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Alternating Currents: City dwellers need an electric motorcycle

Zero Motorcycles DSR Black Forest. Photo credit: Zero Motorcycles

There is so much joy to be had in urban exploration. Even within your own city, plugging around the back alleys and streets you’ve never traveled before, you’ll never regret a bit of exploration. Maybe you’ll stumble upon a new restaurant you want to place an order with, or a mom and pop hardware store you didn’t know existed. None of us have looked in a phone book in at least a decade, right? So how else are you going to uncover something new in your own city than through exploration? 

This weekend I took a 2020 Zero DSR Black Forest electric motorcycle for a spin around my chosen city of Reno, Nevada and found all of that and more. Even better, I found a gorgeous riding trail for the dual-sport motorcycle to attack down between the railroad tracks and the Truckee river. Don’t tell the local constabulary, but I may have explored a few vacant warehouses for shipping ramps to jump off of. 

Now, had I been on a loud and rowdy two-stroke dirt bike, or even a four-stroke BMW GS, I’d likely have attracted unwanted attention. Not only does an electric motorcycle like the DSR allow you to commute every day without burning a single atom of hydrocarbons, but you can fly under the radar. Many neighborhoods, homeowners, and other commuters see two-wheelers as a nuisance, but when you can quietly skirt down streets or alleys, or pop through a parking lot to avoid a red light, you’re barely noticed, if at all. 

Electric motorcycles don’t have clutches or a gear shifter, so your entire left side of your body can focus on the act of riding, while your right side controls the throttle and brakes and that’s it. It may not seem like much, but getting the clutch and shift just right requires a little extra mental energy with every stop light that on an EV two wheeler can be devoted to things like traffic management and keeping an eye on the cars around you. 

With modern electric motorcycles achieving somewhere between 100 and 200 miles of range, depending on speed and use cases, you can often go farther on a charge than entry-level electric cars costing thousands of dollars more. Not only are you getting up to four times as many miles per kilowatt-hour of energy (Nissan Leaf 124 MPGe city vs. Zero DSR 435 MPGe city), but you can charge the bike from zero to full overnight on 110v service. You don’t even need a fancy plug, the DSR charges with a standard three-prong computer power supply cord. You know the ones, they’re like six dollars at Best Buy. 

Disregard, if you will for a minute, that an electric motorcycle will drastically reduce your carbon footprint, it’s just a plain boatload of fun. If off-roading is your thing, this electric monster has big-displacement V-twin levels of torque with 116 lb-ft. You could practically point this thing at a brick wall and it would climb it. And you can easily get yourself out of (or into) trouble with a simple twist of the wrist, as it’s got all of that torque available instantly. Pop up over a rock, or simply roll a roaring dirt burnout. 

At just a tick over 500 pounds, the DSR isn’t a lightweight, but it’s in the same weight class as a comparable BMW 1200GS. It’s a great riding experience, as it combines comfort with stately good looks and tons of battery. 

Try as they might, electric cars have not yet managed to match the fun driving experience of their ICE counterparts. The closest I’ve experienced is Porsche’s sublime Taycan Turbo S, but while that car’s capabilities are massive, it isn’t quite as engaging as its own 718 Boxster. Motorcycles, however, have not only made the transition to EV power with rider engagement intact, but perhaps offer more fun for the loss of multi-gear transmissions rather than less. Electric motorbikes aren’t quite ready for long-haul days of highway burning like a gas bike is, but that’s probably the least fun way to ride a bike anyway.   

Of course, Zero isn’t the only option for electric two-wheeled fun. If you’re looking for a scooter, there are dozens of options available to you. E-bikes are all the rage right now. Harley’s LiveWire is a laugh riot of a good time, but costs a veritable fortune. Get the sexy sport bike with an Energica or Lightning. Go for the quirky Swedish option with Cake’s lightweight Kalk. Even Segway is getting in on the electric motorcycle game.

And if none of those appeal to you, don’t worry, because dozens more are coming down the pike from Ducati, Honda, Husqvarna and others. The motorcycle industry is ready for its electric revolution. Get on board, it’s a lot of fun.

Written by Bradley Brownell
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