Monthly Archives: May 2016

  • Final Rides and Thoughts

    Contempt or Wheelies?

    They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Well I say familiarity breeds wheelies! After I became familiar with the Zero, my desire to do wheelies and other motorcycle antics kept increasing. Keeping the desire to be mischievous at bay was harder and harder. Especially as the weather became warmer and the road conditions improved.

    The first full throttle accelerations were a blast with no tire spin. The clear roads and wearing studs produced more available traction when not leaned over on dry pavement. It sure was fun to quickly squirt away from stop signs and lights. It amazes me how quickly the Zero accelerates from a dead stop. That is the performance sweet spot. Once up to speed the end of acceleration drops off suddenly. No rev limiter kicking in as the engine says in a Scottish accent “I’m giving you all I got!” It is more like, “Excuse me? Just for your reference, you have reached the maximum acceleration point of the Zero FX with dual battery configuration. Thank you.”

    Just to be clear, I didn’t do any wheelies. I kept reminding myself that this is a test bike and must be operated in a safe and responsible way at all times while obeying all traffic rules and regulations. I really did well as I can honestly say that I didn’t exceed the speed limit by more than about 7 miles per hour and mostly rode at about 5 over so as not to be going too much slower than other traffic. The studded tires were similar to having a parental control limit on the throttle. Spirited riding with them would have likely bitten me at some point.

    When I get comfortable with any motorcycle after day in and day out riding, I start to find myself automatically adopting certain riding behaviors subconsciously. I never decide to do these things, they just happen. The most common is coming to a complete stop without putting my feet down. The goal is to reach that short tiny oscillation you get as the bike comes to a stop, springs back briefly and springs forward again. A sort of boing, stop. It is really satisfying at some deep level. The trick then is to balance the bike for a second or two before riding off again.

    Does this constitute a full stop by traffic law? I ask myself this question often. The motorcycle meets the legal description of having ceased all forward movement. Lateral movement of the motorcycle is continuous even at a stop as it moves slightly while your feet are down. Most officers are looking for one foot on the pavement as then you are generally in a position to assess the intersection for safety before proceeding. I generally try to keep my feet up stops at non stop sign places and away from active traffic scenarios. It sure is fun and my subconscious likes to sneak them in when I am not expecting it.

    Last of the Snow and Riding to City Hall

    We had a couple late season snow falls and some freezing rain/snow. A thin layer of snow or ice wasn’t an issue with the studded tires. Just routine commuting on the Zero.

    Snowy Night Morning Snow

    One of my last rides on the Zero was to a committee meeting at Duluth City Hall. I walked through the building with my Roadcrafter Classic suit on as people gave me worried stares. As I entered the meeting room, all went quiet as I unsuited. In our small town, transportation riders are still scarce and stand out in any general business type environment. Bicycles are common and don’t stand out as much. Hopefully motorized two wheelers will follow and it looks like they will.

    City HallOne other committee member rides and has been listening to my stories about the Zero each month and was able to see it in person. He was surprised at how small it was in appearance. The narrowness of the lower chassis area makes the Zero FX look very small visually to riders as they expect a wide engine to be there. The dimensions of the bike are actually what is considered full size in the motorcycle world but perceptions are that it is sub size.

    One Last Look at the Magaco

    Grandkids WaivingAn opportunity finally came up to let my grandkids see grandpa ride off on the Zero magaco. The oldest actually has now learned how to say motorcycle pretty well so magaco may go into hibernation for awhile until the youngest picks it up. They really like to watch out the window and wave as I wave back while riding off. It is like embarking on a grand journey every time!

    The oldest has told me multiple times over the Winter: “Grandpa! Don’t ride the motorcycle. It's too cold.” I try to explain that my riding suit keeps me warm but I don’t know if he believes me. He even crunches up his forehead as he says it like he is giving me a good talking to about my irresponsible behavior. He may be channeling his parents.

    Final Thoughts

    The experience of riding the Zero this Winter has been really great! I am thankful to have had the opportunity. My eyes have been opened to a whole new realm of what I now consider rideable days. My fear of frozen surfaces is almost gone. I had a fall once in a very unusual black ice scenario some years back that made me fearful whenever I was riding around the 32° F mark. It involved a bridge so I still use caution as bridges can and do freeze sooner than roads.

    Before the Zero Below Zero project I used to always make sure the temp was above 32° F when riding with any kind of moisture in the environment. Now, I take into consideration the amount of thermal energy built up in the road surface and routinely ride home on regular tires with wet streets and air temps in the upper 20s° F. The thermal energy of Lake Superior also comes into play and streets near the lake can be fine while just up the hill there is ice forming. I never used to play the traction game like I do now.

    My key takeaways are:

    • You can effectively commute about 70% of the Winter in Duluth Minnesota on an electric motorcycle with lightly studded tires. Reasons:
      • Fine and linear throttle control allows the rider to adjust rear wheel power to stay within the available traction range more easily than is generally possible with a gas powered motorcycle.
      • The electric motorcycle does not need to warm up. You just turn it on.
      • No shifting allows you to wear heavy boots and keep your feet warm.
    • The number of accidents per mile will be less with an electric motorcycle. Reasons:
      • The simplicity of operating the Zero reduces the amount of attention needed and that extra attention can be used for more awareness of your circumstances.
      • The Zero’s extreme linear throttle control and lack of need for shifting allows for finer control of the motorcycle.
      • The absence of engine noise allows you to hear other road vehicles so you can be more aware of your surroundings.
      • The Zero is always in the “right” gear ready to get you out of trouble. You don’t need to continuously shift and keep the engine RPMs in the power band so you are ready to accelerate quickly if needed.
    • Less maintenance means more riding. The Zero is the perfect commuter motorcycle. You could literally ride it for years of commutes without needing to do anything but plug it in and check tire pressure.
    • I want one! Wife? Are you reading this?

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  • Saying Goodbye to the FX

    Saying Goodbye to the FX…

    The Zero Below Zero project is now complete.

    We put the FX through a tough Duluth winter to see how it performed, but we also tested ourselves.

    It really comes down to taking the first step out of your comfort zone.

    • Once you figure out your extra layers under your Roadcrafter, it becomes routine.
    • Once you add accessories like Aero Warm Grips, you become more comfortable.
    • Once you put on enough studs, you become confident.
    • Once you remember the bike is quiet and people can hear you singing, you shut up. Yes, that really happened!
    • Once you have enough people tell you you’re crazy, you believe it!

    Riding the FX through the winter made me a better and more confident rider. I no longer check the weather and plan my rides around the nicest days. I ride when I want to ride no matter what my weather app says.

    The project created an excitement around the company that staff and customers could all be a part of. It created a great camaraderie and support amongst us test riders. We shared information on how to keep warmer, how to navigate in the snow and they always made sure the bike was moved to level ground so I could get on it.

    This was a fun and unique project to be a part of and it makes me think, what’s next?

    Safe travels FX and thanks for the ride!


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  • Last Hurrah

    LAST HURRAH

    3/28/16-3/30/16

    The end of March brought the end of my riding time on the Zero for this project. Spring weather patterns can change quickly here in Duluth, so the first of my last few days were blessed with temps in the 40’s, dry roads and clear sunny skies. The lack of snow and ice mixed with clear skies and a hint of Spring brought an almost giddy, playful spirit to the ride. The Winter rides were fun, but always seemed a bit overshadowed by the need to be extra alert for snow, ice, sand, traffic... the sunshine and clear roads and skies help lift that veil and make it easier to twist the throttle just a bit faster and lean into the next corner just a little further. Engaging Sport mode on the FX also helped give it a bit more of that teen-like enthusiasm, compared to the more cautious adultish Economy mode.

    2016-03-30 08.08.50 2016-03-30 08.09.11

    This outstanding early season weather held out for three rides (2 morning and 1 afternoon) before the prevailing winds brought back clouds and rain that parked over the region for the next couple of days. That’s part of the beauty about wearing a Roadcrafter though, riding in liquid sunshine is just as much fun as riding with clear skies. Waking up to rain on the morning of Wednesday, March 30th, didn’t stop me from smiling in my helmet all the way down the hill for the morning commute, listening to the raindrops creating a nice beat as they bounced off my helmet. On the outside, my suit, triple digit glove covers, waterproof boots and lightweight portable bag I was wearing on my back were all wet and covered with a muddy spray from the wet grime on the roads. Arriving at work and taking off my wet and dirty (on the outside) gear, my clothes underneath are warm, dry, comfortable and ready to start the workday.

    With my plan to turn over the keys to the next rider tonight, I steal one last afternoon ride (in the rain) to run a few errands. After hanging for 4 hours my wet gear is now dry and ready to go back out into the elements. Again I enjoy the feeling of silently maneuvering through traffic, surrounded by the sounds of the vehicles around me and the plinking of the rain on my helmet. I sure am going to miss the ease of use and the quiet A-to-B transport that the Zero offers, but I’m sure I’ll get used to the noise of the engine on my Kawasaki again pretty quickly...remembering to shift gears, use the clutch and look at the gas gauge might take a little re-training though. Good riding!

    ZERO THOUGHTS

    2016-04-18 12.55.38Before the Zero Below Zero project, I knew that it was do-able, at least to some extent, to ride a motorcycle year round. Five years ago I had reached a goal of riding at least one day every month of the year, with the crowning achievement being a ride in mid-February with double digit below zero temperatures. At the time, that seemed like a big deal. Riding the Zero FX all Winter long this year now makes me realize just how practical riding a motorcycle can be for year round commuting...in any kind of weather! Plus, riding an electric motorcycle made it even easier to do. No need to worry about warming up an engine, or shifting gears while riding (on sometimes questionable traction surfaces), or lubing a chain, of filling up the gas tank, or... The Zero is a great commuter motorcycle. Just get on and go. As long as where you are going is within the range of the battery, then the efficiency of this bike is extremely hard to beat. And the fun factor is through the roof too!

    Now that Spring is in full swing and the ZBZ project has come to a close, I am once again adjusted to riding my gas-powered Versys again everyday. One benefit of riding the Zero all Winter was maintaining a sense of fluency in the saddle. Carefully observing slippery and rapidly changing riding conditions all Winter, along with logging fairly regular riding time in those environments, has kept me in ‘riding shape’ this year. Usually every Spring requires a few rides to get my balance and comfort level in the saddle back again, but not this year. The Zero did create another issue though, establishing a learning curve to re-train my muscle memory for using the clutch and shift lever. More than a few times after hopping back on the gas powered bike, I found myself hearing a loud revved-out engine noise..."wow, that’s a loud vehicle in the next lane", I would think until realizing the noise was from me forgetting to shift to the next higher gear. Yes, the silence and automatic throttle on the Zero had spoiled me. For the first two days I kept forgetting to take notice of how much fuel was left in the gas tank too...it seemed so much easier to just plug in an electric cord after every ride. It’s been several weeks now of exclusively riding the Versys, and everyday riding and the nuances accompanying a gas-powered motor have returned completely, but I still find myself missing the quiet, easy electric operation.

    Now after some saddle time on both the Zero and once again being back on a gas powered motorcycle, there really are more similarities than differences between the two. Each has advantages and disadvantages depending upon how you want to use the bike, but both are excellent forms of transportation to any destination, in all types of weather. The electric is quieter, lighter and more nimble and requires less maintenance and work to ride. The gas powered bike provides much greater range and faster, more convenient re-fueling options. As technology continues to improve and advances are made to both types of motorcycles, the gap between them in how they are used will continue to narrow. The introduction of new technology and continued factory and consumer interest in further expanding the efficiency, function and range of both traditional and electric motorcycles means the future of riding in general looks strong. And will continue to grow and attract more riders who will appreciate the myriad of personal and social benefits that riding a motorcycle, everywhere and in any weather, has to offer.

    This Winter I was fortunate to be able to take part in the Zero Below Zero project, to personally test the viability of riding everyday, and the functionality of an electric powered bike – even in sub-freezing conditions. It was proven to be plausible, and enjoyable, even during the worst cold, snow and ice conditions Mother Nature could provide. This past weekend, I was also fortunate to see a glimpse into the future of what motorcycling has to offer. My 7 year old son has a Honda CRF50 dirt bike that he rides around (and around, and around...) our house. Recently he found out his friend down the street also has a dirt bike, but his is electric powered. 2016-05-01 15.53.25It didn’t take long before they were both riding around the yards together, stopping to switch bikes about every other lap, racing each other to see who was faster...and both of them smiling, laughing and having a great time no matter which bike they were on. Gas or Electric was interchangeable for these two young riders, both motorcycles providing them the experience, fun and function they were seeking. Seems like to these two boys the fun factor of riding, even riding a ‘silent’ motorcycle with the quiet hum of an electric motor, is all that matters. When it was time for them to quit riding and put the bikes away, they could excitedly be heard making plans for getting together for the next ride...Yes, the future of riding looks bright from here. And by the sound of it, ‘Hum’ is the new ‘Braap’!


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