Episode 3.

You know when you think you have a brilliant idea that turns out to be pretty terrible? Then you beat yourself over how stupid it was? Yeah well in my case, I didn’t even get the satisfaction of doing the beating myself. Sit tight, grab a coffee, and make yourselves comfortable, this is going to be a long one. This is the first half of my 800-mile road trip story on the Zero.

As you may or may not know by now, I have the pleasure of being the temporary owner of a brand-new 2020 Zero SR/F, the company’s latest addition to its lineup and first hi-po model. The thing has been a riot to ride on until now. In fact, things have been going so smoothly that a week and a half or so ago, I decided to be bolder with the bike. I was heading to Montreal for a weekend and, oh, why not do the 800-mile return trip on the Zero? How bad could it be? If you have to ask yourself that question, chances are the answer ranges from bad to really bad.

A Good-Looking Concept. On Paper.

Ok, before I get too far into this, let’s take care of the elephant in the room, feed it a few peanuts, and send it on its way. It might sound obvious, but I’d rather put it out there just in case this isn’t obvious to the more passionate spirits out there: the SR/F isn’t a tourer, neither in form nor in purpose. I know that, you (now) know that, we all agree? Good. 

I knew what I was getting myself into when I made the call, at least in terms of ergonomics. This model from Zero is meant to provide the rider with a sportier experience that perfectly showcases the massive electric motor and its performance. That it does. I knew some form of soreness was to be expected (I’m actually surprised I wasn’t more sore, it turns out it isn’t as harsh as I expected it to be). I was a long way from my trip on the BMW R 1250 GS.

2020 Zero SR/F
Looking good, even sexy, but definitely not comfortable for a road trip, right?

I didn’t care too much for that—I was mentally ready for that part. After riding the bike around the city, I really wanted to know how it did on the highway both in handling and in range. Not everyone gets to keep a Zero for an entire month without the commitment of ownership, so I was a willing guinea pig for this experiment. I tested two scenarios.

Scenario numero uno: on the way from Toronto to Montreal, I stuck strictly to the highway—except to seek out a charging station—and set my speed at a comfortable 60 mph with the cruise control. The highway is the fastest, most direct way to get to the destination, but it also uses more energy. Bear in mind that this trip is normally 367 miles and usually takes me 5.5 to 6 hours (by car) and somewhere around 7 to 8 hours on a motorcycle. 

Scenario numero dos: on the way back from Montreal, I traveled on sideroads with top speeds averaging between 30 and 50 mph with stoplights and signs along the way. The pace on those winding country roads is much slower, however, the bike uses less energy and unlike on the boring highway, the sights are much prettier. 

Now a bit about the Zero SR/F advertised numbers. Zero estimates that the bike has a range of 161 miles in the city, 99 miles on the highway (at a speed of 55 mph), and a combined average of 123 miles. I’ll hand it to the company, from my experience with the bike, those numbers are pretty spot on, considering I chose to cruise at 60 mph.

What Did I Get Myself Into?

For the journey number 1, I left in the morning without planning for my first charging stop of the day. I wanted to test how far the bike could go. The answer to that was Grafton, a town 1.5 hours east of Toronto, located at a distance of 91 miles. By then, I had roughly 15-percent of charge left and thought the time had come to make a pitstop to look at the Charge Hub app and search for a charging station. It turned out that the closest option was in Cobourg, which meant heading back a dozen miles. By the time I made it to the first charging station, the battery was at 2 percent.

Zero Chronicles, Episode 3, Part 1
All plugged in and ready for its nap.
Zero Chronicles, Episode 3, Part 1
Two percent charge, two miles to go.

That’s also the moment I second-guessed myself the hardest. I seriously debated calling it quits, heading back home, and never speaking of this stupid idea ever again. The reality that this was going to take me much longer than my optimistic “12 hours or so” struck me right there and then. I had Director Jason’s blessing to bring this portion of the Zero Chronicles to an early end. I could have made it very, very easy on myself and walked away. But I didn’t. 

Call it ego or early-onset dementia but somehow, the little voice at the back of my head telling me to suck it up and keep going managed to outspeak the voice of reason telling me I was going to regret this. And regretted it I did, every minute of the journey until I finally made it back home. Now that this ludicrous trip is a finished chapter rather than an ongoing one, I’m quite pleased with the insight it provided me. Will I do it again? You bet I won’t. If I as much as utter the words “electric motorcycle” and “road trip” ever again other than to express the idea that “Road trips on an electric motorcycle are a terrible idea”, I hope someone will have the decency to punch me.

The Journey There

So as I was saying, I made it to the first stop with very little energy left to spare. Because of (or thanks to) the mild traffic I hit on the way, and because the SR/F has really excellent regen, the bike was able to complete a 105-mile leg. Great! I now had an idea of how far the bike could go on one charge (or so I thought), so I planned the next stop accordingly. 

If you want to know more about the charging process of the Zero and all that has to do with my experience of the charging network, check out episode 2 of the Zero Chronicles.

I never made it to my planned stop. In fact, I had to get off the highway, stop in a parking lot, and search for a much closer option. Without the stop and go traffic I had encountered earlier that day, the battery was draining much faster than it did during the first leg. I found a station 10 miles away, thankfully ahead of me. Phew, I wouldn’t have to head back. Again. I managed to reach my second stop once again with only two percent of the battery left, wrapping up an 86-mile leg.

Zero Chronicles Episode 2
Stop number 2 and the rain has it in for me.

The thing with range anxiety is that the idea of running out of power is a lot less daunting when you have a CAA membership card (the Great North equivalent of AAA) in your wallet. 

The third leg was going to be the shortest of the journey since there is a bit of dead zone in the charging network in the Brockville to Cornwall stretch of the highway. The city of Cornwall close to the Ontario-Quebec border was a bit too ambitious a distance for the Zero (118 miles), so I had to settle for closer rather than further. The advantage of clocking “only” 68 miles on the bike at that point was that the battery still had a 30-percent charge which meant a shorter waiting time.

By the time I hit the road again, it was already 5:00 p.m. and I had been traveling for 10 hours with two more legs to go and one more stop to make. 90 miles later, I finally crossed the Quebec border and stopped at a rest area equipped with a charging station. The bike still had a good 10% to live off of, but previous thunderstorms and soaked gear combined with dipping temperatures and setting sun resulted in a very shivering rider who was looking forward to a warm drink. 

My dad, my hero, set out that night to meet me at the last stop armed with a variety of dry clothes I could change into and layer up to try and warm up. This has to be one of the daddiest things he’s done for me since I left the nest and I’m terribly grateful that he did. He showed up just as the bike was reaching a full charge—perfect timing. We traveled the last leg of the day together in the dark. 73 miles later, we finally reached our destination and the Zero rolled into the garage at 00:15am with, of course, two percent percent left to the battery. I had left at 7:15am that morning. Care to do the math? 17. It took me 17 hours to travel a total of 422 miles. Most of that time was spent waiting around for the bike to charge.

Zero Chronicles, Episode 3, Part 1
We made it!
Zero Chronicles, Episode 3, Part 1
422 miles and 17 hours later.

The worst part? The whole cold and exhaustion thing sucker-punched me and I woke up Friday feeling like I had spent the day getting ran over by freight trucks. Even worse? I only had two days to get back on my feet and do it all over again. The sentence “I’m too old for that shit” might or might not have been uttered. 

Ultimately, the bike wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I thought it was going to be and having the cruise control was a real life-saver. I even stood up on the pegs a few times to relieve my derriere and stretch my legs, like I would do on an adventure bike. Easy peasy, butt squeezy. And all things considered, it handled the whirlwind-y, hilly 401 highway like a champ.

Congratulations!

Have you made it this far? Congratulations, you’ve unlocked the TL;RA (Too Long; Read Anyway) achievement. Now, I don’t mean to be a tease but I’m going to have to break this adventure up into two parts. You can thank me later. Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait long for the conclusion, Part 2 of Episode 3 is coming tomorrow and we’ll get to compare which of the two methods turned out to be the most efficient. I’ll discuss the return journey, break down what I’ve done wrong with my planning and give the zealous out there some advice, should the call of the road trip seduce you into giving it a shot. Stay tuned!