2014 Zero S test ride, part 3

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Test Ride, Leg 5: From street to highway

This leg was intended specifically for experiencing highway handling.  Heading over from 99 to I-5 was full of anticipation.  Would the bike accelerate as smoothly and easily as I’d heard?  Would I be able to handle the bike’s acceleration?

Stopping at the light leading to the highway on-ramp gave me some time to prepare.  Unlike what I’m used to, there’s no windscreen, so wind would be an issue; the street bike has me leaning forward relative to my cruiser/scooter posture, so that’s another step away from my comfort zone; there’s no clutch, so I had better be careful with the throttle so that the regenerative braking (think: engine braking) wouldn’t throw me over the handlebars.

When the light turned green, I turned right onto the on ramp, smoothly accelerating to merge with highway traffic.  The lack of a windscreen made the speed very noticeable as the wind pushed me back more and more strongly, putting a strain on my upper arms, which pulled on the handlebars to keep me upright.  I’m used to sitting in a quiet wind pocket behind the windscreen of  a cruiser or scooter, so I’m not used to having to strain to sit upright, or strain to hear my helmet radio.

Other than the force of the wind, and its noise rushing past my helmet, keeping in control of the Zero S was nothing to worry about.  Smooth throttle control led to steady and predictable acceleration.  Holding the throttle steady maintained speed.  There was no handlebar wobble.  No disturbing vibration.  No power surges.  No trouble climbing or descending gentle slopes.  No tendency to drift into other lanes.  Not much noise, either, except for the modest whine of the electric motor and the wind whipping past my helmet.

The highway leg was so calming and uneventful that I spaced out and took the wrong exit.  Instead of taking the Alderwood Mall exit from southbound I-5, I ended up on I-405 southbound!  Taking the earliest opportunity to turn around added about 8 miles to the trip, but the northbound I-405 leg included an uphill slope at highway speed, which the bike handled without straining.

 

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Test Ride, Leg 6: Returning to the dealership

After all of the excitement of the highway, returning to the streets was largely uneventful.  This is a testimony to the ease with which one can become accustomed to the Zero electric motorcycle.  The accident of taking additional time on the highway was great as a confidence building exercise. 

Pulling into the Vespa Lynnwood driveway, I rode back to where the ride started.  Unfortunately, in my excitement about the test ride, I didn’t look closely at the battery meter before switching off the bike and returning the key, so I’m only guessing that I’d used about 16% of the battery to travel 23 miles.  If true, that would be more than a mile per percent of battery, which would match the advertised combined range of 105 miles for the Zero S ZF11.4 that I test rode.

Test Ride Summary

I really enjoyed the ride on this Zero S.  I’d been looking forward to this test ride for a while now, reading what Zero owners had to say on ElectricMotorcycleForum.com, but actually taking a test ride was necessary to put everything I’d read into perspective.  Like trying to read a book on how to swim is nothing like , it’s impossible to know whether riding an electric motorcycle is something you’d enjoy or not without experiencing it yourself.

Based on the test ride experience, I have the following pros and cons to report.

Pros:

  • Test rides are easy to arrange and convenient because we in Western Washington have a nearby dealership that is eager to sell Zeros
  • Electric motor is relatively quiet; yes, it makes noise, but at highway speeds, most of the sound is masked by the wind buffeting your helmet
  • Acceleration is ample, powerful, but smooth
  • Throttle is steady—power doesn’t ebb or surge
  • No gears = no distracting complication, just twist the throttle and go
  • Handling is responsive, bike is stable
  • Regenerative braking can be strong, but predictable—it isn’t going to throw you over the handlebars
  • Battery range appears to match advertising

Cons:

  • Wind noise around my unprotected helmet makes me want to install a windscreen if I want to protect my hearing and be able to listen to my helmet radio
  • Foot brake lever position is too high; covering the foot brake causes strain in my right ankle
  • Rear wheel makes a periodic metallic scraping sound; I’ve heard that the brake calipers can take some time to break in properly

Unknowns:

  • I don’t know how long the seat will remain comfortable during a long ride
  • Stock rearview mirrors were in the wrong position for me to see behind me easily, but they appear to be adjustable

Based on information other than the test ride, the following additional pros and cons might factor into your purchase decision.

Pros:

  • It’s great having a Zero dealership in state because you can walk into a local store and ride one home, and get it serviced there later instead of having to ship it back to the nearest dealership or manufacturer who might be in another state

Cons:

  • Cost is still rather high, starting at $15K for the 100+ mile model S ZF11.4 and increasing to over $20K with many of the bells and whistles such as the 2.8 kWh Power Tank auxiliary battery for 25% more range, heated seats and handlebar grips, side and top cases, J1772 adapter, and possibly also the CHAdeMO adapter.
  • The CHAdeMO adapter is an expensive risk to take, given that the bike’s battery pack operates at 100 volts that is not often supported by CHAdeMO chargers that expect higher voltage electric cars to plug in, not relatively rare low-voltage electric motorcycles.
  • The lack of Level 2 (240V) charging at L2 speeds is rather disappointing given how widespread L2 chargers are and how much they cost per hour to use, and how many hours you have to spend there to charge.
  • The 10+ hour time to recharge an empty battery to full practically restricts long-distance travel to roughly two hours of travel between overnight stays, which is a rather ineffective way to tour.

Would I buy one?  I was saving up for one until something else distracted me in June.  My main goal was to find an electric motorcycle for touring around the state, to replace my gasoline cruiser.  Unfortunately, with CHAdeMO compatibility an open question, I found myself always falling back on the Brammo Empulse as a strong contender, especially since Brammo has a transmission that I was curious about, and compatibility with Level 2 charging stations that gave it a 3.5-hour charging time from empty, which is one third of the Zero’s non-CHAdeMO charging time.  Otherwise, the Zero would be a slam dunk.

If you’ve resigned yourself to not seeing in 2014 or 2015 an affordable electric tourer that gets over 100 miles of highway range and can recharge itself in less than one hour, then either bike would likely work for you.  As an affordable commuter bike, both the Zero S and the Brammo Empulse are commendable.

I don’t know if I’ve swayed you with my ride report, but I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised by a test ride of your own.  Find a dealership in your area and call for a test ride!

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