This past summer, I got to spend a couple of weeks carving up the Sierra Nevada mountains of California on a 2015 Ducati Monster 1200 S. Previously, I’d also had the chance to spend some time with the Zero SR electric bike. I was able to get a good feel for the performance capabilities and inherent differences of the two machines, and thus the stage was set for an unlikely comparison.
Why compare the powerful, exclusive, and gas-powered Ducati to the electron-fueled Zero? Well, the two have more in common than you might think. To start with, both bikes fall into the popular naked bike category, a personal favorite of mine. They’re also in a similar price bracket: The Zero’s MSRP starts at $15,995, but that price quickly starts to climb if you check some option boxes. Fully-loaded, the 2016 Zero SR comes in at over $21,000.
The Monster 1200 S also starts at an MSRP of $15,995, though two other Monster 1200s are also available: the base, non-S model stickers for $13,695 and the top-of-the-line R for $18,695. As you can see, the financials on the Monster 1200 S actually stack up pretty well to the Zero SR.
Aside from price and category, though, the two machines are extremely different. Riding the Monster is a familiar, albeit unusually thrilling experience for a seasoned motorcyclist. The bright red machine boasts blingy Öhlins suspension, superbike-spec Brembo monoblock brake calipers, a full color TFT display (that’s impossible to read in direct sunlight, by the way), and big, sticky Pirelli tires. Power wheelies are just a twist of the wrist away in first and second gear. The gold suspension bits soak up bumps with a firm, yet controlled ride, the Brembos reign in speed with authority, and that Italian rubber grips the pavement like that squirrel from Ice Age holds onto an acorn. In short, it’s a blast. The Ducati represents everything a motorcycle should be.
The Zero, on the other hand, is something quite unique. Being somewhat old-school in my thinking, I expected, and almost wanted, to hate the Zero. I figured it would feel like an appliance and not a motorcycle; I thought it would be slow and boring. I was wrong. The SR is a motorcycle in every sense of the word — crack open the throttle, and you’re propelled forward by a continuous wave of torque unlike anything available from an internal combustion engine. There are no peaks or troughs in the Z-Force motor’s power curve. Throttle response is perfect. The SR reacts as fast as the rider thinks, and there are no surprises. It’s a feeling of total control that’s only possible with an electric motor.
Compared to the Monster, the SR isn’t as fast, the brakes aren’t as good, and the suspension isn’t as sexy. But, it doesn’t run on gasoline either. On paper, things are closer than you might think: Horsepower? 145 to 67 in favor of the Duc. Torque? That goes to the Zero at 106 to 92 foot-pounds. Weight? The SR weighs 43 pounds less than the Monster with a full tank of gas (461 to 414). Top speed? The Italian has a 51-mile per hour edge here — 153 to 102.
In the end, these individual stats are relatively meaningless. What’s important is that an electric bike is nipping at the heels of a similarly priced gasoline powered motorcycle from the same category and a far more established company. The experience of riding the two is very different, but they are both insanely fun. Is it annoying that recharging the Zero takes several hours? Yes. Is the Monster worse for the environment? Definitely. Is one better than the other? Not even remotely.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.