Sunday, July 18, 2010

First Ride

Catch-Up Post: March 20th, 2010
First Ride: The most intimate experience I've ever had with a motor vehicle (well at least tied for first)

I had already decided to buy the new 2010 Zero Motorcycle and arrived to test ride the bike at the company headquarters in Scott's Valley near Santa Cruz California. To keep it short, after dreaming of electric vehicles for years, the new 2010 model that could go 67 MPH and new state rebate released March 15th offering an additional $1,500 cash back was enough to make the purchase well worth my city traveling needs. 

The new 2010 models were out touring the country so Bryan (the Zero Motorcycle representative) brought out two older (2009) models that had 25% less power than the new 2010 model for me and my friend (James) to ride. We sat on the bikes and got comfortable as Bryan explained the controls.  I brought James with me since he was the one who put me on my first motorcycle 10 years ago, when I no longer needed my parents legal permission to ride, we took laps around the suburban loop on an old 1980 80cc Honda dirt bike.  Since he opened the door to the motorcycle world for me I figured he was the one to bring on the test ride of the first new (as in not used) vehicle I have purchased.  James sat on the bike, after being told how to turn it on, in retrospect he explained he didn't really believe it was on although Bryan said it was on, the green light on the dash and all the switches indicated it was on, he's brain still just wouldn't accept it was on. James being a commuter on a roaring cruiser that you can hear at least a block away every time it starts, made it understandably hard for his brain to register that the bike was on.  In disbelief his subconscious decided to give a fair twist of the throttle as unexpectedly the bike, anxious to go, lurched forward a few feet and James stumbled to keep the bike upright and not hit his own car, Bryan, or me on the other motorcycle.  Luckily the bike is so light and well balanced it feels as easy to keep up as a bicycle and James regained control in that split second before hitting any of us. Bryan kinda chuckled and reminded him the bike is always in gear as there is no gearbox at all, just motor and wheels.  James laughed at himself and explained he really didn't believe it was going to go anywhere when turning the throttle. 

Next we did some circles around the parking lot to get the first feelings of a bike almost half the wet weight of my RC51 (gasoline "sport" motorcycle) and definitely less than half the weight of my friends cruiser. I think Zero Motorcycles claims it has the best power to weight ratio of any electric street legal vehicle on the market. 

After a couple minute of 10 MPH parking lot maneuvers James pulls up and says: "It feels like it's powered my magic, it just goes."  As he continued to adjust to the new experience.

We took off, just down the street was a wonderful tight windy road up and down a mountain with a few straightaways long enough to just hit 50 MPH under conservative first time riding. 

This is where my tied for first most intimate experience with a motor vehicle occurred. Later I'll discuss the complaints I've heard prior to riding this Zero, but you've heard things such as "I can't ride a quite electric vehicle, the engine sound helps so much to feel the handling..." or "the electric motor doesn't give the same feel" and things like that...  

Going in and out of the corners I was blown away. Normally all I can hear is my motor and nothing else until I've gotten a rear tire high-side worthy sideways or totally locked a tire or hit something awful in the road... On this bike it was like a new world of riding, I felt like I knew the road as if I had touched every piece of tarmac with the palm of my hand. I could hear every pebble under the tire, I could hear the different degrees of flex in the drive chain and motor whisper variations while getting on and off the throttle. The different sounds the tires made on the different textures gave the feeling like sanding wood work with different grades of sand paper at different speeds or climbing a bolder and feeling the hand grip and textures of the different rock surfaces or types of bark on a tree. It was intimate, I almost felt like I should be an ashamed voyeuristic getting closer, where I had never been before into the soul of my vehicle carving the windy road. In the end, when it comes to Ben Spies and Valentino Rossi battling this year at the 100+ mph speeds this sensation will make no difference over the noise of the wind and the need for the feel of the many thousands of dollars worth of suspension.  But in my world, riding the back road at mostly street legal speeds, this was one of the most intimate things I have ever done on two wheels. 

It is hard for me to describe the emotions I felt taking this vehicle down a windy road so I'm going to share the only other motor vehicle experience that even compares.  I had invested maybe 500 track miles on a 15 year old motorcycle, it was fun hard work.  When I bought my, at the time couple year old RC51 (Honda sport bike), I went to the track and had the first experience fully leaned over dragging my knee through half the corners at Buttonwillow raceway at speeds around 40-70 mph.  That intimate feeling leaned over a perfectly stable bike actually touching the ground at track speeds, all those intimate emotions first felt while touching the track for my first time, that is the best comparison for how it felt making this transition to my first ride on a real road on this Zero motorcycle. 

Looking (actually staring) at the photos of the new bike I had a concern for braking ability and suspension feel.  I've gotten used to looking at the 43mm fork tubes on most new sport bikes and in the photo I thought the forks looked a little narrow and thus I was afraid maybe also of a cheap feeling.  But after seeing first hand and riding the bike the forks seem almost the exact same size, and thus easily tune-able in terms of finding after market parts for your riding style and gave a great stock feel for the riding they are designed for.  It is hard for me to tell what this bike should feel like since I'm so used to my RC51, which at the time was said to have one of the most "road race ready" suspensions and thus I can feel every crack on the rode and have to often stand up over the bumpy pot holes on the roads these days, if I don't the hard suspension jolt will shake my organs quite nice. In terms of the brakes I had not ridden a bike with 1 front brake rotor since my futile attempts on my first 1985 cruiser to keep up with a 2000 R6. I fully failed to realize the affect of having a bike around half the mass of most other road bikes out there.  The brakes with the stock steel braked lines and lightness of the bike gave an instantly 100% confident feel.  I was thinking about having essentially no engine braking, and especially paying close attention to my corner entries as at street speeds. On my RC51 I almost never even use brakes due to the extreme engine braking.  At first I thought the Zero would have less braking power without the engine assisted braking and single front rotor.  Keep in mind I'm no physicist, but while riding, I figured when braking traction is lost, it is simply between the road and the tire, it does not matter what is slowing the tire, whether from the engine or just the brakes, the total traction of the tire is still the same, right? In-fact all new sport bikes even need slipper clutches to help offset the engine braking to maintain safest and quickest braking. In a sense, once used to it, I think the no engine braking would give more rider control using the rear brake lever and may increase reliable and confident extreme braking maneuvers without having the variable of additional and ever changing engine braking on the rear wheel (keep in mind statistically most road motorcycle crashes involved the rear wheel locking when there is time for an emergency braking maneuver to occur). One of my first trials will be a self test of 60-0 braking and 0-30 acceleration comparison between my RC51 and Zero S motorcycles, first ride I think this Zero will give the RC a good run. Stay tuned for that comparison. 

Even with 25% less power, this 2009 model still had all the power I would "need" for street use. we could easily keep up or exceed all the speeds of traffic and definitely keep up (as in want to go faster) with all the cars on a windy road.  The extra power will really be for fun destroying cars at stop lights and being able to keep a safe pace on freeway commuting. 

Throttle Roll-On
 I had one major critique with the throttle roll-on.  Rolling on the throttle on the 2009 model while coming out of a corner was an unfriendly process.  Without the clear sounds of exhaust it wasn't easy to get a feel of what rpm the motor would be running at and thus it was hard to get a feel of when the throttle would give enough power to begin driving the wheel.  When leaned over, even at slow speeds it was uneasy waiting for that kinda sudden kick when the motor would reach the speed of the wheel and shift the bike weights and suspension loads into the drive mode. We only road it for 8 miles and just after that short ride it became much easier to get the feel of when the engine would kick in while exiting out of each corner.  On uphill corners the problem did not exist. Bryan assured us that the control system on the 2010 model has completely eliminated this problem. With more power and better throttle roll-on feel it looks like the only issues I have would be addressed. 

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