I’d like you to play a little mind game with me.

Break out your mental ‘Etch-a-sketch’ and imagine a motorcycle.

First draw two circles, close to the same size, that describe the wheels. One rectangle towards the rear gives you a bench seat. A jellybean shape provides your fuel tank. A cylinder, maybe two. Give the rider some grips to grab onto, a headlight, and a pipe or two to get noise out of those cylinders, and there it is.

A motorcycle.

Unlike the ‘Famous Artist’s School’ Drawing lessons whose ads festooned a misspent youth’s worth of matchbooks and motorcycle magazines, 4 payments of $4.95 are not required – this drawing lesson is free.

What you’ve drawn looks just like a Honda CB360T. Or a Triumph Bonneville. Or a Norton International, Matchless G12 or a Royal Enfield Bullet.

Your mind’s eye has produced an iconic, simple, classic standard motorcycle.

And in your mind’s eye is likely where that classic motorcycle will stay, because almost no-one still manufactures a product that looks or functions like that.

Think about what motorcycles are out there in the marketplace, and which ones sell in substantial volumes. There are all manner of racetrack refugees – Yamaha YZF-R1s, Suzuki GSXR 1000s, BMW RR1000s, Kawasaki ZX-10s. Such motorcycles are extraordinary pieces of engineering, capable of blistering lap times and stunning top speeds that would have had them on the GP Podiums of 20 years ago.

Most of us, though, just want to get to work with our laptop and lunchbox, take a ride to the grocery store, or put our girlfriend (or boyfriend) on the back seat for a Sunday afternoon ride. Good luck transporting anything bigger than a granola bar, or any SO over 5 feet tall as a passenger on one of these machines.

Other specialized motorcycle designs abound. Heavy Tourers. Sport Tourers. Adventure Bikes. Cruisers. Baggers Bikes with more power, more mass, more suspension travel, more complexity, more function, but with more focus – being good at one thing at the expense of others. Good on the Interstate but a wrestling match in the city. Sweet on a single track but a tall mess on the pavement.

I’m as guilty as any rider of feeding the specialization beast. I have a vintage sport bike, racer boy bubble and all. I have a scrambler – which was riding dirt before anyone coined the term. I have a GT Bike – fairings, panniers and top case – complex adjustable fairings and artsy alternate suspension. It can carve twisty pavement with a week’s gear on board at 80 mph and can do it for weeks at a time. Its motor has a bigger displacement than half the cars in Italy.

My first street motorcycle was a 1973 CB750. It was bone stock – save for a universal chrome tube luggage rack, with a Green Spring Valley Dairy milkcrate bolted on.

Why does it feel like I’ve lost something?

My youngest son Finn is also a rider, and although he gets some, doesn’t really need any encouragement from me. As an Architect in Training, Finn has a developed design eye. When he first started looking at motorcycles, he was immediately drawn to one of those last few remaining classic motorcycles, the Royal Enfield. He intuitively understood the Bullet’s classic design language and intent. Had Finn had as much income as he had discerning taste, he’d have bought one, too.

His first few years in the saddle – using his bike for daily transportation – were spent aboard a Buell Blast single whose purchase was mostly based on the $900 it cost to buy. Being an Architect and not a mechanic, Finn found himself the recipient of increasingly frequent not quite social visits from me and from ever increasing percentages of my toolkit stuffed into the saddlebags of the aforementioned GT bike.

After the Blast’s engine fell out, it became clear, even to me, that some more material adjustments needed to be made to Finn’s riding life, and those adjustments were spelled H-O-N-D-A.

After about 639 phone calls to Baltimore’s Pete’s Cycle, my credit union and my Allstate agent, Finn had a brand new 2016 CB500F parked in my garage – at least until its permanent license plate showed up.

Two circles, one rectangle, one jellybean, some grips, two cylinders, a headlight and a pipe.


So it was with a light and expectant heart that I pulled on my leathers and my helmet, and rolled the CB out of my garage.

It’s not difficult to see the classic motorcycles of the past in the CB’s profile. Its parallel twin engine, sit up riding profile, and relaxed footpeg position carry obvious echos of the original CB450 Black Bomber, and the Triumph Bonneville that it was designed to vanquish. There are a few concessions to modernity – the bike’s 471 cc motor is liquid cooled, fuel injected, and has a double overhead cam, 4 valve cylinder head. Honda’s stylists did their best to pay homage to the tank shape and tailsection of Marc Marquez’ championship winning RC213V.

Fingering the starter yields immediate action – the bike’s exhaust note has a whistling quality which comes from the fuel injection pump and the operation of the injectors being the loudest sounds coming from the motor. The CB’s reaction to throttle is immediate – the engine’s square bore and stroke design has almost no flywheel.

On the road, the CB is a dream. The 6 speed transmission shifts positively – downshifts are a treat given the engine’s immediate response to a blips of the throttle. The quality of the engine’s power delivery is sneaky fast – there’s just enough communication to let you know that this is a twin, but the quality of the vibration is always pleasant – at higher RPMs and highway speeds the motor smooths out admirably. Above 6000 rpm that twin is ripping.

Cornering behavior is exemplary – the bike is narrow, weighs just over 400 lbs wet, cuts entries and changes direction like a scalpel and holds its cornering line securely even at extreme lean angles. Suspension is taut but comfortable. The bike’s 4 piston Nissin single rotor front brake is more than enough for the CB’s low mass.

I find myself seeking out tighter and more technical stretches of Frederick County pavement as the tires scrub in. I’m working the bike’s throttle, making full use of all 6 gears, and spending some quality time with the horizon anywhere but horizontal.

The CB500F has not been a sales leader for Honda. This bike was a leftover 2016 that was deeply discounted at the end of the 2017 sales year. On the West Coast, examples can be bought new for more than 35% off the current MSRP. Our American Riding Brothers and Sisters will tell you that its engine is “too small” and that it isn’t track ready, tour ready or adventure ready. All of that misses the point completely. Anywhere else in the world, where 2 wheeled transportation means a world of 125s, 350 Bullets, two strokers and motorscooters, the CB is an aspirational motorcycle – more attractive and better performing at a price that normal humans, and more importantly in the US, young riders, can afford.

Sitting in my driveway looking at the CB with Finn, it’s clear that we agree with those riders. Neither one of us ever gets tired of looking at the CB, and Finn’s opinion is “This is my new favorite thing in the entire world”.

Better still, is the CB is just grin-inducingly and totally fun to ride.

And isn’t that why we ride?




This story originally appeared in the January/February Issue of Motorcycle Times.




All I wanted was a donut.

Is that so wrong?

Judging from the universe’s reaction to this simple animal desire, apparently I should be eating more healthy.




I woke up Saturday morning, and the sun was out in force, my little electronic weather station showed rapidly rising temperatures in the high 30s, my roads were free of snow and ice, and Sweet Doris From Baltimore was in the kitchen starting to whip up a pot of hot coffee.

“You know what I’d really like?” she asked. “A danish.”

Me, of course, I wanted… well, you already know that.

My small town of Jefferson has only a few commercial establishments, but one of the better ones is the Jefferson Pastry Shop, which whips up fresh-baked goods in a tiny building that was the original home of our renowned butcher shop, Hemp’s Meats. Hemp’s, which operated in that roughly 20 by 25 foot building from 1849 until 1981, finally outgrew it and built a building that is roughly 10 times the size that sits at the back of the older building’s parking lot. The two businesses are now neighbors. The Pastry Shop celebrates that history by retaining the old butcher shop’s cast iron overhead hook-and-rail system that was originally used for processing, storage and display of…. the meats.

Hemp’s and the Pastry Shop are no more than 3/4 of a mile from my front door, so they’re a perfect destination — with occasional scenic detour — for a short motorcycle ride. The knife wielding pros at Hemp’s see me so often, that if they hear the sound of a BMW boxer in the parking lot, they know enough to head into the walk-in and grab a fresh sirloin before their front door even opens.

This, though, was a donut run. A donut run, I should point out, by a sleepy, hungry man who had not yet had a cup of coffee. The situation called for the smallest, simplest form of transport available, as I didn’t intend to tarry or to extend the ride.

I just wanted a donut.

So I grabbed the keys to the son Finn’s former Buell Blast, which was sitting closest to the garage door, and is the smallest, lightest motorcycle in the stable by nearly 100 pounds.

In retrospect, this might not have been among my better decisions.




Despite having been sitting for about eight ice storm, snow storm and otherwise shinkage-inducingly cold days, the Blast fired up on the second compression stroke, and came right up to a steady thump-thump-thump of an idle. I rolled it down the driveway and once rolling toed it into first gear.

Whereas I might normally troll around my neighborhood to get some heat in any motor before heading out to The Jefferson Pike, this morning I skipped it.

I just wanted a donut.

And although the throttle response was a little less than crisp, and the gearshifts were a tad high effort due to what was probably close to solid oil in the baby Harley’s primary case, the little motorcycle seemed glad to be alive, and made a happy braap as it pulled me up the Pike toward town.

After only half a minute on the roll, the Pastry Shop was in sight. I caught a break in what passes for traffic in Jefferson, pulled a big hairy U-turn across The Pike, and rolled the little Moto right up next to the curb directly in front of the shop. The shoulder there isn’t wide enough to park any car, but feels custom made for that small motorcycle.

I killswitched it, yanked my lid and went inside.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only one on the hunt for sinkers.

In the clusteraphobically small space the shop has left for customers, I was fourth in line. These tight confines enforce a certain intimacy with one’s neighbors and fellow donut enthusiasts. This intimacy meant that the gentleman in front of me couldn’t help but hear the small sighs of disappointment as his enthusiastic order cleared out several of the pastry varieties that were in my personal confection lust list.

Finally, my turn at the counter came up, and I put together a small bag of danish, donuts and a impulse purchase of some fresh coconut macaroons that looked too good to pass on.

I paid the nice lady, headed back outside, dropped my paper bag into the Blast’s soft saddlebag, and pulled my helmet and gloves back on.

I swung a leg over, flipped up the sidestand, pulled in the clutch and pressed the starter.

Instead of the instant thump-thump-thump I expected, on the second compression stroke I heard a distinct ‘FOOOP!’ of some sort of misfire under the tank, and the engine did not catch.

I hit the starter a second time, and the engine spun enthusiastically without even the hint of any action towards actually starting.

My uncaffinated and undonutted mind struggled for comprehension. This bike had been running less than 2 minutes before. What could have possibly happened? The accursed and suspect Blast ‘auto-choke’ no doubt had something to do with this.

I’ll admit that I was in a persistent state of reduced cognitive ability. Reduced Comprehension Greg settled on the idea that the misfire had fouled a spark plug. Wet plugs, of course, will not fire, and not firing clearly was at least one component of what I was experiencing.

In my rising state of frustration, on the road to panic, I opened the throttle slightly and pressed the starter again. For 10 full seconds the big single spun to no effect. Since it clearly wasn’t working, and I was out of ideas, I tried it one more time.

Coffee withdrawal is an ugly, ugly thing — rendering its victims clinically insane — and there I was, trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

My diagnosis was clear – total bikesanity.

Finally, after the better part of a minute of impotent ‘whoop-whooop-whoooop’ing, reality finally pierced through the fog.

This little bike had nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.


Looked like I was going to need a plan B.




In retrospect, I probably just should have taken my helmet off and eaten a donut.

But I didn’t do that.

It’s an admitted character flaw that when something goes pearshaped, I go full-on monomaniacal until things are fixed.

It’s not like we’re talking about a long distance — I can just about see the street in front of my house from the back of the bakery’s parking lot.

In the scheme of things, The Blast is a relatively small motorcycle — running about 375 pounds with a half tank of fuel. Jefferson Pike, running back from town, is mostly downhill. Not entirely, but mostly.

“WTF,” I thought, I’ll just push and drift the bike back home. How hard could it be?”

The less detail I share about what a poor decision that was the better. Sufficient to say that with no fuel in my personal tank, my blood sugar, and with it, my access to muscular energy, went red zone about 3/4s of the way home.

While scouting a short cut across a back yard leading into the neighborhood, a dog that was tied out went into full freak-out mode. The backdoor of the house slid open, and Finn’s buddy Rachel appeared.

“Hi Rachel! Bike broke — mind if I cut across your yard?”

“Hey, knock yourself out. You need a little help?”

“Sure — front of your yard is a little soft. If you could just help me get back onto the cul-de-sac, that would be great.”

Rachel stepped right up, grabbed the right handlebar, and helped move my wheels back to the pavement. In this sad little tale, Rachel is our hero, earning herself her first example of biker beer debt.

A little more puffing and a fair amount of sweating later, I found myself at the bottom of my driveway, with just one uphill sprint to get back in the barn. I think that repeat of my cardiac stress test I’d been thinking about can probably wait another year.

Now it was past time for that cup of coffee. And maybe two donuts.




A day or two later, I found myself with a few minutes and yanked the Blast’s tank to that I could access the plug. With the Harley Davidson branded plug in my hand, it was instantly clear my low-sugar addled prior diagnostics had been dead wrong.

The plug was dry and looked like a textbook perfect spot-on tuning illustration from the bike’s shop manual. I hooked the plug wire back up, grounded the plug to the primary case, pressed the starter, and got a big fat, perfect spark.

Given the classic moto-diagnostic trinity of air, fuel and spark, spark was clearly not my problem. Air is all around us, so fuel was the likely culprit. I moved in close to the Blast’s cylinder head and carb, and then literally smacked myself in the face with the palm of my hand. The ‘FOOOOP!’ that I’d heard wasn’t a plug getting fouled, it was a misfire in the intake that had blown the carb clean off the engine. Had it not been bolted into the side of the airbox, I’d have likely found it on the other side of the Jefferson Pike.

Shouldn’t this…. be connected to THAT?

I’ll admit I spent a few minutes trying to route a manual choke cable, adapter and slide I’d had stashed on the workbench, but the Blast’s undertank packaging makes that very challenging — the area on the back side of the bike’s Keihin CV40 carb is the most crowded real-estate in the entire machine.

Once again frustrated in this, I reassembled the bike in the stock configuration — complete with accursed ‘auto-choke’ — and upon completion, it fired back up as if nothing had ever occurred.

Given that – in typical Maryland fashion – the string of freezing nights had segued into a freak warm snap, the just after sundown temperature of about 70 degrees was too much tempting to pass on — it was time to check my work.

Without turning the bike off, I went inside and grabbed my canvas field coat, my Bell 500 open face and my elkskin gauntlets. The first warm day was too soon for bugs, so a full face and its visor were optional.

Running down Horine Road on an inexplicably sensual tropical feeling February evening, the big single got a little heat in it, and really came alive. Despite the fact that I want so much to hate this motorcycle — given all the trouble it has caused me — I just can’t quite manage to get there.

Although I’m too young to remember a riding world dominated by BSA, Norton, Velocette and Matchless singles, the ghosts of those old 59 Club Rockers were riding alongside me this evening. As the Blast’s 500 single found its happy place well up in the rev band in third gear, the pulse of the machine spoke to me in my bones. Horine Road follows Catoctin Creek away from Jefferson heading down toward the Potomac, and the Blast danced through a series of increasingly tight and technical corners — turning in lightly on trailing throttle, exhaust burbling — taking throttle easily and using all of the engine’s torque on each corner’s exit.

The motorcycling world may have moved on and left this behind, but there is an undenyable charm to a 500 Single ridden well in its element, and that charm was fully evident this springlike evening.

I followed Maryland 464 across the back of town — shifting up to fourth gear and running between 50 and 60 mph and marvelling at the torque and acceleration it could muster with its revs up on the exits of 464’s sweeping corners. Lander Road’s roller coaster hills brought me back to town, and I found myself back in the driveway far sooner than I’d have preferred.

I’ll admit that after turning off the engine, I turned the key back on and restarted it, just to know.

Of course, with only a three step walk home, there was no drama this time.

I think though, that for breakfast I’ll stick to some fresh fruit and yogurt from now on.


Maryland doesn’t have winters.

Its a major reason why motorcycling me chose to settle here.

Oh, sure, it snows every once in while. And while every once in a great while you might even have to take a shovel in hand and do something about it, most Maryland snows can be waited out — ignore them for a few days and they go away.

If I, as a Marylander, were to attempt to convince someone from the Southern Tier of New York, or Wisconsin, or Vermont, or Montana, that I experienced actual Winters, I would not hear the end of their riotous laughter until we both were experiencing flowers blooming all up verifiable spring.

Which is why its a tad odd that we Marylanders just punched out of a 23 day period where we never saw any temperature above the freezing mark, with a full 10 day run of nights in the low single digits. We didn’t get any snow – we just froze our collective butts off. So instead of riding, we spent our time feeding the woodstove, nursing some Union Snow Pants Oatmeal Imperial Stouts and cursing under our breaths while we plotted our rider’s revenge against the cold.

All of these motorcycling hostile conditions meant that many things we would normally do remained frustratingly undone.

Then, in classic Maryland fashion, it went from a daytime high of 18 to a daytime high of 67 in a single day.

Unsurprisingly, I more or less sprinted straight to the garage, hopped on the LT, and turned the key. Older K bikes have a few signals they send using the ABS lights. Normal operation consists of both ABS lights blinking on and off together on power up. If the battery fails to meet the minimum ABS arming voltage, they will blink alternately — first one, then the other. This time, the ABS lights lit, then went out altogether, the system spontaneously reset, and then assumed the normal start sequence. I let the bike sit for about 20 seconds with the key on just to get some current flowing, then pressed the starter button.

If the LT has ever cranked slower than it did that day, I don’t remember it. On the first spin, it didn’t fire. On the second try, as I found myself considering the possibility it might not fire, it finally did, assuming its customary slightly diesely sounding cold idle. As the instruments all assumed normal operation, the bike’s thermometer displayed 13 degrees f, indicating just how cold things had gotten inside my closed garage. I rolled the bike down the driveway, toed it into gear, and said quiet thanks as the ABS trashcanned to life, indicating my battery was at least a little more healthy than I’d given it credit for.

15 miles or so of sunny Valley roads later, my motorcycling life had itself thawed out, and my attention returned to rides long delayed.




First on the list was to reclaim Finn’s Buell Blast, which had been sitting idle in his apartment’s parking garage in Greenbelt since before the holiday break and the subsequent deep freeze. The Blast needed to contribute it’s Battery Tender and harness, a modified version of the toolkit I’d assembled for it and its soft saddlebags to the new CB500F that would replace it for the soon coming semester. It also needed some minor service – most notably the installation of a new quiet core baffle for its Jardine exhaust.

A quick look at the weather report showed a Saturday with a daytime high in the high 50s or low 60s, and so the plan was outlined — load up a car with school supplies, computer gear and some groceries for pre-positioning for the start of classes, and head down to reclaim the little single. To those necessities I added my tire inflator and a battery charger/jumper — given the drama associated with waking up the LT post freeze, I wanted to be prepared for possible drama.




The drive down to Greenbelt was sunny, smooth and uneventful — which, given that we’re talking about Metro DC, is by itself noteworthy. Upon arrival at Finn’s place, we offloaded our cargo into his apartment, grabbed some hydration, made a comfort stop, and visited the property’s management office to register the CB in their parking records and take care of some other administrativia.

We headed back upstairs, and went back into the parking structure where I pulled on my gear. I grabbed my inflator and topped up the tires, which were just a bit below spec. I pulled on my helmet, strapped on my elkskin gauntlets, and swung a leg over the Blast’s low saddle. I opened up the fuel petcock, and turned on the ignition.

I’d been concerned about drama about starting a flash frozen bike.

I’d needn’t have been concerned. The Blast, like my Slash 5, has a Deka AGM battery, and these batteries hold a charge better when stored and deliver more cold cranking power than any other motorcycle batteries I’ve ever used.

The Blast spun up hard, and fired on the third compression stroke.

There was no question whatsoever that the 500 single was running.

Finn’s eyes narrowed to slits before he ducked and rolled away from the bike. Without the quiet core inside the Jardine muffler, and inside the concrete cave of the parking structure, the din was absolutely staggering. Out of reflex more than intention, I blipped the throttle.

That was a mistake.

With the butterflies open, what had been merely stupid loud changed to mind-erasing cacophony.

I leaned over toward Finn.

“I’m going to head up I-95 towards 32. Give me about a 10-15 minute head start, so If I run into any mechanical issues, at least you’ll be somewhere out behind me.”

Finn just looked confused and pointed both index fingers towards his ears and shrugged.

I grabbed his head with both gloved hands and pulled him into the eyeport of my Shoei. I rebroadcast the message — only louder this time.

This time I could see comprehension on Finn’s face. He responded with a simple thumbs up.

I gassed the Blast and headed toward the ramp out of the garage.

Given the Blast’s relatively narrow powerband, low power output and short throw throttle, my normal riding approach involves pretty aggressive application of throttle. As I rolled the throttle open to get the bike headed towards the first of the three ramps that would get me out of the garage and out to the street, it was clear the normal method would require some situational modification. Every time I even cracked the throttle inside the parking structure, the increase in sound volume was well nigh unbearable.

I basically coasted the Blast down the three ramps, though the automated security gate, and out into the street.

Once I was outside the parking structure, I figured it might be OK to finally open the throttle.

I was again wrong.

The street that leads away from the apartment runs between two apartment blocks — cracking the throttle in that masonry canyon had the net impact of delaying the echo of the noise coming back from the Blast’s motor for a few extra milliseconds, but was still nearly unbearably loud.

Finally, the street took me away from spaces defined by concrete and brick, and out into the open. The standard Buell design, with the exhaust exit located under the bike just in front of the rear tire, meant that the rider was mostly isolated from the sound, but anyone located in a roughly 160 degree section to the sides and rear of the motorcycle, was being exposed to sound that was more suitable to a racetrack or a combat theater than a public road.

At the end of Greenbelt Road I briefly turned on to Kenilworth Road and then opened the butterflies wide and accelerated up the ramp and onto the DC Beltway, surfing the pressure waves of this overwhelming sound. I had to admit, with the exhaust core removed, the Blast was making more power over a wider spread or RPMs. On the flip side, though, as I passed a car topping out 4th gear, I looked briefly to the side, and was greeted with the sight of all 4 of the car’s occupants gaping slackjawed and googly-eyed straight at me.

That told me pretty much what I needed to know.

It was going to be a long 50 miles back to Jefferson.

I don’t want you to think for a minute I’m some sort of internal combustion sound prude. I enjoy the sound of a well-tuned and appropriately muffled motorcycle as much as the next guy. But the sound coming out of the Blast was in no way anything like that.

I’ve spend my fair share of time enjoying the Barabara Fritchie Motorcycle Classic — America’s longest continually running Half Mile Flat Track Event. I have also been known to hang out at Airshows and Commemorative Air Force fly-ins, where old warbirds like the famous B-17 Memphis Belle are shown and flown.

Net/net is that with a open drag pipe and straight through resonator, the Harley Davidson based 500cc single was less MotoGuzzi LeMans (Bella!) and more flat-out XR750 or Wright Cyclone on take-off roll (plus or minus 8 to 35 cylinders). The sound is an all-out sonic assault — it hits you in the diaphragm — right in the solar plexus — it scrambles one’s brains and takes one’s breath clean away. The sound is a combination of intake growl and basso profundo roar — it makes no sense whatsoever that this tsunami of sound is coming from this diminutive motorcycle.

Fortunately, I’d planned my route so much of it was at less than Interstate warp speed — MD 32 is a secondary road where 50 to 60 miles an hour is the prevailing speed — so I could loaf down these roads in either the top of 4th gear or the bottom of 5th with minimal throttle openings.

After running across much of the state on MD32 I came back to Interstate 70. Once clear of Baltimore — especially headed west — drivers fly out here. There would be no loafing on the next stretch. I roared up the ramp and settled in at about 76 mph to be able to blend in to prevailing traffic.

After all of the grief it has caused me, and all of the shade Finn and I have thrown its way, I’ll admit I got a little thrill from having the loud little monster run this well — probably as well as it ever has. Sound pressure not withstanding, the bike was making better top gear power than it ever had — it was pulling 5th gear with authority from under 70 miles an hour, and 70 to 80 mph pulls felt pretty strong. Of course power on a single most times equates to vibration, and I was taking quite the beating at speed.

Just about New Market, with about 70 miles showing on the tripmeter, the Blast stumbled as it hit reserve. Unlike my customary practice, for some reason I didn’t mind the notion of a fuel stop.

I rolled into a High’s where the Buell took a whopping 1.1 gallons of fuel. I’d noticed some visual telltales that my blood sugar was headed dangerously low — in our excitement Finn and I had skipped lunch — so I grabbed some fruit juice for my own tank which instantly set things right.

I rode the roar back up through the gears – accelerating as hard as a Blast ever does – then cruised past Frederick, over the ridge into the Valley, and was shortly up the driveway and killswitching into blessed and welcome echoing silence.

Due to the gas stop, Finn had just beaten me home.

“Man, Pop, I heard you all the way down the ramps in the garage, all the way up Greenbelt Road, and accelerating up the ramp onto the Beltway. That bike is some kind of obnoxious.”

“Yup, it sure is. Let me take off my ‘Stich and as soon as The Blast cools off we’ll put in the new quiet core that’s sitting on the workbench. No way I’m running that bike again without the cork installed.”


Free To Go

From almost the first days that I rode my BMW /5 motorcycle, it was clear that it was nearly as capable in the dirt as it was on pavement.

Now we’re not talking Travis Pastrana backflip dirt, or Erzberg Rodeo dirt, but simple, straightforward feet up enduro riding dirt. On fire roads or reasonably sane trails in the woods, the boxer-engined Wunderbike was surprisingly competent when ridden rationally and within certain fairly sensible limits.

The fact that I know about those limits begs more than a few tales.

The first limit involves the limits of the tires fitted to the bike. Over 35 years of riding it, my tire choices have slowly evolved from the ubiquitous Continental SuperTwins street tires of the early eighties, through a series of mild dual sport skins like Avon Distanzias, to the set of Heidenau Scouts that I’m getting ready to fit. What one can do with this motorcycle in the loose stuff involves how much stick one’s skins can provide.

The second limit involves mass management. The great drive and good torque make tractoring up incredible grades — tire grip permitting — almost trivial. Working down the same grade on 450 plus pounds of motorcycle is … less trivial. I never recall experiencing unplanned vehicle rider separation going up hills. I did, however, get fairly skilled in learning to pick up and recover the motorcycle when facing down grades. Sadly, what goes up must eventually come down, but some planning is your friend here.

Water crossings are also well within the boxer’s capabilities… the older bikes, with their air intakes up on the frame backbones, are good swimmers… as long as the water level is under the roundels, you’re good!

As a youthful boxer affectionado, I sought out every trail and offroad opportunity I could find. The Baltimore City watershed, starting from Loch Raven park, had multiple trails that were built to support water lines, power lines, and other infrastructure, and the /5’s near-silent stock exhaust allowed me to explore without disturbing other park users or attracting the wrong kind of attention. Activities which would have brought the long arm of the law down swiftly and hard on my two-stroke riding contemporaries never resulted in any awkward conversations with the constable. Being street legal meant coming out near a public road at the end of trail just meant throttling up and disappearing into the normal flow of traffic.

The Pretty Boy reservoir system and the Papapsco State Park System … which was within a 10 minute ride of my early work location at the Social Security Administration’s Woodlawn Datacenter also provided hours of exploring and honing my dirt rider’s skills. I might not yet know everything that BMW’s Factory ISDT riders knew about boxering the dirt, but the gap was slowly narrowing.

Which brings me to my most exciting dirt adventure.

Sometime in the mid 1980’s I headed west out of my then-home of Baltimore to my first BMW Rally — the Baltimore and Metropolitan Washington BMW riders (BMWBMW) Square Route Rally — based out of the American Legion’s Camp West-Mar outside of Thurmont Maryland. 30 plus years later, I live in Frederick County, but to young Rally Pup, the green mountainsides, twisting roads and deep forest were like another planet.

On Saturday afternoon of the Rally, after field events had wrapped and way before dinner, a natural lull presented me with what sure seemed like an opportunity to explore. The old American Legion Camp is laid out like any military installation, with a ring of barracks arranged around a Mess Hall. On the far edge of the Camp, two barracks are separated by a slightly larger gap, and that gap contained a dual track that disappeared into a green tunnel into the woods.

The temptation was more than I could possibly bear.

I pulled on my gloves and helmet, kicked the bike — which still had its original 4-speed then — to life, and quietly motored into the green.

For a guy whose home was in the brick rows of the BelAir/Edison neighborhood of Baltimore city, it was absolutely heaven. The trail was a grass and mossy dual track, with a heavy tree canopy that allowed the sun to filter through in places. Speed wasn’t important. Just maintaining headway and reading the trail was completely immersive. I was focused, calm, centered.

As I exited a corner in that trail, though, I heard an unfamiliar sound.


I pulled the clutch in and coasted to a stop. I knew every noise that motorcycle made, and I was fairly confident this wasn’t any of them.

I was having a full-on ‘Mr. Jones Moment’ again — I knew something was happening, I just didn’t know what it was, yet.

I peered ahead into the forest, squinted a little, and as I did, the unexpected sight of a squad of fully armed United States Marines in tactical gear slowly came into focus out of the camouflaged position where they’d been invisible mere seconds before.

My /5, known for a slight noisy top end, hadn’t hung a valve. The “CHAKA-CHAKA” had been the sounds of 16 M-16 safeties coming off.

The Squad Leader addressed me in that subtle and gentle manner for which the United States Marines are renowned.


I took about three-quarters of a second to absorb this, and then about another three-quarters of a second waiting for my heart to restart.

“Am I free to go?”

“Yes, Sir.”

I gently dropped the clutch, did about the smoothest in place O-turn I’ve done before or since, and gently headed back towards Camp West-Mar along the same vector from which I’d come.

Now, folks that have spent their entire lives in Thurmont Maryland are well aware that Camp West-Mar isn’t the only installation back in them there woods. Seems that there’s also a little place called Camp David, and the two camps, as I now fully understand, share an extended property line.

Seems The Boss Was In Town that weekend, along with his heavily armed little friends, I was the only dimwit that wasn’t fully aware of same.

You do your Adventure Riding, and I’ll Do Mine.

With a change of underwear, and a cold beer (or two), I’d be just fine.



In the life of a motorcyclist, taking delivery on a brand new motorcycle is one of those milestone moments that becomes a nexus around which your entire riding experience revolves.

In more than 30 years in the saddle, I’ve only bought myself one new motorcycle.

That wasn’t going to change today.




After my son Finn’s Buell Blast had proven itself not quite up to the task of being reliable, daily transportation, it became more or less obvious that, in the interest of his safety, a more modern and well engineered motorcycle needed to be obtained. It may have been more obvious to Sweet Doris From Baltimore, Finn’s Mother, and less obvious to me, but no matter.

I did some searches on Cycle Trader to check real world values on some of the motorcycles that I thought would represent a step up in power and handling for Finn, while not completely breaking the family bank.

I’ll admit, that especially when it comes to motorcycles, I’ve got opinions.

After surveying the market for my small target group of medium displacement twins — 650 Versys, FZ-7s, CB500Fs — the CB500F was quickly identified as the most versatile machine that could be obtained for the least dollar. A John Burns review of the CB — in which Burnsie shared that the motorcycle had totally surprised him by its capabilty, and left him in the difficult position, for a motorcycle reviewer, or having absolutely nothing to kvetch about — convinced me this was the one. There were leftover CBs in dealer inventory all across the country, and a nice one was located for the right price in Baltimore at Pete’s Cycle.

65 miles from the front door.


After many, many, MANY phone calls working the entire sale remotely, and then a few more calls with my Credit Union taking a small loan, the deal was done. $93 a month was a bill I can cover for Finn until he graduates, and once he is gainfully employed, I can sign both the title and payment book over to him.

Welcome to adulting lesson one.

Now all we had to do was pick it up.




In your rose colored fantasy motorcycling world, when you pick up your new motorcycle, you are standing on some dealership lot in Huntington Beach or Cosa Mesa, it’s 84 degrees out, the Pacific Breeze washes over your skin, everybody is wearing jams, sneakers and shades and calling each other ‘Dude’.

Now let’s snap out of it and get to the real world, shall we, Bucko?

When Finn and I got up on our anointed Saturday morning, it was 36 degrees out, cloudy, windy, and with a radar trace that showed a stationary front hanging out just to the north of Jefferson where it was dropping light rain and even some sleet in places.

Just ‘effin perfect.

Finn, it should be clearly stated, is a night owl. So right off the bat he wasn’t at his absolute best as we were sucking down some coffee and cereal and trying to bolt together a plan.

“First, this is your bike, so you have to get first saddle time. So, we can either throw our riding gear in your Corolla, drive to Baltimore, and you can head back out this way with me available to take a shift if it gets too cold or rainy, or you can ride cupcake on the LT and we can make a moto trip out of the deal.”

“Let’s take your bike.”

That’s my boy.

“Good, nobody ever got wet riding an LT, and on the way back out at least I can talk to you from a bike to see how you’re doing …”.




Finn and I got fully geared up — me in my second skin the ‘stitch, and Finn in his insulated textile riding pants, jacket and gloves — both of us with a light technical fleece to layer up for warmth underneath.

The weather report showed rapidly rising temperatures, so I felt pretty good about our prospects. The only concern was the behavior of that stationary front — Baltimore was forecast to stay dry, but Jefferson was not — so it was inevitable that somewhere on the way back our trip would break bad. It was just a question of how far west and how close to home we would be when that happened.

Finn and I headed for the garage and threw up the door behind the LT. While I was dialing in a few clicks of preload, Finn was fastening his helmet and gazing down the driveway.

“It’s raining.”

“Of course it is. We should punch back out of it on the other side of Frederick. I’ll roll the Fat Girl down to the bottom of the driveway. You pull the door down and meet me down there.”

20 seconds later, he was comfortably astride the LT’s pillion, and we were shields up and heading for Pete’s and Baltimore.




Somewhere between Frederick and Mount Airy, and maybe a few more miles further east than I’d been hoping, we did punch back into the clear, and the temperature finally started to rise in a meaningful way.

If there’s one thing an LT is built for, it’s carrying full bags and a passenger, and doing its best to vaporize some miles. With a pillion up, the bike runs smoother and handles better, and with a new motorcycle waiting on the other end, running 80+ on the Interstate seemed like something both of us would naturally want to do.

When we hit the more congested Baltimore Beltway, I backed it down a few, selecting a speed that was just 3 or 4 above prevailing traffic, so we could pick our spots of clear pavement and try to defend them.

Belair Road came up soon enough, and less than a mile south of the exit I made the left turn into Pete’s parking lot. The business is built on the side of a hill, so the parking lot slopes pretty sharply down towards the rear of the building, where there is a motorized security gate and the Service Department’s entrance.

I’ll admit that parking an 850 plus pound motorcycle on steep grades does not appeal to me, so I cut to the right inside the lot and found a nice level spot next to the razor wire topped fence that borders Belair Road.

Pete’s Cycle Company is located in Fullerton, a neighborhood located in Northeast Baltimore. When a young, CB750-riding me had last been their customer, they had a storefront located in Hamilton, a neighborhood located about 5 miles to the south and closer to the center of the city. About 20 years ago, they made a business decision to move out of the location where they had done business for more than 60 years to a larger facility. This location is a few miles further from the troubled neighborhoods that are the home turf of the city’s ’12 O’Clock Boys’. The ‘Boys’ got their name because of their advanced skills illegally riding dirtbikes with their front forks pointing to the noon position. Dealers throughout the entire Mid-Atlantic region, from York, PA., to Staunton, VA., have had visits from ‘The Boys’ to make crash and grab nighttime dirtbike withdrawals, so those few miles are probably not signficant. But between the cameras, razor wire, barred windows and mechanized gates, one can tell Pete’s isn’t going to make such extreme discounts easy to obtain.

After stowing our helmets and gloves in the LT’s cases, a slightly chilly-appearing Finn and I headed into the building to look for our salesman.

I’ve been in my fair share of motorcycle dealerships, but the view upon entering Pete’s was a bit of a shock.

Right inside the door were 3 Polaris Slingshots — including one with a roof that I’d never seen before. Next to these were a half dozen or so Can-Am Spyders. The rest of the substantial showroom was jammed with bikes — Hondas, Ducatis, Trimuphs, Suzukis, Kawasakis — heck, there was even a nicely cruisered-out Royal Enfield, but it looked like a bike someone had traded in.

Remembering that the motorcycle we were buying was not a ‘planned motorcycle’, to avoid further trouble I went well out of my way to avoid the Africa Twin and NC700x that Pete’s had on the floor.

One of the folks roaming the floor asked if we needed any assistance.

“Yup. I’m looking for Jim Stantz.”

“Ok, that’s him in the black windbreaker all the way over ….there.”

Just what I needed — a reason to traverse the entire showroom. It was almost like making a desperate alcoholic walk across the entire liquor warehouse. Eyes down…eyes down….

“Hey Guys! You must be Greg and Finn. You guys rode in from Frederick today?”

“Yeah, its raining out our end..nice enough here in Baltimore, though.”

“Our business manager — you’ll be meeting with him in a minute — rode in from Frederick this morning, too…said the same thing. The bike’s out back. You want to see her before we do the paperwork?”

Well, yeah.

Jim walked us down the back stairs and out past the service department. Pete’s has a covered back porch where the new motorcycles are placed after they’ve been prepped for delivery. Right outside the door was our CB500F.

Maybe all bikes look better in person than they do in stock photos. Whether they generally do or not, this one sure did.

I took a quick sideways glance over at Finn, and he was slackjawed and googly-eyed in a look of pure, unadulterated motopleasure.

The CB was finished in all flat black, with its tailsection and radiator cowls finished in silver. The tank had a nice Shelby-style dual racing stripe applied down the center of the tank. The engine was also painted black, with the clutch, alternator and valve covers painted in a copper color to mimic the magnesium cases that Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) uses on their RC racing specials. The shapes of the tank and tail section, as well, were intended to mimic those of the big CBR100R and its motoGP big brother, the RC213v.

For what is admittedly a reasonably priced street motorcycle, the CB gives an enthusiast a great deal to look at and to enjoy.

As Finn’s initial state of pleased shock wore off, I asked him if he wanted to sit on the bike.

He slowly walked around the left side of the machine, gripped the front brake lever and threw a leg over.


The bike fit him like it was made for him.

Jim walked him through the features and controls of the bike. Finn set the adjuster of the front brake lever to fit his hand.


Finn turned the key, and watched as the instrument display went hits animated calibration routine. The odometer display read “0.7”. He pulled the clutch in, and pressed the starter.

The bike started from cold on the second compression stroke, and what filled the air around us was the sound of a thoroughly modern motorcycle — the high pitched ‘wheep-wheep-wheep’ of the high pressure fuel pump and the fuel injectors opening and closing. With the water cooling jackets and double overhead cams there was no noise from the reciprocating parts of the engine whatsoever — no valve noise, no piston clatter. The exhaust had a nice brap to it without being obnoxious — a pleasant change from a big single with a drag pipe — and the engine responded to throttle by spinning up absolutely instantly — clearly flywheel mass hadn’t been anywhere on the engineering requirements.

We sat for a few seconds listening to the CB’s perfect steady idle, and then Finn killswitched it.

“C’mon, guys — let’s sign a few papers and get you out of here and back on the road.”

And that was really all there was to it. I was ushered into the business manager’s office, made my downpayment, signed the sales order and the title work, and we were back downstairs again in a flash.

Finn rolled the CB off the porch, and pushed the bike through the mechanized gate, which then motored shut behind us.

Jim reminded Finn he was on a set of new, unscrubbed tires.

“No horsin’ around until they’re scrubbed in, eh?”

Jim then shook our hands, thanked us for our business, wished us a safe ride home, and went back inside the dealership. I walked up the hill and retrieved Finn’s helmet and gloves from the LT’s cases.


Ready to Roll

“You want to take a few loops around the parking lot just to get a feel for the clutch and brakes? When you’re done you can pull up next to the building up by the entrance there, and I can lead us back to the highway. Lemme go get my gear on.”

As I walked back up the hill to my bike, Finn motored up and down the hill in the parking lot a few times. There was a wider area down at the bottom of the lot that worked well for turning around. Finn seemed almost instantly comfortable on the CB — clutch and throttle control were spot on, no extra revs, and he visibly worked the bike from side to side underneath him to get a feel for the mass and turn-in response. By the time I had my second glove on, he was already waiting for me at the exit.

I fired the LT back up, did my U-turn, and rolled up beside Finn and the CB.

“We should probably just go back to the beltway just to get the heck out of town. Once we get on the highway, you lead, pick your own pace, and I’ll keep people off your six. Vary speeds a bit — speed up and then slow down — during the first couple of miles. Then we can run out to Maryland 32 where we can pick up Maryland 144 which will give us a nice backroad ride back to Frederick. Sound like a plan?”

“Sounds perfect. Let’s go.”

And with that we gassed it and headed back up Belair Road.




Watching Finn in my rearviews was easy — the CB’s new tech LED headlight made it completely stand out from the background and from other vehicles.

It wasn’t until I got home later that I had to conclude that at least one Honda Design Engineer watches too many ‘Transformers’ cartoons. Or Gundam Anime. Or something.


You tell me you don’t see Optimus Prime

Finn’s run up the Beltway was a little tentative, which is exactly what you’d hope to see. As we hit the onramp to I-695 West, though, Finn cut in smoothly and gently rolled the gas as we got to the apex. Both Finn and his new bike looked rock solid.

Fortunately, we got a rare break in the traffic and were able to enter the highway with no frantic adjustments to line or to speed.

As we cleared the interchange, I moved determinedly right, and motioned with my gloved hand for Finn to move by.

The first sound I heard was that of the CB breathing — again that little whistle of the FI plumbing working — then the bike moved smartly past — followed by a very well-defined, metallic ‘Braaap’ of the CB’s twin pulling about 5000 rpm.

You can tell a lot, sometimes, from people’s body language, and shifting up to top gear, Finn was sitting poised and tall.

So we worked our way back around the Beltway and out to I-70, doing our best to keep the CB varying load and speed, and trying to avoid the inevitable flow control chaos that inhabits each of the interchanges. It was fun, and as we hit some clear pavement on 70 West, I enjoyed watching Finn further feeling the CB out. He’d settle in around 70 or so, and then give the bike some enthusiastic throttle and move smartly away. Smooth, flexible power to move freely in highway traffic wasn’t a given on his Blast.

When we rolled up on 32, I passed Finn and led down the interchange. I led us through the left and a right to put us on Frederick Road, headed west towards Jefferson.

Considering how the day had started, conditions weren’t half bad — intermittent clouds and sun, dry pavement, and a temperature in the low 50s. Where the interstate removed the hills, 144 slides around them — the road is always rising and falling, and twisting this way or that.

For a young man with a brand new motorcycle, this flat-lighted day was his first opportunity to get to know and bond with his machine.




The time we spent on that rolling road seemed to stretch out that day, a few good minutes seeming to hang in time for a lot longer than they actually were.

At a stop sign I pulled up beside Finn and popped my visor open.

“How’s the CB, man? How are ya liking this road?”

“This thing’s absolutely awesome, Pop. And I’d like the road a lot more if I had any freakin’ idea where I was.”

“That’s cool, Finn. And I know where I am, so I’ll lead. Pick a good following distance, and ride your own pace.”

And so we rolled — moving up and down through the gears, and breaking in the sides of new tires as we crossed first through Howard, then Carroll Counties. That LED headlamp was there in my mirrors, cornering crisply and doing all the right things.




On the other side of Mount Airy, though, things finally went bad. 144 West runs in shadow, it’s tight and it’s twisty, and today it was dark and was cold.

With no warning the rain hit, the temperature dropped sharply, and my biker sense looked at that road and what it saw was slippy not sticky — it was cause for concern.

At the next stop I signaled.

“You want to stop – eat – warmup…or just wanna get home?”

“I’m OK – let’s keep bangin’.”

“OK – weather is going to shit. I’m going to hop back on the highway and we’ll take it back to 340 and home. We’ll make the left up ahead and the ramp is immediately on the right.”

We rolled our bikes back up through the gears and as we merged onto the highway I waved Finn on by. As the rain picked up the temperature dropped into the low 40s. On a naked motorcycle, it couldn’t have been fun.

Not all motorcycle bonding experiences, I guess, have to be pleasant ones. The tough stuff, it seems, is some of what it takes to learn to trust your machine.




As we got closer to Jefferson, the weather continued to display its blatant disregard for our well-being.

Both Finn and I managed to get through the complex interchange at 70 West and US 340 — with its elevated ramps crisscrossed by 5 inch wide steel expansion joints — evil slippery stuff on a rainy day like this. No wiggles, no goofy stuff, no falling down. Just continue to gas it and go.

We maintained positive throttle coming up Dynamometer Hill, and on the other side of the hill we took the exit for home. I pulled ahead as we ran though town, and hit the neighborhood and then the driveway well before Finn.

I dismounted and threw both doors up by the time Finn rolled up.

He rolled the CB into the left bay, blipped the throttle once, again, and then killswitched the bike.

“This is such a nice motorcycle. Thank you. Thank Mom. As soon as I finish school in June, we are GOING on a trip.”

Clearly getting chilled down and dampened hadn’t done anything to hurt Finn’s enthusiasm.

“C’mon man, let me fire the woodstove up and make us some lunch. You can look for someplace for us to ride to while we’re warming up.”

The Costa Mesa Bros got nothin’ on us.



I Surrender

I never thought it would come to this.

When I bought Finn his Buell Blast, my operative assumption had been that a piece of machinery that simple couldn’t really break in any meaningful way.

That assumption has proved so repeatedly wrong I find myself humbled in ways to which I am simply not accustomed.

I’m not merely wrong. I’m colossally, cosmically, monumentally, fundamentally and eternally totally wrong.

My shame in this knows no bounds.




I don’t know, but after I put the motor back in after it fell out, I had what I guess was a false sense of security.

The Blast seemed much more solid on the road, and on a warmer day — say 70 degrees — the carburation seemed spot on and it was making good power.

Bliss, they say, is fleeting.


Another series of texts from Finn.

When these arrive out of the blue the import is seldom good.

“Stinking bike blew the quiet core out of the muffler.

You’d think I’d have noticed THAT when it happened. 😉

Checked back on the ground in the garage. It’s gone.”

How the asshole reduction baffle — Jardine calls it a ‘quiet core’ — intended to make their racetrack pipe almost socially acceptable — could have been shaken loose is beyond me. I’d used blue locktite on the baffle securing bolt and added a fillet of high temp copper silicone to secure the insert in the exhaust outlet. That insert should have been in there. Instead, it was outta here.

So now the Blast was blasting around sounding like an asshole’s motorcycle.

Then the temperature went under 40 degrees and the bike’s not exactly auto auto choke decides it doesn’t want to fully disengage. A good running motorcycle transforms into an unridable mess — backfires, momentary power loss.

If you are trying to run down Greenbelt Road or US1 in the left lane in morning rush, a big hairy backfire and three seconds of no power are enough to get one steamrolled. It ain’t fun, and it sure ain’t safe.

When this information was shared, Sweet Doris from Baltimore overrevved and threw a rod. “My baby boy is going to get run over by some Crazy PG County Driver on that ‘motorcycle’.”

No mas. Make it stop.

I really wanted to like the Blast. A small light simple single. Descendant of the Vincent Comet.

But it kept betraying me. Shaking parts off. Developing the same intake leaks, carb warmup and drivability problems.

It’s goddamn engine fell out, for Pete’s sakes.

I still want to like the Blast.

Maybe if throw out its fuel tank, carburetor and ignition and replace them with modern components I might yet.

But when I look at it now, all I see is a motorcycle that has been trying to encourage people to run over my son, and an undeniable evidence of my utter and indelible wrongness.

I did a quick review of the few motorcycles currently made that are even remotely related to what we used to call ‘a standard motorcycle’.

I didn’t really want to put Finn on a smaller motorcycle, given his maturing skills as a rider — so the new generation 300s and 400s were non-starters. Fully faired sportbikes, four cylinders, things called ‘Ninja’ and cruisers were out. What one had left were about 5 bikes with displacements between 500 and 800 ccs., and the Honda CB500F was the most versatile, most comfortable, and like a lot of past Hondas, had been so perfectly useful that nobody bought them.

Plus, It’s a Honda.

I probably neglected to mention it was also the least expensive.

If I lived in LA, where coolth apparently has more impact on what people buy to ride, I could buy a leftover 2015 model of these bikes for around $3,800 which is crazy short money for a two cylinder, double overhead cam, water cooled, fuel injected, highway capable modern motorcycle.

In less cool Jefferson, though, there are still leftovers that can be had, and the best such deal I was able to find was at Pete’s Cycle in Baltimore, which had been my dealer when I first started riding my first motorcycle, my CB750K1.

After a phone call or two, I put a deposit on the CB.

It’s a good-looking motorcycle — matt black paint with silver tank shrouds and tailsection. There’s a good looking set of twin silver stripes around the top of the tank, a nice racetrack spec fuel filler, and bright blue anodized fork caps with preload adjusters decorating the bike’s cockpit.


A unsplatted Finn is worth immeasurably more than $4,699, plus freight, assembly, title, taxes and tags.

Finn’s 20th birthday is on Thanksgiving. Apparently he will be celebrating early, and for sometime thereafter.





Just got back from Baltimore with the bike – A lovely, cold, rainy 65 miles home.

Despite that, I don’t think Finn is going to stop grinning for some time.


Great Grandson of the Black Bomber




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That’s how it feels sometimes, when the forces of the universe align, riding the Zero Motorcycles DSR.

I don’t mean in a literal way, although that would be an easy mistake to make.

Back in the 1950s, Physicist George Dyson, in a quest for higher performance space vehicles that could enable interplanetary travel, came to the conclusion that the best impulse/mass… how much thrust one extracted from a given mass of rocket propellant… could be obtained by using nuclear bombs for fuel.

It’s also easy to understand how most of us would have failed to come up with that idea, as it immediately requires that a host of other problems — like not being instantly vaporized, for example — be solved in order to be truly practical. The aforementioned George, however, did come up with the idea, and was pretty well along with it, even having done the math to the point where they were confident they could get a 4000 ton spacecraft they’d designed to earth orbit with only 800 very small nuclear bombs, setting off one every second during the ascent.

At this particular juncture, some nice people who were writing something called the Limited Test Ban Treaty pointed out that those 800 very small nuclear explosions were probably not the best thing for the planet they intended to leave, and that they really needed to think about this at least a little more.

The point, though, is that when one reaches the end of the line for developing and maximizing any source of motive power, one absolutely has to think in new, oblique and unprecedented ways.

And while applying throttle to the Zero’s Z-force direct drive electric motor may not cause space and time to bend while accelerating at the speed of nuclear plasma, it can be powered by the biggest nuclear reaction — at least in our neighborhood — that fusion reactor we call The Sun.




Look, I’ve got gasoline running in my veins.

One of my earliest childhood memories is lying on a mechanic’s creeper next to my Uncle Dick, looking at the roof of his shop through the eight empty holes of the engine he was rebuilding in his Ink Black 1963 Thunderbird.

My first ride was a Rat 8.0 Liter V-8 Cadillac whose carbon footprint was very deep and very, very wide. The bias-belted tires of the late 1970s really had no chance against a young man’s hormonally depraved foot and 465 foot pounds of torque.

I started riding motorcycles because the Sedan Deville had a 27 and a half gallon gas tank, and my first jobs just couldn’t feed the beast. This led me to a CB750 Four, carburetor jets on my kitchen table, learning to set adjustable valves, points with dwell and timing lights, and then a blur of Airhead boxers and KBikes, a Suzuki or two, and a smattering of others – Buells, Kawis, HDs – involving a vortex of exhausts and tuning and suspension work, transmission rebuilds and rewires until there’s a half million moto-miles gone and here we are.

The sound of a Harley XR going around the blue groove at the Frederick Fairgrounds, or the bark of a big bore MotoGuzzi pulling by on a country road is enough to stir me to my soul.

But love her though I may, I’m not so blinded by love that I can’t see she’s packing her suitcases with a ticket in her hand for the midnight train.

Seven major industrialized nations have already announced a date by which they will prohibit the sale of internal combustion engines. On Monday morning in Detroit, General Motors Corporation announced that they will cease the manufacture of internal combustion engine powered vehicles. Let me slow that down for you. General Motors… Will Not… Make Motors. At least not the Internal Combustion motors — like my old Cadillac’s 8.0L V8 — that we know and understand.

Major, prestige nameplates in Automobile design and manufacture — Porsche, Ferrari, Mercedes, BMW — either have electric prototypes in testing or early production models to help them defend their customer base from the likes of Tesla and Rimac.

When whole technologies and the economies on which they are based reach a tipping point, you can either recognize that this is happening, or be left utterly behind. And using fossil fuels — gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas — to power human transportation has reached that tipping point.

Electric powered vehicles are not a dream of some possible far off future. Electric vehicles are the solution happening right now. It’s both an incredible and economy-changing commercial opportunity, as well opportunity to completely break the mold — to use creative approaches that can discard old limits and create totally new rules for vehicle design and engineering.




I came to the conclusion long ago that electric power required for modern American life — from lighting to laundry, refrigeration and air conditioning — was an excessive use of resources, especially when powered by coal, oil or gas burning electric generation plants. I’d been profoundly interested in renewables, but their use required me to pay two or three times what normal users paid for energy, and with both a silly need to eat and children’s educations to fund, it simply wasn’t realistic. I settled for making changes that lowered my family’s consumption — LED light bulbs reduced household usage by more than 60% — and kept evaluating solar energy systems in the hope that the economic justification or at least something close to parity, would finally materialize.

Then, a statewide organization called MD-Sun helped set up citizen purchasing co-ops in all of Maryland’s Counties. The co-ops allowed purchase of systems — unlike the lease providers like Solar City — at a substantially discounted rate. My house faces directly south — so was perfect for solar-voltaic electric production. I was able to get a loan that would allow me to purchase a system that would make all the power my family used — working with the installer’s engineer, we played with the configuration until I had a system that made well more than my historical usage. I’d replace my $103 monthly electric bill — pretty modest usage because of my energy saving measures — with a $100 monthly loan bill, and a system that was designed to make surplus power that would be redistributed to my neighbors and have the utility paying me. Surplus power that could also be used to power an electric vehicle.



How to Power One’s Zero Motorcycle



Which brings me to the Zero Motorcycles DSR.

I’m not a normal motorcyclist, if there even is such a thing.

I ride for daily transportation. I grocery shop and commute on my bikes, although in today’s virtual world I don’t go to work or clients as often as I once did. More than one client in my working life has taken a huge double take when I walked into their data center with my riding gear on and a full size 5U server or network appliance under my arm. I take my bike on business trips when most people use planes. I take long rides — multi-state multi-1000 mile blasts — where most people use ministers or therapists.

My motorcycles are not toys, they are tools. And my tools have to work.

So when I first approached Zero about their motorcycles, my ask was simple. Now that I had a source of renewable energy to ‘fuel’ one, I want to see firsthand if making the change to an electric motorcycle would require adjustments to my riding life, or if it would be frictionless, just like flipping a switch.




My buddy Paul and I were standing out in the parking lot at Powersports East, in Bear, Delaware, taking to the dealership’s Pete Clarkin about the 2017 Zero DSR that we were picking up there.

“I have seen this happen more than once. Guy will come in here, tell me he’s ridden everything ever made and ridden everywhere. That he’s a safe and skilled rider, and wears all the gear all the time. And he will snap the bike into ‘Sport’ mode, and we will end up picking him and what’s left of the bike out of the yard sale at the end of the block.

Please don’t be that guy.

Ride the bike around in ‘Eco’ mode for a day or two, just to get a feel for the thing. Then, when you think you’re ready, dial up ‘Sport’ mode.

You still won’t be ready.”

Standing out in front of a showroom filled with Ninjas and YZRs and GSXRs, ZX14s and Hayabusas, in addition to the Zeros, there was something about this advice that allowed for the possibility it wasn’t entirely balls-size-of-Cleveland, bravado-stuffed biker bullshit. My experience with motorcycle dealers is that they are not prone toward emphasizing the inherent risk we all assume when we ride that may be present in some of their more potent product offerings.

For a dealer to be communicating that this motorcycle could bite me, was noteworthy, and had the feel of something to which I needed to pay attention.

I sat in the saddle of the DSR, turned the key to start the system’s boot sequence. The LCD dash activated and calibrated its instrument display – showing mode selection, battery status, power/regen levels, and road speed. Picking up the sidestand cleared an interlock and its associated safety warning. Activating a very motorcycle-standard handlebar ‘kill’ switch armed the system — a very smartphone appearing green ‘power’ icon — subtly modified to have a little arrowhead included — GO! — appeared on the Zero’s display. I used the mode selector switch on the right handlebar to toggle to ‘Eco’, and gently turned the throttle.

With an almost inaudible ‘whirrr’, the bike smoothly moved forward. I figured I would run the DSR up to the end of Powersport’s substantial parking lot, and just get a tiny taste of its manners before loading into Paul’s truck, which was parked around back. At walking speeds, the Zero was very docile and trivial to control — in ‘Eco’ mode low end throttle response was very gentle, and the bike was light, firmly suspended and perfectly balanced. It became instantly apparent that this was the easiest bike to ride precisely at very low road speeds I’d ever ridden — with the Zero’s direct drive transmissionless operation, speeding up was adding some throttle, slowing down was giving some back.

I did a few O-turns, loops and figure 8s of the kind that likely gave you fits when you took your motorcycle license test. Cake.

I headed around toward the back of the dealership. Paul was walking up ahead, doing something with his phone.

I trolled up beside him at minimum speed and said in a quiet conversational tone, “Hey Paul.”

He jumped and his eyes got big.

He hadn’t heard me or the Zero coming.

We loaded the DSR into the bed of Paul’s Tacoma, and headed back home to Maryland.





Bikers like to look at bikes. At least I do, anyway.

When sitting in the driveway, just drinking in the Zero’s appearance, there is precious little to cue one in to just how revolutionary the Zero’s design really is. Think about it — the base engineering requirements that have driven every motorcycle from DeDion, Peugeot, and Harley to the present day — a place to store oil and gasoline, an internal combustion engine, and a way to get air into and noise out of same — completely don’t apply as none of those considerations are even present. It’s clear that at an early point in the design process the Zero’s designers made a conscious decision to abide by the innate conservatism of motorcycle enthusiasts. No matter how different the underlying mechanics of the machine might be, the Zero needed to at least look like a motorcycle.



Green Power, Green Location

And while some of the design details are 21st Century spacey, the design vocabulary — the structure and interrelationships between forms — are very motorcycle conventional.

The main frame of the DSR is a very stout, narrow twin spar aluminum frame with its main frame members running about 20 degrees under the horizontal axis — a frame that wouldn’t look out of place on an early GSXR or ZZR — and a structure whose rigidity is pretty apparent. Sitting on the lower left frame member is a rubber plug that shields a bog-standard NEMA 5-15 connector, just like you would see on any server or piece of network gear — it’s here where one attaches the standard low-speed charging cord whenever one is looking to add electrons to the bike’s battery pack.

The swingarm is also aluminum — again, a beefy structure with substantial stiffening ribs — looking very similar to those of recent KTMs. Both the frame and swingarm have substantial lateral braces — provided by large and really large diameter tubes — that add tremendous amounts of resistance to torsional flexing with essentially zero weight.

Looking at those big holes in the Zero’s frame made me want to spin up a lathe and make some precision alloy caps to close off your new toolbox and power cord storage compartment.

The marketplace will no doubt provide.

The entire structure is then finished off in a very purposeful looking flat matt finish black.

Suspension, both front and back, is high specification stuff by Showa. In the rear is a fully adjustable, gas charged piggyback shock. In the front is a set of again fully adjustable 41mm ‘upside down’ forks. Both ends of the motorcycle have a pretty respectable and off-road capable 7 plus inches of suspension travel.

Brakes are J. Juan units — a Spanish manufacturer — a dual piston caliper in the front and a single piston one in the rear, using wave-style rotors and ABS provided by Bosch.

Wheels are cast type — a 19 inch in front and a 17 inch in the rear — wearing dual sport MT-60 rubber from Pirelli.

The DSR’s seating position is dirtbike or adventure bike standard — a nearly bolt-upright seating position, lots of legroom with the metal, wide, offroad footpegs right under the seat, and a wide, black finished standard handlebar — I can remember a time when these were called the ‘superbike’ bend — putting one fully in command of the road ahead with the ability to quickly and deterministically shift weight and cornering forces into the nimble chassis.

Even though it doesn’t, the DSR appears to have a conventional gas tank, with shrouds reaching around the fork legs — the view from the saddle could easily be mistaken for that of any current mid-displacement Honda. The ‘tank’ contains a deep, locking glove box, which is sacrificed if one elects either an expansion battery pack – called a ‘PowerTank’ – or the optional J1772 standard fast battery charger — which Zero calls a ‘ChargeTank’. Finished as mine was, in a highly metallic charcoal grey and matt black, the Zero has a very conservative, almost stealth-bomber kind of appearance, that does its level best to avoid calling attention to the bike’s enormous performance potential.

“Tank” and an almost useful glovebox

At this point, however, the Zero is completely out of conventional.

Where the internal combustion engine sits in a gas motorcycle, the Zero carries its Z-force 13.0 kWh lithium-ion power pack. Stylistically, the Z-force powerpack is literally a big black box. Fortunately the bigness, blackness and boxness of the power pack is well camouflaged by a combination chin fairing and some swoopy looking fairing grills that wrap around the side of the battery case. The underside of the battery case and the motorcycle has a pretty substantial bash plate that looks to cover the electric motor controller’s heat sink.

Which brings us to the little miracle that makes the whole thing go — Zero’s proprietary Z-Force electric motor. In DSR-spec, the sealed, permanent magnet , air cooled motor, which is roughly 9 inches in diameter and approximately 11 inches in width, makes approximately 70 horsepower and 116 peak foot-pounds of torque.

Shhhh… that’s a Z-force Motor hiding in there….


The Motor’s air cooling fins and the Showa piggyback shock


I would be remiss, as a motorcycle journalist, not to provide some comparisons for context. A supercharged Kawasaki Ninja H2 makes 98.5 peak foot-pounds of torque, while a BMW S1000RR makes 86.2 peak foot-pounds. Neither of these two motorcycles could be characterized as ‘weak’ or ‘slow’. Viewed in terms of accelerative twist, the R-spec Zero thumps them both.

The Z-force motor is located directly between the rider’s footpegs, and is so small and inconspicuous one almost needs to either actively seek it out or be told where to look for it. The Z-force motor drives the motorcycle though a Gates Kevlar reinforced toothed drive belt, via direct drive with no transmission. And while dirtbike manufacturers have been struggling for years to locate their drive pinion gears concentrically with the swingarm pivot, to keep power application from adversely affecting rear suspension action, in the Zero, achieving that goal is trivial — that’s where the direct drive pinion sits, with room to spare between the power unit and the inside of the frame rails.

Making a motorcycle that can safely manage that magnitude of power output was not a trivial engineering exercise. Electric motors, for those that may not have direct experience of them, can make their full rated power from essentially zero RPM. I remember reading contemporary reporting, when the company was still in the early prototype stage, about one of the first garage-built proof of concept prototypes, which made use of a simple hardware throttle control. The power delivery was so abrupt, that the prototype was a nearly unridable wheelie machine. One turned the throttle, and was immediately wearing the motorcycle for a hat.

Modern Internal Combustion motorcycles — which make use of electronically managed fuel injection — can store multiple power maps in software, where ignition timing and fuel delivery settings control engine output and, hence, vehicle dynamics.

The Zero motor controller does essentially the same thing, but instead maps road speed to input current provided to the motor. The Zero’s multiple controller maps – ‘Eco’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Custom’ – represent physics models which only provide as much power as the chassis and contact patches can manage at any given road speed. ‘Eco’ is designed to maximize range, and does this by limiting engine output to 40% of maximum, provides maximum engine regeneration – recharging batteries using the energy from deceleration — and limiting road speed to 70 mph. ‘Sport’ mode takes the DSR off its leash — 100% of engine torque is available at full throttle at road speeds above about 35 mph — road speed is limited to 98 mph and regeneration is minimized. ‘Custom’ allows any user with a Bluetooth capable Apple or Android device to configure the available power, regeneration and speed settings to their preference.

Once I’d downloaded the Zero Motorcycles app and paired up  an iPad we had laying about with the Zero, I was very quickly able to dial in something that worked for me. My ‘Custom’ mode paired 100% torque output — c’mon, wouldn’t you? — with about 70% of the available regen power. This setting allowed the bike to shed speed and off throttle engine brake in a way that mimicked the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) bikes to which I was accustomed, while allowing me to access all of the power the motor could produce. Subjectively, it seemed to me, that the power map used by ‘Custom’ mode was a little more aggressive than the map in sport mode. On my first ride out with the new settings, the DSR snapped off an effortless monster power wheelie on a level road at about 45 miles per hour and 3/4 throttle– indicating to me that 100% motor output was available at a lower road speed and throttle setting.

It’s important to realize that such a system isn’t an active rider aid system that responds in realtime to loss of traction or directional control like the systems fitted to modern KTMs or the Yamaha R1. The Zero’s motor controller is a passive system — the limits of output are based on extensive testing but are static — the limits are fixed and do not respond to conditions like loss of traction or wheels that come off the pavement. This approach does leave some of the bike’s substantial power off the table — especially at low road speeds — power is applied where the maps show it’s feasible a significant percentage of the time — where an active approach can max power out until sensor input indicate that the performance envelope has been exceeded. Given the extraordinary engineering involved in creating this powertrain, I suspect it’s only a matter of time until the next generation Zero joins the active rider aid arms race.

While, for a motorcycling nerd like me, the tech is interesting, none of it means a thing if all of this design and engineering doesn’t result in a good motorcycle.

And the Zero DSR — whether on a ribbon of twisty pavement, a dirt road, or blasting though a steam ford — is a very, very good motorcycle.

I’ll admit that at first, I approached the beast with a little bit of trepidation. I’ve spent more than thirty years developing skills and honing feedback and reflexes that are based on the character and power delivery of internal combustion engines. Opening the throttle starts a long and complex chain of events that starts at the intake butterflies and ends at the rear contact patch — and accounting for those processes, the time they take to complete, and what they feel like when happening, was a set of skills that had the potential to be completely and utterly useless with the Zero.

So I was a good boy – my first two rides out from home – totaling about 50 miles – were spent in ‘Eco’ mode, trolling around at limited power output and reduced throttle response, just ‘to get a feel for the thing’. With the leash in place, it was clear that this was well-developed motorcycle — the bike was narrow, nimble and tautly suspended. The DSR turned in well to corners, held its lines precisely, and wasn’t flustered by trail braking. The motorcycle, also being fairly light by road bike standards – at 413 pounds all up, remembering there is no such thing here as wet-weight — stopped with authority, despite the use of a single front rotor and fairly pedestrian-appearing dual piston caliper. The fact that – in ‘ECO’ mode – regenerative engine braking adds a fair about of stopping power to the overall equation likely doesn’t hurt. I even took the bike onto some of the dirt roads that crisscross the valley around my home — the suspension and tires made short work of quick riding in the dirt, and the bike was perfectly set up for those conditions where it makes more sense to ride standing up.

Had this been my motorcycle, I likely would have spent some time dialing the preload and compression damping back some to gain some additional suspension compliance. But it wasn’t, so I didn’t.

It’s not like I didn’t notice some adaptations I needed to make. The motorcycle’s direct drive was the most noticeable of these. The first downhill stop sign I came to was probably as funny to watch as any Charlie Chaplin silent film — despite my conscious mind understanding the required operator’s changes, my left hand was flailing impotently looking for the clutch lever that was not there while my left foot was doing the gaffed-bluefish-on-the-deck-boogie looking for the shift lever that wasn’t there either. I must have looked like a hunter’s duck that had been merely winged by a few errant pellets after an off-target shotgun blast – limbs flailing and spiraling towards a bad re-introduction to the ground.

The other adaptation was the almost complete and utter lack of sound.

Having ridden BMW motorcycles for much of my riding career, I am accustomed to relatively quiet motorcycles — a tendency for which several of my neighbors have formally expressed appreciation. Even my sewing machine quiet K1200LT, though, has some intake shriek to tickle the motorhead bone.

Quiet is one thing. The Zero’s dead silence is quite another.

When underway, the Zero’s only sound is a muted ‘whirrr’ which seems to be coming from just behind the rider. The overall sound of a ride on the Zero is comparable to the sounds made by my pedal bicycle on the road, except my pedal bicycle runs out of steam at about 25 mph, where the Zero has another 75 or so more available. I had been under the mistaken impression that my favorite Shoei Qwest helmet was a very quiet helmet. On my first ride above 50 mph on the Zero, I heard whistles, booms and rumbles from the Qwest I had never heard before and have never heard since Zero got their motorcycle back.

I know there are a large percentage of motorcyclists — I’m talking to you, Harley Guys That Remove Your Stock Exhausts Before You Take Delivery On Your New Bike, and you too, ZX-10 guy whose racetrack pipe causes my heart to stop when you pass me on the Baltimore Beltway at somewhere above a buck ten — for whom the sound of an uncorked motor is an absolute requirement.

But did you ever stop to wonder what sounds you weren’t hearing while you were making that incredibly anti-social din?

I know I hadn’t, but the first few miles proved to be a revelation in that regard. All of a sudden, there was a world of roadside sounds — birdsongs, singing locusts, crickets, the song of the wind — that I had simply never heard. As a frequent camper, bicyclist and hiker, riding a motorcycle had been transformed into communing with nature, instead of scaring the bejaysus out of it.

There are obvious upsides and downsides to The Silence of The Zero.

On a potential downside is your utter invisibility to all manner of wildlife. I live in a very rural area, and on an average 10 mile ride on one of my internal combustion motorcycles, I will see two or three deer. When I come upon these deer, they are usually running panicked from the roadway due to the sound of the motorcycle.

Making that same ride on the Zero, I was seeing a dozen to two dozen deer, not to mention innumerable squirrels, groundhogs, birds, and even a coyote that we suspected existed, but had never seen. And when I’d get within visual range, instead of bolting, spooked, if any of the deer noticed me, they were standing still just looking at me, with a look that said “Where the hell did you come from, human, and why are you flying along three feet above the ground?”. I found myself wondering if this behavior represented a hazard to motorcycling me, but saw no evidence of it.

On the upside is the fact that no matter how immature or irresponsible your piloting of a Zero motorcycle may be, there is no sonic signature to alert anyone – for example, say, law enforcement authorities – of your misbehavior. During my test of the motorcycle, I commuted back and forth from rural Jefferson, Maryland to Reston, Virginia, which is one of the single most congested traffic locations of anywhere in the United States. During the afternoon rush home, I would make use of the Dulles Greenway, a privately owned tollroad which bypasses about 15 miles of utter gridlock on Viriginia Route 7. The toll for this 15 miles is a usurious $6.50 during rush hour, so the law of economic selection tends to create a tendency for the road to cater to folks of well above average means. My fellow road users, as a direct result, tend to be driving Mercedes-Benzes, BMW M cars, Porsches, Teslas with even the occasional Maserati or Ferrari tossed in just for flavor. On the Greenway, folks are properly armed for an automotive fight, and they tend to play rough. On a motorcycle, one needs to be on the hunt for escape routes, and work hard to maintain one’s access to proper safety buffers and a view of open pavement.

On one run home, I found myself caught between several of these GP Wannabes, and their behavior was threatening to box me in a position that would not leave me in control of my safety. My only opportunity was to take advantage of the Zero’s superior acceleration, hit an opening that was rapidly closing, and put myself out in front of them while I still had the chance to do so. So I rolled the DSR’s grip to the stop, and hit the hole. As I cleared the potential hazard, I began to give the throttle back and reduce my speed to something more in line with that of the surrounding traffic. The minute I was in the clear, of course, I looked to the median of the highway, where there were, of course, three Virginia State Troopers on their pursuit Harley-Davidsons, assigned for speed control duty. On the advice of my attorney, I will not state what my road speed was at the time, so you will have to reach your own conclusions. As I travelled past the three good men in grey, not a single one of them looked up from their instruments or took so much as a glance in my direction.

I have come to the conclusion that silence can be the skilled rider’s friend.

So these little accommodations aside, what is the Zero like when the leash comes off?

After my brief acclimation period, I rolled the bike out of the garage on the third day, leathered up, booted up the motorcycle, and toggled the bike from ‘Eco’ to ‘Sport’ mode. I took a few deep, cleansing breaths to help me focus, and rolled the bike down my driveway to the street.

I gently applied some throttle and my eyes got wide. The gentle, progressive response of ‘Eco’ mode was gone. In its place was immediate, muscular, shocking, spine compressing acceleration, the likes of which I have never experienced.

Goodbye, Dr. Jekyll. Meet Mr. Hyde.

And it’s not like I’ve been internally-combustion sheltered. I’ve got saddle time on bikes like KTMs with the RC8 engine, on Kawasaki Ninjas. On four wheels I’ve driven Corvettes, Nissan 350Zs, Buick Grand Nationals, the 8.0 L Cadillac V8, Mercedes 3.5s and 6.3s. All of these vehicles make big power, but its power that has at least some measurable lag time before the RPMs come up and things begin to happen fast.

The Zero’s Z-force R specification motor has no such lag. Power is immediate, and overwhelming. Your prior motorcycling experience and skills are not prepared for such a fundamental change in the character of how motive power is delivered.

As I started to adjust my formerly firmly held convictions about the nature of acceleration, I guided the DSR over towards Maryland Route 17. MD 17 between Brunswick and Burkettsville is one of my roads, a scenic stretch of highway that mixes wide open straights with tight, technical sections. Every bike I tune or test eventually ends up on 17, where I know every bump and stone, every corner entry and exit, and know where every sideroad and driveway enters the highway. MD 17 may not be a racetrack or the Isle of Man Mountain Course, but I do know the safe and quick lines up the road, and where one can use the power one has at one’s disposal.

At the southern end of the run, a traffic circle dumps the rider onto a wide open straight of about 3/4s of a mile in length. As I got the DSR straightened up, I leaned forward over the bars, and as I cleared 40 miles an hour, rolled the throttle to the stops.

My visual field telescoped until I was only seeing tiny points of light. When my eyes and other parts of me that are best left unspecified unclenched an instant later, the Zero’s digital speedometer was running through 85 miles an hour towards even bigger numbers. I’m not entirely sure how I’d managed to keep the front wheel on the ground.

“Ho-lee Sh….” was all I could manage to mouth in the privacy of my helmet.

I’ve talked to lots of other first time Zero pilots now, and that particular exclamation is pretty much universal.

I found myself giggling — sounding just a little unhinged — as I slowed the Zero for the chicane where 17 crosses a small ridgeline, and sets up for a roughly two mile straight.

On the off chance it was a fluke, I did again.

It wasn’t a fluke.

The next two or three days of riding followed pretty much the same pattern.

Make familiar gesture with right wrist. See bright flash. Rematerialize in another location.

Boom. Giggle. Repeat.

It took a little while to get that out of my system. Hopefully I can be forgiven for such a simplistic ritual, but it was just so outrageously fun I just had to keep doing it.

My preconceived notions about the Zero’s power delivery had basically revolved around the concept that the skills of an analog motorcyclist — feeling torque load the contact patches, gently guiding the bike through corners by getting power and cornering forces into delicate equilibrium — was basically not going to be possible using electric power. That all of the minute delays — essentially buffers to throttle response present in an internal combustion powered motorcycle — the time it takes for intake charge speed to increase, the number of engine revolutions required for the engine to start moving mixture efficiently and climb into its peak power band, the inefficiencies induced by two or three or four changes in direction of the power transmission as output works its way through the gearbox and driveline — that these minute delays, taken in the aggregate, were what allowed a human pilot to be quick enough to manage the system at the edge of its performance envelope.

The electric driveline– with none of these delays — potentially brought instant response, and with that instantaneous character, it was potentially beyond the reflexes of a human pilot to control.

That was the pre-conceived notion. The reality of piloting the Zero proved to be a great deal more subtle.

As I spent more time in the saddle of the DSR, my skills began to adapt. This process was not without a few hiccups. Years of backroad corner dancing have taught me that power needs to be applied well before a corner apex to properly manage the drive out. Problem was, that my backroad rhythms had an extra second to a second and a half of lag built into them that was no longer appropriate. The first few genuinely spirited corner exits had me in the throttle what was now way too early, with predictably hairball results — spending quality time sideways making what Troy Corser used to jokingly call “Darkies”.

But as I spend more time and practice working at it, I began to adapt. The direct drive did actually free up mental bandwidth that had formerly been dedicated to downshifing and transmission operation to my cornering lines and position on the road. I learned to wait later — way later — before asking for power. I began to understand that the Zero was capable of making moves and hitting holes that were simply impossible on an ICE bike. What had seemed impossibly quick a few days before quickly became normal.

Further acclimation time revealed additional layers of capability I hadn’t imagined. Far from the digital, all-or-nothing power response I’d anticipated, I began to appreciate the job that Zero’s engineers had done in their implementation of the motor controller. It really was possible to modulate and manage the throttle while underway at a spirited clip. The power delivery curves present in the controller did allow a pilot to actively manage power delivery in the same way one does on a gas bike — just faster. As I finally got comfortable with managing the motorcycle, I knew I’d got it right when my deepest corner lines were now producing perfect lined up exits, with the DSR’s front wheel skimming the pavement as the bike gained the next straight.

Riding the dirt roads of Frederick County Maryland also proved my powers of imagination to be completely deficient. My initial concern was that the bike’s prodigious torque would prove to be a handicap on loose surfaces, but again, the Zero provided happy surprises.

There’s probably the equivalent of 5 Encyclopedia Britannicas worth of speculation and development knowledge concerning what is required for Internal Combustion Engined motorcycles to make and maintain traction in the dirt. The entire history of American Flat Track racing is a graduate level education in exactly that. The firing order, cylinder arrangements and tuning of flattackers have all been engineered to manage how the power pulses of individual cylinders firing are transmitted to a loose surface.

The Zero powertrain, however, has no power pulses whatsoever — it’s just a continuous rush of smooth power. The net effect of this is that the rear tire, rather than being handed the unenviable job of dealing with a blast of power which breaks the tire loose — a long interval before the next blast while the tire decelerates and fights to regain traction — and then the cycle repeating, simply has to deal with steady application of torque. The Zero simply has an easier time staying hooked up.

If you want visual proof of this, go to YouTube and watch this video called ‘The Life Electric: Preston Petty“. Petty is a dirt track pioneer who races a Zero. My moment of illumination comes when the video shows Petty and a gasoline-powered competitor exiting a flat track corner side by side. Both of them open the throttle. The gas bike throws a big hairy roostertail of dirt. Petty’s Zero throws no dirt, but simply walks away from the gas bike. Smooth power equals dirt traction — one can see it plainly right there.

So far from trying to pound me into the dirt like a tent peg, a combination of smooth power delivery, the DSR’s Pirelli MT60 tires which kept both ends hooked up, and great structural rigidity and suspension made the Zero the most confidence inspiring dual sport I’ve ridden yet.



Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like there aren’t a few niggling flaws to break up this orgy of acceleration. But those flaws are few, nothing approaching fatal, and might say more about the persnickity preferences and motorcycle use patterns of this observer than about the DSR.

The. Rear. Brake. SQUEAKS.

Normally, this is not a big deal.

But on a motorcycle that makes so little sound you can clearly hear birdsong and roadside crickets, any untoward noise, no matter how tiny, sounds ten thousand feet tall.

The situation probably isn’t helped by the fact that — with the regenerative braking provided by the Z-Force electric motor — one never really needs to use the rear brake that hard, so the pads never get any significant heat in them therefore they glaze.

Whether the solution is a set of softer pads, or an appropriate pad backing plate, or both, if necessary, matters not. They gotta fix this.


Then there’s the small matter of the saddle.

People accustomed to riding motorcrossers will think I’ve slipped my tether. They’ll think this because they ride standing up all the time, so to them it doesn’t matter. But to the rest of us that have occasionally ridden sitting down, the saddle is ‘firm’. The seat pan does, of necessity, have a fairly domed shape because of the space required for the many high density connectors required to connect the power pack to the Zero’s engine. The shape is good and supportive in the right places. But either a little denser foam or a tiny bit more of it would make a huge difference if you’re ripping off an hour’s ride to work.

So why is the seat pan domed, you ask?

The bike’s built-in glovebox — while hella useful — has a fatal flaw. It can’t be opened without the key. One of the most likely uses for the glovebox — when it doesn’t get replaced with either another battery unit or a fast charger — is for toll money, or for a whole multitude of small items I want to be able to access while on the road. I have another bike with a glovebox — that’s how I use it. Tolls, maps, directions, my phone — anything I don’t want to have to fish out of a pocket. The box should have a lock that allows one to leave it in a locked or unlocked position — then unlatched with a button, rather than a key, so it can be accessed from the saddle without having to turn off the motorcycle.

One of the things that caught my eye, and not in a good way, was the routing and finishing of some of the electrical connections and brake lines on the motorcycle. In particular, the connections to the ABS wheel sensors are concerning — the sensor lines have been stretched far too tight, and the tie wraps are visibly too tight as well. I suspect that many of the 12 volt lines to cycle parts, like brake light switches, and lighting, are similarly assembled. The sensor lines are so visibly overtightened that they are severely stressing the boots where the lines enters the sensors. Zero motorcycles may make far less vibration than most motorcycles, but they do make some, and those connections are highly likely to fail to fail at those points where they are either overstressed or abraded by tie-wraps that are too tight. I’ve seen lots of higher mileage motorcycles fail and/or get recalled because of assembly issues exactly like these.

The brake lines are another issue. The rear line is routed in such a way that it effectively makes it almost impossible to access the rear master cylinder reservoir — the line cuts right across the top of the reservoir cap — I don’t know how one could unscrew and remove it. The first person to have to flush the brakes on one of these will say bad words. The front line is also a problem — on my DSR it was clearly way too long. It made a huge S bend which had it making a large curve behind the wheel, coming across in front of the forks and then making a huge bend back to connect with the caliper, which is back again behind the forks. Being too long means the master cylinder needs pressurize way more line than it needs to, the large bends are stress points that will be where the line will eventually fail, and the big loops of extra line are all exposed to be snagged if one is operating the DSR in gnarly off-road conditions, like cutting though foliage. Buying off the shelf brake components can force some compromises, but front and rear brake line selection and routing bespeak a certain lack of experience in designing and subsequently servicing motorcycle brake systems that will provide long, trouble free service life.




So now you know what the electric motorcycle is like to ride, the equally large question is what is it like to live with every day? And, as it turned out, it makes riding life a great deal easier, at least in getting from here to there in local duty.

I set up a dedicated charge location in my crowded garage by running a heavy duty extension cord in from a dedicated circuit. For 30 days none of my three gasoline powered motorcycles was even started.

The Zero simply doesn’t need any of the drama associated with gasoline powered motorcycles. There’s no choke, startup or warmup drama – you just boot it up and ride. There’s no oil to check, or to change, no plugs, no chain to lube, no valves to adjust, nothing. In the life cycle of the bike, you’d need to be concerned with keeping it in tires and brake pads and a brake flush every two years or so. With regenerative braking, your pads are likely going to last a long time, too.

Most of my riding errands involve getting to Frederick and back for banking, groceries, trips to the hardware store and the like. Zero was kind enough to fit this bike with a topcase which made such daily chores painless. These trips — like picking up a week’s groceries for a temporarily single guy — were easily completed with two full reusable grocery bags in the top case. I’d get back from a 25 mile or so errand (with slight scenic elongation), and after 3 hours on the charger the bike would be back at 100%.

Commuting was another task that sounded more challenging than it proved to be. My office is located 43 miles from my home, and the ride mixes up serene country roads, a some sections of gridlocked two lane and 4 lane country highway, some high speed sections where both congestion and vehicular aggression require high intensive and high performance piloting, and some urban local streets with in-city traffic lights and stop and go. It almost like an engineer designed a ‘Get-to-work-torture-test-track’ with a little bit of the worst of everybody’s commute.

In short, perfect for what I was looking to find out.

Day 1, I’ll admit I had range anxiety – I was looking at an 86 mile round trip, and didn’t know if I’d be able to locate a plug to top the batteries up while I was at the office. Theoretically, this was well inside the Zero’s stated range, but the route has a minimum of 25 miles of elevated highway speeds, which tightened calculated range up considerably. So I loaded my laptop backpack and my insulated lunchbag into the topcase, pulled on my ‘Stich, dialed up some ‘Eco’ mode to conserve power, and headed down toward Most Congested Northern Virginia.

The first stretches of the run to the office were well inside the bike’s operational envelope in ‘Eco’ mode — Route 15 South is a 45 mph speed limit rural highway, and I was able to stay at a comfortable cruise until I hit the inevitable congestion just outside of Leesburg. In stop and go or low speed rolling traffic, the Zero quickly revealed an unsuspected virtue — with the direct drive and regenerative breaking dialed up, the bike was trivial to operate — open throttle to speed up, close throttle to slow down — no clutch work, and dead comfortable at speeds barely above a walking pace, especially given the bike’s light weight and narrowness.

The plan held together as I hit Virginia 7 East — which still has a few traffic lights to cause congestion on what is a major highway. When I picked up Virginia 28 South — which is a 6 lane limited access highway, though — I needed to make some adjustments. After hitting ‘Eco’ mode’s 70 mph software speed limiter — implemented because air drag at higher speeds accelerates rates of battery drain — once, then twice, and having the previously mentioned coterie of Northern Virginia’s performance automobiles treating me like an exposed sitting duck, I quickly decided that survival was way more important than battery levels, and switched the Zero into ‘Sport’ mode. The Zero does allow for mode switching while in motion — selecting a new mode on the fly will have the newly selected mode show up blinking on the bike’s LCD display — closing the throttle momentarily is required for the new mode to become effective, at which point the label goes solid on the display.

Thus re-armed, I was able to properly defend myself on VA 28 and the Dulles Toll Road until my arrival at the office in Reston. My battery capacity display was showing a pretty healthy 59% charge remaining. Rolling into the parking structure, I started the hunt for an undefended plug. My building does have some commercial electric vehicle charging stations, but they only provide J1772 fast charging plugs, which were of no use to my standard charger-equipped Zero. I slowly trolled through the garage, heading towards the upper floors where there were nearly no cars present, using my newly developed feral-plug-sniffing skills. Upon arrival at the second highest level of the garage, I saw it — a weatherproof, GFI equipped 15 amp socket mounted on the surface of a concrete structural support column.

I pulled the DSR right up next to the column, placed the bike on the sidestand, and dismounted. I pulled the charge cord from the ‘tank’ mounted glovebox, plugged it into the frame-mounted connector, and lifted the lid on the socket, plugged it in, and crossed my fingers.



Feral Plug Sniffing Skills Rewarded

A second and a half later, I heard the welcome sound of the bike’s charge solenoid slamming shut, and the green charging telltale on the bike’s display lit up.


The display indicated a little over 5 hours until the battery pack would be fully recharged. We’d be riding home with a full battery.

I swapped my backpack in the topcase for my helmet, and went into the office for the day’s work. On my way through the lobby, I stopped to let the building manager know who I was and why there was a motorcycle in their garage that was plugged into their electric socket. She was very cheerful and understanding about the conversation, which was a relief.

The day at work was like any other day, except that I was a little more cheerful than usual at the thought of the ride home.

At the end of the day, I saddled up and was fortunate enough to beat the largest portion of the evening pulse coming out of Reston — I stopped at one light for one change and then merged smartly onto the Dulles Toll Road. After stopping to pay the toll, I was looking at 15 miles of high speed highway — in Loudoun County’s green rolling countryside — to bring me to the south side of Leesburg. With no bodywork and the dirtbike upright riding position, keeping pace with 80 mph traffic was about the only time the DSR felt slightly out of its element, and the rate of battery consumption was the highest I seen.

At Leesburg, everyone in traffic heads north for the Leesburg Bypass, so I didn’t. The Bypass is designed to save time by taking traffic around the town, and, as a result, becomes its own self-contained traffic nightmare — the average backup there in the evening averages between 45 minutes to an hour to clear the 2 and a half miles of the Bypass.

I picked my way through the backstreets of Leesburg, and headed towards an inexplicable throwback to colonial times — 12 miles of dirt road that start right in the middle of one of most overdeveloped and congested areas in the United States.


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Dirt Road Heaven In The Middle of Congested Hell

I could tell you more about this road, but then I would have no choice but to kill you.

Five minutes away from utter gridlock, I was standing up on the pegs of the DSR, working my way over the loose and rutted surface though deep forest and dappled sunlight, past pastures filled with horses that were utterly unconcerned with my silent passing. I’ve been down this road many times before — usually on BMW boxers — on both street and dual sport tires — but never felt as comfortable or as in command as the tires, structure, suspension and power characteristics of the Zero DSR made possible.

All good things must pass, and eventually my dirt road ran out. Another 20 miles of twisty pavement brought me back home — with 57% of the battery capacity showing remaining. In many more such round trips, it was the lowest number I would see.

In the time I had the Zero, I made several attempts to stretch the bike out to see what the maximum range of the bike was in my kind of mixed dirt and secondary roads use. Because that usage does involve stretches at speeds between 45-70, my 110 mile average was a bit lower than the bike’s stated 140 mile city use range.

The biggest influence on battery life and range on the Zero is the attitude of the rider. The more restrained one’s right wrist is, the further the Zero’s battery pack will take you. On these commuting rides, I’ll freely cop to riding like a total knob. Where possible, the throttle was wide open, either as a response to the aggression of drivers around me, or alternately, because the Atom-bomb rush of the Zero’s acceleration is so compellingly addictive. I’m usually a very conservative street rider, but the sheer quickness of the Zero made the formerly inadvisable, or in some cases, impossible, completely trivial.

My conclusion, though, is that as a commuter’s motorcycle, even making absolutely no effort to conserve power and extend range, the Zero made short work and would continue to make short work of an 80 + mile round trip with minimum drama and maximum fun. It was easier to ride in congested conditions, was more agile and responsive as a defensive driving weapon, and required virtually no maintenance in doing so.

In the 30 days the Zero was in my garage, I didn’t buy any gasoline for my other motorcycles. Watching the telemetry on my Solar System as I’ve been obsessively doing, the juice being used to top the Zero’s batteries off each night — even when they were close to fully depleted — wasn’t even making a dent in the array’s overproduction. I ended up the month that the Zero was my only transportation with the local utility still owing me close to $70 for the wholesale cost of the power we produced over what we used ourselves. Zero’s calculations show that the cost of power — when purchased from a public utility — to fully charge the DSR at about $1.45, which will get one roughly a hundred twenty miles, or a ‘fuel’ cost of about 1.2 cents per mile.

Producing one’s own solar power though, gives a whole new meaning to ‘free ride’.

The world around us has already changed. Regardless of what may be happening with our public policy debate in this country, the market has already decided that Electric motive power is the only possible response to the damage that has been done to the Earth’s environment since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. I recognize that the technology to enable long distance motorcycle touring is not yet here, but the in the long run, the technical issues are absolutely solvable. For every need short of that lunch-run-to-Montana, today’s Zero’s Z-force Technology is cheaper to run, lower maintenance, and well up to the task of use for everyday transportation.

But none of that would mean anything if it wasn’t simply more fun to ride, and whoa, is it ever.

In fact, it’s the bomb.






Portions of this story were published previously in the November/December 2017 Issue of Motorcycle Times