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*Zero Below Zero Blog

Will an electric motorcycle work for everyday transportation all winter long in frozen Duluth Minnesota? We’re putting together a lightly winterized Zero FX, and some brave (or foolish) volunteers to find out. Subscribe at right for weekly updates by the test riders.
  • 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?

    Products mentioned in this post:

  • 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!


    Products mentioned in this post:

  • 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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  • Not the Fair Weather Rider Anymore…

    Not the Fair Weather Rider Anymore…

    When all of us test riders were talking about who was going to take the FX which day, I was pretty quick to claim last Friday. It was the nicest day of the week! When I left work for my 13 mile commute home it was a beautiful 54 degrees Fahrenheit. When I arrived home I reflected on what a pleasant ride it was. No buses to slow me down, no frozen fingers, no deer jumping out at me, just a nice spring day. But nothing interesting to blog about!

    A couple of years ago I made a commitment to push myself out of my comfort zone. To not let fear or discomfort stop me from doing things. The first thing I did when I made this commitment was to get my motorcycle license, a bike and start riding. This was a huge leap for me! So when Andy asked me if I wanted to participate in the Zero below Zero project I jumped at the opportunity before I let fear get to me. Yet here I was picking all of the nice days to take the bike home. Not really pushing myself, am I…

    So when I woke up on Saturday morning and saw that it was snowing hard, with a few inches already on the ground, I knew this was my chance to push myself. After a strong cup of coffee to get me going, I put on my Roadcrafter and grabbed the FX keys. On my way out the door I grabbed my photographer. Nobody at Aerostich was going to believe me without proof!

    Not the Fair Weather Rider AnymoreZero Picture 5

    Off I went out into the snow and slush! Being a part of the Zero Below Zero project has given me the opportunity to become a better and more confident rider. Now I know I can ride in the rain, snow, slush and on icy or sandy roads. I am no longer the fair weather rider! I came home from my ride feeling very proud of myself. OK, it was only three miles but hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day…


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  • 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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