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Why I Went Back to ICE from Electric Motorcycles

Sorry, I Have Gas Again

Novelty coffee mug on motorcycle fuel tank
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Before I tell my gas story, I want to clarify that this article is not about my flatulence. My entire family knows I would never apologize for farting, so it should be obvious that this is about motorcycle fuel.

For several years, I have alleged that “I will never return to gas motorcycles’ after purchasing a Sur Ron Light Bee, then a Cake Kalk& (my BIG mistake), and finally a Zero DSR. Has anything changed, or am I sticking to that story? Read on to find out.

My History with ICE Motorcycles & Electric Bikes

I fell in love with electric motorcycles after a lifetime of ICE bikes I later referred to as “smoker bikes” which some of my overly sensitive friends found offensive. The lack of noise, the absence of gasoline aroma, no heat, no vibration, and little to no maintenance made my rides almost magical.

Some compare riding an electric motorcycle akin to riding on a magic carpet. As I stated in my Zero DSR review, I have no experience riding on a magic carpet, but you get it. Simply coming home after a ride and plugging in my Zero (whom I named Zeus) was wonderful. The next day, I’d have a ‘full tank’ ready to go for mere pennies. And when I witnessed SF Bay Area gas prices hitting seven bucks a gallon, I smirked an evil grin knowing just how smart I was in my decision.

Since I bought my DSR with the Charge Tank option, I could ‘fill up’ at any level 2 EVSE (electric vehicle (EV) charging stations), which normally took me between 40 to 80 minutes to juice up since I never ran my bike down to zero. I often rolled my eyes when someone would ask me how long it takes to fill up from 0 to 100%.

My reply: “Hey, how often do you run your car/bike/truck/whatever down past the yellow low fuel warning light until you are completely out of gas, dude?!” They usually got the point.

I bought a Tesla Tap to charge at Tesla Destination Chargers and had all of the EV apps like PlugShare and others on my phone. Installed almost all of the apps for EVSE charge stations too; ChargePoint, EVGo, Electrify America, etc. I used ABRP (A Better Route Planner) when I was going on longer journeys with Zeus.

In the beginning, I enjoyed the new planning required to take longer trips accounting for charging. It made my journeys more relaxing and I took routes I never did with smoker bikes since EVSE stations are in non-traditional fill-up spots often in areas where you’d never expect to see one.

After riding Zeus for a year and a half and amassing thousands of miles, I wanted more range and faster charge times on the road. Two of my virtual friends are YouTubers—moderately famous in the EV bike world, and nowhere close to getting any Emmys, Oscars, or other awards. Because of their notoriety, one developed a relationship with Energica, and the other with Zero. When I expressed my desire for more range, better suspension, etc. both separately told me: ‘hang tight, something is coming out soon which I think you’ll like.’

New EV Possibilities in the Motorcycle World

They were both right—even though they didn’t tell me about the upcoming bikes due to NDAs.

The Energica Experia Dual Sport

Energica was first, when they announced the release of the Experia dual sport EV motorcycle. Its higher capacity battery and level 3 DC to DC fast charging piqued my interest.

What put me off was the level 2 charging rate; 3.1kW rather than 6.3. You may ask me why I’d be concerned about the slower level 2 charging level when the bike has faster DC to DC-charging. Here in California, there are DC to DC chargers, but not nearly as many as level 2 AC to DC like ChargePoint systems.

After writing to Energica, the local dealer explained the size and heat of the 6.2kW charger would not work in the new bike’s spacing combined with the 24kW DC to DC level 3 charger. I have not verified this, but there are reports that the Energica tops out a 20kW charging and has trouble in hot weather. All teething pains, if true, and I’m sure they will rectify those issues if they are valid. At the time of writing, the Experia is on preorder only.

The Zero DSR/X

More recently Zero released the new DSR/X with its largest battery capacity to date; its 17.3kW battery pack. Level 2 J1772 chargers are rare for levels above 6.3kWs. So even though I could buy an extra charger to add more juice, the reality is not many J plugs offer high levels of output.

Yes, that will change—and with Biden’s Build Back Better plan, more chargers are slated to be added. But what type and what level of charging has yet to be announced.

One of the issues I had with my DSR is the complete hassle it was to adjust the preload on the rear shock. After years at the track, I became a real stickler about several things—suspension, tire pressure, and brakes among them. It was good to see Zero change that in the new DSR/X using a hand adjustable wheel to adjust preload rather than the horrid two-nut adjustment system under the fragile finned controller.

But highway range at a sustained 70 MPH is listed at 85 miles, not a ton more than my DSR’s 70 miles. With both the Zero and the Energica, a percentage of the power is reserved for “Limp Mode” to protect the battery cells. That means when the charge drops to a certain level (5-15%) the bike reduces power to the motor.

In those cases, if I am traveling on the freeway or anywhere (like the coast) where I’m zooming along at 70+ MPH, the bike will reduce speed to approximately 45 MPH. So the rated highway range on both the Zero and Energica is a bit misleading. Sure it may get 85 or 70 miles, but not 100% of those listed miles at highway speeds.

A Modern Comparison Between Electric & ICE Motorcycles

I’m currently reviewing a 2022 Ducati Multistrada V4S Sport for webBikeWorld, so I took this opportunity to compare the pricing of all three bikes—along with the features each included:

Product page image for Energica Experia
Image Via: Energica

 

Product page for Zero DSR/X
Image Via: Zero

 

Product page for Ducati Multistrada V4S
Image Via: Ducati

Dollars & Sense: A Cost Comparison

In reality, all three of the above bikes are within 10-12% of each other’s pricing. California and the Feds offer an EV rebate, which would lower the cost of the Energica and the Zero.

Of course, there are ongoing cost savings with an EV bike over smokers. No gas, oil, filters, etc., and that makes perfect sense, as I experienced myself owning the DSR. But all vehicles are depreciating assets, pure and simple. The MS V4S requires a major valve adjustment at 36,000 miles and an oil/filter change at 9,300 miles. I adjust and lube my own chain, and if it won’t void the warranty, I’ll change my own oil and filter too.

When I was 10 my father made me write down every penny I spent in a week using a simple spiral notepad and an old pencil. At the end of the week, we sat down and I was shocked that most of my money went to Coca-Cola and bubble gum—Bazooka brand, to be exact. That habit has stayed with me into adulthood, and I know every penny I spend on anything recreational, which for me means motorcycles.

I view smoker bikes/cars like I view the blade shavers business model. The R&D necessary to design/build/manufacture/market the shaver is money made back on blades. Same with smoker bikes—service/parts/accessories are where the real profit resides.

EV bikes don’t require those same ‘blades’ over their lifetime, so they are more expensive up front. It makes perfect sense. Still don’t get it? Own one of those ink-based color printers? If you don’t get it by now, never mind.

So why did I go back to a smoker bike?

It All Comes Down to Features

The features on the Multistrada eclipse both Energica and Zero, plain and simple. Take the front and rear-facing radar. The rear radar illuminates the corresponding side mirror when something is in the blind spot. And it accounts for how fast the vehicle is entering the blind spot!

The forward-facing radar allows for adaptive cruise control. The suspension contains Ducati’s  Skyhook suspension system. Without going into tons of detail and spoiling my upcoming review, the rider can adjust the suspension electronically using a simple joystick! The only real wrench needed is if I wish to adjust the fork’s preload on the top of the right fork leg.

The rider and passenger seats are heated, as are the handgrips. The rider’s seat is adjustable for height while the passenger seat is adjustable for front-to-back placement. Keyless ignition is standard.

“BFD Mark, are you that much of a Princess that you NEED keyless ignition?!” Ever get your gloves on, sit on your steed, and THEN remember the key is in your frigging pocket? Nuff said…

Forget your key? Use your PIN code to start the bike. There are so many small and well-thought-out features on the MS V4S that the EV bikes don’t currently have. You can read about all of them in my upcoming review. I’m old enough to remember when motorcycles, especially dirt bikes, only had kickstarts, so this stuff is impressive to me.

When Yamaha came out with an electric start on their DT125 model, people all whined about it, saying “What are those buyers, such sissies, that they can’t manage to kick start their own friggin bikes?” Gosh, how times have changed. Humans hate things that are new but are quick to forget how wrong they were at the time. Motorcyclists are conservative, yet love to think we are rebels.

Would I Go Back to EV Bikes in the Future?

So yes, I have gas again and I’m neither bloated, uncomfortable, or sad. Would I consider going back to EV two wheels again? In a heartbeat, but I’d insist on two factors:

  • The charging infrastructure has matured
  • The features I now love on the MS V4S are incorporated in new EV bikes

One of my favorite rides where I live is along the coast of California. Currently, there are few or no EV charging stations north or south of where I live along Coast Highway. Since EVSE stations are unmanned, someone can leave their car plugged in long after it’s charged. Many Level 2 stations are not near any amenities like restrooms or food. I figured out that carrying food and water along with a Cliq chair in my top box made my charging life more comfortable. And I can always find a place to pee…

So many J1772 chargers I’ve encountered are out of service, shared power (3.1kW or less), or broken. Some establishments that have Tesla Destination chargers (which were never out of service in my experience), only allow guests to utilize those chargers. Even though these two don’t test two-wheeled EVs, their experience with the new Rivian illustrates my real-world experience using non-Tesla charging stations. I freed up 4 gigs of space on my phone by deleting all of the EV apps!

Now as I ride, I giggle as I pass EVSE charge stations where I used to stop to charge up Zeus. One of my complaints about the MS V4S is the short mileage compared to other bikes in its class; around 170 miles. I laughed out loud when I read that, since compared to my DSR the MS V4S is a freaking camel!

I am a bit worried that I am back to supporting the petroleum industry and adding pollution to the atmosphere. Yet not worried enough to have not gone back to gas.

My Final Thoughts on ICE vs EV Motorcycles

Pure and simple, I ride for pleasure—be that on or off-road. I will miss the silence, the lack of liquid fuel smell, no vibration, and no heat. Life is about compromise, but the one I chose makes up for those I’m leaving behind.

I will keep my fingers crossed that EV two-wheelers can be developed to accommodate battery packs with a capacity large enough to extend highway range to equal smoker bikes or charging technology that improves charging speeds. New battery chemistry may resolve both of these issues.

Since motorcycles have limited space to wedge batteries into the frame, I’m not as optimistic as I once was. And aerodynamics plays a huge role in range as speed increases.

Since I don’t have an unlimited amount of time left in my life to enjoy riding (I’m no longer 30), I don’t want to wait until that day happens. And I certainly don’t want to think “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” by not enjoying the riding time I have left waiting for the tech and infrastructure to develop and mature. But when it does, I will return to the EV world.

To those who say or think “Well I could have told you that, Mark—I’m so smart and know that EV tech is not there yet.” Good for you. Glad you’re always right. I’ve broken up with plenty of girlfriends who felt they were always right. My view is those who try something in a historically changing time are those who help it develop.

The Ducati and I started dating seriously on September 17th, 2022.

Author standing next to 2022 Ducati Multistrada V4S
One guess as to why I named her Joy.

 

Close-up of 2022 Ducati Multistrada V4S

It had been 15 years since I fueled up a motorcycle. Wild! My pals say I look confused. I think I was!

Author fueling up Ducati Multistrada V4S