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Monday 26th November 2012


PH2 RIDDEN: ZERO DS

Electric cars we know about, but electric bikes? Yup, on the way too


Like it or not, there is no doubt that electric vehicles will be part of our collective motoring future. Never to be accused of Luddite tendencies, PH2 donned its best padded tank-top (well, it worked for Marty McFly in Back to the Future) and sampled Zero’s DS – a fully road legal electric bike you can actually buy.

Instant torque limited to prevent wheelies
Instant torque limited to prevent wheelies
What’s the catch?
Ok, let’s get the bad news out of the way first. The DS costs £11,795. Well it did new, this is an ex-demo and because the bike is being updated for 2013, most Zeros for sale now in the UK are also ex-demos priced around £9,500, which is the same as a secondhand 2011 Fireblade. Eek. What do you get? A fully electric bike with 29hp, a claimed 112-mile range, 80mph top speed and nine-hour recharge from flat.

The Fireblade makes about 160hp and does 140 miles to a tank with five minutes to fill plus an extra two to stuff a chocolate bar down your neck. But you have to pay upwards of £1.40 a litre on a ’blade, making a full tank cost about £24.

The Zero takes 9kWh to recharge, costing 26p (or 5p at night on economy seven) so that’s £0.04 per mile against the Blade’s 17p. Then there is the servicing. A service on a ’blade is about £250. The Zero requires no servicing. The only things that get used are brake pads and tyres. But what about when the battery dies?

Range (of) issues
Zero claims a range of 114 miles, but I killed the battery in just 33 miles. I was riding in my usual style, which is fairly rapid but all the same that’s pretty miserable. After 26 miles I had just under half a ‘tank’ left so I decided to ride it to a nearby power station for a cool picture – the irony wasn’t missed when I had to turn home due to a lack of battery power. 33 miles and the battery was basically flat with the gauge flashing a warning to charge up. The charge point is pretty badly placed on the 2012 bike, directly in the line of fire for road crap but this is changing next year.

Belt drive and ungainly pulley look odd
Belt drive and ungainly pulley look odd
After leaving the Zero plugged in overnight I returned to it the next day to discover a flat battery. User error, I hadn’t plugged it in properly, but with no charging light I had no way of discovering this until it was too late. Nine hours to recharge meant that I couldn’t ride the bike that day, which was annoying and highlights another issue with battery power.

Slight charging hiccup over come I retried the Zero’s range in ‘economy’ mode. Which seems to cut response and therefore acceleration and speed. Riding below 60mph and taking care not to abuse the throttle I managed 27 miles and returned home with 2 bars under the halfway point on the battery charge meter showing. Better than before but I reckon only about 20 miles left until the battery went flat, meaning a range of 45 miles.

Is this the future?
Electric vehicles certainly do have a part in our two-wheeled (and four-wheeled) future.  Just look at the electric TT on the Isle of Man this year for evidence of how impressive they can be. But at the moment they are too expensive and limited in their use.

In town a Zero may make sense as you should be able to get over 80 miles on a battery, but the cost is just so high. Battery life will extend and the price will drop but that is the future, this is now.

Charging point vulnerable to road grime
Charging point vulnerable to road grime
I liked the Zero, it is usable, is fast enough to entertain and has a decent-ish range when ridden correctly. I reckon ‘normal’ riding would pretty much guarantee 40 miles out of a battery and if you get into the habit of sticking it on charge every night then you could use it for short hops. Next year’s bike will do 60 miles in ‘idiot riding mode’ which is a threshold crossed – 30 miles each way is a decent journey.

If the Zero was, say, £5,000 or £6,000 it may be an option over the likes of the SV or Hornet for an urban commuter. But it isn’t. Could leasing be the future? I could see a commuter paying a set amount a month to lease one, which would take the sting out of the price and is certainly an option. Zero is offering PCP on its 2013 bikes with £199 monthly premiums, which is a start.

Zero is a big player in the electric bike market and the Californian company is not short of backing (it is owned by the same investors as Weight Watchers!) so it will crack this nut. If the Zero was a bit cheaper and did over 60 miles between charges irrespective of how you ride it I could be converted. It will never be a ‘first bike’ as it is too limited but as a zipping around town or to and from the local shop at £0.04 a mile and no tax it is an option.


ZERO DS ZF9
Engine:
Brushless electric motor
Power (hp): 29
Torque (lb ft): N/A
Top Speed: 80mph (max), 70mph (sustained)
Weight: 155kg
Range: 62 miles (US ‘Highway’ rating)
Price: £11,795

Author: Jon Urry