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This may seem like a strange comparison, Ninja vs an electric motorcycle, but it was a lot close than you might think. Actually it is the Ninja against several electric motorcycles as a tried a wide variety of Zeros. Normally the first Friday of each month the Zero factory does demos. Today was a gorgeous day and since I signed up in advance, I wanted to make sure I took advantage of it.

They did a brief overview of the bikes, technology used, key features, etc. Then they went through a quick overview of the controls and the various riding modes (eco, sport, custom) talking a bit about regen braking. If you aren’t familiar with electric or hybrid cars, regenerative braking allows you to somewhat recharge the battery when braking. It doesn’t make a huge difference usually but it can reclaim some of the energy that would otherwise be wasted.

They have a pretty good model lineup and it has expanded quite a bit over the years. I basically was interested in the SR, DSR, FX 6.5 & FSX models. The SR is their top of the line street model, the DSR is sort a quasi ADV version of the SR. The FS is sort of a dual purpose, off-road capable bike with a mid-power motor and the FSX is a super moto version of the FS, think streetbike wheels and tires on an endure bike.

So what’s it like to ride them? In a word – FUN! I feel that electric cars and bikes are truly the wave of the future even when it comes to performance. As battery technology improves, so will the performance. In terms of the fun factor, I strongly suggest you try one. Don’t try a Zero prior to 2012. About 2013 they were really hitting their stride. The latest models are pretty impressive.

So let’s start with the SR. Going in, I thought it would be my favorite. Turns out, it wasn’t and I was really surprised. Not because it is a bad bike, it is pretty good. I just wasn’t a big fan of the riding position and was a bit cramped. Suspension was decent, good brakes (not N1K league though), good manners, blah. blah, blah. We road on some really crappy pavement and it showed the suspension was the weakest link, not FZ09 bad, but definitely midrange. It might be dialed in if I had time but out of the box, I give it a 6.5/10.

If you like the engine on the N1K, I can almost guarantee you’ll like the SR and the way it pulls. They claim 0-60 in 3.3 seconds. I can tell you they are not lying. While this motor is rated at only about 67HP, the torque is 106 ft/lb and that is almost totally available almost as soon as you start moving. I think they limit the torque just a bit until you hit about 5mph but if you pin the throttle after that, make sure you are pointed street. I grabbed a big handful of throttle in a turn and was able to flat track it. This thing will definitely scoot down the road. Because of its quickness, you have to be careful you don’t overcook it into the turns. There are no normal clues like a motor making a lot of fuss, just a slight whine from the motor and away you go. It is great fun but not for me. So on to the DSR.

The DSR turned out to be my 2nd favorite. Take all the basic goodness of the SR, but put it a taller package, tweak the suspension and you have a lot of fun when riding. It seemed better on the rough roads but I liked the bit more upright riding position. Much easier to move around the bike. Still the same great acceleration, brakes were about the same but the chassis seemed better but I think the suspenders where helping it out. By the way I got to test the ABS on this bike (not intentionally) and it worker pretty well. I believe all their bikes have ABS now.

Now for my favorite, well actually a 2-way tie between the FS & FSX. On the sometimes crappy canyon roads, these bikes were just more fun thanks to their long travel suspension and decent tires. You can really haul on them even though they are rated at about 44 hp. Doesn’t seem like much does it? While the HP might not blow you away, how about 70 ft-lb of torque at idle? Ok, maybe that got your attention. How about a curb weight of under 300 pounds? Now it starts to get interesting. Oh yeah, did I mention one key fact about these models? They will wheelie! I mean roll on the throttle and lift the front wheel to the moon wheelies. I found myself lofting the front wheel between turns and carrying it for a while and setting it down just before the next turn.

The downside to these last 2 bikes is they aren’t carrying as much battery which helps with their power to weight ratios but hurts their range. For the best models, you can get about 200 miles out of a fully charged pack riding in the city. Highway range at 70 mph will be about half that. Flogging the you know what out of it showed me I’d get somewhere around 100 miles out of the SR or DSR. The FSX and FXS might go about 90 miles in the city and about half that at a 70 mph cruise. Then again topping of the smaller packs take less time. They also have removable battery packs as well so you could keep a set at work and swap out when you got there if you had a long commute or take them off the bike to charge them inside.

I can tell you in a head to head match up, the FX(S) models are VERY close to their more powerful brothers. OTOH their suspension compliance allowed me to carry higher speeds through the canyon roads we were on then the (D)SR models. Brakes were pretty comparable and the FX variants had light steering input. Man if I lived in San Francisco I’d be whipping out my checkbook already to take one of the last 2 models home. You can curb hop them, wheelie them, jump them and treat them like a dirt bike but have very strong acceleration. My stupid move of the day was riding it like a dirt bike standing up and grabbing a bigger handful of throttle than I intended to. Instant wheelie and the incredible thrust made for a few exciting moments to say the least.

Pricing varies but basically you are between 8k and 16k before any federal incentives and state rebates. Are they cheaper than a gas motorcycle? No and it could be some time before you recover your costs if you look at it purely from a cost savings of gas vs. electric. Their rule of thumb in California is it cost about 1 cent per mile for electrons. Other states it would be even cheaper as CA has some of the most expensive electric prices in the US. They are belt drive and so far they seem to last about 20k. No oil changes and no maintenance on the motor. Batteries are warranted for 50-100k depending on the model.

I would highly suggest finding a local dealer to try one out. They aren’t idea for bombing across the US on a grand tour the range is likely good enough for a lot of people. You can plug into a 110 home outlet or buy optional high output charges and some that can accept L2 charging like for Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, etc.

I can definitely see adding one of these to my stable this next year. I really had that much fun on it. The enduro model would be a lot of fun on state trail systems. You could really have some fun and not disturb they wildlife. A lot of police departments are using the street models and someone from the California State Park systems was there finalizing an order (so it appeared) to use them in the parks.

They may not be the ultimate bike but I can assure you for only have either 40HP or 60HP they will be some of the most fun bikes you’ve ridden. Based on their progress I can’t wait to see where they are in a few more years. I never thought I’d see the day where I could powerslide and electric motorcycle coming out of a turn…

ZERO MOTORCYCLES – The Electric Motorcycle Company - Official Site
 

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At work, I deal with scientists and rare gasses. These guys agree with you. Their qualifier is "If they find a way to transfer the energy faster."

Meaning you can drop 4 gallons of fuel in a tank in 30 seconds. That much electric energy will take several hours.

I believe I am more interested in electric offroad. I imagine how cool it would be to be following some trail and only hear chain sounds.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
The recharge part is the downside but a lot of days I don't ride more than about 50 miles anyway except for the days I do my long commute from NorCal to SoCal and back. They do have quick(er) charge options if you need a quicker turn around.

Of course they don't approach the convenience of gas but you can recharge at the rate of about 4 kWh. So for about every hour of charging you can get about 50 miles range or so. This isn't bad but not as good as gas.

The usage model I look at is about a 20 mile commute to an office. Then there for about 8 hours or so and then the fun long way home (40 miles) and done. I could almost do that on the FX(S) series depending on how fast I was on the highway without a recharge. If I am at work for even 2 hours I can recover the energy used on the way there and "top off the tank" so to speak. Since I can use a normal 110v outlet i can pretty easily find places to fill up.

The idea of the offroad electric appeals to me a lot as well. That is why the FX(S) series really intrigue me and they aren't pigs in the weight department. The thrust is like a big bore (500cc 2-stroke) as well even if the HP isn't there. They don't feel as "vicious" though as the power is so linear.
 

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Would make a lot of sense for a commuter. The only thing that would really scare is that that they are quiet. Really helps to have an exhaust that makes some noise when lane splitting.

If you haven't seen it already, the documentary Charge with Ewan McGregor is pretty entertaining to watch.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
What one Zero model really needs is a very aerodynamic fairing. That is what kills the mileage on motorcycles is there terrible aerodynamics. That would really bump up their highway range. Put the N1K into a decent body and it would be an easy 200 mph bike. I really wish more manufacturers would pay attention to this area. It is free speed and much improved fuel economy once you get over about 40 mph.

At this point I can definitely see myself picking up a Zero though in the next few months. I have to approach it with my wife in little baby steps...
 

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Day, I like your thinking. I talked to Craig Vetter about the aerodynamics. I know you are old enough to know who he is. He pretty much did what you are saying. The one guy did use a "zero" sponsored machine. The result was he could have done one of YOUR 600mi weekend jaunts on what converts to about 3 gallons of gas.

I said, "Craig, your streamliners get 200mpg. My concours 14 gets 35. Why cant I incorporate SOME of your elements into this bike to arrive at 80mpg?"

His answer was it does not work this way. He said it will work, on paper, but in real life it was an all or nothing thing. He said there was no such thing as a partial streamliner. The answer to power was 20-25hp. Their group passed me in the middle of the Utah desert, and it was unreal. I was at the posted 80 speed limit, and they kept up with me, easily.

He said there is no argument anymore. THIS is the shape.

2014 Craig Vetter Wendover to Tooele Fuel Economy Challenge

Its doable, but trying to get people to buy into the look?
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I followed a lot of Vetter's designs. I am a sucker for practical aerodynamics as they inspired me to study aeronautical/aerospace engineering (my major in school). I have a such a passion for this and it tends to drive a lot of my thought processes about cars and bikes. By bikes that even includes my bicycles as well. I basically have a little streamliner recumbent bike. Basically a fair on the nose enclosing the front and wrapping back toward me and then a windsock to enclose the rest of me and the tail of the bike. It is amazing how much you can improve just making a frame and then using nylon to enclose you on a bike.

On flat, level ground I can easily maintain a 30 mph pace pedaling alone. By comparison I am about 18 mph on a normal bike under the same circumstance. I then went with a high output electric motor system and a big battery pack. I can go for about 60 miles on a charge at 30 mph. Top speed is just about 50 mph but I can only go about 20 miles at that pace. I can easily smoke 50cc mopeds/scooters. It is an amazing amount of fun. Again the torque of that electric motor is pretty impressive. I had a FWD version at first and wheelspin was such an issue I couldn't get it to hook up at low speeds if I grabbed a big handful of throttle.

I did a cool streamline project quite some time ago. I took a sailplane fuselage and converted it to motorcycle. It was a pretty lightweight, single seat design.It was an early CF design that had some issues when made and wasn't flight worthy. I was able to snag it and had a lot of fun with it. The downside to a streamline is crosswind stability can be a ***** to put it mildly. They want to weathervane. If I had the time, and my wife wouldn't kill me, and a garge here in California, I'd be all over doing it again but from scratch.

A Zero in a good body would be an amazing ride. I brought up the topic of a "green" motorcycle to replace some of other ones this weekend with my wife. It didn't go anywhere but she is the "greenie" in the family. I am the more practical one. I want green because I'll get better performance. ;)
 

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You know what else would be cool about this? At work, we use a lot of 200-330-400 and up, high horsepower , electric motors.

They run 24-7 and its a situation if one ever shuts down. We replaced one, last week, that was 12 years old. I needs a new bearing. I can count, on one hand, the times its been down for more than 3 hours on one hand.

Maintenance has been 1 pump of grease it its two zerk fittings. We stopped doing that after our motor builder told us to stop.

Assuming the electronics are ok, you'd obviously have chains and sprockets, and brakes, but thats about it. No oil changes, filters, spark plugs...
 

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Discussion Starter #10
No maintenance for the most part. The Zeros us a belt and it isn't that expensive to replace. They say about 20k miles on them on average. They say the motor will be good for the life of the bike. By this they mean 150k to 300k miles.

I think by the time I'd have 50k miles on it, there would be something better out anyway and I'd be trading up. ;)
 

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since every thing in Wyoming is at least 50 miles away I don't see them being usefull
anytime soon here.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
The SR will go about 100 miles on a charge. Based on my riding style that is an accurate estimate. That was with a lot of heavy hand usage but not super high speed running. If they were more aerodynamic, a 200 mile range could be pretty realistic on the highway.

A guy has already ridden 1000 mile in under 24 hours on a modified Zero motorcycle. He had to stop to charge a few times of course. He rode from San Jose, CA to the Mexican border and back.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Anyone planning on going to the next Zero demo day in March? It is Friday, March 4th at their HQ near Santa Cruz. I plan to go ago and I think I talked my son into trying one as well.

One thing that I forget to mention is the almost total lack of vibration from the motor. That combined with the generally quiet motor really allows you to concentrate on the ride. There is a slight whine but it is more like a tiny turbine that is winding you up to shoot you down the road.

If the Zeros had a real transmission that would multiply their torque output, they would be hella quick. Right now they are definitely "better be paying attention to what is in front of you when you hit the throttle" quick. This is definitely true once you are rolling. Torque is limited a bit immediately off idle but still quite strong there. If you could unleash all the TQ right off idle, you'd likely loop it or do massive burnouts.

Electric bikes are clearly the way of the future. I can't wait to see where they go from here.
 
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