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Photo by Nick Childers

High-Speed Serenity: What I learned riding an electric motorcycle

I recently embarked on a short, electric-bike adventure to see how the new tech would perform compared to its gas-powered brethren. Along the way, I learned a few things that made me super excited about the future of riding.


By Carmen Gentile

Disclaimer: While I do like combining storytelling with riding, I’m no expert on evaluating the performance of any motorcycle, be it gas or electric, from a technical perspective — just whether it’s fun to ride. Spoiler Alert: It was a blast.


Most riders I told about my upcoming trip said it couldn’t be done.

Then again, their bias against electric motorcycles was apparent in their snitty responses and looks of disdain when I told them I was embarking on a short tour astride a new, plug-in bike.

So, I largely ignored their comments and decided to keep an open mind about going on an electric adventure.

My plans were pretty modest by moto-touring standards: a quick jaunt from Pittsburgh to Cleveland and back, just to see how the bike I had borrowed from Zero Motorcycles would handle on my short journey.

When the representative from Zero arrived at my home with the bike, I was quick to help unload it and hit the road.

“Just be careful with it at first — the throttle takes a little getting used to,” the rep warned me, noting that he had been caught off guard by its instantaneous acceleration the first time he rode the bike.

As soon as he left, I got on the bike, instantly forgetting his advice as I turned the key. The dashboard lit up, displaying the charge and range in miles, and then … nothing. Complete silence. The tell-tale “thrum” of a traditional motorcycle awakening from its slumber was nowhere to be heard.

But when I pulled back the throttle, the motorcycle lurched forward with a jolt as if propelled by some unseen force beyond my limited comprehension.

Truth be told, I know embarrassingly little about the intricacies of my own gas-powered motorcycle, especially considering how long I’ve been riding, and the far corners of the U.S. I’ve explored on it.

So this new tech based on a rechargeable battery and few moving parts confounded me like a baboon trying to figure out calculus.

When I pulled into the street, the bike emitted a futuristic hum reminiscent of Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder in “Star Wars.” The sage-colored, two-wheeled wonder felt as if it, too, hailed from a galaxy “far, far away.”

Merging into traffic, the bike’s hum increased in pitch until I hit the highway, where I pulled back the throttle and felt the buck of the bike’s surprising giddy-up, causing my head to snap back.

All sound from the bike faded away, leaving me in a serene state of high-speed zen — just me and the wind.

I rode for an hour along familiar roads until I found myself outside a long-shuttered steel facility I recalled from my youth. The machine shop my father owned used to do business with them.

But that was decades ago. And the finality of that long-gone era seemed all the more so while straddling the inevitable future of travel.

Photo by Carmen Gentile

Where the heck do you plug this thing in? 

The next morning I set out for Cleveland, a mere 130 miles and change that’s typically done in a couple of hours.

On the highway, I decided to see what the bike could really do. And at the risk of worrying Zero about my behavior aboard the expensive bike they graciously lent me (the model I rode costs almost $25,000), I can say the motorcycle has a lot of heart, well more than enough to elicit a hefty fine were I caught in a speed trap.

But all that speed comes at a price, draining the battery far quicker than when cruising at lesser speeds. Before I reached Youngstown, just 70 miles into my journey, I was already concerned about running out of juice.

I started searching for someplace to “fuel up,” but soon discovered the charge point I needed from my bike’s adapter was not readily available.

I did locate two nearby charging stations on the app I downloaded, but one was in a private parking garage at a hospital I couldn’t enter. The other was also behind a locked gate.

With this setback I learned the most important lesson of e-touring the hard way: Know ahead of time where you can charge. 

That I’d also decided to begin my journey on Easter Sunday probably wasn’t the wisest idea.

Fortunately, the bike came with a wall-plug charging cable, making any socket a power source. However, it takes a lot longer to charge that way, up to eight hours for a full battery. With the sun hanging low over Youngstown, I decided to bunk for the night at a hotel while my borrowed e-bike was gradually replenished.

E-bike wisdom accrued through operator error 

Refreshed and way behind schedule, I rolled up my charging cable and put it back in the bike’s spacious “trunk,” where the gas tank on a now “old-fashioned” motorcycle would be. In it, I also stored the book I was reading, some leftover Chinese takeout from last night, and a few other odds and ends.

This time, instead of racing towards Cleveland at high speed, I stayed the limit and noted how my charge was diminishing at a far slower rate.

I still needed another jolt before my final destination, pulling off the highway into the small town of Bedford, Ohio.

There, thanks to some advanced planning, I found a compatible charging station and plugged in the bike, which according to the dashboard, said it would take about an hour to recharge.

I spent the time walking around Bedford, peering into storefront windows until I stumbled across a Sikh temple housed in an old Masonic Lodge.  There I met David, one of the temple’s “gyani” (a Sikh scholar who leads the congregation in prayer). He invited me in for a meal and a chat with other members.

Photo by Carmen Gentile

“He’s the big priest, and I’m the little priest,” said David, laughing when introducing me to Parkash Singh, 77, and his 75-year-old wife, Kamla Devi, who have been married for 60 years.

They shared with me the secrets of their long, successful marriage, the details of which I neglected to write down in my haste to get back on the road.

From there, it was a short jaunt to Cleveland, where I celebrated my arrival by powering up again at a charging station outside Whole Foods.

The “short trip” that typically takes the length of an average movie lasted more than 25 hours.

Slow down. Get smarter. Go faster. 

The following day, I was determined to make better time by going slower and meticulously plotting my charges along the route.

Leaving Cleveland, I kept to the speed limit, reaching Bedford some 25 miles away with plenty left on the battery. After a short charge, I set out for Youngstown again, this time finding a charging point I could access. I waited less than an hour waiting for the battery to “top off.”

Photo by Nick Childers

From there, it was a 70-mile ride back to Pittsburgh. I kept a close eye on my speed and noted the bike’s ample charge as I approached the city limit, completing my return leg in just over four hours.

To celebrate my quicker return, I opened the throttle one last time for a battery-draining burst of speed.

Nearing home, even the roaring wind was no match for my full-throated “woo-hoo!”

Photo by Carmen Gentile


Carmen Gentile

Postindustrial founder Carmen Gentile has worked for some of the world’s leading publications and news outlets, including The New York Times, USA TODAY, CBS News, and others. His book, “Blindsided by the Taliban,” documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan. Reach him at

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