Okay, there are MD readers out there who don’t want to hear about e-bikes at all. There are others who only want to hear about e-bikes that offer the value and functionality of internal-combustion machines. All you guys can get up and go make yourselves a sandwich or have a cream soda. You won’t like this story.
For the rest of you, you may have read my test from 2009 of the Zero S supermoto and you may have surmised I didn’t really find the S to be a developed product. During my test ride and visit with Zero CEO Gene Banman I noted issues with its brakes, seating position, wheel size, top speed, charging time and even the seemingly loud rattle of the chain. Banman must’ve read the story, as many of these issues have been addressed by a major redesign of Zero’s four-bike product line for 2011.
Zero’s past models have been very interesting from a design and engineering perspective, but they had a definite techno-geek/bicycle nerd look to them. The bodywork and frame looked gawky, the tire choice (for the S) was odd, and the bikes even utilized downhill mountain bike rear shocks. But the company seems to have changed direction somewhat. Famed off-road racer (and BMW/Husqvarna insider) Scot Harden got hired as the national marketing director, and former Buell engineer Abe Ashkenazi is now VP of Engineering—a clear message that Zero is serious about building real motorcycles, not just feel-good eye candy. And to back that up, the new bikes suddenly look more like real motorcycles, with smooth, flowing shapes, recognizable motorcycle hardware and other changes aimed at improving performance, handling and braking.
Performance is helped by some important changes. The battery gets 12.5 percent more capacity, and an optional quick charger reduces charging time to about two hours (expect four hours without the quick charger), and an accessory plug adapter allows the use of standardized public charging station plugs. Top speed is 67 mph, and range—by the EPA’s UDDS urban driving test—is 43 miles for the S and DS dual-sport, and 30-60 minutes for the X trail bike or the high-flying MX. (Both the X and MX are also available in road-legal versions. ) The S and DS free themselves of their chains, instead getting clean, quiet, maintenance-free belts that Zero claims will last the life of the bike.
Brakes, wheels and suspension also get upgrades. The fork and shock get new internals (but the shock is still based on, presumably, a Fox bicycle item) and more adjustability. The S and DS brakes receive a bigger front rotor, steel-braided lines and other improvements. The wheels on the S and DS get cool red anodizing, and the S now has semi-normal supermoto tire sizes—a 110/70-17 in front and 130/70-17 rear. The DS has a most-undualsport-like 100/80-17 front and 110/90-16 rear.
But the biggest news, I think, is the styling. The bodywork has been simplified, turnsignals, lights and mirrors are reshaped, the S and DS seats look more like they’re designed for humans, and both the S and Ds get new fenders and flyscreens as well as black-finished battery cases, which make the bikes look more compact and light. Pricing is $9995 for the S, $10,495 for the DS, $7995 for the X and $9495 for the MX. All Zeroes get two-year limited warranties, and the street-legal versions are eligible for big price breaks in the form of state and Federal tax breaks and rebates.
Sure, at those prices nobody’s going to say these bikes are bargains, especially if they’re judged against their fossil-burning cousins, even with the state and Federal incentives. But for a low-volume made-in-USA product, the Zero line represents a solid value. And that’s not just my opinion; Zero is selling enough bikes to expand its manufacturing space in its Scotts Valley, California (near Santa Cruz, naturally) facility to 34,000 square feet and add another 25 employees in 2011.
Baby steps compared to the millions of motorcycles sold worldwide, but at least we’re talking about baby steps and not crib death. I may have a chance to ride the new bikes—and tell you about another new Zero model—next month.