Let me just say from the outset that I am not an electrician. I’m a pretty handy guy, but when it comes to troubleshooting household electrical stuff, I figure out what I can with my voltmeter, then say a prayer to St. Nickola of Tesla that I don’t get electrocuted.
As well, I don’t know much about electric vehicles. I’ve piloted the occasional golf cart (in non-golf settings, because I could give a rat’s ass about the game which Mark Twain accurately deemed “a good walk spoiled”), and I’ve had some fun on high performance electric go karts.
So this was my knowledge base as I rode my “traditionally powered” Buell into the Schlossmann’s Motorcycles dealer lot in Milwaukee, with the intent of taking advantage of their Zero motorcycles demo day.
As you can see from the pictures, there’s nothing too outlandish about the Zeros’ looks — no Jetsons- inspired capacitors and transformers mounted and humming on the pillion. They certainly cut a handsome enough sport bike profile.
The regional Zero guy gave me a walk-around of the the model S ZF12.5 I was about to take for a spin, showing me how to start it and toggle through the preset performance options (Eco, Custom, and Sport — more about those later). And let’s get this out of the way now: There’s no clutch on this machine. Nor a shifter lever. Everything apart from braking is controlled by twisting the throttle. So be forewarned: if you’re one of those motorcyclists who just love to do the “hey! everyone look at me!” blipping of the throttle at a stop light, this bike is going to teach you a very embarrassing lesson, very quickly.
If you’re like me and not familiar with electric vehicles, the fact that they basically turn “off” when you’re stopped takes some getting used to. But after the S was booted up, I twisted the throttle, and silently left the dealer lot. I made a left onto the boulevard and took it easy — getting used to the riding position, the acceleration rate, and the fact I had to constantly tell and remind myself: “Fool! Stop reaching for the non-existent clutch!”
I started the ride in “Eco” mode, which makes the most efficient use of the battery’s power by limiting both the rate of acceleration and the top end. But you’re not going to feel cheated in eco mode. It still has enough giddy up!
After a couple of boulevard miles I took it into a subdivision and did some u-turns. The S ZF12.5 had a very tight and easy-to-manage turning radius, and the throttle offered enough latitude that I didn’t miss nor need friction zone clutching at the slow speeds.
Before going back on to the boulevard, I toggled up to the Sport setting — which gooses the acceleration and raises the top end speed. The Zero transmissions are described as “clutchless direct drive”, and that pretty much sums it up. It seemed that all you had to do was think I’m going to roll on the throttle now and the Z-Force brushless motor had already read your mind. To wit: I was riding with the face shield of my full-face helmet up, and the sudden rush of lift directed under the open shield with the instant acceleration made it feel as though it was going to detach my helmeted head from my body. But in a good way. : )
Grinning the width of my helmet, I returned the S to the dealership lot, then jumped on the SR model. The Zero SR ZF12.5 offers a 3.3 second 0 – 60 acceleration, nearly 40 more ft-lbs of torque and 13 more hp. This time, I hopped on the expressway — and let’s just say I made full use of the “acceleration lane” and, learning my lesson from my first ride, this time I made sure the face shield was closed so I didn’t inadvertently decapitate myself with the rush of g-force. I headed for some entrance and exit ramps that would allow me to test the SR’s lean angle responsiveness in some decreasing radius turns, and I was impressed. And smiling.
These things are a scream! And the real deal.
All Zero models come with fully adjustable Showa suspensions and Bosch Anti-Lock brakes. Between the suspension and the bikes’ low center of gravity, I was surprised that the S and the SR have curb weights of 408 and 414 lbs, respectively. At low cornering speeds, they seemed 30 – 40 lbs less than that. In terms of comfort, I found the ergos, seat and riding position to be well-laid out for my towering 5′ 7″ frame.
The cold reality however is that the bikes I rode aren’t cheap. The model S ZF12.5 lists for $15,345, and its torque-ier SR ZF12.5 brother lists for $2K more. You can stretch your justification for a Zero purchase with the knowledge that for every 6K miles you typically might put on an internal combustion motorcycle, you’re saving about $1K in gas costs. Plus, with the absence of camshafts, valves, piston rings, wrist pins, connecting rods, etc., there are a whole lot fewer mechanical things that can go wrong with your Zero and lay you up with a mechanic. Advantage: Zero (so to speak).
But there’s also the riding distance limitations. With city riding, Zero estimates you’ll get about 150 miles per charge with the S and SR, and about half of that if you want to put it through some performance paces or just stay at highway speeds.
The current MSRP prices are pretty close to some premium cruising bikes. And the people who have money for a big-ass thumping cruiser could buy a new Indian Chief Dark Horse for about the the price of a Zero S or SR. But I’m pretty sure that the people with Dark Horse money are not the target market for Zero motorcycles. The Zeros are speedy, fine-handling, lean-angling machines — not for the wealthy, I’d-rather-be-posing-upright rider. But would the speed and cornering-loving motorcyclist buy a Zero when they could get a brand new 639 cc Kawasaki Ninja and save about $3K?
So here’s what I’d like to see. And it would be a win / win for Zero and potential Zero fans.
The more Zeros seen on the road, the more heads will be turned and the more people will want to know about them. But the current sticker shock might get in the way of that. Plus there’s the potential buyer’s remorse that today’s state-of-the-art Zero might be obsolete in a year, given the seemingly daily advances in battery and charging technologies.
So… what about a leasing program?
The buyer then can pay into the Zero, with the option to buy it at the end of the lease. Or, they can negotiate a deal for the new-and-improved Zero that will be available then. This would make the ownership more attractive to the potential buyer, and likely get more bikes out there so people will see them, which in turn generates buzz (ha ha! Buzz! About an electric bike!), which may result in more sales. Further, Zero ought to cut a lease deal with Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) RiderCoaches (full disclosure: I am one of said RiderCoaches). But hear me out!
MSF RiderCoaches will ride the bikes responsibly, so Zero won’t be having to sweat the condition of the bikes while they’re leased out. Plus, if RiderCoaches ride the Zeros to their MSF classes, well — let’s just say that RiderCoaches hold a lot of sway when it comes to role modeling, and students respond to what the RiderCoaches ride, wear, etc.
Really, folks at Zero. Leasing. Think about it!
Electronic motorcycles are coming. There will be more of them. An American-made competitor to the California-conceived Zero, Brammo electric motorcycles, was purchased earlier this year by Polaris — home of Indian and Victory motorcycles. And under the Victory marque, a Brammo made a competitive appearance at this year’s legendary Isle of Man TT. It was quite the splash!
As of right now neither electric nor hybrid cars have hit the big time. But they’re slowly getting more common, and I predict motorcycles will be right there. The available technology is going to eventually come down in price, as will the products, and at some point, critical mass of product options, greener-thinking Millennials, workplaces offering special parking and charging stations… these bikes are going to happen.
And even if the future Zeros never cornered better or went any faster than the ones I rode this weekend, when I have the money, I’ll be test riding with the intention of getting one into my garage!
Find out about all the Zero motorcycle models at zeromotorcycles.com.