by Brian Robinson
With all the new electric cars running around, it seems like our MotorWeek staff is spending almost as much time draining batteries as they do emptying gas tanks. But our biker-in-residence, Brian Robinson, recently found some EV rides that are much more to his liking.
BRIAN ROBINSON: While the gas-powered motorcycle is not going away any time soon, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a few alternatives, especially one that’s a little more environmentally friendly. And, that’s what Zero is all about.
Santa Cruz, California based Zero Motorcycles has been around since 2006. And since then, they’ve come a long way, from their early designs that had more in common with mountain bikes than actual motorcycles. Their top-of-the-line Zero S and DS models are true motorcycles and just about ready for prime time. There are a few differences from a traditional motorcycle, like no clutch or shifter; but gauges look familiar, and there’s a conventional-looking fuel gauge that keeps you updated on remaining battery power.
With the optional 9-kWh Z-Force battery pack, range is a theoretical 114-miles, but 70 to 80 is more realistic. A smaller 6-kWh battery is also available, which cuts the range down to 76 miles and costs $2500 less. For the most part, switchgear is the same as a typical motorcycle, but there’s an Eco/sport button so you can choose whether you want full power or full range. Brakes are single disc front and rear, with a twin piston caliper up front and single piston in the rear.
When it comes to replenishing the battery, there’s an onboard charger, so you can plug in just about anywhere. It’ll take up to 9-hours if the battery’s completely drained, but for the impatient, you can cut that time in half by adding an additional charger.
The S and DS share most of their styling and for this year both get updated with new head light and turn signal assemblies, as well as revised body work for better cooling of all components which are all mounted in and around an all-aluminum black frame. Power gets to the rear wheel by quiet and maintenance free belt drive. The seat is almost flat, motocross style, but is plenty comfortable enough to max out the range. The dual-sport DS gets spoke wheels and off road-friendly tires, as well as longer travel for both the front forks and rear shock.
When it comes to riding, both bikes weigh in under 350-pounds, so they’re very nimble. Top speed is 88 miles-per-hour for the S, and 80 miles-per-hour for the DS.If you’re a bigger guy like me, you’ll probably prefer the DS, as it sits a little higher and the suspension is a little more plush. But both bikes are more fun then you’d expect. Just like an electric car, acceleration is immediate, and the bike has no problems getting up to speed in a hurry.
Prices for the S and DS are identical, starting at $11,495 for the ZF6, with its 6kWh battery pack and $13,995 for the ZF9 with 9kWh battery. Unfortunately, with those prices and the limited range, at this time, the Zero also has limited appeal. You either have to really want to go all-electric, or be a tech-savvy early adopter. Either way, lower maintenance costs and never having to buy gas are certainly advantages in Zero’s favor. If this is indeed the future of the motorcycle, I guess I’d be okay with it, but if I could get more power and more range, I’d be downright ecstatic. If nothing else, the ZERO S and DS are a wake-up call to the established motorcycle industry. EV bikes are here to stay!