Some thoughts on my early experience as a Test Pilot:
As I am an experienced (read old) e-biker, the owner of an EVD with 3k miles in one year, and now a CUMOCO C130. I am reporting on a mostly positive and enlightening engagement with the company concerning my C130. Any details I disclose as to my personal experience of the program are my opinions, and nothing is implied to portray these events as policies of Current Motors. This missive might help other test pilots if things go wrong, as happens when a new vehicles is brought to market in a testing program. This product is in definitely in flux, and will no doubt change over time with our participation. It is exciting to be connected to the birth process of a new EV. Scooter’s, however, are not the future of high margin electric motor sports.
Up front, I have found that the People who are Current Motors, are committed, true enthusiasts. If you have ever read Tracy Kidder’s magnum opus, “Soul of a New Machine”, you will get it.
I am an EVD SLA owner, a long time, long distance rider of bikes of all sizes, and I do mean many. I have owned one of everything. I call it my 'reverse portfolio' strategy, as I buy new and used bikes, and end up selling them for less, which is not so good. I'm self employed, so I have had ups and downs, and my investing strategy has, I’m proud to report, had a return of negative 30% year after year. The dividend has been a lot of fun.
I have a formal electronics education, what would now be considered comparable to a BSET. I worked in SMR two way radio service, pre-cellular mobile phone, real time controller R&D, and field service for professional audio and laboratory equipment. I taught and supervised audio and video technicians for depot scale warranty service. I am capable as an electrical / electronics person, to the component level, micro-controller single board controller systems, both PC BIOS and Custom Forth language systems with ROM emulators and ICEs.
I was a technical product manager through the 1990’s and then an analyst for technical verticals in the 2000-the present. my magnum opus was the creation of the first multi-user authoring system for technical service reference and training - with the first video on CD-ROM, etc. TekDisc was the product name - that was 1991-1999. So I have been around the technical product service industry and my family is deep into motor-sports finance and automotive re-marketing, wholesale car auctions, where I played a technical role.
I was a e-scooter dealer with a real inventory and a storefront: Currie, Ego, Oxygen, back in 2000-2001, and I worked for an engineering company, no longer in business, who was designing next generation AC propulsion systems for the motor sports, industrial, and military markets - these were modular electric generator motor sets, with DC and AC controllers. They were actually steam gen hybrids based on Russian Torpedo design using an solid state HTP / water system for generating high pressure steam to a micro turbine, turning a very compact AC generator - which was very compact, roughly the size of two six packs stacked one atop the other, with 11.5 KW out of programmable freq AC drive. The designer was a genius, but passed away at age 96, and his son was unable to sustain his father's work. He filed a few EU patents, but his designs worked, and another one bites the dust.
I have some market experience.I owned a PEV dealership, Oxygen, Curries, Ego. currently I own a Martin EVD SLA, and now, I own the Current C130.
The bike has had a star-crossed history, but all is sortedf well for now. I will recount the extraordinary commitment that CUMOCO has brought to this experience - and I will share some thoughts with my fellow test pilots and the company; these might make for a shorter testing program while better aligning the expectations of future buyers who are tempted to participate. Managing expectations of the test fleet needs some refinement. Streamlining field procedure could potentially save the company time and money, improve and centralize the data collection, and make the program more fun for the test pilots. So lets talk about my experience:
The Red C130 was purchased after I drove John Harding bat-shit with chatter and questions before I handed them a dime, as I did with Zerhbach ZEV. They both know the business so it was a judgement call, and I went with the automotive team with VC, the true believers, whereas ZEV was, as I saw it, one man's vision, and a sideline as he puts it himself. I would love to own both, and I may someday as a dealer.
I sent $3k to Current and the bike shipped close to the promised time and was promptly dropped by the shipper, so it went back to Current for inspection and repair. The offer to replace the bike was not discussed, I got the feeling that decision was already made by Current - to inspect and repair, so I made my concerns known regarding swing arm and head bearings, frame alignment, etc. - and they complied. All good. I have shipped and received many bikes that had nearly unrepairable problems after mishandling.
It would have been nice if CUMOCO offered a new chassis, potentially taking this one out of rotation for re-manufacturing, but I understood that these are hand builds, and it would have set us back at least two months. So, it was a reasonable decision to fix the chassis that was assigned to me, and I am reasonably sure that if the damage had been more extensive, CUMOCO would have replaced it. I would have appreciated option to replace . Score: Satisfactory outcome for a test pilot, not a policy that will work for the broad market. Current will not, in my prognostication, be a scooter manufacturer in the future anyhow, but will deliver something more expensive, better researched to fit an enthusiast market. More on that at a future time. All of this is my speculation and opinion, nothing in this report is from the company.
Second time a Charm, not.
The bike was reshipped and delivered, and I was impressed with the quality of the pieces, and the fit and finish. My team and the freight man had trouble with the bike being shipped on a hand built palette that was not up to task, and this may have been one factor that caused the first shipping mishap. The palette couldn't be jacked, and the situation was precarious. I suggest that in the future, CUMOCO use a dedicated MC delivery service that does not need palettes; with a contract and minimum commitments, the price is competitive. Alternatively, a dedicated modular shipping container designed for the bikes would jack-able. Such modular shipping units are manufactured under contract, and at the present volumes, they can be returned and reused. That’s one way that the custom motor-sports, performance tuning, an auction / inventory swapping companies ship their customer’s bikes. CUMOCO could then use R&L, which is fine for a well protected item. Learning curve, etc.
But we took the bike off the palette in the truck, and then perched it precariously on the lift gate, and viola, there you go.
I read the manual and charged the bike - but there were, even before running on the street, many strange things. A relay in the back of the bike was energizing repeatedly each time the charger door was opened, the status LED was flashing in patterns that did not comport with the manual, and although the dash SOC gauge was less then half, the fast charge, fan on, only lasted 20 minutes, and then the LED really went crazy. I sent in my observations to John, and he said (with the scant information at hand) that these might not be deal breakers. I may not have been reporting the LED status correctly, who knows what is a short as a long, to an old Ham like me, as we are jaded in the short long business.
So after the charger shut down in 20-30 minutes, I looked at the LED, its was going crazy but seemed to have purpose? It was not the codes for balance charge, but may have been for the 6 hour ‘can’t get my last cell to balance’.
I put on my gear and took off - I was surprised that the bike struggled off the line, really badly. That is a whole issue that I’m just gonna bypass - but I know we can get more...an its a ride-ability problem on these mean streets. We don’t need to burn out, but hey, the EVD has better off the line pull. I just want to keep up a little better on the light change. the bike really was flat off the line stopped at the bottom of a hill, it was really bad, i was getting creamed by mountain bikes, no exaggeration. Ok, let’s put a pin in that.
In the mid band, 15 MPH +. the bike is great, and it seems that if its already rolling past 10mph, it get it. I was around town and about 5 miles into the ride when I went back and the SOC seemed to have travelled from almost full to ¼ in those five miles. Enigma. I went back to charge. The bike entered bulk charge, and kept it up for an hour, and then started to balance, and then it sat for the evening.
Things got dicey on the second series of rides - I was planning to ride from my house in Salem up to Beverly Farms, and back, which is 5.8 miles each way, says Google Maps. I started out, pulled up and over the steep bridge, and went onto Rt. 127, a scenic but heavily populated historic road covering some of the highest taxed property in the country. The potholes are unavoidable, and its bad all over this area for whatever shameful reason the Town Governments can’t give us good roads. I was using the poor roads as my test for suspension compliance, and trying to avoid the worst of them, which are just killers.
I was accelerating up to 45, 50, and went over a good, dish shaped pothole, the worst kind except for square edged holes, due to the down and up dip. The bike hit the hole and took it straight on and died - it wasn’t the worst pothole, and I probably have hit it before on the EVD, took it on straight and did not (thanks G-d) bottom out. But it was a pretty punchy smack, and dead. Coasted to the side, pushed it to a side street, and out it on the center stand. I am an old hand at this. Did the usual before thinking, looked at the SOC, and turned of the key and on again. Took note of the LED, which was flashing when the side-stand was UP.
Brakes micro-switches? Nope, the brakes were good and the lights were righteous. Put the stand down and what? LED goes off, and propulsion is on!
What the....So, long story short, I took the reed switch out of its holder and tucked it away. LED off, bike enabled. Test for Reed switch, bring the switch near the magnet nubbin, LED Flashes, bike disabled. Its opposite from what it should be, and since its a reed switch (magnet controlled contacts the either close or open when a magnet is near or in contact).
Very strange - cant be the switch - computer? The PIO port? The port is working, its just inverted. I have seen this in my work, were a controller PIO is damaged from static or over-volts, inverts the signal, or an internal pull down resistor gets zorched and the pin become a current sink. it matters not - my side stand sensor was inverted.
After the reed switch was tucked up away and the bike was live, I rode the remaining 4 miles to Beverly Farms. I stopped, noticed the SOC was down to ¾, and I felt sure that I would make it home. I turned around, and rode back to Salem. I was one mile or so from the barn, when I look down and to my dismay, the SOC was almost E, and the LED was blinking a message, no doubt low pack. Funny, I was not even past 7 miles total after the last charge.
Oh no! The bike cut off and was blinking something, so I rolled off, and coasted, and tried the throttle. It was limiting the speed. I needed to get over a steep bridge, there was no other route. I hit low range. I attempted the bridge. Climbing....cut off, blinking.....roll on slow, speed low, comes back, cresting, can I use regen to get anything on the long downhill? Yes, it
seems. Bottom of the bridge, ½ miles to go, cut off, and roll on, home. I had to get the bike up a ramp too steep to push into the 1st floor. No way. Get the AC cord out and plug in.....
The SOC and DC Converter did not come on, but I left the AC connected. I came back in several hours and tried to determine if the SOC came up, It seemed to be rising. Go figure
After more than a day plus on and off the AC with no bulk charge (was the battery already high? Was the balancing current sufficient to raise the level that far? Why was the relay clunking, why why why?
However, with the SOC showing near full, I decided to take another ride. This was the strangest one of all. The Side stand sensor switch decided to go back to normal during a top speed run. Wham! Just as I was kvelling (a Yiddish term for feeling really great), and the machine died. I determined that the side stand input port thought the the stand was down (the reed switch was tucked away, and so....same thing), so...I reinstalled the switch into its holder. No problem. On with the ride, which did not go well, it did the same thing, SOC fell from over ½ to zilch in a bold mile, so I limped limped home, but the bike would not enter bulk charge.
Both John and Erik participated in gathering information and talking me through the diag, as well as sending me the diag package to interface with the MCU. Erik was patient, and do not, dear reader, underestimate the man’s forbearance, as I can really test a busy engineer’s patience.
We went over the failure scenarios, I asked questions. and suggested various possibilities. The actual diagnostic picture was mixed, but Erik thought the the MCU was operating and sending data. The inversion of the Side stand port was an enigma, but I had seen these things before in my service and R&D work.
Erik thought and considered that the BCU was operational, but there was a flaky sensor, somewhere, and at any rate the company had found a bike in for repair that was exhibiting similar flakiness. The cause was traced to a bad PC board rivet in the controller shorting a I/O path. The decision taken was to replace the BCU, as further plugging and unplugging of the charger and general mind f-ing would do nothing for a bike with a compromised controller.
Erik offered to send me the parts, controller, harnessing and such, with step by step instructions for this major transplant. It was deep bit of disassembling, which did not concern me. I might have even appreciated a chance to learn about the bike’s innards. But, with time in short supply in my off-hours life, and the bike never having moved without major failures, I opted for Erik’s other suggestion, that they send their field person, Terry Richards, to do the transplant. I was impressed that even in a test program, Current would bear the costs to send a warm body to get the bike into form.
Terry Richards must be a a linchpin at CUMOCO - I encourage anyone reading this to get hold of his bio and discover, as I did, that he is an EV enthusiast and automotive industry veteran extraordinaire.
Terry was also interminably cheerful and optimistic, and never once showed a trace of negativity or ire. I have more than once had a service person want to kill me, for various reasons, but Terry was all business and took my questions and listened to my long winded stories with polite good cheer. He began the transplant on Thursday afternoon, and worked through the inevitable glitches on Friday for about six hours. We had a few problems with cables and PC system familiarity, all to be expected with service people working on new platforms that are in a state of flux. I learned a great deal about the inner programmed behaviors of the machine, diagnostics, and got a tour of the innards.
It seemed that whatever Terry did in changing the BCU and sundry things helped. The side stand problem is fixed. Its seems to be charging in a normal fashion, but there us a residual problem with the long run balancing. The LED still shows some wild blinking that does not comport with he published codes in the manual.
Overall, the experience was very positive, and the bike is seemingly ok now. have not had a chance to get the total range figures, but I have put on some miles. The weather in New England just went into the toilet, so it might be a while before my next foray.
I have some practical advice for the company regarding remote diagnostics, procedures for shipping, and field service preparedness. Still and all, mission accomplished.
Other than the service issues with the bike, here are some not so well organized thoughts about my new, very red, C130:
Overall Quality of the ‘bits’ are very good. Good grips. good brakes, good controls, good seat latch hardware - etc. Good call not to adorn the bike with crap throughout.
The Chassis is well sorted, handling wise, even maybe a a bit of a wide runner, tending to push the front wheel slightly wide on fast sweepers. This is a trad off I gladly accept as I like straight line stability, and as I get older, I tend to flog less. It’s not too bad, at any rate.
Suspension ain’t shabby for a first time e-scooter venture. the rear is not too bad at all, the front could be softer with a dual rate spring. Of course, we have special requirements here due to the potholes that go generations without repair, due to the corrupt dastardly politicians in MA. The public works dept. in Salem MA is ripe for a firing squad, and I for one want to know, what to they do with the tax money they collect? There are deep, square-edged holes in Lafayette Street that have been there since ‘04. These are holes that have damaged bikes and caused accidents. I have been dodging these potholes in Salem, Beverly, Swampscott, lynn, etc. forever, some I know so instinctively that my body just moves the bike.
Ground clearance is low, the battery box is completely without protection from road shocks and under strikes.
The seat is too deeply contoured for a long legged rider, and is nasty. I sent mine to an upholsterer to even out the drivers platform so I can scoot back and forth. The upholsterer screwed THAT UP. IDIOTS.
The regen is nice for talking about, there is no meaningful range extension or recovery of energy. The pads might be saved some wear, but continued light braking can warp a disc, and my front is starting to run out and pulsate.
The present charger is an indoor model with a fan and open portals. It is mounted in the rear fender waist well. I cant see how it will survive a rainy ride.
There is a hollow, congo drum knocking when going over bumps. There needs to be some bracing or filling done in the front compartment .
I hate saying this again: The launch is …..oh....forget it.
Some thoughts on Field Service:
I have no complaints about the obviously sincere commitment that CUMOCO has for its machines and the test program participants, in that spirit, I suggest the following:
Consider real time remote diagnostics, the technology and costs are well within reach
When A Field Rep makes the trip, have a standardized set of components, more than what is envisioned for the theoretical repair, such as chargers, BCU, etc. And ship these to the Tech’s hotel or the repair location. Being short a component is penny wise and pound...you get the point.
If there are diagnostic cables and software that are essential to the job, test them before the service call, make sure the tech has the latest connectors, gender changers, and local media copies of the firmware updates, in case an Internet connection is not available .
If you are going to make remote diag a reality, remote firmware updates are a logical next step.
Unify the BCU and motor controller firmware. Or at least make it so that one memory image can be uploaded to one port.
Do not take my editorializing personally, you guys a doing a great job.