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Mounted charge in Tenerife, by Tristan Rutherford

The Sunday Times, 28 February 2020

 

The Zero S is the Tesla of electric motorcycles. I’m riding one soundlessly up Tenerife’s Mount Teide, a 3,718m-high active volcano, which is Spain’s highest peak. The steep ascent is a revolution of banana rows, lemon groves and volcanic flows, all blurred in a rhapsody of speed. All I can hear is a rolling Atlantic and the breeze tickling trees.

Tenerife is best known for its beaches. But adventure agency Xwander is the first place in Spain to rent the Zero, allowing Mount Teide and the island’s rustic north coast to be viewed - on fast forward - in a single day. There’s a final kicker to these bikes that retail at £12,000 apiece. As there’s no engine to rev, power is instantaneous. That means they can do 0-60mph in 4.8 seconds, which is similar to the latest Maserati. Yikes!

I meet my guide Garry La Roche in Puerto de la Cruz for our first day tour. At first glance the bike seems too techy - like something Batman would drive to the dry cleaners. Its array of power, speed and torque settings can be jiggled via a Bluetooth app.

But as Garry and I accelerate up the mountain the bike’s silent power becomes apparent. We bomb up a near vertical path that rises through a Rio-style suburb, zooming passed a bemused window cleaner enroute. “Es silencioso, [it’s silent]” he gawps. “Es electrico [it’s electric]!” Garry replies. His shortcut also shaves 10km off the circuitous Teide ascent.

At 1,000m in altitude we pull in for coffee. I ask Garry if the power of a Zero can be dangerous? “Like any scooter or motorbike, they are only dangerous if you’re stupid,” he replies. He can also escort nervous groups as pillion passengers at no extra cost.

More enticingly, our high-tech Zeros attract a gaggle of admirers. Instead of an exhaust block, my motorless ‘motorbike’ has a foot of clear air between the saddle and rear wheel. In place of a petrol tank there’s a handy locker into which I store a map, pencil, chapstick and a packet of polos. I remount in front of them like a zero emissions version of Steve McQueen. I’m a real biker now.

From here Tenerife’s landscape becomes Alpine. Almond blossom and chestnut trees give way to the corona forestal, the forest crown that rings Mount Teide. The Canarian pines that grow at this altitude possess three pine needles, rather than the usual one, which allows them to ‘drink’ from occasional passing clouds - an essential adaptation on an island with 320 sunny days per year. The trees also have flame retardant bark to protect against frequent volcanic eruptions.

If there was ever a bike built to outpace molten lava it’s the Zero. Garry and I zigzag into Mount Teide’s 10-mile wide caldera at 2,300m - nearly twice the height of Ben Nevis. Lower oxygen levels may lower an engine's performance, but not our batteries.

The caldera looks like Utah-meets-the-moon. These Mad Max landscapes are used by the European Space Agency to test lunar landers. A constellation of radio and solar telescopes add to the Martian surrounds. Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas also train for the Tour de France up here. It’s one of the few places that can match the dizzying topography of the Pyrenees.

Garry and I park our Zeros by the Minas de San Jose. Here pumice was once mined by hand. Dotted around are black basalt sculptures formed by an eruption in 1909. Plus silken sands blown from the Sahara Desert 300 miles away. Garry tells me that the Raquel Welch caveman epic One Million Years BC was filmed in this apocalyptic zone in 1966.

Like a desert movie set, the Teide National Park is sliced by a jet black ribbon of asphalt. We power past cacti with wind whistling in our ears. Our destination is Masca, a Jurassic Park of verdant cliffs dripping with palms and flowering agave. This region’s serpentine switchbacks were made by an evil genius road planner. Yet the Zero stabilises upright after each curvaceous corner and is as responsive as an iPhone.

 

You can also park it anywhere. Which is just as well because there are only three proper car parking spaces by rural restaurant Casa Riquelme, which fill up by 9am. Here Garry’s friend dispenses jamon serrano and octopus salad on a terrace that looks seaward between two razor-sharp peaks.

 

We’ve used 50% of our batteries to get to Masca. By the time we descend to the coast they’re up to 51% as kinetic energy is recovered by the braking system. An aromatic coastal road leads back to Puerto de la Cruz. The smell of warm figs and briny Atlantic is serenaded with the chirp-chirp of chaffinches. We zip through the vineyards of the Orotava Valley. Young leaves grow from 200-year-old vine trunks. For centuries both wines and bananas were exported to London’s docklands, hence the name Canary Wharf.

We wind through a banana plantation to our final stop. It’s a farm-to-fork chicken shack hidden by citrus trees that you’ll struggle to find on TripAdvisor. We’re served chickpeas, chorizo, lamb hunks and wine, all produced within 100m.

But for all the ecological sensibility on Tenerife, it’s hardly Iceland when it comes to renewables. Despite Atlantic tides, ocean breezes, wall-to-wall sunshine and latent geothermal power, the island lives on fossil fuels. Until recently the Spanish government taxed solar panels instead of subsidising them.

 

The Hotel Botanico, a two-minute ride from the Xwander agency, bucks the trend. Its own solar farm powers the entire hotel. Also, Ricky Martin and Julio Iglesias have stayed here, which is reason enough to bed down. I plug my Zero into the hotel’s free car and scooter charging points - 1 hour gives a 50% charge, 4 hours delivers full power.

After yesterday’s Valentino Rossi speeds I’m craving life in the slow lane on day two. Garry has lent me a Zero (although Xwander usually only operate guided tours) so I can ride Ruta 217 tranquilamente.

Instead of the all-inclusives of south Tenerife, this north coast backroad is beset with fallen avocados and Atlantic mists. I park next to a Renault 5 at a café that time forgot. Locals consume full fat café con leche and smoke proper fags; soya milk and vaping are yet to arrive on Ruta 217.

The tarmac warms as I spiral seaward on the Zero. Pines become palms, potatoes become peppers. The far northern coastline is famous for its piscinas natural, or hand-hewn seawater swimming pools, which are refreshed twice daily by warm Atlantic tides. It’s Tenerife at its most natural.

The space rocket lighthouse at Punta del Hidalgo marks the end of the road for Tenerife. But the Zero’s meaty suspension allows it to creep down a volcanic track - something I certainly wouldn’t recommend in a hire car. Five minutes on sits a community-run seafood shack. There’s no English menu, just sopa del dia at €3 and pulpos platters at €9. This petrol-free trip hasn’t just been informative. It’s been positively electrifying. .

Tristan Rutherford writes travel stories about Spain for The Times.