Monthly Archives: March 2016

  • Feeling Sporty

    It’s 5pm and time to head for home. With the clocks springing forward last week, the sun is noticeably higher in the sky as I walk out to the Zero and unplug the charging cord. Throwing a leg over and turning the key displays that Randy has switched it from Eco mode (that we were riding with all Winter) to Sport mode. Starting the climb uphill and merging from the on-ramp into the traffic flow, it certainly feels like the Sport mode is more responsive as I twist throttle and quickly dart in front of and pull away from the surrounding traffic. I see another Aerostich Roadcrafter clad rider coming toward me in the opposite lane. He is riding a BMW GS, and his Hi-Viz suit looks much cleaner than mine, which has acquired a Winter’s worth of added patina. As we pass in the flow of traffic we exchange the ‘rider wave’, and then with dinner waiting and some errands to run later this evening, I take the most direct route home.

    The Friday morning weather is sunny, windy and 26ºF for the morning commute. Silently I roll the Zero up to the first stoplight just as it changed to red. I wait, all alone, on my side of the street, as a steady stream of vehicles passes by in front of me and the cars queue up at the light across the street. The signal changes to green for the turn lanes, and then allows the traffic from the other side to go straight, but my light does not change before the cross traffic once again gets the green. I hate it when lights don’t recognize a motorcycle sitting and waiting...

    Just as I’m contemplating my timing for running through the red light if it once again doesn’t change, a lime-green Dodge Charger pulls up in the lane along side me. As the car comes to a stop, I clearly hear them rev the engine and a second later the light turns green. Already anxious from sitting thru a light cycle, and with a boost of adrenaline brought on by the roar of the muscle-car as it pulled up next to me, I grab throttle and am propelled through the intersection before the V8 Hemi even gets off the line. Yes, there seems to be some extra pep to this Sport mode.

    Quickly up to speed, the added force of the wind pushing back against me is really noticeable today. It’s amazing how much wind gets blocked by even the small fairing on my gas-powered Versys, compared to the un-faired Zero FX. Looking down at the speedo, I realize that the push-back from the wind is mostly self-induced, so rolling off the throttle a bit makes it much less noticeable... Approaching a few cars ahead of me in the traffic stream, the left lane is moving slower, so I merge to the right lane and begin to pass what looks to a a driver in a brand new car (still has the dealer name where the license plates go and the temporary tags taped in the rear window). As I pull along side, the new car begins to drift into my lane and a quick glare to the right confirms what was immediately suspected...the driver was too busy texting to watch where she was driving. Maybe she thought this was one of those new self driving cars...again the Sport mode was appreciated to apply a burst of speed to create a nearly immediate buffer space between me and this un-guided cruise missile.

    Not sure if it was more noticeable because the travel speed was a little faster today, or if it was because the weather is slightly warmer and the roads are dry, but pulling into the factory I also make a mental note that the overall ride felt a little soft this morning. We intentionally had been running the tire pressure low all Winter to help provide a little extra traction on the snow and ice conditions. The way it was feeling today has me thinking it is time to add a little air back in for the more Spring-like riding.

    Adding AirAfter a quick ‘debrief’ with fellow test riders Gail and Bruce, we all decide that adding some air back into the tires would probably be a good thing. After working for a few hours, I need to run an errand, and figured this as a perfect opportunity to take a ride to top off the treads. A nearby gas station has a self-help compressor station with a built-in digital pressure gauge, so I swing in to add some air. The sidewalls indicate a recommended 38 PSI and the gauge for the front tire reads 20 PSI as it begins to pump air into the tire. I inflate both front and rear to about 36 PSI for now, and will see how they feel on the ride back. Choosing a few curvy side streets allows leaning pretty deeply around a few corners, something I have avoided for most of the Winter in an attempt to keep the rubber side down (and not be the first person to crash the test bike...). I can hear and feel the outer layer of studs as they click on the pavement leaning into turns, but then the angle goes beyond the stud pattern, and the tire rubber securely and silently grips the pavement. The ‘soft’ feel is gone too, so the added air seems to have done the job to improve the ride. It’s Gail’s turn to take the Zero for the weekend, so it’s time to turn over the keys...


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  • March Lion

    March--In like a lamb, out like a lion. Or is it the other way around? Here in Duluth, it's a big cat that shows up whenever it pleases.

    Duluth Winter StormThere is a winter storm warning, with 12-18" expected. But the severe weather they predicted is not the severe weather we got. Next to the big Lake, all we got was rain, and a lot of it. Part of I-35 was closed due to flooding and the plows were out plowing water!

    Thursday morning the Zero and everything else was covered with ice and wet, heavy snow. Roads looked to be in decent shape, though. I'm sure they only "looked OK" because I had already ridden through worse this winter.

    2016-03-17 07.49.27 2016-03-17 07.50.13 2016-03-17 07.48.28

    A little hiccup this morning, the Zero wouldn't go. After emailing our contacts at Zero, we narrowed it down to a few possibilities. As a web developer and IT person I have found that 9 times out of 10 the problem can be found between the keyboard and chair, i.e., user error (also known as an EYE-DEE-TEN-TEE) *. That seemed to be the case here. The motorcycle key needs to be turned on before switching on our auxiliary circuit for the warm grips and electrics. I had probably done it backwards.

    Embarrassed to not be riding today, I went home at lunch and retrieved the bike. With the proper sequence:

    • Key - on
    • Kickstand - up
    • Kill switch - on
    • The Zero was "go"

    I had been running around a bit so I was feeling pretty warm, especially after getting geared up indoors, so I decided to leave the auxiliary electrics off. At highway speed it definitely made a difference. The ride was chilly, but not intolerable. I had also left my warmbib off. That was probably a mistake...I think that extra layer of Windstopper fabric would have made a big difference, even if I didn't plug it in.

    While trouble shooting with the folks at Zero, Bill asked me if I had a smartphone and had I downloaded the app? What? There's an app? I told my fellow riders, Kyle and Randy, about the app. "Whoa, there's an app?" Soon all 3 of us had it downloaded and were geeking out over this new shiny thing. The app connects the Zero to your smartphone via bluetooth and includes screens to monitor battery charge status, time to complete charge, trip stats, and more. It also allows you to download the bike and battery data and email them to Zero service. Cool!

    2016-03-21 12.24.33 Screenshot_2016-03-18-09-45-38 2016-03-21 12.24.18

    Ride home and I'm back in the groove. Sometimes the March Lion is just a big pussy cat. The roads are already clear and mostly dry. The trees lining London Rd are gorgeous; limned in white snow against the steel-grey sky. I sure wish I had the video set up that Kyle and Randy have.

    The Weekend

    Friday going home, the wind off the lake feels heavy and cold as it hits me hard in the chest. The Lion is back. Saturday is a bright sunny day, another Lamb. The power is out as I roll into downtown and traffic is minimal. The stillness is a little eerie.

    Stopping for lunch with some friends, I ran into a rather odd problem. The kickstand on the Zero is rather long; and my legs are rather short. Under most circumstances I can manage OK, though I do agree with Andy that a lower seat would be nice--especially on this day. I parked the Zero in a lot where the pavement was falling away to my right. I soon found that I couldn't lean the bike far enough to the right (and still hold it up) to be able to swing the kickstand into place. After a minute or 2 of trying with no success, I tested the limits of my hip flexibility and managed to swing my leg over the seat to get off and put the kickstand down. In retrospect I should have just moved to another spot because I had an even harder time leaving. In the future I will be sure to park on level ground or sloping down to the left.

    Saturday evening we were going to go 16 miles up the shore to Knife River to house sit for friends. With 4 dogs, 1 child, 1 adult and a couple overnight bags packed into the car, there was no room for me. Time for a ride! Scenic Hwy 61 follows right along the edge of Lake Superior, sometimes coming within mere feet of the shore. It is a fantastic ride; peaceful, quiet and dark. I often ride my bicycle up this route in the Summer. The Zero is just as quiet, but much less effort than pedaling!

    Lake Superior Sunrise

    The Lion againSunday morning and the Lion tries to make another appearance. It is bright and clear, but the temperature has dropped back into the teens and a little more snow has dropped. After all the rain turning to ice turning to snow earlier in the week, some water must have gotten into the key cylinder and frozen. Unlike Kyle, I was able to find my little can of de-icer before August. However, all the propellant had leaked out and it might as well have been empty. Scrounging in my friends garage turned up some WD-40, but it didn't seem to help much. After 20 minutes of cupping my hands around the cylinder to warm it up and much heavy breathing (into the cylinder) the key finally went in and turned!

    I decided to take the expressway home. I wondered what 65 miles per hour in this cold would mean for the batteries. The Zero had no trouble getting up to speed, but after a while I was watching the battery charge indicator ticking down uncomfortably fast. There is a small rise in the road just before coming into Duluth and the batteries were showing 38% charge when I noticed the bike was slowing down. I twisted the throttle, but there was no extra power to give. Then as the speed limit changed to 40mph, then 30, there were no further issues with power. Perhaps the top end is limited when the batteries are low?

    Monday morning is another Lamb. I found my bottle of Boeshield in the gragage and put a few drops in the key cylinder. Ahhh...no more trouble with the key. After getting on the highway I am in the left lane (because there is an on ramp coming up) and I am starting to overtake a big lifted 4x4 truck. I see his brake lights flash as he comes up on slower traffic and I have a feeling he is going to move. I slow down a bit and sure enough the truck moves left, right in front of me. Again, I have to agree with Andy; a bright, retina-searing headlight may have helped in this situation. Thank goodness I was on top of my game, mainly due to riding through the Winter.

    Epilogue

    Snow againLast night I gave the keys to Randy and am now back on my bike. Sometime in the wee hours this morning the Lion made another appearance and there is an inch or so of new snow. I tucked my Warmbib under my hooded sweatshirt (it is warmer due to the added pressure and being closer to my body), donned my lightweight Roadcrafter and headed out of the garage. When I got to work, I realized I hadn't plugged in. As I predicted earlier, even unplugged the extra layer of WindStopper fabric made a difference (along with the small fairing on my Yamaha).

    Riding both bikes back-to-back like this, it is easy to see the contrasts. The need to use clutch and shift levers vs. continuous gearing. The sound and feel of the chain (I should probably get that lubed) and motor roaring vs. the whisper of the electric motor and belt drive. A Lion and a Lamb. Or maybe a Lion in Lamb's clothing.

    * EYE-DEE-TEN-TEE = ID10T


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  • A Change in the Weather…

    A Change in the Weather…

    We finally had a nice sunny day in Duluth. It was my chance to finally ride the FX home. It was 31 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny as I started off on my ride home. As I drove through the streets of Duluth I noticed that nobody was paying any attention to me. Apparently people around here are getting used to crazy people doing strange things in the winter!

    The bike is so quiet that I had to watch out for pedestrians. A couple of people walked across the street in front of me without looking. When I buzzed by them they didn’t even turn around. I don’t think they knew I was there.

    As I headed out into the country towards home I increased my speed. That made my ride a little cooler. I had on an Aero Fleece Wind Triangle that I pushed that up further on my face to accommodate the increased wind. I was pretty thrilled that I was cruising at 41 MPH! However, I don’t think the person in the car behind me shared my enthusiasm since the speed limit is 45 MPH.

    I was concerned about pulling into my driveway because it is still snow packed and icy. With a tip from Kyle I made a wide turn so I could enter the driveway straight on rather than at an angle. It was a 13.9 mile ride home and I was pretty excited to have done it without dropping the bike! I am waiting for Bruce to do that first.

    Zero1FX and blocks

    The next morning was a bit cooler. Overnight the temperature dropped down to 16 degrees Fahrenheit. I added an Aero Warm Bib under my Roadcrafter for some extra warmth. The suspension was a bit stiffer in the colder temperature so when I got on the bike my toes couldn’t reach the ground. My husband set out wood blocks on the right side of the bike so I could move the bike enough to get the kickstand up.

    Icy DrivewayMy driveway was an ice skating rink and I was nervous about going from dirt to ice and then to a tar 55 MPH road. I took it slow and the tire studs kept traction on the ice and snow. As I approached the end of my driveway the FX was so quiet that I could hear that there were no cars coming. I slowed down enough to verify that but I didn’t need to try and stop on the ice and then get going again. I shot out into the road and I was off feeling pretty proud. My fist pump and celebrating was short lived when I had to slam on the brakes because a deer ran out in front of me. The FX was stable on the brakes and it stopped quickly and without sliding out. Feeling a little rattled, I kept on motoring to work. I got behind a school bus and was glad to be going slow and it wasn’t my fault!

    I made it to work feeling exhilarated. A little cold weather and a near miss with a deer gets your blood moving. As I was getting off the bike a couple of customers from our store came over to check out the bike. After chatting with them for a while I was off to work and handed the keys over to Bruce.


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  • OK, Let's Get Serious

    Ok, Lets Get Serious

    Today it’s my ‘turn’ again…rode the Zero home last night. It’s been a few weeks. This little electric winter riding experiment will be ending soon (a month? Six weeks?), and I’ll be sad to see the Zero get crated up and head back to California. The experience of riding an electric bike over the course of this winter has been eye-opening and good.

    Us trading off has been particularly fine…It’s funny, but if the bike were actually mine I’d have less problem letting others ride it than if it were a gasoline powered machine because it’s so simple. There’s nothing to adjust, manage or break. After using it off-and-on this winter I’d buy one, and I think so would my coworkers. It's so nice just to turn it on and go. No warm up, maintenance, nothing. Just ride.

    My guess is large numbers of people will switch to electric cars and bikes for their daily transportation applications over the next fifteen or twenty years as more come to realize the hidden advantages…the ‘plug and play’ simplicity mainly, and as the prices of the vehicles continue to drop and the ranges of available vehicle types widens further. Eventually electric vehicles should actually end up being lower-priced than combustion vehicles for reasons inherent to the underlying technologies involved. At that point the electric vehicle market should explode. We mostly just want to get wherever we are going as easily, comfortably and inexpensively as possible.

    The temp here was in the low forties last night and it’s in the mid-forties and sunny again today. In these warmer temps this bike is just a zippy little monster and its stealthy silence makes you want to ride even more ‘entertainingly’ than you otherwise would aboard your trusty ol’ combustion motorcycle. Every pass of every car is an ambush. Nobody around you understands how nimble and torquey the Zero is. You always want to zip right ahead, around and through whatever is just in front of you, grinning because before others in traffic quite realize what happened, you are already gone. No noise, no harm, no foul. With one of our Lane Share Tools out back, this thing with a young rider aboard would be a social and traffic pariah…but at least it would be a quiet pariah. Motorcycles have always been partly about riding through loopholes in the transportation matrix, and for this benefit (of riding), a Zero like this perhaps is the best tool/weapon yet devised.

    What would I change? Other than the inherent and huge compromise with tires (not enough gnarly sharp carbide tipped suds for real ice-and-snow mayhem and a much lower rubber-against-dry-road traction limit on clear roads)? Not much. Here’s my shortlist, not in order of priority:

    • Replace the crummy stock headlight. It’s fine during the day, helping drivers see you, but for long winter nights it’s terrible. There are some large aftermarket LED headlights available which don’t draw much power and are very bright. I’d have a nice big 7 or 8” round one, thank you.
    • Diameter of our added electric grips is slightly too big. I’d install the electric grip warmers which go underneath the stock grips for a smaller-diameter grip feel.
    • Too small fenders. Wayyytoooosmall… Solution…Zero? (My personal fender-styling taste for a bike like this would be plastic versions of the curving steel fenders that were on the old '68-70ish Yamaha DT-1 'family' of not very hard-core on-off road bikes. High front fenders for dual-sport bikes are way over-done for how these types of bikes are actually used in the 'real world'. Plus, 'retro' style seems more fly-dope-hip-whatever in custom bike styling circles, for bikes like this, at the moment.)
    • I’d want a double plug setup for recharging, with the Zero’s optional one-handed 220V near-universal electric vehicle plug plus our 110v extension cord socket, both at handlebar level.
    • Slightly lower ride height. Maybe only an inch or an inch and a half. I’m 5’8” and for commuting lower works a bit better.
    • A nice modern updated version of ‘Hippo Hands’ for really cold days. Easily removable.
    • The steering lock changed so it locks the handlebars in the straight ahead position. A personal superstition…I’ve always disliked the way locked bikes looked with their handlebars flopped over. Bikes at rest look their best when the front wheel is lined up with the rear. They express sort of a gazelle-like grace that way. The forward motion potential is obvious. As ‘art’ or sculpture that is how motorcycles are always displayed. Locked the way they must be with their forks flopped to the side they imply going round and round in a circle. Or falling over. Who wants that? We humans want to see the potential of the far horizon displayed.

      There are historical reasons locked handlebars are always at the side. Until recently the fork lock was separate from the ignition so if the bars were locked straight ahead one could possibly start the bike and accidentally ride off not realizing…and then crash, which would be a product liability nightmare. Now that the fork lock is integrated with the ignition this would be impossible, so why not change the tradition and let me lock my bike’s forks in a straight-ahead position that looks right? The theft deterrent of a non-steerabillty is the same no matter what the locked position is.

    • Those little fake-looking plastic ‘wings’ on either side of the frame up by the steering head need to go away, and I’m sure the Zero’s designer(s) can find some other surface where the company logo would look just as nice.

    IMG_6424About the only other thing I’d do differently if I’d actually owned this bike when we started back in December would have been to heavily spray-coat the engine and other corrosion-sensitive components with something like Boeshield but we were deliberately trying to slightly abuse it, so that didn’t happen. That’s it. It’s been the most ‘plug and play’ motorcycle I’ve ever enjoyed. And the most winter-friendly, at least in an urban commuting role. I might keep the add-on skull, too.


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  • SEE ME, HEAR ME...

    SEE ME, HEAR ME...

    3/8/16 - Today was my turn to take ‘charge’ of the Zero again and I was more than happy to leave the car parked and jump on the FX for the ride home. After a nice warm-up (40ºF) over the last few days, the roads are mostly dry and it is really starting to feel like Spring is nearly here. Conditions certainly fit into what we would define as a ’Rideable Day’, 4162_ridable_days_mapand instead of driving my car to work today, I really should have ridden my Kawasaki Versys...except there are still some maintenance issues and a not-normal clunking sound that I haven’t made time over the Winter (or wanted to deal with in my cold, un-heated garage) to diagnose and repair yet. Until I can get may hands greasy and get the engine running smoothly again, I sure am grateful for the seat time on the Zero! The low/no maintenance aspect of the Zero sure is an appealing factor too. Just unplug, hop on and ride. No oil, no gas, no warming up an engine...no noise.

    Gearing up and walking out to unplug the Zero this evening, I notice that the warmer air is reacting with the remaining snow-packed ground to create a thick, grey fog, limiting visibility to only about a block or block and a half. The fog continues as I make my way uphill and toward my house. The smooth, nearly silent whir of the zero combined with the swirling fog provides a surreal sensation of flying and a feeling of being alone on the road...until the sound of a passing car brings me back to the reality of the commute. Brake lights up ahead indicate the stoplight must be red, so with a quick check behind me, I change into the right turn lane and continue on the road less-traveled to enjoy a bit more vehicle free sections of road before landing back in my driveway.

    3/9/16 - The morning weather for the ride to work offers a similar foggy mix as the trip home last night. Twisting throttle down the neighborhood street, I am once again enveloped in the swirling grey and immediately focus on the fact that the only sound I hear is the soothing buzz of the tires rolling on the pavement. All too soon I enter the mix of the morning traffic and remain ultra alert of the traffic around me, unconfident that my Hi-Viz Roadcrafter is enough to make the easily distracted cagers take notice of me sharing the road with them. Every time I am on two-wheels I ride with a heightened sense of alertness and presume that cars do not see me, but the quiet, stealthy movements of the Zero definitely reinforce this spacial awareness. Hearing the traffic around me, instead of the engine beneath me, sure seems to p2016-03-08 16.17.56lay a role in this additional cognizance. I know that the stealth-like quiet of the Zero has startled a few pedestrians walking on the sidewalk who didn’t hear me rolling past them on the street. With all of the soundproofing, radios, phone calls and other distractions going on inside of most cars and trucks these days, I’m not convinced that either loud pipes or loud suits save lives anymore. For me, the Zero offers something akin to hearing battle-drums or air-raid sirens, providing just enough advance warning of an approaching ‘attack’ of an oncoming minivan or encroaching semi-truck to remain aware, alert and plan a safer route based on a heightened sense of awareness of the surrounding traffic. Thankfully, this morning, there were no calls for alarm, but just another morning ride through the fog to work.

    2016-03-09 13.11.36The afternoon brings an opportunity for another ride to run some errands before turning over the keys to Randy this evening. It has rained since I first arrived here this morning, making the streets wet and covering the Zero with lingering droplets of water. Buzzing toward downtown Duluth in the mid-dry traffic, again I am aware of the surrounding sounds of traffic, construction equipment, pedestrians calling to each other across the street...and underneath it all, the quiet (and even soothing) buzz and click of the FX’s tires rolling along the pavement. The errands don’t take long to complete, so I begin the ride back toward work, this time taking a little slower, longer and scenic route...because I can. Looking down I notice how the tires are spraying a mist of water and road-grime onto my boots and shins. 2016-01-28 10.54.01My Roadcrafter is 7 years old and to date, I have not washed it. Maybe this season it will get it’s first bath. Maybe. More than likely though I’ll just make sure to wear it for a ride in the next heavy rainfall we get. Nothing better than a natural shower of fresh raindrops to rinse off a Winter’s worth of grime. After that, I think it is also time to award my trusty old hi-viz one piece with a Road Grimed Astronaut Patch. With a few scuffs from an unplanned get-off several years ago, and a well-earned patina now permanently ingrained in the fabric, it has earned the designation of such a recognition. Bring on those Spring showers!


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  • Spring is Coming!

    Friday going home.

    It has been snowing light, but steady most of the day. Now, when it is time to go home it is changing from a wintry mix to freezing rain. Fortunately I managed to get home before the freezing part took hold. Even so, I did have to wipe ice off my helmet visor several times and I locked up the back end while braking for the turn into my driveway. The weather gets steadily worse and I reflect on how lucky I was. If I had left 15-20 minutes later, it would have been a very challenging ride.

    2016-03-04 15.55.45 2016-03-04 15.55.38

    Sunday errands downtown.

    Everyone has heard the saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait a few minutes." That is very true for Sping time in Duluth. Saturday was an icy wonderland, but Sunday is sunny and 50° and the melt is on. Minnesota is land of 10,000 lakes and a new one seems to be forming in my back yard. And if my yard out back is a lake, the road in front is now a river. I really need to get some dedicated riding boots (CTB or Lites). The boot covers are great in a pinch, but they add an element of hassle in getting ready and they really aren't meant for as much walking as I do in them.

    Monday morning.

    Icy MorningThere is a layer of frost on the ground and this has me worried a bit as I slipped walking off the back porch. It turns out the roads are just wet; though some of the shady, less traveled spots look like they could be slippery. So far, the roads have looked worse than they actually were. The reality is this is the kind of weather that gets me thinking about starting to motorcycle commute regularly again. That urge is strong in me now considering the elements I have already ridden through this Winter.

    We are coming into the dirty, messy part of Spring. Any snow that remains along the side of the road is grey/black with a coating of salt and sand. The main hazard to watch out for on the road is no longer ice or snow, but sand; it is at every intersection and in every turn. This is always the case with my first rides in the early Spring, but I feel much better prepared for it because of the riding I have done through the Winter.

    I will be considering getting my own bike out soon. Trading the electric Zero for my gas-powered Yamaha, silence for the scream of an inline 4, the ease of twist-and-go for rowing up and down the gears. To be honest I have kind of missed the noise and work. On the other hand, I don't know that I would have made it through the Winter without the unplug-and-go ease of the Zero; it would have been just too much hassle.


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  • The New Routine

    The New Routine

    Not an exciting title but like Andy, Kyle and Bruce have touched on, the routine is setting in. The initial excitement and fear of the unknown is being replaced by the relaxed routine of Winter commuting.

    The first time you try something new and unusual, your mind tells you that the activity is overly risky. At least mine did. The first ride seemed as far out as if we were planning a 100 mile trek in the Arctic. Only somewhat unstable minds would consider such a foolish activity as riding a lightly studded electric motorcycle all Winter in Duluth.

    My initial feelings as I rode was that I was doing something strange, weird or wrong. Maybe all of the above. As I rode past police officers I felt somehow guilty and thought I would get pulled over and get a good talking to by an officer about my foolish and dangerous behavior. If I fell in traffic and caused a scene would I be ticketed?

    Leap Day ZeroWhen a car driver goes too fast on a snowy road and ends up in the ditch, police and first responders come to their aid. Usually no lectures about traveling too fast for conditions. Going into the ditch is just a part of what occasionally happens during the Winter driving season. Generally no one thinks of the driver as being irresponsible. My guess is that it is so common that people are just used to it and don’t react anymore. Would it be the same if a Winter motorcycle commuter had a fall in traffic and police and first responders were needed?

    Some years ago a customer who had ridden hundreds of miles in the Winter from Canada was on his way to visit us in Duluth and had a fall downtown on our bricked streets. He had navigated far more challenging road conditions for hundreds of miles and followed that with an easily avoidable fall. I know how it happens from falls during my road racing years. We get too comfortable at times and let our guard down so we don’t see the continuing risk or don’t recognize the risk.

    Bricks and studded motorcycle tires are a bad combination. I spun a tire on the Zero once when I thought I was only lightly accelerating. Once the traction breaks the studded tire spins easily on brick. If I had been leaning even a little, I could have gone down like our customer did. Winter riding requires a more careful observation of surface types than warm weather riding does.

    Fortunately our customer was not hurt. He needed rescue only because of a broken lever and gave us a call. I was the leader of our customer service area at that time and his call was transferred to me. We had an old lift gate cube truck at the time that could retrieve his motorcycle so I headed downtown to lend a hand.

    He had his motorcycle out of traffic and no scene had developed. We quickly loaded his bike and were off in less than 10 minutes. How is that for customer service! Back at Aerostich we put his bike in our garage and he made calls to get parts shipped to us for repair. It was one or two days before he departed in his Roadcrafter Classic to his next destination in the states. We do our best to take care of our customers as they are the reason we are in business and we appreciate them very much. Our garage has been used by riders many times for motorcycle repairs and was recently converted into a riders’ lounge that doubles as a garage.

    Motorcycles are legally licensed vehicles that have the same rights and restrictions in traffic and on roads that cars do. It is legal to use motorcycles and cars all year round. The range of conditions a motorcycle can be safely operated in however are not the same as a car. When I rode in a light snowstorm, I wasn’t comfortable in traffic as I couldn’t easily keep up with the cars and I had to concentrate very hard to keep the bike upright. It was a scary and adrenaline producing experience. At my level of riding skill, the risk was too high in my opinion. If we have another heavier snow storm, I will take the cage to work.

    My best estimate is that in Duluth you can safely commute about 70% of the Winter on a electric motorcycle. That is better than I had originally thought and certainly worth the effort of preparing a motorcycle. You need to be more aware of the weather conditions and forecast as you could get stuck at your destination due to heavy snow. If you have an important appointment, take the car that day. If you take out all the various unrideable days and circumstances where riding isn’t reasonable, you still have a significant majority of the Winter available for safe and fun commuting. Who would have thought!

    Highway vs Surface Streets

    Have you ever wondered if you get less wet when you ride in the rain at high speeds vs low speeds? Has anyone done computer modeling to find out the answer to this important question? A quick search shows that many others ponder this same question but mostly from a walking vs running perspective. The answer is complicated with many variables like wind speed, rain direction and raindrop size. Mythbusters says if you minimize the variables, you get wetter the faster you move through the rain. It's not an issue either way for me as my gear takes care of the water almost all the time.

    How about how cold you get on a commute? How does speed factor into the equation? I have some insight here with years of early and late season commutes in cold weather. A recent commute on the highway at 21°F produced hands that were much colder than a previous -2°F commute at surface street speeds. My time on the motorcycle was 5 minutes less on the highway yet my hands were much colder.

    Your body is limited in how fast it can create warmth in your extremities through circulating blood. The highway speeds and resulting high wind removes heat from your hands much faster than your body can replace it. At surface street speeds the heat is still being removed faster than your body can replace it but the rate of heat loss is less so your hands end up warmer at the end of your commute even though it took longer. Without hand guards to block the wind, the highway isn’t workable for me on the Zero in very cold weather. I have to stick with surface streets with our current Zero configuration.

    Glove Types

    I have tried three types of gloves so far and the best gloves are not the most insulated. Actually they are the least insulated of the three by thickness. The effectiveness of the insulation is likely playing a role here too.

    Due to the use of heated grips, a glove with a thin palm area allows for more heat to transfer to my hands. The gloves I am using now are older Olympia cold weather motorcycle gloves. They are an all leather version of our Cold Weather Waterproof Glove (#1489). There is so much gear accumulated over decades of time that I thought something I had would work for this project. If I do this again, I will invest in a new set of motorcycle specific winter gloves to avoid most of the frozen finger experiences. I hear from Bruce that a glove liner makes a significant difference. Layering works both for body insulation and hand insulation. Adding a glove liner for the below zero days should do the trick.

    A Longer Trip

    It was time to try a trip longer than 7 miles on the Zero to see what was like. A Saturday day-long retreat next to a local frozen lake 15 miles away was the perfect opportunity. The weather was warm at 43°F so I didn’t turn on the hand warmers as I wanted to experience the Zero’s range.

    With warm temps and clear roads, this was a typical ride in the Spring or Fall around Duluth. The sun was shining and I was grinning in my helmet within blocks of leaving home. The simplicity of riding the Zero makes the whole experience better. The throttle control for me is just so much fun! It is hard to describe why it is fun. The precision and linearity make you feel like you have more control than with a gas powered motorcycle. Sort of what I imagine it is like to fly a fighter jet. Extreme precision and control. It's a feeling of freedom.

    For the first time I got to see what it feels like at higher speeds as I reached 70 MPH. People have asked me what I think is the equivalent engine CCs of the Zero based on how fast it accelerates. My best guess is about 700 CC. It clearly out accelerates my DR-650 Suzuki and my NT-650 Honda Hawk up to 70 MPH. The effect of speed on power consumption is similar to my gas motorcycles as efficiency quickly drops off at higher speeds. At 70 MPH you can see the battery percentage click down in almost real time. I slowed down some as I approached my destination to make sure I had enough battery charge to make it home. I was at 57% remaining when I arrived so I felt I had 7% to spare on the ride home.

    The last block of the trip was on a slushy snow covered driveway leading to the edge of the lake. The very first part was quite steep and resulted in excessive rear wheel spin and fishtailing with little forward movement. There was too much potential for a fall so I decided to walk the Zero up the hill using the throttle to assist. I was a little winded by the time I got to the top of the hill but it worked out just fine. Try doing that with a gas powered bike while working the throttle and clutch for about a hundred feet uphill on snow.

    Slushy snow is the biggest problem for our Zero setup. There really isn’t a good solution available as there is no firmness to the surface that will accept force without moving. Packed snow or fresh snow that packs easily and isn’t too deep are both fine as long as the hill slope is reasonable. On this trip I had to compromise riding for a short distance but it wasn’t a big deal.

    On the way back to the road there was space in the driveway to build more speed to get up the hill but when I started going down the hill, now I couldn’t stop! I slid the locked up rear wheel down the hill and lightly used the front brake until I hit the pavement of the cross road where I could slow down. There were no cars on the road so things were fine but it was a little scary. If I had it to do over again I would have tried to keep my speed down earlier to see if I could ride down the hill with a controlled speed. Front end wash out would have been more likely so maybe my first instinct was the best choice.

    Real Roadgrime

    My Classic Roadcrafter has thousands of commuting days on it yet it looks pretty good. Seven mile short trips don’t build up layers of road grime and bugs like day long trips do. My suit is in “dirt stasis” where the rate of new grime accumulating on the suit is the same as the rate of grime leaving the suit. It happens in part when riding in the rain and part by the suit flexing as it moves and is taken off and put on. The bending of the fabric causes small bug splats to crack and fall off.

    The suit doesn’t reflect how often it is used and really hurts my street cred. It makes me look like a poser who rides occasionally on warm dry days instead of a rider who keeps detailed spreadsheets of every day of the year with notes on weather conditions and the ridability of each day. I shouldn’t care, right? The satisfaction of doing “the right thing” should be enough. Who cares if anyone notices. All true and yet the cleanness of this suit still tweaks that little bit of pride I haven’t been able to purge from myself.

    It has gotten worse since I added the Aerostich Road Grimed Astronaut patch to the left sleeve in all its white backgrounded splendor. Now the situation is worse as I have a super new looking patch on the sleeve bringing attention to the obvious fact that I ride so much that my suit look likes a Road Grimed Astronaut’s suit. But it doesn’t, the poser factor just went up.

    IMG_7562 IMG_7559

    Thankfully a leap day opportunity for real roadgrime presented itself when I rode to work on the Zero shortly after about an inch and a half of snow fell. It was warmer so the snow was mostly melted and the city road maintenance trucks had just dumped fresh salty ice melt on the roads. We refer to days like this as sloppy days in the Winter in Duluth. Everything gets covered in a layer of a mix of salt and sand. It gets so bad some days that it is hard to tell what color cars are. My Zero ride was during a mild sloppy day for Duluth but it still produced pretty good results on my suit.

    There were spots of salt all over my suit and Aerostich Dispatch Bag from the rear tire of the Zero and from passing cars throwing up road spray. The lower legs of my suit took the brunt of the spray with a great coating of real roadgrime. Finally some street cred!

    Bruce also let me try his Aerostich Electric Warmbib. I was impressed with how much heat it produced with very little bulk. I could wear it underneath my Darien TLTec Wind Blocker Fleece Liner and still have plenty of room in my Roadcrafter Classic. If my commute was double my current 7 miles I would use the Warmbib on the colder days. I’m seriously thinking of keeping one in my tank bag as insurance against unexpected cold weather any time of the year. The Warmbib packs very small.

    The Two Seasons: Winter and Road Construction

    That is the saying in Duluth. We have two seasons, Winter and Road Construction. Work has already begun filling pot holes that form in late Winter and early Spring. I took a new route to Aerostich on 4th street as I was getting bored with Superior St. 4th Street is in bad shape with a major construction project happening this year. It was a very rough ride as I was tossed in the air a few times as I rode over the “road” which looked like it was deserted for decades. The unexpected fun in this ride was seeing the surprised faces of our city road workers filling in the potholes. I was stealthily right in front of them suddenly as they couldn’t hear me coming. They looked up with a surprised look that quickly turned to a little grin like, “Ok, you got me. Nice joke.”

    The Zero would need suspension work to make it more suitable for cold weather commuting. Roads in Duluth are well known for being in poor condition as our infrastructure base previously supported over 100,000 people. Now at about 89,000 people we don’t have the tax base to support the layout of our city as well as we would like. Duluth is an amazing city on the edge of an inland sea with beauty that is world class. Come move here and help us finance better roads!

    My primary commuting motorcycle is a DR-650 Suzuki. Its long travel suspension is ideal for soaking up the rough road surfaces. It rides better than any 4 wheel vehicle no matter where I go in Duluth but I haven’t ridden it in temperatures like this ride at 9°F. The standard fluid in the forks and shock of the Zero gets too thick in the cold which results in a ride that feels like there is almost no suspension. They make specialized hydraulic fluid for aircraft that resists changes in viscosity caused by temperature. It is expensive but would be worth a try in the Zero as only a small quantity would be needed.


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  • ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DA

    ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DA

    3/2/16 – Gearing up with extra layers under the Roadcrafter for the ride home has become pretty routine now, Warmbib, balaclava, silk scarf, insulated gloves or mittens, etc. The extra time it takes to add a few layers usually makes for a much more comfortable ride home. After walking out to the Zero, unplugging the charging cord and stashing it in the mouse-hole 2016-03-03 08.22.05opening in the garage door, I eagerly threw a leg over and twisted throttle to begin my trip up the hill. With ‘warm’ 25ºF afternoon temps, I didn’t even feel the need for plugging in the heated gear. The roads were dry and I was looking forward to a nice ride home. Increasing speed (and wind-chill) to merge onto the two-lane road that leads up the hill toward my house, it suddenly hit me. I had been so anxious to zip into my riding gear and get on the road that I neglected to use the restroom before leaving...and the large bottle of Gatorade I drank this afternoon, combined with some bumpy patches in the road, wasn’t helping matters. New plan – find the shortest, fastest route home. The normal route is about 5.5 miles, often stretched out to add an extra 3-5 miles to change the scenery. Today...4.5miles, and very thankful that the Roadcrafter zipper design is so fast and easy to use. Ten, maybe 12 seconds to zip out of my hi-viz one piece. Yes, today it was good to get home quickly.

    3/3/16 - After riding the Zero for the last few days it will be time to turn over the keys to the next test-rider today. Other than the remaining build up of hard-pack snow and ice in my driveway, after a recent warm-up last weekend, the roads are clear and dry. Pulling onto the dry road today, the temptation to twist the throttle for a little more speed was too hard to resist. Not having to stop riding this ‘season’ has meant none of the typical learning curves to reacquaint myself with riding fluency for Spring. This might create a slightly false feeling of confidence, but doesn’t prevent me from rolling a little harder on the throttle to pull into, and in front of, the rest of the traffic stream, creating a car-free buffer-space around me...at least until reaching the first of 3 stoplights along the way.

    As I approach, the light turns yellow, so I roll off the throttle and apply the brakes to come to stop as it switches to red. A jacked-up 4x4 pickup truck pulls along side me in the left lane. The light turns green and I silently accelerate forward, pulling away smoothly as the other vehicles get smaller in my rear-view mirrors...until the next light changes and I find myself waiting next to the same pickup truck again. The light changes and again I swiftly roll through the intersection and begin heading down the hill, this time noticing the truck is accelerating to stay about a vehicle length behind me in his lane. The third light stops us both again and this time as soon as it changes I hear him rev his engine and begin to accelerate more quickly. I never had any intention to race (or speed...), but something about the ride today did have me enjoying the feeling of the smooth, quick and easy acceleration offered by twisting the Zero’s throttle. Also, I’m not sure what was going through the mind of the pickup driver, maybe he was feeling a need to compensate for his big truck being out-run by a silent little motorcycle, I don’t know. Either way, as we both accelerate through the intersection, the competitive side of my personality shows itself just enough to quickly pull ahead of the truck, switch lanes to pass a slower moving car in front of me and then pull off on my exit to head to work. Nothing quite like fresh cool air streaming through my slightly open visor and a touch of extra acceleration to start the morning off feeling energized and ready for the day. I wonder if the pickup driver waved to me when he passed by as I leaned the bike onto the exit ramp? I know I was wearing a big smile under my helmet as I plugged in the bike and prepared to turn over the keys to Gail. Sure do like the smooth and zippy throttle response of the Zero FX. It’s going to be quite a shift (literally) when I start riding my own combustion powered moto again...though I’m sure I’ll adapt quickly to rowing through the gears and the noise of the engine. It’s a pretty zippy bike too, so I’ll still be wearing the same, big smile inside my helmet... How can a smile not be part of my ATGATT set up on every ride?! Good riding!


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  • Not Lost... 3/1/16 - 3/2/16

    Not Lost... 3/1 - 3/2

    Sometimes after arriving home after my daily commute, I’ll take a look at my phone and find a text message from my wife asking “Where are you?” or “Are you on your way?” or maybe even “Are you lost?”. Often these little prodding messages are well intended, meaning dinner is about ready (or the kids are bickering about something and getting on her nerves...) and she’s just trying to gauge if I’ve left yet or when I’ll arrive. Most times the delay from getting home at the same time every night is due to finishing up work tasks or a late meeting. But, also, there are times when I try to squeeze just a bit more riding time out of the standard daily ride. That was the case yesterday and today on the Zero.

    2016-03-01 16.32.51The ride home last night was my first time back on the FX since Feb 15th, and it felt great to be back on two wheels. With the sun staying in sky a little longer as we near Spring, the bright skies and dry roads beckoned for at least a little bit of deviation from the standard route today. Nothing too outlandish, as I knew dinner really was almost ready and I had to get ready for my son’s Cub Scout meeting this evening...but a change of scenery and a few backroads through other neighborhoods created a fun diversion and the opportunity to stay in the saddle for at least a few more minutes than usual. Noticed more drivers and pedestrians taking a longer look at me as I quietly rolled by or silently sat next to them in traffic this afternoon too. Several offering nods, waves and smiles of approval. Like a Spring flower emerging from the cold ground where only a short time ago there was snow, maybe seeing a motorcyclist is also a sign to them that warmer weather really is on the way. It is indeed...but it sure has been a great experience to be able to ride all winter long, testing the limits of both bike, gear and rider in all the cold, snow and ice that Mother Nature could muster.

    2016-03-02 08.18.01The morning commute today created the same siren call to seek a longer, alternate route. Who was I to not heed that call? With the heated grips turned on and my WarmBib plugged in, I was toasty warm despite the 15ºF outdoor temp, as the Zero buzzed south towards 40th Ave West. This stretch of road has been redeveloped within the last few years by blasting away rocks to create a wider corridor and a fun, twisty series of switchback like turns as the route makes its way downhill toward the lake. The exposed rock walls along the way are covered with impressive ice waterfalls this time of year, begging for a quick photo stop. This morning detour doubled my normal 5.5 mile direct route and provided some nice scenic vistas to enjoy before arrive at work to start the day. With a smile on my face and filled with energy and excitement from the ride, I plug in the Zero to the charging cord near the garage door and walk into the Aerostich factory to begin the workday...but already, thoughts are brewing about what the route home tonight might have in store. It might take a little longer to get there, but I won't be lost.


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