Sunday, May 23, 2010

Zero Motorcycles: my first experience with electric motorcycles

This past Saturday, I had a chance to ride one of Zero Motorcycle's electric motorcycles.  They were giving folks who showed up near Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium short demo rides in order to help promote their product.

I showed up and chatted with Ken Bingenheimer, the National Motorcycle Examiner, who was also there to do a writeup of the electric motorcycles.

Here's Ken on the Zero S Model

I spent some time talking to the folks representing Zero Motorcycles, trying to get a feel for these quiet machines as I at the same time watched demo riders weave through cone obstacles and generally ride up and down the courses laid out for them in the M parking lot for Mile High Stadium.

Here are the S (Street) and DS (Dual Sport) models next to each other.

I chose to rode the DS model as its similar outline to the BMW GS models was close.  That however was basically where the similarities ended.  These things are QUIET.  When my turn came to get on the DS demo bike, the rep was explaining the controls to me.  As he finished, I had to ask him: "Is this thing on?"

The motorcycle has no vibrations when on, your only indication is the computer display being on as far as I can tell.  It's only got one gear, no clutch lever to actuate and no engine braking.  Just twist the throttle and off you go!  I'll admit I found myself reaching for the shift lever with my left foot (there wasn't one) and having to just roll off the throttle and use brakes instead of relying on engine braking for some cornering maneuvers.

Did I mention these things are quiet?  I swear I could hear my keys clinking around and hitting some spare coins I had in one of my riding pants' outside pockets!  Seriously though, all you hear is the muted murmur of the tires rolling on the pavement and the wind in your helmet.  It was an unnaturally quiet ride as I worked my way through the cone courses with no problems.

The bikes are so light (their MX dirt bike is about 110 lbs without the battery, about 160 lbs with it) that their handling in tight spaces and turns was very easy.  The DS model I rode was pretty tall, I had to be on the balls of my feet to balance it when stopped; but I am told you can get lower seats for them.

Two Zero S models,  with a MV Augusta motorcycle in the background, belonging to one of the folks who came for a demo ride.

I believe this is their lightest and smallest model, the Zero X, for dirt riding only.

Everything has been done by Zero Motorcycles, out of Santa Cruz, CA, to lessen the weight on their motorcycles.  I asked them the price of their hi-tech, lithium-ion, proprietary technology batteries and they run at around $3000 each!  The reported range for these vehicles targeted at commuters is about 50 Miles for their street and dualsport models and about 40 miles for their off-road models.  You ride to work, plug it in to top off the battery, and you then ride home with a battery that fully charges in about four hours.

The Zero DS, the model I test rode

Jay, a co-worker friend of mine had told me about these demo rides being given by Zero Motorcycles.  He showed up around 1:00 PM ready for his demo rides.  He seemed to have quite a blast "silently roaring" up and down the parking lot range on the MX model; this after he'd tried out the S model as he's mainly a street rider.

Here's Jay getting his instructions on the cones course as he gets ready to ride the Zero S Street Bike

The MX model has a high and low torque setting.  Jay reported it was pretty zippy when in the high torque mode, which is selectable at the push of a button and a reset of the computer.

Here's another demo rider, enjoying the S model as he negotiates the cones course.

The "heart" of an electric motorcycle is, in my opinion, the battery which powers it.  They're pretty large in size but not that heavy, around 50lbs or so.  Chuck, the dealer rep for the Denver area, showed us how easy it was to swap batteries on the MX model that he owns:

Note the easy connectors and manageable size of the battery

You basically remove the retaining bar, uncouple the electrical connectors and slide the battery out the right side of the motorcycle.  Put in a new one and you're ready to go!

Here's the MX model with the battery out, that small round object is the "engine" which drives the rear wheel!

In sum there's much more information at Zero Motorcycle's website about these outstanding electric motorcycles of theirs.  I believe they target folks who have commutes within the 60 mile range of their quiet machines but dirt riders take note, these things are awesome off road as well!

They make no noise.  Chuck who rides his electrical motorcycles in the Vail area, told me stories of riding with a friend, each on an electrical motorcycle and being able to carry on a conversation while riding!  He told of being able to sneak up on deer and other wildlife as well since the bikes are so quiet.

The word "unnatural" came coming into my head and in my conversations with folks at the demo rides.  These electric motorcycles are definitely a "paradygm shift" in the world of motorcycling.  Their quiet operation, zero emissions and cheapness to operate are sure to make them a hit among folks tired of high gas prices and wishing to project a smaller carbon footprint.

As a final kicker, there's Federal and State Tax Credit incentives here in Colorado for those of you thinking of purchasing one of these quiet machines.  The figure of $5100 total cost, including tax credits, was bandied about by several folks that day.  The machine retail for just shy of $10,000.  Definitely something to think about.

Will I be getting one?  Not for now, I need longer range capability for my kind of riding.  As technology improves and range is extended on these things, who knows?

Much more information and specs are here on Zero Motorcycles' website.


Rob said...

Very informative, Thank you! 50 miles in a charge. That is pretty good for a commuter as long as my company lets me charge the motorcycle at the business location.

Anonymous said...

It's exciting to think about the future of electric bikes. I am riding around the world on my GS Suzuki 850 to raise funds and awareness for world hunger ( and that sure would save on gas. I'm in Denver, CO right now doing some work on the bike. Cheers!