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Zero to 1,000 (kms) on an electric motorbike

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“Why on earth do you want to tow a trailer all the way up the east coast with that bloody electric motorbike on it?” she quipped as I packed the van for our annual Christmas break. “Needs a good run. It’ll be handy. Need it to clear out the cobwebs. Can visit some clients, etc” I said.

In this and many other respects, my Zero is no different to non-electric motorcycling; it’s a solitary pastime which can be hard to fit in around families.

Nonetheless, the electric motorbike did come away with us and with the graciousness of my family I did manage to get out for some eco-joy riding, it was handy for zipping down the street on errands and I did visit several clients on it while I was away.

All up, I took my mileage to just on 1000 absolutely trouble free kilometres since I hit the road mid last year.  On a rough calculation, my energy cost to cover that 1000kms was around $11.40.

The back roads around the North coast of NSW are arguably built for Zero’s. Narrow, undulating, tight and persistent corners with a good dash of potholes and gravel thrown in for fun. As a “soft off roader” the bike is set up to be a plush ride with generous clearance and I have left the off road knobby tyres on to provide extra versatility on less than perfect roads.

EV

Life’s a beach on an electric motorbike

This trip was the first time I was really able to test its capabilities under such conditions and whilst it’s no super cross bike, its light weight and nimble handling got me through deep sand and  a few creek crossings as well as the cross country runs with ease and a good sense of surefooted-ness.

Typically, I was seeing a realistic range of around 60-70kms from the 4kWh LiPo battery my model has fitted, but really testing the variation in this was a major objective.

The 2010 Zero has a claimed maximum range of 80Km, but logically this can vary considerably.  You can almost feel the chunky, knobby tyres eating up valuable mileage; but that’s a price I’m happy to pay for the versatility. I reckon I could probably extend my range by 10 or 20% though if I swapped to some nice slick road tyres, an experiment I will conduct in the future.

The other thing I really hadn’t done was – well, to flog the crap out of it. Luckily there is fantastic 20km country back road from where we were staying to the beach so I took the opportunity to ride it several times. The first time I sat between 80kmh and 100kmh the whole way, up and down some long hills and not sparing the throttle too much. I arrived with around 2/3 of a tank still in reserve, suggesting 60km range at speed; not too bad at all.

But here’s where I learned a lesson.

I visited a client and unfortunately, my re-charging lead couldn’t reach their upstairs office, so I couldn’t top up. No problem, I figured because I know I can make it back. But, I bumbled around town trying to find my family after my meeting was done and couldn’t find them after 20 minutes or so. In that time, being a really hot day I had managed to drop down below 50% capacity, so decided I should try and find a power point somewhere.  The prospect of running onto “limp mode” if I dropped down into the last 10% of my capacity on the National highway didn’t really appeal to me; I also decided that the reputation of electric motorcyclists worldwide would be done a great disservice if I pootled along at 20km and hour!.

With increasing, sweaty desperation I sculked around behind shops, in public parks, around market sites; you name it I checked it. No power points; damn it. Having learned my lesson previously about always topping up, I went to the local service station. “Wow?!…..” (the standard response I get from everyone who looks at the bike) “Is that what I think it is?” . “Sure is” I say, “and I wonder if you might be able to help me out; I need to re-charge her a bit, probably just an hour will do – would you let me plug her in somewhere? Happy to pay you for some electricity”

The kind natured young fellow graciously led me around to a covered carport and said “no problem at all – $5 per hour and we’ll keep an eye on it for you.” Now I appreciate the help but at $5/kWh I think I just found the most expensive electricity known to man. “Really? $5? I am really thankful but you know you I will only use about $0.20c worth of electricity in an hour; do you really want $5?” “Maaaaaate; electricity is really expensive you know and we have a huge bill – go on make it $3, but if your late back, I’m charging you $5 for every hour thereafter”

Never wanting to seem in gracious, I flipped him my $3 and headed off for lunch with my alarm set. After waiting 30minutes for a $12 sandwich, I leaned they had lost my order and I knew right then I was going to go over the hour; cest la vie. Luckily, they felt so bad about the wait that the sanga was free, so I was ahead!

Back at the world’s most expensive electricity outlet, I returned, apologised and offered up an extra $5 for the inconvenience. “Nah mate, said another mechanic. Tell him to get stuffed, he shouldn’t be charging you for re-charging that! Have a great day”. I flicked them all my goldies and headed off.

With a replenished tank, I decided to return home on the National highway. Pulling out I pinned the throttle steadily to the 110kmh limit and started mixing it with semi trailers, coaches and the ubiquitous procession of families with camper trailers, caravans and the like. The Zero held her head high and genuinely just kept pace nicely. Being a small light bike, passing my first b-double felt a little precarious, but that’s all small light bikes. And I passed a truck on an electric motorcycle.

On this trip, I sat on 100-110kmh the entire 20kms – into a ferocious 40degree headwind. I could feel the searing heat sapping the bikes energy as fast as mine and the cooling fan was running full pelt trying to keep the motor temperature at a respectable level. When I arrived home, I’d used just over 50% capacity compared to 30% on the way in, testament to the variation in range one has to deal with on electric bikes under varying conditions. So, the worst case high speed range is now looking like 30-40kms; tight and not immensely practical but within its limitations, still useful.

With the fun and success of this all swilling around in my mind, I hopped on last week to head back into the office for the first time. As I whirred past my perplexed dog (he still doesn’t get why it makes no noise and can’t work out whether to chase me or not) I noticed a kind of graunching noise…..

I headed out on to the road and a combination of weird noises and a suspicious electrical burning smell had me starting to sweat. I got about 10feet up the road and with a puff of smoke I was stopped dead with only a madly flashing red warning light to keep me company. Bugger.

In a matter of days, I had the Zero in pieces and discovered the problem; I had burned out the brushes on the motor.  As terribly disappointing as this is, I’m actually pretty ok with it because a) any vehicle can have a build quality fault, b) I am dealing with brand new technology and c)brushes aren’t hugely expensive. Just why it happened is the big question (and the subject of many theories on the forums) but it seems that the motor supplier didn’t always get things assembled just right. Meticulous attention to detail on set up, a running in period and a bit of TLC seem to be the key and there are thousands of these motors running reliably for many years; so its ok.

While I waited for a response from the Zero factory, I took the opportunity to pull apart the whole bike learning a lot about where everything is, how it’s put together and finding a few opportunities to tidy little things up. It’s incredibly simple and built well.

The really good news this week is that despite the fact my bike is out of warranty, Zero have committed to sending me a replacement motor.  This level of support is exactly what the electric motorcycling community needs if we are going go through an early evolutionary phase and iron out the teething troubles; I can’t commend them enough.

So, now I’m just waiting on the gods of freight to shine on me and I’ll have a new report on the re-birth of Zero. With the benefits of hindsight, I’ll have a very well set up new electric motor, some extra cooling capacity and if I can squeeze it in, a longer retractable power cord to reach power points that are further away; anyone got an old vacuum cleaner I can pull apart?

Nigel Morris is director of Solar Business Services. This was first published on his personal blog and was reproduced with permission.

 

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  • Steve w

    “b) I am dealing with brand new technology ”
    Actually, brushed DC motors are not new at all, I’m surprised Zero used them. Brushless is the way to go.

    • Nigel

      Steve

      You are right, I guess I was referring to the whole package and the application – in an off road motorcycle.

      I coudln’t agree more that brushed motors are less than ideal and in Zero’s latest models they have gone this way.

      In fact, the whole world of Ebike motors is moving very fast with liquid cooled, brushless and even geared or CVT gearbox’s appearing to extends the performance range.

  • Michael Adams

    If you want to find out about the latest electric motor technology, ie brushless motors and A123 LiFe batteries, go & have a chat with the local R/C Aeromodelling Club. The model aircraft market is flooded with BRUSHLESS electric motors up to sizes that would power a motor bike. LiFe cells are far safer than the more widely used Lipo cells and are still obtainable from Hong Kong, despite the recent receivership in the USA of the A123 company that pioneered them.

  • Domenick

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. In testament to how quickly this tech is evolving, the 2013 Zero motorcycles have twice the range and twice the power. They also use a more reliable brushless motor.

    Happy trails!

  • Alastair

    Thanks for the story :-)