Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ride Review: 2013 Zero S Electric Motorcycle

2013 Zero S electric motorcycle: A real motorcycle at last?
In 2009, Californian electric dirt-bike specialist Zero Motorcycles launched its first street-legal motorcycle: the Zero S. Mass production started in 2010, giving city dwellers a chance to ditch the car in favor of a two-wheel electric commuter vehicle. With a top speed just shy of 70 miles per hour and a range of just 50 miles, it was a valiant first attempt at turning the world of two-wheeled transport electric.
Since then, the Zero S has gone through three major revisions, each time getting longer range, a higher top speed and better performance. In its latest incarnation, the 2013 Zero S offers a choice of battery packs, a much higher top speed, and even smartphone connectivity. But how does it ride?
The differences between the 2013 Zero S and its predecessor, the 2012 Zero S, are clear to see. With a completely redesigned chassis, the 2013 Zero S looks and feels much more like a sports bike than its predecessor. More importantly, its saddle —set up for rider and pillion as standard for the first time—is much lower, giving a more relaxed riding position. Instead of being perched on top as with its predecessor, the rider sits ‘in’ the bike, while the fake gas tank—in the center of which is a deceptively deep tank bag—gives the rider plenty to grip with the knees.
The split seat places the pillion passenger above and slightly in front of the rear wheel, helping maintain good balance and road manners when riding two up.
The 2013 Zero S redesigned chassis has also improved the steering geometry and suspension, although we found our test bike a little stiff compared to other street bikes we’ve ridden. Since the Zero S comes as standard with fully-adjustable suspension, it should be relatively easy to fix with the right tools.
Range and Performance
Buyers can choose between the Zero S ZF 8.5, or the Zero S ZF 11.4, which have an 8.5 kilowatt-hour and 11.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack respectively. According to Zero, the Zero S ZF 8.5 is good for 103 miles of range at city speeds, or 53 miles at 70 mph, while the Zero S ZF 11.4 is good for 137 miles in the city, or 70 miles at 70 mph.
Our test bike, a 2013 Zero S ZF 11.4, managed 68 miles of range with 12 miles remaining on mainly high-speed routes, indicating it is possible to match Zero’s own figures if you ride sensibly. But with a massive 68 foot-pounds of torque available from its 40 kilowatt electric motor, accelerating the Zero S full-throttle from the lights is an addictive pastime that’s tough to kick.
Which brings us to performance: with no gearbox or clutch to worry about, accelerating from standstill is blissfully simple. Check your blind spot, open the throttle and move away. During our weekend of riding, we noted 0-60 takes about 6 seconds on the heavier Zero S ZF 11.4, although those who have ridden the lighter ZF 8.5 model say 60 mph is quicker.
Unlike previous incarnations, the 2013 Zero S continues beyond 60 with the same enthusiasm it had below that speed, pushing to legal limits with little fuss. It’s worth noting, however, that at higher speeds, the stiff suspension and 387 pound curb weight made the Zero S feel a little twitchy.
The 2013 Zero S has great road manners and impressive performance.
At more sensible speeds, handling is impeccable, with the Zero S demonstrating good manners and excellent control characteristics. Thanks to its low center of gravity—the battery pack is where the engine would normally be on a motorcycle—it enters and exits corners with grace and isn’t difficult to lean over.
Weak Points
Aside from the suspension, we found the stock on-board 1.3-kilowatt charger annoyingly slow. Capable of recharging from empty to full in 7.9 hours from a household outlet, we believe you’ll want buy the optional Quick Charger or CHAdeMO charge accessory to improve the charging to 4.6 hours or 1.5 hours respectively. Zero should consider offering J1772 Level 2 charging capabilities as standard.
Finally, there’s the price. At $13,995 before incentives for the ZF 8.5 model and $15,995 before incentives for the ZF 11.4 model, the 2013 Zero S isn’t cheap. But with the performance and acceleration (if not top speed) of a 500cc gasoline motorcycle and the weight of a 250cc motorcycle, it’s the first two-wheeled electric vehicle we can call a real motorcycle.