Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR) and Zero Motorcycles are joining forces to expand adventure motorcycle trails. As a bonus, the partnership will help grow the emerging electric adventure bike technology — which BDR’s program director called ‘the future.’
Doing an extended trail ride on an electric adventure bike sounds like a great idea in theory. But the category is only beginning to emerge. Any rider who’s skeptical can find ways to poke holes in whether you can ride longer off-road trails on an EV.
How far can it go? Where can you charge it? Batteries are heavy — will it perform?
Enter Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR) and Zero Motorcycles. Zero joined BDR as a sponsor this fall, and will provide a number of its DSR/X bikes to the BDR trail crew. In turn, BDR will put the bikes through the wringer: scouting, developing, and building new off-road motorcycle routes.
If there’s any way to prove whether electric bikes can hack it in the backcountry without trying it yourself, this looks like it.
Backcountry Discovery Routes & the Electric Outlook
BDR is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to create off-highway routes for dual-sport and adventure motorcycle travel. It currently lists 11 (and counting) routes that trace loosely connected backcountry paths through the intermountain west, New England, and Appalachia.
These routes can be impressively long: If you Toured Wyoming by the BDR book, you’d traverse the entire state from south to north in 8 days. Notably, the group is also developing shorter “BDR-X” routes that skew a little more front-country. BDR-X routes (few so far) make loops around civilized or semi-civilized locations you can ride in a day.
Those make for good places to start if you’re on a Zero DSR/X: the manufacturer puts the bike’s range at 134 miles combined (55 mph). While you can charge the bikes with any electrical outlet — you don’t need a level 2 EV charger — you do need electricity.
So if you’re out of range, you’ll have to fend for yourself, but if you’re in range of a gas station with an outside outlet or a hotel, you’re in business.
Litmus Test of the ‘World’s First True Electric ADV’ Bike
For its buy-in, Zero gets a heavy test of its new platform, which it calls the “world’s first true electric ADV model.”
ADV is short for ‘Adventure’ in the motorcycle world. There are plenty of gas-powered ADV motorcycles on the market today. The company leads with the bike’s ground clearance (supported by its 190mm travel Showa suspension) and 134 miles of range.
It’s a powerful bike, but it’s heavy. Two years of scouting and trail work duty with BDR should provide Zero and anyone who rides it with a firm grasp of how this EV performs off road.
BDR Executive Director Inna Thorn said her trail development team found the bikes “very, very capable” during their testing. An average day of riding for the team boils down to roughly 100 miles, mixed between roads and trails, she said.
Of the five bikes that make up the team’s current stable, two are DSR/Xs. Thorn has ridden one herself and commended the ride quality.
“In terms of the capabilities of this bike to be off-road, it’s been amazing,” she said. “Brett Stevens, one of our co-founders who has developed several BDR routes, has a really aggressive riding style. He pushed the bike, and he was very, very happy with it. As long as the bikes are set up for ADV riding, and you dial in your suspension and maybe get bar risers, kind of customize it for your adventure riding style, it is a very, very capable bike.”
Electric Bike Adventures Require Planning
Embarking on a trip with a DSR/X departs sharply from a typical adventure on a motorcycle, Thorn noted.
“It’s a totally different experience than just riding a regular bike. It’s more sensual, it’s more in tune — it’s just different,” she said. “I loved it, and I want to do more of it.”
Thorn did explain that putting a long day together on a Zero DSR/X requires planning. “What you do is plug in in the morning and get 110 percent charge. By late afternoon, you have 40 or 50 percent left. So we’ll have to plan, OK, we’re going to start here, then stop here for lunch or to have coffee and charge.
“Certainly if you’re camping, it will be more complicated,” she said.
However, Thorn noted that anyone can now use BDR’s interactive maps to help plan an electric ADV ride. As part of the Zero partnership, they now include locations for charging stations.
‘This Is the Future’
Through the partnership, Backcountry Discovery Routes and Zero Motorcycles seek one shared, overarching goal: to make electric ADV the standard.
Thorn hopes that BDR’s trail work in areas like Northern California and Colorado, where EV infrastructure is booming, will help grow the category. If it proves successful and EV adventure riding gains traction, it could conceivably open more terrain to electric bike owners in less-serviced areas where BDR operates, like Wyoming.
(Take a glance at the linked map above to see how sparse charging infrastructure is there, compared to Colorado.)
Inna noted that agencies like the US Forest Service have shown interest in developing EV infrastructure on public lands. And she connected that interest with one key motivator: economic benefits to surrounding communities, which BDR also factors into its own work.
“Adventure riding does bring more economic stimulus to these rural communities. If they have a charging station installed, then there’s going to be more influx of tourists and riders coming in through their town,” Thorn reasoned.
“I think, with time, as we continue to work with Zero and with stakeholders at tourism levels, this is eventually where this partnership will lead.”
In fact, she sees the shift to electric riding as imperative. “The reality, as futuristic as it may seem, of electric-powered adventure motorcycles is now. Being at the forefront of the EV movement along with Zero Motorcycles presents major opportunities for BDR and our community to help create an eco-system where EV ADV becomes the norm,” Thorn said. “This is the future. There is no turning back.”