Zero Below Zero: First Ride!
We ran a story last month about Aerostich's wild plan to test the Zero FX in freezing Duluth, Minnesota. With their permission, we will be sharing the blogged thoughts of their select group of testers. Stay warm and enjoy!
Despite our record-breaking El Niño winter warmth right now here, it’s six-tenths of a degree below zero (ºf) and there’s a Zero electric motorcycle silently sitting outside in the driveway asleep—save for a small green ‘I’m charging now’ LED blinking at the base of the speedo…very reassuring. Today’s ride here was: Easy. And Fun. And Cool.
–- It began with a warm comfortable ride to work in the passenger seat of an SUV winter-beater (thanks Kyle!), carrying my R3 suit, white Nolan modular helmet, insulated elk gloves and a thin navy blue balaclava. Beneath my street clothing was a thin insulating base-layer and over was an old lightweight grey goose down sweater. On my head was a winter knit cap (because it was winter).
The loaned ZBZ Project Zero was waiting inside Aerostich’s warm garage. It had been set up for winter use with lightly studded tires, electric grips, an accessory lead for an electric vest and a custom-made Aerostich electric heating blanket wrapped around it’s batteries, which we hope will keep them warm on nights like this. They must be kept above about twenty degrees to work correctly. We’d also added a polished aluminum skull (seen here) with menacingly glowing LED eyes just left of the headlight in case anyone had questions about the sanity of our plans. Rod, Randy and Stephanie did all this setup work last week!
About 4 PM it was beginning to get dark so it was time to suit up for my first-ever electric motorcycle ride. I wanted at least a little daylight. Kyle showed me where the charging and battery heating plugs were and how to power-up the switch for the heated grips…and that was it. I rolled out onto the partly snow covered frozen street tentatively, as if this was my first step after landing on the moon. Kyle, Lynn and Randy were pit crew witnesses standing in the open garage door shivering. A moment later I was around the corner of the building like there was nothing to it and never looked back. Everything was easy.
-- Riding a flat-black electric stealth motorcycle rolling on frozen studded tires across icy snow packed streets surrounded by hundreds of tired afternoon commuters inside creaky frozen cars…what could possibly go wrong? Well, uh, nothing. My anti-fog treated and pinlocked face shield is perfectly clear. By habit, I always flip it open at stoplights anyway. The warmth of the heated grips sure feels nice, but I’m definitely going to need a larger Aerostich suit. This one, which I’ve been wearing all spring/summer/fall for the past two years, isn’t roomy enough for my thicker layers of winter clothing beneath. I can’t move easily or naturally. It feels a bit like a sausage in a casing or when a small child is over-dressed by their mother before being sent outside to play on a winter day. I’m not cold, just overstuffed.
After I’d gone maybe a mile, the speedo’s LED battery gauge is showing 98% left and I’m riding along thinking maybe I should take the long way home—even though my suit is pretty tight—just for fun. It’s about two above zero. This really is fun!
-– From the sidewalk someone just shouted something toward me that was nice, like ‘Yeah man! Alright!’ Riding an electric bike you hear and notice much more, even bundled up beneath thick muffling layers of winter gear. All around cars and trucks are heading homeward through the gathering darkness, all covered with snowy roofs, dirty rimes of mid-winter crud and hard brown ice stalactites curving downward behind each wheel. Inside some of them I can see their drivers peering out at me through partly frosted windows (amused or irritated?).
At the next stoplight, the guy directly to my right sits a little higher than I inside his winter dirty but-still-nearly-brand-new aluminum-bodied high-tech 2016 Ford F-250 diesel engined 4x4 pickup, with nice aggressively oversized tires and complicated CNC’d rims. Forty grand easy. As we sit together waiting for green I smile and for a moment it feels like I’m the winner here. It’s no contest really…whomever this Ford 4x4 high-binder guy is, he’s having just another boring afternoon commute inside another boring little room and I’m out here in smack-dab at the center of the entire universe! Outside! Outside! I want to scream it!
Steamy clouds of condensing exhaust expand from every tailpipe and the familiar thrum of internal combustion fills the icy air surrounding my silent little Zero wearing it’s cute blue and white California manufacturers license plate on it’s thin rear fender. We’re as out of place as some hapless migrating bird that took a wrong turn at Tulsa last fall and just ended up here—where right now it’s only two above zero and nearly dark and this is really, really, really, really…cool! Thank you Zero! Thank you Rod, thank you Randy, thank you Lynn, thank you Stephanie and thank you everyone else at Aerostich! Cool!
The first sensation of riding an electric bike sure is neat. And far different than any regular bike: No clutch. No noise. No vibration. Nothing. Just roll the twist grip open and listen to the soft zzzzzzing of tire studs on dirty frozen asphalt. Very pure. With it’s cold-hardened rear tire, I almost immediately discover that this bike can spin the rear wheel quite easily, so I’m riding carefully. (Anyone for a sparky burnout?)
Yesterday it snowed another inch and the roads are still partly covered by a thin layer of residual brownish snow-salt mixed with sheer ice areas and mottled packed-down snowy streaks, but everything feels controllable. I make some test moves and there’s noticeably less overall traction available. A lot less. I’ll need to be very careful as these tires break in while learning these low limits. But this should be fun.
My driveway has about a 10-15º angle upward and today white is beneath an unshoveled half inch of snow with about a quarter inch of solid sheet-ice below that. Very slippery. I line up and approach this little climb straight on. About one bike-length before reaching where I want to park the rear tire breaks loose. Zzzzzzzzzz. Zzzzzzzz. Zzzzzzzzz. Ha ha ha! This sounds exactly like hapless car drivers when they spin their wheels trying to climb slippery hills whenever it snows. Duluth is built entirely across a 700’ hillside so if you live here, you hear it regularly ever winter. There’s less traction from these low profile studs than I thought there would be. Maybe I should add more?
Driveway skids. Courtesy of Andy at Aerostich.
I carefully paddle backward one bike length and come at the uphill driveway again. Zzzzzz…zzzzzzz. Ok, one more time…I’ll back down a little farther and get a bit more speed. The third time is the charm and the side stand goes down and the key and electric grips are turned off. I clomp stiffly up the back stairs, across the deck and into the kitchen where I shed my too tight gear and layers. Then back down to the Zero to plug in recharging and battery heater cords.
Both cords are a small struggle. They are conventional vinyl insulated electric extension cords and are stiff as hickory sticks in the low temperature. Around here Home Depot’s, Lowe’s and Menards stores sell two kinds of extension cords—many varieties and lengths exactly like these, and a few specially made with silicone insulation intended to remain flexible for outdoor cold weather use. Those are only a few dollars more expensive, but I don’t have any and the too-stiff vinyl insulated ones will work fine once I get ‘em ‘bent’ into approximately the right shape and position. Done.
Stiff Cords. Courtesy of Andy at Aerostich.
By Andy - Aerostich design manager. Riding since 1970. Currently 5-8K miles annually, mostly commuting with Suzuki DRZ 400E and occasional longer trips on BMW R1200R.
Rider factoid: Rode about 80 miles directly across ice-covered western end of Lake Superior in the particularly cold winter of 1994.
All text and the indicated photos courtesy of Aerostich's Zero Below Zero blog.