While the mainstream bike brands have largely ignored electric up until now, American company Zero has been on a crusade to change the public’s perception of battery powered bikes. With prices starting at around £9000, they’re not cheap to buy, but with negligible running costs and ever improving range they are starting to make more and more sense for commuters looking for something that bit different.
With a claimed 10% increase in range for 2018, we took out the 11kw version of the Zero S to see how it copes with a daily commute – and to see if electric really is an option for British motorcyclists.
The first thing you notice about the Zero S is just how normal it feels compared to an everyday motorcycle. Ergonomically it’s not dissimilar to something like a Yamaha MT-07, although the lack of a clutch lever and gear shifter give the game away – this electric bike is unencumbered by a gearbox. It’s twist and go, scooter style.
Physically it’s a little bit smaller than a mid-sized naked bike too, and it feels firmly suspended as well. When you really notice the difference is when you start it up. With an internal combustion engine bike you’d thumb the starter and it fires into life. With this, there is zip, zilch, nada… Turning the twistgrip arms the throttle (signified by a green light on the dash board) but there’s no sound, other than a few relays whirring away. Then it’s time to go and have fun.
Anyone who says that electric bikes are boring has clearly never ridden one. Turn the throttle and it’s clear why there is no need for a traditional gearbox. There is a positive Tsunami of torque on hand from, erm, zero. With 106Nm at your right wrist (1000cc sportsbike territory) the Zero simple storms away from the traffic lights with a stealthy whoosh. Lack of noise is regarded as a negative for some riders but try it and prepare to be amazed – there’s something really cool about riding a silent rocket!
The version we tested was the 11kw variant, in other words the learner legal derivative. Because of the way that the regulations are set, the Zero actually makes 23kw (31bhp) of peak power – although the law dictates ‘continuous’ power, which is an L plate friendly 11kw. It is certainly quicker than any 125cc A1 category bike I’ve ever ridden, although there is a fairly hard top speed limit at 80mph. There are three rider modes: Eco restricts the torque and is very soft and friendly, maximising range, while Sport is pretty aggressive mode that needs to be handled with care. A user defined ‘Custom’ mode allows the rider to customise how the power is delivered.
So, it is fun and handles well thanks to an array of top quality cycle parts but any talk of electric vehicles brings not one, but three, elephants in the room.
Elephant one is always range. Zero claims just under 90 urban miles with the ZF7.2 battery bike, which our tests showed to be pretty accurate. On dual carriageways, that drops to about half, but for most urban commuters 45 miles is more than enough. If you need more, Zero will sell you a bike with twice the battery capacity (and range) called the ZF14.4, although the price increases by £3000 to £13,690. The bigger battery also adds 40kg to the weight, which is a reasonable 142kg on the smaller battery bike. The ZF7.2 costs £10,690 (that’s the second elephant) but the government will pitch in a £1500 grant to sweeten the deal. Electricity costs are typically just 2p per mile, so it’s much cheaper to run, despite the steep sticker price.
That third elephant is charge time. With the ZF7.2, you’re looking at around four hours to fully recharge through a standard three pin plug. Fast chargers to plug into the public chargers are another cost extra but can increase the practicality and reduce the charge time to around an hour. In truth, charging is just different. On a traditional pistons and exhaust bike we just let the needle go down before finding our own ‘recharge’ station to dump in some litres of unleaded. An electric bike is more like a laptop or mobile phone in the way that you use it. Charge the bike up overnight and it’s ready to get you to work. Plug it in while you’re in the office and it’ll get you home. Indeed for many riders it’ll only need charged up a few times each week. It won’t get you from London to Scotland and back, but for a commuter bike the Zero and its ilk makes increasingly good sense. It’s practical too. The S has a storage bin where the fuel tank would traditionally be, while there’s also an added cubby hole behind the battery on the ZF7.2.
The Zero isn’t for everyone, the cost alone dictates that, but it’s proof that alternative fuel vehicles are making big strides. Give one a go, if you get a chance, it’ll surely put a smile on your face.