When I was with Victory I had the pleasure of introducing the Victory Empulse TT for the media. Yes - it was a re-branded Brammo, however with MANY QC upgrades and the power of a decent dealer network…that was shortly there after dissolved. Bummer that. However getting exposed to Empulse TT was a game-changer. In my positioning overseeing PR, and thus the press fleets for Victory and Indian, we found ourselves in Sturgis for the Black Hills Rally annually. In a world of “potato mashers”, straight pipes and often in hot and sticky traffic jams, it was the electric motorcycle that we all fought for out of the fleet of cruisers, baggers and touring bikes.
Running the countless small errands, cruising over to the Buffalo Chip for a concert, skipping the gas lines was so much simpler on the quick, lithe and silent bike. Not sitting on top of a hot internal combustion engine was a major bonus when it came to arriving is style. Gotta say - I loved zipping past baggers and cruiser sleds and answering the snarky “is that thing even ON?” question by firing through the intersection as soon as the light turned green. Typically, the now neutered hard-ass / smart-ass would pull back up in the lane next to me….just out of eyesight. They knew better than drag race for pinks - I knew better than challenge them to an endurance race. Born to be mild indeed.
After Victory shut down, I tried to pick up a now discontinued Empulse TT for myself - however I believe there were MANY savvy Polaris engineers who understood how great the bike was, and were able to snap them up at fire sale prices. Lucky bastards… So the e-moto bug has stayed with me ever since, and a recent visit to a great local motorcycle dealer had me staring a a nearly new ZERO FX 3.3. According to Ed, the co-owner of AF1 Racing in Austin TX, and a ZERO fan, the bike was traded in by a guy who loved the experience but wanted to upgrade to the bigger platform. I was the ultimate benefactor of that sale and struck a deal. I find the FX ideal for zipping through my small town, throwing it in my Ford van as a sort of dinghy and finding excuses to go ride in the middle of the day. I even know where I can plug in at my local diner while enjoying a coffee - scoring my free juice on the side. (See what I did there…yeesh.)
On a visit to the ZERO factory to meet with my friend Mike Cunningham, the US National Sales manager, I was offered the loan of a 58 mile new 2018 ZERO DS. I had not ridden the larger framed ZERO much before, only getting to test-ride one for competitive product testing years ago. I was eager for a 100% charged loaner, and a solo ride without company witnesses! On a Sunday Morning at the factory I was handed over the keys to the bike, with a much-rehearsed warning to not get cocky with the throttle in sport mode - especially coming off the line. 110 ft-lbs puts the DS in the same territory as big-bore v-twins, but with a fraction of the rotational mass to damp the power, and far less tonnage to propel. As the owner of an Indian Springfield, an Aprilia SXV 450, a KTM 1290, and a fully de-restricted FZ-09, I am familiar with the dire consequences of whiskey throttle and power. But I heeded the caution and cruised the town in ECO mode to get familiar.
Getting on the bigger bike after zipping around on the much smaller FX (mine only has one of the twin 40 lb battery packs) took some re-adjustment. The center of gravity is much higher, and the additional weight is more than adding a passenger to the smaller bike. Lifting the bike off the kickstand feels heavier, but not unlike my 1290 after filling its container ship sized gas tank. The DS, like the KTM, feels hewn out of one chunk of awesomeness. Respect is not just a side-effect, it’s mandatory.
This unit came with the accessory windscreen and the useful but gawky GIVI top-box. I prefer saddlebags for a lower CG and cleaner aero - but being able to toss the helmet and gloves in was cool. However, it sure does ruin the lines of the bike. The ZERO branded windscreen was super easy to adjust and apparently is a great help in the aero dept on the bike. It smoothed the airflow and was easy to get out of the way when corners got tighter. Though it does not synch with a dual-sport style, I may pick one up for my FX - especially in cooler weather. The FX is sort of made to break the rules anyway.
Sunday was a chance to cruise the Santa Cruz coastline and visit the town. The last time I was here was on a sidecar trip down the coast with my now-deceased father. It was a epic ride for us, and something we talked about until his last week alive. I dropped a memorial coin in the ocean - I’ll know it’s there next time I get to ride by. I rode away from that spot with only the sound of crashing waves. Respect and quiet go hand-in hand.
Following some casual meetings on Monday I had a chance to go on a longer trip on the DS. Where to go? The legendary Alice’s restaurant and cup of coffee called my name. Route options featured a rip up highway 9 from Scotts Valley to hwy 35 aka Skyline Road. Alice’s is a bay-area motorcycle go-to spot I had also visited with Dad and many times prior. The ride up in ECO mode was smooth and calculated. Better to return with excess energy than to start praying for a place to plug in along side of a rural highway. Alice’s was about 28 miles away in a straight line - 45 on the road. Roughly 1/2 the projected range of the full charge given elevation changes. Factor in cool weather and many 55mph stretches and I rolled into the restaurant with 55% battery capacity remaining. Perfect! Heck - I even found an extension cord laying near a TESLA roadster parked by the entrance - what greater gift can an e-rider ask for?
I smugly plugged in as the Gods of electricity clearly intended for me to. Tesla guy and I offered a nod to each other. The Battery Brotherhood recognizes, Yo. I enjoyed a warm cup of coffee and indulged in a massive chunk of coffee cake. I could afford to burn off some calories as I had stupidly chosen to leave my sweater behind at the ZERO office. Despite the top case. Despite the storage capacity built into the fuel cell area. So much for being the smartest guy on the road. I trotted out to the bike to see how much free electricity I had gained courtesy of my bogarted connection…erm. None. Apparently a high-impedance gap curtailed my purloined power ploy. In other words - the other end was unplugged. Dang. I am an idiot.
So I as I zipped up my kit, and got back into Black Stormtrooper mode, a different Tesla dude, a new owner of an S35, eagerly chatted away about the bike - I enthused that he needed to add one to his garage too. He said he didn’t know how to ride and I went through the ease of operation. (Mike, you can send the commission check directly to my bank.) I’ll say that I’ve always been a motorcycle advocate, but being on ZERO engages a whole new interesting conversation - and it’s refreshing to add how easy it is to ride. A much longer conversation with a typical ICE motorcycle or even the Empulse TT with its seemingly redundant transmission. Yes they stood there and listen to me creep away. I am a Ninja. I am the wind.
So with just over 1/2 the charge remaining I headed back towards Scott’s Valley. Knowing that 1/3 of the route was mostly downhill, I had no real fear of using all my jigga-amps, though I watched closely as the capacity meter ticked down, the projected range stayed about the same - benefit of the downhill sections and the regenerative technology. Sport and Custom modes were set to full torque, and I started to go faster and push the bike more. Including a particularly lurid push on a shaded cold damp tar snake - the front tire then stuck and the extremely rigid chassis and quality suspension sucked it up without further drama. My confidence grew - as did my wariness of CAL-DOT’s insidiousness. Riding with my weight forward increased the feel on the front end. I may have broken the 45 mph speeds limit a time or two. Or three.
The dual-sport Pirellis are not as confidence inspiring as a 17” supermoto set-up, but honestly, they stick well past my prudent pucker factor on the street. I’ll save my knee-dragging for a track day. This is a very solid bike. Great fun and very capable. Living in Sport Mode for the last third of the trip home, I reduced consumption by using regen, but still wound the throttle to the stop for a few blasts. It’s as addictive as powdered sugar covered coffee cake.
It hit me what the really fun part of acceleration is on an electric motorcycle - it’s completely seamless. A shove of torque smoothly trading off into consistent horsepower and acceleration - I was flashing back to Battlestar Gallactica fighter launch scenes. (Yeah I’m old - so are my references. Google it or something.) Anyone who has ridden a sporting V-4, or an inline six, or a flat six engine would get it - now remove the need to shift and melt it all into one fluid transaction. Its very coolAnd quite thrilling. I rolled back into the HQ with my ride to the airport waiting for me and 16% left on the battery. Life was good.
For me, I believe I prefer the FX as part of my fleet. I use it around my little town, and perhaps someday to explore near a Moab campsite. The bigger bikes are better for commuting in the more traditional sense - and for sure for street police work. I will say that even removing the differences of the electric power vs a gas engine, the ZERO DS is a fine motorcycle. Predictable, rock solid and loaded with quality components. The heft off the sidestand may be a deal-breaker for some. The taller seat height will eliminate many others. The cost when laid out over time and mileage seems quite fair to me - add in the low maintenance, minimal service down-time, visceral thrill of that addictive seamless acceleration, and it could be an ideal addition to your motorcycle collection or your life. That said - you must ride an electric motorcycle even if current limitations might trip your fuse. (sorry) Like me, you might just decided that an electric motorcycle is a perfect tool for some of your moto-needs.
I hope to visit Santa Cruz and visit the shoreline where I tossed Dad’s coin again. Afterall, I have 16% battery I need to use up.