Zero Motorcycles looks to get the jump on its electric motorcycle competitors by being the first to market with four production E-bikes, including the 2010 Zero DS above.
Zero Motorcycles is aggressively pursuing the title of frontrunner in electric motorcycle technology. It beat its competitors to the punch by being the first with a multi-bike line up. It hosted the first international endurance competition for off-road all-electric vehicles, a 24-hour event held at the 408MX Motocross Track in San Jose, California, where 50 riders on 10 electric dirt bikes thrashed Zero’s electric MX bike unmercifully to prove the company’s electric bikes could endure the same abuse as its gas-powered counterparts. All 10 teams completed the race with the winning squad logging 1015 laps and an average best lap speed of 27.5 mph. Zero has also developed an international presence after opening a new European headquarters in Amsterdam and signing independent representatives in the UK, Germany, France, Austria, Italy and Spain.
The Santa Cruz, California-based company selected Daytona Beach Bike Week to showcase its four-motorcycle lineup: the 2010 Zero DS dual sport bike, S supermoto, MX track bike and its X trail bike. With its new lineup, Zero aimed to directly address some of the grievances riders have with E-technology, injecting its motorcycles with more power, better acceleration and a longer range courtesy of its new power pack technology. Street-legal models now run what Zero dubs a Z-Force Air Induction System that pumps airflow through the heart of its brushed permanent magnet electric motor to squeeze more horsepower out of the compact mill. To go along with the bump in power, it also devised a new throttle technology that modulates the increased torque into a usable, constant stream of energy. And Zero has been working on improving its proprietary Z-Force power pack technology with more precise cell monitoring to deliver a longer power pack life.
Zero Motorcycles proved its mettle at ithe 24-hour Electricross endurance race when all of its motorcycles finished the race.
Zero Motorcycles CEO, Gene Banman, was more than happy to point out merits of the company’s electric motorcycles during our recent trip to Daytona.
“They’re very green. The carbon dioxide generated by the powerplants to charge up these batteries is about 1/8 the carbon dioxide per-mile compared to a gasoline engine and it’s also quite inexpensive,” says Banman. “It takes about 80 cents per-charge on the streetbike and about 40 cents per-charge for the dirt bike.”
Besides being a low emissions vehicle, an electric motorcycle requires no oil changes or tune ups, so it will potentially save riders maintenance costs in the long run. There’s also no smell of spent exhaust or burnt oil. It’s a plug-and-ride relationship. Zero’s S and DS models have 4KW batteries that recharge in about four hours from a standard 110-volt outlet while the MX and X run on 2KW cells that require half the time.
Zero Motorcycles set up a small moto-course behind the Ocean Center as it encouraged curious enthusiasts to ride an E-bike, many for the very first time. The course featured two short straights, a couple of hairpins turns, and one good sweeper, just enough to whet a rider’s appetite. We elected to sample the 2010 Zero DS first.
We had the pleasure of meeting Zero Motorcycles’ CEO Gene Banman in Daytona where we got a chance to ride a couple of its electric motorcycles.
Twist the ignition key and push the red button on the right handlebar and the Zero DS is ready to ride. If it weren’t for the digital speedo and power level indicator lighting up, you’d never even know the bike was on. This all changes with one twist of the wrist. The torque is immediate and the DS is up to speed in seconds. The electric dual sport is narrow at the seat and feels even more lightweight than its claimed 277-lb curb weight. Hitting the first 180-degree turn, the bike turns in effortlessly. Bar action is very light as I attack the combination of tight radius turns and straights. The bike is easy to toss around with most of its weight centralized around its 95-lb lithium-ion battery. Its foot pegs are placed back and the bars are set slightly down and a tad wider than shoulder width. At six-feet-tall, I’m in an aggressive leaning-forward riding position in a thin, 35-inch tall saddle.
The single gear of its clutchless direct drive gear system keeps the power delivery constant. The fact that there are no missed gears or hiccups in fuel delivery is a bonus. Just roll and go. The more time I spend on the bike, the funner it gets. The course is smooth so there’s no way for me to really test the rebound of the suspension, but the inverted front fork and coil rear shock supports my 215-lb frame without any flex.
All the riding action’s controlled with your right hand and foot. Besides twisting the throttle, a right-hand operated lever engages the two-piston hydraulic front brake. A small foot lever on the bike’s right side operates the single-piston hydraulics pinching down on the stainless rear rotor. The system applies pressure evenly without being overly aggressive. For a big rider like me, it could have more bite to it to stop the added mass of my body, but the combo still had great feel to them.
The Zero DS features a 4KW battery that’s good for between 40-50 miles of riding and recharges in approximately four hours (above) Zero Motorcycles are built around a lightweight, rigid twin-spar frame made of aircraft-grade aluminum. (below)
Zero’s street line features a bigger battery, which means it carries a little more weight up top than the dirt-oriented bikes. A pair of small, round mirrors and side-mounted turn signals gives it street-legal cred. With no exhaust cans blocking the view, the look of the rear is really clean, highlighted by its rigid double diamond swingarm constructed of aircraft grade aluminum. When in motion, all you hear is the spin of the chain and the whir of the motor. But this doesn’t alter the riding experience. Its torque will get your adrenalin pumping.
The light handling on the street models allowed even an old cruiser guy like me to drag a foot around turns, and it stops without launching riders over the handlebars. One tip I’ll pass along though – remember to shut it off as soon as you’re done riding because the bike is still silently running. An inadvertent blip of the throttle when dismounting will send the bike lunging forward.
Zero Motorcycles founder, Neil Saiki and his team of engineers have done an admirable job of getting this bike set up correctly. Its rigid twin-spar frame weighs less than 20 lbs. Its pivots, brake mounts and chain guide are re-milled for increased stress reliability. Its lithium-ion power pack has a monitoring system with active rebalancing that constantly tracks the voltage and temperature of every cell. The power pack contains no toxic metals and is recyclable.
Zero made sure to include features riders demand like an inverted fork that can be dialed in for compression and rebound damping. The coil rear shock is also adjustable for preload and damping. Attention to detail extends to the wheels as well as the Zero DS features custom hubs, spokes and rotors aimed to minimize unsprung weight and reduce rotating mass. Sure, the $8,995 sticker price (MSRP after a 10% U.S. Federal Tax Credit) is more than a conventional dual sport, but the long-term savings on gas and maintenance make it a less bitter pill to swallow.
Switching to the Zero’s MX was equally a treat. With a smaller 2KW battery, its narrowness and litheness are immediately noticeable. The Z-Force Power Pack is good for about two hours or roughly 40 miles of riding. It does re-charge in just under two hours at a cost of only 40 cents and Zero claims it can be swapped out easily. The MX’s Power Pack does weigh 46 lbs though, so it’s not something you’re going to be carrying in a backpack. Though its power source is smaller, the motocross bike’s brushed permanent magnet electric motor has no shortage of immediately dispensable power, putting out a claimed 50 lb-ft of torque and 23 horsepower. Zero divided this power into two settings, the first one good up to around 25 mph and the other with a max speed in the range of 50 mph.
The MX definitely delivers more torque, a fact I found when I first cracked the throttle and the front wheel lofted off the straightaway. And that was on the low power setting. It also differs from Zero’s street bikes in its braking arrangement, as both front and rear on the MX bike are hand-actuated.
The 2010 Zero MX bike comes in both a Sport and Extreme version. The Extreme version has a higher performance motor and stiffer suspension for serious motocross action.
The brakes are also a four-pot hydraulic arrangement biting down on a single stainless steel rotor. The bike is a featherweight, with a claimed curb weight of 172 lbs and a rigid aluminum frame weighing only 13 lbs. The Zero MX also is offered in a Sport and Extreme version, with the Extreme offering a higher performance motor and stiffer suspension for more hardcore motocross applications.
Granted, I’m not an off-road editor and I was riding on a street course, but the Zero MX still provided the same level of riding fun as a gas-powered bike. It’s so narrow and lightweight, it’s a breeze to toss around corners. The torque is impressive, coming on instantly and evenly. It did have knobbier, dirt-oriented tires that broke loose on me exiting one corner, but that was facilitated by a heavy throttle hand on a torque-filled bike during corner exit.
Zero is aware that riders like to customize their bikes with aftermarket parts and accessories, so it has expanded its previous classic white color combo to include a choice of red, blue, and white color graphic packages. The 2010 Zero S and DS also come with two seat options designed by saddle specialist Corbin, including a low seat option that reduces the stand over height of the motorcycle. Of course, they’ve got body panels available to swap out when the stock ones become ratty. Small steps forward, but over time, expect to see more available aftermarket goodies.
Zero Motorcycles clever marketing strategy steers away from dealerships and is more grass-roots based. It utilizes what Zero calls ‘in-market representatives’ that provide potential buyers with demonstration rides in their local community. People can also purchase a Zero Motorcycle directly from the company’s website or can phone an experienced factory coordinator via a toll-free number. Zero claims that within days of purchasing a motorcycle, it will be delivered to the consumer’s doorstep. The company believes that direct contact with the company by consumers ensures superior service and support.
Zero Motorcycles is heading in the right direction. Its starts with a savvy core group, anchored by a founder who is a former NASA engineer, a CEO who has a Physics degree from UC Berkeley, and it will only benefit from the recently acquired services of Abe Askenazi, the former Senior Director of Analysis, Testing and Engineering with Buell Motorcycles. Zero is already shopping future applications for their electric motorcycles, such as work vehicles for city police departments and park rangers.
Zero has been the most ambitious of the electric motorcycle companies to date, producing bikes both for the dirt and street. And as gas prices begin to creep back up, it makes the research and production of companies like Zero that much more vital. Plus, its bikes even put a smile on the face of a crusty old V-Twin rider like me.