WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: As long as you don’t have to ride to Las Vegas and back in one day, or more accurately in three or four days, this motorcycle will do just about everything you ask of it and more, quickly, quietly and emissions-free.
The big difference with this Zero SR, of course, is that it’s all-electric. A big lithium-ion battery sits right where the gas tank and most of the engine would be on a normal bike. Most Zero S and SR models come with an 11.4-kWh battery, but mine came with the optional +Power Tank that adds another 2.8 kWh for a total of 14.2 kWh. (We rode the 2014 model; the 2015s top out at 15.3 kWh.) Consider that my personal Mitsubishi iMiEV electric five-door, four-passenger car has a battery just 16 kWh big, and you can see that this is one heck of a big battery for a bike. Zero lists range for this configuration in regen-happy city traffic at 171 miles, which covers just about any commute anywhere in the world. All that stopping and going means kinetic energy is converted back to electricity every time you ease off on the throttle, which gives it the impressive range. If you cruise at a steady 55 mph, Zero says you can go 106 miles; at 70 mph you can go 88. I did one 76-mile trip from a starting elevation of 449 feet up to a turnaround point in the local mountains of 5,340 feet and back and, after less than an hour of time plugged in during stops, came home with 35 percent of charge left on the readout. I did another trip also, interestingly, 76 miles that was half stop-and-go rush hour traffic and half regular freeway speeds and used up 67 percent of the battery. So it’ll go pretty far. Range was never an issue during the week I had the Zero in LA.
This Zero is so revolutionary that it might turn off many riders just because it doesn’t have an internal combustion engine and a foot-shifted five-speed transmission. But there are so many advantages to an electric motorcycle that you really have to consider before you reject the notion out of hand. The biggest advantage is the way the torque rolls so easily onto the road. After a few apexes you get the hang of it: just ease off the throttle (or, accelerator?) to slow into the corner, lean in and ease back on the twist grip. If you’re leaning too much, give it more juice; too little, give it less. Since an electric motor provides 100 percent of its torque from one rpm, response is instantaneous. With only one speed, there are no gears to shift and no clutch to operate, so riding’s immediately smoother. It’s great for beginners. And unless you’re coming to a complete stop, usually there are not even any brakes to engage, the regen does almost all the braking. You can dial in exactly how much regen as you want with an app on your Apple iPhone. (Yes, you can set up this motorcycle with your iPhone.) I say crank it way up. I dialed regen during my loan to 100 percent. Not only does this save on brake wear and increase the range of your batteries by recharging them with every stop, but it gives you the most control when you’re carving through corners.
It is nearly silent, can leave most workday traffic in the dust and tops out at nearly 100 mph. Its performance can be programmed via smartphone and it costs 1.2 cents per mile to run.“It” ...
As for all those worries people spouted when electric cars came out: Zero estimates that it’ll take 385,000 miles before the battery pack degrades to the point that it can hold only 80 percent of the charge it did when new. That still means 137 miles range in city traffic. While the rest of the motorcycle gets the standard two-year warranty, the battery pack is warranted for five years or 100,000 miles. Depending on where you live, electricity is about 10 cents a kWh, so you fill up for $1.42. Since there are far fewer moving parts in an electric powertrain, there’s less likelihood anything will break. Do I sound like a zealot?
As for the regular motorcycle performance parameters, the Zero SR is just as impressive. Zero to 60 mph comes up in just 3.9 seconds, though published figures rate it in the low fours. I did a lot of full-throttle launches and found myself holding on to the handlebars like a Disneyland thrill ride. Acceleration is quick, no question. I’d even say thrilling. Top speed is listed on the spec sheet at 102 mph, though the operating system dials down the top speed if you stay up there very long. Exactly how much isn’t clear; I guess it varies depending on how you ride. I was told if you cruise at 80 mph and the system detects overheating, it’ll dial you back to 70.
You can also adjust the shocks manually to your liking. Go ahead and play around with them. The seating position was like it was tailored for me. It was just about perfect. I like the design, too. Maybe I’m drinking too much electric Kool-Aid. But man it tastes great and doesn’t pollute!
I’d change a few things. The saddle cushion was pretty hard. As on many motorcycles, I never really found the best position for the rearview mirrors. The electric plug, while it stows nicely in the frame, is a little short, and if you want to use a J1772 outlet you need an adapter. And finally, the cost is a little steep. My bike was up around $20,000 as-tested.
Consider the Zero with an open mind. I really liked the role of the regenerative braking in handling -- it made riding much smoother. I liked plugging it in at home where the solar panels on the roof of my house powered it for free (sort of). And the styling is real smooth. You have to try this thing out.
The Zero SR electric motorcycle goes from 0-60 in 3.3 seconds.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: The Zero SR is the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like a superhero.
I swooped up on traffic, whisper-quiet, and blew the doors off fools and dawdlers in ghostlike stealthiness. I found myself yelling, "holy s#*@ it's fast!" when I twisted the throttle and found myself cresting a wave of never-ending torque. I felt like a ninja diving into corners, an assassin sneaking up on his target, an urban warrior under cover of darkness…if you take what’s supposed to be an unassailable tenet of motorcycling -- the sturm und drang -- you get an entirely new experience, one that’s just as enjoyable. That’s the beauty of the Zero, and electric motorcycles in general. It helps if your electric motorcycle is brilliant.
Torque solves everything. Torque, if properly applied, can bring peace to the Middle East, reverse climate change, jumpstart the economy, and fulfill the hopes and dreams of the masses…106 lb-ft of torque, as generously contained within the Zero SR’s aircraft-grade aluminum frame, will make believers out of doubters and zealots out of believers. Because this thing is quick: 0-60 in 3.3 seconds, according to the manufacturer. Mark Vaughn may have tested that himself. As for me, not once did I squeeze the throttle (with gusto) and find myself popping a wheelie at an angle that would make an F-18 pilot blush and a police officer start filling out paperwork.
The Zero feels like a cross between a mountain bike and a real motorcycle -- you can throw it around like the Huffy I jumped dirt lots with when I was 12. This combination of speed and tossability is potent. You feel like a hooligan -- a polite, eco-conscious ruffian, anyway. And it’s quiet enough that you can park it anywhere -- on the sidewalk, in a park, on the second floor of a Macy’s -- without annoying any neighbors, security guards or perfume department managers. (Note: don’t try that.)
I tried to park this inside my apartment, but the hallway was too narrow.
As an experience, riding a Zero counts as motorcycling at its most pure form: you, a road, and endless torque -- no sound, no shifts, no vibrations. Funny how much of the motorcycling experience is retained even when these supposed fundamentals are missing.
No more waiting for a cantankerous Triumph to idle! No waiting for gasoline to flow through a Moto Guzzi’s veins! Just hop on the bike and go. Such ease means that the bike is perfect for popping down to the shops, as they say in England, where they didn’t so much invent the motorcycle but perfect it. The difference between a gasoline and an electric motorcycle is that the gas bike says, “Hey buddy, let’s go somewhere EPIC. Let’s ride to Tanzania. Let’s go camping for a week. Ever heard of the Iron Butt Rally? Go pack your sleeping bag!” The electric bike says, “OK, let’s go pick up Chinese food, then come back, and maybe later we’ll go rent a movie, and tomorrow if you’re too lazy to walk to Starbucks, let’s go. Don’t forget to plug me in!”
Good news for eco-minded aficionados of two-wheeled transport. The Federales have approved a tax credit for purchasers of electric bicycles and motorcycles. The credit, which amounts to 10 percent of ...
Electricity, supplied via a direct-drive motor the size of a cantaloupe and mounted above the swingarm pivot, for a lower center of gravity, also means that you don’t have to worry about shifting. Sneer at an automatic bike, sure, but once you twist the throttle and go, it adds to the glorified bicycle feeling: no more hand cramps, no more missed shifts. Instead, this is supplanted by reaching out with a left hand for a clutch that doesn't exist, then looking like an idiot.
The Zero comes with three different riding modes: Sport goes into full Insanity Mode, while Eco is great for sauntering around. The brake regeneration in Eco is so aggressive that you won’t need to touch the brakes. Just as well, because the regenerative brakes have terrible modulation and the rear brake is nearly useless -- but, they wind up feeling just as bad as on my Moto Guzzi. Perversely, I was used to this. What’s more, the Zero has 171 total miles of range, with our optional Power Tank: by the time my Guzzi reaches 150 miles, I’m jonesing for a Chevron. Where the Guzzi vibrates like a hula girl statue in a Baja 1000 buggy, the Zero is wonderfully smooth but its plastic bodywork rattles over bumps with pronounced frailty. And if anything, both are mostly painted red.
And yet -- the Zero is not loud enough. (Look to rival Brammo for the feigned futurism.) This electric conveyance really does sound like a Segway, or one of those dorky, upright, three-wheeled Roman chariots so favored by Los Angeles’s finest. One problem with a bike that’s both automatic and silent: if someone cuts you off, you can’t rev your engine in anger. The fear that a car won’t hear you is reassured by the fact that they won’t notice you anyway.
Despite that misgiving, this really is the perfect Los Angeles bike -- light, quiet, smooth, nice and narrow for lane-splitting (a survival necessity in this fair city of ours), entirely unassuming, curiosity seeking, devoid of obnoxiousness or pretension. If it weren’t expensive, this would be the perfect bike for motorcycle beginners.
Oh boy, the price. How much? At $16,995 and with no tax credits coming our way, you could buy a new pair of Air Force Ones every day, for a year. Or, you could buy a scooter. (The slightly slower Zero S is $4,000 cheaper. How fast do you want to go?)
You could get a Ford Fiesta SFE for around the same price. It’s small, it sips fuel, and it’s even more unassuming. Or, you could buy the perfect urban sidekick -- and, armed with limitless torque, lay waste to arch-nemeses.
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