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Thursday, September 14, 2006

No More Po-Ta-TO???

I happened upon this article that was published yesterday....interesting...

I'd ride it...that's for darn sure!!!

Sep 13, 2006 (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Business News via COMTEX)

For decades, Harley-Davidson riders have tinkered with their motorcycles to give them a little deeper, richer, more distinctive sound. The syncopated "potato, potato, potato" rumble helps separate Harley from the rest of the motorcycle pack

Carl Vogel of Long Island, N.Y., says forget the sound. He has modified a Harley-Davidson chassis so that it houses 560 pounds of lead-acid batteries and an electric motor -- capable of reaching 85 mph, but sounding like an electric golf cart.

Vogel, an inventor-entrepreneur with a passion for alternative fuels, said he was afraid that other Harley enthusiasts would snub his bike because it was so odd. It resembles a regular motorcycle, but the lack of a gasoline engine, and the electric solar panel behind the seat, are immediate signs that it's a very different animal.

"They weren't too keen on the fact that there was no familiar sound," Vogel said of the critics. "But they appreciated all of the work that went into the bike."

Vogel has traveled across the United States on his electric Harley, a road trip that started in northern Wisconsin. After several years of sweating the details, he hopes to begin manufacturing electric motorcycles in 2007.

"The real challenge was to get that many batteries in a bike and get all of the systems working together," Vogel said. "And I didn't want a little scooter. I wanted a big bike that had performance and was fun to ride."

The Milwaukee area has dozens of custom motorcycle builders, some of them building one bike at a time in their home garages. But you would be hard pressed to find a builder revving up a battery-powered Harley, said Frank Lisiak, a partner at Jamie's Customs motorcycle shop in Big Bend.

There's more interest in bikes with eight-cylinder car engines.

"It's more of a macho thing" than an electric motorcycle, Lisiak said.

Pursuing a similar dream, Harold Benich has converted a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy chassis so that it sports a diesel engine that runs on vegetable oil. Benich, who teaches auto mechanics at a Pennsylvania prison, is building a small manufacturing plant to produce the bikes in Cranesville, Pa., starting in January.

Benich's diesel motorcycle sounds something like a big garden tractor. The bike is less powerful than a stock Harley, but its fuel mileage is impressive -- up to 115 mpg when ridden conservatively.

"Normally, I get about 80 or 90 miles per gallon," Benich said.

It has been rare for the Milwaukee motorcycle manufacturer to endorse any of them as genuine Harley products.

This month, Harley announced it had signed a deal with Lehman Trikes U.S.A., of Spearfish, S.D., to build three-wheel motorcycles. The bikes will be sold through Harley dealerships, giving them immediate credibility in the cycling world.

Vogel doesn't aspire to sign a contract with Harley, and he hasn't even shown his battery-powered bike to the company.

Rather, he sees electric motorcycles as a natural fit with other interests such as alternative fuels.

"It could become a mass-production bike if there's enough call for it," Vogel said. "I can make them now with about a five-month lead time."

The electric motorcycle can be plugged into an electrical wall outlet and recharged in three hours. It can travel about 60 miles, at 55 mph, on a single charge.

The bike also has a diesel engine, mounted in a sidecar, that can recharge the batteries during driving time. The accessory engine runs on vegetable oil or biodiesel fuel made from soybeans.
The motorcycle's plastic gas tank holds gobs of wires and electronics, not gasoline. Flip a switch and the bike goes into reverse, just like an automobile.

As for the sound?

"I think it's very nice," Vogel said. "You're just gliding along the road, listening to the wind and the sound of the road underneath you."

Benich used an industrial diesel engine for his motorcycle. The same type of power plant is used for landscape tractors and mini-excavators.

"Mitsubishi just came out with a three-cylinder engine that packs a lot of power in a small package. I want to try one of those," Benich said.

A tinkerer by nature, Benich took two years to build his first diesel bike. Now he can build one pretty quickly based on his own chassis design.

"They say a motorcycle frame is an extension of your personality. My frames are made from square tubing, so I guess that makes me kind of square," Benich quipped.

He plans to quit his teaching job in January to pursue full-time manufacturing of diesel motorcycles selling for between $29,000 and $40,000. He travels around the country on his bike to motorcycle and diesel-engine shows. The fact that he uses a 50% blend of soybean oil draws interest from the crowd.

"The bike has never let me down. I have never had to walk home from a ride," he said.
Benich has shown his motorcycle to Harley engineers in Milwaukee and at the company's plant in York, Pa.

"But the market for this isn't big enough for someone like Harley-Davidson," he said.
Benich is building a diesel motorcycle for the 2007 Iron Butt motorcycle rally, which covers 11,000 miles in 11 days.

The idea of building a diesel Harley stemmed from a joke, but now it's serious.

"Just let me know if you have a bike that you want converted to diesel. I can do it," Benich said.

(c) 2006, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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