Experiments in E-ZPass on a motorcycle

This will be old stuff to those who live and ride in the Northeast, but for riders like me, who live where freeways really are free, it’s a dance we come to  late. I’ve finally installed an E-ZPass on my motorcycle. So far, it hasn’t been quite the smooth experience I’d hoped for.

See the May 22 update post here to see what I think is the best solution for mounting an EZ-Pass.

If you ride a motorcycle on toll roads, you know what a huge hassle it is. It was the one thing I disliked most about my annual trips to Maine. I avoid toll highways as a general rule, trying to take less traveled and smaller roads whenever I can. But sometimes life dictates that you just have to make time, and that means the fastest route, which in the Northeast often means paying tolls. And other times, I had no choice. Just try crossing the Hudson River without paying a toll.

Riding across the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge always brought back many memories of my first job out of college in that decrepit and fascinating city by the Hudson highlands. Then thoughts and memories and views are put to an abrupt end by the toll-booth dance. Stop by the booth, taking care not to lock up the front tire on the grease and oil congealed in the middle of the lane. Pull off a glove. Fish money out of a pocket. (With luck I remembered to put some cash in an easily accessible jacket pocket, so I’m not rummaging around for funds.) Deal with change, glove back on, and finally I’m on my way. If it’s raining, my hand gets wet, I can barely get my glove back on and there goes the waterproofness I paid for with my Held gloves.

Then there’s dealing with tickets on the Pennsylvania Turnpike or regular tolls of varying amounts on the Maine Turnpike and so on.

I hate paying tolls on a motorcycle, far beyond the monetary cost.

So, since I’m making more regular trips to Philadelphia, I decided it made sense to get an E-ZPass and avoid all that.

You don’t have to buy your E-ZPass from the state you live in. It’s worth your time to shop around, because some charge a monthly fee and others charge an annual fee, all of different amounts. The amounts are small, but paying per month usually adds up to more expense for the same E-ZPass transponder. I got mine from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I had to call, instead of ordering online, because I was getting the motorcycle version, which is purported to be waterproof.

Then it was time to mount the E-ZPass transponder on my motorcycle, specifically on the Kawasaki Versys I use for travel. The photos show the process.

mounting an E-ZPass on a motorcycle

Here’s the “before” photo of the Versys windscreen. The E-ZPass instructions suggest mounting front and center on the motorcycle’s windscreen.

mounting an E-ZPass on a motorcycle

The E-ZPass comes with 3M Dual Lock strips attached. These are much stronger and longer lasting than hook-and-loop connectors such as Velcro. Instead of little hook-shaped plastic bits grabbing thread, Dual Lock has mushroom-shaped plastic nubs on both sides that go together with an audible “snap” to let you know they’re securely attached. I attached one side to the back of the windscreen and now I can remove the E-ZPass when the bike is unattended. But I thought it looked odd with the Kawasaki decal in front of the E-ZPass, so…

mounting an E-ZPass on a motorcycle

…I removed the decal. Frankly, there’s enough branding on my Versys already.

mounting an E-ZPass on a motorcycle

Here’s what the windscreen looks like with the E-ZPass snapped off and the two 3M Dual Lock strips in place.

I only deviated from the E-ZPass instructions in one detail. The directional arrows on the transponder show which way you’re supposed to mount it. But because of the curvature of the windscreen, mounting the transponder horizontally would have created a less secure fit for the Dual Lock strips, so I decided to mount it vertically, as seen in the photos. That shouldn’t make a difference, right? After all, it works by radio frequencies. It can’t be that directional, right?

I’d trolled online forums for how others had mounted an E-ZPass on a motorcycle and found a wide range of experiences. Some put it in  a tank bag, some in a jacket pocket, with a wide range of results. Some had even mounted it to the underside of a saddlebag lid, to solve security problems, and had not had issues with the transponder being detected. So surely mounted sideways on the windscreen, front and center, would be no problem.

Well, after my first round trip to Philadelphia as an E-ZPass user, I’m not so sure. Unless I missed a light, the thing hasn’t read once yet.  After my trip there, I called the Pennsylvania Turnpike E-ZPass line and the not-very-helpful person on the other end couldn’t tell me much except:

  1. “We don’t guarantee it will work 100 percent of the time.” (Me, thinking: So far, it seems to be 0 percent.)
  2. It shouldn’t matter if it is mounted sideways.
  3. If it doesn’t read, the camera will snap my license plate number, the system will see I have an E-ZPass and will just charge the toll to my account and not fine me. In other words, don’t worry about it.

Number three was the same thing I found in all my internet trolling. That’s why many riders don’t worry about how or where they mount it. They just ride through and get charged based on the camera snapping their license plates. (The glitch with this is that some toll gates have actual gates that won’t open until the E-ZPass reads.)

My trolling also uncovered one person who mounted his E-ZPass sideways and it never read, so he turned it 90 degrees and it has worked ever since. Maybe I’ll be the second such guy. I think I’ll try that on my next trip, though it will mean buying some new Dual Lock strips or finding another mounting solution. (As a totally irrelevant aside, I also learned that Tesla owners have terrible E-ZPass problems because the special coating on their windshields blocks the signal. Huh.)

So for now I’m checking my account online and waiting to see if the toll charges show up correctly. I’ll update my E-ZPass experiments after my next trip.

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3 Responses to “Experiments in E-ZPass on a motorcycle”

  1. Gonzo says:

    Well, I don’t know if this helps or not, but my current company truck is an Avis rental, and it has an Avis supplied EZ-pass(that I don’t need, but it came with it). This is an extra cost item from AVIS, and if you use it, it’s like a $20 a day fee or something onerous like that.
    Anyway, the ez-pass is velcroed to a bracket that is velcroed to the windshield. This bracket pivots so the ez-pass goes from sideways(Arrows pointing left) to right side up. If I leave it sideways, it does not read, and I do not get charged. Try it vertical, or holding it with the arrows up, and see if that works for you. A friend who commutes on his bike keeps his in the chest pocket of his jacket with the arrows up, and says he has no problems.

  2. Gonzo says:

    P.s. I just stumbled across your blog yesterday. I like it.