Zero Below Zero -- Last Hurrah
The end of March brought the end of my riding time on the Zero for this project. Spring weather patterns can change quickly here in Duluth, so the first of my last few days were blessed with temps in the 40’s, dry roads and clear sunny skies. The lack of snow and ice mixed with clear skies and a hint of Spring brought an almost giddy, playful spirit to the ride. The Winter rides were fun, but always seemed a bit overshadowed by the need to be extra alert for snow, ice, sand, traffic... the sunshine and clear roads and skies help lift that veil and make it easier to twist the throttle just a bit faster and lean into the next corner just a little further. Engaging Sport mode on the FX also helped give it a bit more of that teen-like enthusiasm, compared to the more cautious adultish Economy mode.
This outstanding early season weather held out for three rides (2 morning and 1 afternoon) before the prevailing winds brought back clouds and rain that parked over the region for the next couple of days. That’s part of the beauty about wearing a Roadcrafter though, riding in liquid sunshine is just as much fun as riding with clear skies. Waking up to rain on the morning of Wednesday, March 30th, didn’t stop me from smiling in my helmet all the way down the hill for the morning commute, listening to the raindrops creating a nice beat as they bounced off my helmet. On the outside, my suit, triple digit glove covers, waterproof boots and lightweight portable bag I was wearing on my back were all wet and covered with a muddy spray from the wet grime on the roads. Arriving at work and taking off my wet and dirty (on the outside) gear, my clothes underneath are warm, dry, comfortable and ready to start the workday.
With my plan to turn over the keys to the next rider tonight, I steal one last afternoon ride (in the rain) to run a few errands. After hanging for 4 hours my wet gear is now dry and ready to go back out into the elements. Again I enjoy the feeling of silently maneuvering through traffic, surrounded by the sounds of the vehicles around me and the plinking of the rain on my helmet. I sure am going to miss the ease of use and the quiet A-to-B transport that the Zero offers, but I’m sure I’ll get used to the noise of the engine on my Kawasaki again pretty quickly...remembering to shift gears, use the clutch and look at the gas gauge might take a little re-training though. Good riding!
Before the Zero Below Zero project, I knew that it was do-able, at least to some extent, to ride a motorcycle year round. Five years ago I had reached a goal of riding at least one day every month of the year, with the crowning achievement being a ride in mid-February with double digit below zero temperatures. At the time, that seemed like a big deal. Riding the Zero FX all Winter long this year now makes me realize just how practical riding a motorcycle can be for year round commuting...in any kind of weather! Plus, riding an electric motorcycle made it even easier to do. No need to worry about warming up an engine, or shifting gears while riding (on sometimes questionable traction surfaces), or lubing a chain, of filling up the gas tank, or... The Zero is a great commuter motorcycle. Just get on and go. As long as where you are going is within the range of the battery, then the efficiency of this bike is extremely hard to beat. And the fun factor is through the roof too!
Now that Spring is in full swing and the ZBZ project has come to a close, I am once again adjusted to riding my gas-powered Versys again everyday. One benefit of riding the Zero all Winter was maintaining a sense of fluency in the saddle. Carefully observing slippery and rapidly changing riding conditions all Winter, along with logging fairly regular riding time in those environments, has kept me in ‘riding shape’ this year. Usually every Spring requires a few rides to get my balance and comfort level in the saddle back again, but not this year. The Zero did create another issue though, establishing a learning curve to re-train my muscle memory for using the clutch and shift lever. More than a few times after hopping back on the gas powered bike, I found myself hearing a loud revved-out engine noise..."wow, that’s a loud vehicle in the next lane", I would think until realizing the noise was from me forgetting to shift to the next higher gear. Yes, the silence and automatic throttle on the Zero had spoiled me. For the first two days I kept forgetting to take notice of how much fuel was left in the gas tank too...it seemed so much easier to just plug in an electric cord after every ride. It’s been several weeks now of exclusively riding the Versys, and everyday riding and the nuances accompanying a gas-powered motor have returned completely, but I still find myself missing the quiet, easy electric operation.
Now after some saddle time on both the Zero and once again being back on a gas powered motorcycle, there really are more similarities than differences between the two. Each has advantages and disadvantages depending upon how you want to use the bike, but both are excellent forms of transportation to any destination, in all types of weather. The electric is quieter, lighter and more nimble and requires less maintenance and work to ride. The gas powered bike provides much greater range and faster, more convenient re-fueling options. As technology continues to improve and advances are made to both types of motorcycles, the gap between them in how they are used will continue to narrow. The introduction of new technology and continued factory and consumer interest in further expanding the efficiency, function and range of both traditional and electric motorcycles means the future of riding in general looks strong. And will continue to grow and attract more riders who will appreciate the myriad of personal and social benefits that riding a motorcycle, everywhere and in any weather, has to offer.
This Winter I was fortunate to be able to take part in the Zero Below Zero project, to personally test the viability of riding everyday, and the functionality of an electric powered bike – even in sub-freezing conditions. It was proven to be plausible, and enjoyable, even during the worst cold, snow and ice conditions Mother Nature could provide. This past weekend, I was also fortunate to see a glimpse into the future of what motorcycling has to offer. My 7 year old son has a Honda CRF50 dirt bike that he rides around (and around, and around...) our house. Recently he found out his friend down the street also has a dirt bike, but his is electric powered. 2016-05-01 15.53.25It didn’t take long before they were both riding around the yards together, stopping to switch bikes about every other lap, racing each other to see who was faster...and both of them smiling, laughing and having a great time no matter which bike they were on. Gas or Electric was interchangeable for these two young riders, both motorcycles providing them the experience, fun and function they were seeking. Seems like to these two boys the fun factor of riding, even riding a ‘silent’ motorcycle with the quiet hum of an electric motor, is all that matters. When it was time for them to quit riding and put the bikes away, they could excitedly be heard making plans for getting together for the next ride...Yes, the future of riding looks bright from here. And by the sound of it, ‘Hum’ is the new ‘Braap’!
Kyle - Aerostich Marketing and Graphics. Everyday ride is an ‘08 Kawasaki Versys, used to commute about 4500 miles per year.
Rider factoid: Enjoys riding in the rain and the jealous looks of youth soccer players (and a few mom’s) when dropping off his daughter on the bike for soccer practices and games.