The Hippo


Dec 13, 2019








Sparks fly. Courtesy photo.

How to join the makerspace movement

New Hampshire has two makerspaces and one on the way. 
Nashua’s MakeIt Labs, the first makerspace to set up shop, just moved to a new, bigger location in the Gate City. You can find them at 25 Crown St. in Nashua. MakeIt Labs hosts an open house every Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for curious folks who want to check it out. Membership ranges from $40 to $120 per month with varying levels of access. Check for more info.
Port City Makerspace is located at 68 Morning St. in Portsmouth. Friends of members can pay $10 a day for a “Buddy Pass” and membership ranges from $50 to $120 per month. Visit for more info and a calendar of free events.
A third makerspace is getting set up in Manchester at 36 Old Granite Road (next to Club ManchVegas). When Manchester Makerspace is complete, it will have 6,000 square feet, 1,500 of which will be office space. They offer a wide range of membership levels starting at $275 for three months ($91.66 per month) and group discounts for families or companies and groups. Visit for more info.

From motorcycle to go-kart
The metamorphosis of an electric vehicle

By Ryan Lessard

There were many hands involved in the making, improving, modifying and remaking of what began as a single man’s pet project. Eventually, the electric motorcycle, built originally by Johnathan Vail of Nashua, found its way into the hands of a father-son team who used its key components to make something completely different.

The idea
It all began around 2008 or 2009, as Vail remembers it.
“I wanted an electric vehicle … and couldn’t afford an electric car. I thought a motorcycle could be fun and something that I could afford and build at home,” Vail said.
He bought a Kawasaki Ninja with a blown motor on Craigslist for about $200 dollars and sold the parts he didn’t need to make his money back. Then he turned to eBay to buy the parts he did need. Building was slow going at first. At one point during the process, he found a different electric bike.
“I found a commercial electric motorcycle [from a] company [that] went out of business. Bought that for cheap, drove it around for a season,” Vail said.
During that time, he shelved the project.
“And then I heard about MakeIt Labs opening up. I joined it right away … [and] I worked on the motorcycle there. They let me leave it down there and we’d kind of use it as a group project sometimes,” Vail said.
Vail was one of the first members of the Nashua makerspace when it moved to the state from Lowell, Massachusetts, in 2011. While the bike was in the lab, folks would be free to tinker with it, examine it and try to improve on it.
New and improved
A major redesign took place when Vail got his hands on newer and better battery packs.
“It went over from lead-acid batteries to lithium batteries that I bought used off a Chevy Volt,” Vail said.
He was originally using four 12-volt deep cycle marine batteries. 
“Like a heavy-duty car battery, basically,” Vail said.
At about 50 pounds each, the pack weighed about 200 pounds. The new Chevy Volt batteries weighed in at a total of about 40 pounds and took up about half the space for the same voltage.
At top speed, the bike could get up to 45 miles per hour but only had a 20-mile range. So, for all practical purposes, it was a toy. Vail couldn’t use the motorcycle for anything other than riding around town since his commute to work was too far.
Still, it was useful for the education of MakeIt Labs members who wanted to mess around with it.
“People learned new skills,” he said. “It was a good chance for people to work together on a common project.”
Even Vail learned new things in the process of building and rebuilding his bike. 
“I do computer software mostly, so, for me, getting my hands dirty machining the parts and [welding], there were a lot of skills that were outside of my skillset,” Vail said.
But, as soon as it was effectively done, Vail was ready to move on. He says the fun of the motorcycle was more in the building than the riding.
Second life
By late summer 2015, the bike had changed hands.
“John had been looking for a new home for the project for a while and my son had really been looking toward designing vehicles as a career,” MakeIt Labs member Bill Schongar said. “He’s 12 years old, but he likes to look at car magazines and everything else. So he was like, ‘Let’s build a vehicle sometime!’”
Schongar, of Mason, bought the motorcycle from Vail but really only needed the core components, including the electric motor, motor controller and the batteries.
“We ended up purchasing the vehicle whole-hog and then we took it apart,” Schongar said. 
The plan hatched by Schongar and his son Daniel was to build an electric go-kart.
They started in much the same way as Vail had, by searching for a vehicle frame on Craigslist. 
“It was easier than building a frame from the ground up,” Schongar said. “[We] finally found one down near Worcester and then drove down with the truck, got that, and stripped out all the motor-related things from it. Then we had a frame with working steering and brakes and everything else.”
Though Schongar had the most important parts, getting them into the kart frame and working required a few minor parts he needed to find.
“The old motorcycle worked on a twist throttle to make it go. So we had to get a gas pedal-style throttle for the motor controller,” Schongar said.
Friends who could weld created a new motor mount for them.
As for Vail, building a vehicle was out of Schongar’s wheelhouse. He works with computer networks for Cisco and though he’s the resident 3D printing expert at the lab, he hasn’t fabricated anything for the go-kart using the printer yet.
As of Thanksgiving, the go-kart was up and running with a top speed of 30 miles per hour. Schongar says the nice thing about electric motors is they’re easy for young people to work on and they run quietly so you don’t disturb your neighbors. 
“For the most part, it’s really good for folks who want to look into how to design full-size electric vehicles or experiment with different technologies,” Schongar said. 

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