The Best Motorcycle I Drove in 2020 Is Electric
(Bloomberg) -- One of the quickest ways to become socially distant is to get on your motorcycle and ride. Plenty of riders this year did just that: Off-road motorbike sales sales were up nearly 19% year-over-year by mid-spring, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council, with many dealers reporting double-digit growth through the summer.
I rode more, too.
This year, I tested a variety of motorcycles, from the Indian Scout Bobber Sixty and Ducati Scrambler Café Racer to the Moto Guzzi V85 TT and Triumph Thruxton, plus Vespa scooters and even electric bicycles, among others. My biggest takeaway: There’s a motorcycle for every rider, whether you prefer open stretches of highway, tight city streets, or dusty back roads.
But some motorcycles are more significant than others. They become watermark moments in the history of the medium. Where the best car of the year uses “old” combustion engine technology, the best motorcycle I rode this year is decidedly forward-thinking—rightfully so for an industry struggling to innovate. It’s the 2020 Zero SR/S. And surprise! It’s electric.
The Zero SR/S is significant because it really proves you don’t have to compromise performance, styling, or riding habits on a motorcycle powered by electricity.
This is the best motorbike to date from Zero Motorcycles, a 14-year-old, Santa Cruz, Calif.-based company that just signed a massive deal to provide Polaris with electric technology. (Polaris, you may recall, is a company that specializes in off-roading vehicles such as snowmobiles and ATVs.) The Zero SR/S offers video game-cool looks; smooth, instant, powerful acceleration; and up to 200 miles of driving range. You plug it in using a cord that attaches where the gas tank cap would be; a full charge takes just 80 minutes, which is lightning speed compared to cars. It’s cheap, too: roughly $1.61 according to Zero’s calculations.
And it’s fast.
A single, air-cooled motor powers it with 110 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. With normal driving in Eco mode, the base model of the bike will get up to 161 miles of range in town; if you go full throttle, you’ll get roughly 82 miles on the highway at 70 mph. (You’ll need an additional power tank to get to that aforementioned 200 miles.) Sport and Street modes tighten and quicken responses on the brakes and throttle.
I was happy with the SR/S each time I climbed on it because, in addition to looking like a futuristic sport bike (after all, why get into motorcycles if not to feel cool?) it strips out all the distractions of riding a motorcycle so you can enjoy the sensation at its purest. The electric motor is nearly silent, with none of the rumbling, vibrating, and oil spewing of a conventional motorbike—a Hog this is not.
I know that will make some of you start to squirm. That’s okay. Just don’t knock it ’til you try it.
When I rode it through Elysian Heights near Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, I could hear birds chirping, leaves crackling, and lawnmowers, rather than the jaw-rattling drone of an engine. I could smell the sweet fragrance of jacaranda in lieu of motorcycle grease and exhaust. While some longtime riders may revel in the noise and deep constant vibration of a conventional engine, riding the elegant, pure Zero SR/S reveals what motorcycle riding should be. You’re welcome to fight me on this .
As you might expect from the luxury $19,995-plus price tag—it’s about double that of the Ducati Scrambler Cafe Racer—the SR/S also offers plenty of technology, such as stability control, clutchless transmission (of course), and a detailed instrument cluster linked to an iPhone app that measures range, battery life, miles ridden, and so forth. A storage box in a hatch where the gas tank would be is particularly welcome feature for those of us who inevitably ride with wallets, phones, additional gloves, chargers, and the like. If that price seems high, it’s considerably less expensive than the heavy electric motorcycle from Harley-Davidson, at $30,000.
Finally, a truly great motorcycle should be able to captivate the imaginations of newcomers and outsiders to the joys of motorcycle riding. As the riding community grows more open-minded to new riders from all backgrounds (a challenge legacy makers such as Harley-Davidson are working to meet), and as we look for cheaper and quicker socially distant ways to get around during life during- and post-pandemic, manufacturers must innovate exciting and capable new products to satisfy their needs.
The advent of the Zero SR/S—a serious electric motorcycle with all the capability, looks, and convenience of a conventional one—couldn’t have come at a better time.
There’s a deeper conversation to be had about whether the soul of riding is more authentically evoked by the sensual overload of a gas-fueled engine—or by the pure sensation of moving fast through space and time itself. If you believe the latter, you’ll find yourself delighted with the SR/S. If you believe the former, and pretending for a moment that money is no object, it simply means you should own more than one bike. This and something conventionally powered.
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