(The Gear Loop) - Leave only footprints. It is a sentiment shared by beach-lovers, countryside appreciators and outdoor adventurers alike and a notion that is often the root of all clashes between off-road motoring enthusiasts and those out to enjoy a good walk.
After all, the last thing you want to see, hear and often smell when out on an adventurous hike is a two stroke motorcycle or bellowing 4x4. Totally understandable, but in the same breath, UK law also permits motorists to enjoy certain byways, unclassified roads, other routes with public access or "green lanes", as they are affectionately called, so long as they adhere to a relatively strict code of conduct. The vehicle must be road legal, taxed and insured, while the rider must be wearing the appropriate legal safety equipment. No hooligan antics and no tearing up the trails when conditions are wet and muddy.
Stick to the rules, plan routes very carefully and it's possible to travel big distances without seeing another soul or a stretch of familiar tarmac, while in certain parts of the UK (and further afield), it's perfectly legal to set up camp, bed down and explore more when the sun rises again. Although finding those legal routes can be trickier when we start to look outside of the UK.
For this particular adventure, we thought it suitable to ditch the internal combustion engine in favour of something quieter, cleaner and far less likely to ruffle the feathers of fellow trail users. Step forward the Zero DS/R Black Forest - the first in a burgeoning field of all-electric adventure motorcycles that manages to deliver around 100 miles of range between charges and enough "big bike" performance to keep up with petrol-supping rivals.
The catch? We couldn't stray too far from the comfort of an electrical socket, otherwise risking a breakdown in the middle of nowhere with zero chance of a rescue, so we had to focus on green-laning routes that connected larger towns or villages where pinching a few watts would be possible. Plus, keeping it fairly local meant we could lean on a lot of local knowledge when it came to remaining on the right side of the law.
A life lived (not too far) off-grid
The Zero DS/R Black Forest is deliberately styled and geared towards the more adventurous electric bike riders out there, sporting chunkier all-terrain tyres, reinforced crash bars and a handy set of hard shell luggage for carrying kit. With this in mind, we loaded the side panniers up with a tent, sleeping bag a few provisions to cover a night of wild (ish) camping.
Due to the limited range of Zero's 18kWh battery, it wasn't really feasible to blast up to the darkest depths of Scotland and get properly lost, so we had to make do with a route that took in the Purbeck Hills and some of the Jurassic Coast's more remote trails. Because these are fairly well-trodden green lanes, there was plenty of information on the web and amongst local riding groups and friends surrounding the correct paths to take, what to avoid and generally what to look out for (more on that later), so it seemed like an easy option to scratch an electric adventure riding itch.
The first step in any green lane adventure should be to purchase an Ordnance Survey Map (or OS Map, for short). This can either be a physical paper copy or via the website, which now offers everything and more in smartphone app form.
The routes marked with small green crosses are the ones to look out for, as these are byways open to all traffic (BOATS), but it's still worth tapping into local knowledge or at least scoping these routes out before arriving to make sure they aren't restricted in any way.
Another top tip is to head online and search the local council's website of where you plan to visit, you should easily be able to find a "definitive map" of the area that will show all local traffic restrictions and can easily highlight some choice unclassified roads to go adventuring on.
With the bike fully laden and fully charged and a route punched into the OS Maps smartphone app, it was a fast hack along the south coast to Poole and the stunning surrounds of profligate Sandbanks, before a short chain ferry ride across to the Purbecks and arguably the beginning of the adventure.
The first real portion of the off-road route started close to Corfe Castle and then snaked its way over hills and up some challenging climbs before opening out onto an impressive plateau that afforded views right out over the Jurassic Coast. Handily, the beginning of the route was also marked by a small sign warning riders or drivers not to attempt it if the ground is sodden or run the risk of a hefty fine.
Despite dry (ish) ground, this motorcycle weighs over 250kg when fully loaded, meaning those first technical inclines proved quite the challenge and it wasn't long before the bike was slithering and snaking with a worrying lack of grip. The rules clearly stated that it's forbidden to churn up the tracks, so taking it slow and going easy on the throttle was the name of the game.
Once at the top of the stretch, the landscape rapidly changed into an open expanse that allowed for some spectacular views. Unfortunately, it was a slightly dismal grey day but that didn't take anything away from the majesty of the land laid out on all sides.
Like many open to all traffic byways, this particular route then suddenly came to an end before rejoining a muddy old B-road. A quick stop to check the map and it was time to head back towards civilisation to grab a few overnight essentials and top the bike up with juice.
The road less travelled
The assurance of fully-charged battery packs gave further peace of mind that I'd make it to a rather picturesque camping spot to the west of Swanage that boasts views out over Kimmeridge Ledges and the Jurassic Coast in general. There are myriad campsites dotted all around the Isle of Purbeck but some of the best are privately run establishments that are little more than a spare patch of grass in an expansive farmer's field.
The location for an overnight sleep was somewhere I had stayed before, but I decided to check it out at a less busy time of year. Also, it just so happened to be surrounded by a number of unclassified roads that are perfectly legal to ride on but lack the amenities that most other road users look for - namely some kind of solid surface.
It's a special way to explore the local area and without the thrum of a petrol engine, it's also possible to take in the noises, while other senses are brilliant heightened when riding like this. Admittedly, some of the dog walkers and ramblers I came across looked utterly perplexed, but the fact the bike was battery-powered seemed to immediately curry favour with those also enjoying the land.
The sun started to lower as I neared the overnight spot and the area was completely deserted. Not another car or soul around for miles. After knocking on the main farm house door and handing over £5 to gain access to the lower field, which was the furthest away from any kind of toilet but has the best views out across the coast, it was time to make camp.
Everything I needed for a comfortable night's sleep fit into the three hard panniers that come as standard with this Black Forest edition, with a sleeping bag, tent and change of clothes stuffing down in to the small plastic boxes neatly.
The farmer followed me down with a bit of firewood and stopped to chat about the bike as we made a decent and thoroughly warming camp for the night. With the fire roaring and the skies clearing slightly, a few of the more obvious stars made an appearance.
It may have only been a short foray into the world of adventure motorcycling but it was an experience not to forget. Let's just hope battery technology improves over the coming years, so I can venture a bit further.
Now get the gear
Despite packing down small enough to squeeze into a large motorcycle top box, this time-saving tent from Decathlon is a godsend for anyone who wants to get set-up (and packed down) quickly. Unlike those flimsy "pop up" tents you throw and they spring into life, this clever contraption uses two pull cords to snap the internal framing into place.
It's great quality, too, and with a 2,000mm-rated flysheet and a 5,000mm-rated ground sheet, it's enough to keep the worst of the British weather safely sealed outside. At 4.7kg, it's a little on the heavy side, but there's plenty of room for one adult and some kit in the two-person variant, while the black-out fabric really does keep the morning light out. It's also guaranteed for five years, should that clever pitching mechanism fail.
Snugpak Softie Expansion 5 Sleeping Bag
An absolute monster of a sleeping bag for cold climates, this cosy comrade packs down to just 32 x 26cm but comfortably covers temperatures between -15°C and -20°C, which should easily get you through even the harshest UK winters.
A tad overkill? Maybe, but the Elasticated Expander Panel (EEP) means it is possible to quickly open up the bag to make it wider, should you like a bit of room to move around at night, or regulate air flow to cool yourself down. Honestly, even in the dead of winter this thing stays warm, so is perfect for those hardy motorcycle adventures into the Scottish wilderness, for example.
Bell Moto 3 Helmet
Ok, so this helmet probably isn’t the most sensible choice for those wanting complete protection from the elements, but the motocross-inspired Bell Moto 3 certainly looks the part and when coupled with a pair of goggles is great for keeping mud out of the eyes and mouth.
Despite drawing plenty of inspiration from classic off-road helmets of the 1970s, this modern makeover comes with a tri-composite shell, a moisture wicking liner to get rid of sweat and aggressive chin venting to allow better airflow when the heart starts racing.
The general fit and versatility of Richa's awesome Atlantic range lends itself to lengthy stints on a motorcycle. Fashioned from 2L and 3L laminated outshell Gore-Tex fabrics for excellent weather protection, yet also packing abrasion resistant Armacor, the pairing keeps riders safe, dry and warm.
There are seemingly endless pockets and stash spots for phones, wallets, ear plugs, maps and anything else you might need, all located in easy reach when riding. There are also high quality 3M reflective panels scattered around both the jacket and pants, adding extra visibility when riding in low light situations.
The kit fits extremely well and exudes quality, with tough YKK zips and thoughtful quick-release Velcro panels incorporated so the wearer can batten down the hatches when it starts tipping it down or open things up to aid cooling.