On June 19th, 2014, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company made a big announcement - the launch of a prototype electric bike dubbed Project Livewire. This was certainly a big surprise for HD purists as well as the rest of us. The first images of the concept bike looked promising. With its sleek styling, flowing lines, black with red and chrome accent paint scheme, it looked nothing like the traditional American-made cruisers that the factory has been putting out for the past 100 years.
HD purists were up in arms against what they perceived to be the company selling out to the Prius-driving, latte-sipping, tree-hugging hippies. The rest of the riding crowd – the sport bikers, the younger riders, the technology lovers and the electric bike aficionados – were curious but skeptical. Electric bikes have thus far been the province of small startups like Zero and Brammo who have consistently been putting out production quality street and dirt bikes since 2006, and one-off pioneers like Eva Håkansson, whose ElectroCat was to the first electric motorcycle to complete the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2010.
I’ve kept an eye on the evolution of electric bikes ever since the Zero first launched. The ride reports were promising but the limited range (approximately 40-50 miles between charges) and the lack of charging station infrastructure meant that it would be a while before I put down serious money for one. The old school motorcyclist in me was a little reluctant to give in to this change. Thus, I imagine, it has always been, from the switching over of landlines to mobile phones, and paper maps to GPS units, all changes that have happened in my life time. There is no stopping disruptive technology though, and the world moves forward whether or not you choose to go along with the change.
How did I get this incredible opportunity to ride a Project Livewire concept bike? Long story short – Jeff Henshaw of Microsoft Corp wrote a brilliant open letter to Harley Davidson congratulating them on making such a bold move urging them to bring these bikes to production immediately after fixing the range and battery charge time issues and pricing them to right to make them accessible to a different crowd. Harley Davidson HQ took note and contacted him, offering to set up a special test ride day for Microsoft motorcycle riders, a community that I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a part of for almost ten years. This would be part of their Project Livewire Experience Tour. When I saw that the Livewire had a low seat height of 31″, I signed up immediately and made the cut for the small group of riders who would get to ride the bike the tour hit Seattle. Major thanks to Jeff for making this happen!
I was very bad about updating this blog last year, so I’m going to do a few posts to get caught up on a few notable things that happened last year. One of them was doing a product review of VNM Sport Gear for American Motorcyclist magazine.
My initial proposal for the Global Women Who Ride project has received some pretty enthusiastic responses and I’ve gotten email from lots of really amazing women who want to be a part of this project. This makes me so happy that I have no words. Looking at some of these womens’ achievements and credentials is humbling and inspiring! The first round of interview questions has gone out to riders across the world. I’m so looking forward to hearing back from them.
For those of you who might be visiting this blog because you were linked to the project, I thought I’d write a little bit more about this idea and try and explain what I am trying to accomplish and why. When I look at contemporary motorcycling literature and media, I find very few women being represented or in positions of influence like writers, editors, test riders, product testers etc. This is of course in large part because we are such a minority. And yet, I long to see other people like me and to hear their stories. I know that there are amazing motorcycling women out there with whom I’d love to sit down and talk over a cup of tea (or beer!) and listen to them talk. And I know that most of us want to hear each other’s stories and learn a little more about the other’s life. So my aims here are manifold. I want us all to have a platform to tell the world about our experiences, I want to make women motorcyclists more visible to the motorcycling industry, to advertisers, to non-motorcyclists, and to the world, and I want to create a global community where we all learn from each other and get a deeper understanding of each other’s lives seen through the lens of this shared passion of ours. Continue reading More info about the Global Women Who Ride Project
Hello, would you like to be a part of the “Global Women Who Ride” project? :) My aim with this ambitious new project is to highlight women motorcyclists across the globe and provide an insight into what a motorcycle rider in another country looks like, what she loves about riding in her particular part of the planet, and what commonalities and differences there are in her riding experiences vs. those of other riders.
I would love to cover a woman rider from every country across the planet.These riders will be featured in my blog on a regular basis and who knows, hopefully also be a part of a full-color coffee table book (either self-published or the real deal if I can find a publisher). [Note: I also have a sub-project to cover a woman from every state in the United States! And perhaps more such sub-projects set in other large countries like Canada, Australia and Russia if I get enough participants from there.] Continue reading The Global “Women Who Ride” Project
It was finally Day 7 – the end of our tour. Today we would ride back to Phnom Penh. I think that something happens within my mind when you are approaching the end of a ride. I no longer have the urge to explore, stop, dawdle, dream etc. Instead, everything within me is focused on getting home and finishing. That’s the spirit in which I started the day. I didn’t particular care to go off-road, see any sights, try anything new and difficult. I just wanted to take a straight line path back to Phnom Penh. I think the rest of the group had the same sentiment. We were only about 150km away though and we didn’t mind getting to the city later in the day, so a few backroads weren’t entirely out of the question. I also wanted to get a few pictures of me riding on unpaved roads as all of the GoPro/Contour photos so far had been on paved roads.
We left the island at around 7:30AM on another boat. It was a quiet, peaceful ride. When we got to shore, we picked up our gear, filled up petrol, and took off.
Day 6! I was rapidly approaching the end of my ride. By now I had settled into a nice groove and was excited for more. What a change from Day 1!
We woke up at 7AM and set off without any breakfast, much to my surprise. I guess the homestay included only one meal. I wasn’t very hungry so I didn’t mind. It was also really pleasant to ride early when it was cool. I guess some things are constant no matter where you are in the world – Sunday morning motorcycle rides to breakfast are always a wonderful thing! We rode through small villages where dogs came running out into the street at the sound our engines. No survival instincts, these dogs! I narrowly avoided a few of them.
We stopped for breakfast at a local place where we had our first taste of what the locals eat for breakfast. Our options were fried rice or noodles. No omelettes or egg related dishes here! I opted for the fried rice with a hot coffee with sweet milk. Cambodia coffee is very like its Vietnamese counterpart, which I have had in Seattle. It is a thick strong sludgy drink made with chicory coffee and sweetened with condensed milk from a can. I usually avoid drinking coffee in the mornings during long rides to avoid getting dehydrated, but I couldn’t resist. It was odd to eat rice for breakfast, but as always, I was grateful to get good, delicious food for under a dollar. The place was buzzing with flies, something that I could never get used, although my Aussie tourmates told me that you soon got used to it when you lived in hot humid places. Fair enough!
After this, we had a good few hours of riding where it got quite a bit difficult for me. The roads were dusty like yesterday and had a lot of bumps and potholes. At times, we went off into a little bit of single track, which although wide, was a little sandy and rutted and twisty. I went a lot slower here. It was also very hot as the day went by. My dual sporting outfit was fine for most of the roads we had done so far, but on the slow unpaved roads it was less than ideal. For the first time, I wished I had brought a dirtbiking outfit.
We went over quite a few rickety wooden bridges for the first time. We stopped at the end of one and the others went up and down it to take pictures. I was too hot and tired though, and I opted out. Kind of wish I had though, as it would have made for great pictures.
Our departure from Phnom Penh was delayed by a parade being held in honor of the funeral of Cambodia’s king Sihanouk. We waited around the hotel for almost an hour before the cordoned off streets were opened to traffic again.
It also meant that traffic going out of the city was horrendous. It reminded me a lot of the traffic in Bombay. Lane markings are completely ignored and it is mostly a free for all. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be though. Even though the road was full of vehicles, as long as you held your line and didn’t make any sudden movements, there wasn’t any danger of being rear-ended. If a faster moving vehicle wanted to pass you, they’d always pass from the left, and honk to give you fair warning to move over. The order was something like bicycles and scooters to the extreme right, us on our bigger bikes to their left, and cars and vans to our left. We would occasionally encounter a few vehicles coming straight at us in the wrong direction, but they were usually going very slow and avoiding then was not much of a problem. Still, this kind of riding was slow and boring.
After about two hours of it, we finally got out onto the outskirts of the city with more breathing space. I kept riding on the unpaved shoulder, because unbelievably so, I was really starting to crave riding offroad. Maybe we’ll make a dirtbiker out of me yet!
We had a very short day ahead of us a mere 60 km ride to the capital city of Phnom Penh. The plan was to arrive there early enough in the day that we wouldn’t get stuck in rush hour traffic on a Friday evening. I was quite pleased about having a shorter day as a little respite from the longer riding days we had had so far. It’s true that we covered very short distances on even the longer days but riding on unpaved roads on small bikes meant that we rode a lot slower than I normally would in the United States. The heat also made it a lot more tiring.
We made a short stop at a market which specialized in insects. As in, insects that you could consume. They had fried spiders (tarantulas, I believe), crickets, roaches and some small birds. We tried spider from a young girl who had two baskets full of them, one of which was filled with live spiders, while the other was full of cooked ones. I’m not an arachnophobe but the sight of the gigantic spiders crawling around the basket made me shudder. A couple of my group let the spiders run over their hands and one of them stuck it right on his face. He said that they had little suction cups on the ends of their feet (just like Spiderman!). I refused to handle them even though they had had their teeth removed and could not bite. I did try eating a couple of legs of the fried spiders though. They tasted more of the spices that they had been cooked in than anything else. The feel of eating the hairy legs still made me squirm a bit though, and for the rest of the day I couldn’t help but think that I had spider stuck in my teeth.
I refused to eat the crickets too as they didn’t look as appetizing as the spiders. As for the roaches, forget about it. These were water cockroaches, something that I didn’t know existed.
The kids who were selling the insects were amused by our reactions to the insects. They had grown up around them and were used to handling them, of course. It did strike me that my reaction was absurd but not something I could not control. Intellectually I can understand that poor people eat what they can get their hands on. The more privileged people could get access to eating cows, pigs or chickens, while poorer people had to make do with rodents or insects. If we were suddenly in the midst of a famine, I’m pretty sure most of us would throw our apprehensions out the window and eat what was available.
We left Kampomg Thom after breakfast, and looked forward to a slightly shorter day than the previous one, about 150km. It was also by far the most perfect one riding-wise. We started with two hours of riding on paved tarmac, which was a bit dull. We took a short break to stop to see a some sculptors carving out gigantic statues of the Buddha. I was also surprised to see a few little statues of the Hindu god Ganesha.