The Future is Electric

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

This is gonna be long, but don't worry there are pictures to break things up a bit, and if it's still too much for you, I can mail you some crayons and coloring book.

I didn’t want this bike. This was not the droid I was looking for. I only test rode the Energica because I thought I would do my due diligence before I purchased the Zero SR/F. I have had a Zero FXS and knew what it was, liked that it was an American company and they had been in the electric bike business for a while and the new SR/F seemed to be a bit of a jump from their prior iterations. The FXS went on the market for sale and I was deciding what color to order when I had a nagging memory of the Energica existing. “Fuck it, I'll go look at the thing, test ride it, decide it’s too heavy and then feel better about buying my soon to be SR/F” I thought. I thought.

Now I liked all the specs of the Energica, and it’s a good-looking bike too but about that 600 pounds... That is a lot of weight, and I've gotten rid of bikes in the past for weighing a lot less than that. I’ve always been a weight weenie and have subscribed to the mantra of “To increase performance, add lightness” So I was very skeptical and dismissive of the bike, but went down to the dealer to kick the tires anyway. With my gear in the car I walked in to ask a few questions and then ask for a test ride. I heard the claims of charging in 30 minutes which I dismissed as being fictional. Zero tended to quote very optimistic numbers that were only possible under very specific circumstances and with the purchase of additional hardware. So, I ignored that and focused on the bike itself. It had Brembo brakes, Marzocchi forks, and a Bitubo shock. Pretty nice although the Bitubo shock isn’t their top of the line but it is a good upgrade from what my Zero was equipped with and the Brembos are head and shoulders above the J-Juan brakes on the Zero. Nice parts do not make a motorcycle though, but they do help.

I hopped on the bike and could feel the heft of its mass. This wasn’t what I wanted to feel. It felt heavy. I still went ahead and did the test ride and something interesting happened as soon as I started moving. The weight seemed to vanish; I was so shocked. The test route they had me follow consisted of 4 right turns around the block. I wasn’t thrilled with this since this doesn’t really let you ride the bike to any extent that would provide you with any meaning information other that maybe getting a feel for power delivery and brakes. I wanted to see how this magic disappearing weight bike would actually handle in corners. How the braking would feel trailing into a turn, how the chassis would feel. The import business of what makes a bike a joy to ride. I don’t ride my bike so I can ride around the block. I commute to work, I like to play in twisty roads, I Like to bring my bikes to the track and have fun with the machine. I don’t know how you can evaluate a machine for that by riding it around the block. I brought the bike back and told the sales person this and he let me take it up a nearby set of twisties that I’m fairly familiar with. At this time, I felt like I scored, like I got a way with being able to do something I shouldn’t have. What really happened is the salesman just sold me a bike, but neither of us really knew that at the time.

I started from the dealer and headed to Page Mill Rd. The weather was clear warm and sunny, the kind of day that was made for riding. On the way I tried to get a feel for the brakes which were able to bring the bike to stop shockingly fast. I also gave it the beans and the power from the motor was grin inducing. The power just keeps pulling you along into ticket receiving territory very quickly. At last I saw my first real corner “Take it easy, this isn’t your bike and you haven’t gotten accustomed to it yet.” I said to myself. I took the first at moderate pace. Odd, there didn’t feel like there was 600 pounds of bike under me. Let’s try this again faster. A few more corners of this later and I’m going at full hooligan pace and have caught up to some other riders, waited for a safe place to pass and silently blew by them. This bike was made to corner.

I knew the suspension wasn’t tuned to my weight but holy shit this chassis is so damn good. I have rarely been on a bike that was this confidence inspiring to ride. Every time I would dip into a corner it just felt so stable and planted in the line I took. Even when braking deep into the corners and railing through chicanes at speeds that would earn me several citations I was not thinking about the weight of the bike. That was just a number on a spec sheet now for all it mattered to me. I was riding, I was only focused on what the bike was telling me, and the bike was telling me to go faster. Faster still. After I was at the top of Page Mill and it occurred to me “God dammit I’m buying this thing, aren’t I?” The answer was yes. I told the salesperson that I would think about it so that I wouldn’t be making this decision based on the adrenaline that was still coursing through my veins. Over the next few days the bike was all I could think about. I finally broke down and went back to sign paperwork and took her home. I ended up paying significantly less than I would have for the Zero SR/F. Insurance was cheap as chips as progressive didn’t have the bike listed and allowed me to enter in the cc’s myself. 1cc was as close as it would allow me to 0cc. I tried to be honest.

So how is ownership? Pretty sweet. The claimed 30-minute quick charging that I was skeptical about? Accurate and fucking awesome! If you plug into what’s called a “CCS” Level 3 charging station you can charge at 20Kw and go from near empty to full in about 30 minutes. Those chargers are Fairly common and becoming the new hot thing as more EV’s are being made for the standard. The bike is also compatible with a “j plug” connector that will let you charge at level 2 charging speeds of 3Kw which is a lot slower but I usually just use those to top off. If you did need to charge from nearly empty on a level 2 charger you would be looking at about 3-4 hours. I’ve never done this as I use the level 2 chargers to either top off or get me enough juice to reach a level 3 station.

Charging stations are all different and some are nicer and easier to use than others. EVgo brand chargers are the most common ones I’ve encountered, you can pay directly at the stations with your credit card or get a member card that bills you, it’s a little cumbersome but they work. There are sometimes free charging stations, the most common free stations I’ve seen are the Volta brand stations. They seem to make up the cost of charging with advertisements that they display on an ad board at the station. I really like the Volta stations; you just plug in and it works. The breaks I get while recharging are actually pretty nice. I can go have a coffee or snack and relax a bit before riding again. Makes the rides I do more chill and enjoyable rather than just doling out miles. Although if I’m riding with folks that don’t have an E-moto I take my gas bike so that we’re all on the same schedule and closer to the same range.

Orange flags are Level 3 stations and green are Level 2 stations

About that range. Every bike you ride gas or otherwise is going to have its range effected by how greedy you are with the throttle, but the E-bikes seem to have such a wider range of throttle heavy penalty. You could ride very conservatively and keep your speeds low and get ~120 miles out of the bike or you could get closer to 50 if you are railing through the canyons and even less if you’re on track and doing your best Marquez impression. Realistically I get about 60-65 miles on a charge riding kind of like an asshole a lot of the time. I usually try and get the most by not going crazy fast on the straights when I’m out on my favorite roads and then saving the throttle for the actual twisty bits.

No, the bike doesn’t have the range of a KLR but It’s not too far from having a motard with stock tank, just longer fill up times. I find the range to be very usable and it allows me to go out on actual rides. The Zero I had had a claimed range of 90 miles but realistically it was much less, closer to 30 miles and recharge times were impossibly long. I was never really able to go out and do any fun rides on the FXS because the range was so limited, and I had no decent recharge options once I was out in the wild. I only really used it for commuting. The longer range of the Energica combined with the DC fast charging is a game changer for me. I can actually go out for weekend rides to places I would go with my other bikes. The biggest selling point for me though is the way this bike rides.

Ever have a fan or A/C unit blowing and then it suddenly reaches temperature and then it shuts off and everything seems more serene and you can hear more other subtle noises that you couldn’t earlier? Well imagine that all the noise and vibration that your Engine makes is gone and you can now focus more on the vibrations you feel from the road and your tires. Ever hear your tires groaning because your going hot into a corner? Of course not, even with a stock exhaust your bike is too loud and drowns out the subtle noises your tires can make. Your feet ever get numb on your rearsets form the vibrations, hands hurt? Not on this bike. It’s so smooth and the fact that you’re always in the right gear means when you’re coming out of a corner you feel such a strong connection to the rear wheel it makes it so very gratifying pushing out of corners.

I know there are folks that love the sound of their engines and I don’t blame them, I still love the sound of a nice V-twin engine with a good set of pipes on it. Why though? Because I associate that sound with power output from the engine and the feeling that that power gives me when I utilize it. I remember making engine noises in my helmet when I first started riding my Zero. After a while I got used to and even like the electric whine from the motor and now hearing the sound of the bikes racing in the MotoE races gets my adrenaline going. It’s change. I know people didn’t like the sound 4 stroke engines when they were used to their 2 stokes, people who love twins often don’t really like the sound of inline fours and Harley die hards only like their potato noises. It takes getting used to, I swear it’s worth it though. It is the future and in enough time gas engines will be clunky relics that didn’t perform well and needed constant maintenance. Probably how inline four riders view Harleys. Might take a generation or two but it’s going to happen. The change is good.

Speaking of changing. There are several riding modes and regen modes you can change depending on your preference. The interface is clear and easy to use. There is a button near your left index finger to get you into the menu to change these modes and your left thumb has a toggle switch. Once in the menu you can change riding modes by pressing left on the thumb toggle and change your regen strength by pressing right. Push in on the toggle switch and you can turn your ABS on and off. Regen strength changes how much engine braking the bike has, this also helps recharge the battery when going downhill or when rolling to a stop. I liked the regen mode on the medium setting when I first started riding the bike but have since switched it to maximum and have gotten used to that now. The riding modes effect how the power is output from the bike. There are 4 modes; Eco, Rain, Urban, and Sport. Eco mode I find to be useless, it’s gentle with power delivery and limits your top speed to around 50mph which is not usable on the freeways in California. Rain mode is even more gentle on power delivery so you won't have to worry about the torque from the bike breaking traction in the wet, and it doesn’t limit your speed so its freeway friendly. I feel like the rain mode doubles as an “Eco” mode for me. Urban mode offers more power on demand when you snap open the throttle. The Sport mode unleashes all the horses in the stable and can test your grip strength when you whack open the throttle.

I wish the modes were programmable and let you dial in what you wanted them to be. I mostly use the sport mode because who wouldn’t want all that power all the time? I use the rain and urban modes sometimes but it’s probably about 15% of my riding. One of the annoying things is that the left thumb toggle switch is right next to the turn signal so sometimes I hit that by accident, or I'll hit the turn signal instead of switching screens. I wish they were further apart, and had more distinct feel apart from each other. The turn signal toggle is also very mushy and doesn't have any satisfying mechanical clicking to its movement.

The dash is day/night sensitive, so it has a white background during the day and then has a black background during the darker hours. Your left thumb can switch between various dash display modes that can also show things like your power output and other bits of data that, while interesting, I don’t really do anything with the data so I typically just leave it on the main display that shows speed in big numbers so I know how far over the speed limit I am at all times. It will also show your battery charge percentage, an estimate of your remaining mileage based on how you’ve been riding recently, and a trip meter.

There is an app for Energica that connects to your bike and can search for charging stations near the bike. I’ve not had the best of luck with using the app and find PlugShare (both an app and website) to be more useful. PlugShare has more charging stations in its database and more information about them, so I find it to be a much better resource for looking up where to get juice at. It is important to make sure to filter what charging outlets you can utilize (CCS and J1772) so that it won't show you stations you can’t use. The Energica App will also show you the charge percentage in case you happen to be charging within Bluetooth range of the bike. It will show a diagnostic page that will show any faults in the bike. I don’t really use the App much.

Commuting on this bike has been such a dream. I never have to let the bike warm up, it just turns on and I'm ready to go. In the warmer months the bike never radiates heat making my legs and unmentionables hot. My neighbors are pleased with the lack of noise. No clutch work when moving through tight spaces in traffic. I actually seem to get better treatment in traffic when lane splitting. I think it’s because when people see me, it’s because they were looking for and found me, instead of being startled to my presence by an annoying revving engine. When lane splitting, I get a lot more people making room for me and seldom get people trying to block me. The people who don’t know I'm there are very predictable and I'm ahead of them before they realize I was ever there. I never have to stop at a gas station. I never get the panic of running late to work only to start my bike and see the fuel light on. I don’t have to fuss with oil and filter changes every 3000 miles and I don’t have to save up in preparation for valve adjustments, coolant flushes, carb cleaning and other dreadful things. There is a service where they drain the oil from the gearbox and flush the coolant, but it’s spread out much farther apart than your usual oil changes. Other than that, I just have to change tires and brakes. Pretty sweet. In my specific commuting needs I have access to free charging at my gym and in front of grocery stores I go to so I rarely even charge at home. I couldn’t really ask for a better commuting steed.

Doing weekend rides requires a little more planning than I used to do on a gas bike. Putting together a route is very doable though. There are unfortunately a few dead spots in the charging network for twisty roads currently. So, you must choose your routes accordingly and sometimes it can limit some exploration if you happen to see a road you’ve never been down, but you aren’t sure if you have enough range left to do it and make it back. You can still get some great riding in on the bike and the bike itself gets a lot of attention. Especially when it is charging. I keep getting the “Is that thing electric?” question while I'm plugged in “I sure hope so!” is my usual response.

So, is this bike worth buying? Absolutely, it’s a fantastically well put together piece of riding machinery. Is it going to meet everyone's needs? Nope, the range is going to be a limiting factor for some, the price tag for others. I know it’s more than a Ducati Super Sport S but after a while the lack of maintenance might offset the cost a bit more. That’s not why I bought the bike though. I’m not an eco-warrior trying to save the planet by buying a virtue signal, I’m a rider. I bought a glimpse of the future of riding. This bike is so different yet so grounded in what makes a motorcycle fun to ride. Since my first set of twisties on it I couldn’t stop daydreaming about the next set on it. When I ride my other bike, I think about my Energica. When I’m on my Energica, I think about the next apex to dive into.

TLDR: I like it.

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