I bought an electric motorcycle.
Ask me that two years ago and I would have laughed in your face, but after spending some time on them last year that’s exactly what I’ve done. And as everyone is always asking me what it’s like to live with an electric bike, I thought that I’d write a blog for Insidebikes. So here goes…
So let me lay my cards on the table. Last year I started doing some contract work for Zero, the American electric bike company. As part of my job I found myself shuttling around press bikes and even running around daily on them when they weren’t out on test. When they went back to the European HQ at the end of the year I vowed to buy one of my own. So I did.
It took me until May to finally pull the trigger, as much for financial reasons as much as anything else, and since then I’ve racked up almost 1200 miles.
There are three main objections to electric motorcycles that usually come up from riders of more traditional tackle – range, charge time and price. The first two were not a major factor for me, as I knew what to expect having ridden Zeros for a full summer. Price does remain a factor, but I chose to go for a 2017 Zero S ZF13. The Zero S should cost £13,690, but Phillip Hammond gives you £1500 off in the form of an EV grant. By going for the 2017 model (which has a little less range than the 2018) I was able to get a discount but, even so, it remains a £10k+ motorcycle. It is cheap to run though (and more on that later).
Electric vehicles (whether cars or bikes) thrive on routine, and for my routine the Zero is just perfect. I live 40 miles from the office on A roads, and it can comfortably do the return journey on one charge at legal speeds. Ride like crazy (and trust me, these things can go quick if you want to) and it can drain the battery in 50 miles, but the key is to keep plugging in where you get an opportunity.
The Zero’s onboard charger plugs into a regular 3kW, 13 amp, socket which is really practical as it can be charged pretty much anywhere. The downside is that charging is slow. A full charge takes around nine hours but by keeping it plugged in at the office or home, you keep the battery topped up. Zero does offer a charge tank on 2018 models (as a £2300 optional extra), which allows you to fast charge at public points. With these, you can be fully topped up in little more than an hour. I have taken on an account with Chargemaster, who run many of the public charging outlets, although I rarely use it. Some public charging points have three pin plugs on them, but my Zero can still be connected to the Nissan Leaf type chargers with a £100 adaptor, although it still charges at a sedate 3kW. The benefit of having that three pin lead (the same type you see on most computers) is that you can charge up literally anywhere. I regularly filch a charge at cafes and coffee shops when I stop, although apps like Zap Map and Plug Share are an invaluable source of information when it comes to locating public charging points.
Riding electric requires a different mindset. Short journeys are a blast. The Zero has 110Nm of torque and 60bhp and is a lot of fun to ride. Use that performance to the full and the range suffers, but ride steady and you can easily get 90 miles out of a full charge. So far I have travelled from my home in Peterborough to north London (80 miles), Leicester (42 miles), Luton (55 miles), Birmingham (100 miles) and Northampton (43 miles). These trips do require a degree more planning and power management than you would with a petrol bike, but that’s part of the fun and not really such a problem as long as you know where to recharge en route or at the destination.
For example, last week I travelled to the Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire, a journey of just under 60 miles. Riding with the flow of traffic (between 50-60mph) and being disciplined on the final stretch of M1 and A43 saw me arrive with just over half of the battery depleted. A few hours on the charger while I went about my business saw us return for home with a more than adequate 75% battery at our disposal. However, had I upped my average to 70mph, or gone crazy on the final stretch, I could easily have fully depleted my battery – and been left with a five hour wait to recharge just to be able to make it home. Discipline is the key to riding or driving any electric vehicle for any kind of distance, especially when you don’t have the benefit of fast charging.
Life with an electric bike doesn’t have to be difficult. Like most Zero owners, I’ve developed a curiosity for tinkering. Even though there’s a useful storage bin (where you’d find the petrol tank on an ICE bike) I’ve got a rear rack on order, so that I can fit my top box, and I’m hoping to add a screen soon too. According the forum sages, a good screen that’s well adjusted can add 10-15% more range, so I’m looking at either one of Zero’s own screens or an aftermarket item from the likes of Givi. I’ve also got accustomed to answering the same old questions every time I park up. Maybe I should make a leaflet with all those frequently asked questions. It makes more torque than an R1, don’t you know…
It may have been expensive to buy, but the Zero is ridiculously cheap to run. According to the Zero app (which you download to your smart phone) I’ve used 122 kWh of electricity in 1180 miles. At an average of around 12.5p per kWh, I reckon its cost me just over £15 for all those miles. That certainly makes me smile!