There’s a certain kind of appeal in doing things that make people look at you incredulously and say things like, “you can do that?!” While riders have a variety of opinions on just about everything, there’s a pretty strong tendency toward not wanting to listen when people tell us there’s something we can’t do.
Widely-accepted common wisdom might suggest that taking an electric motorcycle on the TransAmerica Trail isn’t possible—or, at the very least, is not the best idea. Yet, after three years of planning, engineers and adventure riding husband-and-wife duo Kevin and Amy Edwards did exactly that. In 2021, Kevin rode a modified Zero DSR, and Amy rode her beloved Yamaha WR250R. Adventure, you see, is in the rider, and the rest is just logistics.
Long story (extremely) short, the trip went so well that the pair couldn’t wait to plan their next long, cross-country adventure riding trip. That’s why, in the summer of 2022, the duo set out to ride the North East Backcountry Discovery Route, then ride up through Canada to cross the remote (but beautiful) Trans Labrador Highway.
Gallery: Kevin and Amy Edwards - NEBDR and Trans Lab Highway on a Zero DSR and a Yamaha WR250R in 2022
Once again, Kevin rode his Zero DSR, and Amy rode her Yamaha WR250R. By now, of course, they both knew their machines (and each bike’s quirks) extremely well. They set out from their home in North Carolina, and completed the journey in around 10 or so weeks. After they got back, Kevin was kind enough to sit down for an interview and tell us all about their latest journey.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Did you make any big changes between the last trip and this trip on your DSR?
A bit. I worked on my custom charger setup. Last year we had trouble with the charger controller going out in the middle of the trip, and we had already laid in another controller, and friend shipped that out to us and we plugged it in, and fortunately it worked and we were able to continue the trip.
Over winter, I wanted to develop my own controller with my own software and hardware, something that I could self-support with, because the chargers I was using were from a company that doesn't make them anymore, so it was hard to support.
So, I worked on that to develop the charger controller code and make some improvements to make it easier to vary how much current it draws for different sources. When you're adventure traveling with an electric motorcycle, you need to be able to use whatever electricity is available, and so having different adapters and being able to control the current draw means I can use whatever's around without melting any plugs or anything like that.
Newer bikes, even from Zero, have that capability where you can set how much current you want it to draw, but this custom and frankly older setup didn't really have that capability. At least, it wasn't very easy. I think there was a way to somehow connect with Bluetooth and a smartphone, but that's too fiddly when you're riding and you just want to plug in.
I've got some toggles switches now that I can just flip even with my gloves still on, so easier for the actual use case rather than getting out a phone and messing with that for two minutes.
It's just a lot easier, and that went pretty well. That was a bit of a development project, figuring out what materials to use, the mechanical design, electrical potting, which is epoxy bricks surrounding the electronics so that it's sealed and protected from vibration and so on. I've never done that before. Had to learn a bit about that.
This was a fun little project. It's not going to turn into a product or anything, it's just for my own use, but I've learned a few things from that.
Waterproofing, I would imagine, too.
Yes, that's right. It's all in an enclosure, but it's not fully waterproof, the enclosure, but the chargers themselves are, and if the charger controller is waterproof, then if a little dust or water gets in there, it doesn't matter.
Another change I made is, last year I ran Zero's chain drive kit. Zero motorcycles come with belt drive and that's not so good for off-road, because if you get a rock in there, it can break the belt.
So, I bought their kit, front sprocket, rear sprocket and a chain and a few other little parts, and ran it last year and wore out at about 5,000 miles because their kit includes an aluminum rear sprocket. That was kind of a pain having to change sprockets all the way across the country.
I found that Supersprox out of Europe can make a custom sprocket with an aluminum carrier in the middle with a bolt pattern to fit my rear wheel, and then steel around the outside. And then another user on the electric motorcycle forum, where people talk about these things, had found front sprockets that fit on Zero's spline motor shaft.
So, I was able to get a sprocket with a wider hub [the previous one had been wearing the splines strangely] and then basically glue it on with LOCTITE 680. It's a huge pain to change sprockets now, but it's not wearing out the splines anymore, and then the Supersprox sprocket on the rear. And that held up great. I've put about 9,000 miles on it so far, with no visible wear.
I think that's the solution. And we did write up a little article just about that particular modification, just because it's useful to those few other people who are actually doing ADV riding on the DSR.
Not many people do that, but there are a few. We know a guy, Ben Marshall, who's in Virginia, that he's actually working on setting up a Harley Davidson LiveWire for more off-road use, kind of like the long way up, but he's doing it himself.
And then there's a guy, Fred in France who just rode quite a bit of the Trans Euro Trail on his DSR, so we've talked a bit back and forth about technical details on that, so it's kind of neat, and there are a few people doing this.
What inspired you to do this in the first place? Just the idea of, "Hey, no one's doing this yet, I'm going to go do it?”
A few things. One is I work in electricity on hydroelectric power plants, so I have an interest in things powered by electricity. I've built little electric cars and raced Electrathon cars back in high school. I built a little electric motorcycle probably when I was, I don't know, 14 or 15, back before e-bikes were a real thing, but I had a 20-inch huffy bike with enough motor on it to go about 50 miles an hour.
So, I've long had the interest, and then several years ago, somehow, I got the idea that it might be possible to ride the TransAmerica Trail with an electric motorcycle. It hadn't been done, and it just interested me because it's a long overland route that's remote, and I thought would be a pretty good test of where the capability of electric motorcycles had progressed to, right?
We talked about it for a few years about how we would go about doing it, how to find charging along the way. Are the batteries big enough yet? And by 2018 the answer was, we think maybe.
Zero had upgraded their batteries to have more capacity, and it looked like the range of the bike was then enough to go between towns on the TAT. There are some places out west, particularly in Utah where one leg is 165 miles, another leg is about 180 miles between towns where you can charge, and there's really nothing out there in some of those sections.
There are no houses or businesses or anything, at least on the TAT. If you were to take paved roads, well, then there are some towns here and there, but the idea was to follow the TAT, which is not designed around electric motorcycle travel.
And so, right at the end of 2020, early '21, I bought a Zero DSR and started modifying it to be able to do this trip. We had been thinking about doing some other trips, like this one to Newfoundland, but with COVID going on, it looked like that wasn't happening, so we decided to do something just within the US. And it turns out that that was the right call because it wasn't until 2022 that it was possible to travel up into Canada.
I think it was only late last year or early this year that just regular vacation travel was possible again without some essential business purpose or something like that.
For the TransAmerica Trail, a good bit of the project was just logistical, meaning we got the [GPS] tracks and then started looking along the tracks at where there's charging, and a lot of times it goes through towns that have public chargers, so that's easy.
Other times, it goes past RV campgrounds that have 50-amp plugs, so those are the big NEMA 1450 plugs to run the big RVs and their air conditioners and such, and I have adapters to allow me to charge the bike off of an RV 50-amp plug, and so either with the public chargers or an RV camp, I can charge it in a little over an hour.
Then we just made sure that either on the track or very near to it, there was charging often enough all the way across. We already had all that mapped out and plotted in the GPS, all on a spreadsheet before starting so that we knew we could make it all the way through with no charge points. And then sometimes along the way we would stumble across things that we had not found over the internet, and that's fine too. But we knew, at a minimum, from this town to the next town is 130 miles. If I go no faster than say 45 miles an hour, then I'll make it.
What was different between doing the TransAmerica Trail and your most recent trip?
For that, we started out with just a little bit of overland travel, getting up to the start of the North East Backcountry Discovery Route that starts in Hancock, New York. From here to there, we just traveled road riding, and that's really easy because you can go wherever the chargers are. You're not restricted to one particular path like on the TAT, so you just go town to town that have chargers and connect the dots and there you go, so it was pretty easy.
And then for NEBDR, we were again following, in this case about a 1,300-mile particular track. Because it's in New England, it's pretty well developed there. The towns are closer together than out west, and there are lots of public chargers, so actually it was no project at all to confirm that charging was available along the NEBDR.
So that was actually really easy. And honestly, I prefer doing the TAT or BDR style riding with the electric bike because you're offroad, you're going slower, and that means a charge might last three or four hours doing that 120 miles, right? You're going slower.
And then, if you line it up right, you can ride for the morning, stop for lunch, charge for an hour. It's a little slow lunch, but you can answer some emails, talk to people, stretch, that kind of thing, and then you charge up and then you ride until it's time to find camp, so that's pretty nice.
When it goes right, you can actually hit a pretty nice rhythm of riding to charging, and you have to get off the bike sometimes anyway. We're not iron butt riders and don't want to spend that much seat time. And then crossing up into Canada, it immediately became a lot easier. We crossed into Quebec and they have inexpensive hydro and expensive gasoline there, and they have a lot of electric cars.
That also means they have a lot of charging stations, so it seemed like every town, even... Not just along the coast or near the big cities, but just everywhere, they have chargers.
Traveling in most of Canada was really easy, all the way across Quebec and New Brunswick and Nova Scotia there was charging available. We hardly had to use RV campgrounds at all. The public charging is just that good.
Even in Newfoundland, over the last two years, they’ve been putting in a lot of new public chargers. A few years ago, it would not have been very easy to travel in Newfoundland with an electric car, say, but now you can go I think about anywhere with an electric car with normal range.
With the bike, too, we found it to be really quite easy. They have chargers across the main road, but also in towns on the spur roads that go up to the coast, the various towns there have charging. It’s really come a long way there. Well, I think a lot of these chargers looked pretty new, so I think the situation is changing pretty quickly up there.
Where it did become tricky though was after we went up that Northwestern Peninsula of Newfoundland and then crossed the ferry over to Labrador, and in Labrador, it's huge.
It's like the land area of Italy with, I think 23,000 people in it, something like that. 25,000 in the entire area. And of course, it's very cold, it's remote, many of the towns are on generator power because they don't have a great connection, and so charging up there was trickier.
One thing we could do is just charge overnight from a regular wall outlet, so either at a campground or a hotel, or just asking somebody if it's okay to plug in. We could charge overnight there.
The longest section without gas or charging or anything is from Port Hope Simpson to Happy Valley, Goose Bay, and that's about 250 miles, and that road was only put in 2009. There was no road through that country before, and it was only paved... I think they finished paving a few weeks before we got there.
It was unpaved for the longest time, and that was part of the mystique of the Trans-Lab Highway. But now from getting off the ferry all the way to the border with Quebec, it is paved all the way through.
Anyway, 250 miles, and even if I go very slow with my bike, it can go up to about 200 miles is about the limit for me on the bike. Knobby tires and all the camping gear and everything loaded on, so it's not as efficient as a stock bike.
250 miles doesn't work, but we had already scouted out that there's a highway maintenance depot at Cartwright Junction, but we'd heard different stories about whether it would be manned or not, especially since the paving's done, they don't have crews there all the time anymore. It's manned in the winter for the snow plows, but in the summertime, there's really not much for them to do.
Without really being able to figure out whether anyone would be there, and we talked to quite a few people who might know or know someone who knows, we just set out, it was about 60 or 65 miles from Port Hope Simpson, so we went at a speed where it would be possible to go to Cartwright Junction, strike out and not be able to charge and make it back, so we weren't going to get stranded.
As it happens, there was a guy there, Larry, who was working there, doing some mechanic work on one the snow plows, and he was kind enough to let us charge. From there we were able with a full charge again to continue to the next Highway Depot, and got lucky again at Crooks Lake where the truck drivers had just come in for the evening and were cooking dinner when we arrived, and so we charged there for a little while and then continued on and made it in to Goose Bay that night. It was a long day, but we were able to do that 250 miles in one day.
And then after that, the legs were shorter, like from Goose Bay to Churchill Falls is about 180 miles, which is just within the capability, so we just went slow. And there was a highway depot halfway, but nobody was there and the power was not on.
Fortunately, we were not counting on that, so we just continued on and made it in to Churchill Falls, where there are public chargers. Churchill Falls is a company town just to run the hydro plant there, so it's huge, a 5.4-gigawatt hydroelectric plant.
They have large transmission lines carrying the power out because there's no demand right there, but most of it goes into Quebec. And then from there we continued west, and not long after crossing the border into Quebec, there are sections of gravel, so we got to see a little bit of how it used to be. It's good grade of gravel, and when we were there, it was not wet or rutted up or anything, so it was pretty fast traveling.
We made it down to the Manic-5 plant, which is a very distinctive dam. It's an arch buttressed concrete dam. Really neat thing. Got to take the tour there, which is excellent, and they have public chargers there too, of course. And from there, south into the more populated parts of Quebec, then it became easy again. There was plenty of civilization and charging and everything else you need.
That was the story of charging across Labrador, which that was really the main challenge. We weren't sure if we were going to make it, but as it happens, it's just possible now with an electric motorcycle. There are some newer models coming out with larger batteries and more efficient, that will make it a lot easier.
While you were away, Zero made their big DSR/X announcement. What do you think of that?
I think it's pretty neat. With their DSR/X, you can buy the stock bike and add the fast charger to it and a couple off the shelf items and go ride the TAT, whereas two years ago I had to do this special custom build and add the fast chargers and everything else to make something suitable, because there wasn't anything stock that could do the TransAmerica Trail. I think they've made an important step forward with the DSR/X.
It’s still belt-driven, though.
It is. Yeah. I think you can put a chain drive on it, and if it was mine, I would probably do that, but it does sound like they've thought about it. They've put a wider belt, they've got some belt guards on it, so they're trying.
I guess we'll just have to see what the real-world testing shows us about that. I'm sure it's getting a little late in the season this year, but as it gets into people's hands, by next year, people will be taking these out and putting them through their paces and we'll see what the story is on the belt drive.
Maybe they could strengthen up their chain drive so that they don't have the aluminum sprocket issue that you had.
I don't think it would really cost that much more to do. I have mentioned it to an engineer at Zero, that there's a better way to do this, but I think the chain drive has mostly been an afterthought. They originally offered it for the FX, which is a much smaller bike, and then, well, it also fits on the DSR, so here you go. The same thing.
Well, an FX, people aren't doing overland travel on because the battery's so small. It's a play bike. You can take it out in the woods and go for a little while, but 50 or 60 miles at a time, you're not going to cross the country that way, but when you pair it with the DSR, the aluminum sprocket just wears out way too fast.
The other thing that's a little disappointing with the DSR/X is they still don't have the level three DC fast charge, which the competing, the Harley Davidson and the Energica bikes have DC fast charge.
I really would like to see that on Zeros. They have technical limitations. Their battery pack that they use is too low a voltage to use at CCS, so I understand it, but eventually they're going to have to make the jump to the level three charger.
I debriefed Zero after the TAT trip, talked with a bunch of their engineers, and I told them, "Guys, I'm not buying another bike unless it has CCS, because..." Yeah, AC charging is just too slow to really have mass-market appeal. If you're looking at an hour and 15 minutes to charge, I'm willing to put up with that, but it stinks. Whereas Energica is talking about getting down to a 15- or 20-minute charge time, which I think will require liquid cooling on the batteries, which they don't have yet, so it's coming, but you're never going to do that with AC charging.
On the other hand, for adventure travel right now, AC charging really is still where it's at because when you're out in the boonies, maybe you can find some RV campground, but you're not going to find a DC fast charge station in some little town that has maybe one gas pump that's rusting in the corner somewhere, right?
They're not going to have DC fast chargers there anytime soon, maybe never, so I'd really like to see both. That's a problem with the Energica, is it only has, I think three kilowatts of AC charging capability, which means if you're traveling and you can't get a DC fast charge, well, now you're looking at, I don't know, six hours to charge a thing up.
So, you're pretty much done for the day at that point, so that stinks, too. I guess the trade off right now is in your area and for what you want to do with the bike, do you want to go AC or DC? But really, I'd like to see both because something like a DSR/X, it would be nice to be able to...this is part of what big EV bikes are good at.
You can get on and travel on fast roads to get to where you want to do your trail riding, and that's where the AC charging doesn't work very well. You want the DC fast charging for the road models, and then when you're out in the boonies, AC charging is just the only way. Maybe someday. I'm sure eventually they'll do it.
Zero knows all this, they just have a large investment with their battery pack and their motor controllers and motors. Everything's designed around a pack that runs at about 116 volts, I think peak, and CCS only works, as I understand it, down to about 200, volts because it's designed for electric cars, and those all have voltages above 200, 300, 400, even 800 volts now.
So, there's a mismatch there, but Energica and LiveWire are both running higher pack voltages to make CCS possible, and I think Zero's eventually going to have to bite the bullet and do the development to do that, otherwise they're going to get left behind.
What was the length of this most recent trip that you took up into Labrador and Newfoundland?
It was about 8,006 miles. It was a good trip. I would do it again, especially Newfoundland. We really enjoyed it up there. Lots of new things to see, and the people are famously friendly up there, and really that was our experience.
I think we met one jerk when we parked in her parking spot, and even before she noticed us, two people had walked by saying, “Oh, you better not park there, the parking police are going to get you.” And yeah, sure enough, she came out in her Muumuu yelling at us. But that was the one jerk in all of Canada, I think.
That's a pretty good ride if you only met one jerk in the entire country.
At other places it was more like...at one campground, we pulled in to charge and asked for the fellow who owned it. He said, "Well, we're closed." But then when we explained what we were doing, he said, "Oh, well then come on and let me turn on an outlet for you."
And he started telling us all about his motorcycle, showed us some old bikes he had and then he showed us his stuffed moose head that's animatronic, in his garage. It's got control switches to where you can move it around and move its eyes. It has speakers in the nose so you can talk through it.
Yeah. And anyway, he wouldn't let us leave without giving us some cod fish. That's kind of how it went. This was in Newfoundland, near Deer Lake. We ended up staying probably an hour longer than we needed for charging, just because we were having a good time there. There's a lot to talk about with Gerard.
I think that's part of what makes motorcycle travel interesting, is people are more likely to ask, "Hey, where are you from?" That sort of thing. Strike up a conversation. If you're just in a car at a gas station, nobody pays you any attention, right?
But if you're on a bike that's loaded up with all this gear, and you've got a license plate from far away, people are interested. And with the electric bike it's doubly so, because it gets you out and interacting with people in a different way, especially going around and asking to charge. That's a conversation starter. And also, especially in Quebec, if we would roll into a town and plug in the bike, there would end up being a small crowd of people around us asking questions about it.
Quebec in particular, they're really keen on EVs there and quite a lot of more conscious that it's the coming thing. It seems like everybody there either has one already or personally knows someone who has an electric car, so when they see an electric motorcycle, they're fascinated by it. And the general reaction is they didn't even know that electric motorcycles existed.
We toured around and we saw lighthouses and some museums, and we went up to Elliston, Newfoundland, and saw the puffins up there. There's an island right next to a cliff where you can walk up and see the nesting site of the puffins about 50 feet away.
We only even heard about the puffins because we were out near Signal Hill in St. John's, and we were charging the bike next to the visitor's center, and a man had seen us from the top of the hill, maybe a quarter mile away.
He saw the bike down there charging next to his electric car, and he hurried down to us because he wanted to ask us about it. And naturally he was from Quebec, but his wife told us about the puffins in Elliston.
So, that's how we even found out that that was a place that we needed to go, and it was a highlight. And in that case, it was just because of the electric bike that we had that interaction that led to something else.
That's a rule when we're traveling: If we bump into someone who says, "We need to do X," well, then if we can, we're going to do that, whatever it is, whatever sidetrack thing.
Do you build a lot of extra time into your trips to do that?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. For this trip, I think we planned on an average of 125 miles a day, something like that. We [also] plan in zero days where we're not going anywhere. We like to do that. If we've been riding for five days straight, we're ready for a day off the bikes.
Do some admin, do some laundry, all that kind of stuff. Or just be still for a while. Maybe stop in a little town and see what there is to see on foot there, or go for a hike, that sort of thing. In 10 weeks, we certainly could have gone more miles, but I don't think that, for us anyway, it doesn't lead to a better trip.
The Edwardses were kind enough to allow us to share some of their photos from this trip. For a writeup by Amy, along with a ton more photos and short video clips, be sure to check out the ADVRider forum thread linked in our Sources.