This Article

Alternating Currents: Bring back roadside attractions for the EV era

World’s tallest thermometer. Photo credit: Elizabethmaher / Shutterstock.com

Patience is a virtue, and nowhere is that more true than when going on a long-distance trip with your electric vehicle. Last week I took a trip from Los Angeles to my home in Reno, Nevada on Harley-Davidson’s electric LiveWire motorcycle. Thankfully it charges with a CCS DC fast charger connection, allowing an 80% charge in 40 minutes and 100% in about an hour.

But with a rated highway range of about 100 miles, and my un-aerodynamic shape loaded into the saddle, the bike and I could get no more than 80 miles from a full charge. That meant a lot of stopping on this particular trip, and it meant a lot of time sitting at the charging station with very little to do. 

Most of the charging stations I stopped at were located along the I-5 and I-80 corridors in California, and they were by and large located in fast food restaurant parking lots or grocery store parking lots just off the highway. I get it, it makes sense, but there is definitely a better way. Our lives are depressing enough in 2020, we don’t need to spend an hour in the Subway parking lot near Buttonwillow, California. 

World’s largest nut. Photo credit: Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock.com

(Editor’s note: Before anyone writes in saying “Tesla solves this problem with its infotainment,” you are correct. It is a great feature to be able to play games or watch Netflix while charging. Hopefully more EV companies adopt features like that in the future. Though, as I’m sure y’all can appreciate, a motorcycle isn’t a car and what works for an enclosed four-wheel cage might not make sense on a two-wheel motorcycle.)

Long distance travel has long been a part of the American tapestry, and by the 1920s it was a practical possibility as driving infrastructure grew more widespread and cars became faster and more reliable. The entrepreneurial spirit of this country meant that thousands of business owners began taking advantage of that fact, building unusual businesses to attract travelers to their corner to spend a dime or two. 

World’s largest picnic basket and former Longaberger Basket Company headquarters. Photo credit: Kenneth Sponsler / Shutterstock.com

This is where we got such deeply American gems as the world’s largest ball of yarn or the Mystery Spot in northern California. People on long distance trips often get bored of watching mile after mile of black tarmac and yellow lane marker slide by under their tires. These roadside attractions cropped up to give motorists an ostensibly entertaining thing to do while getting out to stretch their legs. When I’m on a long trip I still make it a point to see such oddities like the Cabazon Dinosaurs or Wall Drug. 

Cabazon Dinosaurs. Photo credit: Logan Bush / Shutterstock.com

Over the last decade or so, I’ve noticed a huge shift in the way people treat road travel. It’s an inconvenience. It’s something to be gotten through as quickly as possible. It seems everyone feels a need to ‘make good time’ which means rushed fuel stops and sustained cruising speeds well above the legal limit. There is no room for leisurely driving these days, and certainly no time to stop to smell the world’s largest roses. 

But as we enter a new era of electric transportation, it’s time to bring that back a bit. Instead of building our charging infrastructure into a hellscape of fast food and chain hotels, we should be putting up things to do for the whole family to make charging an event instead of a hurdle to overcome. Think about what you did the last time you charged up at a ChargePoint or Electrify America port on your way to somewhere your range couldn’t carry you alone. What did you do? Sit in your car as it juiced up and got lost in a TikTok black hole or tapped away a few tweets or maybe you did a BuzzFeed quiz or something? 

What if, instead of getting lost in the internet, you could step out of your car and see something truly new and unique for 20 minutes or so. Doesn’t that sound better? Roadside art, attractions, interesting architecture, mini museums, or even a petting zoo. This is the enlightened future that EV motorists must demand. We shouldn’t just be expected to while away our time while the vehicle needs to be stationary and plugged into a charger. It’s time to ask for more than a soggy burger bun and a halfway passable bathroom.

Wall Drugstore. Photo credit: Frank Romeo / Shutterstock.com

The interesting effect of faster charging networks like Electrify America’s 350 kW DC fast chargers hasn’t been that people expect shorter charge times, it has actually meant people expect a longer range from their vehicle. With companies like Tesla and Lucid claiming over 500 miles on a charge for their longest range models, those charge times will still be huge if you want to fill up rather than jump from charger to charger. Even if you can get charging times down to, say 25 minutes for an 80% fill-up like Porsche’s Taycan is capable of, that’s not an insignificant amount of time. You could easily spend a bit of time ticking off a checklist of weird stuff from Atlas Obscura or Roadside America. 

And here’s a semi-unrelated one for the long-distance electric motorcyclists, maybe there should be a place to charge your cellphone and in-helmet headsets at the charging station. Because the Harley I was riding didn’t have a USB charge port, I was frequently relying on the kindness of strangers to get my electronics back to full-charge all the while my motorcycle was getting packed with juice. I know you electric vehicle ‘cagers’ have a nice place to sit out of the elements and plug in your phone to listen to some kick-ass music, but us two-wheelers aren’t so lucky. If you ever see one of us at the EVGo, please offer to charge our gear inside your four-wheeled cocoon. It’s a very kind thing to do. Thankfully, many EV owners are very kind.

Written by Bradley Brownell
Follow Author