The Story of Time Spent on a Zero S Electric Motorcycle
I love it when a story writes itself. Such is the case for this test of 2013 Zero Motorcycle’s S Streetfighter model. I had the opportunity to demo this electric motorcycle for one day in NYC on the West Side Highway, which was a very positive, eye-opening experience. That ride led to a longer term loan of the machine which is where my story really begins…
When you get to live with a bike for a while, you can really bond with it and get a feel for what it might be like to actually own one. In the case of an electric moto, that is an even more unique experience as I quickly learned.
As you might imagine, with an electric motorcycle you have to be very cognizant of the amount of charge you have. It’s not unlike paying attention to your gas gauge but with obvious differences. Though there may be more electrical outlets than gas stations out there, they are certainly less accessible by comparison. I learned this valuable lesson the first day I rode to work on the S.
The S model has about a 137-mile range if ridden at moderate speeds (55 mph or so) and my commute is about 35 miles, one-way. This made me realize that if I had any other diversionary trips tacked on to my day, I needed to make sure I had enough power to get home. So I plugged the bike into a socket in my building’s lobby.
After about 3 hours of charge our landlord came knocking on our door asking who had a bike plugged in downstairs. I was denied power as a result which made no sense whatsoever, but I got a feel for the discrimination some electric riders must certainly go through. It was not fun, and I have a secret suspicion that since the landlord rides an internal combustion bike, he was simply upset that I was in possession of a machine that did not need to visit a gas station. Ever.
But I digress…the valuable lesson I mentioned above related to my ride home that first day aboard the S. I had about a 70-percent charge thanks to being denied power and as I rode home, I could see the power bars on the dashboard dropping down every few miles.
I was still about 10 miles from home when the bars completely disappeared and all I could see on the dash was a blinking gas pump icon. Not a reassuring feeling, I can tell you. But Zero motorcycles are built smart. As your charge depletes, the machine will limit how fast you can go. I still had plenty of power with the bars gone and made it home with no issues.
I later asked Zero about that experience and was told that if you find yourself only able to go about 10 miles per hour, (after the machine has incrementally limited your top speed) you had better be near a charge point. Zero Motorcycles offer regenerative braking and roll off on their machines to help extend battery charge, so you can bet I was governing my speed carefully and rolling off as much as possible to keep the machine “alive” so to speak on that ride home.
Looking back on that ride, I clearly had more charge than I thought but was still a little freaked out and paranoid. After a few outings on the S though, that feeling went away completely and I was able to enjoy it’s thrust-filled ride all the more.
Speaking of the ride characteristics of this machine, the first thing I noticed was the surreal feeling of twisting a throttle and silently gliding (with immense torque) through space. With no need for a clutch or gear shifter, Zero’s proprietary, fully-sealed Z-Drive engine which mates to their battery, offers an exhilarating experience unlike any moto you have ever ridden. You simply twist your wrist and the power pours on seamlessly and seemingly endlessly. It just pulls and pulls until you reach the top speed of 95 mph at which point it levels out.
I received my test bike during the extreme temperatures we had here on the East Coast in late June. As a result, the first thing I noticed after throwing a leg over this light ($387 lbs. as mine was equipped with the larger battery option) machine was the lack of engine heat. My own bike practically burns my left leg off on very hot days but with the Zero, there is pretty much, er…zero heat (pun intended). There is also a lack of vibration which most internal combustion rides have to some degree. Combined with the absence of sound, your ride is transformed into something out of a dream in which you find yourself (or as many believe) your ego, soaring across the ground. Some electric cars have added on sound devices so that the vehicle can be heard by other road users, pedestrians, etc. That might be something for Zero to look into as well but I was only really concerned about that when riding on poorly lit streets at night.
If this bike falls short anywhere, it is in the suspension department. Overall, the S performed well and soaked up your average bumps easily. But I like to put a test bike thoroughly through it’s paces and when confronted with larger bumps, divets and other road imperfections, you can feel that the suspension on this moto is one of its weaker points. However, considering how far Zero has come in development over the past few years, I am sure this will be addressed with future models.
Overall, I think that Zero Motorcycles have come a long way in a very short period of time. Going by that measure, if they keep up the hard work, in about five years (or likely less) they will have bikes with much improved range, handling, suspension and charge times.
I for one, cannot wait for that. In fact, I am already starting to make room in my garage for one more machine. I just have to remember to park it near the electrical outlet! The Zero S sells for between $13,995 and $15,995. For additional information on the entire Zero lineup, visit zeromotorcycles.com.
Alan Tecchio is a freelance writer based in the N.Y. metro area who has interviewed hundreds of celebrities. He is an avid motorcyclist and active Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Coach. Alan is the lead singer of the rock band Autumn Hour and also sings for the heavy metal band Seven Witches.