The future’s bright, the future’s electric – and silent too.
No longer a novelty, electric motorcycles seem more and more viable with each passing year, and each new model. With big names such as Harley Davidson, Victory and Energica joining the party, accompanying a raft of smaller manufacturers – things are really starting to heat up in the electric motorcycle market.
Zero Motorcycles launched in 2006, and since that time has cemented itself at the forefront of electric motorcycle technology, setting benchmarks for performance and range, enabling their motorcycles to go farther and faster with each new model. Of course, there’s still work to be done on the availability of public charging stations – but after riding the updated 2017 Zero S and seeing what Zero is doing to improve this new, and increasingly important technology, I’m all but convinced that electric motorcycles are the future.
The Zero S is the entry level model in the range, designed with urban commuters in mind. The streetfighter styled S offers all the benefits of Zero’s electric technology, but in a lower priced, lightweight package. The 2017 model features a new, upgraded compact power pack that shaves 43kg of the weight, making the bikes more nimble, flickable and fun to ride – plus, the space freed up by the smaller battery serves as a convenient, locking storage compartment. It also features a wider, stronger drive belt for smoother power delivery – helping the bike deliver 19% more torque and an 11% increase in power.
The Zero S is the streetfighter model in the range – a naked sportbike bike that’s been stripped right back to the essentials. The overall look is clean and stylish, if not a little sparse – but rest assured that everything on the bike contributes to performance in some way.
The faux fuel tank allows the machine to maintain a more traditional motorcycle form, and aside from the obvious omissions (exhausts in particular), the Zero S cleverly blends the necessary electric technology into a stylish motorcycle-shaped package that’s guaranteed to turn heads – and I think it looks fantastic. Plus, it comes in a bright yellow paint scheme, which is sure to help get you noticed.
In short; the Zero S is obviously an electric bike, but it doesn’t advertise it. Of course, if you hear it running, you’ll know immediately that it’s an electric machine – with its almost silent motor generating a low hum in place of a typical petrol-powered rumble.
On the road
Straddling the Zero S for the first time – you’ll notice that the riding position is quite sporty, with your feet tucked backwards, encouraging you to lean forward over the tank – but it doesn’t go the whole hog, with its relatively upright Supermoto style bars making it really easy to get on with, and throw into corners with confidence. It has a seat height of 807mm, and at 6ft 1” I could get my feet flat on the floor – it weighs just 142kg (depending on battery options) so I found it super easy to manoeuvre too.
Getting into specifics, it’s powered by a Z-Force 75-7 electric motor which delivers 68 lb-ft of torque as soon as you twist the throttle and 54bhp at 4,300rpm. Admittedly, the power-to-weight ratio suggests that the Zero S was designed with cornering performance as a priority, as power and acceleration play second fiddle – but it’s still capable of reaching speeds of 95mph and can sustain between 80mph and 85mph depending on the power supply. It runs a clutchless direct-drive system for smooth, instant acceleration, twist-and-go style. It also feeds back torque to power regenerative braking, meaning that some of the kinetic energy is transferred back into electrical energy, offering the electrical equivalent of engine braking (which is adjustable, through the app). It’s a really clever feature which gives the Zero a natural, big-bike feel.
For stopping, there are J-Juan calipers with 320mm and 240mm wave-cut brake discs at the front and rear respectively. Plus there’s a top-notch Bosch Gen 9 ABS module which’ll help keep you and the bike in check – and they work well, pulling the bike up quickly and safely even under the most strenuous of braking. The S also comes with Pirelli Sport Demon tyres, which are top-quality tyres that are more than up to the job.
The twin-spar frame and trellis-like cage which protects the engine are made from lightweight aircraft-grade aluminium – and, its cast, Y-spoke, 17-inch front rims and a hollow front axle help to keep weight down, ensuring a low centre of gravity to improve handling performance.
At the front, there’s a 41mm USD forks and at the rear a centre-mounted, 40 mm, coil-over monoshock that are both fully adjustable – and I have to say, I found the suspension really plush, soaking up the bumps on some pothole-laden B-roads with ease during our all too short time together. Admittedly, with 6.25 inches up front and 6.35 inches at the rear, the travel comes at the expense of slightly shorter riders who may find clambering aboard a bit of a struggle.
Should I buy one?
The base-model Zero S with the 9.8 kWh power pack is priced at just a shade over 10 grand, and jumps up to around 13 grand for the 13.0 kWh version – so, it’s by no means a cheap motorcycle. Admittedly, you will be able to take advantage of the £1500 ULEV government grant, and the price does include a two-year warranty on the bike, and a five-year/100,000-mile warranty on the power pack – but best of all, it’s only going to cost around a penny-per-mile to ride, and there’s no fuel to worry about, no oil to check or change and no routine powertrain maintenance to undertake.
Of course, there’s still a huge amount to be done regarding electric motorcycle infrastructure – but Zero has taken steps reduce the inconvenience of charging, offering a number of charging and storage options and allowing the charging system to run off 110 as well as 220-volt power, so you can literally plug-in anywhere there is power.
So, if you’re looking to make your daily commute faster, more affordable and maybe even more fun then I’d encourage you to check out the new Zero S electric motorcycle. I loved it.
ENGINE: Z-Force® 75-5 passively air-cooled, high efficiency, radial flux, interior permanent magnet, brushless motor
MAX SPEED: 91mph
BATTERY: Z-Force® Li-Ion intelligent integrated
RANGE: 54 miles (claimed average)
CHARGER: Standard 110 V or 220 V
SEAT HEIGHT: 807mm
PRICE: £10,690 (excluding ULEV grant)
O2W RATING: 8/10
There’s also a clever Zero Motorcycle app for your smartphone, which allows you to customise the power delivery curve, monitor drivetrain parameters and dial-in max torque and regenerative braking levels – and you can even use the phone as an additional dynamic performance display while riding. And, it works well too – offering a huge amount of flexibility for your machine.