I visit the Corbin factory regularly and have lunch in their Wizard's Cafe. It's a great place to meet all sorts of interesting people. If you've not been to Corbin's, there is an airstrip just across the road. This means you can look out the cafe windows and watch planes land. One time, a person I was sitting with got excited and started pointing and babbling about a glider, I didn't think anything of it. "Yes, they land here, it's nice" I said dismissively. "No no! He crashed!" was the unexpected response I received from my friend as he leapt up and started jogging towards the field. Sure enough, the pilot had come in too low and had to decide whether to land in the middle of a busy roadway, or crash into an empty field and reduce the chance of death by head on collision with a road vehicle. He chose the empty field. Sadly though encountered a barbed wire fence which did some damage.
Passing motorists stopped and brought the pilot to the hospital as his face was a little cut up from the ordeal. He looked shaken, but overall OK. Fast forward a week, and I find myself needing to go back to Corbin's for unrelated reasons. I ended up finding a stray Zero SR/F owner named Dennis.
Dennis is from San Diego, traveling North to visit relatives. He actually had a piece of foam on his stock seat to make it more comfortable on the long trip. He posted pictures in the Zero Facebook group that he was near the Corbin factory and charging his bike. Unfortunately during winter they're only active 4 days a week; it was their day off with only some administrative staff inside.
I had something I was supposed to deliver to Mike Corbin personally and meant to do it that day. I told Dennis, "hang on, I'll be right there" and headed up to Hollister. I arrived a little later than expected and met him on the exit road from the factory. We pulled over to chat. Then, a large SUV pulled up. The driver side window rolled down. It was Mike Corbin. He looked over and asked what brought me up his way. I handed him the turn signal I was bringing him and he said, "You didn't have to come up just for that!"
"Any excuse for a ride," I responded. I introduced him to Dennis and Mike invited us in for a tour.
In that a moment a magical thing happened. A guy who randomly took his motorcycle for a ride to visit family was transported into the forefront of the EV bike world. He had a personal face-to-face meeting with Mike Corbin, the godfather of electric motorcycles. On his return trip, he was able to get a new seat and other parts installed, then spend time with Craig Vetter (my dad) for lunch and Brandon.
We invited Dennis to the weekly podcast in Santa Cruz (episode 355) and he agreed to stick around and share his experiences. What started as a casual trip to San Francisco stemmed into a warm embrace into the motorcycle community as a whole. Sometimes it really does feel like we're planting seeds and watching them grow. So let's talk about the new generation. I am becoming old. At 35 I am practically a dinosaur. There are up-and-coming youths that are eager to make their own bikes and mark their own place in the world. Previously we've heard from Callum and a lot of his progress building the best Zero he can out of spare parts. His efforts have been nothing short of herculean and the progress he's made on what we call the Crime Bike is phenomenal. Since then we've met a new face in all of this. Say hello to James.
James had a bicycle repair business in the greater New York area and became interested in motorcycles. Self-taught, he borrowed money from relatives to buy Nissan Leaf battery packs and assemble an electric motorcycle on his own. It worked wonderfully, and through that he landed a job on the West Coast. We'd have never found each other except through a mutual friend who was listing his Zero for sale. James contacted him and said, "I've never seen a Zero before, may I come look? I made my own bike."
"Well, of course. Come right over" said our friend and gave us a heads up he'd met a straight shooter with upper management written all over him.
James proved to be a very quick learner and we were able to get him up to speed quickly on what we're doing with bikes and charging. The next step was to go for a ride. James responded enthusiastically so we decided to meet up at ChargePoint headquarters. Brandon and I poked around with the experimental DC stations out back, and Brandon thought it'd be cute to change the station language to Italian because Energicas visited. I mean, they did have a vast array of language settings on the touchscreens. Andiamo!
We headed south down CA Hwy 17. James said he had built an 11kWh battery but we hadn't interacted with it yet, so we didn't know what to expect. We put him in front with the idea of pulling off the highway in Watsonville for some J1772 action. We initially pulled into an EVgo station that had CCS, ChaDeMo, and J1772. His bike wouldn't initialize the charge. I knew he had worked out stuff to function with ChargePoint, so I guided him to the Target which had 6 ChargePoint stations about a mile and a half away. He tried to charge there and also had problems, at which point he realized his homemade control board had shaken itself apart.
He ripped into his parts and checked every connection on his pilot signal board. After a few minutes he emitted a triumphant, "aha!" and showed me a clear box emitting light from blue LEDs. The boy had gotten his bike to recognize the station and was now pumping a steady 3kW into his 11kWh battery pack. We wandered over to a local Starbucks for warmth and caffeine. As we stood in line chatting, I heard a voice say, "look at this pack of NERDS," had an immediate flashback to high school, and froze. Turns out it was Callum who had been tracking our progress and decided to meet us.
Things being discussed: how best to harvest power from a J1772 station. Things not being discussed: "how to attract a mate" or, "how to be incredibly super cool".
We then continued on our way. Brandon was following immediately behind James, and we were chatting about his bike in our helmet comms. I joked that there was a non-zero chance his battery might just straight up fall out. Brandon laughed but immediately increased his following distance and moved more to the side, just in case. Thankfully, no batteries fell out that day.
We all ended up at the shop eventually, where even my mom decided to get in on the fun and see how all the different bikes felt, and even rode the Brammo.
I think there's a certain aspect of motorcycling returning to a golden era. I could be wrong, but gas bikes are an established thing. They're so deep into counter-culture that they've become mainstream. Then, seemingly out of left field, we have electric motorcycles. And they're often times weird, homebrew, and probably minor (or major) safety hazards. But it feels like that's the direction that motorcycles need to go to stay relevant. The stories we tell now echo those I have heard my dad tell about the golden age of motorcycling when he first started Vetter Fairings.
Addendum, so that I stay humble: I like to think that I've learned a bit in the EV community. I have experience. I have talked to people. I know a thing or two about a thing or two. Not much surprises me anymore in my interactions and conversations with people new to EVs. Specifically, when I'm at a stoplight I know what it means when a car rolls forward with its windows down. They want to ask me, "hey, is that electric?". I know the responses. In fact, I know the responses to the questions they don't even know they're ready to ask yet.
So recently, when I saw a car on my left side doing the aforementioned, I mentally prepped for all these things. I saw the driver stare at me, and then say, "Is that a PHONE MOUNT on your motorcycle?" I paused for the briefest of moments and then laughed. "I am so glad you asked that question instead of noticing it's an electric motorcycle with no clutch or gears and not making any sound" I said pointing at the various places on the bike. "Electric motorcycle? Oh, that's interesting," he said, "..... so," he then pointed at my Cardo Packtalk, "can you talk on your phone with that?" The light turned green, I took off and chuckled for the next mile. Sometimes even what I consider the coolest thing is boring in another person's eyes.
Oh, and we did meet one new friend, recently. He has a highly anticipated bike. More to come shortly.