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Shocking Barack: An Interview with Powercyclists on a Mission to the White House

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Brian Wismann and Dave Schiff are currently making their way across America on Brammo Enertia powercycles. Their mission? Present to President Obama the solution to America's transportation crisis. Everything you need to know about their project, Shocking Barack is here!

Tell us about yourselves and your ride.

We are Brian Wismann, Lead Designer at BRAMMO, the Oregon-based company that builds the bike, and Dave Schiff, Creative Director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Boulder, CO, the agency that partnered with BRAMMO to make this thing happen.

How's your ride holding up so far?

Like most journey’s, we started out with a preconceived notion of what the ride would be like, only to have it completely eclipsed by reality. Physically it’s been cold, wet and arduous. But that’s been more than balanced-out by the warmth of everyone we’ve encountered along the way. When you stumble rain-soaked into a coffee shop and plug-in an extension cord that runs to your vehicle it tends to invite conversation.

Then, when people find out where we’re going, and what we’re doing, there’s almost always an outpouring of warmth, curiosity and support. People we meet are tired of feeling like America doesn’t have ideas, and they get pumped when they find out that the innovation we’re riding is courtesy of the USA. It’s pretty cool.

Where can we get one of those Brammos?

You can get a BRAMMO Enertia at Best Buy locations in Portland, San Francisco and LA, or you can go directly to and get one direct. When people hear they can get an electric motorcycle at Best Buy they’re sometimes a little surprised, but in reality the bikes have more in common with electronic devices than they do with conventional vehicles.

What's the strangest thing to happen thus far?

The strangest part of this whole thing, and maybe the coolest, has been how connected it is to the web, and how that affects the trip in real time. Outside of the small town of Lorain, Ohio we hit some rain and our hands got cold. We stopped to put some of those little disposable hand warmers in our gloves, and posted that at this pace we would soon run out of them.

But because the site is updated so frequently, and includes GPS and real-time Twitter aggregation, we started getting directions to the nearest stores that carried them from random people all over the country. They had done research online and even called stores to confirm the warmers were in stock. And it’s international. A guy from Johannesburg sent us an idea to paint the bikes with “Yes we can!,” and now we’re trying to find a custom painter in Pittsburgh, along the route.

You're couch surfing, I know a thing or two about that. How are you finding places to stay?

Again, the site is the hub for that. As you know, road trips are unpredictable, the more so because we are on EVs and without a nationwide infrastructure of recharging stations, getting electricity is not a foregone conclusion. But since we are updating live we are constantly getting offers for plug-in and places to stay as the trip unfolds, and we can adjust our itinerary based on our situation.

How can people help you on your journey?

Two big things are access to electrical outlets and places to stay (i.e. couches to crash on). But as I said earlier, people are helping through the web in ways we never imagined prior to the trip. For all we know there’s a guy in Kuala Lumpur researching the best pizza in Mercersburg, PA and he’ll send us a link with directions off our route.

But the biggest thing of all is if anyone can help us meet President Obama. We’re having some luck with connections but we’re realists. We know there’s a better chance of being met by a Suburban with tinted windows somewhere in Maryland and being tasered by Secret Service operatives. But hey, if that’s what we have to do to call attention to the power of electricity, then we’re down for the cause.

Have you heard from the White House yet?

We have not heard from the White House or from President Obama yet. We get tweets from him, but they’re the same tweets received by 3 million other people following him. When we try to send direct messages, nothing comes back. We could really use help in this area.

What's it like working with no marketing budget?

It’s empowering. That might sound weird, but no money means no process. No targeting. No messaging. No positioning. None of that bullshit. You just do stuff. And if you are genuine, and people decide that what you are doing is worthwhile, then you succeed.

What can we as social publishers learn about working with limited resources?

The learning here is that if you are an astute social publisher, then you are not without resources. In fact you have the most formidable resource there is--a real connection with people--something big brands have always paid millions for, but something that is not really for sale.

Why the auto executive route to Washington?

We thought it was great context for our journey. These guys spent $20,000 each on their trip. By contrast, our trip will cost about $3.50 worth of electricity per guy. Then there’s the nature of the visit. When the CEOs arrived they asked for billions in bailout funds.

We’re not asking for anything. We just want to give the president what we believe is the start of an answer to everything that’s wrong with transportation in this country. We’re not saying the bike is a panacea. But it’s a step in the right direction, and it’s a two-wheeled rebuttal to anyone who thinks America can’t innovate or evolve.

What's the first thing you would say to Barack Obama if you meet him?

At first there would probably be a little stammering. I mean, come on, it’s Barack Obama. Then, once we got our shit together and reconciled ourselves with the fact that we were standing in the presence of a dude of immeasurable substance, we’d say something along the lines of “Mr. President, here’s a start,” and hand him the keys.

What's one thing I didn't ask you about that you want to touch on?

I’d like to touch on the rapidly deteriorating state of our hair. Between minimal grooming opportunities and protracted helmet usage, our hair is in serious jeopardy. It’s bad.