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2010 Electric Motorcycle Comparison

Monday, December 6, 2010

Electric vehicles are the future of transportation, or at least one future. Whether a couple decades from now or a century, there will be a major shift in our fossil-fuel transportation age. Yet with all the hype around electric, the major OEMs have produced nothing more than concept models. Instead small startups have formed the electric motorcycle production vanguard, chief among them Brammo Inc. and Zero Motorcycles. Both companies have created actual electric rides, street legal and ready to roll on American motorways. Motorcycle USA sourced two of them, the Brammo Enertia and Zero DS, for our first ever electric motorcycle comparison.
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2010 Brammo Enertia Comparison
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Watch the 2010 Brammo Enertia comparison video to learn more about this 2010 electric motorcycle.

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2010 Zero DS Comparison
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See what the Zero DS has to offer in this 2010 Zero DS electric motorcycle video.

The 2010 Enertia represents the first production motorcycle from Brammo. Founded by successful dot.com entrepreneur Craig Bramscher, the Ashland, Oregon-based company first targeted the four-wheeled internal combustion engine (ICE) market by producing the high-performance Ariel Atom (check out the much-viewed Top Gear Youtube Video to get an idea on the Atom’s capabilities). Wishing to produce an electric supercar, Bramscher realized the current EV technology was more amenable to two-wheeled design, ergo the birth of Brammo as an electric motorcycle manufacturer.

Head down the Pacific Coast to Santa Cruz, California and Zero Motorcycles produce an entire line of electric rides. Former NASA engineer Neal Saiki founded Zero in 2006, with his space-age credentials bolstered further by his work developing the Da Vinci III, a self-propelled helicopter aimed at claiming the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize. Saiki also sports numerous successful mountain bike frame designs, with his dirt bike leanings making their way onto his first production motorcycle, the Zero X dirt bike. In 2009 Zero expanded its offerings with a pair of street bikes: the Zero S supermotard and the Zero DS dual-sport.

This isn’t our first brush with these two EV innovators. We first sampled a prototype version of the Enertia in 2008 and our editors have tested Zero’s models at various parking lot demo rides since their debut. But our recent comparison test gave us a couple days to really kick the tires of these electric scoots. What we discovered were two different takes on this nascent motorcycling segment.
2010 Electric Motorcycle Comparison Review
Batteries, motors, extension cords... Electric motorcycles aren't coming, they're already here.
2010 Brammo Enertia

Where the engine is the most critical aspect of a conventional motorcycle, batteries serve that role in an EV ride. They represent the heaviest component in the design, as well as the most expensive. Battery capacities are also what limit current performance and drive future EV development. The key is energy density, the denser the better, as more capacity means more range and the ability to power higher-performance motors.

Both the Brammo and Zero source lithium-ion batteries, with onboard chargers topping off the proverbial tank via standard 110V wall plug. Controlling the balanced discharge and recharge of the numerous cells is a Battery Management System (BMS), a vital component to maintain the stability and longevity of the batteries. The batteries themselves are rated for hundreds of charging cycles, guaranteed to recharge at least 80% of original capacity by the cycle limit (2000 for Brammo, 1800 for Zero). Afterward they will continue to degrade over time but still be functional at a reduced capacity well beyond their cycle ratings.

The Brammo Enertia makes use of lithium-iron-phosphate batteries developed by Texas-based Valence Technology. A total of six such batteries sit staggered above and below the main spines of the Brammo’s black aluminum frame. Each of the six contain 120 individual cells and cost roughly $500 apiece. Energy capacity for the 78-Volt system accumulates to 3.1 kilowatt hours (kWh), with a recharge taking around three to four hours.

Saiki designed the Zero’s Z-Force battery pack in-house. A single large square pack, the 58-Volt lithium-ion system houses 336 cells. The actual formulation of the battery is lithium-manganese (nickel-manganese-cobalt-oxide positive electrode and graphitic carbon negative electrode). Total capacity for the Zero exceeds the Brammo at 4 kWh. With the extra energy on tap it takes a little longer recharge from empty at four hours.
2010 Brammo Enertia
The Brammo Enertia sources an AC motor from the German manufacturer Perm, while the Zero DS gets its forward momentum via DC motor built by Agni.10_zero_ds-012.jpg

Motors generating the rotary power on electric rides are notable for delivering immediate peak torque. Horsepower increases along with the revs until it peaks and diminishes in a linear manner. Some electric scooter concepts and four-wheeled EVs source motors mounted directly to wheel hubs, the motor applying direct force to the wheel. In the Brammo and Zero, the motor is placed at the bottom of the frame by the swingarm pivot. Gone are gearbox and clutch, with transmission to the rear wheel more basic: a single gear and final chain drive. In terms of the actual motors themselves, the Brammo and Zero take different routes.

The Enertia makes use of a brushless AC motor from the German company Perm (specific model designation PMS 120). Direct current is routed from the batteries through a controller, which converts it to a three-phase alternating current. Brammo claims efficiency as the main decision for utilizing the AC motor. The company’s power claims are 29.5 lb-ft peak torque delivered from 0-1450 rpm. The Brammo motor is air-cooled, with a cooling fan resting atop the motor housing.

The Zero DS sources a brushed permanent magnet DC motor from Agni. Zero engineers claim 40 lb-ft torque and 20 horsepower at the shaft, with the Agni powerplant spinning up to a 3400 rpm limit. The 2010 motor configuration for the DS and S models has been notably upgraded with the Z-Force air induction system, which directs air via underseat fan through a filter and hose down into the motor core, where it exits out vented openings.

The Brammo and Zero are stone quiet until the motor is engaged. A mistaken live throttle can cause exceeding woe, so both feature fail safes like an on/off thumb switch at the right-hand control (both require the kickstand to be up as well). Turn the key, flip the side stand, thumb the throttle switch and the Zero is ready to roll. Getting the Brammo booted up is a procedure: Turn ignition key, press and hold start button on tank which triggers an auditory signal, lift kickstand up, move throttle button from off to on (if it’s left in the on position, the LCD display will prompt you to cycle that from off then on), wait a couple seconds for everything to hook up and finally a flashing green warning on the display means the drive is enabled. All told the 15-20 second starting process is convoluted and the next version we’re told will forego at least the tank button, which adds nothing more than an extra step.

Mark Miller
The initial reaction of the motorcycle public and press to electric motorcycles ranged from bemusement to hostility. Now that the burgeoning EV movement has proven itself with some real-world rides, as well as high-profile racing exhibitions like the first two Isle of Man electric TT races and two rival racing championships (FIM e-Power and TTXGP), the general tone has shifted toward earnest curiosity and grudging acceptance. Producers like Brammo and Zero are proving electric power is viable, in at least some capacity. But the question remains: Why electric?

The answer is simple: electric powertrains deliver much higher energy efficiency. Those rapid explosions inside the cylinder of an ICE motorcycle are visceral and appealing, but not the most efficient way to transfer stored energy to the pavement. Internal combustion powerplants operate at less than 30% efficiency, producing heat first and rotary power as a byproduct.

Electric power inverts that efficiency ratio and then some. While there are still inherent energy transfer losses, also in the form of heat (more on this later), most electric powertrains claim upwards of 90% efficiency. “But that electricity is created by fossil fuel-burning powerplants!” scream the skeptics. Even factoring electricity produced by coal-burning plants, EV supporters claim the outright battery/motor efficiency still lessens the carbon footprint compared to traditional ICE transportation. The operating costs for the rider are also cheaper, with full-recharges of a 30-40 mile battery range far less than the cost of a gallon of gas – Brammo claiming one to two pennies per mile, with Zero citing a full recharge on its bikes in the neighborhood of 80 cents. Another appeal for electric transportation, the energy is homegrown thus reducing the demand for foreign oil. Domestic energy can also be produced from renewable sources, making EVs fashionable for the au courant greens.

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Kyle818 -Kmanracer.  January 11, 2011 11:58 AM
I read somehwere about a "new" engine. I am guessing it will be the next big thing, maybe as big as sliced bread. I know it will be revered as the ultimate power source, I've read that it has a fraction of the moving parts, makes almost 80% more power and torque. It is in an E-tec ( whatever that is ) format and is as fuel efficient as anything we have now. Apparently, it will cost a fraction to repair, from what we are used to, and it's lighter and less expensive to build. Ready for it? It's called.................. a 2 stroke.

Think about how we'd feel if this was a real headline about a new power source, we'd be going crazy. Well, the new 2 strokes meet this high standard and we need to give them a chance to "win" us all back. I'm game, are you?
Stan -Bombs  December 15, 2010 01:58 PM
Ever see one of those batteries explode.
Howard -Ride  December 14, 2010 09:18 AM
Your article has been ripped off. http://goodguyspowersports.wordpress.com/
John -Technology always moves forward  December 11, 2010 07:36 AM
The batteries contain ZERO hazmat! There is more hazmat in the lead acid cells in your gasser. LiFePO4 batteries are inert, can't explode and the CEO of BYD drank the electrolyte in his factory to prove it. The cost of those batteries are down 75% in the last 4 years and as production climbs, the price continues to drop. As far as oil is concerned, China and India are buying all supply and will continue to do so. To get a real idea what is going on in the energy markets, watch what China and India do--they are moving as fast as they can to alternate energy since the market looks very bleak moving forward. Electric motorcycles make sense and it is good to see companies out there understand that 1973 is long in the past.
Zippy -my point is...  December 9, 2010 03:57 AM
My point is, I do not care where the power comes from. The statement that this is the future is what I find most offensive.

There are trillions of barrels of oil in the earth. Here is the real truth, no one, NO ONE, no how much oil is out there and where it cam from. Let Americans access that oil and use. The free market will produce electric bikes when there is a demand for it. Not when our government borrows billion$ from China to subsidize the market.

Right now, today, at the global warming summit in Cancun, Mexico there have been 5 days of record low temps! The UK has the coldest winter since the 1600s. Sounds like the global cooling scare of the 70s is back.
Gunther -lets be realistic  December 8, 2010 12:08 AM
both zippy and brammofan have their points, but the truth is somewhere in the middle. Yes, gas emits locally, at an efficiency of 20-25% in an internal combustion engine. Electric plants have an efficiency of around 40%. But do add to that the net losses and especially the losses that occur during the time you charge your batteries. So efficiency wise it's about the same. However, you can produce eco-friendly electricity. so get some PV panels hooked up to your charger and then it's a step in the riht direction
Brammofan -re: Coal Powered  December 7, 2010 04:37 PM
@Zippy - even assuming my bike is powered from electricity generated by a coal powered plant, the emissions are centralized, usually away from major residential concentration, and filtered/scrubbed at the point of emission so that the greenhouse gases emitted by my bike from coal mine to wheels is about a fourth of the amount (depending on your source) of a similar sized motorcycle. But, to be fair, if you're going to start at the coal plant for me, (and let's go all the way back to the mine...), then let's follow the trail, backwards, from your bike to the well. The gas has its own emissions out of your tailpipe. It came to the station in a truck powered by gas. It was in a refinery that emits toxic gases, and uses an enormous amount of energy (electricity, usually) to refine it. It got to that refinery either by pipeline (powered by diesel pumps along the way) or by ship - another fuel-burning mode of transport. Plenty of articles on all this (google 'well to wheels'). After that calculation, an electric bike charged from 100% coal contributes approximately 1/10 the greenhouse gases that a gasser does. Coal-powered bike? Whatever you want to call it is fine with me.
Brammofan -Re: battery replacement  December 7, 2010 04:27 PM
@AM - the Brammo is rated for 2000 cycles. When my Enertia batteries hit 2,000 full cycles they won’t just drop dead. They will have been sliding gracefully towards 80% of their original capacity over 2000 cycles. So here are my choices at that point: • Do nothing - the bike works just fine - just a shorter range than I had when it was new. • Replace with original specification Valence batteries. • Install a different “go farther” battery set supplied by Brammo. • Install a different “go farther” battery set supplied by a third party. At the rate I'm going, that will likely be 5 -7 years in the future. I'm not too worried about it, but if you are, I understand.
@Reyzie -The future of transportation?  December 7, 2010 12:49 PM
Electric only vehicles are only the future of transportation in very isolated situations. Battery technology needs to take a QUANTUM LEAP before battery power is viable on a mass-market level. Currently, these bikes either have a VERY limited range or very limited performance--or both. If you commute a short, finite distance (at a slow speed)and never deviate from your route, maybe an ebike is usable. However, it is going to be a VERY long time before ebikes will meet the demands of actual riders! As I've said before, check back on battery bikes in 5 or 10 years. Although at that time, IF the technology can meet market requirements, these little niche market manufacturers will be left for dead by the real motorcycle manufacturers! And in the interim, keep an eye on KTM...
Jay -Diesel  December 6, 2010 09:29 PM
Where are the Diesel bikes at. Diesel can be made from algae.A common rail diesel bike should be able to get atleast 150mpg easy and still be fast. Like AM said electric really isnt the way to go. It is good to be different but in the end what are they going to do with all those batteries. I could sell my diesel after 100,000 miles and it would still run. Or you could melt it down and reuse the metal. Batteries = hazmat.
Louis -AM  December 6, 2010 09:00 PM
Good point, but the article says the batteries are rated for 2000 cycles Brammo and 1800 cycles Zero, not 500 cycles. Where are you getting your info? Sounds like MCUSA is off.
Tessier -Hey Zippy no coal for me!  December 6, 2010 06:59 PM
Zippy I live right down the street from a Hydro plant in NH we never loose power, and in my case it's always clean and renewable. So for me these are clean alternatives to ICE's. While I will always love a Ducati twin I can't wait for the day I cam complete my 110 mile commute on a electric bike. These two just aren't it for me but like the author say's the next gen just might do it!
Zippy -Coal powered  December 6, 2010 05:23 PM
Remember, this power comes from coal powered plants and is just stored in the batteries.

Coal is burned, water boiled, steam spins turbines that generates power. This is transfered and stored in the batteries. That spins a motor that moves the vehicle.

The only power produced is from burning coal.

So these are really coal powered MCs. Just saying is all.
AM -BATTERY REPLACEMENT  December 6, 2010 04:07 PM
Here we go again. One more electric bike test that fails to provide how many cycles the batteries are good for and how much they cost. Nobody mentions it because it will drive people away. How does a $3,000.00 bill sounds like after 500 cycles ( 2 to 3 years max ) for the Zero? http://www.zeromotorcycles.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2&products_id=10
Just for kicks this is a $83.33 monthy bill if you have to replace the battery in 3 years. Do it in 2 years and it will be $125.00 per month, let's say, in "gas" money. I do not spend that on my Yamaha FZ1 which by the way costs just about the same, it's at least 10 times more fun with real world range and it will not give me a bill of $3,0000 in 3 years. What a joke! No thanks.