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Video road test: The Zero S electric supermotard


March 29, 2011

The Zero S electric motorcycle

The Zero S electric motorcycle

Image Gallery (5 images)

The latest in our series of video road tests is America's leading electric motorcycle: the Zero S, from California's Zero Motorcycles. Seventy-five miles per hour and 60 miles between charges are the big numbers here - but how does that translate to real life use? Also, since electricity costs so much less than petrol, can an electric motorcycle be viewed as an economical option? And what about the environment? When the carbon cost of electricity generation is taken into account, how green are electric vehicles? These questions and more, answered after the jump!

First up, watch the road test video to see how the Zero rides:

Now to the tricky bit - is the Zero S value for money, and how much better for the environment is it than an equivalent petrol bike?

Let's line it up against the Kawasaki KLX250F, a road-oriented single cylinder dirtbike of about the same weight and performance.

Zero S vs Kawasaki KLX250F

There's some pretty huge variables here, obviously, but we've done our best to come up with unbiased figures.

We figure the formula for cost of ownership goes something like this: Total cost of ownership = (purchase price) + (miles per energy unit X price per energy unit X miles) + (servicing costs).

We'll use 65,000 miles as our distance rating, because that's how long the Zero S will run before its battery takes a noticeable drop in performance and needs replacing.

So here we go:

Purchase Price

The Zero S costs US$10,000, not counting federal and state subsidies. The Kawasaki costs $5000. The Zero has a lot of catching up to do!

Energy Costs

Let's start with the Kawasaki. It gets 60 miles per gallon, making it reasonably efficient for a road/trail bike. Taking an average US fuel price of US$3.10 per gallon, the Kawasaki will cost you US$3358 in fuel over 65,000 miles.

Now, to the Zero. On the standard EPA UDDS driving cycle, the Zero S will travel 43 miles on a full battery charge of 3.9 kilowatt-hours (kWh). Now, electricity rates vary as widely as gas prices, but the 2010 average price per kWh in the US is 11.58 cents. So each battery charge on the Zero S costs about US$0.45 - and 65,000 miles will cost you about US$680.23 all up.

The Zero S – the leading electric streetbike gets the road test treatment

Servicing costs

Electric motors don't need servicing. There's no oil to change, valves to adjust, carbs to play with or anything else. The Zero is a zero-maintenance vehicle beyond tyres, suspension and chains, which we'll leave out as the Kawasaki needs the same things.

The Kawasaki on the other hand, needs quite a lot of mechanical attention. Over 65,000 miles, the logbook requires you to bring it in for 6 minor services (at about $100 each) and 7 major services at somewhere around $220. So your servicing costs for the Kawasaki will be about US$2140 - not to mention the time you spend going back and forth to the mechanic's or doing the work yourself.

Totals and caveats

So, over 65,000 miles, the Zero is going to cost you roughly US$10,680.23 - and the Kawasaki US$10,498.

That's not much of a difference... but then, it took 65,000km of riding to get there. You'd need to commute 20 miles each way, every day for around 5 years to get to this mileage. So it takes a while for the Zero to pay itself off.

Of course, we've used US figures for our energy costs - and American petrol is massively cheaper than just about anywhere else in the Western world. In the UK, for example, petrol costs 2.5 times more - and electricity only 1.6 times more - so the equation looks significantly better for the Zero bike.

And there's some pretty significant subsidies being offered by certain government departments in the USA, which bring the initial purchase cost down by as much as $1000 - so it's worth taking those into account.

But the main thing to take from this exercise is that the Zero isn't as unaffordable as it looks, provided you rack up a lot of miles on it to take advantage of energy and servicing savings.

The Zero S electric motorcycle

And what about environmental performance?

How about environmental performance? After all, while the electric bike has zero local emissions, the reality is that most electricity currently comes from fossil fuel sources. So let's check that out:

According to the Carbon Fund, the average electricity source generates 1.297 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour. The Zero averages about 3.9 kilowatt hours per 43 miles, so over 65,000 miles, the Zero will be responsible for about 7,646 pounds of atmospheric CO2 emissions.

That sounds like a lot - until you apply the same logic to a petrol bike. We don't have specific local emission figures for the Kawasaki - but if we're going to be looking back at the power plant for the electric bike, then we have to take the oil extraction and refinery emissions into account for the petrol bike too.

The average motorcycle emits a well-to-wheels figure of 0.355 pounds per mile - and over a distance of 65,000 miles that comes out at more then 23,000 pounds of CO2.

So the Zero is roughly three times better for the environment even if you don't plug it into a totally green power source.

The Zero S electric motorcycle


Although they're well established in cities like Shanghai, electric bikes are still very much getting started in Western countries, where we tend to demand more power and performance from our two-wheeled toys.

The Zero S is designed to be a muscle commuter for the Western rider, delivering the environmental credentials of en electric but packing as much petrolheaded fun as possible into your daily commute. I'd say it does a great job. It's not going to work for everyone and it's no good for heading out of town, but early adopters are going to have a ball riding one of these things.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz loves motorcycles - at the age of two, he told his mother "don't want brother, want mogabike." It was the biker connection that first brought Loz to Gizmag, but since then he's covered everything from alternative energy and weapons to medicine, marital aids - and of course, motorcycles. Loz also produces a number of video pieces for Gizmag, including his beloved bike reviews. He frequently disappears for weeks at a time to go touring with his vocal band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain

Is it strange that I want one, because it sounds like the cars in The Jetsons?

29th March, 2011 @ 06:36 am PDT

The Zero is probably on the forefront of the electric bike technologies. After watching the video of the Supermotard (above), it looks like it has pretty good acceleration, but the red light 'hole shot', left a bit to be desired. But then again, that would save me from the po po issuing a ticket. If it achieves decent 1/4 mi time, it would be interesting if it had a high torque 'feel', after the initial take-off.

29th March, 2011 @ 07:22 am PDT

My current commute situation is 25 miles each way on road with people going 65-70 a good chunk of the trip. I really, really would like to get an electric bike to commute with, even though in Minnesota I only get about 9 months a year for it. To pass the finance reality and mobility tests the electrics need about 10 more miles, a guarenteed 60 miles @ 65 would be perfect, and about $2000 less on the sticker. (I cannot be sure of being able to plug in at work and won't ask until it is closer to a reality.)

29th March, 2011 @ 09:09 am PDT

If you need a little more range, go for the Brammo Empulse. A little steeper price, but it seems to be more capable

29th March, 2011 @ 10:07 am PDT

The comparison failed to take into account replacing the battery pack on the Zero. I don't know what the battery life is but surely you would replace the batteries at least once, probably twice. Those battery packs are not cheap!

29th March, 2011 @ 10:18 am PDT

Too bad they did not take into account the resale or trade in value of each bike at the end of the 65,000 mile comparison and the cost of replacing that big propriety battery! ;-)

Henry A. Rody
29th March, 2011 @ 10:33 am PDT

I'd like to point out that the bike on test was the 2010 model, not the 2011. The 2011 has many improvements, including styling, riding position, seat, range, charge time, brakes, suspension and build quality. It's much more like a real motorcycle now.

Gabe Ets-Hokin
29th March, 2011 @ 10:59 am PDT

10.000 $ ? Is not so much. Zero S is an awesome project!

Facebook User
29th March, 2011 @ 11:55 am PDT

Its a cool looking scooter, the lightweight frame componants are valuable. Keep growing into the future.

Facebook User
29th March, 2011 @ 12:02 pm PDT

@4990, the battery lasts 65,000 miles before it needs to be replaced, its covered in the article. bike is good idea, but needs more range and cheaper price.

Erlord Ofthe Afterscape
29th March, 2011 @ 12:14 pm PDT

Wait, did he say it does 0-100 kph in 4 seconds but won't do wheelstands? That seems weird.

29th March, 2011 @ 01:03 pm PDT

I'm going to agree: It needs, minimum, 60 mile range at 65 mph, and it needs to be at least 25% cheaper.

Xtreme XM5000 is looking more attractive.

William H Lanteigne
29th March, 2011 @ 01:57 pm PDT

Rode one of these recently and it scared the hell out of me and lead to a few accidental mods to the bike! The lack of gears and 0 to 100% throttle in a wrist flick takes a bit of practice, plus no ability to clutch down. If you can't beat a car away from the lights in this, you're either not trying or you've wandered onto an F1 track!

29th March, 2011 @ 05:48 pm PDT

Hmm 60 mile range before having to recharge overnight, against 250 mile range before stopping at a service station for 5 minutes to refuel.

My daily outer urban commute is 50 mile round trip so according to the EPA UDDS I'll be getting a bit of exercise pushing the Zero S bike home every night.. The Kawasaki would visit the service station once a week, maybe twice if I used it on weekends.

This still looks like a cool thing though, just needs a bit more range to be practical in the real world, not everybody lives in inner urban environments.

29th March, 2011 @ 06:01 pm PDT

Not a bad article.

But as far as the tabs I have been keeping on the battery life, they die from 2 reasons, recharge cycles, and pure age - with little correlation to charge cycles.

So the 5 year cost recoup MAY be too far, as the battery may be dead at 3 or 4 years.

But I'd like to have one - with a stack of solar cells at the home base.

Mr Stiffy
29th March, 2011 @ 08:53 pm PDT

I really enjoy reading about the growth in technology in regard to the electric "motor" bikes. I agree, you fell short on the comparison, it should have been done over at least one battery change based on 65,000km or 3 years which ever comes first and an estimated re-sale value after the battery replacement or a period of 130,000 km for a true perspective.

Also what is the predicted life expectancy for the electronics/motors, and how do you dispose of the batteries?

29th March, 2011 @ 11:49 pm PDT

65,000miles before new battery? What this article fails to consider is that at around half that distance the KLX250F will require a new engine (or good second hand one), or at least a major rebuild.

Also, it mentions that the oil refinery emissions should be included in the CO2 calculation, but fails to actually add them, so the Zero isn't ROUGHLY three times better for the environment, it's AT LEAST three times better.

Although, in the scheme of things, these values would only marginally change the values, it does seem that the authors have failed to remain unbiased.

interested kiwi
30th March, 2011 @ 12:43 am PDT

I like the bike, but the article forgot to factor in the interest on the extra $5,000 you have to borrow to buy it. That's going to add another $500 a year, plus or minus depending on where you borrow the money.

Even if you don't have to borrow the extra money (because you already have it in the bank), you still lose the returns you could have made by investing it. Sad, but true. It's why they call Economics the dismal science.

Nick 1801
30th March, 2011 @ 05:33 am PDT

So, the Zero S is a good "looking" bike with a top end of 60 mph - too tame for most U.S. freeways. Advertised range is 60 miles, but I'll bet the range falls off dramatically as speed increases (the Nissan Leaf advertises a 100 mile range, but when test driven at 70 mph, range dropped to 18 miles!).

The flaw in the price comparison is no battery replacement cost. Battery lifetime is a function of number of recharges, not mileage. If hard driven as a commuter, the battery will see at least one, possibly two charges a day, and likely will need replacing before the 65,000 km point.

Compare with the ZEV 7100 electric scooter: 80 mph top end, 100 mile range (dropping to ~50 miles if driven mostly at high speed), and selling for $7,000 less than the Zero.

Pat Kelley
30th March, 2011 @ 08:13 am PDT

The initial set up for the piece is battery technology, and how huge leaps have been made in its progress, etc.

But then reality sets in and we find out that they want ten grand for a bike that can barely manage to go 40 miles??

Wake me when Ebikes surpass the Honda C90 for speed/distance/TCO.

30th March, 2011 @ 07:55 pm PDT

@interested kiwi I have a used Honda Xr250 that I used in Bolivia for commuting the 20 miles to town roughly 4 or 5 times a week, I put over 10,000 miles on it... The director of the school had one of his own. He has put over 30,000 on his bike and only has replaced the rings. He bought the bike used in 2009. It is a 2002 year bike. If you take care of them, you won't need to replace the engine... I forgot to mention that is on very dusty roads, we have to wash the air filters once a week and we change the oil every 500 to 600 miles. But in Bolivia we use some really low quality oil.

Gabriel Jones
6th April, 2011 @ 09:24 am PDT
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