I truly enjoyed my time with the Zero DSR Black Forest. It’s a great ‘leccy bike with a lot of great features and just a couple lousy ones. A couple of those features include a rated city range over 100 miles and a trio of giant gear-securing hard bags. When a member of Zero’s PR team asked if I wanted to do a desert camping trip in my own neighborhood, I jumped at the opportunity. They admitted to not having much off-road experience, and I let them know I was in a similar boat. As it turned out, we were great for each other, doing a lot of falling over through the day and helping each other back up.
(Full Disclosure: Zero asked if I’d like to borrow a DSR Black Forest. I rented a trailer and went to the company’s headquarters in Scotts Valley, California, to pick it up last October. In April a representative of the company brought a second DSR Black Forest to me in Reno, Nevada, so the pair of us could go on a two-day off-road adventure. He treated me to a meal on the road and some firewood for the campsite. I returned the bike to Zero mostly intact and certainly functional.)
Dan from Zero told me to plan a route and get my gear in order for a cold night in the desert. I had plenty of camping supplies in the shed, so I got them out and made sure they were clean and ready to go. I decided to upgrade my gear supply, so I bought a new pair of Sedici Avventura waterproof ADV pants and a fresh to heck white Sedici Viaggio Parlare helmet with built-in Sena bluetooth coms. I knew we weren’t going far enough away from the city to lose cell signal, but I packed the top case with two day’s supply of food and water anyway, along with a pillowcase with a cold weather down jacket in it. The right box held a pair of campsite shoes, my tent, my bedroll, and a few other bits and bobs. The left box was equipped with my spare clothes.
We decided to run at a leisurely pace on day one, taking our time getting loaded up, packed up, and geared up. By about 10 AM we finally got on the road. Thankfully it’s only about three miles from my house to the beginning of some wide open bureau of land management desert. At the north east corner of Reno, the desert encroaches right up to the edge of the suburbs. To your right civilization continues out to Spanish Springs. To your left, 395 continues its trek north past Stead. This land was our land for two days of off road riding.
Here is a map that more or less charts our sojourn across northern Nevada. A lot of this map should be much more squiggly as we spent a lot of time just pointing at hills and going up to the top of them, particularly in the first half of day 1 (the red line) and the first half of day 2 (the green line).
The Zero DSR is a pretty decent road bike, and it’s pretty good at riding Jeep trails and fire roads, but it wasn’t made for hardcore off-roady riding. But when was the last time you had fun using something for what it was built to do? I had my sights set on Moon Rocks off road vehicle park way out on the edge of the planet.
There’s no better way to prepare yourself for an off-road ride than to dive into the deep end of the pool. Deep sand, rocky hillclimbs and more, Moon Rocks has everything you might want to ride, including a few deeply banked circle tracks dug into the earth by 80 years of riders having fun.
So we pointed our identical bikes in that direction, more or less, and made tracks. Having been around the Reno area for 8 years now, I could more or less navigate via landmarks. With the slower pace, the hillier terrain, and frequent stops to stay hydrated, we were moving at a snail’s pace, but having an absolute blast doing it. We didn’t have anyone to impress, and we weren’t up against a clock, and that’s the best way to ride motorcycles, honestly. Post up on top of a mountain, chat for a minute while you peel an orange and suck down a bottle of water. Come on, does it get better?
I lost track of how many times I fell over on this ride, which happened a week before my off-road riding school trip. I really could have used a handful of the skills I’d later learn at RawHyde—I probably could have avoided a few of those falls. Oh well, life comes at you fast, get used to it.
In the photo above, you see the aftermath of one fall. I was going downhill and locked up the front wheel, folding it under and toppling off. Dan rode around me on the left, making it to the bottom of the hill to a place he could safely park and dismount. These bikes are relatively small, but the weight of the battery means they’re over 500 pounds, so it’s gang lift if you can. A couple of times I was able to haul the DSR up from a fall on my own, but it’s so much easier with a pal.
Because this trip happened way back in March, the sun was going down super early, so we rode until about 3PM, ending up in Spanish Springs. A ride that probably would have taken 25 minutes on the street ended up being a nearly five hour fun fest in the dirt. We headed off to a greasy spoon to grab some lunch and parked at the grocery store next to an electrical outlet to try to shove a few more miles of electrons into the bikes while we ate lunch and planned our next move.
My initial plan was to continue the dirt ride out to Moon Rocks, but we had another 27 miles to go and plenty of charge in the tank, so we hopped on the paved road to make the run out. This was strategic as the sun was already starting to sink at 4:30 in the afternoon, and we wanted to use the dying daylight to search for a camp site and set up our tents. We needed to start a campfire, because while it was sunny and 60 all day, the desert air threatened us with mid twenties overnight. Once the ball of burning gas drops below the horizon in Nevada it gets cold fast. So, onward. The fast way.
So we found a clear spot on the edge of a clearing with a pre-made fire ring and set about staking our temporary claim on the space. Tents went up with relative ease.
The fire blazed in mere moments. We took a walk around to all of the other campsites before sundown and picked up the scraps of wood they’d left behind to keep the blaze going long into the darkening hours.
After an extremely cold night I awoke at six in the morning to the sound of a wild horse sniffing my tent about three inches away from my face. By the time I zipped open my tent and got out it had turned tail and run to join the rest of its herd, but where else can something like that happen? Fucking Mongolia? It was a little bit scary in my still-half-asleep daze, but in retrospect it rules. Wild horses are cool.
Anyway, after re-lighting the fire to warm up a bit and breaking my fast with a Clif Bar and a gallon of water, it was time to re-pack and get back on the path toward home. As it turned out, this one would be much more physically grueling than the day prior.
With a few percentage points of electricity left to burn, we spent a bit of time exploring the Moon Rocks area. It’s a gorgeous place, and it was nice to be able to see it at sunset as well as at sunrise. Mountains, rock outcroppings, deep sand, gorgeous desert. Man, I’ll take arid plains over a forest any day. It’s so cool to be able to see everything laid out in front of you.
Using some topographical maps on my phone, I was able to plot the trails we needed to get back to the main roads in the north valleys of the city. I’d call it civilization, but nothing that happens up there is truly civilized. In any case, we had to traverse several miles of deep sand, which the DSR’s tires were really not happy about. In Eco mode, the rear tire was manageable in the deep stuff, but the front end kept hunting and wobbling in a disconcerting way. I know now that it’s best to keep loose hands on the bars and let them go where they want, but on this trip I was trying to fight the bars and ended up on my ass a couple times as a result.
Then came the truly trying hillclimb.
At the bottom of the hill (above) Dan and I looked at each other with a silly grin. “Well, we don’t have enough juice to go back the way we came, and there is a dirt road with a name on the other side of that ridge. I guess we have to go up it!” Sometimes you just have to lick the stamp and send it.
In pictures, the hill doesn’t look quite as steep as it is, but trust me, this thing was a challenge for this bike. If you were on a light and nimble 250 dirt bike, you’d bomb right up it, but our heavy electric dual sports weren’t really built for shit like this. Hell, I’m not built for shit like this.
As my step-father might say, “nothin’ to it but to do it.” So I twisted the throttle and found out what the bike and I were made of. Deep sand traction is never easy to modulate, but I managed to get a good run at the hill. The first rock garden about a third of the way up the hill tripped me up. All of my speed was sapped by that point and I was wildly flinging sand out behind me to keep going forward. The rear tire hit a slick rock and did a little burnout, jumping the back end two feet to the left and giving my left hand hardbag a nice deep dent.
Using my legs as combined stabilizers and thrusters I managed to push about five more feet before the bike gave me a flashing warning that I’d overheated the motor and it needed a rest. I flipped over to the temperature display on the LCD screen and it was flashing 250 F at me. Zero still uses an aircooled motor on this bike, so there’s nothing to do but wait a little bit for it to cool, in the middle of a hill, hand on brake. It’s not ideal, but I managed to work around it and get the motor back to the desired operating temps.
The next third of the hill was equally sandy and equally difficult, but I managed to make it to a flat spot on the hill and parked up to cool off before overheating again. The final third of the hill was much steeper, but also much harder packed earth, and the bike crawled up like it was nothing. It may not be a mountain goat of a bike, but it still made it with minimal damage and I’m still proud of myself and the DSR for making it.
Dan, meanwhile, was having much more trouble than I did. He was still down at that first rock garden with his front wheel dug in and his rear wheel doing nothing but spinning. I parked up at the top of the hill and then hiked my fat ass down to help haul Dan out of his sticky situation. The crash bars on the side of the bike are a great place to grab and pull, and within seconds of reaching the bottom we’d gotten him unstuck.
With better tires, I’m convinced the DSR could conquer much worse than this. but, as it turns out ripping dirt burnouts all the way up a hill is taxing for a small aircooled motor.
Aside from that overheating issue, the bikes served perfectly over two days of rough terrain. The top case made a lovely seat by the fire. The saddle was comfortable, the foot pegs easy to stand on. If I was going to be riding off road a lot, I probably would swap for a taller handlebar, which is easy enough. Despite its weight, the DSR isn’t as tall and intimidating as some of the other adv touring bikes in its class. It’s plenty powerful, and the range proved that if you’re in the right locale it’s got enough battery to truly get out into the shit and back again. You can even equip the DSR with a bigger battery if you so choose.
There are certainly drawbacks to riding an electric bike off road, but they’re worth it all for the peace and quiet you get to experience out there. While riding along at 20 miles per hour, negotiating the trails of the far-flung desert, I could hear birds chirping, wind rustling through the scrub, tires crunching in the sand, and animals moving in the underbrush. It felt like we were giving nature the respect it deserved by observing the world in a new quieter way. Even more than just tailpipe pollution, we weren’t contributing to the noise pollution. Tread lightly, as they say.
Off-roading in rural Nevada is a humbling experience. Not only from the views that make you feel tiny and insignificant, but from the wild ever-changing terrain threatening to dump you ass-over-teakettle. It’s a wonderful experience, and I highly recommend it if you have the ability and means. Get out and see the world through new, electrified, experiences. It’s a blast.