Electric Motorcycle Road Trip: Coast to Coast with Terry Hershner


When Terry Hershner set out on his 2,450 mile coast-to-coast motorcycle trip in June 2013, most people thought he was out to set a time and distance record. But he was really out to change people's minds. 

The idea that an electric vehicle of any kind, especially a motorcycle, is capable of long distance trips is not accepted wisdom. In fact, some people told Hershner the coast-to-coast ride was impossible. 

Terry Hershner had taken road trips on his electric motorcycle before, from Orlando to Miami and later from Orlando to the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee. So Hershner, who had taken electrical and mechanical engineering courses at North Carolina State University for a while and has built his own electric motorcycle conversions, saw the challenge as an opportunity. 

"It’s about pushing the limits," he told Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel a couple of weeks after he arrived on the East Coast from California. "It’s about showing what the future of transportation can be."

It would take some technical innovation though. Hershner’s stock Zero S electric motorcycle got only about 60 miles of range at highway speeds at the time. Recharging from empty to full took about six hours with a single charger. The solution was to add battery capacity, extra chargers and most importantly, improve the aerodynamic efficiency of the motorcycle. As Hershner explained dryly, “you can only add so many batteries to a motorcycle”. “So many” seemed to be a bit of an inside joke.  Hershner’s motorcycle weighed 376 lbs in stock form.  Over the course of his preparation for his 2013 cross country trip, he added two 3 kWh batteries in saddlebags for a total capacity of 15 kWh. Because the battery packs could be charged independently, he also added more J1772 chargers to shorten charge times. Multiple outlets are often available side by side at public charging stations. The weight on his motorcycle ultimately rose to 850 lbs, requiring structural reinforcement and an upgrade of the wheel bearings to handle the load. Hershner now has four chargers on board which can charge each battery pack independently. He also doubled the motor controller capacity. 

Zero has improved its batteries continuously since introduction and now makes a factory version of the S that has 15kWh of battery capacity and can travel 185 mile range in the city, 94 on the highway. The curb weight is 452 lbs. 

Prior to the West to East Coast trip, motorcycle designer and American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame inductee Craig Vetter helped Hershner create a shell that fits over the electric motorcycle to improve aerodynamic efficiency. Hershner says the full-body fairing cut drag in half and doubled the range of the motorcycle. 

When asked about what kind of preparations were required for a long distance trip on an electric motorcycle, Hershner replied that it wasn’t really that hard but that a little planning was required: "Knowing the route you’re going to take. Making sure you’ve got the range to make it from charge station to charge station."

Hershner went on to say that he found the experience of riding his electric motorcycle was much more enjoyable than a gas-powered bike. "There’s no engine vibration, so there’s less fatigue. No ringing in your ears from the exhaust pipe. It's more like flying down the road. When you ride a conventional motorcycle for long distances, your muscles are vibrated so much, they are almost locked, so when you arrive at your destination, you almost can’t lift your leg off the motorcycle. You are stuck. That doesn’t happen on the electric motorcycle."

He says the aerodynamic fairing helps tremendously too, reducing the exposure to wind and cold and making for a much quieter, more comfortable ride. 

Hershner says the key to his success is being willing to overcome any obstacles that arise. "I had to solve problems that I didn’t expect to happen" he says. 

Hershner says that several hundred people have written to him on Facebook telling him that reading about his long distance trips has prompted them to look into and acquire electric vehicles, both two and four-wheelers. He plans to continue to ride his electric motorcycle around the country to “get people excited about electric vehicles.”

Hershner says his next goal is to be able to travel 400 miles at a stretch on his long distance machine which will require adding a total of 27 kWh of battery capacity, taking the curb weight of his motorcycle up to 1,200 lbs. After making the upgrades, he plans to try another coast-to-coast trip, this time making the trip in 48 hours or less.  

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