Life Electric: babes, n00bs and getting wet

Dailies, Reviews -



When we left off yesterday, I was out the door to pick up Ashlee and go for an evening ride around LA. With the prospect of a couple hours’ riding looming, I was getting pretty paranoid about the Zero DS’s range, but actually looking forward to riding it around city streets. Well, I didn’t end up pushing, but I did get soaked.

- Nearly 60 miles of riding last night. Over to Sean and Ashlee’s, then Silverlake, then back to Sean and Ashlee’s then home. Full throttle in Sport mode on the way over since I was running late, then easy cruising while I was riding with Ashlee, then Sport again on the way home, but at slower speeds. That left me with 3 of 11 bars on the battery gauge.

- Started raining while I was chilling over at Sean and Ashlee’s post ride. Haven’t been as cold on a bike as I was riding home in jeans and my Vanson for a long time. Seriously, I was shivering so hard it impaired my ability to ride in a straight line.

- Conditions were pretty sketchy too, so I backed way off. Initially it seemed odd being scared to use full throttle on a relatively slow bike, but after that wore off, it actually made the Zero feel like a more complete motorcycle. Riding along with some twist left to go on the throttle feels much more normal and gives you time to focus on the other components.

- The DS actually has surprisingly nice suspension. At a time when major manufacturers are cutting corners by cutting content, even in flagship superbikes (we’re looking at you, Yamaha R1), this electric commuter is equipped with positively plush damping front and rear. Fully adjustable too. Very light, it remains slightly skittish over bumps, but the suspension is working very well at keeping the tires in contact with the pavement.

Two bars down in 9.2 miles of riding. The DS is a blast to ride quickly, but you pay the price in range if you do use it aggressively.

- I’m still really disappointed in the headlight. I guess more so than ever after spending hours in the dark. I understand that such a tiny, tiny manufacturer has to source components from existing suppliers, but surely there must have been something in that parts bin capable of actual illumination. As it is, even on high beam, the headlight serves only as a position light, providing no meaningful illumination of the road ahead.

- Brakes initially felt a little wooden, but some more time on the bike has brought familiarity, and I’m now comfortable with a fine degree of control, trailing through corners and whatnot. A car stopped abruptly in front of me last night and I had to grab a whole handful to avoid hitting it; outright stopping power is very good.

- Ashlee’s still a very green rider and hasn’t had much chance to practice with Sean being injured. So last night was about looking out for her while she gained some experience. Even with a new rider onboard and only making 14bhp and 12lb/ft of torque, the CCW Misfit left the Zero for dead up to 25mph.

- Zero’s official line is that throttle response has been turned down off the line to save energy. That makes sense too, why spend the limited amount of electricity the 9kWh battery pack is capable of carrying on stop light drag races? Still, I’d prefer to have energy conservation in my right hand, choosing when I want or need to accelerate hard and when I don’t.

- Because I planned on chaperoning Ashlee all the way back to her place in Westwood, then riding home to Hollywood and we were getting Pizza all the way east in Silverlake, we ended up skipping the actual ride with the East Side Moto Babes. By the time were were at the Pizza joint, I was already one bar below half and just didn’t think another 40 minutes of riding would have made the total trip possible.

- Extended my time with the Zero DS today so I can throw it in a truck and take it camping in Death Valley later this month. Really looking forward to riding around off-road, in the absolute wilderness, in complete silence. That’s going to be neat.

- When I got home last night, it was pouring and freezing, so I didn’t want to leave a window open to run an extension cord outside to the bike. Was a bit worried that those 3 bars wouldn’t get me around Hollywood this morning and that I wouldn’t be able to get enough charge to take the bike downtown for a meeting this afternoon. That quick charger is great though. Rode to the cafe, worked for a couple hours, then came home and plugged in for 2 hours even. On the quick charger, that took me back up above half a tank. Plenty to run downtown and back at 85mph on the 101.

- It’s probably silly, but my range anxiety has me too paranoid to use highbeam much, where I typically would while splitting freeway traffic. I’m going to figure out what its draw is, then calculate the difference between high and low beam battery drain. If my math is up to that of course.

- That said, the DS continues to be absolutely perfect for lane splitting. Incredibly slim and confidence inspiring, the riding position is high and commanding enough for good vision and all that 25-70mph torque just makes sailing through traffic a breeze. Which is all the drivers hear as I pass them.

- My roommate Frank, a cartoonist who’s about as interested in vehicles as he is in Asian Subcontinent school politics, which is to say not at all, ran outside yesterday so he could hear me ride down the street. Regular people get pretty excited at the prospect of an electric motorcycle.

I’m living with a Zero DS as my only transportation for two weeks, updating you with daily journal-style articles. It’s the Life Electric.

  • nick2ny

    Let’s think about it a little bit.

    A low beam is 55-W
    A high beam is 60-W
    1 bhp is 746-W

    Switching from low beam to high beam uses an extra 5-W, or 0.006 bhp.

    My Cub goes 40 mph with its 5 bhp motor wound out. You probably also are using 5 bhp to go 40 mph (as long as you aren’t accelerating). Why worry about 5-W when you’re using 3730-W to maintain your speed? It’s insignificant. In fact, I’d argue that by being able to see better, you can avoid slowing down and will be able to ride more smoothly. Acceleration takes tons of power; by being able to see well and maintain a steady speed, you will save energy overall.

    Verdict? Use the high-beam dude, at least after you bend your right arm to match your left.

    *This is assuming you’re using incandescent headlamps. LED / HID will use much, much less. The aircon, seat heaters, and cabin heaters in cars do gobble up thousands of watts, however, and should be turned off when lanesplitting.

    If Sylvie D. from Zero is reading this, hi Sylvie!

    • Wes Siler

      Thanks Nick. We can always rely on you for the maths.

    • stickfigure

      While most of the “power” of a high beam comes from the fact that it’s aimed differently, does the DS keep the high on while the low is on?

      Even then, it’s hard to compare. The wattage rating of a bulb is the draw, not the power output. Conversely, the hp rating of a bike is the power output, not the draw. Due to all the ugly inefficiencies of a physical powertrain, the draw for 1bhp is probably quite a bit more than 746w. The conclusion is still: Don’t worry about it.

      • protomech

        An hour riding at say 50 mph (120 Wh/mile in my usage) uses around 6 kWh, or 6000 Wh.

        The S model uses only the low element when the headlight switch is on low, and only the high element when the headlight switch is on high.

        The H4 bulb claims 55W typ for low beam, 60W typ for high beam.

        If you ride with the high beam on for an hour, you use an extra 5 Wh .. or about 0.1% of the energy used to move the bike.

        • Troy R

          Assuming Average consumption is ~150 wh/mile (9000whs/60miles),meaning that running the high beam for an hour is equivalent to .03 miles or 158 feet of riding…. use the highbeam:)

          • BMW11GS

            could you show me the formula for that? Do you divide 60watts by what to get .03. I am trying to learn this curious world of watts vs. horsepower calculation.

            • protomech

              150 Wh/mile means you’re travelling about 60-65 mph (say 62), which means your average power draw is about 9kW. Your expected range would be about 53 miles.

              Completely disabling the headlight should extend your range by (55w/9000w) = 0.6% .. or about 1710 feet (1/3 of a mile).

              Swapping from the high beam to the low beam should extend your range by (60w-55w)/9000w = 0.05% .. or about 155 feet.

              • HammSammich

                Wow, thanks! That really puts it into perspective. I was initially very surprised to see they were using incandescent when I read the first article. After all, when you’re relying on a pair of Double A batteries in your torch, LED’s can extend the operational life by 10-50x.

                Clearly, EV’s such as this are on a completely different level. I thought I already understood that, but this gives me a more visceral understanding. It really illustrates just how much power is being stored here too.

                • protomech

                  A typical AA is 1.5v ~2.5Ah, or about 4Wh.

                  You’d need 2000 AA cells to get the same capacity as the ZF9 bikes .. about a hundred pounds of coppertops. (about the same weight as the lithium cells in the Zero, actually)

        • Brammofan

          Yeah, we’ve talked this to death on the Brammo forum and I think we figured out that using an LED instead of incandescent, would net you about an extra 100 yards of range.

  • Brian

    I personally cannot wait for the electric equivalent of the SV650 to hit the streets. I’ve already decided that my first Brand New motorcycle purchase would be an electric bike.

    • Ross

      I’m with you on that. I’ve lately got a hankering for a dirt bike, and an electric dirt bike would be pretty rad.

      • Chris

        There are a lot of Forest Service roads out here in the Cascade foothills east of Seattle, but they clamp down pretty hard on dirt bikes due to noise problems. I can’t help thinking that electric dirt bikes might be able to overcome those restrictions and open them up for riding again.

    • stickfigure

      If by SV650 you mean “decent bike you can buy new for $5-6k”, I fear you may be waiting a rather long time.

      • jp182

        Wow I didn’t realize how much this sucker costs! Between $11.5 and $13k

        • Troy R

          50k mi is roughly equivalent to a differential of about $5k difference in running costs between a roughly equivalent gas/electric bike (at least this one). Since the batteries on these things are expected to last well over 100k, the finances aren’t as grim as they first look, and this is THE very first legitimate electric motorcycle. It will only get better from here.

  • R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

    I know you keep saying it’s good for splitting, but is it weird splitting without a clutch? How smoot is the throttle in a lane split situation? When I split with my gas bike, I’m on the clutch almost constantly–if I had just the throttle and brakes I’d be jerking around big time.

    Also, the bike being slow 0-25 seems like a pretty big issue. If Ashlee took you up to 25 on a Misfit…yikes.

    Love the idea of an electric bike and I definitely see them appealing to the masses like the OG Honda Cub. $14k is a lot of scratch, though.

    • Wes Siler

      Ridden a scooter? They’re twist n go too and they’re totally natural. With a single speed, you don’t miss the clutch.

      • R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

        I rode a buddy’s Vino up and down a street once, but that’s about it. But that had a CVT that’ll slip on decel. There’s no disengagement with single-speed electric bikes, is there? Either way, glad to hear it’s not an issue.

        • Mykola

          Electric motors don’t experience compression braking when you close the throttle, they just coast.

          • JMcMahon

            That’s true for the most part that electrics will coast with the throttle closed. This bike uses regen when the throttle closed. I believe this is to create that feeling of engine brake and increase efficiency. Wes can you expand on this?

            • JRl

              In Sport mode, the bike coasts (not entirely due mostly to wind resistance) and in Eco mode, the regen is rather apparent but not intrusive.

            • bluemoco

              I’d also like to hear a little about regen braking on the Zero.

              I’ve done a few miles on Vectrix electric scooters. The twist throttle on the Vectrix can be turned ‘forward’ from its neutral position, allowing the rider to progressively control the regenerative braking action on the rear wheel. I thought that was a great feature of the Vectrix.

            • Wes Siler

              There’s a tiny amount of regen, but it’s not going to net you much range. It’s more there for the purposes of traditional throttle feel.

              The Mission R race bike is the same. During the race at Laguna, they recovered, in total, maybe .001% of the energy spent. But, not coasting on a closed throttle leads to a more traditional feel for their riders.

              The DS doesn’t just freewheel when you close the throttle, it does slow a little bit, as if with a small amount of engine braking. Makes picking up a little maintenance throttle in corners easier.

              Think about motorcycle physics under braking. For regen to work effectively on a motorcycle, it’d need to be on the front wheel, a la the reverse Chrisitini system Chip Yates developed but never raced with.

          • Sean Smith

            Nope, they apply a pre-programmed amount of engine braking. 5% capacity in sport, 7% in eco in the case of the zero. It’s totally adjustable with the right software or a nudge and a wink at the dealership.

  • oldnick

    Wes, what do you think the appeal of an electric bike is to the general public? Given the recent discussions about people turning off motorcycles, its odd that non-motorcyclists should be interested in electric bikes whereas motorcyclists, in general, are skeptical.

    Is it that electric bikes are seen as cool and cute, in the same way as scooters are, whereas ICE bikes are seen as noisy spawn of the devil? Or, perhaps, is the electric bike seen as more approachable and easy to use?

    • Ben W

      Maybe it’s because they don’t fit so neatly into the established “cruiser or crotch rocket” categories that garner so much disdain. Sure, there are plenty of bikes that look similar to the Zero, but perhaps the electric element is what makes them actually register in the minds of others.

  • Duarte Vieira

    «I understand that such a tiny, tiny manufacturer has to source components from existing suppliers»

    It looks a lot like an “LSL Urban Headlight 730Y105 for Yamaha MT-03″… just saying…

  • the_doctor

    I can only imagine what the range anxiety would be like while camping in the wilderness.

    • protomech

      You definitely can’t travel too far from grid infrastructure. If your campground has electrical service then you’re good to go. If you’re talking about way out in the boonies, then it’s the wrong bike to take.

      I’d love to see a solar / wind solution for recharging out in the field. Reality is those options just aren’t ready yet (and may never be).

      Ex: thin film solar, a 10×20′ surface spread out, weighs about 70 lbs, packs down to a bulk about the size of a tailbag.. total charge power available is about 1kW, eg what you get from a standard 110. Very expensive and not terribly practical. If you had 7 hours of sunlight to charge in during the summer day then you’d pick up ~50 miles of range at 50 mph speeds, best case.

    • Campisi

      Wilderness is a no-go, but powered campsites should be fine; hell, RV parks even have uprated 240V (?) plugs available. The Zero would make for a great pit bike/provision courier at the races.

  • Van Doan

    The charge time just kills it for me. I like spontaneity too much. Maybe in a decade, give or take a few years.

    • Ax

      Yeah. Until you can recharge — or swap extra battery packs — as quickly and easily as refueling an ICE bike, I just can’t see these as anything other than a toy (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

      • Edward

        It’s an interesting idea, but at the price point, it doesn’t make sense unless you really want to be an early adopter – think first gen prius owners.

        The real question in my mind is what does the bike do better than an equivalent ICE bike, putting aside the novelty that it is purely electric.

        By equivalent, you have to keep the $14k in mind. That’s a new 848 EVO or hypermotard or any number of bikes that are much more capable. So far, while nifty, it seems like a whole bag of limitations (including, for me, the lack of engine noise) that can be had for a hefty premium.

        • protomech

          Compared to a $14k ICE bike, the cost of operation is much much lower.

          Where I live, “fuel” is a penny a mile, vs about 7.5c/mile for a 50 mpg gas bike. Over 100k miles (my expected lifetime), that’s $7500 vs $1000. If energy doubles in cost across the board (unlikely, I’ll grant)? $15k vs $2k.

          Maintenance is almost non-existent. Tires and tire pressure, brake pads, check the belt.

          I don’t have to swing by the gas station, ever .. or worry about E10 or E15 ethanol blends deteriorating the fuel system.

          Plugging in at night takes ten seconds. I always start each morning with 65-75 miles of range at my typical riding speeds .. depending on how recently I’ve filled up, I may only have 50 miles of gas left in the gas bike when I leave in the AM.

        • Campisi

          The real question in my mind is what does the bike do better than an equivalent ICE bike, putting aside the novelty that it is purely electric.

          Well, the emissions at point-of-use are zero. Anyone that spent any time in Los Angeles even fifteen years ago can tell you how nice that is. It’s doubtful whether or not that alone is worth twelve to fourteen large to you; for many people, it is not.

          The big news about the Zeroes and Brammos of the world is that you’re finally getting a genuinely usable motorcycle to go along with the zero point-of-use emissions and nearly zero maintenance. The only negatives left to deal with are the range (or recharge time, depending on your point of view) and the price. The range is plenty for 90% of people’s riding habits, and why finance a crappy Yaris to commute in when you can get this for a hair less?

        • HammSammich

          I think several others have pointed out that the purchase price of an ICE bike, does not include a significant portion of the operational costs (fuel, oil changes, tune-ups, etc), so even though it seems to make sense to compare this to a hypermotard, you have to compare the bikes over their operational life to get any equivalency. When you do that, I think you’d find that this is more akin to a small displacement, single cyl. Supermoto.

          So, when purchasing an EV bike you’re paying up front for costs that are necessarily deferred by a comparable ICE bike. Of course, that may not be enough incentive to buy an Electric.

          I really think that financial institutions will have an opportunity to come up with new loan products, specifically designed for Electric vehicles, which contemplate the higher purchase price, but lower cost of operation.

          • James

            Ain’t that the truth. I ride a Hypermotard 796 as a daily commuter. Last July I spent $800 at the 7500 mile, $1580 for new chain, sprockets, rizoma mirror and turn signals and a couple of other miscellaneous stuff in December, $288 for a set of new tires in February, and this month $973 for its 15,000 mile service. Shit is expensive. I’ll have to either upgrade to a Streetfighter 848 with its 15,000 mile service intervals or start cracking the engine open myself.

      • gsx750f

        I think an electric bike makes most sense as second bike, which you use for short trips or the daily commute to work. It would be great if there were swappable battery packs, but I just can’t see manufacturers agree to a common standard.
        I commute ~45 miles each day, for this an electric bike would work great. I hope I will be able to afford one one day.
        I personally don’t see the limited range as such big of a problem, because I’m pretty sure the vast majority of drives/rides are only a few miles. But if the only vehicle you have is electric it could become a problem of course.

    • BigRooster

      As a commuter, I ride about 8K miles per year but I rarely ride over 100 miles in a day. I bet if you log your miles for a few weeks you will be surprised with the results.

  • JMcMahon

    The coldest ride I ever had left purple bruises on the insides of my knees from where my legs were shivering against the sides of the tank. My teeth still chatter at the thought of that ride.

  • Chris

    This article makes the bike sound cooler and cooler for me. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the price point to come down a bit. I could afford the payment at 14k right now, but i don’t know that the ROI is where I want it to be at that, and I need to get the wife a new car soon so I’ll wait it out I guess.

  • doublet

    The gauges look like rebranded KOSO

    • protomech

      Ah, thanks for that.. someone had asked who manufactured the cluster.

  • randry

    I wonder if they could use hub generators in the wheels, at least up front, to power the lights (LED?). they take very little energy to run and would extend the time in the battery.

    • Eric

      You take a hit on each step:

      Way better as it is.

  • James

    Thanks for the write-ups. What are the limitations of the bike in the rain? I seem to remember that being an issue with earlier Zeros.

    • Wes Siler

      Ha, no. That’s just your mind subconsciously going “Electricity! Rain! Ah!”

    • protomech

      I’ve ridden through hail and thunderstorms.

      I don’t think I would want to ford more than a couple inches of water – the charger mounted on the bottom of the bike is rated IP66, suitable for heavy spray but not for immersion.

      • Troy R

        I believe the older Zeros used Perm motors, which were completely exposed to the elements. This new design uses a sealed motor I believe.

  • James

    BzzzzzzzzT! What?

  • okto

    i dont like the idea of slow off the line.

    la traffic will kill you if you split to the front and then bog at the green.

    • nick2ny

      Ha! You only have to be vaguely aware of when the light is about to turn green to destroy any car at the lights.

  • Zach

    What happened to Ashlee’s FZR frankenbike?

    • Wes Siler

      It’s waiting on uber mechanic Sean to fab a radiator.

      • Sean Smith

        It’s going to see the frame guy in Pasadena to have the cush drive machined and a custom radiator built. There are downsides to living in a condo…

  • Brian

    Keep the report coming —

    Im interested to see how this does on your death valley trip. One question though – do you plan to ride it more that one charge worth on a camping trip? You said you were loading it in the truck for the trip out there. If so, how will you charge it while camping?

    • Wes Siler

      Yeah, without a generator, we’ll get one charge only. 60-80 miles off road is a LOT though, so we’ll have plenty of fun playing with it, don’t worry.

      • BigRooster

        …however taking a gas powered generator to charge an EV would be sweet irony.

        • Sean Smith

          I’m thinking we’ll just plug it into a truck/van to charge.

          • Brammofan

            Good luck on finding an inverter that’s rated high enough to handle the load when the charger is really packing in the electrons. It’s about 900 watts during the first hour or two on mine, I think.

        • Campisi

          I’m told a portable generator capable of realistically charging something like this can be a pretty serious chunk of change.

          • protomech

            Honda EU2000i is < $1000 and is overkill for the Zero.

            On the cheap end, a Hyundai 1000W generator is $300, but the Zero's onboard charger would pretty much peg it out.

            Side note: On a small generator like these you could expect to get about 40-50 miles of range per gallon of gas. More in city riding, less in freeway riding.

            • Campisi

              The wattage may be fine, but it’s still only 120 volts. That’ll certainly charge something like the Zero eventually, but unless you want to leave it out and running all night it seems like campsite recharges wouldn’t be worth anything more than a small top-up.

  • Gene

    So if the speedo is one of those stupid digital ones, what’s the big clock for?

    Is it the tach? But with a single speed, what good is it? It’s not like you can shift and do anything about the RPM.

    If it’s a tach, is the top end really 12,000rpm or something like that?

    • protomech

      It’s also speedometer. It’d be much cooler if it was a power gauge.

      Top motor speed is about 5000 RPM. Back-calculated a dyno plot here:

      Compared to a Ninja250, the Ninja is a little faster in 1st gear, is about as fast or slower in 2nd through 4th gears, and is a bit faster at 75+ mph in 5th gear.

  • Gene

    Oh yeah, and I thought cast wheels were lighter & better? Are they an option? I’m not a 1920′s-era spokes man.

    • protomech

      Cast wheels are standard on the Zero S.

  • protomech

    The speedometer on the S model goes up to 165. I guess that’s to swap to kph – but the DS should be able to exceed 120 kph.

    Much rather see a power output meter than a (rather useless) analog speedo.

  • Sangjun

    I started spending about a week a month in LA since last fall and have been going absolutely bat-shit crazy driving a car when I am here. I seriously considered getting the Zero DS because it seemed like the perfect LA commuter vehicle, at any price, for all the reasons Wes has been validating in this excellent series. But for now I decided it’s just too much money and would rather pick up 3 used ICE motorcycles, for different places and different purposes, for the same price. Someday, though…