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Conquering Zero

Cruising to New Hampshire’s hog heaven with quiet confidence on a state-of-the-art electric motorcycle

Author Alyssa Giacobbe

bike

NEW ENGLAND—Every spring, hundreds of thousands of bikers roar into New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee region for Laconia Motorcycle Week, the oldest rally of its kind in the U.S. My Vulcan-riding father-in-law, Bob, is one of them. Bob has been riding motorcycles since the 1970s, most recently with a Florida group he founded called the Melbourne Beach Marauders. When he rides, he wears a Harley-Davidson T-shirt with flames down the sleeves (and fights with his wife if she won’t let him wear it out to dinner). He makes his own leather saddlebags in his garage.

I told Bob about the Zero motorcycle, one of the new class of electric bikes that make for cleaner, quieter, more economical riding. Bob wasn’t impressed. “You mean a scooter?” he said. I didn’t. Since its 2006 founding by a former NASA engineer, Zero has been a pioneer in building battery-powered, full-size, environmentally friendly motorcycles that ride like, or almost like, their traditional gas-guzzling, highway-shredding peers.

For 2013, Zero’s technology has been significantly upgraded. The top-of-the-line S model can hit speeds of 95 mph and go more than 135 miles on a single charge, the farthest of any electric bike to date. With a battery pack in place of an engine, it’s lighter but still substantial (275 pounds compared with 600-plus for the average Harley) and appealingly clutch-free—you just turn the key, twist the throttle and go. And it looks great: The sleek matte-black aircraft-grade aluminum frame comes with a choice of black or yellow trim, and boasts copper fork accents and roomy storage compartments where a fuel tank might otherwise go.

For a little father-/daughter-in-law bonding, Bob and I are embarking on an early spring ride from Boston to Laconia in anticipation of this year’s bike week, June 8–16, marking the event’s 90th anniversary. After three failed attempts at the written portion of the motorcycle permit test (apparently you do have to study) and a few lessons in the local high school parking lot, I’m newly licensed. I have no traditional motorcycle riding experience, aside from being an occasional and largely nervous passenger. Still, I do my best to look the part, gearing up in leather pants and jacket from Alpinestars and a Bell helmet, and donning one of the Sena Bluetooth headsets Bob and I will use to chat while riding.

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