Electric Dreams

I was fortunate enough to be invited down to Thetford Forest for one of the Electric Alley events held by English Electric Motor Co and as I have been raving on about Zero Motorcycles for an absolute age, I simply could not wait.

English Electric Motor Co was started by the lovely chaps behind Old Empire Motorcycles, with their HQ slap bang in the centre of East Anglia, known for its luscious green fields, stately homes, steam railways, nature reserves, a plethora of quaint towns with local food and craft shops; it's the perfect place to ride around astride a quiet, green machine. 

The Zero motorcycles SR.
Now, don't let the word "quiet" put you off. When I originally announced that I would be test riding a Zero SR I was met with some rather crass comments: "it'll be like having sex after having an epidural" and "watch your friends diminish in numbers", I understand why people may feel this way. After all, motorcycles should be loud, fierce, reek of oil and petrol right? Our job as bikers is to impose ourselves on anyone's peaceful afternoon with a roar of power and a show of impressive brutality. Obviously everyone wants to see this and with a smile on their face they feel a pang of jealousy, piercing eyes track you as you disappear off into the distance. Once out of sight they are overcome with the painful realization that their life is pitiful and incomplete without a great throbbing engine between their legs.

Another argument I've frequently heard is: "loud pipes save lives" and maybe they do, but I still have friends with loud pipes who've been smashed into by a careless driver. The fact is, that there is a whole host of things that save lives such as; being seen, defensive riding, being aware of other road users, reading the road and of course oxygen. Yep, oxygen. If you can't breathe, you'll die! With the ever growing focus on air pollution and the rising numbers of children now being born with chronic respiratory diseases (as a direct result of poor air quality), surely having clean air is important? Interestingly the one thing I didn't miss when riding the Zero SR was the song of a thousand fossils exploding beneath me and being spewed out the back end as fine particles of noxious gas.

Yeah its all a bit overboard and I'm being silly, but I feel that the arguments against electric vehicles are now redundant. Gone are the days of atrociously miniscule ranges and even worse battery charging times, Zero have worked tirelessly to improved these in the last decade and improve them they have. 
The Zero SR has a range of 202 miles through its ZF13.0 power pack, which is non-stop riding from Leeds to London on a single charge! Couple that with an impressive 157.2 Nm of torque, hurtling you up to it's (limited) top speed of 102mph within a matter of seconds. The SR is not only a practical bike; its also an utter hooligan! The Z-Force motor gifts you 100% of the torque from 1mph all the way up to it's top speed which, when you experience this is both terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures. 

The set up on the SR is fantastic, the style and build quality presents itself much better in real life than in the promotional photographs. Rider comfort and ergonomics have been well thought out, sat upright with your feet slightly back, there is no tension or strain, my weight was easily shifted around the bike delivering a smooth and responsive ride. Not surprising really when the suspension was designed with Showa specifically for Zero's motorcycles. Through the USD forks small bump compliance is excellent and when it comes to something larger (which you probably should avoid) the handling is solid and predictable. Both the front and rear suspension is completely customizable so you can adjust it to meet your particular demands. When it comes to the all important stopping power, that's been taken care of with large diameter (320mm), carrier-less front rotor. 

There are several ride modes; Eco, Custom and Sport which can be applied on the fly. Each mode changes the performance of the bike and how much the battery will recharge while riding. 

Eco mode softens the throttle response, limits the torque of the motor and gives you maximum regeneration when you brake or lay off the throttle, so if you ride it right, you can increase the range on the battery as you go. 

Sport mode gives you a no holds barred experience, with a quicker throttle response, full torque, better motor braking. The down side to this is that you will drain the battery much quicker (the same as a conventional motorcycle where riding enthusiastically reduces your MPG), so it's definitely something to save for when you're blasting out to the cafe and back to meet your mates. 

Custom does what it says on the tin. You can choose how much torque you want, top speed, and how much power you want the bike to recycle and put back into the battery each time you lay off the throttle or use the brakes. This can all be done via a Bluetooth connective app, which does a whole host of other cool things, including telling you how much money you've saved per mile vs. using petroleum. 

Full recharge is still an overnight affair taking 8 hours to juice up, however you can do a 2 hour quick charge which gives you 90% capacity. I rarely ride 200 miles in one go, so for me this bike is ideal. If you are a true mile muncher, regularly heading to Europe on extended mile tours then, as you can tell, this bike isn't for you. Nor is it designed to be! This is a true urban warrior who occasionally heads across the country to go and visit his mates and when I think about it, the vast majority of bikes I've owned or would like to own are the same when it comes down to it. 

A major advantage over conventional motorcycles is that the Zero SR is practically maintenance free! No chain tension, valve adjustments, carburettor tinkering, annual oil drop, filter change and the endless other things we do for the love of our bikes. You can literally just hop on and go, so for those who aren't proficient in the twirling of spanners this one is for you.  

In conclusion the Zero SR is capable of holding it's own when it comes to traditional combustion motorcycles, yet I feel the arguments against electric motorcycles will continue. They will go on and on until you take the plunge and sling your leg over for a ride. Then and only then you'll realize that actually, all of the arguments you thought you had against an electric motorcycle have been invalid. Why? Because a) you will feel like you are in Tron and b) at the end of the day, an electric motorcycle is....well....a motorcycle.

 For more information on the Zero Motorcycles range head to: http://englishelectricmotorco.com


Triumph Visitor Experience

The Triumph Visitor Experience is due to open on the 1st of November at their HQ in Hinkley. The experience will open every day from 10am-4pm until the 23rd of December and there is a whole host of things to do and see while you’re there including; the exhibition, the 1902 cafe and the Triumph store.

The exhibition portion of the experience uncovers a story of passion by the guys and gals behind the Triumph brand and the riders of these iconic machines. Touching on subject matters such as; performance, heritage, design, development and the bond felt between the worldwide group of Triumph owners and their mechanical partners in crime, there is a lot of content here which is an amazing gift as it’s free to see.

Once you’ve done at the exhibition you can relax in the stylish 1902 cafe, upload your snaps via the free wifi to your social network accounts while boasting to all your friends, or head over to the store which has exclusive merchandise, clothing and memorabilia unavailable anywhere else.

If you wish to cram even more into your day there is a factory tour starting at 10:30am every day for a small charge of £15, you must however book this in advance.

To find out more head over to http://www.triumphmotorcycles.co.uk/visitor-experience


Builder Profile: Tom Paterson AKA TCDeathcat

You can’t beat a bit of trespass, especially on the land of a lord. These days, thankfully, the worst you can expect is a few gruff words from a guy in a pick-up truck armed with a pair of rabid collies, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had some big, country-dwelling lump and his dogs give me grief and besides, I’m here by invite. If I’m in the right place, that is… still, there’s an extra kick to opening the gates to a private estate, ignoring the signs about trespass, and driving through the well-kept grounds looking for the secret location of the Deathcats lair, and the mastermind behind it.

Tom Paterson is a Welsh mountain, settled in Yorkshire. I find him easily enough, working on the bends of a pair of downpipes in a shed that looks like many others round this part of the country – there’s moss growing on the drive, the drains are half-blocked, and a pile of old junk occupies the entrance. Standard shed fare. But for the pleasant rural location, it’d be nothing special. 

But what you find inside is. Tom’s self-taught passion is metalwork, into which he has poured thousands of hours, wrapping vintage Harley engines in finely-detailed hardtail chassis and running gear. He’s built this fascination up to a fully-equipped workshop with a lathe, blasting cabinet, welding equipment, and a ton of spares and paraphernalia. All this started as stress relief: “I needed something to do, so I started building models, and polishing”, he tells me, “and it just sort of grew from there. I’ve got my own business and I needed to unwind from that.” This was around 2010. These days he gets invites to show his work internationally, including having himself and a bike flown out to California, to be shown alongside builders whom he formerly idolised. Now they’re buddies who crawl over the minute details of each other’s bikes when they meet, geeking out on fabrication details and neat solutions, and swapping builder stories. 

The bike I’ve really come to photograph, which will be shown at Motorcycle Social, is up on a bench and still very much under construction. I’ve brought my camera gear and even some studio lights, so I’m itching to get some photos, but this one is not yet far enough along. But I’d also spotted an immaculate white springer with a 42 engine (and, as it turns out, a modified Triumph frame) when I came in, so I ask if we can roll that outside instead. “Not that one”, I’m told. “I promised the guy I wouldn’t let any photos of it out” (though he later lets me sneak just one). Apparently, it’s already sold, so I settle on the equally gorgeous creation you see here.

Tom is the first of the builders I intend to visit in the run-up to Motorcycle Social, so I’m glad to be left to get my lights out and play around with different shots, while he goes back to his workbench and continues fettling. The plan was to photograph a bike, hit him with a few interview-type questions and be on my way, but we get chatting and time starts to fly. I’m pretty new to this hardtail scene, so I’m full of questions about everything. 

I ask him: “Why Harleys?” 

“’Cos they’re f**kin’ cool, and they’re loud, and they’re big bikes. The size of me, I need a big bike.” He fires up the white 42 on its open pipes, and grins widely as he blips the throttle for half a minute, ripping the still country air to shreds. The bike trembles on its stand, as if aching to jump straight through the wall, tear off down the valley, and kill something.What about the hardtail thing, y’know, no rear suspension – do you run the back tyre softer?” I ask, when my hearing has returned.Nah.”So how do they handle?”

He pauses – almost frowns – but then, patiently, as if addressing an idiot whom he nevertheless is enjoying talking to, says: “It’s not really about that. You have to measure your expectations. But this is all I know, really – I’ve always ridden choppers. If I ride a soft-tail it just feels… sort of mushy, on the back end.”

I ask if he’s planning to transition from his regular job to building chops for a living – which seems a pretty cool living on the face of it – but he shakes his head. “There’s no money in building choppers”, he reckons. “I do it because I love it.” There are five bikes plus change in here, all of them vintage Harleys, so he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to shift them. “I’ve got two more back at the house, Tom tells me, “and a modern Sportster. If I don’t like you, I won’t sell you a bike”, he laughs. “From there, there’s a sort of sliding scale – the more I like you the less I’ll charge.” (Anybody reading this, and thinking of approaching Tom for a build, will now have some measure of what he thinks of them, though I don’t really think he’d care.) He’s very focussed and absolute in what he does, and everything has to be not only right but also done to the best of his ability. His work is so good because he is doing exactly what he wants, with no thought of reward other than the work itself, and no concern over what anybody thinks. His current build – already commissioned but joining us at the show – is a bike he already had in mind. “When he [the client] asked me to build him a bike, I said ‘OK, but it’s got to be the bike I want to build’. He was fine with that”. 

The build – which I’ll be returning to photograph when it’s nearer completion – is a modern 1200 Sportster engine in a Fenland Choppers bobber frame. It’s wearing an aftermarket replica Hummer tank, with a 1950s ignition switch recessed into it, a typically time-consuming and tricky detail that alone could take a dozen more hours to complete. The oil tank is early Sportster, sectioned to make it narrower and with a pressure gauge fitted in the filler. He’s handmade a cissy bar and seat pan, and the downpipes are under construction while I’m there. It also runs a chain conversion, to help the transmission clear the frame. The rear wheel is a standard 19” item, and the front is a 21” TLS 1980s Japanese dirt-bike wheel, gold anodised, which makes me think of the Yamaha TT600 I bought from a Lincolnshire farmer. and sold on in bits, making a few hundred in the process.

This sparks another line of conversation, on the topic of wheeling and dealing: “That engine in there (Tom points at the white 42) is one of a job lot of three. I sold one on and that more than paid for this one to be rebuilt, and I’ve got a spare engine out of it. I like that – making the money to pay for the job. It’s part of the enjoyment.” We swap a few tales on the joys of ebay entrepreneurism, which he obviously pursues with great relish. Then he recounts another story, and another reason for doing what he does. “It wasn’t exactly a defining moment”, he smiles, “but it made me think and I still remember it now.”

In the Welsh town where he grew up, there was a little old Italian guy, who would talk to young Tom and his mates, and was very feisty. “I’ll hit you, I’ll punch you!” he would declare, fists raised, if they gave him any cheek. He asked Tom one day: “You die twice. The first time is when you stop breathing – when is the second?” Tom didn’t know, but went away wondering what he had meant. Some time passed. Tom didn’t see the old guy for a while. One day, now much bigger, he ran into him again. There were no threats of punches this time around, but the old Italian remembered having asked Tom the question, and wanted to know if he had an answer yet, which he did not. The second time is when everybody has forgotten you”, he was told. “That Shakespeare was very clever. He is still alive.” Tom’s laughing now, obviously enjoying the memory. “So I suppose it’s something like that. I want to leave something behind, to leave a mark.”

Photography + words by: www.twostoreyshed.com