Street-legal vehicle

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Description

This vehicle was made mostly just for fun—I am more inclined towards large, longer-term projects, rather than making little gizmos every now and then. This vehicle is electric, with a 20kW motor and a top speed of 40 mph. It is registered as a “limited-use” three-wheel motorcycle in Massachusetts, which stipulates that the vehicle is incapable of exceeding that speed. As a result, I was able to optimize the gear ratio for acceleration—it has a (theoretical) 0-60 time of approximately 6 seconds.

While the frame is made of steel, the entire vehicle weighs only 470 pounds, which is lighter than most three-wheeled motorcycles. Range is estimated to be approximately 35 miles with its battery rated at 44.8V and 60Ah. I had initially used Li-Po batteries pulled from my large drone, but after considering the safety risks and realizing I would have to take the batteries out of the vehicle to charge them, I recognized the need to use an alternative. I then opted for a LiFePO4 battery due to its significantly higher safety over Li-Po and Li-Ion batteries, as well as the incredibly long cycle life (>2000 charge cycles). Additionally, I would be able to charge the batteries unattended, while it’s in the vehicle. The LiFePO4 chemistry is physically incapable of going into thermal runaway, making the safety benefits far outweigh the increase in gross weight (pun definitely intended).

The registration process took a few months—a special exception had to be made with the MassDOT, as scratch-built vehicles are apparently quite a rarity. The legal classification that this vehicle most closely falls under is “a specially-constructed vehicle”. However, the legal definition only covers vehicles that were built from parts taken from other commercially manufactured vehicles. Since I built my vehicle from scratch, I had to prepare a report to present to the MassDOT lawyers who then gave the approval to drive on public roads.

The main testing was done by the MA State Police, which issued a state-assigned VIN. I had to call multiple insurance companies, since insurance is mandatory in Massachusetts. GEICO was the only company that was willing to insure a scratch-built vehicle. The documents and bills of sale were taken to the RMV, where confusion ensued regarding registering a vehicle that stretched legal definitions. The plate was finally issued after about an hour of them figuring out how to register the vehicle. The next day, I took it to the inaugural yearly safety inspection, which was done rather quickly, as it only covered brakes, lights, turn signals, and a visual inspection of the frame. I had intentionally over-engineered the frame so that it was extremely clear that it is safe to ride.

Quick Facts
  • Build Started: November 2017
  • Build Complete: April 2019
  • Prototypes: 4
  • Estimated Total Design/Build Time: 950 hrs
  • Current Status: Improvements/Optimizations Underway