Growing up in rural Minnesota, the sound “BRRAAAPPP” functioned for many linguistic needs. It served as a friendly greeting, open question, and when used in stories, onomatopoeia for small displacement engines like snowmobiles, quads, and dirtbikes.
To me, the sound is most synonymous with motorcycles. To this day, when talking about riding bikes, I instinctively do two things: hold out my hand as if it is on an air throttle, and then loudly make the “BRAP” sound (even my fingers intuitively type it in all caps).
Instilled at a young age, the sound brings me back to the good times we had out on the trails. So, somewhat naturally, I was leery of electric motorcycles. Not because I don’t see the value of electric vehicles on a broader scale. I fully understand the necessity for us, collectively, to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. That’s a no-brainer. Instead, I was skeptical if they would feel the same as real bikes.
My internal thought experiment went something like this: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound? If a motorcycle accelerates and no one hears it, is it a real motorcycle? You get the point.
But I’m not one to turn down a rad opportunity, so when given a chance to test ride a Zero DSR, the answer was an easy “yes.” Curiosity always wins in my book.
The bikes arrived on an otherwise unmemorable Tuesday afternoon and it took all of thirty seconds for Sam, my roommate and fellow motorcyclist, to get on one. Sam, an ex-American Ninja Warrior and all-around weird guy, disappeared. No, seriously, I blinked and he was gone.
Gil, another roommate who’s also weird but a bit more pragmatic than Sam, looked at me and laughed. “Damn, those bikes are fast!” That was my first impression too. You don’t need a flash of light or wall of smoke to do magic. Just grab an electric motorcycle and you’re set.
Then it was my turn. The DSR weighs upwards of 400 pounds, doesn’t have a clutch, and other than a very light hum, doesn’t make a sound. And as I quickly learned, they can accelerate from zero to crazy-fast speed faster than any vehicle I’ve ever ridden.
We wove around our neighborhood for fifteen minutes, getting a feel for their handle and power. But there is only so much you can do on city streets, with stoplights and traffic.
The following morning we got up early, slammed a bowl of cereal, and threw on our helmets. It was time to ride. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge before 6 a.m. and going the opposite direction of traffic, headed for the windy and mostly empty roads of the Marin Headlands. There, we would be able to open these bikes up and get a much better feel for how they handled tight turns, bigger hills, and how they felt for long rides.
Hawk Hill, an iconic landmark for tourists and morning bicyclists alike, was our first route. Compared to many larger, commuter bikes, the DSR’s are easy to lean over, making them much more playful. We rode a few laps, took a few photos, and continued on, down the backside of the hill. We got lucky on the weather, with clear skies and no fog.
For an hour we rode a maze of paved roads around the headlands, gradually pushing the pace and the power of the bikes. One of my initial concerns with electric motorcycles—or electric anything for that matter—is the range. But after a good hour and a half of riding, we still had more than half our battery left. Needing to get to work before it got too late, we opted for one last loop—a lap up Highway 1 and back.
This windy, shoreline ride is world-renowned for its scenic vistas and impressive civil engineering. Corners are tight and frequent—in most cars 30 mph is often an uncomfortable speed. In short, it’s a perfect road for motorcycles, especially early in the morning with very little traffic.
Sam and I didn’t stop to talk for the next twenty-plus minutes. We just rode, leapfrogging back and forth, in awe of the dexterity and raw speed of these bikes. Nearing Stinson Beach I caught up to Sam and threw up a high five. It didn’t take much to communicate how we both felt: These Zero electric bikes at first felt a bit like toys, but the more we rode them, they transitioned into tools (and capable ones at that).
In 30 minutes we were back at the house, after crossing the bridge and working our way through traffic. We plugged in both bikes and headed inside to change, brainstorming where we’d be heading out on our next ride.
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