ZERO HERO

Polish American Thomas Tomczyk had a dream to prove electric bikes can be adventure bikes. 17,325 miles later it looks like he’s done it...

zero hero

by THOMAS TOMCZYK |

Where are you right now? I am in Guatemala editing a TV series about my recent nine-month journey (search Electric Powered Odyssey on Youtube to view the trailer).

And what was that journey exactly? I wanted to prove that riding electric motorcycles over long distances is possible now and to be the first electric motorcycle rider to travel the Pan American route. So I headed out from Philadelphia and rode through 14 countries to Cape Froward, Chile – the very tip of South America. This 17,325-mile journey is the longest ride on an electric motorcycle in history and has more than doubled the record.

Tell us a bit more about using an electric bike for this trip... The bike was a 2012 Zeros S motorcycle. It was designed for city commuting and I stretched its limits to the very max. Its top speed is around 80mph, it has no gears and makes practically no noise. It’s a bit slower when loaded but its torque is impressive, especially when riding in the mountains, on corners and for long accelerations. It requires little maintenance and the only liquid it has is the brake fluid and suspension fluid in the shock absorbers. All maintenance is done by connecting it to a computer. It weighs in at 150kg and has an aluminium frame – the 9KwH battery is the heaviest part of the bike. Its range is 55-85 miles depending on the speed, wind direction and road conditions.

What were you doing before you left on the trip? I am a magazine publisher and lived on the Caribbean island of Roatan, Honduras for nine years before the trip. I learned to ride in the back alleys of New Delhi, India, where I purchased my first bike – a 350cc Royal Enfield which I rode 13,670 miles around India. Then I rode a KTM 640 Adventure from South Africa to Poland in 2010/11, raising awareness for Riders for Health.

What have been your biggest headaches on this latest trip? Figuring out the best route across the Atacama Desert and down the Andes was tricky regards power. I had to plan routes with the least headwind, or have the wind from the side or back.

Best moment? The highlights of the journey were finding places that would offer to charge the bike, people that could offer a conversation, advice, and introduction to their town, city or home. After a few days of travelling I realized the journey was not about using energy, but about sharing energy and experiences. Bolivia’s Uyuni Salt Flats offered the ultimate in camping – you can pitch your tent anywhere. It took me two days to cross the 80 mile flats – I was riding mostly at 25mph to maximise battery efficiency. The night was windy and chilly and I placed all my gear around the bike frame to keep the wind out. I tied down everything that could blow away.

Atacama, the American continent’s biggest desert, provided another great challenge. I charged up the bike at some amazing places including a mining company, a roadside police station and at Parenal – one of the world’s biggest astronomical observatories.

Worst moment? At night, four miles from the Bolivia-Chile border, I ran out of power. I pushed the bike uphill, into a 30mph freezing wind, at 4000 meters above sea level on a dirt road. The only thing giving me hope was the light of the border posts in the distance. I had no food so I pushed a bunch of coca leaves and lime under my right cheek. The coca leaves suppressed my appetite, woke me up a bit and kept me going. It was two hours of pushing before I made it to the border.

What bit of kit could you not live without? 15/16in wrench on an otherwise metric bike... this was a lifesaver when changing the tension on the carbon fibre drive belt or replacing it altogether.

What advice would you give someone thinking about hitting the road on an electric bike? Being vulnerable and accessible to people makes a long distance journey like this most enjoyable. I don’t like to insulate myself behind layers of leather and tinted visors. Be open to adventure, interactions with people, and people will welcome you.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us