Electric vs. Gas Supermoto Shootout

Suzuki DR-Z400SM or Zero FX; which one makes the better supermoto bike?

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Monumental! That’s what this is. MO’s first electric vs. gas, head-to-head supermoto comparison. A bare-knuckle brawl between the embedded establishment and the harbinger of an electrified future. Yep, this shootout is unique, but it’s also the proverbial tip of the iceberg. With the exponential rate at which electric motorcycle technology is improving, there’s a heap load more of this kind of comparison to come.

While we’ve ridden just about every consumer available electric motorcycle currently on the market (Brammo, Energica, Lightning, Zero) these have either been single bike reviews or a shootout pitting one electric against another (2013 Brammo Empulse R Vs Zero S). Only once have we compared an e-bike to an internal-combustion engine (ICE) motorcycle.

Gas vs. Electric Dual-Sport Shootout: Yamaha WR250R vs. Zero DS

This is, therefore, an historical report, to be regarded by future generations, living in a world of depleted fossil fuels, as laughable. But for us in the here and now, residing through this slow-grinding transitional period – from cheap dinosaur power and deficient battery proficiency to the demise of OPEC and the world domination of Duracell – these types of shootouts are about to become commonplace.

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The preparation of these two bikes for battle upon both the pavement and dirt of Adams Motorsports Park in Riverside, CA, could be construed as enough evidence to choose the winner of this bout. For the Suzuki DR-Z400SM, we removed the mirrors, taped the lights and blinkers, and stiffened the suspension. Cost of preparation: zero dollars. The FX, on the other hand, took a little more massaging both mechanically and financially.

About $3k worth of massaging, actually. The supermoto kit for the FX includes custom wire wheels with powdercoated Excel rims, all the necessary braking hardware, including the brake caliper adapter for the larger front rotor, and Conti Attack SM tires. “We also offer a kit with cast wheels (from a Zero S/SR) and all the previously mentioned hardware and tires for $1,500,” says Harlan Flagg, owner of Hollywood Electrics and the man responsible for outfitting the Zero FX in supermoto drag. The shock fitted to our bike adds another $700.

The Suzuki DR-Z400SM is an out-of-the-box supermoto while the Zero FX began life as a dual-purpose bike with 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels and a miniscule front brake. Both come outfitted with all the requisite streetable legalities.

The Suzuki DR-Z400SM is an out-of-the-box supermoto while the Zero FX began life as a dual-purpose bike with 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels and a miniscule front brake. Both come outfitted with all the requisite streetable legalities.

Having divulged the set-up disparity, let’s continue with retail pricing. This should allow those who are either disinterested in, or unaffected by, price to continue reading after finishing the next paragraph, while providing the cost/benefit bean counters with an early escape from the story.

2014 Electric vs. Gas Supermoto Shootout Scorecard
Category Suzuki DR-Z400SM Zero FX
Price 100% 0.0%
Weight 52.5% 100%
Engine 80.0% 70.0%
Transmission/Clutch 82.5% 100.0%
Handling 73.8% 100%
Brakes 77.5% 86.3%
Suspension 76.3% 81.3%
Technologies 0.0% 72.5%
Instruments 80.0% 80.0%
Ergonomics/Comfort 72.5% 77.5%
Appearance 90.0% 90.0%
Cool Factor 75.0% 77.5%
Grin Factor 70.0% 86.3%
Overall Score 73.8% 80.6%
Price and weight are scored based on objective metrics. Other scores are listed as a percentage of editors’ ratings in each category. The Engine category is double-weighted, so the Overall Score is not a total of the displayed percentages but, rather, a percentage of the weighted aggregate raw score.

At $11,990 for a 2014 Zero FX ZF5.7, plus $3k for the supermoto kit, you could buy two 2014 Suzuki DR-Z400SMs at $7189 a piece and still have $612 left over. Anyone still reading? Bueller…? For those who managed to stomach the sticker shock, your reward is not having to wait to the end of this shootout to know which bike wins.

“If money were no issue and I were looking for a supermoto toy, I’d pick the Zero,” says Richie Rich Editor, Troy Siahaan.

Even though the Zero received a goose egg in the Price category of our ScoreCard due to its extravagant cost, it still managed to out-point the Suzook by a sizable 6.61%. How? Well, the DR-Z matched the Zero’s zero with a zero of its own in the Technology category.

Where the FX (and all Zeros, for that matter) have a handy and cool smartphone app for tuning the bike’s performance, checking its performance statistics, contacting Zero’s motorcycle support web page, etc., the DR-Z’s got nothing. No ABS, no TC, no ride modes, no smart phone app, not even EFI – the damn thing’s fed with a carburetor for chrissake!

The Suzuki bested the Zero in the Engine category, and managed to tie the FX in a couple others, but Engine and Price were the only two categories the DR-Z were able to win. Had the Zero’s motor not overheated after three laps it would have won the engine category, because for those three laps it was easily the fastest bike on the track.

Zero’s smart phone app not only allows you control over its engine performance, it can also be mounted to act as an expanded instrument cluster providing range calculations, power levels, etc.

Zero’s smart phone app not only allows you control over its engine performance, it can also be mounted to act as an expanded instrument cluster providing range calculations, power levels, etc.

“When it was running optimally, the acceleration was out of this world,” says Siahaan. “Even when it’s hot, power is decent, just power application is slower than normal.”

It’s possible that if we backed off the amount of regenerative braking and/or reduced the torque output from maximum to 80% we may have prolonged the engine’s performance. So, although the Zero’s engine was punished in the ScoreCard, we cut it a little slack because in normal operation you don’t ride around with the throttle pinned everywhere you go.

This is what it looked like for the first three laps Troy and I rode together. The Zero was able to step away from the 398cc DR-Z as if the Suzuki had leprosy. Then the Zero’s motor would overheat, power would diminish and the ICE bike would catch and pass the electric bike. Classic hare-and-tortoise stuff.

This is what it looked like for the first three laps Troy and I rode together. The Zero was able to step away from the 398cc DR-Z as if the Suzuki had leprosy. Then the Zero’s motor would overheat, power would diminish and the ICE bike would catch and pass the electric bike. Classic hare-and-tortoise stuff.

Suzuki DR-Z400SM

“The DRZ is a wholly capable motorcycle, albeit in stock form it isn’t very exciting,” says Siahaan. “Luckily, the aftermarket is full of tips and tricks to get maximum performance out of one.

“If it were my bike,” Troy continues, “I’d immediately upgrade the brakes, install a quick-turn throttle, fit better tires, slap on a less restrictive exhaust, and jet the carb appropriately. I think these simple upgrades would be a good start for real performance riding that would provide dramatic results. Since our Zero was lightly modified (though nothing in the performance dept.), I’d be interested in lightly massaging our DRZ and having a rematch!”

Besides its lofty seat height (35.0 in.) the DR-Z400SM is a very unintimidating motorcycle. It’s enough motorcycle to perform commuter duties and weekend fun rides, and it’s also fun for a day at the track.

Besides its lofty seat height (35.0 in.) the DR-Z400SM is a very unintimidating motorcycle. It’s enough motorcycle to perform commuter duties and weekend fun rides, and it’s also fun for a day at the track.

Siahaan’s statement pretty much sums up the DR-Z SM, which has gone largely unchanged since its introduction in 2005. In its white/blue livery it’s certainly an attractive Suzuki (especially those blue anodized aluminum RK Excel rims). But although it’s substantially less than the Zero FX, the SM is a comparatively expensive 400cc motorcycle. Honda’s CB500X is $690 less costly, while its NC700X a mere $610 more expensive.

But, like Siahaan writes in his single bike review of the Suzuki SM, when it comes to out-of-box, street-legal supermotos, the DR-Z is the only game in town.

The DR-Z has a digital instrument cluster with twin tripmeters, a clock, timer and stopwatch functions. The Zero’s curb weight is 41 pounds lighter than the DR-Z, but the Suzuki’s CoG is lower in the chassis. Ask your grandpa to tell ya about carburetors.

The DR-Z has a digital instrument cluster with twin tripmeters, a clock, timer and stopwatch functions. The Zero’s curb weight is 41 pounds lighter than the DR-Z, but the Suzuki’s CoG is lower in the chassis. Ask your grandpa to tell ya about carburetors.

Like its DR-Z400S stablemate – the SM’s dual-purpose alter ego – we’d prefer it if both bikes were equipped with a six-speed transmission, instead of the five. “Southern California highways and their common 80-mph flow of traffic (when traffic is flowing) is a little much for the DR-Z. The engine is spinning quite fast to keep that pace which makes for a buzzy experience. At 65 mph and under, the single-cylinder engine thumps along at a tolerable cadence. A sixth cog in the DR-Z’s transmission would go a long way in making the DR-Z a better freeway machine,” we said in the 2012 review.

Zero FX ZF5.7

 With a claimed 44 hp at 3,700 rpm and 70 ft-lb of torque from Zero’s air-cooled, permanent-magnet, brushless motor, the FX has power enough to give 450s a run for their money. Yes, the kickstand drags way too early!


With a claimed 44 hp at 3,700 rpm and 70 ft-lb of torque from Zero’s air-cooled, permanent-magnet, brushless motor, the FX has power enough to give 450s a run for their money. Yes, the kickstand drags way too early!

As stated above, the cost of purchasing a Zero is prohibitive, but according to Harlan Flagg, business at his electric-only dealership is brisk. Harlan’s an enthusiast, fielding a team and competing in the first ever production electric motorcycle class at Pikes Peak last year (of which our Troy Siahaan was one of the team’s riders). However, Flagg isn’t solely responsible for Zero’s fortunes, and the OEM appears to be growing, so regardless of the bike’s price tag, people do see the advantage of owning an electric motorcycle and are buying enough to keep Zero in the black.

“Price aside, its suspension was a weak point, though it’s only a hindrance when pushing to the max,” says Siahaan.

061714-2014-zero-fx-SoCalSupermoto-Zero-0957

Hollywood Electric’s SuMo kit uses the stock FX front brake caliper to grip the much larger rotor, 313mm vs 240mm. The combination provides more stopping power than the stock front brake on the DR-Z.

A couple points of contention neither the ScoreCard nor our day at the track takes into consideration is charging time or range. According to Zero the ZF5.7 can travel approximately 70 city miles, 44 highway miles at 55 mph, and 30 highway miles at 70 mph. Charge time from empty to full from a regular 110-watt wall socket is nearly 8 hours via the FX’s 650-watt/hour onboard charger. Times drop to 3.3 hours with Zero’s accessory Quick 2X charger, while a CHAdeMO station (if you’re lucky to have one nearby) reduces charge time to 1.5 hours.

Comparatively, you can fill the DR-Z’s 2.6-gallon fuel tank in about a minute and get an average of 47 mpg, making its range approximately 125 miles.

On the other hand, there’s really no maintenance with the Zero; no oil changes, no valve adjustments, etc., just tire pressure and brakes, really. So there’s that to consider when it comes to long-term ownership.

When it comes to supermoto, especially the part about riding a bike with street tires in the dirt, the Zero makes a good beginner bike because there’s no shifting to worry about.

When it comes to supermoto, especially the part about riding a bike with street tires in the dirt, the Zero makes a good beginner bike because there’s no shifting to worry about.

When the price of technology deflates to the point of equalizing the MSRPs of electric and ICE motorcycles, we will have reached the peak of oil’s significance. Until that moment we are left weighing the advantages and disadvantages of electric vs. gas. But in this case, as a fun track day supermoto machine, we’re leaning on the side of the electric bike, despite its exorbitant initial investment.

Check our gallery for more photos of the Suzuki DR-Z400SM against the Zero FX

For the gearhead, the tinkerer, the garage mechanic looking for a new challenge, Siahaan adds this perspective: “The upgrade path for an ICE bike has already been traveled many times. With the Zero, and any other electric bike, for that matter, the possibilities are new, exciting and endless. Similar to the early days of gas engines, where pioneers were experimenting with different ways to make more power, these are the early days of electric propulsion, and the myriad of different tips and tricks to make one of these go faster, longer, is still in its infancy.”

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  • dustysquito .

    While I’ll always want an ICE bike for long trips (until extremely rapid charging stations are commonplace in my part of the US), I would love to try an electric bike for commuting. Those little maintenance items like valve adjustments, oil changes, etc really do add up both monetarily and as a time investment. Having a commuter bike that just needed tires and a chain to keep running smoothly would be the bomb.

    • DickRuble

      Yeah, a commuter bike with no maintenance would be great. Except we don’t know that, over a longer period of time, the electric bike would be so maintenance free as some would like to project. Batteries lose their charging capacity over time, electric motors do need maintenance from time to time…

  • Reid

    “…when it comes to out-of-box, street-legal supermotos, the DR-Z is the only game in town.”
    Um…
    http://www.motorcyclespecs.co.za/Gallery%20B/KTM%20690%20SMC-R%2012.jpg

    • denchung

      Unfortunately, KTM is not offering that in the U.S. as a 2014 model.

      • wfowade

        So get a 2013 and keep about 5K in your pocket. Or keep more if you find a clean lightly used 690.

  • bammerburn

    I own a 2014 Zero FX, and I LOVE the machine. I’ve had 12 other, gas-powered, motorcycles and the Zero trumps them all in fun factor, luxuriousness, and convenience. I have plans to get Harlan Flagg’s supermotard kit, and when that’s done, epicness will imbue even more further. Been letting my friends ride the thing and they’ve become electric proponents, one by one. Gas burners are old hat shit. The next few years should be very exciting for the electric motorcycle world.

    • Hans

      It will be a long time before it will replace my BRP.

      • dan hylla

        the problem always has been the range, why can’t you have replaceable batteries like a cordless drill. I realize that they are much bigger, but to me this is the one issue that has yet to be resolved.

  • schizuki

    “Had the Zero’s motor not overheated after three laps it would have won the engine category”

    So, despite costing twice as much and going Tango Uniform after three laps, it’s the superior bike.

    “This is, therefore, an historical report, to be regarded by future
    generations, living in a world of depleted fossil fuels, as laughable.”

    Replace “living in a world of depleted fossil fuels” with “looking back on an era that believed in ‘peak oil’, global warming and the always-just-around-the-corner viability of electric vehicles with religious zeal” and you’re right there.

  • schizuki

    “With the exponential rate at which electric motorcycle technology is improving”

    I do not think that word “exponential” means what you think it means.

    • DickRuble

      They’re mathematically challenged at this magazine, so go easy on them.

  • DickRuble

    To summarize; the electric bike costs twice as much, overheats after three laps, needs $3k worth of upgrades, will last you 30 miles between eight hour charging times. It is hands down the winner.

  • DickRuble

    Please do a story on the guy and his $800 alcohol burning bike mentioned in the video. What would happen if I put alcohol in the Suzuki?

  • DrLove

    One of the attraction of supermoto is backing it in to corners. How well does the Zero do in that regard? As easy as an ICE?

    Specifically, can you dial in enough engine brake to work with the rear brake to control wheel speed during slides or even mimic the function of a slipper clutch?