Sabrina phoned me last weekend, and she sounded pretty harried. “I’ll be near your place later tonight,” she said. “Will you be around for, say, a couple of hours?”
Sabrina used to write for us here at Canada Moto Guide, and she once told us about her ride home from Toronto to Montreal on a Yamaha Super Tenere. That was a pretty straightforward journey, but this time, she’d bitten off a bigger challenge: a ride from Toronto to Montreal, and back again, on a Zero electric motorcycle.
The 2020 SR/F is Zero’s flagship motorcycle, with a more powerful motor and potentially faster charging time. It lists in Canada for $24,890 with a 3.0 kW charger, or $27,590 with the faster 6.0 kW charger. Its numbers are impressive, with 140 lbs.-ft. of torque and 110 horsepower and a top speed of 200 km/h. Sabrina didn’t sound impressed, though.
“I’m on a road trip on an electric motorcycle and I’ll need to plug in near you to recharge,” she explained. “And if I ever say the words ‘road trip’ and ‘electric motorcycle’ again in the same sentence, just punch me in the face.”
When she finally called from the charge point, plugged in at the Best Western near my home in Cobourg, it was 9 pm. She’d been travelling since 8.30 that morning. The 550 km ride should normally take about six hours with a stop for gas and lunch, but on her way to Montreal it had taken her 17 hours. This return trip was on schedule for about 16 hours, but the poor woman seemed almost delirious. She was grateful for my offer to sleep on the sofa and head home the next morning.
She was riding the Zero SR/F Premium, which claims to charge from empty to full in 90 minutes at a Level 2 fast charger. She’d found it actually took about two hours. It also claims a range in the city of 259 km, where it benefits from stop-and-go traffic to be able to regenerate power from its brakes. At a steady cruising speed of 90 km/h, however, that range drops to a claimed 159 km, and at 115 km/h, it drops further to 132 km.
In other words, if you’re travelling on the main highway at the average speed of other traffic, you’ll ride for about an hour, then stop for about two hours to charge. On that initial ride to Montreal, Sabrina had set the cruise control at 100 km/h and she still had to stop four times to recharge.
She found pretty quickly that riding wasn’t the challenge: it was the recharging. Headed to Montreal, she’d ridden through a thunderstorm, then had to stop for the first charge at Cobourg, doubling back about 15 km to find a Level 2 charge point. She plugged in and went to a coffee shop, but the coffee was finished within the hour and she still had another hour to kick her heels. The storm passed over, and when she eventually set off again, she caught up to it and was soaked a second time.
At the next charge point, there was no friendly coffee shop. It was a public park with no facilities, and wet. She sat at a picnic table with her laptop and shivered while the bike refuelled. By the time she reached the final charging point, just an hour from her parents’ home in Montreal, she was so fed up and dejected that her dad drove out to meet her with warm, dry clothes. She arrived after midnight and spent the next two days dreading the ride home.
Don’t take my word for it – you can read Sabrina’s account of the journey here.
The thing is, electric motorcycles are very clearly limited to city use. They’re bound by their batteries, and because they’re bikes, the batteries can only be a maximum size. With electric cars, you can just stuff more batteries in to increase the range, but that’s not physically possible with a motorcycle. You can also sit inside them for shelter while they’re charging, if you wish.
When Costa rode the Harley-Davidson Livewire last month, he was impressed at its ease of recharging at a Level 3 charging station, which is considerably more powerful (and more expensive to install) than a Level 2. But Costa lives in Quebec, which has a rapidly expanding network of Level 3 charging stations. More than that, he lives in Montreal, so much of his local riding is urban. For him, such a motorcycle can make sense.
On a road trip, however, it just doesn’t make any sense. The Zero’s power and agility was wasted with its cruise control set at 100 km/h. On the ride back, Sabrina took the country roads and improved her range by riding even more slowly. She would have been happier on almost any other motorcycle.
It was a hard-learned lesson, but somebody had to do it. An electric bike is great fun to ride with its ludicrous power and smooth delivery, and let’s be honest – many people never go much farther on their motorcycles than the coffee shop on the other side of town. But for more serious riders, even the best electric bikes have their limitations. I’m sure those limits will be stretched as battery development and power density continues to improve, and this will happen sooner rather than later, but they’re not there yet.