Riding the Future: Cross-Country Electric Trek Aims for the Guinness Record Book

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Aug 14, 2013

They’re almost finished. The Ride the Future Tour, with four electric vehicles trying to set Guinness World Records for distance travel, is in California on the last leg of a 3,000-mile run that began in Charleston, South Carolina on Independence Day. The end point is Google HQ in Mountain View, California, and the caravan will touch down there on Friday.
 The Drive the Future tour set off on the Fourth of July from South Carolina. (Ride the Future photo)As we all know, electric vehicles face range challenges. The car on the trip, a Nissan Leaf, can go 70 to 80 miles on an average charge. That makes its prospects for cross-country jaunts somewhat limited, but all things become possible with a robust national charging network. That’s an evolving prospect, but Susan Jones—the founder of both Ride the Future and Xenon Motor Company (maker of electric scooters and such)—says that people along the way have been fantastic. “When they heard we were coming they’d contact us and get us connected to the charging that was close to our hotel. Finding places to plug in hasn’t been as challenging as you might think.”
 The tour included a stop at the Grand Canyon. (Riding the Future photo)In addition to the Leaf, the fleet includes a Xenon scooter (with a 55-mile range and removal batteries), a Zero DS Dual Sport electric motorcycle (126 miles of range) and a A2B electric bicycle (with only 20 miles of range). The removable batteries were helpful, because the team could carry spares and always have a charged unit ready to go. “As long as we don’t try to go more than 100 miles a day, we’re good,” said Jones.
 Drive the Future reaches the west coast. Beaches! (Ride the Future photo)The team is still standing, but it hasn’t been trouble-free. Team member “Aussie Rachel,” who quit her United Nations job to be on the tour, went flying off the electric bicycle after hitting gravel. She’s banged up and bruised, but was back on the bike in five days. Jones, an acupuncturist, is administering aid.
“The hardest part of this whole thing is wrangling 12 people to stay together, be on the same page, and get along,” says Jones. “I raised four daughters, and that was easy compared to this. Adults are used to doing things their own way, but if someone goes off and falls off a cliff, they’re dead. We have to be grown up and serious about this.”
 Susan Jones: Herding the tour cats was harder than raising four daughters. (Ride the Future photo)And so they are. Google’s campus is a good end point, because the company is so devoted to EVs. There are at least 70 electric vehicle charging stations in Mountain View, as well as a pick-up spot for BMW’s ActiveE plug-in car-sharing operation, wireless charging experiments, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) demonstrations, and more.
The Ride the Future tour is very inspiring. You can follow its progress here. And check out this video, which offers an impressionistic view of the tour:

(Ride The Future Tour - Teaser (Week 1) from jonathan becker on Vimeo.)

I hope this band of plucky idealists gets those Guinness wins. But the tour's likely success doesn’t mean the range issue is put to bed. People are going to want to take long trips and, the Tesla Model S (with 300 miles possible) aside, that’s still not easy in battery cars.
I’m optimistic that in the near future there won’t be any need to prove the EV’s mettle with cross-country treks, because such travel will be routine. Tesla’s soon-to-be-ubiquitous highway-based Supercharger network, which offers half-hour rapid charges, is the way we’re headed.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter