Editor’s Note:  Fabio Affuso is an Italian photographer covering all types of motorsport and fashion, with a particular interest and gift for motorcycle photography.  He has contributed stories about The Great Mile and most recently the all-electric Elektrafuture event in St. Tropez, which gave him the inspiration to try an off-grid off-road journey in his native Italy, between two legendary volcanos.  He had generously shared his photographs and travel diary from his journey with The Vintagent: it is a pioneering exploration of what will surely be possible for eBike journeys in the future, completely off-grid using solar energy.  A longer version of this story with video clips is coming soon.

From Fabio Affuso: POWERED BY SOLAR

When in the middle of a total world lockdown this bonkers project first came to mind, nobody had any idea if it was gonna work, but that didn’t matter: its true essence was challenging ourselves and tasting freedom once again. For the friends and ballsy brands I approached it was a salivating mix of excitement and perplexity…”It’d be amazing to ride between the volcanoes! How can you do an enduro trip with electric motorcycles?? Nobody’s done it yet with solar, is it even possible? Total Outlaws…I’m in!”

Solitude on a stunning mountain landscape was the reward for making a pioneering eBike ride into the Apenines and volcanos of southern Italy.  Jose S picks his way through the rocks for a stunning view. [Fabio Affuso]
Truth is, the project was a bet and a challenge, and one we so sorely needed. Being able to rely on our own abilities and resources was what we really wanted, something our modern society has ultimately taken away from us, making everything terribly homogenous, safe and controlled. Motorcycling, and now electric motorcycling cross-country, became our time machine to feel alive again. A risky jump, not for the cautious, but the daring wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world. After all, riding electric motorcycles off-road between the two most dangerous live volcanoes of Europe is not an everyday task, with no guarantee of success. Riding Vesuvius (near Naples) to Etna (on Sicily) while charging the bikes from a self-converted camper van with solar power is even less so…a technological as much as a personal challenge. But isn’t that what the future looks like anyway?! It’s just that we wanted to do it on our terms. In the end, the allure of being totally off-grid, free camping, riding wild across mountains, and even getting stranded in the middle of nowhere was too much to resist for this wild bunch.  So we went.

The équipe included a converted ambulance with solar panels to be used for charging the bikes. Off-grid, but still dependent on a petrol vehicle…a compromise for the present. Malaka manhandles the CAKEs for a dawn ride. [Fabio Affuso]
Some six months after Powered by Solar first bubbled up, at 6am five of us were up on top of Vesuvius. Equipped with the raddest gear from El Solitario, Sena and Kriega, we were ready to head down south for the next 6 days.  With Lesley, Mia the wolfdog and Malaka driving 2 self-made camper vans, with Josè, Adelio and I riding 3 electric off-road motorcycles by CAKE.

Adelo L bushwhacking: riding on seldom-explored or abandoned trails was a big part of the challenge and the fun. [Fabio Affuso]
Off-roading in the middle of nowhere with silent motorcycles is a rad and surreal experience, especially while talking to each other via hi-def intercom. All you can hear is the live forest, the sound of the chain, and your pals laughing and crying as you’re powering through thorny woods (that’s if you don’t put your Spotify on). Wild enduro is not for everyone, but if you’re into it, you know the true taste of exhilaration. From abandoned hiking paths cut by landslides and dubious homemade bridges, to thick pine forests with fast trails and fallen massive trees, we rode all sorts of terrains like a squad on a mission. Everybody knows Italy has amazing roads to ride, but not everybody knows there are more unpaved than paved roads in this country, so the choice is endless [ed. note: it’s the same in the USA!].  The further south in Italy you go, the easier it becomes when you bump into forest rangers, who often wave rather than chase you…like in Sicily, when we rode between wildfires, we stopped to chat with fire brigades and police under the flying water scooper planes. Italian heat in August is serious business that can leave a mark [ed note: especially in 2021, when Sicily hit 120deg F, the highest ever recorded in Europe].

Camping near a wildfire: climate change in Italy looks much like California – drought, heat, and fires appear to be the new normal in late summer. [Fabio Affuso]
Because of the heat, most days between 2 and 4pm we either rode like camels in the Sahara, or slept  like wolves at the equator.  On the first day, when drowsy and tired we found a huge dam to swim in, eat and sleep. We were on a fine enduro adventure, but first and foremost we are a bunch of friends getting lost into nature, because we can and because we need to. Far from actually getting lost, we rode amazing tracks laid out by friend and enduro tour guide Ugo Filosa (www.offroaditalia.it). Weirdly, the Southern Italian mountains are pretty much free of people in the summer, as most prefer the beach to the high altitude. Riding under those tall trees up high on the Apenines, we found respite from the beach bums’ mayhem, and only in the evening descended to the coast to have a swim  and the occasional shower. After all, it is summer, and we need to sink it in before it’s gone.

Malaka watching fire crews drop water by plane onto an advancing fire. A sadly common sight in California, Greece, and Spain too! [Fabio Affuso]
The CAKE Kalk bikes we used are super light and fun, but we had to plan well and monitor battery power all the time if we are to make it to the end. Driving the vans to the best meeting points, Jose, Adelio and I tested the CAKEs’ gazelle capabilities until the last drop of power, like when in Calabria all three of us decided to continue into the mountains with half power, to then descend on the other side with none. Reckless, probably yes, but intoxicatingly beautiful.

The CAKE Kalks proved well able to handle the roughest terrain, but it’s still hard work! Lesley B takes a break on the black volcanic soil. [Fabio Affuso]
Fully stocked with cold beers and snacks, Lesley and Malaka are always on the ball, criss-crossing the mountains on tarmac to reach our designated meeting points, be it light or dark, or at some emergency rescue points, as it happens twice when we got unrepairable punctures or when we rode the bikes until the last drop of CAKE juice. Yet we have to do it this way, we have to touch the technical limits to know where they are and to finally push them, or else we are only restrained by our own mind’s limits. I know a hippy or two who would ask…what’s the worst that could happen!?

Jose S exploring classic Italian mountain village architecture, with the added bonus of silent exploration, and no harrassment. [Fabio Affuso]
Once we learned that running the batteries flat is not good for our charging technique (swapping batteries and charging off solar), we made peace with the fact we needed to hook into the grid for once, with the bonus of a proper shower at the empty camping park by the beach. Flexibility and adaptability is what ultimately takes us all the way to Sicily, through wildfires and then finally atop Etna, where mother earth fulfills our ecstatic ambitions with a mind blowing nightime eruption. ‘Illegally’ free camping on the volcano itself, it’s hard to find a better way to end this crazy trip inspired by nature, technology, and our obstinate aspiration for a world that could be free once again.

Malaka enjoying the cinders! Direct from the volcano, and not on the Speedway track. [Fabio Affuso]
Adelio and Jose S find sketchy trails not intended for motorcycles! But all part of the fun. [Fabio Affuso]
The heart of fire, but not a fire per se: an eruption on Mt Etna was a reward for a long journey. [Fabio Affuso]
Keep an eye out for the full story coming to Thee Vintagent soon…

Fabio Affuso is an Italian photographer based in London and his native Naples. He photographs motorsport and fashion around the globe. Find him at his website and Instagram.