If you're going to be an early adopter and get yourself an electric motorcycle, one thing you'll need to get used to is charging the bike more or less whenever you're not riding it. If there's power outlets where you park, or the boss lets you bring the bike into the office, that's no problem – but if not, you might struggle to find an accessible spot to plug in. Which is where the latest addition to the Zero Motorcycles 2011 lineup could come in very handy; the Zero XU is the first Zero streetbike (and one of the only electric commuters we've seen) that allows you to quickly remove the battery and charge it away from the bike. Great idea, but we wonder how it will work in practice.
Zero Motorcycles is churning out some pretty impressive early commuter electrics – this California company's supermoto-style roadbike lineup now features three bikes, the S, the dual-sport DS and the brand new XU.
All are very lightweight, punchy and superb fun to ride – look for our upcoming video test on the Zero S in the next few weeks – all feature zero local emissions, and all have enough battery range to easily dispatch with the average city commute.
But while the S and DS are big-battery monsters geared at maximum range and capable of freeway speeds, the new XU has a much more inner-urban focus; short distances, sub-50mph speeds and low costs.
At US$7,995, the XU is some $2000 cheaper than its S and DS brothers. And with the battery being the most expensive part of any current electric motorcycle, that's where the savings are taken from. Instead of the S's 4.4kWh battery pack, the XU gets a 2kWh lithium-ion power pack lifted straight from the Zero MX motocrosser.
Unlike the S and DS, however, the battery pack is removable. And with the optional extra standalone charging kit, that means you can separate your battery charging from the spot where you park or garage your bike.
Since the electric motorcycle ownership experience right now more or less centers around charging, this could be a huge benefit. Even with the S model's larger battery, you feel compelled to plug it in wherever you park it – and that means you often have to bring the bike inside, squeezing it through doorframes not quite wide enough for big motocross handlebars or wedging it diagonally into elevators.
Being able to easily remove the battery would make life a lot easier in many cases. But it raises a few issues of its own.
For starters, battery packs are expensive - very expensive - which makes them prime targets for theft. For this reason, the S and DS streetbikes have their batteries tightly protected in the frame - in fact, it takes the best part of an hour to get the battery pack out of a Zero S.
The XU's chassis (also taken from the MX dirtbike) is designed to allow easy access to its battery pack - once you get past an aluminium locking bar. You'd hope the locking bar features thicker metal than the rest of the machine's featherweight frame, or else it might be a matter of 20 minutes with a good file.
Secondly, a 2kWh battery pack is not a light thing to carry around. Think about how heavy a standard car battery is - the Zero powerpack is considerably larger and just as dense. So you'd want to be sure you're able to lift it before you commit yourself to lugging it upstairs every day. Either that, or get a small trolley!
Zero seems to be leading the pack in electric motorcycles (at least, in the Western world). The company is now shipping to a number of countries, and selling in reasonable volume. With a focus on light weight and great handling, Zero seems to have hit the right balance of enviro-cred, fun performance and affordability to tempt a number of early adopters into joining the first wave of the electric bike revolution.
The XU is an interesting and potentially very practical addition to the 2011 range, we look forward to seeing how it works. Check the image gallery for a stack of high-res detail images.