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News and Features
05.20.09

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Street Signs:

In A ZENN State

By Traci Hukill


THE WHOLE POINT was to lose. It was Bike Week, after all, falling in the middle of Clean Air Month, and this was a rush-hour race between bicycles and cars organized by an outfit dedicated to promoting sustainable transportation. It was a setup if there ever was one.

Nevertheless, last Tuesday as Piet Canin, Ecology Action's program manager for transportation, stood on the steps of Lulu's at the Octagon reading the rules of the big race to Capitola, my killer instinct bared its sharp little teeth. I sized up the competition. The two people on the tandem bicycle, Andy Murray and Winona Hubbard, wore matching blue Spandex cycling outfits. Bad news; they clearly knew what they were doing. Everyone else was media, which is pretty much synonymous with "not a jock." Reporter Ramona Turner of the Sentinel had an electric bike, Good Times publisher Ron Slack perched next to his bicycle, KSCO general manager Michael Olson jingled the keys to a borrowed Prius and I cast a glance at my chariot for the day, the Zero Emission No Noise (ZENN) electric car.

Ray Newkirk of the Green Station was riding along to give me a lesson in driving the ZENN as well as to navigate. I should have known we were in trouble when, as soon as we leapt into the little blue box, Newkirk graciously offered me a kombucha. Kombucha makes me feel just a tiny bit drugged, so I said yes, please, and chugged some. A 10-second lesson in driving a ZENN ("it jerks when you brake") and we were off.

The cyclists were long gone, but I was confident we'd gain on them soon enough. Not so much. The ZENN tops out at 28 miles per hour, which makes for a very--rim shot!--Zen experience in a race. By the time we arrived at the Buttery, where we were instructed to purchase a pastry, the bikes were nowhere to be seen and even Olson was on his way out the door. I realized I'd best relax and enjoy the ride. ZENN isn't fast, but it is serene; Newkirk and I chatted as we waited in traffic on Seabright--the bikes would have zipped right past this, I reminded myself--and toddled across the harbor and down Brommer toward Capitola, cars piling up behind us as we went. If the ZENN hadn't been so dang cute, I'm sure we would have suffered some abuse from angry drivers. Instead, people grinned and pointed.

In the end, the bikes beat us, of course, but we arrived having spent just 10 cents on fuel and emitted a third of the CO2 as a normal car--and in a remarkably peaceful state of mind.


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