An electrifying ride to Pik N Pig
A few Saturdays ago, I ventured to central North Carolina to join the local ADVrider crew for lunch as part of the confusingly named “Eastern Nc Advrider Dinner” thread. I took my trusty BMW CE-04 along – a quirky urban electric scooter (and the most fun I’ve had on two wheels).
While the trip was only 138 miles of backroads (an absurd amount for any GS owner), that's a fair journey on a scoot that only averages 62 miles of range in this environment. This trip includes:
- 4 hours of riding
- 2 hours of charging ($0.86)
Leg 1: Chapel Hill to Pittsboro 18 miles, 38 minutes riding, 19 minutes charging
This particular morning came just after our 16th wedding anniversary, so my wife followed in the cage so we could brunch together.
When traveling with an EV, I'll often plan my charging stops at places where I can simultaneously enjoy a great meal so that I can kill two birds with one stone – as well as support the businesses that support my ability to get around. Accordingly, today's destination was “Cafe Root Cellar” in Pittsboro, a brunch place often lauded as one of the best in the state, which has two EV chargers up front.
Between us and brunch is UNC Chapel Hill – the first public university in the United States. The campus is quiet: there are more fans of the original Versys design than people milling about at 8 am on a Saturday. Riding past campus, I jump on US Route 15/501, which alternates between an expressway and a surface road.
After pulling into the Root Cellar parking lot, I see that my plans are dashed, as they are not open on Saturday mornings. I hopped into Google Maps to find a plan B, and there it was: a small Cafe at a Bed & Breakfast, aptly named “Small Cafe B and B.”
The food here was spectacular, particularly today’s special: Burek.
It's a traditional Serbian meat pie, or more specifically, baked phyllo dough stuffed with pork sausage, spinach, potato, caramelized onions, peppers, shredded sheep's milk cheese, garlicky yogurt, and in this case, topped with herb salad.
A burek is typically served for breakfast and made its way to Serbia via Turkey during the Ottoman Empire. Many variations exist depending on where you are – The Turks have “Börek”, Sephardic Jews have “bourekas”, and Tunisians have “brik”. The only consistent thing is that it's phyllo dough stuffed with savory goodness.
I never turn down Turkish Coffee when available, and this place delivered. Eventually, though, if I were going to make it in time for the ADVrider lunch and the route I had in mind, I would have to head out. Unfortunately, while leaving out the back entrance onto East St, I had the closest call yet on my scooter.
East St is a busy road. Back when I lived out here 20 years ago, it was known as Highway 64, but that road has since bypassed downtown. I knew there would only be a brief moment in time where the gap was big enough to make a left out of here, so I scooted as far down the gravel driveway as I could. Unfortunately, in doing so, my sight lines were significantly blocked by the two cars that were parked to my left. I looked at the gaps between the trees and the cars, and tried to count how many cars I saw entering and exiting the gaps so that I would know when the gap was close enough to enter.
After waiting 5 minutes for it to be clear, I pulled out of the gravel driveway. As I did so, I glanced leftwards and saw a Toyota pickup barreling toward me, 4-6 feet away. I instinctively yanked the throttle to get the hell out of the way and made a graceful left turn, thankful that the CE-04 has plenty of get up and go, particularly at speeds under 35mph.
I was practically shaking afterward. I thought a lot about this situation for the rest of the day. I had suffered a perception error, but how did I miss that pick-up truck? Could I have handled the situation better? Would it have been better or worse if I had made a right-hand turn instead? Even in hindsight, I don’t know the answers to these questions. I know I was thankful to be ATGATT, including an airbag jacket.
Since I couldn’t charge during breakfast, I headed to the playfully decorated Chatham Beverage District to top off on my way to Robbins. I arrived there with an estimated 66% of battery and an estimated 44 miles of range, with 38 miles to my next charging stop. My routing software, ABRP, suggested that I charge up to 93% so that I roll into my next stop with 20% of spare capacity, so that’s what I aimed for.
The district has a unique history: once the site of one of the largest flower farms on the East Coast, it became the site of a failed aluminum research facility, then a bio-fuels production facility, and eventually a consortium of meaderies, breweries, and distilleries. It also hosts the local farmers market, places to walk around and picnic, and a couple of free EV charging stations.
Charging from 66% to 93% took 19 minutes. The CE-04 isn’t the fastest charging bike out there (see Energica!), but also not the slowest. Content with the state of charge, I set the BMW navigation mode to “Winding route” and headed southwest toward Robbins.
Leg 2: Pittsboro to Goldston to Robbins 38 miles, 1 hour of riding, 1 hour of charging
Goldston is a straight shot via 902 & Goldston-Pittsboro road: a boring route, but at least the road conditions were good.
Turning off at Lancaster Dr, I spotted a cemetery behind Goldston Methodist Church, where I noticed a gravestone for Ulysses S. Grant Daurity. I can't imagine how rebellious of a name this must have been in 1874 around these parts. I researched the name to learn more about him but came up empty-handed. It appears that “Daurity” is a North Carolina-specific corruption of “Doherty” (from the Gaelic O'Dochartaigh).
I soon arrived in “downtown” Goldston, or at least as downtown as you can get in a town with a population of 239. Initially called “Corinth”, it came into being just 10 years after the aforementioned Ulysses was born. It owes its life to the railroad that runs through it, and is most notable as where Charlie Daniels went to high school before he wrote a song about a devil who went to Georgia.
Evidently, there is a mural of him somewhere here, but I missed it. I also missed that the Goldston library has two free EV chargers I could have used instead of wasting my time in Pittsboro. One of the downsides of the decentralized anarchy of EV chargers is that no single website or database has a comprehensive list: the best today is Plugshare, which did not know about this particular charger until I added it, but https://map.openchargemap.io did.
Outside of Goldsboro is predominantly agricultural and feels like one bucolic scene flowing into the next. I passed within feet of the center of North Carolina (35°33'20.5”N 79°23'15.7”W), as per the US Geological Survey. I also passed by signs for the House-In-the-Horseshoe Historic Park – named after how it sits within the curve of the Deep River, and the site of a Revolutionary War battle. I planned to stop by there on the way home if time permits.
I followed the Deep River west, toward High Falls. There’s a controversial abandoned dam there. The dam is impacting an endangered species of fish, but the locals like to fish the dam and have so far resisted its demolition. I saw quite the opposite reaction living in California, where the locals begged to demolish dams to protect fish, and the dam owners dragged their feet.
Passing over the Deep River, I spotted the High Falls Oil Company. Based on the look of the building, it had been abandoned decades ago. However, Google Streetview shows this building was actively occupied until at least 5 years ago. It seems to have aged like a meth-addicted hillbilly.
I rolled into the charger at Robbins, NC (hosted by the local electric coop), with 15% left on the battery, according to my pollen-encrusted dash. That's 5% less than my routing software (https://abetterrouteplanner.com/) predicted. I blame speeding, but part of the problem is that ABRP doesn't know the specific characteristics of the BMW CE-04, so I instead tell it I ride a “Zero SDS ZF 7.2 + PT” that gets 202 Wh/mi @ 65mph. It's close enough.
My goals here were 3-fold: find the charger, find coffee, and find the river to wander around.
I grabbed a cold brew from “Simply Coffee”, opened up Google Maps, and spotted a park along the river within walking distance.
The town of Robbins was originally named Mechanic's Hill, founded in 1795 when Alexander Kennedy founded a famous rifle manufacturer here: “The Kennedy Rifle Works”. In its time, it was the largest arms factory in the area. Today, most of us think of mechanics as people who fix things, but initially, the term included the folks who built mechanical things – such as long rifles. Later, the town was known as Hemp.
Walking into the “Bear Creek Trail System”, you immediately see the abandoned waterworks building. This building was built in part by the efforts of Karl Robbins, who owned a nearby textile mill. Karl was a prominent philanthropist and did many great things for the town, enough that it renamed itself in his honor in 1943. Karl is also the guy who bought the land to create Research Triangle Park in 1959. He got around!
As you take the riparian forest trail further down the hill, the deciduous trees soon give way to canebrake – specifically “river cane” I had never heard the term “canebrake” before moving to North Carolina, but it's used to describe a thicket or colony of native North American bamboo. When the European settlers came, they described endless seas of canebrakes. At the time, much of the Southeast was covered in canebrakes; individual colonies could be thousands of acres large.
After browsing around the river, I figured it was time to get back to the bike, which had charged itself to 96% over the hour I had goofed around Robbins – costing $0.86.
Leg 3: Robbins to Carthage (ADV lunch!) 18 miles, 35 minutes of riding, 0 minutes of charging
I headed to Carthage via Plank Rd and Hwy 27, which were that's exciting. Sometimes the “Windy” mode on the BMW Connected software delivers, but most of the time the routes are fairly pedestrian.
Downtown Carthage felt like an old city revitalized, with signs everywhere that harkened back to its distant past. Founded in 1785, Carthage is one of North Carolina's older cities – 7 years older than the current state capital of Raleigh. Its heyday was in the late 19th century when the nearby Tyson Jones Buggy Factory was producing 3,000 horse-drawn buggies a day. The city still hosts an annual Buggy Festival to celebrate its past — the next one is May 13th, 2023!
I had time to kill, so I rolled by the only EV charger I knew of in town, at Cooper Ford, a couple of miles south. The charger was in use by a shiny new 2023 Ford E-Transit Van with a battery that was 8X the size of my own, so I figured it might be parked there for a while & headed to the Pik N Pig.
Located at Gilliam-McConnell Airfield, the Pik N Pig advertises itself as the best BBQ in North Carolina. I’m not yet convinced, but it’s at least the best BBQ that you can fly an airplane to and from. I navigated through a sea of parked cars and motorcycles, looking for vaguely ADV'ish bikes – and soon spotted GordonFreeman on his beautiful KTM 1290R. Iron Cross Junction pulled in behind me on his Guzzi; though he swore up and down he wasn't here for an ADV lunch.
I soon realized we needed a better way of identifying who else was with the ADVrider community, other than accosting anyone with a vaguely dual-sport bike or Klim gear. I regret not bringing my shirt. It took 30 minutes for a table to free up, and one by one, we found other folks: truck6driver, MiniMe, Frankencycle, Turbo Ghost, and some others whose names I've since forgotten.
We talked a lot about guns, our experiences with the military, and the dumb things people do on two wheels. I'm not much into guns, but I know a lot about dumb things on motorcycles. Watching the planes coming in and out was like observing a conveyer belt of privilege – though I probably shouldn't talk as someone rolling in on a BMW.
The pulled pork & sauce were good, but not delicious to the point of going out of your way to get there. It's mostly hype. Still, the company was excellent. Judging by other people's plates, I'll order the brisket & Pepsi-Cola cake next time. After hanging out for an hour and a half, I needed to head out – I was supposed to be back by 4 pm to make it in time for a party and had at least an hour ride and a 30-minute charge ahead. Before leaving Carthage, I got one last photo of my bike downtown, complete with muddy boots:
Leg 4: Carthage to Sanford _20 miles, 47 minutes of riding, 37 minutes of charging
I set the BMW navigation app to “Winding route” again and set my sights toward Sanford. I know from experience that Downtown Sanford Horner Square has a wonderfully convenient and free charger, and from here, I'm going to need a charge to get back home.
The roads here (Old River Rd, Torchwood Rd) are my favorite of the day. They rhythmically wind through the picturesque pastoral landscape. Before long, I'm in suburban hell, which eventually opens up into the charming brick shape of Sanford.
Sanford is a surprisingly charming town. It’s yet another town born of railroads, but brick-making also played a massive role in its success. Nearly every building downtown is made from brick, and many have beautiful murals too. There are numerous lively and accessible local businesses, which give Sanford a hipper feel than most of the towns in rural North Carolina. It's still “Country enough” that the rural 20-somethings can be easily found revving and racing down Horner Blvd.
As much as I love the concept of a free EV charger, this location epitomizes the problems of misplaced incentivization:
- One charger is always in use by the same black Tesla Model 3. Probably an employee of a local shop.
- One charger has been half-broken for over a year.
The half-broken charger is workable for many vehicles, but only if you know to depress the broken J1772 latch while plugging it into your vehicle. Thanks to Plugshare, I knew that. This trick apparently won't work for Tesla's, however.
On my way to my favorite coffee shop, I passed by the Lee County Republican Headquarters, which has the sort of fear-mongering signs you've come to expect from the Republican Party of 2023. My usual coffee place was closed, so I grabbed an iced coffee from a place I had not tried before, Family Grounds Cafe. Nearby I found another great mural – you can't go more than a block in Sanford without stumbling onto one:
Feeling caffeinated and I head back to my bike, and see that it charged from 26% to 76% over 37 minutes. That’s 13% more than I need to get home, so I set the BMW routing software to “Fastest” and look forward to getting home directly via 15-501.
Leg 5: Sanford to Chapel Hill (The Final Leg!) 39 miles, 75 minutes riding, 5 minutes charging
A couple of miles down the road, I blindly follow the GPS instructions onto US-1, a 70mph road. “Fuck!”. I didn't plan on those sort of speeds. You see, needlessly high-speed travel is bad news on an electric vehicle. The energy required to overcome wind resistance has a cubic relationship with velocity:
**energy required = 0.5 * densityofair * velocity^3 * drag coefficient * surface area**
For example, Increasing speed from 62mph (100km/h) to 68mph (110km/h) can increase energy consumption by 33%. You don't notice this in a gas vehicle so much, as they are incredibly inefficient at low speeds. In something like a Tesla, you don't notice either as it's drag coefficient & surface area is low, and it's battery is huge. I nervously watched as the “estimated range” number on the dash inched closer to the “distance to destination” number.
By the time I pulled off the highway at Moncure, the two numbers were only 1 mile apart: 27 miles from my destination with only 28 miles of range left. Without a full charge, there was no way I would make it if I stayed on US-1. Moncure is a tiny town the middle of nowhere, but amazingly the Exxon station in town has an EV charger. It is however a more modern & faster DC-based charger, whereas the BMW CE 04 only supports AC-based charging. Supporting only a single charging technology makes sense for BMW, as this scoot was designed as a “charge overnight” commuter rather than a long-distance touring bike. Thankfully, the planning websites I use filter out incompatible chargers, so I didn't have to visit it in person to suffer disappointment.
After changing the rI was reasonably confident that as long as I stayed off the highways, I wouldn't have a problem getting home without a change, so I changed the BMW routing algorithm to “Efficient”, and it directed me to a route that hugs the western coast of Jordan Lake. The roads here are empty – I only see a car every 5 minutes or so. I drop down to about 40 mph to conserve my range, as I know that the energy required to overcome wind resistance has a cubic relationship with velocity:
On these chill, shady back roads, I passed by many entrances to Jordan Lake and the Carolina Tiger Rescue before briefly ending up on US-64 until I could turn off onto Gilead Church Rd, which I followed back to 15-501 near Fearrington (a pastoral yuppy enclave). Being familiar with this area, I knew I would pass by the Chatham Health Sciences Center, which has an incompletely configured charger that was still not technically open. I had previously read from the Plugshare site that if you went to the language selection screen on these Chargepoint chargers, you could unlock the otherwise inoperable chargers. It's worth a try!
I rolled to the charger with a 22% charge, so I just did a 5-minute top-off to 32% and headed home, not nearly as nervous as I was before. I arrived with a 16% charge and 11 miles of estimated range. Without that final charge, I would have been able tot arrive home at 6%, but with significantly more anxiety and less attention to the road.
I hope y'all now have a feel for what it's like to tour a rural area with a small-battery electric vehicle. Much like bicycle touring, it requires planning and patience. However, it also allows you to see things you would typically scoot right by – from the Chatham Beverage Center to the Canebrakes of the Deep River. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
I wouldn't trade this ride for any other currently available vehicle – though if BMW ever releases a CE with support for DC fast charging and 25% more range, I'd jump on it immediately.