Did you see the episode of South Park last fall that skewered riders of loud motorcycles? The characters all rode around voicing engine noises, (suspiciously V-twin sounding engine noises like “bra-bla-bla-blah-ba-brah-bla”), to attract attention to themselves. Now I’m not a big fan of South Park, but I have to admit, it was a knee-slapper.
Fast-forward to Daytona Beach, Florida, in February, when I found myself astride a noiseless Zero S electric motorcycle, surrounded by real-life versions of the obnoxious South Park characters. I couldn’t resist; I had to make some “bra-blah-ba-bra-bla” noises to myself. Truth be told, the Zero is not silent as a mouse. It does produce a whirring noise when accelerating, and you hear some chain clatter. But other than that, you have only the wind in your face to create any notable sound.
As it’s neither a cruiser nor a tourer, one may ask, “Why is this ‘motorcycle’ in RoadBike, anyway?” Well, we here on staff are open to all kinds of motorcycling, and it’s not uncommon to see a naked standard mixed in with the cruisers in the parking lot. And in this time of trying to be green in a bad economy, I was interested in showing a possible future technology. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see an all-electric cruiser or a hybrid tourer in the not-so-distant future. As for me, after experiencing the Zero ride for myself, I can’t wait.
Zero Motorcycles has an interesting lineup for 2010: the Zero S (street) and DS (dual-sport) are street-legal motorcycles. The primary difference is that the S utilizes full street-spec tires and slightly lower suspension and seat height, while the DS, with its more aggressive treads and longer suspension travel, would be great for someone who lives down a dirt road or has a gravel driveway. Zero also offers the nonstreet-legal X and MX for you dirt-fun enthusiasts. But I spent most of my time on the S, and we’ll concern ourselves with the street-legal models here.
Zero has enhanced the performance of its street-legal models for higher top speeds and greater acceleration compared to its 2009 models. The S and DS have a new Z-Force air induction system, which creates more horsepower from lighter and more compact motors by increasing the airflow through the motor. The battery uses lightweight lithium ion technology, and the bikes also have a new throttle that provides excellent control.
All 2010 Zero motorcycles are powered by new power pack technology with more precise cell monitoring. The result of all this technology, Zero claims, is a longer power pack life, more power, greater acceleration off the line, and better handling. New seat configurations are also an option for the 2010 Zero S and DS. A special narrow-and-long seat, designed by Corbin, provides more comfort, and for those who are “seat-height challenged,” there’s now a Corbin low seat option.
The Zero is built on a twin-spar, aircraft-grade-alloy frame. Even the sidestand is aluminum. The faux fuel tank houses electronics and power controls, and the ignition lock is built into the top. Most of the components are lightweight plastic, aluminum, or carbon fiber, which all makes sense, because a lighter load will extend the range of where the electric motor and on-board battery can take you. At a mere 270 pounds, the Zero S has a range of up to 50 miles and a GPS-verified top speed of 67 mph. I wondered if two differently weighted
loads would lead to different mileage ranges, and technically the answer is yes, but in reality the difference would be negligible.
I found the power output to be quick, and the Zero handled city streets and hills with exhilaration and efficiency. I pinned the throttle on a long uphill bridge and the Zero didn’t fade; it pulled strong all the way up. However, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help thinking, “There goes a couple miles of overall range.” If you do find yourself dipping far into the “reserve” part of the “gas” tank on a Zero, there is a limp-home mode that will limit output to conserve power to get you to your destination and the nearest 110V outlet. But I never found my Zero waning on power even when my dashboard-mounted warning light was flashing. By the way, in an ironic twist, the low power warning light is a flashing LCD gas gauge icon.
The motor is governed by the amount of energy allowed to the motor. The Zero comes with gearing that is optimal for off-the-line acceleration, yet maintains battery efficiency. The top speed could be higher with changes to the gearing or power input, but, of course, battery life would suffer. The best advice I received during my demo ride was this: for optimum range, you should ride the Zero as if it were a gas-powered motorcycle and your fuel warning light just came on. There’s something about that glowing gas pump on the gauge face that makes my right wrist twist more gingerly; every action is taken smoother and slower in the hopes that I can nurse the bike to the next gas station. It makes sense that maximum battery life would be achieved the same way.
Recharge time is said to be less than four hours; just plug the Zero’s charging cord into any standard 110V or 220V outlet. Within that 50-mile range, a Zero makes great sense for commuting. It would probably work for my 42-mile (each way) commute, as long as I recharged at the office before I rode home. A long, unladen (except for the operator) ride like that seems do-able, and I’m awaiting a Zero demonstrator for more real-world testing.
The street-legal supermotard S model is great fun to ride. Tall, narrow, and nimble, it maneuvers easily. Ease of riding is enhanced by means of the one-speed gearing; there’s no clutch or shift lever to manipulate. However, it has a somewhat short wheelbase and small diameter wheels (16″ for both on the S and the DS has a 17″ front), so the bike, at times, feels twitchy. But I think it’s a hoot to ride, and never needing to stop at a gas station, except to buy the occasional lottery ticket, is attractive. But I think I’ll beep and wave as I pass.
While the limited range may not make the technology of the Zero perfect for a cross-country trip, there’s still appeal to owners of traditional bikes. Imagine not having to put wear and tear on your pride-and-joy custom cruiser every day. Or imagine not having to swing your leg over those wide saddlebags on your long-distance tourer for just a short errand across town. You’re still getting the open-air motorcycling experience, with less noise in your ears, and you get to thumb your nose at the folks filling their SUVs at the gas pump. Go ahead; make them green with envy.
The environmentally friendly Zero bikes are built from the ground up in the US. Zero motorcycles are available for purchase exclusively through the Zero Motorcycles web site, where you can also schedule your own demo ride. Visit www.ZeroMotorcycles.com. RB – By Steve Lita, Photos by Bob Feather
Da Terminator Likes It
California-based Zero Motorcycles recently visited with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to demonstrate its electric motorcycle technology. The press conference, held at the state capitol in Sacramento, recognized Zero Motorcycles for its industry-leading innovation and pioneering efforts in electric motorcycle technology. California recently approved an all-new statewide rebate program that provides consumers with a greater incentive to purchase an electric motorcycle. The rebate gives consumers $1,500 off the purchase of either a Zero S or DS motorcycle. Combine this with the federal tax credit, and the total savings is $2,500.
“I love the financial side of these motorcycles,” stated Gov. Schwarzenegger, “because they cost less then one cent per mile to operate and you get a [rebate]. That [makes] these electric motorcycles affordable for anybody, and Zero Motorcycles has
developed the type of technology that will save us all by reducing greenhouse gasses while utilizing renewable energy.”