Zero Below Zero Blog -- Keys Please! Randy's 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!
As Bruce handed me the keys to the Zero I felt like a teenager getting the family car keys for the first time. A giddiness I haven’t experienced in years came over me. My first ride on an electric motorcycle. The same ones that have been teasing me for years in various ads and articles on the Internet and in magazines. They were becoming mainstream and all I had done to date was sit on one at a motorcycle show. Now finally I would have the chance to try one!
The clutch and shift lever reflexes are hard to ignore. I tried for the clutch as I was about to take off and my hand mysteriously passed through the lever as my mind wondered what was going on. I turned the grip and the smooth power flowed effortlessly and I was off.
The smooth and linear power control has been the most impressive aspect of riding the Zero. It is all just so effortless. More throttle equals more speed. That is it. Never mind about engine power bands and modulating power through a clutch to get the final output at the rear wheel that you want. No careful throttle control as you take off on a cold bike, keep up the revs and slip the clutch so it doesn’t stall. Skills that take riders years to fully master. Nope, just twist and go.
It makes me feel the same as when we got a new car in 2014 that had an automatic transmission after driving a manual transmission since 2000. You feel like you have all this extra attention to spare as you are doing so little to drive. I really think that the simplicity of driving an electric motorcycle like the Zero helps free up mental resources that you can apply to being more alert in traffic. You have fewer variables to manage if something unexpected happens. I expect a slightly better miles ridden to accident ratio for riders who commute on electric motorcycles.
At the first stop sign I was determined to find that shift lever to downshift but again my left foot mysteriously passed right through it. Now all my left foot has to do is just dumbly sit on the peg. I think it feels left out. At least my left hand gets to turn the handle bars.
The lack of sound from the Zero is also a plus in traffic. You can hear things like birds chirping in the trees and pops of rocks shooting off the tires in town. Sounds that I never heard before. The tire studs sing their own song as does the motor but they sing quietly. I can hear cars around me in traffic just by their tire noise. Quiet is good in my book as I have never been a fan of loud bikes on the street.
The first commute home was pretty uneventful. The bike felt a bit sluggish due to the low air tire pressures but otherwise was an easy ride. The bumps all felt big as the suspension was stiff due to the cold temperatures. I did get many looks from pedestrians. A sort of mildly curious look.
The first snow on the road I encountered was riding a loop in my neighborhood where there was about 3/4 inch of slushy snow. I was going pretty slow and didn’t have any issues with traction. My goal was to start to get a sense of what it is like to ride on mostly frozen snow. I have ridden many times in wet snow that is mostly melting but frozen snow is very different as it doesn’t just squish out of the way so the tire can contact the road.
I rode by my daughter’s house as she lives just two blocks away to see if my two grandsons were out to see their Grandad riding the mogaco in the snow. The oldest is 2 ½ and can’t say motorcycle yet so he calls them mogacos. He loves mogacos and always gets excited to see me or his dad ride home.
This kid doesn’t stand a chance of being able to resist the call of riding. Our plan is to start him riding when he is able and make sure his skills are well developed. Our theory is that a young rider with well developed skills will have a better chance of having a safer riding life than a teenager who does it on his/her own. Some would say that better riders are more likely to do more dangerous things. Me and his dad will do our best to pass on good riding habits and make sure he wears the all the gear. We believe that well developed riding skills will reduce overall risk.
My hands felt the warmth of the heated grips during the whole trip but I could start to feel some cold on my fingertips as I got home. 7 miles of riding isn’t enough to be a real issue for warmth unless the outside temps are much lower. It was 17°F and overcast on this early evening ride. I used my Roadcrafter Classic 1PC suit with a Darien inner fleece jacket for warmth. My gear was the same as early/late season commutes with no snow on the roads.
I took a bunch of pictures at home as I enjoyed the novelty of commuting in the winter. Next I just plugged it into the handlebar mounted cord that I built and the battery warmer kicked in and the main batteries began to charge. The impact on battery life is minor with less than 5% usage for a one way commute with the electric grips on.
Getting to Church on Time
Sunday was an opportunity to do something new, ride a motorcycle to church in the winter time. I thought it would be amusing and it was.
Roads were once again good with the only snowy and icy area being the church parking lot. I pulled up and parked the Zero close to the main entrance in an unused area by the regular car spaces. Church goers looked on with more curiosity than the general public.
As I walked in with my suit, it was a little uncomfortable as the whole of 40+ people almost all turned to look at the same time. I found a corner coat rack area to take off my gear and try to blend in. It didn’t work. The comments started coming quick. “You rode here?!?!” “Is the bike outside?”. It was like a rockstar moment as everyone had some curiosity about the weird guy who rode to church in the winter.
The pastor and several other members of the church ride so people were taking pictures and kids were going out in small groups to check out the Zero.
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D’oh! Here comes the Snow.
As I get up in the morning on Monday and look outside I realize that there are 2 inches of fresh snow on the ground and it is still coming down pretty good. It was a D’oh! moment when I realized I was going to do some real riding in the snow. So far all my rides have only been on dry pavement with occasional snowy areas.
I didn’t want to let anxiety build as I pondered this new task ahead of me so I made a few amusing (to me anyway) videos of the moment to keep my attitude light. It did help keep the nerves in check.
I setup the prototype smartphone sleeve that velcros to my Roadcrafter on the upper left chest area. I have been trying different combinations of velcro spacers to the get the best video angle from my iPhone. It has been working pretty well and I have got the video to come out level as I ride. The snow was coming down pretty heavy so the expectation was the video would be poor as snow accumulated on the lens.
My first thoughts were about how to find a way to get to Superior Street that runs along Lake Superior directly to Aerostich. Superior street is level and goes through downtown. It is also usually keep well cleared of snow. The problem was how to get from my driveway down three blocks.
I live close to a street that is usually kept in good driving condition and goes straight down to Superior Street. The problem is that it is also very steep. I pictured myself skidding down the hill the whole way with the rear tire locked up and maybe using the curb to keep my speed down.
The other option was going uphill first to another street that would provide a more gradual way to get down to Superior Street. My plan was to check the conditions and make a choice based on what I saw.
As I drove down my driveway through the snow it felt pretty good as the fresh snow quickly packed under the tires. I hit the front brake and it made a loud squeal. This has been happening each ride on the first application of the front brake. The salt and sand must be contaminating the caliper, brake pads and rotor.
The direct path to Superior Street was salted and in good shape. It wasn’t plowed but the salt made the tire tracks melt and provided a solid line of traction down the hill. This really helped my psyche and set a good initial tone for the ride. I turned onto Superior Street where there was little if any salt but the cars had worn two decent paths into the snow.
Traction for most of the way was fine as long as I kept the Zero in the tire tracks. Intersections were a problem as there were piles of snow that I had to cross. A couple of times I stepped the back end out and had to countersteer as I learned how much throttle I could use. I also had to pull over twice to allow vehicles behind me to pass as they were following too close for safety. I was doing about 25 to 30 MPH which was OK most of the time but the cars could out accelerate me from intersections as tire spin limited my acceleration. Finally someone behind me gave me some room and didn’t follow too close which made the ride through downtown much better. Passing angle parked cars was concerning so I slowed down and kept a close watch on their tail lights to make sure no one backed out in front of me. I would have been tricky trying to stop in time.
The Zero was almost ideal in how it handled the snow. The perfect throttle control allowed me to ride above my experience level. If I had been doing the same thing on a conventional motorcycle I would have been trying to learn how to modulate power to the real wheel throughout the ride. Learning the throttle and clutch control needed to keep power to the real wheel in a very narrow band in addition to shifting gears and all the complication that brings to the process. Normal street riding doesn’t teach you this type of precise power control. The Zero was the perfect tool for the job and allowed me to focus on just a single point of power control as I dealt with all the other new motorcycle control skills I was learning.
The adrenaline kicked in as I was leaving downtown Duluth. I was following a city bus in a very slushy area with several vehicles around me including a Duluth Police officer in a SUV. I tried to follow the bus through an intersection where vehicles are crossing Superior Street to enter the highway. This intersection is tricky in dry conditions as cars are speeding up going downhill as they anticipate merging onto the highway. I figured the bus would be good at making a hole in traffic for me.
The problem came when the bus stopped to pick up passengers. I moved to another lane to pass it and found myself directly behind the police officer. As far as I know what I am doing is legal but I didn’t want to be pulled over. The studded tires are a gray area. Fat tire bikes ride all over the city streets with studded tires and there doesn’t seem to be any issues. The Zero is really like a fat tire bike with a heavy rider. The impact to the road surface from the studs is negligible for both the bikes and motorcycles and are essential for winter riding safety.
I wait for traffic and start to cross to the other lane to pass the bus and end up going sideways a bit as the rear tire spins and steps over in the slush. I get straighten up and pass the bus but it is accelerating so fast that I would have had to go close to 40MPH to pass it and get through the intersection ahead of it. I slow down instead and let it pass me again. Quickly I get behind it and follow it mostly through the intersection. Another SUV behind me was following too close and quickly passed me as I go back onto Superior Street. I felt relief as I was now close to Aerostich with no major intersections. I pass closely by another police officer parked and sitting in his patrol car. No response. I wonder if he noticed me pass as there is no real sound.
As I pull onto the street next to Aerostich I see the deepest snow of the trip on the unplowed street. Fresh snow isn’t really much of a problem if it isn’t too deep and I had no tire spins. I pull into the designated Zero parking space where we keep the extension cord outside. As I put down the sidestand, thankfulness and relief come over me. Ride #1 in real snow completed successfully.
I walk into the Aerostich office with allot of adrenaline still in my system and excitedly talk about the experience with my fellow test riders, Kyle, Bruce and Gail. I load the iPhone video onto my laptop and am surprised the video turned out well. A cool souvenir of an exciting ride.
Randy - Aerostich I.T. & Data/Mail List Management. Rode about 7K miles in 244 days in 2015. Commutes daily on either a ‘06 Suzuki DR650 or ‘89 Honda Hawk NT650.
Rider factoid: Road raced CRA, WERA competitively for 10 years. Rode across Alaska and parts of South America in Argentina and Chile. Lifelong rider.