Electric Motorcycle of the Year Winner: Zero R Platform

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One-hundred and six pound-feet of torque is an addictive drug if you can get your hands on it, and it’s even better when it’s available to you almost instantly. Thankfully for us this dream has been a reality since 2014, in the form of the Zero SR. It accelerates like few other bikes can thanks to its 660-amp motor controller and higher-temp magnets. Couple that with new-for-2015 bits like Showa suspension, Pirelli tires, and Bosch ABS, and you have the makings for our Best Electric Motorcycle of 2015.

The electric landscape has been relatively quiet over the past 366 days (leap year, remember?), but when it came time to decide on our favorite electric for 2016, we couldn’t ignore the fact that Zero has made it possible to enjoy 106 lb-ft in another form: the Zero DSR. Basically the SR – 660-amp controller and all – with longer-travel suspension, knobby-ish tires and the new IPM (Internal Permanent Magnet) motor, the DSR brings all the fun of the SR to those wanting to explore some mild backroads. So what’s better than one Zero R model? Two, of course!

We’re glad that while Zero is keeping its focus on commuters, the company also understands there are some of us (like the MO staff) who crave torque and acceleration above and beyond what the standard S and DS models offer. For catering to those electric speed junkies out there with the R platform, we’re happy to give Zero the Best Electric Motorcycle award for 2016.

Now, about stuffing that R motor in an FX…

Honorable Mention: Victory Empulse TT

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We won’t deny that the Victory Empulse TT is a better looking bike than the Zero and has arguably better parts like Brembo brakes and fully adjustable Marzocchi/Sachs suspension. Its liquid-cooled motor is less prone to overheating (which is almost a moot point now with Zero’s IPM motor), and it could even rip up a twisty stretch of road, or a racetrack, with more confidence than a Zero thanks to its sportier stance, higher ground clearance, better suspension, and 160-series rear tire instead of the 180 seen before. Best of all, with Polaris backing, the Empulse TT represents the first “mass-produced” electric with the support of a major OEM.

In fact, when E-i-C Duke rode the bike at High Plains Raceway in Colorado, he noted how Alex Hultgren, Victory’s new director of marketing, views the Empulse TT as one of many models that will start to redefine the Victory brand. This gives us hope for the electric future. The Victory Empulse TT deserves an Honorable Mention in the electric category partly because of its sporting chops, but also because of the legitimacy Victory, and Polaris by extension, is giving to electrics. It’s encouraging to see a major player step up to the plate. Now let’s hope it can deliver a home run.

2016 Victory Empulse TT Second Ride Review + Video

However, as sporty and fun as the Victory is, there were a few drawbacks that edged the Zero R platform above the Victory. We’ve documented these issues before, but it’s worth mentioning again. First, the six-speed gearbox, while more refined than the initial ’box seen on Brammos, doesn’t quite make sense. We believe there are three or four gears too many, which means there’s added weight for little benefit. Having to row through gears slightly takes away from the simplicity of riding, say, a single-speed Zero. Next comes the power. At a claimed 61 lb-ft, it doesn’t quite stack up to the Hayabusa-beating 106 lb-ft from the Zero R bikes. Still, that doesn’t mean the Empulse TT won’t scoot along at a rapid pace. But maybe the biggest nail in the coffin is the Victory’s price: $20,000. Kinda makes the Zero, any Zero, seem like a bargain, really.

  • blueson2wheels

    I think we’re already seeing price reductions for the Victory Empulse. Not surprising, no way it was going to sell more than a few units at $20,000. Zero keeps lowering their prices while upping their game. SR v. Empulse might be a closer call, but if you’re just looking for a commuter, Zero has by far the best thing going with the S.

  • Buzz

    Victory needs to ditch the tranny (am I allowed to say that these days without offending some snowflake?) and the chain drive.

    • Kenneth

      I have to believe they are hard at work on a replacement for that nonsensical 6-speed.

  • benswing

    Zero has improved their lineup in meaningful ways every year. Just rode my Zero SR across the country (again) and never felt fatigued at the end of the day even after 500+ miles. Looking forward to see what they have in store for 2017!

    Hope Victory will make some improvements to the Empulse this year. Kicking the tranny would be a great start!

  • Cecil-T

    The Victory Empulse is the sane bike that was designed by Brammo in 2010, and a couple years ago was selling for $8k before the Polaris buyout. They are nowhere near Zero in terms of motor or battery development, are a lot heavier, and needlessly have complexities like liquid cooling and a gearbox. To even compare the Empulse to a Zero is to be misinformed.

  • Jim Notman

    As someone who mainly commutes my Zero is the perfect motorcycle. It is fun, quiet and cost very little to operate. With all the advances in batteries and charging I am excited for the future of electric motorcycles.

  • Aaron Jackson

    Zero is the clear winner! And really Zero stands alone. If the empulse is the runner up, then we are looking at completely different products. One is refined and ready for all the real world riding once you pair it with fast charging. The other is a prototype toy, something to show off to friends but mainly stays in the garage. It also needs to lose that useless “tranny”.

  • Alex Furlong

    I love my Zero, but the Empulse has a few tricks up its sleeve. For starters, fast charger capability out of the box. Having gone through a pretty painful process to get the ability to hook up to a fast charger on my Zero, I am slightly jealous of the integrated capability of the Brammo. And the windscreen.

    On the other hand… I can just plug my Zero into the wall while the Brammo needs an electrician to come wire up your house something fierce. And the Brammo weighs more, has a smaller battery and less torque. So… yeah, I’m good with my decision.

  • Steven Day

    I’m glad that motorcycle.com agrees. There’s no competition with Zero. A slower, more complicated, more maintenance, shorter range, more expensive, Victory, or Italian bikes that cost twice as much, if you can get along of them. Zero’s prices drop every year, and their bikes go further and faster!