Ride The Lightning: A Conversation With Zero Motorcycles

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By Joe Wachunas and Sergio Lopez

The transportation nonprofit Forth is partnering with CleanTechnica on a webinar devoted to electric motorcycles along with Dan Quick from Zero motorcycles on August 19. Register here for this free event!  

Electric motorcycles have come a long way in the last 10 years and exciting things are on the horizon. New models are coming out from big players and sales of e-motos are skyrocketing. We interviewed Dan Quick, director of communications for Zero Motorcycles, for the latest on where we’re going and where we’ve been in this rapidly developing sector.

Forth: What is the overall state of the electric motorcycle market? 

Dan Quick: Booming. While the overall powersports market has been, at best, flat since the subprime mortgage collapse of 2008–2009, electric motorcycles, and Zero Motorcycles in particular, have been enjoying a much different trendline. We’re seeing a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 40–60% across all models year-over-year and the interest in and appetite for electric motorcycles only seems to be increasing.

Forth: How much has the e-motorcycle market changed over the last 10 years? What developments have been made? 

DQ: There was a time when simply connecting a battery to a motor and making a wheel spin was quite an achievement, and of course one would be correct in believing they could basically accomplish the same thing by ordering some parts online. Because Zero has evolved significantly from that point, there have been milestones achieved along the way that signal new eras of electric motorcycling; bikes that get over 200 miles range, exceeding 100 MPH, and even a full charge in about an hour.

Forth: Where do you see e-motorcycles headed in the next 5–10 years? 

DQ: Electric motorcycles are still very much a nascent technology, and as a result advances in every area from power and energy density and delivery to the propulsion systems themselves are happening rapidly. Ongoing development inside of Zero will inevitably focus on the typical – how far, how fast, how long, how much – types of information. We welcome that from the industry, as well, because increased innovation will only aid in the overall health of it as a whole. It’s also safe to say that the power grid and EV charging infrastructure as well as government incentives will all be areas that will experience revolutionary growth and development over the next decade.  

Forth: What emotional connections do people have with internal combustion engine (ICE) bikes that are challenges to adoption of electric ones? 

DQ: I think it’s human nature to resist change. To paraphrase what Henry Ford famously said, if he asked people what they wanted they’d have told him a faster horse. I think that speaks volumes for the emotional connection people feel for their “first.” First kisses, first cars, and first anything else’s are always fondly remembered for their momentousness. Ultimately, though, the pure exhilaration of riding a motorcycle is greater on a Zero because an electric motorcycle strips away all of the excess to just the pure, essential riding experience. 

Forth: Can you tell me in a few words how electric motorcycles are better than fossil fuel–driven motos? 

DQ: Let’s start with what is most important. The riding experience. … Motorcycling as an experience is something that engages all the senses. Electric motorcycles are fundamentally different in almost every way. The physical surge that a rider feels as he or she is pressed backwards onto the pillion while accelerating is free of any of the staccato interruptions that manipulating through gears on an ICE bike requires. 

For riders who get to enjoy the Pacific Northwest, they will know nothing smells quite like a Tillamook forest bed when it’s dewy and clear. Furthermore, the sound of your neighboring rider’s voice as you ride and actually can have a discussion through traffic is at first bewildering without the constant battle with engine noise. Hopefully riders are more liberated from the traditional distractions and manipulations required to pilot an ICE bike that they can sit back and enjoy the view that much more. This all doesn’t even begin to address the fact that riding an electric motorcycle is better for both the environment and the wallet, as well.

Forth: What are the advantages/disadvantages for a motorcycle to make artificial noise?

DQ: It’s common to hear even the most grizzled of riders laughing with delight after riding a Zero for the first time, so in that sense manufactured sounds can be a good thing. Personally, I don’t have any moment where I wish my electric motorcycle sounded anything different than it does. Quiet, yes, silent, no. There’s an evocative and futuristic quality to the sound of an accelerating SR/S that I highly encourage everyone to experience. They’ll begin to understand the separation of sound from noise. Zeros don’t make noise, but the futuristic sound is unmistakable.

Forth: How important is the clutch to motorcycles? And how many e-motorcycles have one?

DQ: Not one of the award-winning Zero Motorcycles has a clutch, therefore I’m convinced the clutch is nonessential to a motorcycle. Even F1 racecars don’t have clutches but rather shifting paddles and clearly they represent the apex of four wheel automotive racing technology. Again, riding a Zero is hallmarked by the removal of all excess and distilling the experience down to only the essentials, and clearly a clutch hasn’t made the cut.

Forth: One way that some people are introduced to electric cars is to acquire one for their second car. How does this apply to motorcycles? Should folks start out buying an electric motorcycle for their second or third bike?

DQ: I’d be thrilled for all second and third motorcycles to be Zeros, of course, but the reality is that more and more riders are opting to enter into, or return to riding aboard a Zero. Zero sponsored an amazing program the past two years through the Progressive International Motorcycle Shows that allowed for new riders, truly new and unlicensed ones, to have their first motorcycle experience on a Zero. Additionally, we have a large segment of our owners who do own multiple motorcycles similar to how you’ve described, as well. Inevitably, those riders tend to move their Zero closer to the front of the garage, and their previously most-ridden ICE bike tends to get ridden much less.

Forth: Can you take an e-motorcycle on a road trip yet? What does that look like? 

DQ: Absolutely, anywhere motorcycles can go. In fact, while we’ve been having Zero owners complete transcontinental rides and Cannonball Run-style rides for years, we’ve even seen a spike in Adventure riding milestones, as well. Last year a couple rode their Zero Motorcycles from Europe to the bottom of the African continent. Really, the only thing you can’t do on a Zero is wake up your neighbors when pulling in and out of your driveway.

Forth: What does the typical charging experience look like for e-motorcycles both around town and on trips? 

DQ: Every Zero can charge anywhere you can charge your cellphone, and just as how you begin your day with a fully charged cellphone, so too will your Zero be full and ready every time you swing a leg over. Also, most models are also Level 2 charging capable, as well. There are over 60,000 public EV charge stations in the United States and the vast majority of them (over 90%) are all Level 2. Additionally, a Level 2 charger operates off of the same voltage that large home appliances do, so adding the hardware to a garage can be a home project for the electrical-savvy, or as cheap as a couple hundred bucks for folks like myself. Perhaps the best way to describe the charging experience on a Zero would be; convenient. 

Images courtesy of Zero Motorcycles

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Joe Wachunas

Joe lives in Portland, Oregon, and works to promote electric and decarbonized buildings. He believes that electrifying everything, from transportation to homes, is the quickest path to an equitable, clean energy future. Joe and his family live in an all-electric home and drive an EV.

Joe Wachunas has 67 posts and counting. See all posts by Joe Wachunas