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Zero S - Two Wheeled Commuting of the Future?

By: Garret Cashman | Published 25 July 2009, 23:24 | Views: 6,306 | tags: bike reviews, zero s, zero motorcycles, electric vehicles, commuting, previews, reviews, electric, motorcycles

Depending on what you want from a bike of course, the technology has a way to go, but if we look at past innovations that are now taken for granted, it is only a matter of time until what is currently being heralded as new and exciting becomes common place. That is yet to come and we might not be riding bikes by the time it does, so let's return to the present and examine what is now thought of as the future of biking.

Recently with Electric Vehicles (of the two wheeled kind) showing what they can do at the TTXGP race on the Isle of Man, battery power is slowly coming into it's own and although those bikes were very far from being production models, it shows petrol heads that it can be done, albeit at a less maniacal speed than Mr McGuiness, Mr Seeley or Mr Amor ususally ride.

What anyone must expel from their minds when thinking about electric vehicles is a direct comparison with petrol powered ones. It seems to me that at the moment, there is not one electric vehicle that is in the same league as a petrol powered one in terms of price, performance, useability or the selection available to chose from. However, fairly soon the tables will most certainly be turned in the EV's favour wih petrol prices rocketing as fossil fuels are severely limited, not to mention the tax that will probably be incurred from owning a petrol powered vehicle.

Riding the S

I have had the chance to ride the Zero S twice now and that the sensation of riding an electric bike was quite disconcerting at the beginning. Of course, the first thing I noticed was the lack of engine noise when turning the 'ignition' key and flipping the on switch. This was followed by the instant torque/puling power of the electric engine which was almost like throwing another switch! After some practice getting used to the throttle response, this became less strange, and then the differences combined to make gliding off to down the road to the sound of an electric motor and chain noise a pleasant experience.

The Zero S has a reported top speed of 60mph; the bike has been geared to restrict the top speed (other gearing is available) because of the expected use of the bike and the opinions of it's creators that most commuting journeys rarely require excessive speeds and the fact that at higher speeds, wind resistance starts to seriously affect the range of the battery.

Current range is approximately 60 miles, but similar to a petrol powered bike, this would depend on the type and speed of riding. Apparently 2010 is set to be the year when battery technology will see great improvements, and as Zero do not have a 'set in stone' contract with one battery manufacturer, they can deliver these improvements to the buyers of their bikes. The improvements will have great effects on the price of the bike - currently, the battery pack on its own costs in the region of £4000; newer batteries will be far cheaper, the storage of the battery will increase which will improve the range of the bike.

Although top speed is one thing that will remain constant with increased range being preferable as far as the Zero S is concerned. The battery design is modular so that users will be able to take advantage of upgrades as the new battery will slot in just like the old one (about a 20 minute job).

Power is fed to the bike via a household three prong 'kettle lead' and from empty it takes approximately four hours to completely charge although the battery does not have a 'memory', so quick charges to get you going are fine. The amount of power left is shown on via a series of bars on the LED part of the dash.

The only consumables that you really need to wory about on the Zero S are the brake pads, tyres and the chain - which is adjusted by moving the engine, not rear wheel, which of course is a very interesting innovation itself. There are some fluids as there are on a regular bike - brakes and forks, but with no petrol, engine oil or coolant, it is an all-round easier job when it comes to servicing.

The drive chains sell for $30.00 (£18.50), brake pads for $30.00 (£18.50) per set and tyres are about $60.00 (£36.50) each - currently these items are available through Zero from their warehouse in The Netherlands so prices will include shipping (all GBP prices based on exchange rate as of 25/07/09). The brake fluid is the same as any motorcycle a standard container will do.


For comparison with a conventional supermoto, have a look at the following specifications which give you an idea of similarities:

 Zero S Electric Supermoto 2008 KTM 640 LC4 Prestige 2004
 Wheelbase 142cm 151cm
 Seat height 900mm 910mm
 Wheel size 16" 17"
 Front Suspension travel 8" 
 Rear Suspension travel 9" 
 Total weight -
 102kg 149kg
 Power 31hp (peak) 53hp
 Torque 84.6 Nm 55Nm @ 5500rpm
 Top Speed 60mph 

These stats help to show that, like other supermoto style bikes, it will be an ideal commuter with an upright riding position, lots of torque for getting off from the lights quickly, 'city road friendly' suspension and a wide lock to lock turning circle - great for filtering! They also highlight an increased power to wieght ratio and the lack of overall power that some riders may find.

An obvious similarity with supermoto bikes is that it probably wouldn't be completely at home on the motorway of for extended rides/ touring.

I admire Zero for launching their bikes, which are not initially cheap (the Zero is currently available to pre-order at £8,874), at a time when most major manufacturers are clamouring to sell their bikes with attractive finance deals etc, but in the long run, forward thinkng companies like Zero will take bigger and bigger shares of the market.

So the EV, although looking the same, is different in many respects to the combustion powered machine it will inevitably replace. However, an Electric Motorcycle that is in production and available for purchase now, must compete with all the other bikes on the road; as time goes by, the competition will slowly be won. but it I would say that for a good while it will be the noisy, dirty, air polluting, sweet sounding, power banded, eco unfriendly beast that is the petrol motorcycle that rules the road.

Zero S - Fastest, Cleanest, Lightest!

Photo credit: David Itzcovitz

With thanks to:

Susan Finn, Edwin Belonje and 50 Cycles.

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