Richard Harmon has been riding electric motorcycles for the past four years. He shares with us his personal experience and reviews the 2014 Zero S. (Editor)
Four years ago I bought my first electric motorcycle, an Electric Motorsport GPR-S, assembled in Oakland, California, from a chassis made in Thailand and off-the-shelf U.S. electrical components. It had 8 hp, a top speed of 55 mph and a range of between 10 freeway miles and 35 city miles. This year, after riding a 2012 Zero for 8,300 miles, I purchased a 2014 Zero S, with an accessory battery module, that provides an actual 13.22 kWh of battery capacity, a 40% increase over my 2012 model. The 440-pound 2014 Zero has 54 hp, 68 lb-ft of torque, a top speed of 95 mph, accelerates from 0 to 60 in 5.8 seconds and can travel on the freeway for 90 miles and at city speeds for 170 miles. In mixed riding, sticking to the speed limit, you can expect to see a range of 120 miles before needing to recharge from a standard 120 volt wall outlet, which requires 10 hours to fully recharge the battery. Zero also has a sports model called the “SR”. It weighs just another 10 pounds, makes 67 hp and 106 (!) lb-ft of torque, with a governed top speed of 102 mph and a 0-60 time of 3.3 seconds. Zero motorcycles are assembled in Scotts Valley, California (near Santa Cruz), from mostly well-designed, Chinese-manufactured parts. What is amazing is the rapid increase in both performance, range and the quality of electric motorcycles over just a few years. The future appears potentially amazing for electric motorcycle technology and performance.
Zeros have always been technically advanced and their development director had the same position when he was working at Buell. However, most of the cost of the vehicle has gone into the batteries, which on my model, have a retail value of about $12,500, however they are expected to have a life of over 350,000 miles, so replacement should not be an issue. The electronics and motor are also top-notch, but the chassis is where corners were cut, compared with other motorcycles in this price range. All of the chassis parts function well, but are not quite European quality. The fully-adjustable (front and rear) suspension is made by FastAce in Taiwan and the tires are IRC Road Winners (as used on Japanese 250cc sport bikes), as an example. The plastic fairing parts are kind of cheap and a little flimsy, but everything on the bike functions well. The Zero has a 2-year, unlimited mileage warranty, while the batteries are guaranteed for five years.
2) Living With The Zero
After riding the Zero 1800 miles during the three months that I have owned it, I can say that it is a really amazing motorcycle. It has a very light carbon-fiber belt which is driven directly from the custom-designed motor. There is no transmission, or other device, between the motor and the rear wheel. When you want to go, you just turn the throttle and the bike silently glides off, with no vibration at all. Throttle response is so smooth that you can maneuver around a parking lot at less than a walking speed, yet still be able to accelerate between 30 and 80 mph at a rate that would require my Yamaha FZ1 to drop down a gear or two to keep up. There is absolutely no drive-line slack and throttle control is just about perfect. You will not find a better motorcycle for commuting or for riding in “beep and creep” traffic conditions. It will not overheat, or overheat you, when stopped in traffic and can inch forward all day long with no ill effects, if need be. While running the Zero makes a high-pitched “electric motor” whine.
There is virtually no periodic maintenance during the life of the Zero, other than the usual chassis wear items, like brakes, tires and replacing the $80 drive belt. I have installed the factory accessory windshield, luggage rack and a Zero-supplied Givi E340 top box on my bike, in addition to a small tank bag and an RKA seat pack. I also have a set of Chase Harper saddle bags and, with a back pack, I can carry almost as much stuff as if I was driving a compact car. In fact, I have only been driving my car about 300 miles each year since I have been riding electric motorcycles. Refueling is as easy as parking in my garage and plugging into the wall outlet at the end of the day. By the next morning, the bike is fully charged and ready for another day of riding. At our high electrical utility rate of 14 cents per kWh, my riding costs only 2 cents a mile. The vehicle components are completely sealed and riding in heavy rain is no problem. Maximum regeneration feels like a 1000cc fuel-injected motorcycle in second gear with the throttle closed.
The all-digital instrument display is pretty useful. It has all the information that the rider needs, including speed, percentage of battery power remaining, real-time power and torque being developed by the motor, and eight other selected information displays of which two can be displayed at a time. Ride modes, which can be selected on the “fly” by a bar-mounted button include, “sport”, “eco” and “custom” levels of performance. Another useful feature is a free smart phone app that provides even more information than the instrument display. The app will let your smart phone display all sorts of interesting information regarding the condition of the Zero, such as the status of its entire battery pack. The app also allows you to configure your phone as an instrument panel and mount it to your handlebars. Another useful feature is that the app allows the owner to adjust the performance of the vehicle (custom mode), such as available torque, power, top speed and the percentage of regeneration power recovery and therefore slowing when the throttle is closed and when braking is performed. Regeneration can be turned off if desired, allowing the bike to freewheel on a closed throttle.
3) Pros and Cons
Naturally, there are some disadvantages to electric motorcycles. Due to the fact that the Zero requires about 10 hours to fully recharge, you are pretty much limited to riding within a 50-mile radius, but you can’t beat it for commuting and stop-and-go traveling. However, for longer trips I still need and appreciate my gasoline-powered motorcycles. The big disadvantage though for most purchasers is the initial purchase price. I paid about the same as I would if I had bought a new BMW or Ducati, although less expensive models, with smaller battery packs are available. I went for Zero’s second most expensive model to get their largest battery pack. Unfortunately, until battery prices can be reduced by about half, electric motorcycles are going to be a tough sell in volume at the retail level. One of the other issues with electric motorcycles are that their lithium-ion batteries don’t like cold weather. Temperatures below 32 degrees will (temporarily) reduce their performance and the manufacturer recommends that the Zero not be ridden in temperatures below 23 degrees. But then who likes to ride at those temperatures, anyway?
Where electric motorcycles really shine is off road, where their smooth throttle response, strong, easily-accessible torque and quiet operation, make dirt riding a lot of fun and minimize the impact on the environment. For this type of riding Zero makes a dual sport (DS) model and a much lighter FX model, both of which would likely need the accessory chain-drive conversion when riding on gravel roads, due to the potential for damaging the belt drive. Also, electric motorcycles have got to be the perfect vehicle for a new rider to learn on, as with no need to shift or clutch and accurate throttle control, a new rider can spend all of their concentration on the the traffic and road conditions around them. I gave my 2012 Zero to my daughter to ride and also for her daughter to learn how to ride a motorcycle when she turns 16 this year, which should indicate my faith in the technology and safety of the Zero product.
Much more information regarding Zero’s 2014 models can be found at: