Life Electric: Chip Yates at the Ritz and sausages at Deus

Dailies, Reviews -



Sorry for the lack of Zero DS updates over the last few days. Been busy using it to do too many things in too short a time all around LA. We’re a week in to living together now. Much more insightful than the quick test rides I’ve had in the past, I think I’m finally beginning to understand the Zero as a motorcycle and, honestly, I think I’m falling for it.

- Last night I met Chip Yates for dinner in Marina Del Ray. 15.6 miles from home in Hollywood, there and back ate fully half the battery. Running late on the way there, then cold on the way back, I was riding faster than usual.

- Of all people, it’s not the man who beat ICE at its own game who you’d expect to shake his head in bewilderment at the prospect of electric bikes as consumer products. “They’re just not there yet,” says Chip, bemoaning the high price and low performance. He drove to Marina Del Ray in his speedboat, spending $500 in fuel on the way up from Newport Beach.

- I’ve been trying to be conscious of the regen, rolling the throttle completely closed way ahead of red lights. It’s not netting me anything noticeable. In ideal conditions, Zero claims I’d be able to net a 5 percent improvement in range using it. Chip was getting over 30 percent out of the front wheel regen on his electric superbike, a reverse Christini AWD system. Motorcycle physics just don’t favor rear-wheel regen, with a consumer product instead of a race bike, Zero has to tune its ultra-conservatively to avoid locking the wheel or sliding it out in corners.

- Rolled up to the Ritz’s valet to ask where they wanted me to park. I was able to ask that without yelling and without switching the motor off like usual, then carry on a conversation about electric motorcycles with the valet as he jogged with me through the parking garage. A fat, pasty midwestern father with a fanny pack hollered something like, “gee golly, that thur’s an electrical motorcycle,” as we passed him. Hope I didn’t throw off his heart meds.

- The flat track race in Ventura was called off yesterday after Friday night’s torrential rains. Suddenly finding ourselves with a free day, Sean MacDonald and I decided to go scramble over boulders, climbing into Eaton Canyon. I decided to leave the DS at home, worried about its highway range on the way there. Eaton was actually about our third choice, we threw around the idea of going by Roland Sands’ BBQ in Alamitos or maybe doing the Long Beach Grand Prix, but both those options required Sean driving up from Long Beach to pick me up, driving back down that way (30 miles), then bringing me home again at the end. Eaton was a simple round trip, picking me up on the way.

- There’s absolutely no indicator that the Zero has started charging once it’s been plugged in. You have to turn it on to check the charge level too. It’d be great to have an LED light confirming that you’ve rigged everything up properly or a MacBook-style charge indicator in the form of a series of LEDs or similar. As it is, I’ve been double checking that I’m not blowing circuit breakers and that all the various plugs are fully seated.

- Another charging niggle: the main plug is located down low, behind the front wheel. That places it in the spray stream and making it hard to find in the dark. It’s sealed against spray, but in the long term, you’re going to be digging debris out of it and getting down on hands and knees in the dark to find it. Again, $14,000 equals luxury good, simple fixes to stuff like this would go a long way to making it feel like one. Hollywood Electrics acknowledges this, relocating all the plugs on the bikes it sells to the top of the bike.

- The main people expressing interest in the Zero are people who don’t ride or used to ride. Not really current bikers. Sean MacDonald, for instance, scoffed at the idea of trading his Bonnie for the Zero when we ride to Deus for a BBQ this afternoon, but my roommate declared, out of the blue, that the DS is his favorite bike ever and that he intends to buy one now.

- I’m beginning to feel pressure to drive the electric message home to existing bikers by racing them and winning. Currently, the list of victims stands at: Honda Goldwing, BMW R1200RT, Ducati Monster, Ducati Hypermotard, Suzuki GSX-R, some girl on a Vespa, every Harley in SoCal.

- A lot of you have been questioning the wisdom of my plan to take the DS off-road camping in Death Valley in a couple weeks. With up to a 112-mile range, that’s going to be plenty of fun on a single charge. Off-road riding, especially over DV’s rocky landscape, is slow and short-distance. Putting a full charge in the batteries, then trucking it in, I bet we leave with at least 1/3 capacity still in it and have plenty of fun cruising around in total silence.

- Overall, I think I’m falling for the DS. I’m overly paranoid about the range, but haven’t gotten below 1/3 charge yet. Sure, it’s slow away from the lights, but once you hit 25mph, it’s an honestly fast motorcycle. One that’s ridiculously slim, has completely linear throttle response and inspires confidence through high-quality suspension. If it weren’t for that 0-25, it’d be, with no qualifications, the perfect city bike. I’m going to go cruise over to Deus in a bit, passing all sorts of bullshit Bike EXIF rejects along the way.

I’m spending a few weeks living with no transportation except the new 9kWh Zero DS and bringing you candid insights in the form of journal-style updates. It’s the Life Electric.

  • Troy R

    This series alone has made it worth the (albeit modest) price of subscription. I’m admittedly an ebike nerd, but I really value hearing the feedback, from a real motorcyclist, using it as real transportation.

  • John2

    I know this is not in the no-ICE spirit, but I wonder how much gas would get burned in a generator for a full charge on the Zero…? It makes sense that it would be more than 2 or so gallons used by a 250 ICE bike to go that distance, but maybe a generator can burn more efficiently running at a constant load as opposed to the ICE bike’s motor having to cover a range of loads. Just askin’.

    • protomech

      I’m getting about 120 Wh/mile riding at 45-55 mph speeds, so about 8 miles per kWh.

      Honda’s EU2000i generator claims 4 hours of runtime @ rated load (4 hrs * 1600 W = 6.4 kWh from 1.1 gallons of gas, 5.8 kWh/gal) down to 9.6 hours of runtime @ 1/4 load (9.6 hrs * 400 W = 3.84 kWh from 1.1 gallons, 3.49 kWh/gal).

      The Zero charges at about 850W, so the generator would probably get about 6.5 hours = 5 kWh/gal, or about 40 mpg.

      (8 miles / kWh * 0.85 kW * 6.5 hours / 1.1 gallon = 40 mpg)

      At lower speed riding and trail riding, you’ll probably be more like 85-100 Wh/mile, so 48-56 mpg effectively.

      • John2

        Couldn’t ask for a more thorough or logical explanation than that; thanks. So the idea of camping someplace and doing 100-mile loops on successive days would mean the generator running much of the night…trading night noise for quiet day rides. Never mind…

        • protomech

          If the generator would run a pair of chargers in parallel (~1700w draw), then the bike should do a 95% charge in about 5 hours. The efficiency should be a bit better as well.

          8 miles / kWh * 1.7 kW * 4 hours / 1.1 gallon = 49 mpg

          Lower speeds and trail riding should be 85-100 Wh/mile, so 59-70 mpg.

          Generator is definitely not an ideal solution – the Honda generators are fairly quiet, but it’s still going to stick out like a sore thumb in a wilderness setting.

          The DS is probably more suited to a single-day trip or a multi-day trip where the total distance ridden would not require a recharge in the field.

  • Justin

    This has convinced me not to buy an electric bike… or car for that matter. Until they can make recharging the batteries as quick and easy as filling up a gas tank it’s just not worth it. I’m definitely one that would obsess over having enough juice to get me there and back.

    • Archer

      The obvious solution would be a standardized battery pack -a universal solution- that simply gets swapped out for a fully charged one at the service station. Until that infrastructure is fully in place, electric vehicles will remain on the fringe. When you consider what that would require in terms of manufacturer agreement on a standard, and the required worldwide investment, it might take 30 years or more. As long as gasoline is relatively cheap, the massive shift this would require is out of the question.

      And that’s really the bottom line here. Until “battery” replaces “gas” in the distribution system, we’re stuck with dead dinosaur tech.

      It’s more likely well see widespread adoption of LNG before this happens… So maybe not for fifty years or more.

      • stempere

        Swappable batteries (without standard swap at stations) is a first step, you could take your battery with you to charge at home or work if you live in a bulding and if you have the cash you could even buy a second pack for a quick swap.
        I live and work in paris so running a cable from the eighth floor without any window that’s street side would be nearly impossible (or would require some illegal “maintenance work”).

        Give me a swappable battery empulse that is under 20k (and sold in europe) and i’ll buy it in a heartbeat.

        • protomech

          The Zero XU has a swappable battery pack. It’s about 45 lbs, though, about as much as anyone would want to carry.. and realistic range for that battery is 20-30 miles.

          Maybe something like a folding cart, or built-in telescoping handle and wheels on the battery pack?

          • stempere

            They could separate the battery in smaller units or indeed turn the battery into a rolling cart (good) ideas are already here.

    • paul56

      On the other hand, using it as a commuter, with long periods before and after the commute available for recharging negate the need for instant “fill ups”.

      For me and my 70 mile round trip commute, it would pay for itself in fuel in a few years. The Uly would remain for more spirited, longer distance weekend rides.

    • Harlan

      Already, with today’s technology we have CHAdeMO stations to fast-charge EVs. For comparison, the Nissan Leaf has about 3x the battery capacity of the Zero DS and the Leaf can charge up in about 30 minutes using CHAdeMO. So it’s reasonable to think that in the near future we’ll see charging times of electric motorcycles drop to below 10 minutes.

      • Sean (the other one)

        i like where your mind is going. if that becomes a possibility, that changes everything for this bike.

        this bike is worth the price if:
        -i can plug it into my computer and give it some low end gusto
        -i can charge it more quickly and easily.

        it’s a beautiful bike, fun to ride, at $0.10 a tank very cheap to run but until those problems are fixed, it just doesnt fit many lifestyles

        • Campisi

          Speaking of plugs, what sort of plug does the Zero use, anyway? Is it just a three-prong plug, or one of the SAE/CHAdeMO style EV standard plugs?

  • Campisi

    Chip Yates’s opinion is both surprising and depressingly familiar.

  • coredump

    “gee golly, that thur’s an electrical motorcycle,” as we passed him. Hope I didn’t throw off his heart meds.”

    What the hell, what did this guy do to you? For someone who talks about wanting to bring motorcycling back into the mainstream you come off as prick a lot Wes.

    • Lacubrious

      Yes, a bit dickish.

    • Wes Siler

      Full Disclosure: I’m kind of a prick.

    • Joe

      Yeah, a bit harsh, even for my tastes. What’s up with the BikeEXIF jab though?

      I want to see an article where you guys have undying praise for a certain genre of bike haha

    • overunder

      Yeah but if Wes stop being a prick, there’ll be nothing left for us to hate on here, then we’ll all feel like we are not getting our money’s worth.

    • Sean (the other one)

      yeah,i hate that guy.

    • nick2ny

      You’re here because you don’t like lame mainstream motorcycle publications.

  • matt

    I’ve ridden an electric bicycle around town for a few days and you do get a little tired of the many, many “gee whiz” comments from everyone when you stop. Sure it’s part of the deal when you are using some completely new type of transport. I’m glad that Wes is including this in the write-ups. anyone that buys an electric bicycle or motorcycle in the coming 2 years+ is going to be hearing a lot of comments from the bystanders. That’s inescapable. Good to make that part of the experience super clear. It’s tiring. At least it was for me.

  • TuffGong

    I think as soon as these are readily available to be seen on showroom floors,we will begin to see them on the road,at least in urban/military/campus settings. The range paranoia is understandable(initially),but clearly,another couple of weeks on the bike and you will be over that. Commuters with relatively fixed routes will have no worries and time will take care of the rest…They offer good performance,easy charging and when maintenance/upkeep and fuel costs are taken into consideration,aren’t overly expensive for those with the money to buy one(the rest aren’t prospects,so they don’t matter)…Your notes on plug location,charge indicator/charge level are useful and hopefully someone is listening. These are the worst versions we will ever see. Steady and constant improvement will make them ubiquitous in time. Designated-solar charging is clearly called for and as the market expands ,we will see it. Re-charging body surfaces and more are coming….Keep in mind what exists today is of no importance. As folks break out of the petrol/non renewable junkies fog,things will be much easier. Only entrenched corporate interests are keeping us on the needle….withdrawal is a bitch…free your mind and your ass will follow….

  • Keith

    I think a lot of people miss the utility of electric vehicles for commuting.
    In multi car families, there is usually one “runabout” that does the commute to the city and back, deliver the kids to school and shopping.Those distances are largely in the electric car range.
    It will be some time before electric vehicles will be suitable for the kind of long range driving we can do with ICE but there is a lot of driving we could be doing right now on electrics.
    This “range anxiety” is slowing down progress to E vehicles.

  • AHA

    I ride an 09 model KTM with a 990 cc twin. It has no fuel gauge and the reserve is about 20 miles or so, if you’re lucky. There are enough petrol station closed on Sunday afternoons in rural England to generate plenty of range anxiety in this ICE man. :)

  • Ben W

    “I decided to leave the DS at home, worried about its highway range on the way there.”

    This is what I’d struggle with. The Zero seems best in a multiple-bike garage. Also, it’s so good at that role that it almost eliminates the need for the first bike. Almost.

    A work buddy has a Pontiac G8 GT. Great car, but his work commute is 10 miles stop and go and he goes on long range trips every weekend. He decided to supplement his garage with a Smart Car. Several months later, he never drives the G8 and is considering selling it. While he misses the power, he’s struggling with the value proposition of the Smart Car. The key difference there is that the Smart Car doesn’t present nearly the same inconvenience as an electric bike.

    Then again, looking at that situation begs the question: why not just get a CBR250R?

    • protomech

      A Smart car is still a gas car. There’s more substantial overlap in it and the G8′s capabilities than an electric bike and a gas bike (or car).This would be similar to augmenting your Boss Hoss bike with a CBR250R..

      As for that comparison, the CBR is still a gas bike and it basically does the same things as any other gas bike, save performance and economy. An electric bike is a bit more of a different beast.

      First month of owning the Zero:
      1100 miles on the Zero
      400 miles on the GS500 (trip to visit friends 200 miles away)
      100 miles on gas car

      Like your friend, I’m dumping the gas bike for now. I’ll pick up another gas bike when my riding circle starts back, but I rarely used it for road trips before and would only need a gas bike for long pleasure rides.

      • Ben W

        Yeah, I’m aware that it’s a different beast entirely. The point of the cars was just to illustrate the challenges of having two vehicles that almost, but not quite, overlap.

        That aside, I still wonder at the point of a Zero instead of something like a CBR250R. Is it about early adoption, a matter of principle, or being different? What’s the motivator?

        It’s a genuine question, not snark.

        • Campisi

          It’s about looking at the previously-mentioned benefits of electric power versus the range and cost problem, and deciding that the former attributes overcome the latter problems. Some people don’t mind the price and either never need to travel long distances on their motorcycle or have another one for that purpose, so the negatives for them do not outweigh the positives.

          As ranges increase and prices decrease, more and more people will exit the cost/benefit equation on the electric side of things.

        • Clark

          The point for me is that it’s a motorcycle experience that is unique. Its not like any other motorcycle I have had the chance to ride.

        • protomech

          It’s a bit of all of those.

          The 2012 Zero bikes have enough range for me to use as a primary commuter. Based upon (what I’m hoping are) reasonable assumptions about battery life and near-zero maintenance, it should be in the same lifetime cost ballpark as a 250cc bike. So price is a wash, and IMO it’s a far cooler bike.

          I think the electric tech is very neat, have been following it for several years now and seen it rapidly evolve. In a way, buying electric now feels like buying some of the first non-kit computers in the early 80s.. it’s to the point where it’s useful for many everymans, but adoption is still very low.

          Not a perfect analogy because it’s not disruptive in the way home computing enabled new use cases, the disruption is more in the backend.

          It’s also a hedge against price variability of the oil market. We’ve seen huge fluctuations in the price of oil (and thereby gas) in the last 5-6 years; I wouldn’t say that we won’t see prices drop down to $2.50-$3/gallon again, but I think the average price going forward will climb from where we are.

          Finally, encouraging the adoption of electric vehicles is a national security interest IMO. I see energy as being one of the big international conflicts driving the next 20 years, and while electric isn’t the bunnies-and-rainbows technology some people like to paint, it’s an enabler for moving some portion of our transportation energy off of oil to energy agnosticism.

  • the_doctor

    I am also in the camp of an electric bike would be great for multi-bike garages. The range is so unlike an ICE when it comes to refueling that it would make a great sprinter, but a terrible distance bike.

  • Kevin

    “- Of all people, it’s not the man who beat ICE at its own game who you’d expect to shake his head in bewilderment at the prospect of electric bikes as consumer products. “They’re just not there yet,” says Chip, bemoaning the high price and low performance. He drove to Marina Del Ray in his speedboat, spending $500 in fuel on the way up from Newport Beach.”

    Speechless, really.

    • Archer

      Well, only if you take the “$500.00 in fuel” part literally.

      …which is of course possible, if, say, it’s a 900hp Scarab… But there’s a wide range of holes in the water which receive the label “speedboat”, a few of which aren’t quite so thirsty.