Life Electric: is it possible?

Dailies, Galleries, Reviews -


My time with the 2012 Zero DS is up. The nice man from Zero came and picked it up this morning. For three whole weeks, the fastest, longest-range electric motorcycle ever was my only transportation. I didn’t drive any cars, I didn’t ride my bicycle, I didn’t hop on any other bikes. I might have walked a little bit once or twice. Why? I wanted to know if it was possible. Early adopters and techno geeks and and greenie weenies aside, can a normal person with normal transportation needs really make the switch to zero emissions? Well…the answer is not what what I was expecting.

Photos: Sean Smith

Unrealistic Expectations?

HFL has really gotten behind this whole electric thing. We’ve ridden and written about every electric bike out there. We’ve interviewed the CEOs. We’ve covered the racing. And I have personally too, writing about electrics for everyone from GQ to Wired to PopSci and even once appearing on Fox News to talk about them. Yeah, that last thing makes me feel pretty dirty, which is another reason why I’m probably the right person to try and fit an electric bike into my life.

Living in LA, a city that can only be travelled by motorcycle, and living in a standalone house with outdoor outlets, I figured the electric would probably be a good fit. With an official 112-mile range (estimated in a mix of city and highway driving), I figured an honest 80 miles would probably be pretty useful too. 80 mile is a long way, right? That could totally cover the majority of my daily riding. 84mph is plenty fast too, more than enough to get on the city’s congested highways.

Perhaps out of vanity, I also looked forward to whizzing around on a silent, futuristic bike. Something that marked me as a trendsetter, a bike that your average, young, city-dweller might actually think was cool. Completely the opposite of my normal superbikes or knobbie-equipped 1,200cc ADVs. Finally, I’d be able to brag to my non-riding friends about something they actually cared about.

I get around.

Last summer I broke my wrist on a Ural and had to get around by car for a few weeks. Against the doctor’s advice, I got back on a bike, an Aprilia Mana, while I still had a cast on. I wrote an op/ed about it for Wired that I wanted to call “Why the fuck do you people still drive?!” before wiser minds intervened. It still broke their commenting system. Basically, I’ve built a life for myself that’s totally predicated on the motorcycle.

Living in LA, where the metropolitan area sprawls across 4,850 square miles, I need a bike for its ability to (legally, mind) split lanes. The good fuel economy helps too. As I patiently explain to people constantly, “I live in very different LA.” One where East and West are minutes and cents away rather than hours and a Twenty, minimum. I happily run errands for SUV bound friends, half an hour and a couple dollars will get me to Long Beach, which may as well be the dark side of the Moon as far as most Angelenos are concerned. Running between civilization and the suburban hinterlands in that time is how we swap around press bikes, how I see friends and how I do all the stupid shit that I do. 5pm on a Friday? Sure, I can go camping. What traffic?

An average day sees me riding from my house in Hollywood to Downtown for meetings (10 miles), then maybe to Venice for lunch (20 miles) then back home (another 20) to a cafe, to the gym, to the grocery store. Maybe WeHo to spend the night or there and back again if I forgot something. Maybe I’ll stop by Grant’s or Sean’s or somewhere else. I’m on a bike a lot. You should text or email if you want to get ahold of me, I’ll never answer the phone, it’s impossible with a helmet on. The 42 unchecked voicemails from the last week or so attest to that.

Toy or transportation?

Yesterday, I got to do something I’d been itching to do since we first got the DS: ride it on a good road. There’s a plethora of them in the LA area and I could maybe even get to one of them on the 9kWh Zero, but doing so would rule out much riding and I certainly wouldn’t get home. So, we loaded the bike into a Nissan Frontier and headed for GMR.

Riding, fairly upright, around town, indications were good that the Zero might be a handler. Suspension is fully adjustable, has relatively soft, long-travel springs, which are controlled by quality damping. Wide bars give good leverage over the 17-inch front wheel to make for sharp steering, something that’s backed up by fairly steep geometry and a quite light, 341lbs curb weight. Some hard use bedded in the pads and even the brakes began to deliver good feel.

The twist-n-go throttle is more intuitive and linear than on most scooters and a tiny bit of regen delivers traditional engine-braking feel when you roll of the throttle. Good to go right? Well….

The thing preventing you from riding fast on the Zero isn’t the relatively limited performance or lack of gears or anything like that. Instead, it’s a bizarrely short-sighted cost-cutting choice on Zero’s part. The tires? Yeah, those are “Deli Tire,” which everyone knows is a quality, performance brand, right? I’ve never heard of them either, but some Googling reveals that they’re made in Indonesia and aren’t for sale anywhere in the US. At least anywhere that’s aware of Google. I’d like to tell you how cheap they are, but lacking any online outlet, I’ll simple have to guestimate: these tires cost $3. Yeah, they’re that bad. Not only don’t they bother gripping or leaning or any of that fun stuff, but even with just the 700 miles the bike arrived with, they were already totally squared off.

Yeah, yeah, this is supposed to be a dual sport. But, I can ride a stock WR250R pretty hard on a mountain road. Or even a TKC80-equipped Super Tenere for that matter. These are basically street tires with dirt-look tread. Trust me, they’re garbage.

Of course, the Zero isn’t the only bike to come with shit tires stock. The Dunlop D204s on the Yamaha R1 are awful too. But unlike that bike, which comes with standard wheel sizes, making the Zero work right doesn’t just involve mousing over to Motorcycle Superstore. Putting something worthwhile on the 2.50 x 17-inch front would be easy, but what on earth are you going to put on the 3.00 x 16 rear? Until you can answer that question, the DS isn’t worth trucking to a mountain road.

Those tires are just the last in long list of curiously cheap components on the Zero. At $14,000 there’s really no excuse for a headlight that doesn’t illuminate squat or a parts-bin taillight or the ugliest plate hanger/rear fender in human history or mirrors that show only your elbows and won’t stay adjusted or a front brake line that obstructs the clocks or a plug-in point underneath the bike or LED battery indicators you can’t see or bodywork made up of an uneven assortment of .01 cent pop studs and cheesy Phillips heads. Come on guys.

How fast is fast?

There’s something the Zero has made me want to get off my chest. With an 84mph top speed and the off-the-line acceleration of a 50cc scooter, it’s a remarkably slow motorcycle by any standard. But, I don’t think that most motorcyclists actually understand what that means. All the guys that I see riding around on liter bikes or Monsters or million cc cruisers or anything in between? I pass them on that remarkably slow motorcycle. Talk all the shit you want on slow bikes, but until you’re passing that Zero DS, you’re riding a slow bike too because you make it slow. A motorcycle is a wonderful, wonderful thing. But only once you actually learn how to use it. Until then, keep the tough guy talk to yourself, anything with two wheels is capable of being very, very fun.

Inconvenient truths.

Truth #1: 60 miles is about as much as you’re going to want to rely on.

Truth #2: Even with a quick charger, full recharges take five hours.

Truth #3: Outdoor, easily accessible outlets are much harder to find than you think.

Truth #4: Plugging in for 45 minutes here or an hour there at some random outlet (the quick charger is too big to conveniently take with you) does absolutely nothing.

Truth #4: Distances aren’t one way when you can only really charge at home. A 10-mile journey has to be thought of as 20 miles, or one-third the 9kWh Zero’s effective range. That’s right, something that’s 10 miles away is one-third of your maximum reliable travel distance. You can travel there three times a day max and, once you’re there, your next move has to be limited accordingly.

Sean MacDonald just stopped by to drop off a Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX (awesome, by the way) and we got talking about the Zero. Apparently, he’s been describing it to people as, “Like that Justin Timberlake movie, In Time.” In case you haven’t seen that (not awesome, don’t bother), JT lives in some alternate LA in which a green thing on his arm tracks the amount of time you have left. Time is a currency you spend and earn. If you run out, you die (surprisingly violently, it turns out). The Zero’s battery is like that, except you can’t simply add more time. You sit there all day, watching the range tick down, feeling closer and closer to death. Also unlike the movie, your mom is not creepily hot.

It’s not so much the maximum range that’s the limiting factor, it’s actually the recharge time. Essentially relegated to overnight for anyone that doesn’t sit still all day, it makes the Zero utterly inflexible transportation.

In that Wired article, I hyperboled that getting stuck in a car ruined my life. I could probably make the same exaggerated claim about the Zero DS for the same reason: it limited me. Limits are something I don’t like.

Here’s an example: On a half charge, I rode Downtown for a meeting. There went 10 miles. Then a friend asked me to bring her lunch in Santa Monica. No fucking way. I used half the remaining juice just getting home.

Let’s say your commute averages half a “tank.” That leaves you with 30 miles to play with. Now what if your significant other forgot their wallet and you’d like to drop them some cash at work? What if you want to go by a speciality hardware store you found on the Internet to pick up that tool you need to finish your project? What if you just want to blow off some steam at lunch time? What if you want to do anything that’s more than 15 miles away? Remember, there and back means you need to double your distance.

You could hop on pretty much any brand new motorcycle right now, with no preparation of any kind, and ride it across country. Doing so on a Ducati might be a little uncomfortable. You’re not going to, but that ability highlights the usefulness and versatility of even some ridiculous superbike. The motorcycle, fundamentally, is a useful thing. Being utterly unable to travel a reasonable distance is the antithesis of useful.

Could you do it?

So, after reading all this, you still want one? Here’s what you need to exist in your life to make that possible:

1. A living situation with extremely easy, convenient access to power outlets either adjacent to a parking area or in your garage.

2. $14,000 to spend on a second or third (or whatever) vehicle.

3. A commute or travel routine that’s as much under 60 miles a day as possible.

4. Regular (as in you own it) access to a traditional, gasoline-powered vehicle. Preferably a motorcycle.

5. Access to a pickup truck if you want to ride anywhere but within 30 miles of home.

6. A daily routine that doesn’t often require you to transport yourself places on an impromptu basis and preferably involves urban riding.

7. If you work at a static location, extremely easy, convenient access to a power outlet and an employer that condones such behavior.

Unless you have all seven, an electric bike isn’t the right choice for you.

What’s this mean?

In short, the idea of a fitting an electric motorcycle into your life without making significant sacrifices is still a ways off. That’s not to say electric motorcycles don’t have an exciting, viable future, just that that future isn’t quite here yet. As battery technology advances, longer ranges will find their way into cheaper, smaller, denser packs until eventually some watershed of practicality will be achieved. More necessary though is the need for a real electric infrastructure if vehicles like these are to become viable. If it took five hours and a pump in your own home to fill up your gas bike, then they’d be just as impractical. If it took five minutes on pretty much any street corner in the country to fill up your electric bike, they’d be just as practical as a regular bike. At some point, hopefully soon, I’ll happily make the transition to electric transportation. Just not yet.

For three weeks I lived with an electric motorcycle, it was the Life Electric.

  • longtravel

    Good writeup. This is why I keep paying to read your stuff!

    • Paulie 4k


  • Dylan

    I hope you do a Life Electric 2 on an Empulse. Id be really interested to see if you came to any different conclusions. Also curious to see how having a 6 speed would affect it, both the range and the general feel of using an electric motorcycle.

    • BigRooster

      From this article, I assume the outcome would be almost exactly the same with some different nuance here and there. The Empulse may up the excitement and quality but the shortcomings of range and practicality will mirror that of the Zero.

      • protomech

        Agree about upping the excitement, but as Wes points out the Zero is fast enough to get the job done.

        One thing to note is that the Empulse can charge much more quickly. Even on 110v, it should charge about 50% faster (Zero tops out at < 1 kW from the wall IME), maybe more like 60% faster if you think in terms of miles recovered per hour. Range should be 20-25% better if you spend a lot of time at high speeds.

        But the general points remains.. recharging is still the #1 issue facing EV adoption.

  • R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

    The $14k price is nutters. I like the idea of electric bikes but dayamn. I also think that Zero makes the least appealing electric bikes, aesthetically. Brammo and BRD have some hot bikes.

  • M

    i’ve been watching these bikes very closely.

    i’m in this product’s demographic. i’m a youngish (32), single, professional male living in a mid-size midwestern city.

    my daily commute just went from a pretty awesome ~4 miles to a less awesome 12 miles, for which this bike would be fine.

    the ds checks all the boxes EXCEPT price point. i get it, it takes volume to engage the economy of scale to the point that the same or better product can come down in price. however, it has to get closer than this. $14k? No way.

    If ice motorcycles didn’t perform as well or better, weren’t so fuel efficient that the difference in cost per joule of energy wasn’t easily absorbed by owners, and the cost SO much less for the same features, then i’d be in line.

    however, the unique advantages, like quiet operation and the ability to “re-fuel” at home aren’t major and this product is simply not economically justifiable for its target audience. unless, of course, you consider people who can’t afford an EXTRA $6000 for the privilege of owning an electric bike instead of a conventional one to be necessarily outside any electric bike company’s demographic. : )

    • protomech

      The Zero only really makes financial sense if you can put a LOT of miles on it (10k/year).. and even then, you break even only if you assume that the bike proves to be reliable for those 10 years. The other way to look at it is a hedge against continued gas price increases, but I think we’ll see a 10 year average price of $4-5/gallon worst-case.

      But electric bike prices will drop .. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zero introduce a new model at the top end to compete with Brammo next year, and push the range and performance of the 2012 bikes down to the $10-12k price range.

      Keep your eye on them.. they’re continually improving.

      • Grant Ray

        Sorry to burst your bubble, but, the fuel cost per gallon in the US doubled in the past 10 years, quadrupled in the past 15 years. What makes you think it’s going to suddenly stagnate for the next 10 years?

        • protomech

          More expensive options to produce oil open up as the price of oil rises; my understanding is that shale oil was unprofitable years ago, but is now an option. Syngas or wastestock/algae biofuels may become options with $150+/barrel expected oil prices.

          I don’t think we’ll see stagnation, but we’re also not going to suddenly run out. It’s just going to get more expensive and harder to tap as time goes on .. so the question is how much can we attribute the wild swings in gas prices in the last 4-5 years to speculation, and how much to the devaluation of the USD and recent shifts in market supply (going down) and demand (slight drop and now slowly going back up.

          I have absolutely no basis to defend or justify this, but $4/gallon feels like a price that has been artificially propped up. I don’t think we’ll see gas drop below $3/gallon for any sustained period of time, but I don’t expect it to shoot up to $10/gallon either.

          • Grant Ray

            It’s the other way around. $4/gallon is a price that has been artificially handicapped by US govt intervention.

            • protomech

              There are definitely significant market forces at play beyond supply and demand.

              Take a look at historical gas prices vs inflation. In the last 15 years, only the last 5-6 years have been high, and they’re no higher than we saw in the 1930s and the 1970s. Question is, will gas continue to rise from here, level off, or fall back down.


              • Grant Ray

                As the Asias’ enormous middle class economies come into their own with legitimate purchasing power, get ready for their demand to blow up pretty much all of our predictions about the future of “acceptable” fuel costs at the pump.

                • protomech

                  Yeah, China and India definitely have a huge unmet appetite for more refined transportation. Some part of that demand will definitely be met by oil (and drive global oil prices up), but I think there’s going to be increasing pressure in those areas for alternative fuels.

                • Campisi

                  What we’re going to see in the next ten and twenty years is India, China, and South America become the big-demand players in oil markets. The United States is going to diminish as a driver or global demand (as it is going to diminish in many ways globally) as the mature market with decreasing oil demand that it is. The notion that America using less oil will make oil prices stabilize globally will seem naive ten years from now.

                • Mark D [EX500]

                  Fuel prices will definitely go up, but even as somebody with zero income right now, I never think about filling up my ICE bike. Whatever it is, a tank is less than two beers, and I can’t even remember the last time I filled up.

                  Its going to take radically higher gas prices for normal people to rationalize the switch to electric just based on fuel costs.

                • jp182

                  Mark D, I definitely don’t have zero income BUT I am constantly aware of the price of filling up a bike as I can remember when $6 filled up a 600RR tank. Those days are memories now.

                  Getting shale oil may increase the supply but it’ll do so at a cost. Oil companies are making too much money to do anything that would keep gas prices where they are now. And my gas app has shown that over the last 18 months the price has steadily increased (with fluctuations).

  • Felix

    The main complaint seems to be range/recharge issues. Couldn’t this be (partially) alleviated with swappable battery packs?

    Of course, I would imagine that batteries make up a large chunk of the bike’s cost, so additional sets would make the bike’s already-steep $14k even more unreasonable.

    • Wes Siler

      $1k per kWh…

    • BigRooster

      Swapping battery packs opens up another can of worms. Even if you could, you would still be tethered to your home with the spare pack is sitting on the charger. Or… you have to assume there is a huge infrastructure of places swapping out batteries like used propane tanks – or you are tethered to the map of available swapping locations. However, even in the 2nd scenario you have to assume the battery you receive is as good as the one you are giving. Propane tanks are $20, batteries are thousands of dollars – I assume there would be some paperwork involved that would make the entire process a hassle – like renting a car. So how long does the swap take? Sounds promising until you start thinking about the logistics.

      Fuel Cell batteries or an ultra capacitor seem better pie in the sky options than swapping.

  • pinkyracer

    That’s too bad. The 2010 I rode down to zero (literally) had enough juice to get me from la cienega near the 10 to Hollywood electrics after 20 min in the outlet I spied across the street from where it died. Guess I was just lucky. Brandon, who lives near the Crest, and has a 9-5 job, gets by fine with his. You’re right about the mirrors, but the 2012 is worlds better than the older ones. Each years model I’ve ridden has felt more solid.

    • JVictor75

      Not to take anything away from your reply pinky, and not to hijack the thread. But it’s good to see you commenting again. Hope you’re healing well!

  • DavidMG

    I.C.E., I.C.E., baby…

  • matt

    Your experience with this machine is invaluable. Thanks for sticking it out and this very honest summary article. appreciated

    completely serious question in 2 parts.
    1) assuming 5 hour recharge time, $14k price and current performance (with tire problem sorted), what is the range that makes this bike work? 200 miles/charge?
    2)assuming 100 miles/charge, $14k price, better tires, what is the recharge time (say 20% to 100%) that makes this work for daily use?

    • Wes Siler

      1. I don’t know if it’s actually a range issue now so much as it is a recharge time issue. Even with that hypothetical ~200 miles range, anything outside of that is going to require a long, long stop at an outlet. More range will incrementally increase practicality, but the real restriction is the (in)ability to refill.

      2. Well the easy answer is gasoline parity. That’s not going to happen anytime soon though. Someone else is likely better qualified to tell you what’s over the horizon.

      • matt

        Thanks for the replies. I see it the same way. 100 mile range is about what I get on my sbk, if I could stop and recharge it in say 5-15 minutes at a station, that would be fine.

        9kWh battery recharge in 1 hour = 75Amps at 120V (at 100% efficiency) no such animal. Or ~41A at 220V, that one can be done (about the same demand as a small tig welder) but that transformer is going to be much to big and heavy to carry. Station mounted. But even then, an hour is too long.

        If it needs to be a 10 minute charge time, then we need ~240A at 220V or 120A at 440A. And that’s assuming that the batteries can actually handle being charged that fast without damage.

        A normal 2 bedroom house has a 200 or 300 amp 220V panel. I like to have a rough sense of comparative scale when thinking about stuff like this.

  • webbiker

    Absolutely beside myself with the objectively and honestly written summary. I was fully expecting an article skipping the inconvenient truths that are still present. It’s not about being pro this or that, it’s about telling things like they are. SO rare these days in any media.

    Became a subscriber again. Good job.

  • Zach

    What size tire fits a 3 inch wide rim? Dunlop GT501s come in 130/90 16 and 140/90 16 for the rear. Not exactly cutting edge technology, but they work well for racers of the similarly fast and heavy Ninja 250.

    • KR Tong

      +1, Im in love with those tires. They’re fairly cheap, they last a good while, they handle amazingly on 360 lb bikes and 610 lb bikes… so for EV’s which seem to swing from one extreme to the next they sound like as good a fit as any.

    • HammSammich

      I think Metzler Makes MEz2′s that would fit. Not the best, but they’re pretty good.

    • Wes Siler

      If you were designing a motorcycle from the ground up, would you limit it to GT501s and absolutely nothing else?

      • michael uhlarik

        Yes, if your design team had little previous experience designing mass market motorcycles, and management was chasing the lowest BoM possible.


        • KR Tong

          Hahaha harsh. What’s Kawasaki and Honda’s excuse then? Arrowmaxs have been the best tires you could put on a lot of bikes. And they’re good tires! What reason is there for a bike with modest power to need tires developed for the more powerful bikes? If we’re going back in time with the performance numbers, you’d think race tires of the 90′s would work too.

  • KR Tong

    Oh well, Zero tried. After commuting on an RSV4, trying to put Wes on a zero is like trying to tell a heroin addict to save some for later. That list under “Could you do it?” could be said about any motorcycle. 1-5 at least. 6 shouldn’t be said about any bike over $14,000, and 7 doesn’t matter if 3 still applies. My way of thinking is to pat Wes on the back for enduring, swap “Electric Bike” for “Los Angeles” in the concluding paragraph, and say congrats on the consumer research that came out of this fun bit of journalism.

    • M

      i’m not out to start an interwebz argument, but i have to say that i disagree with your analysis.

      • Dylan

        Saying you disagree with someone without providing a rebuttal is like a forum without pics…..utterly useless

        • M

          see, i knew someone else would make the argument for me.

          • KR Tong

            You disappoint me. I am seriously trying to understand why people applaud Wes’s conclusion on short-range electric motorcycles by comparing them to the one-ICE-motorbike-with-no-car stable that NOBODY has.

            • Sean MacDonald (the other Sean)

              i dont think that everyone is in the same position as wes, but i DO think that the position wes is in illustrates the limitations of an electric motorcycle well.

              he didn’t say don’t buy it. he gave parameters for owning it. the readers of this site are not idiots and can synthesize the information given and make applications based on their own situations.

              if wes had another bike or car to rely on, he would have had to either document every time he left his house and what vehicle he took and the mileage and reasons or we would have never known exactly how this impacted him.

              as much as i hate saying nice things about the guy and would love to agree with you that he is an idiot and sucks and smells funny, i think he did a good job with this and went about doing a “real world review” in the only appropriate way.

              • KR Tong

                I dont think you need to defend Wes’ character. I definitely dont think he’s an idiot. I wouldnt be a long-time fan of the website and posting in the comments, trying to have a discussion with other readers, if that’s what I thought.

                I felt that the article stirred up more questions than it answered, which isn’t a bad thing. In particular, I felt it stirred up the old dream everyone has of simplifying their transportation needs to one bike. If a bike can’t fulfill the dream, should it be labeled “unpractical?” That’s why most people by a pretty large percentage will drive to an office job in 4000 pounds of metal, because it seems like it should be more capable of doing more things. It’s why a 300 hp 4 seater BMW with stability/launch controls and GPS and heated seats is considered the “practical” choice for what’s usually one guy on his way to work.

                Bikes are horses for courses, which in my opinion makes them better. I get out the first 40 miles of every day on a bicycle, then switch to motorbike when I get tired. A lot of people would never even try to do that because on its own the bicycle, or my lumpy motorcycle just seem unpractical to a lot of people. Holistically my stable of bikes works great.

                I just don’t think there is such thing as a, “real world review.”

                • ike6116

                  I just don’t think there is such thing as a, “real world review.”

                  I promise you there is.

                  It just doesn’t apply to you.

                • KR Tong

                  You might be right, but I’d love to hear what the “real world” is, because most people wouldn’t suggest any motorcycle has any “real world” application. So what is that “real world” application that universally defines if every motorcycle is practical? And how large of a region does this “Real world” exist in? Ideally it would be everywhere, because it’s the “real world,” and not centric to the reviewer’s location.

                • Sean MacDonald (the other Sean)

                  you will find no defending of wes’s character from me. i think he’s a total shit head.

                  i just think this is the only way to do any kind of review if you want to be able to glean any information from the writeup about your ability to apply it to your own situation.

                • KR Tong

                  Yeah i get that. My common-sense could follow the logic there and understand why Wes chose to do it that way. I’m not saying I’m not a shithead, and I definitely wasnt connecting to the conclusion of this article, so I wanted to hear what other people thought. Apparently HFL’s demographic is mostly the mean girls from high school. Haha

                • Wes Siler

                  Oh. My. God. WHAT are you wearing?!

    • HammSammich
    • BigRooster

      “That list under “Could you do it?” could be said about any motorcycle. 1-5 at least. 6 shouldn’t be said about any bike over $14,000,” No
      1. No – Plugs for an ICE? For what the trickle charger?
      2. No – You can get a serviceable bike for less than $5000 as a primary vehicle or 2nd or 3rd vehicle.
      3. No – Gas stations are everywhere, so even if you only a 1 gallon in at a time, you could still manage.
      4. Maybe – region dependent, I’ll give you this one to account for snow and ice and lack of public transportation to take up the slack.
      5. No – emphatic no at that
      6. Maybe – but it’s a stretch
      7. No, not applicable to ICE

      • KR Tong

        1. Everyone has at one point or another, for one reason or another, found a way to route a powercord out to their bike.
        2. Nobody drops 14k on a motorcycle and doesnt already have access to another vehicle.
        3. Most people don’t commute more than 30 miles a day.
        4. Same answer as #2
        5. Every motorcyclist at some point figures out how to get a pickup truck, a van, something that can their bike.
        6. Most people who drive long distances for work are a.) usually transporting something that would be klunky on a bike and/or b.) wouldn’t put heavy miles on their most expensive vehicle.
        7. Like I said, if 3 is a requirement, then requiring 7 isn’t necessary. Otherwise refer to 6.

        You don’t have to agree with me, you might be like Wes and put heavy miles on very expensive bikes, but MOST motorcyclists don’t ride 365, so for MOST motorcyclists would be fine with a Zero.

  • Paul Nilssen

    For the past 4 years I have been using an electric Vectrix as my daily transport. Of the seven points mentioned in ‘Could you do it’, all apply to me except we have a car not another motorcycle. I have travelled 27000kM (about 17000 miles) in 21.7km (13.5 miles) trips to and from work. I charge at home and at work, can’t even think about the long way home or run errands. It is like living with a fuel tank that only has reserve, no weekend rides for me! May sound like hell, but I ride every day and that is fun on any motorcycle, even a short range electric maxi-scooter. But…I have had enough, tried but cannot continue only riding for a little bit, want to go further. I pick up a BMW F800ST on Monday.

  • longtravel

    A couple of questions for you Wes:

    1. During your time with the bike did you ever intentionally run it to zero to check the honesty of the battery meter? I know you had the one hiccup on the 101, but past that can you give any insight into what happens when you actually run it all the way out of juice? Does that event correlate with reaching zero bars or is there some padding built into the meter? What are the recharging times for such an event, are they comparable to a normal charge or faster/slower?

    2. How many miles did you end up putting on the bike in your time with it?

    • Wes Siler

      1. Yes. It goes a fair distance beyond “zero” then begins to lose power as it runs down.

      I never sat there with a stopwatch to measure recharge times, just plugged the thing in all afternoon or overnight or whenever possible.

      2. Forgot to look at the odo before giving it back, but IIRC, something like 600-700 miles.

  • the_doctor

    Life Electric has been fun to read. It is really interesting to see what it would be like to ride an electric every day.

    Wes, would a Zero work in a denser city like NYC?

    • stempere

      My guess is charging (finding outlets) would be an even bigger issue.
      Big cities need bikes with swapable packs or a real charging stations network.

      BTW, any news from Brooklyn Motorized since last year? They were the closest to something big city oriented…

    • Wes Siler

      Don’t use NYC as an example, you can’t park anywhere and the cops will rape you with a night stick for the very act of looking at a motorcycle.

      In a more sane city, let’s say San Francisco, shorter journeys may make the range less of an issue, but it’s really the recharge time that kills you. With a minimum of ~5 hours, there’s just no flexibility. What if you’re in The Mission and get a call to come down to Google or Facebook or Apple for a meeting, and you don’t have full battery? Not gonna happen.

      • zero

        I just got finished having the ‘NYC isn’t that bad for cars’ debate in Jalopnik comments so I’m a little surprised to see this here too.

        I’ve owned a car and motorcycle, both parked on the street in Manhattan for about two years now. Personally, I don’t think having a car in the city is that difficult as long as you’re not in midtown, but I don’t mind spending 10-15 minutes looking for a spot a couple times a week. I can see why most wouldn’t enjoy that though.

        I DEFINITELY think that keeping a bike in the city is trivial, again as long as you don’t live between say 30th and 50th. The only thing I’ve ever gotten pulled over for is passing stopped traffic waiting for a light crossing central park, which is illegal for some reason…

        The only real issue I’ve had is the bike being knocked over occasionally, so would I buy a brand new Panigale and leave it on the street? No. For getting around in NYC bikes are pretty great IMO.

  • AHA

    Great article. No substitute for UX feedback.

    EVs will continue to improve and, who knows, maybe e-powered bikes will be successful sooner than cars. (I’ve seen the vault where the British Science Museum keeps it’s vast collection of historic vehicles. The future looks a bit clearer when you get some real insight into the immediate past.)

    Interested also to see you eschew Bluetooth phone capability despite being on the road a lot. I do too but I only do 70mins a day or so. Maybe you’d tell us your thinking on that technology in a follow up piece?

    (Straying off topic: Your concluding reservations probably could have applied to mobile phones less than 20yrs ago.)

    • BigRooster

      I was thinking the same. Answering, dialing, and checking voicmail from a phone handsfree via voice/bluetooth on a bike is completly possible. May not be the best safety decision but impossible it is not.

    • Wes Siler

      RE: Bluetooth. When I’m riding, I’m riding. Nothing else. Notice how I still have all my limbs/digits, can stand up straight and perform physical activity? That’s why.

      • the_doctor

        Good for you. I have enough to deal with riding and watching for idiots that if I added talking on Bluetooth, it would be over. I can barely talk on a phone while standing still.

      • ontheroad

        Thank you. Everyone’s free to do what they wish, but I think the increase in headset use is a little worrying. More than just calls and music, now we’ve got guys out there on the road with K1600′s trying to adjust the treble on their John Denver mix and voice-command their GPS to the nearest Waffle House while chatting with their wife on from the backseat, all at the same time.

        I just want to ride, maybe with some earbuds in, and be left the hell alone. I’ll stop to check the map if need be, and I’ll call you when I get there.

  • Brammofan

    My Brammo Enertia works for me and my situation, even with its limited range (about 35 per charge). Going through your list:
    1. I have a plug in my garage.
    2. I own it.
    3. My commute is about 25 miles round trip.
    4. I own a Honda Pilot.
    5. No need for a pickup truck. I have a hitch-mounted motorcycle rack for the Pilot.
    6. My daily routine is – go to office; go home.
    7. My commute doesn’t require me to charge at work, but I do have this access and use it occasionally.

    So, sure, my situation differs from yours. Still, I love to ride, enjoy my weekend rides on the rural roads near my home, and am aware of the bike’s limitations. Would I love a 1,000 mile range and recharge times of 5 minutes? Sure. Someday it might happen, but for now, I’m happy as a clam.

    Oh – and thank you Brammo for not scrimping on the Avon Roadrider tires.

    • protomech

      A very fair review. I absolutely agree with this:

      “Those tires are just the last in long list of curiously cheap components on the Zero. At $14,000 there’s really no excuse for a headlight that doesn’t illuminate squat or a parts-bin taillight or the ugliest plate hanger/rear fender in human history or mirrors that show only your elbows and won’t stay adjusted or a front brake line that obstructs the clocks or a plug-in point underneath the bike or LED battery indicators you can’t see or bodywork made up of an uneven assortment of .01 cent pop studs and cheesy Phillips heads. Come on guys.”

      The Zero is priced as a premium bike, ICE or EV. The quality of the components range from acceptable (batteries and box, controller, motor, wheels, belt drive, forks/shocks, pegs / kickstand, brakes, front headlight IMO) to bad (gauge cluster, fairing bits, taillight, charger). At $14k it’s the cheapest EV that works for me, and unfortunately some parts of the bike remind me of that.

      I’ll tack my reply here too.

      1. A living situation with extremely easy, convenient access to power outlets either adjacent to a parking area or in your garage.
      2. $14,000 to spend on a second or third (or whatever) vehicle.
      3. A commute or travel routine that’s as much under 60 miles a day as possible.
      4. Regular (as in you own it) access to a traditional, gasoline-powered vehicle. Preferably a motorcycle.
      5. Access to a pickup truck if you want to ride anywhere but within 30 miles of home.
      6. A daily routine that doesn’t often require you to transport yourself places on an impromptu basis and preferably involves urban riding.
      7. If you work at a static location, extremely easy, convenient access to a power outlet and an employer that condones such behavior.

      1. I park and charge in the garage.
      2. Yeah. It’s a primary commuter, $14k won’t buy you a new subcompact nowadays. But you do have to have access to a reliable gas vehicle for longer trips.
      3. I typically travel 25-50 miles per day. Note, this point is moot if you have access to a charging point for a reasonable period of time.
      4. Yes. I own a gas car, it gets me by when I need more range, weather protection, or cargo capability. Points #2 and #3 apply to any bike.
      5. Yeah. I’d love to take it down to Daytona in October for the TTXGP final. Without a truck, I very likely will not have it with me.
      6. Most of my riding is 45-55 mph, but I rarely have to do impromptu trips. Easy access to charging makes impromptu trips less of an issue.
      7. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to charging at work. I have 1700 miles on the Zero now and have never charged outside of home.

      EVs can’t be an only vehicle now. For many people, this also applies to gas bikes – they’re secondary (at best) transportation. My daily transportation needs are well-matched to the Zero, it’s become a lovely primary form of transportation. But it could never be my only vehicle in its current state.

    • ike6116

      Your daily routine is much more Normal than Wes’ (I had to laugh when he called himself a “normal person”, yeah your experience as a motorcycle journalist who lives in the one state where lane splitting is legal is OBVIOUSLY a representative sample).

      However his comments about range and being able to handle the curve balls in the routine are valid. I live in the suburbs of Boston and commute in everyday to the city. I only own a motorcycle (wife owns a car and if it’s snowing I have access to good public transit) so i’m not exactly “normal” either (no one who uses a motorcycle for their main form of transportation in the US is, but on HFL let’s call that “normal”).

      Your range is a joke. I mean, that’s about what my commute round trip and i fill up once a week, twice if I do some riding on the weekend and on the weekend Im always going to go closer to 100 miles than 35, if not more than that. I would feel unbelievably crippled with that range and the responsibility have having to intricately plan my next move. Vehicles are supposed to equal freedom, not calculated chess moves. I can’t imagine not being able to leave straight from work to go meet a friend or run an errand or several.

      • protomech

        Agree with Wes’s transportation needs being somewhat atypical.

        I’m putting 70 miles on the Zero today, between the commute and errands before/after work. Without intermediate charging that would be a bit of a stretch (45-55 mph typ), but with an intermediate charge it’s no problem.

        I wouldn’t recommend an EV to anyone where their range needs are not met by the EV in question or where an honest assessment of range leaves them uncomfortable. To me, being able to replace oil for my daily transit needs represents significant freedom; but that’s only true because I am very comfortable with the Zero and my range requirements (25-50 miles/day typically).

        The 2009 Brammo Enertia would definitely not have worked for me, ~30 miles real-world. The 2012 Zero S does, ~60-70 miles real-world. I expect even better things in 2015.

  • William

    I have to agree with many of the other commenters, not just because I want to say “me too” but because I really do appreciate the time and effort in putting together this very comprehensive analysis of both the Zero and the “life electric”. You don’t get this quality anywhere else.

    Good job

    • Devin

      What I love is that from being a reader here a while you know that Wes really, really wanted this to work out. It’s so hard to find coverage that isn’t anti-electric from the start that you can actually take this as an honest assessment.

      • Gene

        Yes. It’s also nice to hear something that isn’t so pro-electric that it’s a whitewash. This was obviously an article that took a lot of consideration and thought.

        Price is probably the biggest issue. It’s kind of like LCD monitors, they didn’t kill CRTs until they got cheap, and then they were EVERYWHERE in an instant.

        • Ben W

          Agreed with the “whitewash” concept. Some articles have been so pro-electric that it seemed like reading a print mag’s gear reviews. (Okay, not THAT bad.)

          Excellent series, Wes, and solid wrap up.

      • protomech

        It’s hard to find EV coverage that isn’t very polarized in either direction. I don’t expect Fox News or Gas 2.0 to deliver an objective review of an EV.

        Good job, Wes.

  • BigRooster

    Just admit it, you hate polar bears.

    • aristurtle

      Well, obviously; the bastards keep stealing all of our Coca-Cola.

      • Archer

        I LOVE polar bears.

        With a nice sauce Béarnaise…

        (oh look, a food pun…)

        Ok seriously, excellent article and if nothing else Zero should be thanking Wes for the well considered fixit list.

        • KR Tong

          +1 for the fixit list, -1 for the pun.

  • michael uhlarik


    That whole electric thing is just a fad. Like them there moving picture shows…

    Every generation wants time and evolution to stop once they reach maturity and social authority, then resist all further change. Just like I prefer electronic music from the 90′s to today’s variety, or my mother’s penchant for cars with lots of chrome.

    Electric vehicles are clumsy, expensive and severely performance inhibited like any new product paradigm. But that is today, and the potential they promise is so completely superior to what’s left to gain with ICE technology, makes it a no brainer.

    • ike6116

      I don’t know why but I want JT to reply to this.

      • JT Nesbitt

        OK, Math word problem-
        A 2012 Zero Electric and a 1912 Indian both leave New York headed for los Angeles. Which one arrives in Los Angeles first?
        Yeah I know, there is no infrastructure for EVs blah blah blah…
        So lets set our race in a couple of years in the future! in 2014 which one will win?
        Lets again rewind the clock 100 years -1914 and take away the infrastructure advantage of gasoline…AND ROADS!
        Cannonball Baker did just that! 11 days coast to coast 1914 on an Indian Motorcycle.
        Everybody keeps beating a dead horse on this issue of infrastructure, but the real problem is with the IDEA that vehicles can run on electricity, not all of the surrounding ancillary problems.
        If I said that I wanted to send a rocket to the moon powered by chicken feathers, the engineers might be polite about it and say maybe one day in the “future”, but what they are really thinking is that conceptually, it lacks merit. — JT

        • protomech

          Current EVs (and EV infrastructure) are fundamentally poorly suited for long distance road trips. Fast charging (< 30 minute) will help, but that will require significant infrastructure investment that's hard to justify presently.

          NYC to LA is 2500 miles, or about 220 miles per day. You'd need to carefully map out J1772 charging points, but a Brammo Empulse should do about 80 miles/charge at 55 mph. 4 hours travel @ 55 mph, 7 hours charging at two intermediate charge points and then charge overnight while you sleep. Not ideal – you'd only make this trip to prove a point – but the technology is there.

          The majority of the travel many people do is commuting (how many people will choose to travel coast to coast in a car / motorcycle?), and EVs are very well suited for commuting purposes, range permitting.

          EVs are part of a transportation solution for a world with expensive oil, and the technology is rapidly developing. Combustion vehicles were a much better general solution for a world with cheap oil and little concern for air pollution, and they'll live on for a while in increasingly niche and marginalized applications.

        • michael uhlarik


          I have admired your work and words for some time, however I respectfully counter your point.

          Your Cannonball Baker record run is an example incorrectly placed in time to be analogous to where we are today with electrification. By 1914, the United States produced 450,000 new gasoline automobiles, about 20,0000 gasoline powered tractors, and was manufacturing tens of thousands more gas powered aero engines, harvesters and other powered equipment. Domestic petroleum production and distribution (filling stations) were fairly wide placed, at least near population centers. By comparison, today public electric charging stations are practically non existent except for in a few progressive city areas, and total US electric motor vehicle production is under 10,000 (excluding hybrids like the Volt, etc.,. This figure also excludes perhaps another 10,000 industrial EVs such as fork lifts and such, but as they are not in the public domain and are designed to operate solely in confined environments close to permanent charging facilities, I submit that they do not count towards gentrification of EVs)).

          Your analogy would be more apt if Cannonball Baker had built his own motorcycle from mail order parts and rode coast to coast in 1890-1900, when motorized transport was roughly as common as electric vehicles are today. If you had told anyone in 1900 America that high grade gasoline (by that I mean reliable) would be available across the continent by 1915, they would have laughed at you.

          As for the record run, it was a carefully orchestrated stunt, not unlike those guys who ride around the world through all manner of hellish conditions on say, a Yamaha R1 (look up Sjaak Lucassen, then ditch your adventure bike). So what he didn’t have roads, that is not really a propulsion issue.

          It is precisely the IDEA of electric propulsion that makes so much sense. Energy density of current energy storage technology is THE problem, but as an American, you of all people shouldn’t bet against the unrivaled R&D capability the US alone is pouring into this field. If history is any indication, American innovation is at its finest when backed against a “it can’t be done” wall.

          Having said that, I agree that there is no doubt that chicken feathers will never take off as space vehicle propellant. PETA wouldn’t allow it.


          • protomech

            “As for the record run, it was a carefully orchestrated stunt”

            Speaking of carefully orchestrated stunts, the UBC EV club drove a converted 1972 EV volkswagen 6400 km (4000 miles) in 16 days in September 2010, including 2 days layover while Hurricane Earl passed through.


            No support vehicles, though they did have the benefit of mail-delivery of repair parts.

          • JT Nesbitt

            I like guns. The jewel of my collection is a Colt 1911 chambered in 38 Super. It was designed over 100 years ago by John Moses Browning, and is as efficient a killing machine today as it was then. The real key to making it such a wonderful weapon was not some breakthrough in metalurgy or societal shift, it was the development of smokeless powder. The propellant simply got better. Browning didn’t propose getting rid of the metallic cartridge and abandoning the concept of projectiles traveling down a rifled tube simply because previous formulas for black powder were dirty and fouled semi-autos.
            The 1911 is an icon of successful design primarily because Browning didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
            The problem with the internal combustion engine is not it’s basic design, just the propellant. — JT

            • protomech

              “The problem with the internal combustion engine is not it’s basic design, just the propellant.”

              To a point, that’s true. You can combust hydrogen in an engine or you can turn it into electrical energy via a fuel cell; turns out the fuel cell route is more efficient even after you hook up an electric motor to turn it into kinetic energy.

              But the combustion engine works well enough, it’s very well understood and at a fundamental level works with any combustible fluid you care to throw in it (biofuel, diesel, JP8, natural gas, kerosene, vodka, etc).

            • michael uhlarik

              I like guns too, JT. My favourite is the flintlock musket, like the venerable British Brown Bess, because with its innovative “pattern” design of standardized parts and eventual introduction of flintlock ignition, it made reliable, mass production long guns a reality after centuries where firearms were regarded as almost as deadly to their users as to their opponents. Like your Colt, the Brown Bess became the standard around the world for a hundred years, helped Britain paint the globe red and put paid to the idea that gunpowder was only for limited numbers of specialized units in a modern army.

              In the 16th century, the musket was regarded, like electric propulsion today, as too fragile and too expensive to replace the massed skirmishing armies fielding pikes, crossbows and longbows, to be effective. I am sure most seasoned veterans argued that point after watching hopeless early musketmen with arqubus rifles getting killed by misfires. How wrong they were only a few decades later.

              The problem with your reasoning, is that it assumes that internal combustion is fundamentally efficient and therefore, combined with its current state of economy and availability, superior to electric propulsion conceptually. In this assumption, you are incorrect.

              ALL chemical combustion engines in this space-time continuum follow the laws of thermodynamics which make the case pretty clear: at *best*, in a frictionless universe, an internal combustion engine can only be 37% efficient. Today’s best engines are about 25%, and improvement is only likely to be in the order of another 1 or 2 percent. That means that upwards of 75%, *three quarters* of the energy stored in gasoline (or compressed natural gas CNG) is being burned into useless heat. Is 25% efficiency reasonable?

              Forget the environment, forget politics, forget the bluster. From a development curve point of view, combustion is finished. Electric energy storage has increased ten fold for density in ten years. Where do you think its going to go from here? Down? Flatline?

              I would sooner bet on the chicken feather propellant than CNG for our future propulsion needs.


              • JT Nesbitt

                Good! Got you all worked up! Now when will I be able to test drive YOUR electric vehicle? — JT

                • michael uhlarik

                  Not worked up at all, man. I think you and I are not far apart on most things motorcycle, craft and history.

                  How’s July 29 sound, if I can get how down California way? She is, as a great character once said “a little rough around the edges, but she’s got it where it counts.”


                • fasterfaster

                  JT, next time you come through San Francisco, drop me a note. We should be able to put you on a RedShift.

                • Campisi

                  With some coverage, this would be awesome to read about.

    • T Diver

      Electronic music from the 90s??!!!

      • Wes Siler

        Seriously, they’re SO weird.

        • michael uhlarik

          I also like Rush, but admitting that was going to dash my professional credibility. Oh, wait a minute…

          • BigRooster

            In what horrible world is shit electronic music considered a more credible music choice than RUSH? RUSH may not be enjoyed by all but at least it’s music.

            • michael uhlarik

              Ah, the musical taste can of worms. Next time, I will compare my arguments to euthanasia, to be less controversial.

            • ike6116

              There is a sect of Rush fans who shun the albums where Geddy Lee started tickling the keys of a synth.

              I am not among them.

      • JT Nesbitt

        If she has got it where it counts, then lets race. I am in New Orleans but could get to New York no problem. Lets start there and whoever gets to LA first in their alternative energy vehicle wins, loser buys the first round at the Bigfoot Bar in Grant’s neighborhood. — JT

        • michael uhlarik

          Intriguing, but the P1 is not road legal, and you know as well as I do that, as explained above, your race is asymmetrical as far as conditions are concerned. Having conceded to you, I will buy the first round anyway, so we can talk guns some more. I’m more of a rifle guy, but I am sure there is common ground to cover.

          • JT Nesbitt

            OK no problem, I will give you an entire year to prepare, and by that time you won’t be racing against the Magnolia Special, so your shit had better be tight.
            Competition is what has made America great, not intellectualism. It truly is The Great American Race. — JT

            • michael uhlarik

              Sounds fun. Lets talk.


              • JVictor75

                Now THIS is a “biker build-off” I would pay money to see!

            • ike6116

              “Competition is what has made America great, not intellectualism.”

              This is right up there with “evolution is just a THEORY”

              • JT Nesbitt

                Or blogging instead of building.

              • Campisi

                THANK YOU. America needs to sort out its problem with the idea of intelligence if it wants to continue competing with the rest of the world.

              • BigRooster

                Technically, evolution is “just a theory.” Of course, it’s in the scientific application of the word “theory” just like when discussing atomic theory or the kinetic molecular theory of gases. In other words, ideas that are unquestioned by smart people, though technically not laws.

                IKE6116 – Competition makes not only America great it makes individuals great. Yes, of course most major accomplishments stem from intellectualism but the transition from concept to reality, i.e accomplishment, is best spurred by competition. It’s one thing to talk the talk, but quite another to walk the walk. The intersection of intellectualism and competition is what drives success and accomplishment. This is the difference between a critic and the critiqued – one produces something while the other only derides the producer. I believe JT is implying (correct me if I am wrong) that intellectual thought minus action is the equivalent of cerebral masturbation. I don’t see how thinking as such is embracing anti-intellectualism or akin to derision of evolutionary theory.

        • Eben

          What’s with the obsession with the cross-country race? How often does one cross the country by road? How often do they go a few miles to run an errand? Why base the value of a vehicle on something that it’s likely to NEVER do?

          Bicycles, trains, motorcycles, cars, airplanes, scooters… they all have their place. EV’s are pretty close to having their place, too. It just isn’t going to be cross-country travel anytime soon.

          • rohorn

            Thank you.

            I wouldn’t want to race a MotoGP bike across the country, either.

            Show us the lap times (Hint: TTXGP event – there’s more to be done there than bathroom burnouts…).

  • 10/10ths

    Fantastic article. Best “real world” view of these machines I have read.

  • Campisi

    Excellent article, excellent series. Zero has always struck me as being behind Brammo quality-wise, and the inclusion of such a limp-wristed on-board charger along with your comments about component quality have further cemented my opinions on the matter. BRD’s Red Shift will most likely be the first electric bike to get my money though.

    I understand that many people do not approve of electric motorcycles/cars, but what I don’t understand is the notion that EVs should be removed from the marketplace. No men in black gear are showing up on Brammos to seize anyone’s gassers, so what’s the problem?

  • Zach

    This comment section. Is awesome.

    • Wes Siler

      Agreed, it’s conversations like these that make this all worthwhile.

  • Edward

    Awesome write up, awesome comments. I just hope that somehow the JT/Uhlarik showdown gets written up here.

    If either of you want a wrencher or chase vehicle driver, let me know.