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2010 Zero DS Comparison Review

Monday, December 6, 2010

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2010 Zero DS Comparison
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Check out the Zero DS electric motorcycle in our 2010 Zero DS Video from the 2010 Electric Motorcycle Comparison.
The Zero DS takes a less is more approach in most aspects of its design. Just look at the dash for a hint: The Brammo instrumentation is more engaging as it allows the rider to cycle through a number of displays. One master display shows estimated range along with other data like power output in kWh. A second charts a bar graph of percentage battery remaining. Yet another screen shows real-time power use, which helps encourage conservative throttle input. Again Brammo’s claim of 42-mile range isn’t near our experience with the bike, more in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 miles.

The key to coaxing the most range out of either of the bikes is being gentle and consistent with the throttle. After a while its gets to be a game of sorts, like those hypermilers that resort to shutting down their cars to coast to a stop with a dead engine. Ease on the throttle, massage the speed up to a cruising pace. If there’s even a slight downhill in the road, roll off and coast. With no resistance from engine braking, it’s eye-opening how long it takes these bikes to coast down from 50 to 40 mph.
The Zero and Brammo's range depends on a number of factors, not the least of which being rider weight and the operator's aggressiveness with the throttle.

Make it back to headquarters for a recharge, again the two competitors show their differences. Like the starting procedure the Zero’s charging process is simple and quick: Turn off the key and plug into the wall. The Brammo requires more work: Turn off bike, twist key to steering lock, then twist to charge postion, press and hold tank button to enable charging mode, remove key to unlock seat, plug underseat charger into wall outlet. Where the Zero process is easier, it is also the most rudimentary with only an LED series of lights indicating charging status. The Brammo, on the other hand, offers a host of charging information including percentage charged, time to full charge and the option of watching a more indepth status for the various batteries.

When it comes to looks, those we queried about the Brammo's stylings returned answers ranging from, “pretty cool” to “horrid.” (Certainly the folks at Brammo have upped the ante with its next generation Empulse.) Like it or love it though, the Enertia does bear a clear design function. It’s a commuter appliance plain and simple. The Brammo has a more thought-out user interface (with its starting and charging procedures almost too thought out), it also boasts a better fit and finish. The Enertia also houses some interesting features, like a USB jump drive that data logs rides. The USB provides diagnostic evidence for repairs, as well as data mining for the engineers as they analyze charging cycles and other information that will influence future designs.

2010 Zero DS
Lithium-ion batteries, the limiting factor for range and performance, but the promise of better things to come.
The Zero is less refined from a design standpoint. As far as styling goes, the Zero fared worse than the Brammo. It looks like a bike wrapped around a square battery. Some components, particularly the instrument console, look thrown together. Others features seem to be solutions made out of necessity: For example, the charging cord is tucked away in the cylindrical holes in the frame. Yet the Zero designers did hit the mark with the frame and swingarm. And where the Brammo is a commuter only, the Zero serves its function too – a versatile dual sport.

The Brammo’s biggest edge is in price. At $7995 it retails a full two grand less than the Zero DS. Both rides will see their MSRP drop considerably with the 10% EV federal tax credit, as well as numerous state rebates or tax incentives (CARB (California) is willing to pony up a fat $1500). But that begs the question: How do you buy these bikes?

Each company’s distribution models is unconventional. Zero takes the middle man out of the equation completely, with an online direct shipping method. Brammo made headlines with its exclusive partnership with Best Buy, though that distribution model doesn’t seem to have revolutionized things (just go ahead and call up your local BB and ask for an Enertia…). Now Brammo is pursuing a more traditional dealer network, as well as take orders online. And its recent partnership with electronics giant Flextronics has it poised for global aspirations.

2010 Brammo Enertia
The Brammo Enertia is a purpose-built commuter, the Zero DS a more versatile dual-sport.2010 Zero DS
And what of maintenance? As far as cleaning the bikes go, both motorcycles are fit to operate in the wet and dirt. In fact, Zero claims its motor could still run after being fully submerged. With no oil to change and no valves to adjust, riders could either conduct basic maintenance themselves or at the local bike shop: oil up the chain every once and again, spoon on new tires as needed and change brake pads. For more critical issues, like motor and battery troubles, there is a two-year warranty from Zero, with Brammo offering one-year warranty for the Enertia (two-year warranty available for purchase to match the standing warranty for the batteries). Each company has trained technicians to service the bikes for serious motor and battery issues (it’s not advisable to work on the high-voltage systems without proper training).

At the end of our test, we found two bikes with similarities but distinct differences. The Zero delivers a more powerful motor and larger capacity battery, as well as more versatility with its dual-sporting capabilities. As an overall package, however, it’s rougher around the edges with disappointing brakes and so-so chassis giving it room for improvement.

The Brammo is a commuter bike, plain and simple, and for some urban riders it may be the best commuting tool out there. The motor and battery performance is lacking compared with the Zero, however, its chassis and overall design outclass its competitor. Hacking its MSRP down to $7995 is an eyebrow-raising feat that can’t be ignored.

While it’s difficult not to see past their limitations, riders shouldn’t judge these bikes for what they aren’t. Instead this first wave of electric motorcycle production has succeeded simply by existing. One thing of which we’re certain, rides like the Enertia and Zero DS have whetted our appetite for development wave number two.

2010 Zero DS Photo Gallery
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@Reyzie -Yawn....  January 7, 2011 06:06 AM
eBikes aren't worthy of Bart Madson's time or space at MotorcycleUSA! At least, not yet. Give them 10 years, maybe... It's the battery, stupid. The technology to supply REALISTIC range and performance simply does not exist! Now. Can we get back to REAL motorcycles?!
glenn johnson -WHO CARES  December 13, 2010 07:56 AM
If the powers at be forces us to drive piece-of-crap- electric cars and bikes, I will ride a horse before I throw my man-hood out the door. I am sorry, but I am so sick of all the electric vehicle development that will go nowhere. At the turn of the century, folks, there was; steam, battery, fossil-fuel. I wonder which one won out as the most practical & why? Do you want to know a little secret? I was told there is more oil then they know what to do with..just they are not allowed to drill for it. I am not talking off-shore, either. I am all for new techology, but electric cars and bikes are a doomed pipe-dream. For the love of Pete, they are pathetic to see race , even
Jurgen -Battery life and replacement costs  December 9, 2010 09:05 PM
No one ever mentions some of the negatives. Maintenance of the bikes are very low but the replacement costs of the batteries are through the roof.

Jeff of Zero motorcycle let me know the other day that the battery life of the Zero DS is 3-4 years with a replacement cost of $5000 usd.

$5000 goes a long way when you are riding a gas bike.

Regards Jurgen
ES -ES  December 7, 2010 08:05 AM
Less than 40 mile range pretty much makes these two useless. Battery performance will deteriorate with age. My experience with laptop batteries and cordless power tools suggests I should stick to leg motors if I want to go green.
Rich in Mich -Possibilities  December 7, 2010 06:51 AM
As a basic commuter I would consider buying one, and now that they have proven the basic electric powered bike as a possible alternative they really need to start working on their looks. The Brammo and it's horse shoe shaped body needs an update, and it's color scream "rainbow warrior" ~ not good. The Zero and it's company attachment to refridgerator white may work for a nerd but most bikers are looking for a litle more attitude. They need to consider covering up the batter with at least a black panel.
Louis -Electric  December 6, 2010 08:56 PM
I'm not a fan. Not a hater, just not a fan of the electric stuff. Real life, come on dude, the Enertia is not a dirt bike. Oh well. Something different. Different is good.
real life -this "Comparison Review" falls short  December 6, 2010 04:24 PM
did the testers bother with an off-road comparison??? I have personally seen the Zero's being raced in a "Motocross" style environment, being jumped, crashed and beat on thru the ruts an whoops... at the end of the day they were still running... not sure the same could be said for the Brammo Enertia