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Electric motorcycle revelations: the Zero 2013

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A revelation. That is first description that came into my head after riding a 2013 ZeroDS11.4 just recently.

I had arranged to meet up with Zero’s John Loyd at the company’s Santa Cruz factory, as an owner and enthusiast for my own 21010 DS. Of course, we discussed many things, including getting an update and confirmation that Zero are really keen to expand in Australia. They recognise the demand for their bikes through regular enquiries and have been just trying to get all the cards to fall into place, so soon, we all hope, they’ll be available in Australia again.

I love my older 2010 bike. But riding this new model took me to a whole new place. I know my old one is great for its era and has a specific purpose and capability, but the new one is just sensational and highlights the speed at which EVs are evolving.

The major difference is in the power and control system. Firstly, its power timthumb.phpdelivery is completely configurable via an iPhone app. This makes for huge flexibility to suit different riders and conditions and sure beats fiddling with jets and needles on carburettors.  So ok, its readily tunable for your ride. That is awesome in itself, but what now?

Here’s how our ride went.

We set off in eco mode which softens power and torque by around 25% and maximises regenerative braking on closed throttle. Great for getting a sense of the power ad delivery and it was flawless. Smooth, predictable and much quieter than my model. Whether you are experienced or not, its manageable and still delivers great power and torque.

Like me, my old friend Sam (who was with me) has ridden all his life and has a huge collection of bikes. He’d ridden a very early Zero and built his own electric bike more than 10 years ago (which I also got to ride), so was very keen to experience it too. We got directions to a local mountain road through the Santa Cruz redwoods which was a delight. Still light and small, like a sort of bulky 250, its a great city bike and we effortlessly carved through traffic and within minutes, were on a winding back road heading into the mountains. Goddam, the sun was even shining.

By now, Sam and I had both flipped a switch that took us from Eco to Sport mode and we dispensed with the few cars around quickly. The suspension set wasn’t tailored for either of us and could definitely have been dialled in better, but we just wanted to ride and did.

Quickly, I was discovering that with the hammer down this thing just rips. The sound is much more electronic and less mechanical than mine, logical given the switch to the brushless AC motor which requires more switching. But the controller just does its job and delivers whatever you damn well want and keeps things under control and all without the hassle of brushes like my earlier model.

I’d rank the power as similar to my old LC350 two stroke, which was worked like crazy. It was a crazy fast pike; loaded with punch and rapid acceleration in a lightweight , easily handled street bike package. But the Zro is much more refined and smooth and imminently more simple. The fact that they are emissions free and low cost to recharge (in ever faster times) is just a massive, massive bonus.

We literally burst up this mountain pass, a pair of howling, electric banshees. Sam and I built up confidence quickly and in clearer sections were able to test the bikes performance pushing harder and harder – this is uphill, on new, production-based electric motorcycle. I just kept grinning.

My patience got the better of me after around 5km and I zipped past Sam on an opportunity. From there I just launched from corner to corner to corner to corner. I realised before long I was going to have to respect this bike a little, because it was going to put me at 170km an hour or more in a very short space of time and I could find myself very deep in a tight corner at colossal speed for such a machine. Can you tell it blew me away yet?

Sure, its not the speed of a hyper superbike or a  race prepped bike, but that’s fine. This is a road bike that is fast, broadly acceptable and for any lifelong rider like me; loads of more than adequate torque and power. It really is that good.

Before long I realised that the soft off roader DS model I was riding would start to find its traction limits soon. The road going S model is slightly lower, tighter and has better road rubber on it, so it would be a league ahead again. I would also assume that with smoother profile tyres, based on my personal experience, it will be even smoother and a  little nippier due to lower rolling resistance, which is really noticeable on ebikes.

We stopped about halfway up where the photo’s were taken to check our views and set ups and swapped bikes to compare feel and one had a screen fitted. We blasted up to the top of the mountain for almost 30 minutes and the fun factor remained just awesome. By the top, my battery pack was barely registering a  drop in capacity – very different to mine, but completely expected. Mine has 4kWh and the 2013 has 11.4kWh – almost 4 times as much energy storage in roughly the same package size and weight; enough for up to 250km of range.  This adds to the sense of flexibility and comfort of riding this new model hugely; it just diminishes range anxiety that little bit more.

Sam warned me that we were now entering one of the US’ most dangerous highway stretches; fairly windy, rolling two lane freeway through the outer foothills loaded with fast moving traffic. We zipped out and were able to almost instantly punch out to the speed limit of around 90kmhr; it just punched. We settled in and then started safely and progressively carving our way through the traffic and into occasional clear freeway.

When passing, I effortlessly wound out the Zero to 170kmh in a flash; settling my self down quickly with a good talking too. Along the freeway, i also experimented with flipping to eco mode; to watch the now starting to shift energy meter, and try to discern a change. At highway speed, I did discover that the eco mode lacked that punch but in a flash, flipped back again, gave it the mandatory 1-2sec off throttle recognition time and punched it. It just came back to life and before I knew it, I was giving myself another talking too. This bike will cruise really nicely at or above highway speed and zip up when you need it; what more do you need in this day and age?

After too short a time, we pulled off and started winding our way back to Zero’s HQ. Carving traffic we even got to gently follow a harley rider who was punching his hog off the line nicely as a show of authority. We lost him marginally in the first 10 metres or so, but then we could keep pace with ease and of course, lost no time on long gear changes.

Handing the bikes back thankfully, I just glowed with excitement because I knew I had just experienced another leap forward in history; following so many others who are switching to electric bikes.

I completely get it.

The day concluded with warm wishes, some merchandise and even a few spares, most generously thrown in by Zero – thanks so much guys. The future for Zero is bright if they can grow their volumes and continue to innovate and refine this machine.

As far as recharging goes; with this range its really a non issue for a huge majority of riders. You can’t tour on it of course – unless you are in the US or can find the time and power points – but if California is anything to go by, quick charging stations will sprout quickly. Sam is working on a  plan with many others to provide a Mexico to the top of California charging chain, that will set a wonderful example of what’s really possible.

The future has well and truly arrived.

This article was originally published on Solar Business Services website. Reproduced with permission  

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