'd replaced the sprocket myself and I didn't use the proper procedure to lock it down. And the bike was getting so heavy that the heavy regen braking I was using was putting a lot of torque back and forth on the sprocket, and by the time I hit Houston, it was just clackety-clacking along.

I called Zero, and they said they'd ship me a new motor on a same-day ship the next morning. They had a courier come to Zero, arranged access to a plane that was on the runway at the airport that was taking off 20 minutes later, and got it to me by 7 pm the next day. I was pretty impressed!

Loz: So you had to cut out going and meeting those other guys to rub their noses in it. I doubt you would've got a great reception there anyway!

Yup, no time. So I had a motor delivered to me. But here's the thing – I had a motor and a bike, no tools, and I didn't know anybody in the area. I had to tip the bike over on its side and I had to figure out how to replace this motor with tools I bought at the gas station.

Replacing the motor in Houston, Texas June 4th, 2013
Replacing the motor in Houston, Texas June 4th, 2013

The guys at Zero said "you're a smart guy, we can talk you through this. The hardest part is going to be configuring the sine and cosine, and the magnetic coder offset, and we'll give you a 500-megabyte program to help you, we'll put it in a dropbox. There's a diagnostic cable with the motor."

I thought "I'm going to do a lot better in the morning once I've had some sleep." I can ride a motorcycle for long distances tired, I don't have to think. But when I've got to compute something very complicated… I was lost.

Getting the motor physically into the bike, that was challenging enough. But here's the thing: every motor's slightly different the way it's wound. You can't be exactly precise with that stuff. So each controller is matched to the motor based on its offset, that's a degree number somewhere between zero and 360 degrees.

So I did that, and Harlan Flagg from Hollywood Electrics helped talk me through it, and it took me off the road for about 40 hours. By that time, the other team had already entered Texas going the other way. People on the internet had already started talking about my trip, and word got to the other team that there was another electric motorcycle trying to do this.

Loz: And the race was on!

That's right! There was a chance we were going to pass each other on Interstate 10, going in opposite directions. People were telling us we should take photos together, because this was going to be a historic moment. Nobody's made it across the country yet, and here's two people trying to do it, going opposite directions on the same road.

But the owner of the other team was so mad, he didn't want to do it. I said "I'm down," I was happy to meet them wherever, because I had about a 1,200-mile head start, even given that 40-hour setback.

And sure enough, that's how it ended up. I finished on June 3rd, they finished on June 4th.

Loz: So how long did it take you all up?

It took me 135 hours. Five and 3/4 days. But that's with a day-and-three-quarters of breakdown. They did it in 84 hours. But I was totally the fan favourite, because I was riding solo, and the other guys had a team. They had a professional rider who was supposed to ride the whole way, on a team-built motorcycle.

They had two vehicles carrying two sets of gas generators. When they'd run out of battery, they'd charge it with the generators by the side of the road. They never used the existing infrastructure. And after the first 18 hours, the rider was just exhausted, so they brought in a backup rider.

So they had two riders going back and forth, using gas generators. Me, I have to plan where my next charge point is, and if it's not available, I need a backup plan – a lot more stressful.

September 15th, 2014 charging with four J plugs in Irvine, CA on the way to complete the first Iron Butt
September 15th, 2014 charging with four J plugs in Irvine, CA on the way to complete the first Iron Butt

Loz: And your attempt is actually relevant, because that's what it's like to travel long distances in an electric vehicle. You don't have a support van.

If I'd had a support van, I would've made it back in 2012. But as it was, I beat 'em by a day and the whole internet was pulling for me. There were articles everywhere – I don't think New Atlas did one.

Loz: Sorry!

But yeah, after that I was kind of on everyone's radar.

Loz: How many times have you done it since?

Well, as soon as I got to Florida, I had to turn around and go diagonally north up to Canada to join the B.C. to B.C. Rally. British Columbia to Baja, California. I got there about 20 minutes before the race started, and I hadn't slept in about two days.

So I got there just in time to register for the race, and then all the Teslas burned rubber and raced off, and I went straight to a motel and slept. And I still came in second place. I did about 40,000 miles (64,400 km) on that Zero in a little over 14 months.

Stay tuned for part 2 in the next few days, where we'll meet Terry's riding companion, Charger, and talk about the potential for electric vehicles to act as a backup power source for municipal energy grids.

More information: Electric Terry's Facebook page

Can't wait to read the second part of this series. Love electric bikes.
Legend! In his own way, another Elon Musk. Smaller bank account, but bigger balls.
"if you have a 300-mile battery, and you can blast back 150 miles of range in 10 minutes, that's pretty much game over." I've recently had a touring rider strongly disagree with that but I contend people like him will be the exception. I'm also fascinated by the effectiveness of a fairing to - in this case - double the range at highway speeds. 30 years ago I built a fibreglass-carbon fairing for my recumbent bicycle but only past 20mph did the benefits outweigh the added weight.
This is no surprise to me as Craig Vetter has been extending the range of motorcycles for many decades. Getting over 500mpg. The application to electric vehicles is obvious. The greatest application is in the World Solar Challenge. In 2015 Stella Lux went 933 miles on a single charge over two days using the 15kw battery & the 1.5kw solar panel. The vehicle is so efficient that it can cruise as long as the sun shines at 45mph. In Mpge that is something like 1800 mpge. However I am not taking into account the energy gained in two days of driving by the solar panels. Someone with better math skills will have to do that. But still very good and the car has the capability to carry 4 people with at trunk and cup holders.
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