Saturday, November 6, 2010

No news is good news

It's oil change day today. I do oil changes for every appliance all at once since it's often a messy operation. So, my regular car, regular motorcycle, lawn mower & snow blower all had their seasonal oil change. The BugE also was included in this operation. It needed a few oil drops on the chain. The other oil changes took much longer.

As it gets colder, I see fewer motorcycles on the road now and practically none are seen during cold rainy days. However, the BugE is just fine with that sort of weather. The BugE takes away the windchill and rain so it's a practical vehicle to use for cold weather driving. Due to the lack of wind and rain, the experience is similar to driving a car that hasn't had it's heater warm up yet. Practically the same since an across town trip usually isn't enough for a car to get warm anyway. Lack of windshield wipers isn't a problem. The lens stays remarkably clear of road spray (although I don't tend to tailgate other cars either). Even with the low temperatures, the batteries still have enough performance to go across town.

However, the BugE is not problem free. When parked in temperatures close to the dew point, the lens attracts fog (or ice if below freezing) Fortunately, it's not a problem while driving. Only when the BugE is parked. Parking in my garage eliminates this problem and it's usually not a problem with quick trips. However, it is a problem if the BugE is outside for several hours. Because of this, I now apply "never fog" to the inside of the lens with a microfiber cloth and I may try applying "rain-x" to the outside. Someday, if I truly get ambitious, I may try installing an electric Frost Fighter Kit .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New packs are available!

Alan M. Clark, one of the first BugE owners I had contact with, has upgraded his BugE with a lithium battery pack. He reports he's found a kit that fits in the BugE nicely and now gives him an incredible 42 mile test range! He also reports the BugE is now lighter in weight so acceleration is quicker and his stopping distance has been decreased as well!

I'm guessing a more realistic performance in my hilly area that would not stress the batteries would probably be 30mi @30mph or some combination of speed/range. As for overall value, lithium packs are more expensive but they should also have a longer service life than glass mat Optima batteries. So far, my pack suits my needs. However, when replacement time arrives, more people should have experience with these packs so it should be clearer if these packs really are as good as the specifications would suggest. I'm also hopeful that a recycling system will be made for these packs so the depleted lithium won't just be lost to landfills. For more information, check the link to the site HERE

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My first official breakdown - a simple fix.

For the past week, the thumb throttle on the BugE has been acting rather touchy. Acceleration was more jumpy than I was used to. I was aware from the Google Groups that there were a batch of thumb throttles that were found to be bad. So, I really should have replaced it with a better control but it was a repair that was easy to put off. After all, it wasn't THAT bad.

Well, it turns out it was. After hosting a Green Drinks event, it was time to go home. So I pulled out, then had enough speed to go through a traffic light, then tried to accellerate more and...nothing! Fortunately, I had enough momentum that I could glide safely to a lit parking lot. At first, I thought maybe a lose spade connector was at fault. No such luck! The thumb throttle had finally failed. Since I didn't happen to have an extra throttle with me, I called AAA to have the BugE picked up by flatbed and brought to my house.

After putting the BugE away, I decided to upgrade to a nicer twist-grip throttle. I found a supplier on Ebay and had it delivered in three days. Then, I just attached the throttle to the handle bar with two screws, ran the cable to the speed controller, crimped on a couple of spade connectors, plugged them in and I'm done!

Although breakdowns are never fun, the fact my "auto-shop" is next to my house and labor is always free sort of makes up for it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Laundry day with the BugE

My washer at home decided to start leaking. Unfortunately I don't have enough clothes to wear until my washer gets fixed. Fortunately, the BugE has ample cargo space for my laundry which can then be shuttled to the nearest laundromat. Just load up the BugE & go! Believe it or not, all my weekly laundry (minus the hamper) can fit in that cargo space. It's bigger than it looks!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Usage observations

So far, my BugE has been pretty well behaved. My suspension upgrade of lifters & frame sliders continues to give a very smooth ride in spite of potholes and railroad tracks. I've done round-trips to all 4 corners of my town and have demonstrated that I can still be in the upper green of my charge meter when I do it. I do need to "think" while driving as I do on a motorcycle since the BugE is a small vehicle among giants. However, I don't have a problem keeping up with in-town 30-40mph traffic. I still get more waves and smiles per mile than any other car except perhaps an ice-cream truck. I'm also starting to realize some nice cost savings by using this as my town runabout instead of my car. No gasoline, no oil, no exhaust system, no coolant, no transmission fluid, no "check-engine" light. I also really like the ability to carry stuff easier than I can on a motorcycle. Also, I don't need to dress in a rain suit when I just need to go on a simple errand. Trip after trip, the BugE is able to get me there and back.

As for the fear of "running out" of electricity, it's not really a problem. Driving the BugE is kind of like driving a horse. Gradual speedup gives much better range than doing full speed sprints. Just like a horse, the BugE will last longer if not being driven as hard. If the BugE is "tired" (meaning the meter is going into the lower green zone) let it rest. Parking for even 10 minutes will let the batteries get most of their performance back. Then, when I go back home, I need to plug it in to "feed" it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

So, what the heck happened?

Got the motor back via UPS. I also talked to the person who repaired the motor. I found out my motor was not damaged by water. Instead, one of two things may have happened. First, there may have been a factory defect in the "core" piece of the motor. Second, the "core" may have failed due to driving habits. Turns out, if a motor has lots of current but can't move (maybe it's on a hill) then the windings can overheat. When that happens, some windings might short and the commutator can warp too.

So, to play it safe with the motor, I have changed my driving habits a bit. First, I avoid "flooring" the throttle just to show off, especially when going up steep hills. I find cruising at 30MPH keeps up with traffic yet doesn't lose too much energy due to wind resistance. Since doing these simple changes, I've discovered my range across town has increased dramatically.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Top speed mystery solved.

For the last few trips, I figured my lower top speed was due to a damaged battery in my pack. However, I noticed even if I totally opened up the throttle, the batteries would dip a little but still stay in the upper green. So I figured something else must be wrong. On the last few trips, I would think I would smell something that seemed electrical or possibly a dragging brake but I could never pinpoint it. Then, today, when in a 40mph zone, I noticed I could not get above 30 on flat roadway with the throttle wide open and still in the green!

When I got home, I Immediately inspected the BugE to see if I could pinpoint the problem. The rear parking brake was cool. The front brakes were warm as expected but not excessively hot. The splash plate had come undone and was rubbing against the tire but that would not possibly be enough to slow the BugE down that much. The motor controller was cool too.

Finally, I inspected the motor. Very hot! At first, I thought the chain may have been miss-aligned. It had a little slack in it but it looked OK and had plenty of grease on it. The sprocket teeth also looked OK too. So, I re-aligned the rear tire, tensioned the chain and took it for another test drive around the block. Same thing - poor top speed and the motor heated up again. Normally, the motor runs cool so this was very unusual. The last symptom was that that the motor now makes a sound similar to what I thought was a miss-aligned chain drive. However, when I took off the drive chain, I noticed the sound was still present! It was quite a bit different from the "Boba-Fett" whine it normally makes when underway.

I then decided to take the end motor cover off to check the brushes. No signs of rust and it was not terribly dirty. What I did find was a very uneven commutator pickup with lots of carbon on it and an end bearing that did not turn very well. When operating, the brushes were bouncing up and down quite a bit! That apparently was where the "chain sound" was coming from.

So, I contacted the Advanced DC motor people. They recommended a motor shop relatively near where I live. Since the motor is more than two years old, this problem isn't covered by the manufacturer. However, the repair place I took it to replaced the whole "core" and gave me a new 6 month warranty. Although it was no fun paying for that, there was one bright spot. Unlike a car or even a street motorcycle, it was easy for me to extract my motor and bring it to the repair shop myself.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Works better if I plug it in.

Turns out my charger was in trickle charge mode. 2a@12v. That charge, split between 4 batteries (with the powercheq mods) is not a lot of power to replenish the pack. That suggests the batteries may have simply been under charged on my second set of trips. So, i suspect I had the volts, but not the amps. However, waiting for a full charge has restored the pack.

The adventure into the 12v/powercheq way of charging is just a temporary measure. When my 48v side charger failed (from dropping one too many times) I thought about just getting another to replace it. The problem is, they are over $150! Instead, I'll be trying (4) Black-and-decker 12v-2a mini chargers. These don't charge up fast but four of these are less expensive than another 48v charger. They should also balance the pack when charging. Charging at 8AH, it would take 27.5hours to completely replenish the theoretical 220AH capacity of the pack. However, I don't anticipate drawing down the pack that far. If I drive moderately, I should be OK with overnight charging. Not that this will make a huge difference in my electric bill. The whole charging system will use in the neighborhood of 96W. So, I expect the charging cost on my utility bill would be approximately like leaving my porch light on all night.

The chargers could be mounted in the battery pan or on a shelf similar to the ones in this photo. Why use this particular Black and Decker kit? Each charger outputs 2A (versus normal 1A that most battery maintaners output). Plus, they come with all the cords shown which would save the trouble of putting on molex disconnects for future maintenance. These charger kits are available for $19.95 ea. (plus $4 shipping) from Tyler Tools.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Water Bug!

It's been raining quite a bit. So, I again decided to see how the BugE would do. It is very convenient!

The Good. The cowl protects against windchill and rain REALLY WELL on rainy days. Much better than it's shape would suggest. I have not needed gloves nor chaps. Just wearing a sensible coat allows me to arrive warm and dry - even in 35 degree rainy weather! The front brakes work BETTER in the rain. That was handy for two panic stops I did! As for visibility, the "road film" on a car windshields does not seem to be forming on the BugE canopy. A bird did poo on it. However some water/vinegar mix and a microfiber cloth removed it off just fine! On a rainy day, I just take the BugE out of the cycle shelter, unplug it, put on helmet, get in and go! (note, if unplugging in rain, outlet should be GFI) Also, now that people in town have seen it in action, I don't get stopped as often by people with questions.

The Bad. I unfortunately when I constructed it, I didn't seal the cargo area well enough so rain collected in the cargo area. For now, I just drilled a hole in the bottom to let the water flow out but I'll be putting a better seal around the door. Also, the foot well is collecting water from my wet shoes however two small drain holes can take care of that. Also, I've noticed potholes around town are quite large so I need to pay attention to road conditions much more than I would in a 4-wheel car.

The Ugly. Today, I used the BugE for three round trips downtown at rather slow speed (15-20mph). Each round trip was around two miles each (although, I will say, these trips DO have some hills which may be why range seems so low). I did opportunity charge at home, but apparently not enough. On the last leg of the 3rd trip, the needle again went completely limp when my throttle was applied going up the final hill. So, this time, I pulled over and waited a few minutes. The pack recovered enough to make the hill and get me home again. I later found that I hadn't left home with a full charge since it was set to trickle charge mode instead of full charge.

Originally, I charged with a 48V external charger. However, it was dropped one too many times so it doesn't work. So, I'm now charging with an automotive 12V charger and relying on the powercheq modules to even out the charging. I'll eventually be installing 4 individual low profile 2A-12V on board chargers instead of one big charger. Now I know the terrain limits around my area, I should be able to drive without running into range problems.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A test of it's range - lead-acid pack

40 degrees, sunny. It would be a cold day for a regular biker but the BugE protects against windchill so there was no need for gloves or chaps. Just regular street clothing & a helmet.

So, I started out.

2.6 miles from home to walmart, the streets were stop & go for 3 stop signs, then 40mph down a hilly boulevard. Kept up with traffic and even passed a few cars :) I stopped for around 10 minutes, got groceries. Then decided to visit the park. It's 3.8 miles from Walmart. To get there, 40mph down boulevard again, full throttle to climb a hill, then more stop-go back street driving. The majority of the journey, I maintained 30mph with light traffic. When I got there, I decided instead of stopping at the park, I would head home - which I realized was now around 3 miles away on a slight uphill grade! So, the return speed was kept to 28mph, then I slowed to 25mph with needle creeping lower each time as throttle was applied. By the last mile, the needle was completely limp when throttle was applied but I managed to maintain 15mph through downtown where I knew speeds could stay slow. I almost pulled over to let the batteries recover but parking wasn't favorable to that plan. What was really disturbing was in the last 1000 feet when the controller started to turn off, then on. I managed to make it home & do a last climb up the driveway.

I noticed at the last two stops, that turning the headlight off at traffic lights (but not brake light or turn signals) helped the needle creep back into the green zone until it went limp again when the throttle was used.

So, there it is, a variety of driving. I can't say I'm thrilled with the experience of my last mile but "resting" the pack and opportunity charging should allow me to safely stay under this tested range.

My Optimas D45s are now two years old (bought in spring of 2008) and they would spend months not connected to a charger during construction and refits. Plus, there was the shorting incident which took away even more performance. Since shorting two of the batteries, I've no longer been able to reach over 50mph even down hill with that pack. So, I did not expect full performance.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

BugE - now road legal in New York!

Finally, FINALLY, after all this time, I managed to get a plate from the NY-DMV!

I decided to take the BugE for an across town trip. OMG! This thing is fun! At first, I was a bit conservative on my route, only going along back roads. However, after getting used to how the vehicle worked, I was soon flying down the main strip with no problems keeping up with traffic! Acceleration remained good through the journey and battery life was much better than expected (probably due to the powercheq modules). I criss-crossed from one side of town to the other and was still safely in the upper part of the green zone when I returned. Both suspension changes work great - even over railroad tracks! Clear skies, nice sunset. Truly a fun ride! I ended the ride with a well earned beer at the local bar.

However, it has all been a bitter-sweet experience. Thanks to New York State, this simple vehicle became needlessly expensive in terms of up-front money and time. Paying sales tax on my own home-built vehicle made of retail parts was a final insult. However, it's over. Now, I just pay motorcycle rates for registration, inspection and insurance (just over $200 for the year). Of course, I also don't need to buy gas either - just occasional batteries. If I go for a different battery technology such as nickel iron, I may not even need to do that again either! Repairs of course are now very affordable and hopefully infrequent too. If I were to use my 200W solar array, it would even be Fusion powered!

So, I've gotta say, after a long journey, the future has arrived!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sway bar and splash guard upgrades

The shock mount problem is specific to 2007/2008 models.

The shock mounts were too short on the 2007/2008 models. Mark Murphy, the designer of the BugE kits has informed the group that later models will not have this problem. Still, there may be some BugEs on the road that never had this issue fixed. It's referred to as the "chitty-chitty-Bang-Bang" phenomena since the "Bang" is the cowl meeting the frame as the vehicle goes over bumps. One remedy is to install plates to lift the bottom shock mount so the shock can move a longer distance over bumps. The plates I installed are similar to the photo on the left (photo by Fred_dot_u). A custom set of these plates were made for me by another BugE builder, Sammy L. Rogers. Thanks Sammy! Another way to fix this would be to lift the whole cowl up slightly by using the "cowl retrofit" kit which was offered at a later time by BlueSky. Most owners I suspect have done one or both of these solutions.

If using the plate solution, I discovered another problem. Originally, a stabilizer bar was present which allowed up-down movement with only a little bit of side-to-side movement. With the inner frame section lifted, the geometry of the stabilizer bar changed so it would cause an exaggerated side-to-side movement. Over time, this side-to-side movement could fatigue the central shock mount enough to eventually cause a failure.

Here's one way to correct the stabilizer problem. The approach is to discard the stabilizer bar entirely and instead use two assemblies on each side of the outside frame that allows up-down but not right-left movement of the inner frame. The parts are quite basic. Two slider pads are mounted towards the bottom of the inner frame (see image). The sliders on either side of the inner frame then press against pieces of slippery plastic on either side of the outer frame. The section of plastic is supported from behind by small pieces of thick strap iron so the material stays stiff. This arrangement gives a slippery, yet firm surface which limits side-to-side movement while still allowing up-down movement.

The parts for a retrofit are quite simple. The sliders are "as seen on TV" sliders available at Home Depot. A cut down section of plastic cutting board makes a slippery and rust-proof sliding surface. The metal support pieces are simply some 3 1/4"sections of strap iron I use for spacers with a hole for the bottom bolt to secure them. Bolts are 2 1/2" 1/4x20 with nylock nuts. The metal piece with the three holes were made from sheet metal. The edges are bent up give it a stiffer strength.

The photo on the left is the left-side assembly installed for a test fit to show how the parts would go together. Jumping up and down on the inner frame shows smooth movement up and down but virtually no right-left movement. Very fun to prove!

The next photo on the right shows the right-hand assembly installed with the battery tray and cowl sections installed. The painted assembly was trimmed down for clearance. The further forward the assembly can be moved, the more clearance from the battery tray lip it will have. Had I mounted the sliders all the way at the end of the inner frame, the original untrimmed assembly would have allowed quite a bit of movement before encountering the bottom of the cowl. However, it is my hope I never encounter a bump requiring even close to that amount of movement!

I've put around 200 miles with this stabilizer arrangement. I have found some pretty big pot holes for testing and the BugE goes over them just fine.

While doing frame work, I also thought I might correct another problem too. This photo is an image of a small fiberglass wall I made out of 4 sheets of fiberglass cloth made stiff with fiberglass resin. This wall, working with the existing splatter shield, limits the amount of spatter from the rear wheel that makes it to the rear electronics. It also stops drips moving along the top of the body section as well. Since I had more cloth and resin left over, I also converted the seat bolts to permanent fiberglass hard points too.

In rain, this wall works well. When I first tried it, a little spatter would make the rear of the DC-DC controller wet. I've since extended the length with a two inch rubber skirt held on by rivets which has taken care of that problem.

I also found that the foot wells would collect small puddles of water from my wet shoes. So I drilled two holes at the far ends of each foot well so that water could drain out. These small modifications seemed to have taken care of the rain issues.