The click of the key; a detonation. Exhaust pipes clamor for attention then eventually simmer, the rumbling engine beneath you restraining thousands of tiny explosions. Mortal man perched atop this glorious event as if conquering and controlling nature itself. This is what it’s like to ride a motorcycle in the traditional sense. But an electric motorcycle? Not so much. And I’m totally fine with that.
But the electric motorcycle is a polar opposite experience. As an EV it’s a shiftless, nearly silent, gas-less reality. No hot muffler to burn your legs (or an inquisitive child’s hand), no fumes, and you can “fill up” in the parking garage at work.
There is no question that in general motorcycles are fantastic machines, but they present challenges: you can’t run by the grocery store, drop off dry cleaning or pick up your kid from daycare. I’ve tested a dozen different bikes, taken both a California Highway Patrol and Ducati moto class and been outfitted with fantastic gear; still, it’s hard to truly enjoy myself. I’m constantly in my head about braking, clutching, shifting and turn signals, not to mention old adages like “nurses call motorcyclists ‘organ donors,'” and “it’s not ‘if,’ but ‘when'” ringing in my ears amid the engine revs.
Electric motorcycles are, of course, not a new concept. And they weren’t cooked up by tree-hugging adrenaline junkies or politically charged X-gamers who wanted to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. They’ve actually been around since about 1911, when Popular Mechanics published an article plainly titled “Electric Motorcycle.”
Zero FXS Specs
Torque: 70 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 3.8 seconds
Mileage City/Highway: 90/37
Charge time: 9 hours
Since then, the electric bike has evolved, thanks to better materials, advanced battery technology and updated styling. But in 2016, everything, from cars to bikes to hoverboards, is using batteries. So it’s no surprise that the EV moto space has growing competition — even Harley Davidson is on board. Zero Motorcycles was an early pioneer in this field, and in celebration of their 10-year anniversary, they updated their lineup with two brand-new models: the FXS and DSR.
The FXS is the lighter, more agile bike of the pair. Coming with 70 lb-ft of torque and 54 horsepower equivalent on a bike weighing in at less than 300 pounds, it’s essentially a city bike with supermoto DNA; it goes 0–60 in 3.8 seconds and has a range of about 90 miles in the city and 37 miles on the highway, all while costing less than 75 cents to “fill up.” Ours also came with the larger battery pack ($2,495). The FXS also features drive modes such as Sport, Eco and Custom (set through an app), which adjust the regenerative braking and throttle sensitivity, and the Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires are a nice touch as well, all for about $8,500 before incentives.
Horsepower: 67 horsepower
Torque: 106 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 3.9 seconds
Mileage City/Highway: 147/70
Charge time: 10 hours
The DSR is a heavier and more robust bike, like something Jason Bourne would use to get out of pretty much any situation. Despite being bigger and heavier than the FXS, the DSR still goes 0–60 in about 3.9 seconds thanks to the 67 horsepower 106 lb-ft of torque Z-Force motor. You can ride in the city for 147 miles or add 32 miles with the optional power tank ($2,674) which will also give you 86 miles on the freeway. If charge time, rather than range, is your worry, the charge tank ($1,988) will hit 100 percent battery in about three hours on a level-two charge. Our loaner was a special 10th-anniversary edition, so it was fully optioned out with a windshield, handle guards, special badging and the charge tank accessory, taking it all up near $20,000; but the base model is a bit less, at $15,995.
Like all EVs, these bikes benefit from various tax credits and incentives on both federal and state levels helping to bring the cost down — which is good, because they aren’t cheap. Similarly, all EVs face range and charge-time hurdles, but electric motorcycles face something else: stigma. Many hardcore bikers stick to the idea that “loud pipes save lives,” meaning the sound of the motorcycle will alert drivers to your presence and they won’t pull out in front of you. However, silent pipes can also save lives, because they allow riders to be more aware of all that happening around them. It was amazing how relaxing the bikes became after a few weeks of riding them to the studio and back home. Couple that zen mindset with explosive acceleration, no shifting, and independence from gas, and I came to really look forward to suiting up, going for a ride, and figuring out how to get groceries and dry cleaning done another day.