Monthly Archives: January 2016

  • Oatmeal

    Oatmeal

    Executive summary: Two items.

    #1 – Riding in lower temperatures has become routine. In the beginning it seemed unusual to be out on a motorcycle at fourteen above, or three below. I was self-conscious in traffic, looking paranoidly at drivers sitting inside their warm cars, and at others all bundled up on the sidewalks. Now it feels almost normal. Before we started this Zero ‘experiment’ riding anywhere was a big deal anytime it got near or a bit below freezing. Now it’s not…you just put on your gear and go. Part of this is due to some unique and unanticipated aspects of the electric Zero (see item #2) and part involves how my Aerostich gear works.

    Having my gear logistics now fully worked out and being fluent with the required dressing and undressing rituals makes a huge difference. No hunting around for what to wear or awkwardly combining things that don’t quite work together. For me this partly involved having a second wardrobe: My boots are old insulated felt pacs from Sorel, and my Aerostich riding suit has been custom-alt modified (#203 $75-$190) to be a roomier version of the R-3 Light I normally wear, with just enough additional space for some medium-weight goose down and fleece layers inside. The rest of my gear is the same as usual.

    #2 – For this kind of urban winter use our borrowed Zero is a huge improvement over my internal combustion motorcycle. And every other gasoline burner. There’s no starter to crank and nothing to warm up. It’s always ready to go -- No fiddling around. Just unplug and ride off. It’s as simple to use as a refrigerator. (You want cold food? Open the door and the light goes on. Select your food. Close the door.)

    You just get on this bike, switch it on and go. All you have to remember is to unplug it before taking off. It is by far the easiest-to-use motorcycle I’ve ever experienced. Apparently the most maintenance-free, too. No tune-ups. No oil changes (EVER!) No warm-ups. No vibrations. No smells. Less pollution. It just goes wwwhhrrrrrrr…down the road, and you listen to the tire tread blocks softly thrumming against the road surface and hear the wind curling around the bottom of your helmet. Wheeeee!

    Fairly soon it seems like drivers will want to have at their disposal two quite different vehicles. One 100% electric, to use for around town mobility, and another with some internal combustion component for longer distances, only because of the shorter refueling time. Two minutes for combustion vs. several hours for electric. Cost-and-environmental-differences-be-damned, this is mainly a refueling-time issue.

    If (when…) electric cars come to prevail in cities, and you happen live on any busy street, much of the ambient noise you’ve become accustomed to will probably go away. If you happen to be young and are employed in the auto-parts or car repair field, things are likely to get a little tougher, employment-wise. Not so many refrigerator service technicians are needed out there.

    Imagine the reassuring vibratory thrums of combustion vehicles standing out starkly in silent electric traffic streams as a nostalgic exception. Combustion vehicles universally provide a symphony of audio accompaniment to our motion and most will miss that, but not enough to put up with the rest of the BS that goes with it…Not anymore than people today miss having huge blocks of ice delivered weekly to provide food refrigeration. “Loud pipes” will become far more ostracizing and uncool.

    A few notes about this Zero: It continues to ride really well, except for it’s too-stiff-at-low-low temp suspension…anything below about 25ºf. It’s amazingly peppy right off the line,…Last week on the way home one night it was fun to torque smartly away from some sleepy kid in a raspy Subaru WRX…who had no idea. From 0-30 mph the Zero jumps right out and then runs up to about 70 fairly quickly. There’s a lot less snap the rest of the way (to a top speed for this model somewhere north of 80), but it does get there.

    When I was a Boy Scout with a Ray-o-Vac ‘Sportsman’, all flashlights were crappy. Even the very best of them. And it seems like only yesterday…My first camp out flashlight consisted of a corrugated chromed metal tube with a little sliding off/on thumb switch and a ‘flash’ button. Both ends unscrewed and inside were two carbon-zinc C (or D, if you had the bigger model) cells. Up front a dim tungsten filament projected a yellowish white beam for a little while. You used it sparingly. Sometimes this device would suddenly dim or even go out and you needed to bang it smartly against your palm to encourage a better electrical contact inside because those heavy batteries were free to move about a little bit. (Of course at the same time we also did our school lessons on the backside of a coal shovel by the light of a fireplace and walked ten miles though deep snow to school, uphill, both ways.) This Zero electric motorcycle takes me to and from work, or wherever else I want to go, at five above…No problem. Humpf.

    Friday January 29, 2016

    Out the door at 7:10 AM to a spectacular sunrise. The sun’s just coming over the lake-sky horizon. From the side of the hill where I live which is a few hundred feet above lake-level, the edge of the world is maybe twenty miles out. Now the eastern third of the sky is on fire, the air is crystal clear, windless and it's 17ºF. A perfect, gorgeous day for a ride.

    When I rode the Zero home last night it was actually raining because of a ‘January thaw’. While the rain rinsed all the main streets and roads clean it was also left every driveway and sidewalk treacherously coated with slick sheets of window-clear hockey rink quality ice. Residual road salt had kept everything liquid on streets, but it was contact-freezing to all sub-zero frozen sidewalk and driveway surfaces. Not good if you live on a hillside. In these conditions people choose to walk the clear traffic lanes and risk being hit by a passing car rather than taking their chances on the icy-slick sidewalks. Everyone does this.

    More StudsYesterday we added another 25 studs to the rear tire and about 30 more to the font, bringing the total for each wheel up to 125 (rear) and 135 (front). These added carbide tips were positioned slightly off-center, so we now have two rings of continuous studs on either side of a mostly rubber center tread with only a single stud about every three inches, thus when you ride in a straight line you hear one kind of soft wwwwwwrrrr-clicking sound, and when you slightly lean to turn either way that pitch changes as the more closely-spaced side studs come into contact with the road.

    On my now ice covered slanted driveway the bike walked right into it’s parking spot without a slip or spin, so maybe this setup is closer to an optimal compromise for our situation. But overall traction limits are still far below those of an ‘all rubber’ summer tire or an off-road knobby-with-500-studs–per-wheel. I have yet to learn if this bike is flat-track slidable with this tire/stud setup but it sure feels like the answer will be ‘not very’. Before winter ends I’d like to find out (…hopefully without breaking my neck or the bike) on a frozen lake or parking lot.

    My destination this early morning was the once-a-month 7:30AM meeting of Duluth’s parking commission. I’m one of eight commissioners. If you want to try something that can be good for motorcycling in your town, see if you can get appointed to your local parking commission…if there is one. Then see if you can do anything as a commissioner which might benefit your fellow bicycle and motorcycle riders. (Find information about motorcycles and parking at www.ridetowork.org ) The streets were already full of early commuters, and last night’s rain had left everything clean and dry, so riding was delightful. I’m getting used to the Zero’s bumpy-stiff frozen suspension and just relaxed and enjoyed the sunrise.

    DPD_ParkedAtCityHallHalf of my fellow commissioners were already in city council chambers as I walked in wearing my gear and carrying my helmet. Most turned and looked at me and one said “Did you ride your motorcycle?” (…as if that wasn't obvious). “Yes, I did.” I replied, while placing my helmet on the shelf above the coat rack and unzipping the R 3. The fellow just said “Wow”. Here’s where I parked. Someone unknown actually took this photo and it was posted to the Duluth Police Department’s Facebook page. And yes, I did plug that meter.

    An hour and a half later I was back in the saddle enjoying the freshly rinsed roads under a bright sunny sky with temps already a couple of degrees warmer. Then back at home I made a nice hot bowl of oatmeal (adding blueberries, maple syrup and some butter). There’s no substitute for hot oatmeal after a morning ride like this. Then it was time to ride the little Zero to Aerostich.

    By evening it had started to rain/snow again, this time a little heavier. My fiancee Shirah was out driving slip-sliding around in her Jeep and had called to see if maybe I'd need a ride home (?). “Heck no.” I replied “With these studs I’ve got more control and traction than you do.”

    “Well, I’m about five minutes away and if you are ready to go now, I could stop by and you could follow me home, just in case.”

    Ice-glazed fenders“Ok, let me shut things down here and I’ll be outside in five minutes.”, which I was. The Zero was encased in a glaze of frozen rain which was pretty neat looking, but it was dark and I was in a hurry so I just jammed the key thru the ice-covered slot, flipped the power on and unplugged the cord. I also flipped the heated grips on, knowing they’d remove the ice skin there in a moment. No point in brushing anything off the saddle…I just threw a leg over and sat down on the glaze, which audibly went ‘crunch’ beneath me. Then moving forward toward the nearby idling Jeep I briefly stood on the pegs so whatever was left there could fall away. Those ice-glazed fenders sure looked neat.

    The ride homeward through the falling snow and sleet was uneventful. My helmet face shield was warm enough so the moisture hitting it stayed liquid. The streets were all sloppy and icy, but not difficult to handle. At one stoplight some teenage kids were crossing on the sidewalk and I overheard one say to his companions: “Brave.”, which I assumed referred to me. Conditions looked that bad, risk-wise. Everyone in cars was just creeping along to avoid an unintentional slide, and those teens had to be walking pretty carefully, too. After I got home I could see reflected in the door storm window a cool-looking glaze of frozen raindrops all over the surface of my R 3 suit (link) and realized I’d just ridden home in conditions that would have been highly dangerous and extremely uncomfortable just a few years ago. Yet here I was dry, warm and comfortable.

    One thing that stands out as a pain-in-the-ass: gear storage. Over the years I’d developed equipment storage procedures to support my riding which centered around a garage space. Things set up like some kind of personal Bat-cave: Helmet on a shelf here. Motorcycle leaned against a wall there. Riding suit hanging there. Gloves there. Garage door opener remote here, here…and another one here (one button on the wall, one button on a keychain remote hanging from the shelf where my helmet rests and another button on another keychain remote carabinered to the shoulder strap of my daily (…‘EDC’, hipsters) backpack.

    With the Zero sleeping out in the driveway every night and the plan being to come and go only through the kitchen, where do I keep my gear? The bulky R3 drapes over one of the dining room chairs and my helmet and gloves are on the sideboard looking out-of-place next to a potted plant and candle holder. With my heavy boots are on the floor right beneath them. Nothing is where it belongs. It all looks wrong.

    Everyone I know who uses their bike transportation has developed some sort of handy gear storage system. Our experimental keeping-the-Zero-outside-all-winter throws a wrench into my garage-based organizing but on the other hand now the garage space is cleaner, warmer and drier for other winter projects. We are learning unexpected things about everyday A to B riding, which was the whole point.


    Other Saturday, Wednesday and Thursday random notes.

    • Some stranger took my photo today in traffic. I was waiting at the stoplight on Third and 12th Ave E, and in my rearview mirror I watched a car pull to a stop a few feet behind me. The driver seemed to be holding their smartphone directly in front of them and against the steering wheel. For a moment I wondered if they were texting or reading or what (?) and then there was a flash and I knew I’d been photographed. A day or two later a coworker came up to me and said one of their friends had taken my photo riding the Zero a couple of days ago. Gotta love this small town life.

    Later that same day when I was out on the freeway for the first time since we started riding the Zero everything was fine bike-wise, but the 70 mph wind-chill hitting my chin was a lot sharper than I’d been experiencing on the surface streets which are my normal route. If I was commuting via a high-speed I’d be wrapping a bandana, Wind Triangle (#511 $22) or Silk Scarf (#1549 $27) around my neck every day.

    • Saturday was super warm and sunny here. Near-record warm. High in the lower thirties. Instead of motorcycle fun riding Shirah and I drove over to an annual dog sled race about forty miles away ( http://www.beargrease.com ). Several thousand people, lots of outdoor excitement, food vendors, excitedly yapping dogs, busy mushers and helpers, and even someone with a camera drone making aerial video. (About five minutes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2xhnROVU9w ) I made my own 15 second roadside iPhone video here.

    • Before this year my previous experiences with winter-studded motorcycle tires date from about twenty years ago, first with a set of home-made tires using the sharp-edged heads of sheet metal screws for bite, then a few years later with some factory-studded knobbies made in Sweden by the Trellborg tire company. Both sets of tires were intended for off-road snow and ice use only.

    My dry pavement riding on those tires was very limited, probably less than ten paved-road-miles altogether spread over several years, because they were so completely unacceptable for that. The carbide tipped studs and the mild-steel sheet metal screw head stud-to-road contact points both provided nearly zero grip. Pavement riding on those tires was scary. It always felt like tiptoeing or balancing on a slack line. Against pavement mild-steel sheet metal screw heads wore away very quickly, too.

    But off-road both setups worked phenomenally well. The sheet-metal screw tires had 3 or 4 screw heads across each knob, and the Trellborg’s had a half-inch long carbide tipped spike projecting from each knob. There was tremendous bite…enough so it was easy to ride with a great deal of control and confidence on frozen lakes and snow packed trails.

    With the sheet metal screw headed tires there was a footprint of about ten sharp edges cutting into the ice almost simultaneously. The Trellborg’s fewer carbide-tipped spikes penetrated deeply into both hard ice and packed snow so flat track-style slides were luridly long and fast enough to be called 'epic'. These generated charismatic rooster tails of shredded ice thrown high into the air and it was all tremendous fun long before it became easy to video-record such antics. You have my solemn word.

    StudsThe Zero’s stubby little street-compatible studs are far less effective. In fact, they work like crap compared to those off-road studded tires. It’s difficult and scary to ride the Zero across ice and thru snowpack. You’ve got to be tender with control inputs. Each Zero tire only has about 125-130 studs (versus about 500 for the sheet metal screw tires), and the maximum penetration is roughly an eighth of an inch (compared to about half an inch with the Trellbogs) so in both number and depth-of-penetration our half-half-dry-road/half-snow-and-ice compromise tires provide lot less grip in EVERY situation. The Zero just doesn’t feel fantastically secure across any surface compared to normal summer or spiked off-road winter-prepared bikes.

    Not that it is in any way unrideable. It’s fine. None of us has fallen yet and the tires are manageable on both dry and wet pavements as long as you are mindful of the lower frictional limits of the ice-cold rubber and the reduced tread contact area where each low-profile stud forces the surrounding rubber slightly upward and away from the pavement.

    You worry that if the bike goes over very far you'll lose the whole thing. Flat-tracking riding heroics seem impossible, or at least beyond my ability, and this situation is further complicated since the icy surface you are putting your ‘inside’ foot down on to help gauge your lean angle is so slippery your boot sole finds no resistance. Which feels a like you have a miniature flying saucer strapped to the sole of your boot.

    On the plus side, we've been discovering that winter roads here are clear and dry much more often than I realized (this year anyway), so year-around riding for transportation is doable, except on days when there is a lot of fresh ice and snow. Then, traction is nearly nonexistent and riding is riskier and lots of hard work.

    IMG_6424 IMG_6428 IMG_6409

    Despite all our climactic abuse, this Zero has been working perfectly amid ever present winter road filth. My extra dressing rigamarole feels absolutely normal and routine now.

    Fancy word(s), not used in this blog post:
    Cryophilic (Adjective) def: Preferring or thriving at low temperatures.
    Cryotolerant, def: Species that can tolerate low temperatures.


    Products mentioned in this post:

  • Keys Please!

    Keys Please!

    As Bruce handed me the keys to the Zero I felt like a teenager getting the family car keys for the first time. A giddiness I haven’t experienced in years came over me. My first ride on an electric motorcycle. The same ones that have been teasing me for years in various ads and articles on the Internet and in magazines. They were becoming mainstream and all I had done to date was sit on one at a motorcycle show. Now finally I would have the chance to try one!

    The clutch and shift lever reflexes are hard to ignore. I tried for the clutch as I was about to take off and my hand mysteriously passed through the lever as my mind wondered what was going on. I turned the grip and the smooth power flowed effortlessly and I was off.

    The smooth and linear power control has been the most impressive aspect of riding the Zero. It is all just so effortless. More throttle equals more speed. That is it. Never mind about engine power bands and modulating power through a clutch to get the final output at the rear wheel that you want. No careful throttle control as you take off on a cold bike, keep up the revs and slip the clutch so it doesn’t stall. Skills that take riders years to fully master. Nope, just twist and go.

    It makes me feel the same as when we got a new car in 2014 that had an automatic transmission after driving a manual transmission since 2000. You feel like you have all this extra attention to spare as you are doing so little to drive. I really think that the simplicity of driving an electric motorcycle like the Zero helps free up mental resources that you can apply to being more alert in traffic. You have fewer variables to manage if something unexpected happens. I expect a slightly better miles ridden to accident ratio for riders who commute on electric motorcycles.

    At the first stop sign I was determined to find that shift lever to downshift but again my left foot mysteriously passed right through it. Now all my left foot has to do is just dumbly sit on the peg. I think it feels left out. At least my left hand gets to turn the handle bars.

    The lack of sound from the Zero is also a plus in traffic. You can hear things like birds chirping in the trees and pops of rocks shooting off the tires in town. Sounds that I never heard before. The tire studs sing their own song as does the motor but they sing quietly. I can hear cars around me in traffic just by their tire noise. Quiet is good in my book as I have never been a fan of loud bikes on the street.

    The first commute home was pretty uneventful. The bike felt a bit sluggish due to the low air tire pressures but otherwise was an easy ride. The bumps all felt big as the suspension was stiff due to the cold temperatures. I did get many looks from pedestrians. A sort of mildly curious look.

    The first snow on the road I encountered was riding a loop in my neighborhood where there was about 3/4 inch of slushy snow. I was going pretty slow and didn’t have any issues with traction. My goal was to start to get a sense of what it is like to ride on mostly frozen snow. I have ridden many times in wet snow that is mostly melting but frozen snow is very different as it doesn’t just squish out of the way so the tire can contact the road.

    I rode by my daughter’s house as she lives just two blocks away to see if my two grandsons were out to see their Grandad riding the mogaco in the snow. The oldest is 2 ½ and can’t say motorcycle yet so he calls them mogacos. He loves mogacos and always gets excited to see me or his dad ride home.

    This kid doesn’t stand a chance of being able to resist the call of riding. Our plan is to start him riding when he is able and make sure his skills are well developed. Our theory is that a young rider with well developed skills will have a better chance of having a safer riding life than a teenager who does it on his/her own. Some would say that better riders are more likely to do more dangerous things. Me and his dad will do our best to pass on good riding habits and make sure he wears the all the gear. We believe that well developed riding skills will reduce overall risk.

    My hands felt the warmth of the heated grips during the whole trip but I could start to feel some cold on my fingertips as I got home. 7 miles of riding isn’t enough to be a real issue for warmth unless the outside temps are much lower. It was 17°F and overcast on this early evening ride. I used my Roadcrafter Classic 1PC suit with a Darien inner fleece jacket for warmth. My gear was the same as early/late season commutes with no snow on the roads.

    I took a bunch of pictures at home as I enjoyed the novelty of commuting in the winter. Next I just plugged it into the handlebar mounted cord that I built and the battery warmer kicked in and the main batteries began to charge. The impact on battery life is minor with less than 5% usage for a one way commute with the electric grips on.

    Getting to Church on Time

    Sunday was an opportunity to do something new, ride a motorcycle to church in the winter time. I thought it would be amusing and it was.

    Roads were once again good with the only snowy and icy area being the church parking lot. I pulled up and parked the Zero close to the main entrance in an unused area by the regular car spaces. Church goers looked on with more curiosity than the general public.

    Ride To Church 01-24-2016As I walked in with my suit, it was a little uncomfortable as the whole of 40+ people almost all turned to look at the same time. I found a corner coat rack area to take off my gear and try to blend in. It didn’t work. The comments started coming quick. “You rode here?!?!” “Is the bike outside?”. It was like a rockstar moment as everyone had some curiosity about the weird guy who rode to church in the winter.

    The pastor and several other members of the church ride so people were taking pictures and kids were going out in small groups to check out the Zero.

    D’oh! Here comes the Snow.

    As I get up in the morning on Monday and look outside I realize that there are 2 inches of fresh snow on the ground and it is still coming down pretty good. It was a D’oh! moment when I realized I was going to do some real riding in the snow. So far all my rides have only been on dry pavement with occasional snowy areas.

    I didn’t want to let anxiety build as I pondered this new task ahead of me so I made a few amusing (to me anyway) videos of the moment to keep my attitude light. It did help keep the nerves in check.

    I setup the prototype smartphone sleeve that velcros to my Roadcrafter on the upper left chest area. I have been trying different combinations of velcro spacers to the get the best video angle from my iPhone. It has been working pretty well and I have got the video to come out level as I ride. The snow was coming down pretty heavy so the expectation was the video would be poor as snow accumulated on the lens.

    My first thoughts were about how to find a way to get to Superior Street that runs along Lake Superior directly to Aerostich. Superior street is level and goes through downtown. It is also usually keep well cleared of snow. The problem was how to get from my driveway down three blocks.

    I live close to a street that is usually kept in good driving condition and goes straight down to Superior Street. The problem is that it is also very steep. I pictured myself skidding down the hill the whole way with the rear tire locked up and maybe using the curb to keep my speed down.

    The other option was going uphill first to another street that would provide a more gradual way to get down to Superior Street. My plan was to check the conditions and make a choice based on what I saw.

    As I drove down my driveway through the snow it felt pretty good as the fresh snow quickly packed under the tires. I hit the front brake and it made a loud squeal. This has been happening each ride on the first application of the front brake. The salt and sand must be contaminating the caliper, brake pads and rotor.

    The direct path to Superior Street was salted and in good shape. It wasn’t plowed but the salt made the tire tracks melt and provided a solid line of traction down the hill. This really helped my psyche and set a good initial tone for the ride. I turned onto Superior Street where there was little if any salt but the cars had worn two decent paths into the snow.

    Traction for most of the way was fine as long as I kept the Zero in the tire tracks. Intersections were a problem as there were piles of snow that I had to cross. A couple of times I stepped the back end out and had to countersteer as I learned how much throttle I could use. I also had to pull over twice to allow vehicles behind me to pass as they were following too close for safety. I was doing about 25 to 30 MPH which was OK most of the time but the cars could out accelerate me from intersections as tire spin limited my acceleration. Finally someone behind me gave me some room and didn’t follow too close which made the ride through downtown much better. Passing angle parked cars was concerning so I slowed down and kept a close watch on their tail lights to make sure no one backed out in front of me. I would have been tricky trying to stop in time.

    The Zero was almost ideal in how it handled the snow. The perfect throttle control allowed me to ride above my experience level. If I had been doing the same thing on a conventional motorcycle I would have been trying to learn how to modulate power to the real wheel throughout the ride. Learning the throttle and clutch control needed to keep power to the real wheel in a very narrow band in addition to shifting gears and all the complication that brings to the process. Normal street riding doesn’t teach you this type of precise power control. The Zero was the perfect tool for the job and allowed me to focus on just a single point of power control as I dealt with all the other new motorcycle control skills I was learning.

    The adrenaline kicked in as I was leaving downtown Duluth. I was following a city bus in a very slushy area with several vehicles around me including a Duluth Police officer in a SUV. I tried to follow the bus through an intersection where vehicles are crossing Superior Street to enter the highway. This intersection is tricky in dry conditions as cars are speeding up going downhill as they anticipate merging onto the highway. I figured the bus would be good at making a hole in traffic for me.

    The problem came when the bus stopped to pick up passengers. I moved to another lane to pass it and found myself directly behind the police officer. As far as I know what I am doing is legal but I didn’t want to be pulled over. The studded tires are a gray area. Fat tire bikes ride all over the city streets with studded tires and there doesn’t seem to be any issues. The Zero is really like a fat tire bike with a heavy rider. The impact to the road surface from the studs is negligible for both the bikes and motorcycles and are essential for winter riding safety.

    I wait for traffic and start to cross to the other lane to pass the bus and end up going sideways a bit as the rear tire spins and steps over in the slush. I get straighten up and pass the bus but it is accelerating so fast that I would have had to go close to 40MPH to pass it and get through the intersection ahead of it. I slow down instead and let it pass me again. Quickly I get behind it and follow it mostly through the intersection. Another SUV behind me was following too close and quickly passed me as I go back onto Superior Street. I felt relief as I was now close to Aerostich with no major intersections. I pass closely by another police officer parked and sitting in his patrol car. No response. I wonder if he noticed me pass as there is no real sound.

    As I pull onto the street next to Aerostich I see the deepest snow of the trip on the unplowed street. Fresh snow isn’t really much of a problem if it isn’t too deep and I had no tire spins. I pull into the designated Zero parking space where we keep the extension cord outside. As I put down the sidestand, thankfulness and relief come over me. Ride #1 in real snow completed successfully.

    I walk into the Aerostich office with allot of adrenaline still in my system and excitedly talk about the experience with my fellow test riders, Kyle, Bruce and Gail. I load the iPhone video onto my laptop and am surprised the video turned out well. A cool souvenir of an exciting ride.


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  • Last Chance

    Wednesday afternoon, 1/25

    This looks like it will be my last chance to ride the Zero for a couple of weeks as I will be going on vacation next week. So I get the keys from Randy and prepare to go downtown.

    It has been snowing and it is starting to accumulate. The roads are wet, but slush is building up between the car tire tracks. It is thick enough to push the tires around a bit, and slick enough to offer little traction. With a little extra caution, I am able to complete my errands and return to work.

    The side streets approaching Aerostich have a thicker build up of snow and I approach the Zero's docking station cautiously. Still, the back tire kicks out as I cross the little berm of snow on the slight incline of the driveway. It's all I can do to hold it up--I DO NOT want to be the first one to drop this bike. I manage to pull it together and ease it up onto the sidewalk.

    2016-01-25 14.00.05 Snow is starting to accumulate

    The snowy conditions add some difficulties to the riding, but the 30° temperature is no problem. What felt cold last fall feels quite warm now.

    The ride home is pretty uneventful until I get to our alley. 2-3 inches of fresh snow has been added to the hard-packed ruts. I have very little experience riding on loose sand, etc. and all of that is on mountain bikes. The wheels are bucking left and right all on their own but I manage to keep them under me. Another successful trip--I remained upright!

    Tuesday morning, 1/26

    We got a couple of inches of snow last night and the snow is falling again this morning. Our alley got plowed this morning and it was much easier to navigate. The main challenge was plowing through the berms of snow at intersections. I took Superior St. today as it is one of the main arteries through Duluth. It is well traveled and in good condition this morning. Wet, but no real concern.

    zero-crossingThings changed once I got west of downtown. Maybe traffic was lighter, maybe the snow was getting heavier, maybe it was a combination of the two. Now the snow is starting to stick to the roads. There is a particularly hairy interchange coming up. Traffic coming from the right is heavy and moving fast. They are crossing to the left to merge onto the highway. I'm coming from the left and want to cross to the right. Complicating matters is that slush is gathering right in the path I want to take. Pucker up and move across.

    Conditions like this can be a real challenge and by the time I get to work, I feel like I have had a workout. I am tired physically and mentally, but also energized. Winter days are not always like this and I am even more convinced that commuting by motorcycle is a viable means of transportation for the winter. The weather and road conditions tend to fall into a fairly regular rhythm. The snow falls and the plows do their work, the roads are wet for a while, then they are clear and dry until the next major snow.

    Most of the winter consists of these drier times and commuting by motorcycle is pretty normal. It takes a little longer to get ready, there are more layers to put on and take off. But it is the same with a car; it takes extra time to scrape and defrost the windshield... unless you are THAT person who prefers to drive down the road camouflaged as a snow drift.

    While I am gone I will be thinking of getting back home to do some more riding.

  • LOOKED OUT MY WINDOW

    JUST AN EVERYDAY RIDE - 01/26/16

    It’s a comfortable 28ºF today at 4:30pm as I gear up for the 5 mile ride home - Roadcrafter, WarmBib, Balaclava, Silk Scarf, Insulated Ski Gloves... Still plug in the electrics and turn on the grip heaters to chase away any chill from traveling at speed. The fresh snowfall from the last few days has been mostly cleared thanks to the efficiency of the Duluth snowplows and salt/sand mixture put on the roads. The commute home is on mostly clear roadways, until closer to home where it turns to a mix of hardpack snow and a slushy areas. The Zero FX glides right through, spinning the tires only once in search of more traction to get through the plow-hump of snow at the end of the driveway.

    LOOKED OUT MY WINDOW - 01/27/16

    2016-01-27 08.07.50The workplace coffee supply is running low, so why not a little extended riding time for a side trip to the grocery store this morning? Sure there’s a grocery store close to my home that I could stop at, but it seems like more fun to double the morning commute distance and visit the store closer to Aerostich, turning a 5 mile commute into a nice 11+ mile ride. 19ºF this morning and at speed the heat from the Warmbib.and heated grips feels good. Despite that, my finger tips are getting cold after about 8 miles. Might try different gloves next ride?

    Even during ‘riding season’, being seen by car drivers can be a challenge, but today I am noticing several drivers giving me a wave, a head nod of recognition and a few horn honks (which I am interpreting as a sign of encouragement). As I’m parking in the store lot there is a guy walking up to his car that says, “What kind of bike is that?”. I tell him a little about the bike and the Zero Below Zero project. As he gets in his car he thanks me for taking time to talk and comments, “I thought you had turned the bike off when you pulled up, it’s quiet. What’s it called, a Zero? ...I’m going to tell my boss about that”. Cool, spreading the message.

    Once at work, with the bike plugged in and suit hung up, I notice a new post to my Facebook page from a friend. I just happened to ride by his house this morning, and I guess he just happened to see me go by, since his message said, “Looked out my window this morning and saw a guy on a motorcycle, and thought that guys got balls or a great riding suit. Or both.” I think maybe both... It’s great to be riding and very good to know that I’m being seen out there too. Useful, everyday (year-round) motorcycling is not only viable, and practical, but sure is fun too!

  • Right On!

    Thursday afternoon. Overcast, mid-20's.

    As I get the keys from Kyle, I am excited to ride to the YMCA for "lunch". The attendant at the parking garage there always had something positive to say when I was riding into late November. I wonder what he will say now?

    I see him as I am leaving the garage and his reaction does not dissapoint.

    "Right On! First bike of the New Year."

    "Watch for it...all winter!" I say.

    "What kind of bike is that? Those tires are interesting."

    "It's a Zero Electric."

    "All electric?"

    "All electric, listen. Bye." Whrrrrrrrr.

    Some things I noticed on my first ride:
    • The studs are a little slipperier than my street/sport set up on the mostly dry pavement.
    • Road spray is everywhere; my boots are caked with salt/grime. I need to remember to pull out my boot covers next time.
    • The throttle response of the Zero was smooth, much to my relief. I was worried that the electric motor might be abrupt.
    • On my way back to Aerostich I give it some "gas". Nothing crazy, just enough to get a taste of what the Zero can do. Suddenly I'm doing 50mph without knowing it. It's so quiet!

    Thursday evening. Overcast, upper teens.

    Adding LayersTime to go home. For the ride home, I add a few more layers than I had for my previous outing. In addtion to my Roadcrafter Light and boot covers (I remembered them), I add an electric Warmbib and a fleecy Shellaclava. I feel confident enough after my first ride to take the highway home. The Zero has no trouble getting up to speed and I am able to easily merge with the traffic. At highway speed and with no fairing, the ride is much colder. It takes about 10 minutes and I'm not sure how much longer I would like to go, even at 20°F.

    Near home I have about 2 blocks of minimaly maintained gravel alley to navigate. But now the gravel is under a layer of hard-pack snow and ice. Traction on the front tire is no issue, but the back tire breaks free a couple times.

    After dinner I have another errand downtown. Time for another ride!

    Getting started from a standstill on the hard-pack snow is an exercise in throttle control. It is very easy for the back tire to break loose and spin. My Minnesota driver's training (both formal and informal) comes in handy. As I come into the downtown area, the cobblestones on 1st St. look wet and slick. Duluth is one of the few remaining cities in America that uses cobblestones. I have had some incidents on the cobbles with my bicycle, so I am extra cautious. I arrive at my destination without any trouble.

    On the way home I did get a little slipping turning on to 3rd Ave. The combination of a slight hill and frosty cobblestones was too much to maintain traction. Smooth on the throttle and home I go. Traffic is light and I find myself alone at most intersections. Sitting, waiting at lights is utter silence. It's almost meditation. Nothing quite like it on a clear, dark night.

    Friday morning. Overcast, low to mid teens.

    Ready to ride.After charging overnight, the Zero batteries are showing 100%.

    It is colder this morning and I can feel the wind at my neck and chin. The fleece may not be enough, maybe a wind triangle or neoprene mask would help. I take the highway again. After gingerly executing the 'S' to get on the highway, I'm on my way. The wind-chill at downtown speeds last night were no problem, but I can really feel the bite of the cold this morning at highway speeds. Again, I'm on the highway for about 10 minutes and wouldn't want to do much more.

    Friday afternoon. Overcast, upper 20's

    Handing over the keys.One more ride to the gym before I turn the keys over to Randy. It actually feels too warm for the electrics. Duluth is a very progressive city when it comes to bicycles and alternative transportation (it has even been in the news recently). The YMCA has a bike rack right inside the front lobby. Following the tips from some of our customers, I fold my Roadcrafter and "park" it right next to the fat bikes and "winter-beater" Surly's in the rack. People may think it strange to see this Road Grimed Astronaut walking down the sidewalk, but I would rather not come back to put on an icy-cold suit.

    I would like to say more about this trip, but it is getting just so...normal. Yeah, I could get used to this!


    Products mentioned in this post:

  • I’m Ready, I’m Ready...

    I’m Ready, I’m Ready... - 01/19/16

    Today was the day, it was my turn to ride the Zero FX home after work today. The afternoon seemed to crawl by as the anticipation built, and for some reason an image of Spongebob Squarepants running around while giddily chanting ‘I’m ready! I’m ready’ kept running through my head. Maybe it was just my excitement to finally get a chance to throw a leg over the Zero for a cold, quiet ride through my snowy surroundings in the late afternoon sunshine. Or it could have something to do with my hi-viz Roadcrafter suit conjuring up a vague likeness to the yellow sea-dweller. Likely a little of both, but then it hit me...I was not ready, not yet.

    Roadcrafter waitingSure, my Roadcrafter Classic had been hanging up here at the top of the stairs of the third floor Aerostich offices, waiting for this opportunity, for the past week. Along with it, my Nolan N103 Helmet, Warmbib, silk scarf and Insulated Elkskin Gauntlet Gloves were stacked and waiting to be put to the test. But with temps reading 14ºF and falling, one more piece of kit would be desirable to make it a more comfortable ride home. Sixteen years ago I quit denying the fact that my hair was thinning, and fully embraced my baldness by regularly shaving my head. It means I never need to worry about helmet hair, but it also means I have no insulation on my noggin. A quick trip down to the first floor retail space to purchase a new Power Dry Balaclava (#1040) had me feeling confident that I was now as ready as I was going to be to tackle this new winter commuting adventure.

    Mind you, 14ºF is not the coldest temp I’ve ridden my motorcycle in (a few years ago I vowed to ride at least one day every month of the year and the first February day with dry roads was a balmy -12ºF), and many years ago I rode snowmobiles in temps as low as -40ºF. It’s pretty easy to dress for the cold, just takes a little more time and fore thought. And layers.

    The time has come!The time had come to head for home, so after donning my Roadcrafter and Warmbib, adjusting the balaclava, wrapping the scarf around my neck and securing the helmet chin strap, I was ready to ride. Cautiously I twisted the throttle, moving first along the sidewalk and then slowly over the snowbank to get get to dry road. Any trepidation quickly melted away once moving on the street, and it quickly felt like ‘just’ a normal commute home. Other than the snow all around, the occasional puzzled look of a driver or how cold my fingers were starting to feel after getting about half way home. It appeared in the excitement to leave, I had forgotten to turn on the handwarmers and neglected to plug in the Warmbib. The handwarmers were an easy fix, with the flick of a switch they were switched on. Maybe it was the adrenalin, but even with the wind-chill factor of flowing with 45-50MPH traffic, I did not feel a need for that extra heat from the electric layer on my chest.

    The main road was dry and the lack of engine noise was certainly noticeable from a rider perspective, accentuating the tire noise on the pavement and the sounds of the cars on the road around me. Overall the ride was not dissimilar to my ‘08 Kawasaki Versys, other than the sound, and catching myself reaching for the non-existent clutch a few times. Sure didn’t miss rowing through the gears at traffic lights! Getting closer to home and into more residential streets meant more patchy snow, sand and icy spots on the roads, but the Zero nimbly maneuvered around or went easily over them. There was no noticeable traction issues until I made the turn into my snowpack covered driveway. Leaning slightly to make the small uphill climb up the driveway did cause the rear wheel to break free and spin, sliding the rear of the bike quickly to the left. I adjusted by backing off the throttle and putting down my right foot to steady and upright the bike, then slowly twisted the throttle again to easily make the rest of the 30 ft journey to park outside of my garage door.

    Made it home.What a great feeling it was to ride home, in January! I arrive home feeling energized and alert, with a big smile on my face. After a few photos to document the ride distance (5miles) and current outdoor temp (8ºF), it was time to plug in the power cords and tuck the Zero in to spend the night outside under the eaves of my garage. Looking forward to the next ride...

    There is a 1 minute time-lapse video at the end of this post.

    Back to Work – 01/20/16

    Woke up this morning and peeked out the front door to see a fresh light dusting of powdery snow on the ground. The Zero had spent the night parked outside of my garage door, tucked just far enough under the overhanging eave to be spared anything more than a few flakes of this newly fallen snow coming to rest on it’s exposed seat and controls. After getting dressed in my riding gear, I headed out to the bike, unplugged the charging cords and plugged the cord for my Warmbib. Rode down the snowpacked driveway and navigated the turn onto the street. At the end of the block was a group of 3 teenagers, waiting for the school bus to pick them up. I watched them from the corner of my eye as I quietly rolled by, only the sound of the tires on the mixed snow, ice and pavement beneath them making any noise, but none of them even glanced up as I passed by. Guess an electric motorcycle in the winter isn’t considered cool by the kids these days... Oh, well, I’m smiling inside my helmet.

    Back to work.I could feel the warmth from the Warmbib heating my core and the heat from the grips was starting to penetrate the palms of my Elkskin Gauntlets. Once I got on the several mile stretch of highway and got up to speed however, I sure started feeling the cold seep into my fingers. Everything was warm and comfortable, except my fingers...might need to try layering with some Triple Digit Glove Covers to block the wind tomorrow or maybe try my snowmobile gloves next.

    The rest of the ride downhill was business as usual. Arrived at Aerostich, plugged in the charger and headed in to start the workday (and warm up my fingers). A few fellow associates asked about the ride in and I was more than happy to relive the morning commute by telling them all about it.

    Errands and Finding My Way Home – 01/20/16

    ErrandsThe afternoon created a few errands that needed to be run downtown, so it was a perfect opportunity for another ride on the Zero. Outside temperature was 16ºF and light, fluffy snow had been falling for the past few hours, making the streets mostly wet with some areas of slush forming on the less travelled side streets. The Zero zoomed steadily and nimbly through the downtown traffic and it’s narrow frame provided fast, easy parking opportunities by sliding right in to spots where my car would not have been able to fit. Traveling in the busy downtown area brought more looks and a few positive comments from people on the sidewalks and in the cars around me. Had a few stops to make this afternoon, with the bike sitting parked outside for about 15 minutes at each location during the 5+ mile round trip. The battery level went from fully charged to 88% by the end of this errand trip. With errands complete, it is time to go back to Aerostich to plug in and top off the battery for the evening ride home.

    The geographic location of Duluth and our proximity to Lake Superior can create some interesting weather phenomenon, and the conditions for my evening commute certainly fall into that category. The light snow that had been falling for the afternoon had stopped, only to be replaced by what can be described as a suspended mist. After saddling up on the Zero and starting my ride toward home, one of the first things I notice is how quickly my helmet visor is covered with this airborne dampness. Initially, using the thumb squeegee on my Elkskin Gauntlet gloves is enough to wipe away the precip and get a clear view. Not sure if it was because the temperature was dropping or if it was related to the wind chill, but now the moisture was starting to freeze into a thin film of ice, that was getting progressively more difficult to wipe clear. By the time I had ridden half way home the ice was thick enough to not be easily cleared without applying significant pressure from my gloved hand to the visor. And upon reaching the last intersection before getting to my neighborhood, the visor provided no visibility at all and I had to ride with it open to be able to see. The wind in the face wasn’t bad with the outdoor temperature being about 16ºF, and with my face protected by a balaclava, but if I had much more than a few blocks to arrive in my driveway, then my glasses would have ended up just as ice covered as my face shield I’m sure. Parked the bike and plugged it in to charge. This time, only needing one cord, since earlier this afternoon Randy had added a modified charging cord that needs only a single plug-in, mounted to the handlebars and much faster to connect. Progress.

    Plugged in.Plugs

    You are the Keymaster – 01/21/16

    My first-turn test riding the Zero FX is ending today, as it was agreed yesterday that Bruce would take possession of the keys and put the bike through its paces for some of his daily riding needs for a few days. After a downtown errand test yesterday, I had one new commuting test for the Zero this morning before heading to work and turning over the reigns. When I was ready to head out onto the street this morning, the outside temperature had warmed up over the past few days and was sitting at what felt like a balmy 21ºF (at least compared to the below zero and single digit stretch of weather the week prior). There were a few fresh snow flakes falling as I rode out of my neighborhood to go to a dental cleaning appointment (done by students in the dental hygienist program) at Lake Superior College. The parking lot at the school was a mix of wet and snow pack, but the studded tires (and lower air pressure) allowed confident riding through the mixed conditions. Parked in the designated area and with the battery now reading a 97% charge, I wondered how the bike resting for an extended period in the cold might effect the overall charge? These dental appointments are learning opportunities for the students, so they take longer than your average dental visit (the good news is there were no cavities...). After 3 hours I returned to the bike and found the extra time sitting in the cold had no effect on the Zero’s internal battery charge (it was still at 97%). The battery back-up used to run the warming blanket was doing it’s job to keep the batteries warmed at a comfortable 33.2ºF too. Nice!

    Hanging againParked

    The ride out of the parking and back down the hill to Aerostich was a ‘normal’ commute. Parked the bike and plugged it in at it’s designated parking spot in front of the garage on the sidewalk and pulled out the key. After walking upstairs and hanging up my Roadcrafter, Warmbib, etc..., I walked over to Bruce’s work area to hand over the keys so he can give the Zero a try. It sure was a fun last couple of days, learning how to navigate through some mixed types of riding conditions and adjusting layers of clothing for warmth and comfort. Really not looking forward to getting back in my car tonight. Going to miss that quiet buzz of the electric motor, the click of the studs on the pavement and the feeling of freedom that only comes from two wheel transportation. Looking forward to my next turn riding the Zero! Until then, I’m also looking forward to hearing about the riding experiences of my fellow associates. I hope you are too. #GoodRiding


    Products mentioned in this post:

  • Second Thru Fifth Days: The Bike, Gear, and Why.

    Second Thru Fifth Days: The Bike, Gear, and Why.

    Executive summary: Battery warming wrap #2 still not warm enough…Stephanie making another even-warmer one now. Want these batteries to think they are still back in Santa Cruz. Lowered tire pressure a bit more yesterday. Suspension cold-stiff. Plug-in charging procedure stinks in dark, cold. Randy making a workaround for this now.

    Feels very strange being in traffic, the only one on a motorcycle. People in their cars must all think I've completely lost it. Or maybe one in ten thinks 'cool' and the rest think 'that guy is a nut'. Some probably ignorant and resentful. Still having fun, and nobody hurt yet.

    Bike: Nothing major broken yet. Not beating the crap out of anything…No horseplay riding. Just routine riding thru Duluth’s lovely winter climate and no warm garage between rides. Morning temp second day five degrees above and the warming battery wrap wasn’t working. Batteries only at 17º but they had enough power to get to work anyway, no drama. They’d self-warmed three degrees during the ride.

    Upper = Ambient temp and Lower = Battery temp Upper = Ambient temp and Lower = Battery temp

    By the third morning we’d installed a different wrap and power supply. It was minus three for the first ride with that one and the batteries were at about thirty (see pic). The overnight low had been minus fifteen. Last night was even colder, minus eighteen and the batteries only got up to plus seventeen, so must make an even-warmer wrap. (With this type resistance wire length determines how hot it gets. The second wrap used two loops of about 180” each. The next one maybe will use about 160” loops. Auto parts stores sell warmers for car batteries…we should be able to make our custom-version work.)

    Suspension is nearly nonexistent. Wonder if Zero has suspension we could bolt on with thinner oil? Need to change where 110v power connects by making a jumper wire up to somewhere near the handlebar, so we can plug in without getting down on our knees with a flashlight. The Zero’s connector is located up under the front of the bike’s ‘tank’ area, where it’s hard to find in the dark. It’ll be nice to plug in standing beside the bike. Almost like dispensing gasoline into a fuel tank except for the much lower cost.

    Traction remains a problem…Not enough ice and snow grip with only 100 studs. The tires themselves are working fine on the salted-wet and dried off frozen road surfaces...but not on the icy/snowy places. Winter studded off-road tires have 300-500 spikes and a ‘stud contact patch’ involving maybe ten or more studs in contact with the ground. Our Zero has only two or three.

    For street riding too many studs and there’s not enough rubber in contact the road…but too few and there’s not enough bite across icy/snowy areas. We’ll be adding about another fifty to each tire. The tires themselves could, in a perfect world, be of a softer compound with rows of little snow-tirey sipes, too. I’ve got a $29 tire-cutting tool so maybe later we’ll try adding some hillbilly siping? If we have time.

    IMG_6176After I switched the key off in the driveway last night the little red LED eyes on the aluminum skull remained on, so after trying the key off-and-on a few times I finally reached underneath the skull and pulled one of it’s wires loose until the glowing eyes went out. Then I plugged the charger and battery heater in in and went indoors for the night…almost everything works.

    Gear: My new size-expanded R-3 tactical is the bomb…Roomy. Comfortable. Perfect. I can move again! And it’s softer TF2 impact armor is quite a bit better in the low temps, too. After the first day my base layers stayed home. Now I simply wear a down sweater over my street clothing and the R-3 over that and I’m good to go. My balaclava is packed inside this suit’s front pocket and goes on if it’s zero or lower, but most temps have been between five and fifteen above. On colder days I’m sure I’ll be back in the longhandles. My commute is only twelve to fifteen minutes.

    2016-01-19 15.25.09_BOOTSThe wool-lined elk roper gloves have also been fine with the heated grips on high. The biggest difference in dressing and undressing has been my boots which are old felt-insulated Sorel’s (see photo). These pac’s are a Minnesota (and Canada) winter staple like ‘choppers’ and mine are maybe forty years old. They slip onto my feet without adjusting the laces, but they’re so much larger and clunkier than regular boots the right one has trouble getting through the R-3’s right leg opening.

    Why: Because I made a mistake twenty years ago. I’d been waiting all my life to justify having a specifically set up winter commuting bike…and was always too cheap and stubborn to spend the money needed to set one up, and never wanted to ruin one of my ‘nice’ bikes on the winter-salted streets. Now I’m 62 and Zero has generously loaned us a bike and it’s time. Twenty five years ago I’d mounted spiked knobbies on a couple of dirt bikes for weekend fun and had also ridden them to work a few times, and that was it. I’d never committed to this winter commuting stuff fifteen or twenty years ago…I don’t regret a moment of all those winters of walking back and forth to work, but looking back now I sure wish I’d also created some kind of riding option long ago.

    On the second night with the Zero I’d waited until after commuter traffic had faded, about 7 PM. It was fully dark and streets were empty as expected…everyone being anxious to be snug at home on these cold nights.

    The light controlled intersection of 10th Avenue East and Second Street has three lanes, two for traffic and one for parking, which becomes a turn lane near the stoplight. Which was red as I approached. A city bus was in the right lane, waiting to turn and there in the center of the otherwise empty middle lane was some guy pedaling home on a commuter-bicycle…helmeted and all bundled up, with fenders, saddle bags and a flashing LED taillight. No moving cars as far as the eye could see in both directions. We were alone.

    I Zeroed up to the crosswalk in the lane just to the left of the bicycle commuter as the bus began it’s turn downward onto 10 Avenue East, and braked to a silent stop about half a bike length ahead of this fellow, who, after absorbing that he’s next to some kind of motorbike says:

    “Are those tires studded?”

    “Yup” I reply. “And yours?”

    “Yeah”

    “Nice…”

    “Have a nice ride” He says, as the light changes to green.

    “You too.” I reply, then with an electric-vvvrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…accelerate forward alone.

    “A flat-black steed at the speed of light and Hio-Silver! Away!” You couldn’t have written a nicer script for television commercial about alternate green transportation if you’d been trying. I smiled into my helmet. Electric vehicles sell us what all technology -- from the beginning of everything – provides: Time. The scarcest resource in the world. From this perspective a Zero motorcycle seems hugely superior to all internal combustion versions. You simply ride it and change tires and brake pads occasionally, and not much else. They’re as simple and (so far seemingly) as reliable as a toaster. Expensive to buy, yes, but far less costly to operate…and they sure save lots of time. Now I understand why some Tesla car owners can be so irritatingly and condescendingly enthusiastic.

    But what a Zero can’t quite provide is all of the familiar engagements which come built-in with every gasoline-fueled bike. None of the wonderful ‘Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang’ smoke, smell, hell-fire-and-damnation noise and vibration, and none of the fine time satisfyingly spent fiddling and fettling. You just ride it there.

    Ninety years ago when steam locomotives and steam farm tractors were starting to be superseded by diesels, the old steam hands did not easily let them go. All their fine hissing, tending, valves and faucets…the boiler firing and fussing and adjustments and lubrication…If you’ve never seen something run on steam, go to a vintage tractor event some time…Or to a rail museum if you live near one of those. It’s easy to fall in love with steam if you’ve seen it in action at one of these places. (Or, watch the final scenes in the movie ‘Back to The Future III’.)

    Humans are made to be engaged, and to interact with the world with all of our senses. This is an important difference between today’s cars and motorcycles. Riding any motorcycle, electric or gas, two-stroke or four, engages you in ways that provide so much more of the stuff which makes our lives worth living. So despite the added risks, vulnerabilities and discomforts, we ride. Motorcycling is more than simply A to B…it’s a kind of medicine. Cars today will haul you around as you fiddle with a smartphone or radio, or numbly watch the world pass outside of the windows. Pretty soon they’ll mostly all be driving themselves and even the passive steering, braking and throttling requirements will be gone.

    The price of choosing to ride is actually about your time. Riding there requires extra time to dress, load and then strap on a messenger bag or backpack, or bungee something on, then undress at your destination, plus all the periodic fueling and maintenance. You can’t simply jump on and go. So most only choose to ride recreationally, when they have free time.

    That’s why transportational riding requires such commitment. But here, with an electric motorcycle and an R-3 coverall suit, this decision-point comes a bit closer to being time-comparable with autos. So you end up riding a little more and thus you also feel physically better and mentally clearer.

    One of the oldest stories in motorcycling comes from a time back when there were only limited numbers of cars and motorcycles in the world. On a particular day it was raining cats n’ dogs and two individuals had arrived at the same destination at the same moment, one via their enclosed car and the other on their motorbike. And the completely-dry auto driver looks at the dripping-wet motorcycle rider and says:

    “You’re all wet. Don’t you wish you had a car?”

    Without missing a beat the rider, looking back at the driver, straight in the eyes, replies:

    “No. But I sure wish it would stop raining.”

    Here’s a short video of my boring commute home last night.

    And no. I don’t wish I had a car, either.

  • Z B Z -- First Ride: Easy, Fun, Cool!

    Despite our record-breaking El Niño winter warmth right now here it’s six-tenths of a degree below zero (ºf) and there’s a Zero electric motorcycle is silently sitting outside in the driveway, asleep save for a small green ‘I’m charging now’ LED blinking at the base of the speedo…Very reassuring. Today’s ride here was:

    Easy. And Fun. And Cool.

    Easy. – It began with a warm comfortable ride to work in the passenger seat of an SUV winter-beater (thanks Kyle!), carrying my R3 suit, white Nolan modular helmet, insulated elk gloves and a thin navy blue balaclava. Beneath my street clothing was a thin insulating base-layer and over was an old lightweight grey goose down sweater. On my head was a winter knit cap, because it was winter.

    The loaned ZBZ Project Zero was waiting inside Aerostich’s warm garage. It had been set up for winter use with lightly studded tires, electric grips, an accessory lead for an electric electric vest and a custom-made Aerostich electric heating blanket wrapped around it’s batteries, which we hope will keep them warm overnight on nights like this. They must be kept above about twenty degrees to work correctly. We’d also added a polished aluminum skull (seen here) with menacingly glowing LED eyes just left of the headlight in case anyone had questions about the sanity of our plans. Rod, Randy and Stephanie did all this setup work last week!

    ABZ Blog Andy 1st ride

    About 4 PM it was beginning to get dark so it was time to suit up for my first-ever electric motorcycle ride. I wanted least a little daylight. Kyle showed me where the charging and battery heating plugs were and how to power-up the switch for the heated grips…and that was it. I rolled out onto the partly snow covered frozen street tentatively, as if this was my first step after landing on the moon. Kyle, Lynn and Randy were pit crew witnesses standing in the open garage door shivering. A moment later I was around the corner of the building like there was nothing to it and never looked back. Everything was Easy.

    Fun. -- Riding a flat-black electric stealth motorcycle rolling on frozen studded tires across icy snow packed streets surrounded by hundreds of tired afternoon commuters inside creaky frozen cars,…what could possibly go wrong? Well, uh, nothing. My anti-fog treated and pinlocked face shield is perfectly clear. By habit I always flip it open at stoplights anyway. The warmth of the heated grips sure feels nice, but I’m definitely going to need a larger Aerostich suit. This one, which I’ve been wearing all spring/summer/fall for the past two years, isn’t roomy enough for my thicker layers of winter clothing beneath. I can’t move easily or naturally. It feels a bit like a sausage in a casing or when a small child is over-dressed by their mother before being sent outside to play on a winter day. I’m not cold -- just overstuffed.

    After I’d gone maybe a mile the speedo’s LED battery gauge is showing 98% left and I’m riding along thinking maybe I should take the long way home, even though my suit is pretty tight. Just for fun… It’s about two above zero. This really is Fun!

    Cool. – From the sidewalk someone just shouted something toward me that was nice, like ‘Yeah!, man!! Alllright!!!’. Riding an electric bike you hear and notice much more, even bundled up beneath thick muffling layers of winter gear. All around cars and trucks are heading homeward thru the gathering darkness, all covered with snowy roofs, dirty rimes of mid-winter crud and hard brown ice stalactites curving downward behind each wheel. Inside some of them I can see their drivers peering out at me through partly frosted windows. (Amused or irritated?)

    At the next stoplight the guy directly to my right sits a little higher than I inside his winter dirty but-still-nearly-brand-new aluminum-bodied high-tech 2016 Ford F-250 diesel engined 4x4 pickup…with nice aggressively oversized tires and complicated CNC’d rims. Forty grand easy. As we sit together waiting for green I smile and for a moment it feels like I’m the winner here. It’s no contest really…whomever this Ford 4x4 high-binder guy is, he’s having just another boring afternoon commute inside another boring little room and I’m out here In smack-dab at the center of the entire universe! Outside!! Outside!! I want to scream it!

    Steamy clouds of condensing exhaust expand from every tailpipe and the familiar thrum of internal combustion fills the icy air surrounding my silent little Zero wearing it’s cute blue and white California manufacturers license plate on it’s thin rear fender. We’re as out of place as some hapless migrating bird that took a wrong turn at Tulsa last fall and just ended up here, where right now it’s only two above zero and nearly dark and this is really, really, really, really…Cool! Thank you Zero! Thank you Rod, thank you Randy, thank you Lynn, thank you Stephanie and thank you everyone else at Aerostich! Cool!

    Post-ride Notes:

    The first sensation of riding an electric bike sure is neat. And far different than any regular bike. No clutch. No noise. No vibration. Nothing. Just roll the twist grip open and listen to the soft zzzzzzing of tire studs on dirty frozen asphalt. Very pure. With it’s cold-hardened rear tire I almost immediately discover that this bike can spin the rear wheel quite easily, so I’m riding carefully. (Anyone for a sparky burnout?)

    Yesterday it snowed another inch and the roads are still partly covered by a thin layer of residual brownish snow-salt mixed with sheer ice areas and mottled packed-down snowy streaks, but everything feels controllable. I make some test moves and there’s noticeably less overall traction available. A lot less. I’ll need to be very careful as these tires break in while learning these low limits. But this should be fun.

    My driveway has about a 10-15º angle upward and today white is beneath an unshoveled half inch of snow with about a quarter inch of solid sheet-ice below that. Very slippery. I line up and approach this little climb straight on. About one bike-length before reaching where I want to park the rear tire breaks loose. Zzzzzzzzzz. Zzzzzzzz. Zzzzzzzzz. Hahhaha! This sounds exactly like hapless car drivers when they spin their wheels trying to climb slippery hills whenever it snows. Duluth is built entirely across a 700’ a hillside so if you live here you hear it regularly, ever winter. There’s less traction from these low profile studs than I thought there would be. Maybe I should add more?

    IMG_6156ZBZ skid up driveway

    I carefully paddle backward one bike length and come at the uphill driveway again. Zzzzzz…zzzzzzz. Ok, one more time…I’ll back down a little farther and get a bit more speed. The third time is the charm and the side stand goes down and the key and electric grips are turned off and I clomp stiffly up the back stairs, across the deck and into the kitchen where I shed my too-tight gear and layers. Then back down to the Zero to plug in recharging and battery heater cords.

    Both cords are a small struggle. They are conventional vinyl insulated electric extension cords and are stiff as hickory sticks in the low temperature. Around here Home Depot’s, Lowe’s and Menards stores sell two kinds of extension cords…Many varieties and lengths exactly like these, and a few specially made with silicone insulation intended to remain flexible for outdoor cold weather use. Those are only a few dollars more expensive but I don’t have any and the too-stiff vinyl insulated ones will work fine, once I get ‘em ‘bent’ into approximately the right shape and position. Done.

    ZBZ Stiff Cords

    As I’m typing this a few hours later it’s exactly 0.0ºF according to a calibrated wireless digital outdoor thermometer I can see from where I’m sitting.

    I can hardly wait for tomorrow.

    — Andy

  • Meet the Zero Volunteers

    Initial Volunteer Zero Below Zero riders include (others may be added later):

    Andy - Aerostich design manager. Riding since 1970. Currently 5-8K miles annually, mostly commuting with Suzuki DRZ 400E and occasional longer trips on BMW R1200R.

    Rider factoid: Rode about 80 miles directly across ice-covered western end of Lake Superior in the particularly cold winter of 1994.


    Bruce - Aerostich Website Development. Rides approximately 3000 miles annually on a 2007 Yamaha FZ6.

    Rider factoid: Is a ‘totally boring commuter’ recently hitting 20K transportational riding miles (racked up 6 exciting miles at a time...). Sometimes bicycles to work, too.


    Gail - Aerostich H.R. and Payroll. A new rider in 2015, she rides a 2014 Honda PCX 150 scooter and logged about 2,000 miles during her inaugural riding year.

    Rider factoid: Prefers riding on clear, sunny days, but with the all weather protection of her Roadcrafter, she has managed a few adventurous rides in rain and fog and even rode a day in December last year!


    Kyle - Aerostich Marketing and Graphics. Everyday ride is an ‘08 Kawasaki Versys, used to commute about 4500 miles per year.

    Rider factoid: Enjoys riding in the rain and the jealous looks of youth soccer players (and a few mom’s) when dropping off his daughter on the bike for soccer practices and games.


    Randy - Aerostich I.T. & Data/Mail List Management. Rode about 7K miles in 244 days in 2015. Commutes daily on either a ‘06 Suzuki DR650 or ‘89 Honda Hawk NT650.

    Rider factoid: Road raced CRA, WERA competitively for 10 years. Rode across Alaska and parts of South America in Argentina and Chile. Lifelong rider.


    Rod - Aerostich Engineering and Product Development. Logs about 6000 miles every year on his 2004 Triumph Tiger.

    Rider factoid: First bike was a 1963 Polaris. Quote: “I've never met anyone else who can say that.” Riding since forever.

  • Zero Preparation

    Getting the Zero ready to face the elements of a Duluth, MN winter required adding a few farkles for improved function, comfort and safety. Aerostich Product Development Engineer, Rod H., was tasked with doing this prep work. Below is a project summary and a few of his thoughts about preparing the bike for winter riding. When asked about his initial impressions about working on a the electric motorcycle, Rod said “It’s a fun, simple bike to work on. The electronics are easy to get at and there is no fuel tank in the way”.

    Prep included:

    1. Removed hand grips and installed #1602 BikeMaster heated grips. Knurled left end of handlebar made for a difficult installation on that side. On right side, grip fit over throttle sleeve easily. Used adhesive supplied with kit to secure throttle grip. Mounted controller on left side of handlebar. Used SAE plug from added 12V power supply to make power and ground connection. BikeMaster fuse under right side panel at front of bike.

    “Knurled handlebar end on left side made electric grip installation challenging. Installation was completed just before mallet handle shattered, handlebar buckled, or grip split open. No glue needed.”

    Bikemaster Warm Grips

    2. Aerostich staff designed and produced warming wrap for batteries. Blanket is similar in construction to Aerostich heated vests. Covers top, front, and sides of batteries. Wrap is sandwiched between batteries and battery mounts, held in place at lower edge with Velcro. Warming wrap SAE connector attached to SingPad 12V 60W DC power supply, mounted to top right battery mount. 120V AC power supply plug for battery warming system located next to motorcycle’s charge cord plug.

    “Battery heating blanket is an experiment too. Construction is similar to one of our electric vests. This model Zero has a battery setup that lends itself well to wrapping. How much heat will be needed to maintain a reasonable battery temp overnight remains to be seen. More damage to be done by overheating the batteries than getting them too cold. Started out with that in mind.”

    3. Installed SAE and Quiconnect style connectors for heated vests or bibs. Connectors are located in front of seat, left side of bike. Power from added 12V power supply SAE plug.

    4. Added #4268 Mini Remote Thermometer. Display mounted to top panel behind handlebars. Battery operated display, no power connection to bike. Thermocouple attached to center rear of front battery case. Remove upper right front panel and release Velcro holding display when removing front battery.

    5. Studded front and rear tires with about 100 studs per tire. Used Grip Studs #1100 for rear tire, #1000 for front tire. Pattern intended to provide good traction on bare and ice covered pavement. Can add or remove studs to adjust performance.

    “Studding the tires was a breeze. I think we spent more time discussing patterns than I did installing the studs. Used a cordless drill and the scooter length Grip Studs. Tires did not have very deep tread. Even when I got a little carried away with the screw gun I didn't poke any holes in the tire.”

    “Put about a hundred studs in each tire. Tried to leave lots of space for rubber to contact the pavement. New to this. We'll see if we got it right.”

    “Start to finish, the job took roughly 22 hours. About what I expected. Would probably take 6 hours to duplicate (plus blanket construction,) now that the design work is done.”


    Products mentioned in this post:

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