Predictably a Blog

  • 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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  • Back In The Saddle

    Monday afternoon, 2/15

    After a week in Florida, it was a rude "welcome home" to sub-zero temperatures. Still, it has been a week before I was back on the Zero.

    While I was gone, I had a Road Grimed Astronaut patch installed on the front pocket. Ironically, my suit appears to have been washed during this process. Road grimed astronaut with no road grime! I can fix that. The roads were wet on my first ride home and my suit regains a little of the patina it had lost.

    Tuesday morning, 2/16

    25°F this morning so I decide to take the long (scenic) route to work. Traveling the winding back roads is rather treacherous this morning. There was a light dusting of snow last night and where there is no snow, there appears to be frost coating the road. s-m-o-o-t-h is the keyword. Traction is better than it appears and I complete my journey without incident.

    45 minutes and 20 miles later it is time for a hot cup of tea. A chill has certainly settled in my bones, but I didn't experience any of the painful fingertips that Randy and Kyle did on their sub-zero rides. After experiencing the sub-zero temperatures last week and getting thoroughly chilled, a body gets acclimated pretty quickly.

    It is important to have a routine, and especially so for winter riding. This morning, I was a little off my game. Did I buckle my helmet strap? Where are my glasses? What else did I forget? It is so much easier to get my courier bag on before I put my helmet on, but more than half the time I have my helmet on before I remember my bag. How many times have I forgotten to stand my collar up? Riding on the highway with an open collar feels like an ice dagger in the throat. Maybe with more practice I will get it.

    Friday morning, 2/19

    I have long wanted a bike like this to try winter commuting. So far this experiment has been bearing out my hopes. I notice very little difference between my ride in this morning and my rides in mid November. The cold might be a little more intense, it bites just a little more. But in the end I give no more thought to the question, "Should I ride today?" than I do any other time. Last night I rode home in a little rain and sleet. Nothing was sticking to the roads and it was an uneventful ride home. But I did find myself wondering what the morning would bring--would it all freeze into an ice rink? At this point I think only the ice or heavy snow would cause me to trade 2 wheels for 4. It warmed up overnight; the roads are wet, but not slick at all. Another wonderful day for a ride!

    I think the people of Duluth have been taking notice, too. I am seeing more waves, thumbs-up, and friendly honks on my rides of late. The guy pulling out of the Whole Foods does a double take when he sees me and gives me thumbs-up. A van turning on Lake Ave. gives me a wave as he goes by. Just another normal day in Duluth.


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  • The Fair Weather Rider finally takes her turn!

    It was a sunny 32 degrees day in Duluth. The roads were dry so I thought it was a great day for me to ride the Zero bike for the first time. The bike is a little tall for me so I was concerned about my feet reaching the ground and if I could hold the bike up. When Bruce dropped the keys on my desk I became very excited and nervous. It was time….

    Gail's First RideI was shaking as I put on my Roadcrafter Classic and went out the door. When I got on the bike I didn’t have enough weight and strength to move it off of its kickstand. The sidewalk had enough of an angle to it that I needed more power to lean it to the other side. I was really upset at the prospect that I wasn’t going to be able to participate in test riding the Zero. Bruce graciously moved the bike to the street where it was a flat surface. That made all the difference for me! I was off and running!

    I rode 2.4 miles around the neighborhood of Aerostich to get comfortable on the bike before I attempt to ride my 12 miles home. Even though the roads were clear from snow, there was a lot of sand left behind. As I turned a corner my back wheel slipped. The back tire grabbed pavement quickly and kept me upright.

    While waiting at a stop sign to take a left hand turn a gentleman got out of his car. When he noticed me he stopped in his tracks and looked at me. He then walked around to the back of his car and stood there watching me. After about a minute, traffic cleared and I was off. As I passed him I gave him a little wave.

    Riding in 32 degree weather was pretty easy to dress for. I had a lightweight jacket under my Roadcrafter Classic which kept me very warm. I had on insulated ski gloves and had turned on the heated grips. I had on my Areostich Trekking Socks with insulated hiking boots. That was enough to keep my feet warm. I was wearing my Aerostich Fleece Wind Triangle to help keep my face warm. I might have had a little fear and adrenaline going to keep me warm as well.

    As Randy has stated in a past post, one of the challenges of riding in cold weather is keeping your face shield clear. I have an open face helmet with a face shield. I had plenty of air flowing through my helmet however, every time I took a breath my face shield fogged up for a few seconds.

    I came back happy and more confident and handed the keys back to Bruce. I am ready to tackle my 12 mile commute home. On a nice day…


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  • The New Normal

    The New Normal - 2/12/16

    For the 7 years I have worked at Aerostich, winter conversations among riders around the factory always seem to weave their way to talking about motorcycles. From how late you rode into the Fall, to hoping for an early Spring and often concluding with dreams of riding in the Winter. The Zero Below Zero project has made that dream a reality this season for many of us. It’s notable how this went from an idea and dream to an everyday (and practical) reality. The first Winter ride on the Zero for me was filled with excitement, enthusiasm and more than a little nervous anticipation. The more I get to ride it, the easier it gets. Riding a Zero Electric motorcycle in the Winter in Duluth seemed like such an exotic, mysterious and dangerous concept only a few short months ago...but today it feels routine. Temps hovering above zero for the ride home today (6ºF) meant layering up and plugging in electrics, but with mostly dry roads, buzzing along in traffic felt pretty much like any other ride home, any other time of the year. With the right gear, mindset and motorcycle set-up, everyday riding – even in Winter - has become the new normal. I could get used to this.

    Just the Eggs - 2/14/16

    This was my first weekend to have the Zero and due to personal commitments, Saturday was spent shuttling my kids to soccer and volleyball practices. When my wife mentioned on Sunday morning that we needed to get eggs, I wasted no time to gear up and be out the door and hop on the Zero to run that errand. The local gas station is about a mile away and has the best price on eggs in town, so I stroll up to the counter with eggs in hand, still fully geared up. The clerk looks at me and asks, “Did you have any fuel out there today?”. I smile and tell him “No, I’m riding an electric motorcycle today”, to which he replies “Cool, I guess you don’t need a carwash today then either”. Nope, no carwash today, but this spur of the moment opportunity to ride is not to be squandered. It’s a comfortable 13ºF out, I am wearing my WarmBib and chopper style mittens, combined with the heated grips I’m comfortable and warm. Yes, I think I’ll take the ‘long’ way home.

    2016-02-14 11.35.162016-02-14 12.02.08 HDR2016-02-14 11.29.36

    The eggs are placed into the Aerostich LP Bag I keep in my Roadcrafter cargo pocket, I put on the backpack straps and after a quick photo stop next to the Electric Vehicle Charging area it was time to ride. Light fluffy snowflakes had just started to fall as I pointed the Zero down the hill and toward Lake Superior and Canal Park. Time for a few quick photos in front of Duluth’s iconic lift bridge and then back to the ride. The snow is coming down heavier now and beginning to accumulate in a slushy mix on the roadway, but the bike charges through without incident. The whole trip lasted about an hour start to finish, and the 19.9 miles covered was my furthest personal ride on the Zero to date. The battery indicator had run down to 58%. The cold doesn’t seem to be having too much effect on the overall distances, since the Zero brochure lists the combine range for this FX at 49 miles (82 miles City/35 miles Highway). If the snow hadn’t been coming down heavier and accumulating, I would have tried to squeeze every last mile out of it. Sounds like another challenge for another ride day.

    Fresh Snow and Back to Work - 2/15/16

    2016-02-15 08.23.012016-02-15 08.12.282016-02-15 07.56.11

    Looking out the window for the Monday morning commute and there is several inches of fresh, fluffy snow that fell overnight. Before gearing up in the Roadcrafter and riding down the hill, it was time to fire up the snowblower and clear the driveway. The snow plow had already made a pass though the neighborhood, so the roadway was mostly clear for the ride to work, with a navigable mix of hardpack, clear and slushy spots. After clearing the snow off the Zero, it was time to navigate the side streets down the hill to the factory. There were a few slushy spots along the way, but the further I rode down the hill, the more the roads just became wet instead of a snow mix. I savored the quiet ride through the back streets, realizing this would be my last ride on the Zero for more than a week. I pull up in front of the building and snap a few photos quick. After parking the bike this morning and turn over the keys to Bruce, it is time for me to pack up my bag and take off for the Aerostich Las Vegas Pop-Up event. At least the weather forecast looks nice for Vegas this coming week, but I’ll miss being able to ride. Looking forward to meeting and greeting lots of riders at the pop-up. I’m sure I’ll swap a few stories about winter riding on the Zero too. Stop on by and visit us in Vegas!


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  • Hurry Up and Ride!

    It is getting warmer by the minute...

    Never did I expect there would be a time in Duluth, Minnesota when I would be rushing to get out and ride before it got any warmer. My wife was wondering why I had an urgency about getting ready this cold morning. I told her, “I have to get this ride on the Zero done while it is at least a couple degrees below zero. It is getting warmer by the minute so I need get going soon.” She laughed and rightfully so.

    What the heck was going on? What kind of thinking leads a rider to hurry up and ride when it is below zero? The Zero Below Zero project kind of thinking. After all, that is the name, Zero Below Zero. Riding a Zero motorcycle in below zero temps. And to date all my rides have been well above 0°F. How can I say that I had the full Zero Below Zero experience without a below zero ride.

    Sure, we have had many rides below 0°C but in Duluth, Minnesota that doesn’t count. We know the difference between below freezing and below zero well. Commuting in below freezing temps is common among the riders at Aerostich. No big deal. Happens every Fall and Spring.

    It makes me think of the words Paul Pelland said when he visited us. “I should have said kilometers!” If he had it would have saved him about 378,000 miles of riding on his quest for one million miles of chasing the cure for MS.(http://www.longhaulpaul.com) But when Paul reaches a million miles he will have the satisfaction of an amazing accomplishment that will inspire others with MS into the distant future. Hitting the “real” below zero mark was like that for me on the authenticity side, although at a MUCH lower level of difficulty. Keep it up Paul!

    The real challenges of cold weather commuting have been visibility and hand warmth. My previous commute home was at 10°F at night. Roads were clear with no traction issues. I tried an Anti­Fog/Anti­Frost Gel by Sven Can See on my face shield before the ride home. At 10°F it worked well and I was able to keep my shield closed for almost all of the trip while also being able to breath normally. You learn many techniques for controlling the flow of your breath when trying to keep your shield from fogging up while riding in the cold. So far I have been able to make it work mostly by opening my shield at each stop. The Anti­Fog allowed me to skip opening my shield for most stops which did help keep my face warmer.

    I was using mid­weight Winter leather gloves for the 10°F ride home but they were not enough. Even with the heated grips, my finger tips were fully numb by the time I got home. A quick dismount of the Zero and trip to my kitchen sink with warm water produced weird sensations of cold that turned to pain as the feeling came back. My fingertips hurt the rest of the night so I experienced mild frostbite. My toes were a little cold too as I was wearing an older pair of thin leather street boots.

    Tomorrow morning was going to be much colder so I dug into my gear shelves and pulled out my Aerostich Combat Lite boots, my Aerostich Triple Digit Raincovers and a pair of heavy Winter leather gloves. I tried different combinations of gloves with the Triple Digit Raincovers pulled over them but I couldn’t really move my hands well enough. I would need larger raincovers to make it work. I decided to just use the heavy Winter gloves and hoped they would be enough. My forehead was also cold on the ride home so I planned to wear a fleece headband in the morning.

    So far I still haven’t used any electric gear inside my Roadcrafter Classic. I tried to use my Aerostich Kanetsu AirVantage electric vest under my Darien TLTec Wind Blocker fleece liner but my suit ended up too tight and restricting so I stayed with just the liner. At 7 miles, my commute isn’t long enough to lose too much internal body heat even in below zero temps. Just 3 more miles could change the equation. If I kept up this foolishness for an extended period of time and wanted to try some longer Winter rides, I would use the Aerostich Kanetsu AIRVANTAGE Electric Liner by itself or add an Extended Gusset to my Roadcrafter.

    Garage Temperature Gauge 02-12-2016As I left home to commute to Aerostich the outside temperature on my garage thermometer with external sensor was at -2.4°F. I tried another video with the prototype smartphone sleeve velcroed above the left logo pocket on my Roadcrafter with the expectation that my iPhone would get too cold and shut down during the ride. The roads were clear and traction was good for the uneventful but windy ride through Duluth’s downtown. I also learned the limit of traction for the studded rear tire as at one point I spun it while accelerating on the downtown brick road surface.

    Face shield visibility was an issue almost right from the start. I was determined to keep my shield closed during the trip but breath freezes instantly on the shield in below zero temps. Breath control and sunlight allowed me to keep the shield closed for the whole trip. The sun was bright and hitting my left side. Amazingly it was just enough to keep the frost at bay. For 80% of the trip I could see only out of the left side of my face shield which made a merge to the right tricky towards the end as I listened for cars and tried to make out the street by looking through the frost.

    As I arrived at Aerostich my fingers were just getting too cold at my fingertips. Much better than yesterdays ride home even with the temperature being 12°F colder. My feet were fine as the heavier construction of the Combat Lites provided sufficient insulation. The fleece headband kept my forehead warm.

    The iPhone surprisingly was still on. As soon as I stopped the video it immediately shut down. I had to warm it up inside to get it to turn on again so I could take a picture of the temp and dash gauges on the Zero for the record. The key to cold weather use of smartphones for taking video is to start with a full charge and warm phone and let the current draw of shooting the video help keep the batteries warm enough. The neoprene sleeve for the prototype smartphone holder also helps keep in some heat.

    To make commuting in below zero temps work long term some changes would need to be made.

    1. Add hand guards to the Zero or use electric gloves. My DR­650 has guards and I can commute with regular Summer gloves down to about 32°F just by blocking the wind.
    2. A heated face shield or goggles and a neoprene balaclava with no face shield. The local fat tire bicycle riders all seem to use goggles and covered faces in the Winter but they are not traveling very fast. I haven’t tried a two layer face shield yet but expect breath to still freeze in below zero temps. Snowmobile riders have this all figured out already.

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  • Thirteen below zero. Cool...

    Ride Back Up and Thirteen Below - 02/10/2016 - 02/11/2016

    2016-02-11 08.12.13I was happy to get the keys back for another ride on the Zero tonight after nearly a week hiatus from being in the saddle. Having stayed a little later to get some work done this was my first time riding after sunset. The Zero headlights throw an adequate beam to see the road ahead of me, but like many bikes (my Kawasaki Versys included), stock lighting could always be enhanced or improved to be brighter. But, overall my route home is pretty well lit with streetlights and the lights of surrounding traffic, so nighttime visibility is not an issue. Outdoor temp was 7ºF for the ride home on mostly dry roads, making the heat from the grips and my WarmBib appreciated. The road into my neighborhood was mostly snow covered and there were a few instances where either the front or rear started to lose traction and slide out a bit, but balance was quickly re-gained. Parked the Zero outside the garage door and plugged in the extension cord to charge it up for the night.

    Thirteen Below ZeroThe next morning was the start of another cold spell here, with the outdoor thermometer at my house reading -13ºF as I was gearing up in my heated gear, Roadcrafter, balaclava and insulated ski gloves. The temperature gauge on the Zero read -3ºF, but we’ve noticed that it tends to read a little higher than the ambient temp because of ‘heat pollution’ from the custom battery warming blanket installed on the bike. This is the coldest temperature I have ridden in, so I was glad to be bundled up as I twisted the throttle. Noticed immediately that helmet visor fogging was going to be an issue. Opening the visor a crack to let some air flow helped clear up the fogging from my breath condensing inside my helmet, but also resulted in wind hitting my exposed nose and cheeks with what felt like razor-like slashes, even at low speed. I decided to stick to the side streets today, to minimize the wind-chill factor. Dealing with the visor fogging consisted of switching back and forth between a slightly cracked open shield with stinging-cold air, and closed for a warmer reprieve, but rapidly dissipating clarity of sight. I might have been able to do this dance for the entire commute down the hill to work, except after about 3 miles my fingers were cold to the point of being painful. The insulation of my ski gloves and the heat from the electric grips was not enough to combat the cold air leaking thru the seams. Ok, time for plan ‘B’.

    Since this route happened to bring me right past my in-laws' house, I figured this was a good opportunity to have a quick visit and show them the Zero. Not to mention, I knew my mother-in-law would have the coffee on and I could warm my frozen fingers! After a hot cup of joe and a few cookies my fingers had warmed up and I was ready to finish the commute to work. Gearing back up I remembered that I had my Triple Digit Glove Covers in the right thigh pocket of my Roadcrafer, so I slipped them on over the top of my ski gloves. The remaining 3-mile ride to Aerostich was uneventfully quiet. One thing I did notice after traversing a few rough, pot-hole laden sections of street (a not uncommon occurrence in Duluth), was how stiff the suspension was at this temp. Riding last week it seemed a little stiff, but this morning was like sitting astride a rock when hitting the bumps. I wonder if a different type of oil in the forks would make a difference? Another noticeable difference was how much warmer my finger were with the added layer of wind-proof protection from the Triple Digits. I guess they were just the trick to keep the sub-zero wind from getting through the seams on the gloves, allowing me to arrive at work with chilled fingers, but with enough feeling and dexterity to plug in the charger, take a photo with my phone to document mileage and temperatures and remove the keys from the ignition. Time to go in and share ride stories with my co-workers and write a blog post. Thirteen below zero. Cool...


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  • 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.


    Products mentioned in this post:

  • 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!

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