EV riders: Zero Electric Motorcycles

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By Allen Penticoff
Mr. Green Car

I have a long association with motorcycles. The ink was barely dry on the driver’s license I got on my sixteenth birthday, when I bought a Honda CL125 and began riding it all over. I soon took to dirt bike riding and raced motocross in the era of the early 1970s Honda CR125 Elsinores. I’ve owned several street and dirt bikes since and still have one of each gathering dust in my garage. But honestly, I’ve not ridden motorcycles much since I put them away and began driving my Miata convertible in 1996 (which I bought instead of a Goldwing) and find dirt bicycles plenty fun.

When I recently travelled to Randy’s Motorcycles near Marengo, Illinois to demo two of their pure electric Zero Motorcycles, I was caught aback by the kind of performance they could put out. The folks at Randy’s Motorcycles was very generous with their time, rolling all the Zero Motorcycle models in stock outside to take photos and offering rides on any I desired. They were charged up and ready to go.

While I had known of Zero Motorcycles for a couple of years, I’m glad I waited to review them. There are four models now and they are much more refined than a few years ago. There are two sport bikes, the S and the SR. The SR has more power and is the top of the line, presently selling as tested for $15,995 less a $1,600 rebate. The dual purpose road/dirt bike is the DS with a price of $13,995 less $1,500 rebate. While the FX is a street legal dirt bike, with less weight (247-289 pounds) but a smaller battery pack and motor. I rode an SR and the DS.

The SR came first. It felt a bit ponderous at low speed, but it’s not designed for going slow. It has a top speed of 102 mph and does 0 to 60 in a blinding 3.3 seconds. Unaccustomed to the wind blowing on me and with air gushing in past the face shield on the helmet, I thought I was going pretty fast until I looked down at the LCD speedometer and saw I was only going 53 mph. Well, better open this puppy up – whoa, it accelerates so hard it is startling. Yet when you come to a stop, there is no sound. Along the way there is wind, tire and some motor noise. The DS is the noisier of the two since it has dirt capable tires with more aggressive tread.

The throttle works like normal and has no flat spots. Creep along or do a wheelie, they work pretty much like all motorcycles. The SR seemed to have more powerful front brakes that the DS although they look to be identical. The rear brakes are weak – on purpose I suppose. I never quite got the complete knack of the powerful brakes in my short ride. Anti-lock is available, which can be turned off. The Zeros are not set up to have substantial regenerative braking – which I feel would benefit them well. Once you get the hang of it, you would need the brakes very little. As it is, you will use the brakes on the Zero bikes more than a conventional gas-powered motorcycle that provides some braking action with the throttle at idle and coasting. It is probably what made getting set up for the curves the most difficult. That and you have to look at the speedometer to get some sense of speed since the noises you are hearing don’t really provide that information. I did not get the SR to maximum speed (wasn’t really trying to), but got pretty close – and I can tell you it’s been a long time since I’ve gone that fast on a motorcycle.

I enjoyed the DS more than the SR. The steering geometry makes slow speed handling light and easy, the softer suspension was more comfortable as was the more upright riding position. It was still fun and plenty fast. I played with the handling more with the DS since it begged to be tossed around. I even found some lumpy gravel lanes and grass to mess around on. Both bikes have a power mode selector of normal, eco and custom. In normal mode, all the juice you want is available and you can go as fast as the machine can go. But in eco mode, the power supply is attenuated some and the top speed is limited to 75 mph. I’m not sure what the use of this mode is, unless you are loaning the bike to someone and you want to limit what they are able to do. In normal use if you want to conserve your power – just don’t crank on the throttle or ride at 100 mph.

Each of the four models has a different motor with horsepower and torque the same despite different battery pack options. I’ll list horsepower/torque for each: Model S 54/68, Model SR 67/106, Model DS 54/68 and the Model FX2.8 has 27/70 while the FX5.7 44/70. With electric vehicles, it is torque that matters, and it is all delivered instantly, giving great acceleration. Each had a belt drive to the rear wheel.

The S, SR and DS have three available battery packs that are also tagged onto the model designation. 9.4 kilowatt-hour, 12.5 kwh and 15.3 kwh. The FX has a 2.8 kwh or 5.7 kwh battery pack. The S and SR have ranges of 76 miles/102 miles/125 miles relative to battery size. The DS is 102 miles/125 miles and the FX 21 miles/42 miles. More so than in an automobile, buying the right size battery for your needs is important, not only is a larger battery pack more expensive, but it is more weight, adding 30-40 pounds for each bump up in kwh. Although expected battery pack life is greatly increased with the larger batteries. The 9.4 kwh batteries should go 254,000 miles while the 12.5 kwh packs should go 415,000 miles. But realistically – virtually nobody rides a motorcycle 254,000 miles, much less 415,000. That says you won’t wear out the battery while you own it. Most riders could get by with the smaller battery packs since most rides are not very long. Charging is with 120-volt cord with a small plug like that of a desktop PC. 220-volt charging is available for about $500 more. I did notice a cute thing – the cord can be stored in the rear wheel swing arm.

Since the motorcycles can all go farther on a given charge compared to an EV auto, they would be prime candidates for solar charging. Ride 10 miles to work. Charge all day. Leave for home and a quick ride through the countryside with a full battery. Nice and clean. And quiet.

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