On April 18, 2022, the Charging Across America Challenge set off from both the East and West Coasts. Two Energica riders, both alike in dignity (but nowhere near Verona) decided to crisscross the country along the historic Cannonball route. Event organizer and rider Rob Swartz and his EVA EsseEsse 9 would start in New York City and ride to Redondo Beach, California, while rider Steven Day and his EVA Ribelle would do exactly the opposite. If things went according to plan, they’d meet up briefly at a charging stop in the middle. Both riders would complete their journeys on April 22, 2022—Earth Day.
How did it go? If you’re reading this, you may already know that Day set a new electric Cannonball record of 2,906 miles in 111 hours. Unfortunately, Swartz’s journey was cut short by a crash involving his chase vehicle. (Crew, riders and the other driver were mostly OK, but it was a scary experience for everyone.)
RideApart recently had the opportunity to chat with new electric Cannonball record holder Steven Day about the experience, electric bikes, and even a few combustion bikes from back in the day. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
How have things been since you’ve been back home?
Good! Just been working and getting back into things. I haven’t actually taken the bike out since I’ve been back (laughs).
Yeah, that’s a lot of riding to do in just a very short period of time.
I joke, but I think that 98 percent of my miles are cross-country miles, because I rarely ride it at home. I bought it and just rode it across the country a few times. That’s all I ever do with it! (laughs)
Do you have any other bikes, or is that your only bike?
It’s my only bike...yeah, I’ve been all-electric for seven years now. Gas before that for 15 years or so. I don’t know why...it’s kind of the climate around here [in Washington, DC]. It can be pouring down rain one day, and then like 80 or 90 degrees and humid the next. I used to have HOV access with my old bikes, but with my new job, I don’t, so where’s the encouragement when I can sit in my Tesla in my air conditioning and have it drive for me?
That’s totally fair.
Riding across the country is definitely a lot more fun than commuting to work.
Oh yeah, I’d imagine. Even though you were trying to do it within a certain time. It still beats sitting at work.
Definitely. It’s funny, the four times I’ve done it [ridden cross-country], the first time I did it, half of it was at a casual pace, and then someone said “You’re going to break the production electric motorcycle record,” and I sped up. So, I really haven’t had much of a leisurely crossing, ever. (more laughs)
Do you think you ever could?
Someone actually mentioned the Trans-America Trail to me, and I think that sounds like something I could do, and not try to do it in a crazy time. You know, at a fun, casual pace, camping along the way. So, I’d like to? But, I mean, if you’re going to take a week off of work or something for just a regular crossing, why not see how crazy you can get? If I was going to take a few weeks, I figure, bring my daughter and camp across the U.S. on the Trans-American Trail.
That sounds fun!
Yeah, I’ve just been looking into it, so I’m not even sure...actually, I think Rivians have done it, and I think a guy did it on a modified Zero. So yeah, I’m not sure if that’s going to be my next thing I’m going to do, but I’d really like to do that.
Is your daughter old enough to ride, herself?
She’s six, but she loves it, going on little short backroads stuff. Nothing on the highway or anything; my wife won’t let us. So I’ll be like [about the TAT] “Hey, good news! It’s all small and dirt trails and going slow!”
That’s really cool, though.
I know you were really into Zeros before you made the switch to Energica, so I wanted to ask you what got you into electric bikes in the first place? Also, what made you decide you wanted to go to Energica? Just wanting something new, or what?
Originally—and still, really—I think I’m just a commuter. I just ride to work and back. I’m not into racing, or watching races, or any of that stuff. You know, I think I got into electrics because of the low maintenance and the low cost of operation.
With the Zero, there was inflating the tire, and bringing it in for checks once every year or two. The torque is a whole lot of fun. It’s great to just launch off of green lights and all without attracting too much attention. I think those are the reasons I got into it, and then the reason I switched...I liked the Energica when I first heard about it six years ago or so. Seven? Anyway, it was like $40-something-thousand dollars, and...nope! (laughs)
Yeah, that’s a lot of money.
Yeah, I couldn’t rationalize that.
But then they brought the price down, and they added the bigger battery. That’s when I started to think, OK. CCS charging, big battery, price is on par or cheaper than a Zero...so yeah, I made the switch over.
What was your favorite Zero when you were riding Zeros?
I had an SR/S, a DSR, my wife had an S, and then I started with an SR...I’ve had almost all of them.
Oh my goodness.
My favorite one is probably the DSR, the dual sport.
I bought it with the intention of...not quite overlanding, but having some fun on dirt trails and stuff. But then I just ended up commuting on it, and seeing that it could charge faster, and go further, and I think that was the last...no, I had the SR/S after that, because I thought it would have a longer range and a faster charge.
I’ve been through them all, but I think the dual sport was the most fun, but when I tried to add more chargers to it, the battery would get hot, and it couldn’t handle it. It would literally stop, unless it was really cold out. So that’s why I went with the SR/S option, but it still just really seemed like it was trying to be an Energica, but it couldn’t do it. (laughs ruefully)
Interesting. I’m going to be doing a demo ride of a Zero this weekend and I’ve never ridden a Zero before, so I’m looking forward to it.
You’re going to love it. Do you know which one it’s going to be?
I don’t. I know that they’re definitely pushing the SR, SR/S, and SR/F, but I don’t specifically know which one I’m going to be riding. I’m also not sure how much choice I’m going to have in the matter, but either way, I’m going to be happy, just because I’ve never ridden one before.
Yeah, any electric is going to feel way faster than it really is, just because of the instant torque.
Yeah, I just got back from riding some Cakes and those definitely aren’t very fast, but they feel quick.
Right? Yeah, that’s the thing that people don’t understand, the difference between quick and fast. Like, over 80 or 90, we’re going to lose to a gas-powered bike, but that quickness off the line … who’s doing over 80 or 90 that often? All the fun stuff is, you know, zero to 60-70. Yeah, but you’re gonna love it.
Yeah, I’m totally looking forward to it. Like you, I’ve primarily been a commuter, so I completely relate.
It’s so nice to have a full “tank” in the morning, you can just plug it in, and it’s good to go every day, over and over again. I mean, check the tire pressure once a month, and that’s it. No valve adjustments, and all these other maintenance items. I don’t know, I hate gas engines. (laughs)
What did you have when you did have gas-engined bikes?
My last gas bike was a CBR1000RR.
Which I just also commuted with and kind of played with around town. I never really used it for what it was meant for. Before that was a cruiser, a 1300cc Honda VTX or whatever those things were? They’re fun, right? They’re just kind of reliable, and the price was right.
Oh, also, the no-clutch thing for commuting [on an electric bike] ...that’s another big thing. I’m in DC, so it’s just stop-and-go traffic for half an hour to an hour each way, and my clutch hand would just kind of cramp up, so that’s something in the past if you go electric.
Sure, makes sense.
You just roll throttle on and off.
Yeah, that’s definitely ideal for commuting.
Yeah, they’re the ultimate.
How did the Charging Across America Challenge come together? What made you think “OK, hey, I need to do this.”
I was just kind of an add-on to it? It was actually Rob [Swartz, who organized and also participated in the challenge], I think he’s friends with someone at Voltrek? So I think Voltrek and Rob kind of got the ball going, and I’m actually just a customer of Rob’s. I bought his risers and stuff...he does a bunch of aftermarket parts for Energicas. I think he’s like the only guy out there who’s doing it, and it’s great. He’s just pumping all kinds of awesome accessories.
But yeah, I bought his stuff, and he saw me riding cross-country a few times. Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve ever watched New ZeroLand?
No, I haven’t, sorry.
It’s a guy, his name is Sam, and he’s in New Zealand and he rides electric motorcycles and goes on all kinds of cool adventures and stuff. He also went from a Zero to an Energica, and we’ve been talking, and he was going to come over here and borrow my bike and ride it back from California to the east coast.
But then COVID didn’t get lifted, and stuff, so I offered to swap out and do the ride in his place, much to my wife’s displeasure.
Was that just kind of something that happened spur-of-the-moment, or did you have time to plan?
I felt kind of bad, like maybe you could just push it back, but they were really set on the whole Earth Day kind of thing.
Yeah, it wasn’t too sudden...I kind of realized, if stuff wasn’t going to get lifted, then I’d better do it. I just kind of accepted it, and I think my wife did, too. They flew me out, too, which was good. Usually, all my craziness is just out of my pocket, so that was nice. They also paid for a plane ticket home.
Oh, that’s cool.
It was also weird to have a crew. I had a van with a cameraman, and all of them to document...I guess there’s a big video coming out afterward.
It’s being edited right now. But normally, the three times before that, it was just me. After the first time, I didn’t even go to hotels anymore. I just put a camp chair out, and I was just napping at the side of the road, or at charging stations. It was weird to have company along the way. Definitely a welcome change!
So, were you still camping out at the charging stations this time around, because that’s kind of the impression that I got, but I’m not sure that’s correct.
Yeah, the van was not great for three people to try and sleep in.
No, I would imagine not.
Yeah, the videographer was editing and stuff in there the whole time. I think once or twice, I kind of crawled in there in the back and squeezed in, and got a little nap. But it wasn’t a little camp chair or the fold-out.
Yeah, probably a little less cramped. A little less waking up and being like, “but why does my neck feel weird?”
Ah, I guess I’ve done it enough where I’ve got the camp chair layout where my head is on the side bag, which...it’s pretty good ergonomics. I’m pretty good with it, I’ll sleep for like three hours at a time sometimes when I’m really tired.
(laughs) I’ve got it pretty mastered. When I went to California last time, I did it in 94...92 hours? Whatever it was. I got a hotel room at the end, and then I was in San Diego, and then I rode it up to San Francisco the next morning to go meet the Energica guys. But I felt that fresh, you know. I was just like, another 500-600 miles, no big deal.
If you have 30-to-90 minute charges, that’s a REM cycle.
I don’t even know if I could do it with a gas bike. It’d be weird to stop at a hotel for eight hours a night or something. It would just feel wasteful...while you’re recharging, your bike’s recharging, I guess, if that makes sense?
Is that more how you sleep in general? Are you a power-nap kind of person, or do you actually try to do the eight hours a night?
Not at all, I’m an eight-hours-all-at-once kind of person. But someone was like, “just get a camp chair, and you can forget getting hotels at all. The first few times, I tried it and I still wasn’t tired enough and I’m not a big napper, so I couldn’t do it. But then I eventually figured out how to do it comfortably, and before long, you just get the bike going, and you make sure the charger is good, and then I’m out like a light for...sometimes too long. I mean, the bike will be done, and I’ll be like “eh, I gotta get some more sleep.” So I’ll just unplug it, and you know...I don’t want to ride tired.
No, no, definitely not. There was a period in my life where I was nuts enough to try to work full time and also go to school full time.
Ah, I’ve been there!
Which meant I wasn’t getting anywhere near enough sleep, and so on weekends I would completely crash, and be no good to anybody. But during the week, I would be commuting on my bike. I was young enough that I was able to do it, but it was not a great idea.
Yup, I’ve definitely worked until like 4 in the morning, and then I’ve ridden a bike home, and I’ve been like, “I should not have done that.” You realize it after the fact. It definitely gets harder as you get older. I couldn’t power nap when I worked those 12-hour shifts in the middle of the night.
Sure. What would you say the CAAC 2022 experience was like? I mean, I guess you have some idea what to expect, since you’ve done [the cross-country riding experience] more than once.
In general, with an electric bike...Rob is like a genius mechanic, a master mechanic who’s certified in all kinds of stuff. And he’s all in on electric and green technology and he’s a workaholic and he hasn’t had the time to go out and put in some miles on his bike, you know?
They say it’s impersonal, being on an electric vehicle, but I think it’s the opposite. You have to be at one with it, and know when I sit upright, I cause this kind of drag at this speed, and I can go this kind of range...if I tuck, I can go this fast. You have to be in tune with your bike to do long-range travel with it right now.
So, like, every stop, I would check the weather at the next charger I was going to, and I would check the elevation changes, and the distance. And then based on those, I would figure out roughly how fast I could go, and if I needed to tuck, or if I could be a little more relaxed/upright, kind of chilling out, or going faster. So it’s really...that kind of stuff comes into play when you’re trying to do it quickly. Otherwise, it can be a little difficult. It’s different for every bike, and every person, so you really have to get into it and figure out your consumption in various configurations.
For this competition, I’ve gotten into the habit of going as fast as I can every day. Not necessarily just fast—it's more like a chess game with yourself, and the environment, and the math. If you just do 110 or something, you’re not going to make it to the next charger.
So, like I said, you do the math in your head, and kind of guess what you’re going to need to make it to the next charge stop, and then keep an active eye on the guess-o-meter, the GOM, which is based on your active consumption plus 15 miles. So, if you’ve got a headwind, if you’re going uphill, these things will make your actual projected range drop. I like to look at that and the distance I have left to go, and make sure I always have a few miles left over past the actual distance to go.
Sure, that makes sense.
As far as the challenge, that’s just what I've gotten used to. So it was just another fun ride. It was a little different to have people with me, but it was a good different, because I’m not just sitting there watching a movie on my phone when I’m not sleeping. I have people to talk to, and discuss strategies, and forecasts and stuff. I mean, it was a little weird to figure out where we were going to meet up with both teams going in different directions. When we finally started to plan that out, that’s when Rob had the accident that kind of threw that all out the window.
Yeah, I bet. [For those unfamiliar with the story, Rob’s chase vehicle was involved in a crash with a semi that involved the semi jackknifing and ending up on its side, and the driver having to be removed from the vehicle. No one was seriously injured, but of course everyone was quite shaken up after that incident.] The photos and the stuff that you showed and talked about in your video sounded absolutely horrifying.
Yeah, what’s bad is that we traded the crew at that stop, and I think my videographer I picked up was shell-shocked, or had PTSD from it. I mean, they were in the truck, watching the semi flip over and skidding in front of them, and thinking they were going to die...and then cutting him out of the vehicle as it was smoking, so...yeah, I think he was a little rattled, and he wasn’t at the top of his game about a day and a half till the end.
Yeah, that’s definitely understandable.
Oh, the difference also with this challenge: Having a set arrival date [Earth Day] and departure date. I [usually] like to have a little flexibility to at least look at the weather window. Going coast to coast, you go through a lot of different climates.
Going through the mountains, you don’t want to have it be like 25 degrees and snowing, or icy or something. You don’t want to be in the desert when it’s 115...I did that once, and that was not optimal? (laughs) The bike did not charge very fast, but I survived. So yeah, having a preset ‘you will leave on this date’ and ‘you need to arrive on this date’...I almost didn’t arrive on that date. If we had more rain and fog days, it could have thrown a bigger wrench.
Or if we didn’t have the fog, I would have been a half-day early! I wouldn’t have slowed down and had a worse record; I would have just gone for it! (laughs) But everyone’s different.
What does the fog do besides visibility? Does it affect the operation of the bike in some way?
No, no, it’s just extreme fog. There was one night, I got an alert that was just...I think it was high winds, which...I was doing the longest leg of the run, it was 129 miles, and I had the wind kind of swing around. It became a headwind of, I think, 15 gusting to 25 or something?
So that really made it a challenging leg, it cut my range way down. And then, like a charge stop or two after that, there was a wind alert that was 40 or 45 mile an hour winds. And I was looking like a few hundred miles down the way, and the radar had just extreme rain coming down, and storming. And then I got the fog alert, and I was like, “you know what? It’s time for a hotel. I’m not having this.”
There was quarter-mile or less visibility, and it was bad. Even the next morning, it was like, my visor would just completely fog up, and I was struggling to just maintain 40 to 50 miles an hour safely. So yeah, it’s a good thing we didn’t try to do it all night, with worse fog.
Yeah, for sure.
It was pea soup-style, it wasn’t just a little bit of fog.
Yeah, no, that’s no good.
Yeah, could’ve avoided those things if it wasn’t a preset ‘leave on this date’ kind of thing.
Sure, yeah, that totally makes sense.
Flexibility is definitely nice. Especially for Rob, that poor guy. He had...it was like in the 20s, and it was snowing from the start [Rob left from New York]. They had like a half a foot of snow every day, I want to say. It was something extreme. And the guy was a beast. He just pushed through it. He couldn’t feel anything, he was just violently shivering, and he was still going.
Oh my goodness.
He was all about making this happen and succeeding.
Wow, that’s dedication.
Yeah, I would’ve said “I’m taking a day or two and letting this pass.” But he said we’d be done by Friday, Earth Day, and he really wanted to keep his word.
Sure, that totally makes sense.
I would have been ‘yeah, Tuesday evening, that’s my official start time.’ (laughs)
“We’re doing it over Earth Day! Like, we’re surrounding Earth Day!”
Like, we rode all Earth Day!
It’s an Earth Day sandwich!
There you go.
No, but you’ve got the poetry of actually completing it on Earth Day, so I totally get that, making that the goal.
Yeah, that worked out.
Yeah, I’m just sorry that crash happened, and that you weren’t both able to get to the goal on the established day.
Yeah, we were at the last charge stops, about to meet up, minutes before...and then...yeah. Not a great ending to a ride.
Are you guys going to attempt it again?
There’s talk of a few different things. I don’t want to speak for Rob, he’s definitely the organizer. I’ve heard that maybe it’ll be a rally kind of thing, where you collect points along the way. Remove the speed aspect to it, and increase the safety aspect. Not that there was any problem with the safety, but just to ensure that it’s 110 percent safe. Efficient route planning points. There was another event, with pre-positioned charity things you could do along the way for extra points. Maybe take a picture at this landmark, points for this and stuff. And a mandatory eight or ten hour stop for the night or something.
Scooter Cannonball runs (obviously) with scooters, and they do points for various things.
That’s neat, that sounds like the way to go.
They do actually stop at night, they have established stops, and the organizers there, they have the group get a hotel and get some rest for the night, and then continue the next day.
Nice. Most charge stops have six to twelve fast chargers, so it’d be really cool to just have, like, a bunch of Energicas—and maybe [LiveWires] could do it too...oh wait, they did do it—and just traveling as a pack. That would be amazing.
That WOULD be amazing!
I kind of hope he goes in that direction. I’d be in with that. ‘Silent Thunder’ or something, right?
That sounds really awesome. I really hope that he or someone does something like that.
He’s definitely got something brewing, but I don’t know what. He can definitely speak more in detail. I’m just a rider.
I’ll have to ask him about it [in a future interview you’ll see on RideApart]. That’s cool. What’s your next big plan, just enjoying the bike, or do you have any other big plans coming up? I mean, you’ve crossed the country so many times, I don’t know if it’s not as exciting anymore, you know?
It’s hard to describe. There’s a few things about it that are just always pleasurable. Wide open spaces, no noise and rumbling and just stinky engines and stuff also factors into it.
Going through...was it Arizona or Nevada? Somewhere in there, there’s just all these canyons, and amazing mountain views and stuff. There’s just all kinds of amazing parts of America you go through, no matter what route you take. It’s just fun. I’m sure I'd be fun in a group also, but it’s fun to do solo, to just be roaming. So it’s still fun, even on the fourth time.
Yeah, the Trans-American Trail, I need to do some more research, and maybe wait for someone to come out with a dual sport, CCS-charging bike, which does not exist [in May, 2022]. I guess you could modify my old bike, put some more dual-sport tires, not quite knobbies, probably. You could make a LiveWire go Pan America. Then the Ribelle could do a Trans-American. Maybe upgrade my bike, because I do have the original motor that the big batteries came out with. The new ones have the EMCE, which has like one-tenth the maintenance, and it goes 10 percent further, and the battery pack stays cooler...it just has all kinds of great little perks to it. Maybe I upgrade this year, and I don’t want to say I redo any of my original runs for speed, but it would be fun. And then the Trans-American.
Maybe take my wife and daughter down to Florida, maybe do something along the coast. Do side roads that are 20-30 miles an hour, camping everywhere.
That sounds nice. You said your wife rides too?
She used to. She had some problems with the Zero, and she sold it, and hasn’t ridden since.
Oh, that’s too bad. That could be a fun family adventure, I would think.
Right? Now that I’ve got my daughter riding on the back, and she loves it.
Oh, goodness, that would be awesome.
You know, you just gave me an idea she’s gonna hate. (laughs)
I give her my old bike, I get a new one, and then we could all three ride together!
There you go!
You’re a genius!
Teamwork, it’s all teamwork. (laughs)
That would be awesome, and your daughter would love it.
Oh yeah, she’s all about it. She’s constantly asking to ride.
That’s honestly so cool. Like, I wish...I did not have parents that rode, and I found out later in life that my grandparents rode. Unfortunately, they had both passed by the time that happened, but I found out later that they rode. I guess it skipped a generation, but I would have loved that!
How did you get into riding in the first place?
I was in the military in South Carolina in...2002-ish? 2001? I don’t know, I always wanted to, but grew up with no money, and...not that I had a lot of money in the military, but I had enough for a 10, 15-year-old Honda 750 VFR Interceptor.
I’ve got the Babyceptor, I just actually picked it up last year, the 500.
Really? That’s a thing? I didn’t know!
It’s a 500, from 1985. So, it’s kind of old, but I was really excited about it.
Wow. You know me, I hate maintenance, and I have no mechanical ability. But that would be cool, I’d want to get that for my wife, but no, we’d have to go electric. I’ll have to look that up. Babyceptor. (laughs)
That’s what people nickname it, it’s the VF500F Interceptor, is what it’s called. I just wanted to experience it, I don’t want to keep it forever. It’s just one of those things. I was way too young to have ridden such a thing when it was new, and like you, I didn’t grow up with any money either, but now that it’s ancient, I can afford it.
I gotta go Google it after this, but does it look like the 750? Like a sport touring bike?
Um, no, it looks like...if you look at the older VFRs, the mid-80s VFRs, the paint is very similar, and they did the styling very similarly, it’s just a little bit smaller. And it supposedly has better handling, but I’ve never ridden one of the bigger ones, so I can’t personally tell you that it does. But people who have ridden both have said that it has better handling.
Yeah, 750, that was not a good first bike for me, that’s for sure.
Yeah, that sounds like a bit much as a first bike. But it looks really cool.
(laughs) It’s the only one of my bikes that I’ve ever crashed or dropped at a stop sign. I don’t have quick legs, I guess.
Yeah, I totally understand. I did one of those embarrassing dumps...it wasn’t even at a stop sign, it was at a yield, and I was yielding, and I tipped over. I have short legs, and I didn’t know where my pegs were, and I was doing the duck walk, and I just couldn’t get my feet on the ground. And I was like “Nooooooooo!”
Oh no. (laughs) I can beat the embarrassment. My first time across the country, I was on like the third charge stop, and I was just road-numb. I’d never done more than like, 100 or 200 miles, and I was just zoned out. And I was at a charger—Electrify America—and I dropped it.
The guy in the Audi next to me was just plugged in, and he was on his phone ignoring me. Like, he was literally three feet away, and I’m looking at him, and he’s like ‘nope, didn’t see a thing, not gonna help.’ And then an 84-year-old lady comes walking down the way, and she’s like ‘do you need some help with that?’ And we picked it up together!
Oh my goodness!
But yeah, embarassing. At a parking lot, charge stop, weird-looking.
Yeah. But it adds character to them, doesn’t it?
Sure, sure. I mean, obviously, you were fine, and the bike was fine.
Yeah. Only at a stop, that’s when I drop it, that’s my rule. (laughs)
Sounds like a pretty good rule to have.
Yeah, it’s worked out for 20 years, so...(laughs)