Updated: Oct 30, 2019
I love electric motorcycles. I love the emerging technology. Over the past two years I've had a hard crash-course in EVs, specifically motorcycles. I'm far from an expert in this field, but I have had the privilege to learn directly from a lot of the top industry people. That, coupled with my own experiences, is something I'd like to bring to everyone.
I've been riding motorcycles my whole life, and I switched to electric bikes as a daily commuter over 2 years ago. I do not own a car, so I ride motorcycles basically every day, rain or shine. I think I put over 20k miles on my first electric bike in the first 10 months, and in the week and a half I've owned my Energica I've put 1500 miles on it. I don't treat these as weekend warrior machines; if I'm going to own it I must have something usable and reliable.
A couple years back I picked up a 2016 Zero S. After getting used to it for a while I started adding faster charger, 3.3kW at a time. In the end I had 9.9kW of level 2 charging that would fill the bike in an hour. We like to joke that fast charging is like a drug, and selling fast charging solutions to people was like being a drug dealer. "Well, yeah, you could get 6.6kW, but 9.9kW is 50% more powerful and will bring you from 1.5 hours to 1 hour flat. The first charge is free."
Compared to Zero's stock option of ~10 hours to recharge, a single hour is a game changer. It meant I could actually go on short trips with the bike, and stopping to charge wasn't a huge deal. After all, level 2 stations are plentiful in California.
Shortly after, I upgraded to the "Death SR" or the "Reasonable Man's SR" depending on how you look at it. It had significantly more battery, power, and I also added a 4th charger, giving it 13.2kW of charging. I carried 1 J1772 inlet and 1 Tesla inlet with the J1772 adapter, meaning I could use 2 J1772 stations or route all 4 into one Tesla Destination (level 2) station. Here's what that looked like:
This was also good for 1 hour on that bike. You may ask, "Why didn't you just keep adding chargers to make it less than an hour?" The answer is that Zero only honors warranty on the battery and allows for a 1 hour charge. If you want to go beyond that you need to void your warranty and do some dangerous battery work to override the contactor after the bike attempts to shut off the battery. The other thing about Zero bikes is they don't have much in the way of thermal management, especially the batteries. They're meant to mostly be commuter vehicles, a job at which they EXCEL, but weren't designed with the idea of 'multiple trips charging at full speeds in a day' in mind. And I don't blame them, because that's not what most of their user base does with these bikes. It's fine for most people.
But not me. I want to go do things, and an hour charge adds up very quickly when there's more than one on a trip. I could certainly do more than the stock charger allows and much more than Zero's OEM Charge Tank (6kW level 2) offered. I drove this bike to LA and back and wrote about it. It was a lot of fun but charging is tedious. Additionally I had to ride very conservatively as I was reaching the thermal limits on the bike. This meant no more than 60mph.
So let's talk Energica, now. The first, and arguably most important, feature that draws me to them is the current model year can charge at 26kW. Stock. From the factory. It takes 20 minutes to charge. They use level 3 DC stations, of which there are plenty in California. The motor and controller are both liquid cooled because these were designed as track bikes. The components on them are basically overkill for a commuter. Even the batteries have air channels cut into them to aggressively cool them while you ride.
I can charge an Energica three times in the time it took to charge my maxed out Zero once. The range is about the same, too. In the first week I had the SS9 I noticed a disparaging amount of range difference between it and the SR, like more than 10%. First I observed, then I analyzed, and it didn't take long before I figured out the difference which segues nicely into my next point:
Cruising speed. My SR was happy cruising at 65mph. If you wanted to punch it beyond that, it definitely could and would respond, but in sort of a, "yeah I got this but I can't hold this forever" sort of vibe. The Energica SS9 wants to cruise at 75-80, and if you punch it at those speeds the bike LURCHES forward and says, "YOU WANT TO GO? LET'S GO, SON." and in one car-length I found myself doing 106mph without realizing it. I put the bike back into Urban mode and re-thought my life. The point is EVs get worse range the faster you go so I find myself retraining myself to travel at more reasonable speeds with the SS9 for range. What you have to remember is, right now, Zero's current 14.4kWh battery pack has a nominal rating 11.628kWh and the Energicas are 11.7kWh. Zero's bikes weigh less and have less power so my current theory is that many people get a little better range out of the SR/F due to conservative driving and weight differences. It's a lot closer than anyone else out there seems to think, and until Zero is ready to embrace CCS, the gap between charging is enormous.
As I indicated in the title, I went for a little 400 mile jaunt. I had to bring the Zero S down to LA to deliver it to the buyer, and thought, "If I can bring the bike down in a friend's van I can put my SS9 in there too then unload both bikes and ride the SS9 back home. Genius!" So I did.
After meeting with the new owner of the S we went on a short ride so I could show him how charging worked and how to get used to the bike. Everything always takes a little longer than expected so I didn't leave LA until around 5 PM. Having been up since 4 AM that morning I should have just found a place to sleep. But I was excited! My plan was to take Highway 99 up North because it had the most selection of CCS chargers. Also as it was my first trip I didn't want to push it on the range and pull up at each station with 5% or below. I planned it so I stopped more than I had to in case of station failures or cars being there or something unforeseen happening. My first stop was a small shopping center with 2 stations. Cars were parked out front of both, and one was this Toyota trying to use the Chademo. I did a double take as he lifted the hood of the car to access the charging point and then realized this was an aftermarket mod. The car was born with only level 2 support and a conversion company added DC fast charging support. The problem was he couldn't get it to work. He had just picked the car up earlier that day and planned to drive it to San Francisco. But the EV station errored out every time he tried. I wanted to help, so we tried every combination of timing and plugging it in, hitting start, and anything else we could think of to no avail. He said it was ok to take photos of his car.
The next leg was over the Grapevine which has a 4000+ elevation change. Having not taken this route before on an EV I babied it going up and reached the top having used around 80% of my battery. The Energica estimates your remaining range based on recent driving, so going up it was basically telling me there was no way I was going to reach the charging station if the road kept going like this. It didn't know there was a top of the climb and a downhill, so once the summit was reached it started recalculating in my favor. I think when I reached my station I had 15% battery and something like 60 miles estimated range based on the idea of going mostly downhill. I plugged into the ChargePoint CCS station and headed over to a FireHouse Sub restaurant to get some dinner. Ordered a salad that ended up being very heavy on cucumber. The problem was I sat there for 20 minutes in a mostly empty restaurant; I guess salad prep takes a while? I realized my bike was going to be done and asked for my salad to go. By the time I got it and walked across the parking lot my bike was finished. The bike charged too fast! Now eating my salad would waste precious time that I could use riding.
I scarfed the salad down and continued North. A good part of this route was actually the way Brandon attempted his Iron Butt run. Familiar names and spots appeared on my PlugShare Trip Planner. This also allowed me to explore alternate stations or ones that didn't work during his run. One such example was the EVConnect in Visalia, CA. Brandon couldn't get it to work and, instead, drove ~5 miles East to a parking garage with 2 EVGo stations. I downloaded the app, plugged in, and it worked perfectly. Not only that, they were free chargers! Heck yeah.
I would like to point out how liberating it is being able to ride how I wanted. True, there were a few legs, like the Grapevine, that I knew I had to be careful. But for the majority of the route I had it set up so that if I wanted to do it at 75mph the whole way, I could. The bike didn't care. Never even got close to being overheated. Energica has a constant battery temperature display on the dash, but they also make an easy-to-see color coded icon in the bottom right that is either green, yellow, or red. Green is the happy zone for the battery which delivers full charge speeds. Yellow means it's warm and may throttle charging. Red is likely what happens if you're doing track days and trying to do full power charges in between. For my trip I mostly saw green with occasional yellow. Really good job by the Energica design team.
My next stop had me striking up a conversation with a Bolt owner who was finishing up his charge. His eyes lit up at an electric motorcycle that could fast charge. "That's it, man" he said, "2 more years until the youngest is 18 and out of the house. Then I'm getting one of these." His wife called in the middle of our conversation and I overheard him say, "Honey I found my next bike. It's electric. How do you spell that name again?"
It was getting cold by this point so I put my hoodie on and my jacket over that, which helped. Not enough, though. I didn't prepare for a chilly night. At my next stop I decided to pop into a nearby Denny's and get a hot cup of tea. I was the only one in the restaurant and was chatting with the waitress. "Yeah," she started, "around here this is the only place with a bathroom so basically everyone passing through just comes in to use it. I figure if you gotta go you gotta go." As if on cue, the front door opened and a guy popped his head inside. "Hey we're not gonna dine but can we use your bathroom? There's like 8 of us." The waitress kindly said, "Ok, just don't tear up my bathroom." He waved his vanload of people in and they filed past me and my mug of tea while the waitress and I exchanged knowing glances.
At this point I really should have found somewhere to stop, but I felt I was so close to home it would be a terrible waste. Plus the tea sort of pepped me up and I felt the need to see it through. Still no problems with the bike. The battery was still green and was basically letting me know that if I wanted to continue this pace it could, indefinitely. I pushed on, and went to my final charge stop in Hollister, CA.
I got home safely, took a hot shower, and went to bed, exhausted. Unfortunately I woke up a mere 6 hours later and decided to take a picture of how I felt.
I can't wait until my next trip.
Final thoughts and comparisons
Things I miss about my SR:
- The sound. I like the noise the direct drive with belt makes.
- The 0-30. Energica doesn't give full direct power until above 30mph, so the Zero is a little peppier from a stop.
- I prefer certain aspects of Zero's regeneration. My preferred setup was to have no passive regen and then max braking regen when you tapped the brakes. While there was no scalability after setting your levels, I liked it being tied to the brake lever. Energica has variable regen tied to the throttle position which is, I believe, a superior method. However on longer rides, dealing with fine tuning wrist positioning became tedious for me. I wish I could tie regen into my brake lever as well, but I'll adjust.
Things I prefer on the Energica:
- Charging. I cannot stress enough how important this is for me.
- Fit and finish. Energicas are every bit as pretty on the inside as they are on the outside. They also feel solid and have good tolerances, or at least better than my SR.
- Thermal management. What good is fast charging if you can only do it once before the bike overheats?
- Instant feedback. The screen modes give massive amounts of data on the fly in terms of power consumption. It's really nice.
- Regen can be much, MUCH stronger. Max regen is like driving the bike into a pool of mud, but it's all controlled by your wrist position. It takes a little getting used to but it can be set to very powerful amounts.
- Handling. This bike lives for corners. It is so well balanced. At speeds the SR felt like it wanted to straighten out in corners. The SS9 just naturally falls into them and reassures you that everything is going to be awesome. Just let it do its thing. It knows.
- Instrument cluster positioning. With the Zero's upright riding position the instrument cluster ends up being very close to the rider, and if you lean forward on the tank I found my face basically laying on the speedometer. Energica's tank area is ample enough so you can lay all the way down on it and still have the screen a reasonable distance away. It feels more proper.
- Mirrors. They're more properly spaced so I can see what's behind me. It was more of a guessing game with the SR as I found myself lifting my arm out of the way when I looked so I could see what was there.
For me the choice is clear. I live in an area with plentiful DC charging. Even if all else were equal, that seals the deal. And it's not just that it accepts fast charging, it's that it accepts fast charging at ridiculous speeds. H-D's new LiveWire still takes an hour on these stations, and around here at $0.26/minute that's $15.60 to fill the bike. Zero's gorgeous SR/F Premium edition will take 2 hours to charge. One bike costs too much to charge (My soup is too hot!). Another bike takes too long (My soup is too cold!). The Energica is just right.
I would love to hear your guys thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!