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The Zero XU - electric commuter motorcycle with a removable battery pack

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March 2, 2011

The 2011 Zero XU

The 2011 Zero XU

Image Gallery (28 images)

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.

The 2011 Zero 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.

The 2011 Zero XU

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.

The 2011 Zero XU

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.

The 2011 Zero XU

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.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
7 Comments

One big advantage to this is that you could buy several batteries (if you an afford them) and charge one up at home while you ride around using the other. Saves that long wait between rides. Also, allows you to charge the battery when you want (such as when the sun is shining if you have solar power, or during off peak hours if you get a discount) and still ride while you want.

Leithauser
3rd March, 2011 @ 09:05 am PST

Why not break the battery into two halves then bring half in to charge and the other half gets charged by the system while moving, breaking, shocks, etc. do we need all the energy in the whole battery at once-can't we kinetically charge the other half and use just what we need in the interim?

zekegri
3rd March, 2011 @ 03:25 pm PST

I think it would be worth hauling that heavy battery into the office in order to have my employer pay for my "fuel" power for the trip home.

Gene Jordan
3rd March, 2011 @ 10:35 pm PST

Two batteries is a good idea - though not, I think, on the basis that one can only be used for energy scavenging in operation; that's a waste of chargeable storage capacity.

The mounting arrangement needs to be refined. It's clearly not a convenient removal process (and looks like a back injury waiting to happen) at the moment. There should be (lockable) clasps that allow the battery compartments to hinge out - preferably from each side of the bike. The batteries should be able to be lifted out vertically - with gravity based (tool-less) contact/release. Of course, the batteries should actually have handles.

With enough thought put into this, it should be possible to park the bike on arrival at the work place, whip out a battery (or both) and carry it into the building so it can be plugged in until it's time to go home. That would also make it more convenient when "touring" as the batteries could be charged in a hotel room - or even a gas station/diner in a pinch.

martin
4th March, 2011 @ 07:21 am PST

I did not mean that one of the battery halves can only be charged from scavenging-but that it (could) be while you can carry the other half into the office-and by the way if you have to wait to get home to charge your batteries rather than charge them from wasted kinetic energy THAT is a waste of storage capacity. Shock absorbers can charge them constantly, the engine in downshifting can as well and braking energy also-why not have flexible solar built into the seat and behind on the fenders it sits in the sun all day long-even a few miles free would be worth it. Do we use all the batteries potential at once-or can we not break it up so some is being charged while the other is being used-we don't step on the gas and use it all to speed all at once do we so similarly most of the power in the battery is not used all at once. They will be connected if more power is needed.

zekegri
4th March, 2011 @ 01:39 pm PST

The Shanghainese has been using removable batteries in their electric scooters for years. They bring the batteries back to their apartment and charge them overnight. Its interesting to see them carrying batteries every evening up to their apt. Shanghai ban gas driven bikes within its city limits.

Jyanzi Kong
5th March, 2011 @ 07:01 am PST

I see battery packs in the future looking like breifcases and or with wheels like luggage and being designed not to look like batteries so people can steal power! Before you know it we will have power police at work and at hotels looking for SIGNS that someone is sniffing a bit too much electricity. :)

George Berz
27th March, 2011 @ 06:24 pm PDT
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