Last November I went on a road trip with this delightfully weird electric Harley-Davidson, and you may recall that everything went pear-shaped. It wasn’t the fault of the bike, it was all down to an unprepared dingus riding in the saddle, and an unfortunately timed EV charger meltdown. I wanted to do better by the bike, mostly because I wanted to prove that it was indeed possible to travel by LiveWire. You know, if you’re dedicated and perhaps a little broken inside.
When an opportunity came up for me to test a new motorcycle in Southern California, I knew it was time to get out of my snow-induced funk and return the bike to Harley’s offices. The weather timed just right to get me out of Reno, where I live, and hopefully I’ll be able to get back in one piece. While the roads were clear and mostly dry, riding a motorcycle over Donner Pass in February is never going to be warm, so here’s all the gear I needed to get the job done.
(Full Disclosure: I asked Harley if I could borrow its electric motorcycle for the month of December to see if I could live enthusiastically using only electric vehicles. Since then, the bike and I have been basically frozen solid. When the weather cleared, I volunteered to return the bike back to Harley. I organized my own travel and lodging.)
I got up bright and early on Monday morning to take off from the Brownell homestead in metro Reno, Nevada. The bike was fully charged and kitted out with a few accessories. I cribbed a cell phone holder that had come equipped on a Zero SR/S I have been borrowing, strapped on my Oxford Super Muffs hand protectors, and plugged in a genuine Apple USB-C to Lightning cable purchased from the local Target the night before. Let’s ROLL!
When I say I couldn’t have done this trip without my trusty muffs, I’m not lying. These things are the greatest for motorcycle trips, whether you have grip heaters or not. The LiveWire, unfortunately, does not have heated grips, so this is the next best thing. They help block the wind and water from getting to your cold paws, and work a treat. They’re a little awkward to use on the LiveWire, as it doesn’t have a clutch lever on to keep the left muff off of your hand, so if you take your hand out to, say, readjust your eyeglasses, or clean your visor, getting it back in requires a bit of wrestling. Still, well worth it.
This is everything I packed for a four-day trip. The backpack has my laptop/mouse/headphones, a second pair of jeans, three t-shirts, some underpants, and all the masks and filters I need to safely traverse a Los Angeles coronavirus hotspot. The LiveWire doesn’t have a traditional metal fuel tank, so a tank bag was an impossibility. Luckily, I remembered I had this Harley-Davidson-branded handlebar bag, which worked a treat. Not only did this hold a spare pair of gloves, my sunglasses, four pairs of socks, charging cables, and a squeeze bottle of hand sanitizer, but it worked great as a makeshift wind fairing.
Okay, now we’re going to sort out my gear in the order I put it on. Obviously a pair of underwear goes on first. Then a t-shirt and a pair of Sedici base layer thermal pants. Then a pair of riding jeans with the cuffs rolled all the way up to the knee, and a long-sleeve crew-neck sweatshirt. Then we get to the fun stuff.
Last year I picked up a great new pair of boots. These are size 48 Alpinestars SMX S Waterproof boots, and they’re the best motorcycle thing I’ve ever bought. They were a little uncomfortable at first, but after this ride, I couldn’t be more pleased with them. They have molded to my feet, and give excellent protection. They also have shifter reinforcements and replaceable toe-slider pucks. My last pair of Alpinestars boots wore a hole in the toe and let water in during my cross-country ride last fall.
After the boots come a pair of rain pants. I actually prefer to call these weather pants, because I usually throw them on in the cold to add another barrier against the wind. These are Indian Motorcycles branded, but really any waterproof layer will work. I like these as they have an insulated section around the heel of the boot, to protect against burning on an exhaust, but obviously the LiveWire doesn’t have an exhaust. The stirrups at the bottom really come in handy, however.
To keep warm and dry, I use this three-layer Alpinestars Valparaiso DryStar coat. I’ve had it for a few years now, and it’s seen better days. One of the pockets is torn on the inside, which had me losing my shit for a hot minute during the ride, as I thought I’d lost my wallet, but it had just gone through the liner and into the bottom of the coat.
The inner liner is nice and toasty, but it no longer zips into the outer layer, so I have to put them on and wear them separately. All of the snaps on the inner liner have pulled out of the material. And some of the velcro at the cuffs has pulled its stitching, which means it no longer creates a solid seal around my wrist. I don’t know as I’d go as far as to say I’m disappointed with this jacket, as I’ll probably continue to wear it despite its faults, but I guess I expected more for nearly $500.
Next goes on the helmet. I could not be happier with my Shoei. It’s comfortable and easy to wear for long stints. With integrated sun shade, I don’t necessarily need to be wearing my sunglasses. The visor whistles a lot when it is open, and fogs pretty easily when it’s closed and cold. In the really cold weather I have to keep it one click open, even with the front vent open, as my breath is apparently very foggy. I wish I hadn’t bought yet another matte black helmet, but I needed this one in a hurry last year, and bought what was on the shelf. Anyway, happy with the helmet.
And the final piece of gear is my gloves. My mother-in-law bought me a nice new pair of Alpinestars SP8s for Christmas. I had been rocking a pair of decade-old SP5s which were starting to fall apart, and these are a pretty nice upgrade from those old ones. They have touch-screen fingertips, which is nice.
When the weather gets too cold for these somewhat vented gloves, however, I am not ashamed to admit that I’ve been known to throw on a pair of Burton snowboarding mitts. I know they won’t protect near as well in a crash, but hopefully if I have feeling in my fingers I can more easily prevent the crash in the first place.
I have tried various winter motorcycle gloves, but none of them provide the feel and feedback necessary to throttle and brake properly in an emergency situation. These Burtons provide a lot of warmth for how thin the material is.
So there you have it. I survived temperatures as low as 15 degrees over the pass, and lived to tell about it. By the time I arrived in sunny Temecula, I had stashed the mitts, muffs, and inner liners of my jacket. Most of that stuff was trailing behind me in the wind, snapped, zipped, or tied to my backpack. I must have looked a real treat rolling down I-5.