November 14, 2013 - San Diego, CA
Riding Electric: the 2013 Zero S
Remember that rush you got riding a motorcycle for the first time? Prepare to have that first-time rush all over again – riding electric.
"Take all the time you need" is just what anyone test riding a motorcycle wants to hear.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect as I threw my leg over the bright yellow Zero S. Before coming out on this test ride, where Mark, Lance, and the rest of the crew at Rocket Cycles in San Diego invited me out to test ride one of their electric motorcycles, I had – like anyone excited about trying something new in the age of the internet – googled the heck out of it.
I read articles about the nature of electric bikes and how they ride. I knew about their massive, instant torque and virtually silent operation, two of the most drastically different elements of an electric bike vs. a combustion engine. But I was still anxious about what exactly would happen when I actually twisted the throttle, and how this whole test ride was going to go. “Take all the time you need,” said Lance, grinning confidently as I clicked the killswitch to “on.” He seemed to already know what my reaction was going to be.
Like most motorcycle guys, I love the sound of power. I’ve had ground-pounding V-twins and revvy 4-cylinder screamers, and I’ve loved them all – as long as they were loud. I know most gearheads love the reassuring sound of a rumbling engine, alive with explosive energy, beckoning you to give it some gas and use it for what it was built for – making power.
The 2013 Zero S
The Zero S is Zero’s “streetfighter”, a great all around bike that is comfortable and easy to ride while still being sporty enough to take on some twisty back roads. The 2013 model is the longest range electric bike currently in production, with a claimed max range of 137 miles (city.) With a more-than-adequate 95mph top speed, and a wave of torque on tap at any RPM, the Zero S’ manageability should not be confused for blandness – this everyman’s electric can be a real blast to ride, as I found out.
The down-side? Besides the drawbacks all electrics face, such as limited range and relatively high cost, the Zero was a little lacking in its components. The bouncy suspension is the weakest link, and the brakes leave a lot to be desired. But these are the apparent tradeoffs of an outstanding powertrain and charging system, and an innovative user interface that allows Bluetooth connectivity to mobile devices, turning your phone or tablet into a handheld diagnostic and tuning module.
2013 Base Price: $13,995 with ZF8.5 battery (add $2,000 for ZF11.4 extended range battery, $599 for a quick-charge kit, and $1,799 for a CHAdeMO socket kit for fast charging at public charging stations.)
So what then, would be the point of a performance machine that makes no sound? I wondered this to myself as the Zero hummed out of Rocket Cycles with a surprisingly clean and predictable throttle response. I pondered the safety of a silent bike - how safe would it be if literally nobody on the road could hear me coming? I recalled the advice of my first riding instructor, a fellow Marine: ride like you’re invisible - because to cars, you are.
After getting the feel for the bike, I felt ready to hit the main streets along the coast of San Diego. One thing is for sure – this bike had by far the easiest learning curve of any bike I’d ever ridden. With no clutch and no gears, it was as easy to ride as a scooter, something anyone could hop on and figure out within minutes. The simplicity of use then begs the question – how could it possibly be any fun? Well, I was about to find out.
The best thing about the Zero: made in the USA.
As I got comfortable with the operation of the Zero (within about three minutes), I was ready to start having some fun. In particular, I wanted to see what all the talk of torque was about. Electric motors deliver nearly 100% of maximum torque immediately, very much unlike their IC counterparts. I started to come off the line at stop lights more enthusiastically each time, and rolling on the throttle every time I came to a gap in traffic. I can personally attest that the torque from these electric motors is no joke. These things pull hard. And with no noise but a UFO-like electric hum and the tires skimming across the pavement, they seem to do so without even trying.
Big torque is so much better than high horsepower in most urban riding. With the most consistent torque delivery of any bike I’d ever ridden, the Zero S became a blast to ride very quickly. Darting out in front of traffic or blasting out of a corner was just a gentle wrist motion away. At any speed below about 70, roll-on power was instantaneous. As I navigated my way through traffic on a busy Friday afternoon, I felt the simultaneous rush of having a wave of torque at by fingertips, and gliding around so smoothly and quietly that hardly anybody even noticed I was there. Being able to ride in such a spirited way while attracting hardly any attention was strange, surreal and fantastic. The only way to describe it is like having a dream where you’re able to fly. I was literally laughing inside my helmet, it was so much fun.
So to answer the question I was pondering as I set out – what fun could an electric bike possibly be?
Read more about the Zero S test ride >>>
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