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  • March 27, 2012
  • Gabe Ets-Hokin & Friends
  • Bob Stokstad
  • 123 Comments

MD Quick Rides: 2012 Zero S and Brammo Enertia

Zero S ZF6, Brammo Enertia and Zero S ZF9

Gabe Ets-Hokin:
At some point, we’ll have to stop saying “the electrics are coming,” and start saying “the electrics are here.” And I suspect we won’t realize when that moment has come and gone. We may already have passed it.

Zero S ZF6

I didn’t think we were there until last week, when MD Contributor Alan Lapp and I spent a long afternoon cruising around San Francisco on a pair of battery-electric motorcycles, a 2009 Brammo Enertia and a 2012 Zero S ZF6. Let’s be clear: this is not a comparison test between these two vehicles. The Enertia is a four-year-old design, so in electric-vehicle terms the Zero has a huge technological lead, as battery, motor and software developments have leapfrogged mightily every year. We rode both bikes so we could get a feel for the different approaches the two companies use and see how well they’d hold up to what’s a pretty tough environment.

The $7,995 Brammo is the slick and polished product, as well as the less-expensive one. That’s because it’s an older design, with a much smaller lithium-iron-phosphate battery—3 kilowatt-hours instead of the Zero’s 6 kWh lithium-ion unit. The battery is wrapped in an extruded-aluminum frame, suspended by a compression-adjustable Marzocchi fork and an expensive-looking Elka rear shock. Brakes are by Brembo. The motor is a sealed, brushless AC unit with permanent magnets—that means low maintenance. There’s no clutch or gearbox, just a chain and a big sprocket. It weighs 324 pounds, and is wrapped in futuristic, rounded bodywork that looks much more like a flowing, integrated design than the Zero.

Zero’s offering is the techno-champ here… to be expected from a three-year lead. It uses the distinctive basic frame design we first saw on the 2009 Zero, a very light structure composed of aluminum tubes and beams. A large metal box conceals the Z-Force power pack. Behind it is a double-stator axial flux (I don’t know what that means, either) sealed, brushless motor. Power goes to the rear wheel via belt—that change and numerous others to styling and components were made by former Buell engineer Abe Ashkenazi—and suspension is from a nameless Asian supplier, but is fully adjustable (the Zero is made in Santa Cruz, but much of the parts list comes from Taiwan, I was told at the factory last year). It weighs in at a reasonable 297 pounds.

Brammo Enertia and Zero S ZF6

So they sound like pretty similar bikes, but show very different characters. The Zero is the hooligan. It has two drive modes—eco or sport—which gives you a choice of good acceleration or better range and regenerative braking. It won’t stun you if you’re used to middleweight sportbikes, but it’s more than enough to stay well ahead of car traffic or to merge safely onto the freeway. The no-name brakes have good bite and power and, as befits a supermoto, the rear brake has enough grab to easily skid the back tire. Decent stoppies are also possible. Ride quality is very nice on the Zero, and it steers quickly but doesn’t give up much in the way of stability—until you get over 80 mph, when the front end starts to feel vague.

The Brammo is more composed and staid. The seat’s a little lower, the bars are higher, and you don’t feel you have to pin it everywhere. Acceleration—especially midrange—is ample, plenty to maintain your safety cushion in city traffic. The brakes have enough power and control to meet your braking needs safely. A new rider should be able to ride either of these bikes with no difficulty, which I think is a problem—a clutch and gearbox is just a small part of operating a motorcycle safely, and I worry about a flood of untrained riders getting hurt on these things. Get proper training before you buy or ride any motorcycle. Please.

Actually, getting started on an e-moto is harder than it looks. The Brammo has a complex start procedure intended to minimize accidental motion. Though the Zero is easier to figure out, they both have big green lights on the instrument clusters to tell you the bike is energized and ready to ride. Instrumentation on both bikes includes the all-important ‘charge remaining’ meter, with the Brammo’s telling you how many miles you have before you have to plug in somewhere. Both bikes include on-board chargers, and have enough storage space to stash rolled-up power cords.

Zero S Instruments - peel before using

Charging is something to think about. A full charge on the Zero is good for 76 miles of slow, around-town riding going by the EPA’s ‘City’ UDDS standard, 43 miles on the higher speed (cruising at 70 about half the trip) test. Opt for the $14,000 ZF9 version of the Zero S (and its 9kWh battery) and you may go 114 city or 63 miles at higher speeds. The older Brammo will do 42 miles on the city loop, ‘20-plus’ miles in higher-speed commuting, according to Brammo. To achieve those numbers on either bike, you’ll need a full charge—easy to do with the on-board chargers. The Brammo charges in four hours, the Zero in six. For faster charging (as little as 1.8 hours for the Zero), you can get accessory quick-chargers, which may or may not make your house burn down, depending on your wiring. Check with an electrician. Zero offers an SAE J1772 charging socket so you can take advantage of public charging stations (and primo parking spots).

Battery pack life is more of an issue with the Brammo—it’s rated for 2000 full charge/discharge cycles (so 80,000 miles at city speeds according to my hasty calculations), although topping the charge off before the battery is flat will prolong life. Two thousand cycles is about eight years of Monday-Friday commuting, after which the pack will still have 80 percent capacity and have core value (as recyclable material or as back-up batteries for solar systems, for example). A new pack costs about $3500, and I’m guessing by the year 2020, that pack will be a fraction of the current price and offer several times the performance.

The Zero, on the other hand, offers serious battery life. Like 205,000 miles to 80 percent capacity, according to Zero, and the ZF9 will go 308,000 miles, or about my total moto-mileage for the last 20 years. If you want to geek out and do the math, batteries and electricity are really cheap for the Zero: at 40 miles per charge, it’ll cost you about two cents per mile before you have to buy a new battery in the year 2032. My Triumph Street Triple R runs about 14 cents per mile when you factor in the expensive regular services and $4.50 cent-a-gallon gas. That’s a savings of $1800 per year at 15,000 miles—spread over five years, that’s about the cost of an entire motorcycle.

Okay, that’s the practical, economical argument—if you’re using your bike less than 50 miles per day (as are most moto-commuters), an e-bike may be right for you. But what about soul? Won’t you miss the roar of the V-Twin, the top-end hit of your inline-Four, the Tito Puente ritmo of your Thumper? As Alan points out below, isn’t an e-bike just a rideable computer? An appliance?

That’s what I thought until I decided to take the long way back to Munroe Motors (San Francisco’s Zero dealer who was good enough to loan us the bike) with the Zero. It was a 16-mile trip through surprisingly light afternoon commute traffic, and my main worry was getting back to Munroe before the battery wore down. But the charge was still well above halfway by the time I rolled through Daly City, and the experience of riding was not so different from a gas-powered steed. Quick off the line, and then midrange like a Twin, except that there was no noise or vibration—at all. That smooth, silent torque, that magic sensation is character, if a subtle one. I’d even call it soul.

At the big 280 interchange, I lane-split to the front of the pack, worried the bike wouldn’t get up to speed quickly enough as I silently rolled past dozens of grim-faced commuters. The light turned green, I put the cheesy-looking toggle switch to the ‘sport’ position, and pinned the throttle. We took off, not blazing fast, but plenty fast enough to stay ahead of any potential road-rager, and I experienced the weird feeling of coasting uphill as I turned the throttle. The speedometer reached 75 in a hurry, and 80-plus was no problem at all. Again, completely silent, the only noise the wind rushing past my helmet.

Do you remember your first high-speed ride on a motorcycle? It was like magic, wasn’t it, the way a movement of your wrist translated into effortless acceleration as you whipped past all the suckers trapped in their ugly rolling boxes? That Zero made me feel that all over again. I had another gratifying moment as I whizzed past a BMW K1600GT rounding a big curve on highway 101. Sure, that $25,000 motorcycle can do 160 mph and go 220 miles on a ($30) tank of premium. But the Zero, though slow off the line, accelerates well between 60 and 80 mph, where I spend most of my freeway time. It may have been that little rush of torque I felt at higher speeds that really convinced me e-motos are here. In fact, my Zero ride was a transformative experience that made me feel (for a change) very good about the motorcycle industry’s future.

So: what got you into riding in the first place and keeps you riding today, so many years later? Is it the camshafts, carbs, gears, clutchplates and exhaust pipes? Is it the vibration, the leaking oil, the 14 cans of almost-empty chain lube in your garage? The passive-aggressive notes your next-door neighbor slips under your door on Sunday afternoon? (“I hate to bring it up, but do you think you could maybe push your bike down the street before you start it up at 6 am every Sunday, instead of under my bedroom window? Thanks!”) Yeah, I like that stuff too, but what drew me to two wheels was freedom, and while two cents a mile isn’t free, it’s pretty freakin’ close. Rather than snubbing electric motorcycles, enthusiasts should embrace them, because they represent the best chance we have of getting a new generation onto two wheels.

Before you assume I’m just pimpin’ for a long-term test bike (Zero S ZF9 in black, please), go down to an e-moto dealer—Vectrix, Brammo, Zero seem to be the best-established brands so far—and test ride one on the freeway. If you don’t have a huge grin when you get back, if you’re not amazed at how fun and practical these things can be, I’d be very surprised. And if you think they’re good now, what will five or 10 years bring? I think we’ll get $5000 motorcycles with 125 mph top speeds, 250-mile ranges and 20-minute recharge times. And that’s when you can have my gas-burning relic to use as a lawn ornament.

Second Take: Alan Lapp
I had never ridden an electric motorcycle before Gabe tapped me to help with this review, so I was uncontaminated by previous experience. I am a bit of a technophile, and I have friends who are avid e-bike fans who drip-feed tidbits of information about the electric-vehicle industry to me. So, even though I lacked experience, I had opinions; some political, some pragmatic.

Pragmatically speaking, the e-doubters raise a number of issues: range, speed, recharge times, etc. In other words, people want the convenience we are accustomed to with petroleum-fired vehicles. I fall into the camp that see e-bikes as inevitable, but remain skeptical about how useful they are in real life.

To find out what is it like to use an e-bike for a day, I met Gabe and our staff lens-slinger and Senior Editor Bob Stokstad at Scuderia West in San Francisco ( to pick up Scuderia owner Don Lemelin’s personal Brammo). Since Don’s Brammo is three years old, it simply cannot be directly compared to the new Zero S. The e-bike industry is making improvements by leaps and bounds, so three years is an eternity.

Astride the Zero, we set off from Scuderia and headed uphill toward Twin Peaks, then out to the Cliff House for photos. The first thing I noticed is the absence of a clutch lever. No transmission, no gears… no clutch. Every time I hopped on, I whiffed two or three times thinking I’d missed the non-existent lever. It’s not a problem, but it is disconcerting.

The next thing I noticed is that the bike simply accelerates at its own pace, more or less regardless of where you put the throttle. All e-bikes have computerized controllers that manage how much torque is delivered to the wheels, handle regenerative braking, and feed the dashboard information about remaining power level and current power usage. What I find extraordinary is the smooth power delivery: it is regal, refined, and gentlemanly. With no interruptions for shifting, and no coming on the cam or peaky power delivery, acceleration is velvet-smooth, and feels as if you are being swept away in a fast-moving river. Because the computer controls torque delivery, you simply pin it and go. It’s the ultimate beginner bike: there is simply no way to do anything wrong with the throttle when leaving from a stop, other than forgetting it’s turned on. It’s not an on-off switch like a two-stroke, but a rheostat that works as smoothly and precisely as your dining-room’s dimmer knob.

Speaking of sound, it is truly a unique experience to ride next to another e-bike at 30 mph, and hold a conversation with the other rider without shouting. These bikes aren’t quite silent, but nearly so; just the whir of the final-drive belt and the tires on the road.

One perception I have harbored over the years is that e-bike design has typically put the emphasis on the ‘e’—the electric power—and less emphasis on the bike. Many early e-bikes looked like bicycles with hormone problems, hampered by spindly frames and weedy brakes. The Zero S demonstrates that this company is paying attention to the whole package and have produced a comfortable, properly suspended motorcycle equipped with effective brakes. It was quite fun to toss around the curves near the Cliff House.

My sole complaint about my brief time on e-bikes is that they aren’t hooligan-y enough. Sure, you can do stoppies all day long, and skid the rear tire into your parking space in front of the cafe where you hang out for all to observe your conspicuous conservation. But—and this is big for me—you simply can’t wheelie one, no matter what. Anti-social adrenaline junkies need not apply.

However, I predict that e-bikes will continue to improve, that eventually range and acceleration will become comparable to internal combustion, and that costs (if you evaluate the performance/dollar ratio) will decline. I believe e-bikes will offer a riding experience that will satisfy nearly anybody…. except people who are actually ideologically opposed to conservation, clean air, or bikes made outside Wisconsin. Furthermore, I believe that since e-bikes, at their core, are computers, that hacking them will become very popular. It is undoubtedly possible to program the controller to execute perfect, effortless balance-point wheelies. The Zero S already has a two-position switch for Sport and Economy modes. Why not add a setting labeled “WHEELIE”?

How did I like my day on e-bikes? I’ll just say that afterwards, the first few miles on my KTM 690 Enduro were dismaying: it felt like it was shaking itself to bits, the noises my brain had automatically filtered out flooded into my ears—the rattling fairing bolt, the clicking valves nagging me for adjustment, the clattering gearshift, and the bleating intake honk. My state-of-the-art fuel-injected six-speed 63-hp dual-sport bike suddenly felt like an antique.

Richard Harmon: Living with a Zero S ZF9
So what is it like living with a 2012 Zero S? Two words, cheap and easy—if  you can get past the $14,000 MSRP, of course. The Zero requires little maintenance. You don’t need to change oil or filters, maintain and clean a chain, replace sparkplugs, replace batteries, adjust valves, balance throttle bodies, adjust the clutch, or spend an hour removing bodywork to get to all that stuff. That really cuts down on maintenance costs.

How about running expenses? The other day I rode the Zero from my home in Pacifica, California to the town of Fairfax to visit my daughter, a round trip of 76.8 miles. I adhered to the speed limit during my ride. About 10 miles of my travel was on the freeway and the rest was on surface streets. Using a ‘Kill-A-Watt’ meter to measure the power consumption needed to recharge the battery pack, I used a total of 7.6 kWh of electricity for the trip. The local utility charges me 13.7 cents per kWh, so the round trip only cost $1.04, or about 1.35 cents per mile. If I had ridden my Triumph, which gets 42 mpg, my fuel cost would have been $8.21, based on the $4.49 a gallon price for gas at my local station that day, a savings of $7.17 on just that one trip. When you add the lack of any substantial recurring maintenance costs and the likelihood that the motor and battery pack will outlast the chassis, it shouldn’t take too long to recoup the greater purchase price of the Zero if you ride it a lot.

That’s the cheap part. But the bike is also easy to use. You just turn on the ignition key and ride off. You no longer have to play with the choke and/or wait for the motor to warm up. What the Zero lacks in its ability to go long distances it makes up with its ability to do all those daily short trips (within a 40-mile radius) quickly and easily. And of course, commuting to work is where it excels. Plus, since the bike has no transmission or clutch, getting stuck in a traffic jam is a breeze. You can do the ‘beep and creep’ easily just by turning the throttle slightly to move at a walking pace, or you can ride between stopped cars as the bike is very narrow. No smoking clutch, overheating engine, or cramping left hand. And if the bike gets dirty it is easy to clean since it has no exhaust system or chrome to polish.

You might ask if the lack of noise is a safety issue. So far it has not been for me. No one has moved into my lane any more than usual and my only real concern is when riding around pedestrians or bicyclists. I tend to be very careful riding in an urban environment since the bike is so quiet. But that’s probably a good thing, no?

Finally, there is the issue of reliability of a new product and customer service from a small start-up manufacturer. I had a minor issue with my bike twice stalling at stoplights. The staff at Zero heard about my complaint on the Internet and called me to say that they would pick my bike up at my home, take it to the factory in Scotts Valley and return it to me with their latest programming and a new throttle assembly. They did as they promised and the bike has been running great ever since.

While an electric motorcycle may not be for everyone, it works for me.

123 Comments

  1. Lloyd says:

    I thought this was a great review, I’ve been riding since 1968 because it is fun and usually cheaper than 4 wheels. I am lucky enough to afford 2 bikes and for the last 7 years one electric and one gas. My latest (2010) electric, the Brammo Enertia which is a great around towner and short commuter. For distance I use my Buell. Both are a lot of fun and I don’t understand why some people get bent out of shape because one happens to be electric? The Zero S sure looks tempting me compared to my Brammo!

  2. Sabby says:

    I am the perfect candidate for this bike, big city dweller who mainly rides around town. I will NEVER buy one of these bikes until they have some sort of good option for making noise. I’m not worried so much about cars, although that is definitely still an issue, but pedestrians stepping in front of you. This happens so fast, you can’t see it coming on busy streets, and you have no time to react. I have ridden a motorcycle and bicycle thousands of miles across this city over the past 15 years, and whoever says this is not an issue, good luck out there buddy.

  3. Deadeye says:

    I rue the day the internal combustion engine dies. I would be as excited about owning one of these bikes as I am about a cordless drill. “I like my DeWalt but the Millwalki just has more character.” No one has ever said that, no one will ever say that truthfully about an electric bike. If the time comes when there is no option but to ride electric, I’ll get my jollies on a bike I have to pedal.

  4. Tom says:

    They are too quiet. Ride one for any length of time and you find that pedestrians don’t hear you coming and simply step out in front of you, then get annoyed when they finally realize you are there. The Tesla automobile suffers from the same problem. E-vehicles are an accident looking for a place to happen in this regard.

    The e-vehicles are missing a good option: speakers and a select switch for what noise you will make. Today I am a Harley, tomorrow I am a GP racer, the day after I will be a diesel tractor. I am not a loud pipes save lives guy, but this goes too far to the other extreme and it is downright dangerous.

    The electric bikes have no rear seat pegs and no saddle bags big enough to hold a grocery bag, so they miss on the “practical” end. A gas scooter is a better option. The e-bikes don’t have the range for a day in the twisties with the big boys, although for a short period of time a Zero S will give a 600 Super Sport a run for its money in the tight stuff. The e-bike manufacturers need to get out of “geek bicycle with an electric motor” mode, define and target a market niche, and get serious.

    • protomech says:

      The 2012 Zero S/DS have optional passenger pegs. The Brammo Empulse due out this year will supposedly have passenger pegs, though they too may be optional.

      Zero sells a set of (overpriced) saddlebags that are fine for holding groceries, though any standard set of saddlebags will fit. Brammo sells a set of Givi saddlebags for the Enertia / Enertia Plus, and will no doubt offer a set of saddlebags for the Empulse.

      I find my S to be a pretty nimble bike, but the power is in no way comparable to a 600cc sportbike. I have no problems keeping up with and ahead of traffic on the road.

      A set of speakers for the bike would be a novelty at best. People notice the electric bike at times, and they ignore my gas bike at times. Trusting to a rear-firing exhaust to catch the attention of a oncoming car that turns left across your path of travel is foolishness; the best defense is to stay alert and aware of traffic around you, regardless of whether you’re riding an electric bike or a gas bike.

      The Zero S is an electric motorcycle that can (in my personal use) hit 80+ and hold 75+ mph on the freeway, and offers 65-75 miles of use in my typical 55 mph riding. I don’t know what part of that is “geek bicycle with an electric motor” mode.

      • Tom says:

        Actually, the Zero rear passenger foot pegs are in the design stage and are not approved by the DOT yet. They are not officially available.

        Having ridden a Zero S in the twisties I can state from firxt-hand experience that if it is ridden like a 250 GP bike, i.e., carrying speed in the corners, it will in fact give a 600 Super Sport a good run for its money in the tight stuff. This is due to the very light weight of the Zero S compared to a typical 600. The switch was in Sport mode, not ECO mode. The downside to this is that the battery lasted a whopping 30 minutes due to all of the full throttle. (Brand new 2012 Zero S DF9 model)

        I said pedestrians, not cars. The e vehicles in general are too quiet, and I am not the only one to make this observation. Numerous people have, including those who were almost run over because they did not hear it coming.

  5. Reinhart says:

    Sorry, but those are 3 of the ugliest machines on the planet, perhaps the whole galaxy. I love motorcycles and it’s very depressing to see companies focus so much on the power source and totally neglect the aesthetics. I think that people are so overtaken with the concept of e-power that they overlook the awkward/grotesque appearance of these bikes and put down good money for something that would be rejected on appearance alone if it was powered by petrol. E-bike manufacturers would be much more successful if they hired talented motorcycle designers that understand motorcycles and motorcyclists to pen their machines. We’ve seen what the geeks can do with electric engine technology, but keep them away from the art department!

    • Dokkodo says:

      I have been sayin that for a while now, but there are some good looking e-bikes coming already. The Lito Sora and the Brammo Empulse are a couple of commercially produced e-motorcycles that look like real things and not toys.
      I know a few companies have already hired some good designers to make that jump, too. So, I think it will be less than 5 years before we see a decent number of good-looking e-motorcycles. Until then, you can either pay a lot of money to get a Sora or wait a few months for the Empulse.

  6. LectricBill says:

    To those who believe human activities do not cause global warming, I’d like to ask, “How can we burn 87 million BARRELS of oil a day, every day, and NOT heat up something?”

    And to the person worried about longevity of electric motors, the motors in appliances cited fail because they’re cheap crap to begin with. I have a Westinghouse fan that works since it was made… in 1928! And where I worked had a freight elevator with an electric motor made in 1906, running fine, thank you.

    • Gary says:

      Hi Bill … the first part of your post is political (isn’t everything these days?) so I address it with great hesitance. The fact is, the Earth has gone through many, many, many warming/cooling cycles, even before humans appeared. Glaciers have advanced, retreated and advanced again. NYC was once buried under 50 feet of ice.

      Is industrialization responsible for the current warming cycle? Scientists are fairly unanimous in their opinion: maybe. We just don’t know.

      As far as engineering refrigerators and elevator lifts, I’m fairly sure an electrical motorcycle is a bit more sophisticated :)

  7. Gary says:

    What the …

    I go away for a few days and you kids are fighting. Time to go for a ride, eh?

    Here are the facts, in case you are interested:

    1) One day we will run out of fossil fuel
    2) It would be nice if we are ready for that day
    3) eBikes will soon get way better than those evaluated here
    4) Flame wars over items 1) – 3) is just plain stooopid

    Time to move on now. Nothing more to see here …

  8. Reagan says:

    Gabe you have seem to have lost control of the comment section of this site. Hopefully your advertiser won’t read this area too closely. Fact, everyone has an opinion. Should all opinion be respected in a public forum? I say yes, what do you say.

    • Gabe says:

      Well, I’m not the forum moderator, just the author of the article expressing my own opinions. And I’m being very respectful of MD readers and their opinions. I just like to point out factual inaccuracies, as that’s my job as a journalist. I don’t understand why you feel otherwise and challenge you to point out any reasonable evidence of disrespect on my part.

      FYI, neither Zero nor Brammo advertise on this site.

      • Reagan says:

        Where here to read “bike reports” not shameless advocacy and ad-speak. Read this list of comments, all opinions were not equaly respected and you know it. The majority get it, e-bikes are not ready for prime time until proven otherwise. Maybe some day e-bikes will have a competative product.

        • Dirck Edge says:

          I moderate these comments, not Gabe. I favor the free expression of opinion, but personal attacks and irrationality get my attention. You are about to cross the line.

  9. mickey says:

    Something I have not seen mentioned… These batteries have a finite life I would assume since all batteries eventually go bad. What is the is postal procedure for these batterie and is there a hazard in heir disposal?

    • Gabe says:

      What I gather is that on the Zero, at 205,000 miles the batteries will be at 80% capacity and can be re-used for alternate functions like storage cells for a solar power array. Even of not, the Zero folks told me lithium is a pretty safe compound (a salt? is that right?) and is safe for landfills.

      • Reinhart says:

        Will these e-bikes even last 205,000 miles? We will have to wait and see. No use getting excited about unproven products from newcomers in the marketplace until the prove themselves. Let’s hope they have engineered these bikes to last at least as long as conventional powerplants.

  10. Rooster says:

    **In sunny So Cal we always have the option of throwing some solar panels on the roof and charging our e-bikes that way. ***

    Yeah, if you dont mind spending 40,000$ on a solar array.

    For the people dreaming of batteries that hold enough capacity to power a bike say 300 miles @ 70+mph on a charge and the ability to charge from 20% to 90% in a short time, say 30 mins or less, why dont you call the power company in you town and see how much it will cost to run a 200amp 480volt 3-phase service line to your house, because thats the kind of power you are talking about, even if small lightweight batteries with that capacity existed. I don’t plan on owning an e-bike anytime soon because they dont fit my riding style at all, but i am also not an e-bike “hater” either. As much as it annoys me to see people naysaying e-vehicles out of hand, it is also annoying to read some of the comments of the e-cheerleaders who often ignore the shortcomings and serious technological hurdles that exist for widespread adoption of ev’s, such as power distibution/grid issues, charge times, etc.

    I did enjoy the article, new tech is always interesting, and if i could afford to spend 8-14k on a 4th bike to run around town on, i might consider one of these, but as it stands now, i will remain an e-spectator.

    • protomech says:

      I’ve been riding about 50 miles per day on my Zero, 45-55 mph typically. The overnight charge draws about 6 kWh from the wall.

      Ignoring the disconnect between generation during the day and charging at night*, AL gets about 4 hours of sun per day averaged over the year. A 1.5 kW system should generate enough power for my commute.

      Wholesalesolar.com has a $5600 (incl racks) grid-tied solar kit rated at 1.67 kW PTC. After local rebates ($1k) and federal rebates (30% of remaining cost incl installation), if I did the install myself I would be looking at a total cost of around $3200. Probably around $5000 total if I contracted the install.
      http://www.wholesalesolar.com/system/solaredge-8-astronergy-panel-gridtie-system.html

      Our utility will buy local-generated power at rather exhorbitant rates. Off-the-cuff payback period is about 5 years.

      * to charge directly from solar power instead of sort of naively using the grid for storage, you additionally need a significant battery bank. $5300 ($3700 after 30% federal rebate) gets you a 2kW 9.6kWh backup system that would be fine for storing the energy generated during the day and a bit.
      http://www.wholesalesolar.com/backup/2000-watt-home-battery-backup-system.html

      I haven’t progressed past the point of looking, but a small battery-backed grid-tied system suitable for my commuting needs (10k miles/year for the next 25 years) is about $7k + installation. I’m not sure where your $40k number comes from, unless you’re specifying a much larger solar system. Even then, I could install a full-house solar system (approx 32 panels) for somewhere in the neighborhood of $10-12k + installation.

    • protomech says:

      The good thing about e-spectating btw is the bikes get better and better the longer you wait.

      Most people don’t need 30 minute charges at home, fast charges are more likely to be useful when you’re out and about. Just MHO.

  11. Brandon says:

    Where do I put a cute e-friendly girl I pick up???(joke btw) Or even more practical, where do I put my son to drop him off at school everyday like I can now on my Yamaha?

    I like the idea of these bikes, and I’m almost tempted. Not sure where to buy one in Ohio, but I’m interested. The buy in is still way to expensive for me. I spent less than 10,000 on my VW that I drive most days(when I’m not on the bike).

    I put about 10,000 a year on motorcycles. Half of that time or more is with a passenger(son, or girlfriend). And when I either need to pick them up or drop them off during my commute to work, there is still a need for passenger accomodations for me.

    You stated at 50,000 miles or so is the break even for a 250 ninja with maintenance and gas vs the zero right? Ok, about 5 years to break even. But I would still need my gas powered bike for my trips to Florida, or multi day trips through the mountains. Putting an 800 mile day on an electric isn’t possible yet. It is still a limited use machine.

    Bottom line, I don’t buy new bikes because of cost.(With all the nice used bikes, why?) And I would truly need a practical bike. When that happens, I am all for electrics. But I am not for trying to own and pay for insurance on two bikes(one gas for passengers and trips, and the other electric for commuting). Until those hurdles are overcome, it’s gas for me. And a used Triumph Tiger 1050 is looking pretty good right now!

    • protomech says:

      The 2012 Zero S/DS has a set of optional passenger pegs (and a 340-380 lb carrying capacity). The Empulse will have passenger accommodations as well.

      “limited use machine”

      The nature of motorcycles is that they are limited use machines. They can’t carry seven passengers, they generally provide little weather protection or cargo space, they can’t haul ten thousand pounds. If they could, you probably wouldn’t need your VW.

      Can an EV be an only vehicle? Probably not, unless you can get away with borrowing or renting a gas vehicle for longer trips. But it can be a primary vehicle.

      One question is whether motorcycles are worth choosing given their nature as a limited vehicle. I think most of us here would say yes. They don’t meet 100% of people’s needs but they can meet most of them most of the time.

      The obvious followup is whether electric motorcycles are worth choosing given their nature as a (even more) limited vehicle. For some of us, the answer is no – range is still too short, charging time is too slow, bikes are too expensive. Those are fair criticisms, and those shortcomings will improve with time. As they improve, they’ll make sense to more and more people.

      Gas and electric motorcycles can co-exist. I bought a Zero S recently (600 miles in the last 2.5 weeks), and I’m going to put 500 miles on a gas bike this weekend visiting friends. As a daily rider, the S is superb – but of course it can’t do everything.

      That’s what my gas bike and gas car are for. That’s what your VW is for.

      But I prefer riding the Zero more. I’m shooting for 10k miles this year. We’ll see how that goes..

  12. brinskee says:

    N-Judah turnaround point at Ocean Beach? Java Beach in the background? What a nice ‘winter’ we’ve had this year!

  13. Reagan says:

    Gabe and Emotofreak stop the personal attacks. Debateing facts are fine, however your crossing the line. We get it, you love E-bikes.

    • Gabe says:

      I’m sorry–whom did I attack? Please do not accuse me of things I did not do.

    • emotofreak says:

      Welcome to the internet. If pointing out factual flaws in your reasoning is “personal attacks”, prepare to be assaulted. Go educate yourself and come back with facts and data. Then we’ll have a meaningful discussion.

  14. Pete Boyd says:

    I have a vacation home at the beach and I have been waiting for a bike that can handle sitting in the garage for several months with no consequences.

  15. Dave B says:

    Guess a Harley Rider would never buy one – can’t put loud pipes on it.

    • Dannytheman says:

      We could just hook up a huge PA system to it. Chrome of course!!
      But it would lesson the miles if we played the sounds.

      100 miles on a charge ain’t gonna do it for me!

    • Reinhart says:

      I own a Harley (not my only brand bike) and reject these bikes until they actually become competitive with gas powered machines. I’ll let others put down premium bike money and do the testing for me. When the ebikes catch up to gas powered technology I’ll consider picking one up, provided they don’t cost as much as a MOTUS with the optional heated grips by then.

  16. Todd says:

    No offense to Barkeep above, but both he and the author of this article have the common misconception that all technology advances at an ever increasing rate according to “Moore’s Law”. Unfortunately, Moore’s Law is a limited principle applicable to the density of micro-circuitry and computing speeds in digital circuits. It has no bearing on the likelihood of developing a battery technology to provide the power density needed by a self-contained, electrically motivated vehicle.

    Just because we can envision a future does not mean we can attain it. Everyone assumes the “march of science” will create the technology we want because we want it. But even though we’ve been talking and dreaming about interstellar travel, moonbases and flying cars for decades, we still don’t have any in any practical sense because it is all about power, not motors and circuits.

    Also, let us imagine a technological breakthrough that makes mains charged, battery powered vehicles practical transportation. The electrical grid in the US can barely supply existing demands. Imagine if it had to supply all the power for all ground transportation, too. That is a huge logistical and infrastructure nightmare which all by itself could prevent large scale adoption of electrical vehicles for at least the next few decades.

    I’m all for electrical vehicles, but these are still just toys for dilettantes because they rely upon a fundamentally inadequate fuel technology – batteries. Now a hydrogen powered fuel cell? That’s worth working on.

    • emotofreak says:

      Todd. You are obviously unaware of the ongoing and impending leaps in battery technology. We are seeing an average increase in capacity of li-ion cells of 20% annualy over the last decade. And really, how much better does it have to get? If it doubles, an electric motorcycle can have greater range than an average gas bike. I’m pretty sure we’ll be there in less than 5 years.

      By the time hydrogen fuel cells are commercially viable, there will be no need as batteries will have more than enough capacity for all but the most exteme cases.

      You’re final statement shows a huge lack of understanding of EVs and underlying technologies. Please educate yourself before spreading FUD, it is not going to help anyone.

      My point is, the technology and performance is here now. I think that is the main point of this article as well. Personally I think the main barrier is cost. And that is coming down rapidly as well.

      • Steve says:

        so I guess you already own a few electric bikes then?

        You seem to PURPOSELY ignore the entire point EMO…. your whole argument takes for granted that battery power is the future of power storage for transportation & that this will be some great thing….

        It just might be but what’s happening now is more like “I know you’ve been drinking water all your life but water is no longer going to be available at a cost you can afford because the Govt deems water as a bad thing & will force the price to be too high to purchase”….
        no thanks!

      • protomech says:

        20% annually? Let’s not oversell battery advancement : P

        State of the art for traction batteries in the early 2000s was NiMH, approximately 60-70 Wh/kg. GM used this in the EV1, Toyota in the 1997-2003 RAV4 EV (and Prius), Honda in their Insight and Civic Hybrids, etc.

        Currently we have the Zero shipping with lithium NCM batteries – EIG? 175 Wh/kg if so. That’s 250% as good as the NiMH batteries of last decade, or about a 7% annual increase.

        Brammo has indicated their packs will be the densest packs available when they ship (Enertia+ in July) – possibly 190-200 Wh/kg cells.
        http://brammoforum.com/index.php?topic=425.msg6629#msg6629

        Panasonic has 250 Wh/kg cells (NCR-18650A) that supposedly will ship this year in the Model S. That would be a 4x increase in density in 15 years, or about a 10% annual increase.
        http://www.teslamotorsclub.com/showthread.php/5220-Panasonic-cells-for-Model-S

        Envia has 400 Wh/kg cells that might be available in the 2014 range (and might never make it to market). If they can meet their stated $125/kWh pricing then we’ll see Leaf-like cars drop 400 lbs and $8000 – or range will go up by 2.5-3x for the same weight and cost.

        Time will tell, as always.

        • emotofreak says:

          Just looking at Zero’s batteries, they have gone from 1.5kWh to 3kWh in the same size and weight pack in less than 5 years. There’s your 20% per year right there.

          Also don’t forget the cells have dramatically improved c-rates which greatly improves the actual energy delivered. You can’t just look at cells rated capacity and assume it’s going to deliver all of that energy.

          Don’t forget it’s not just the cells but the form factor and the pack architecture. Pouch cells package about 20% better (volumetrically) then cylindrical cells. You never maintain the gravimetric and volumetric stats of the cells in a fully assembled pack.

          I stand by my 20% better per year statement. It may not be EXACTLY right, but it’s as a good a guess as I’ve seen. Remember I’m talking actual energy delivered in a typical EV application, not some white-paper, theoretical hand-waving exercise.

          • ohio says:

            100% over 5 years is a 15% compound growth rate, not 20%. It is also extremely aggressive and unrealistic. The most optimistic predictions from experts show a 10% year on year improvement in energy density, which is consistent with the steepest of historical curves.

            The electric vehicle industry has suffered from chronic over-promising and under-delivering. This is wearing down the public and creating skeptical consumers. You are not doing Zero or the other manufacturers any favors by making claims that none of them can deliver against. These products need to start selling for what they are, not what we wish they could be.

    • Steve says:

      I totally agree! Hydrogen Fuel Cells are the way to go…. I also agree with the LIMITS on battery technology vs how long/far we like to ride…..

      The greenies have convieniently left out the fact that battery charging power comes from the electrical grid which gets a lot of it’s power from oil, coal, etc… Like methanol… another greenie fav… it is PROVEN that is uses more energy to make methanol than it provides by adding it too gasoline….

      But as far as I can tell…. none of the pro-battery bikers here allow FACTS to get in the way of them making an emotional decision based on the BS rhetoric they hear on MSLSD (msnbc) or Fox News…

      there is a great quote from Aldous Huxley I like to use in these situations….
      “Denying the facts do not make them cease to exist”
      I understand it works both ways too… I am not anti battery bike… I am anti lies & rhetoric designed to form or sway my opinion of things that will ONLY result in the Govt taking more MONEY out of my pockets for things I have ZERO say in…. THAT is what I am against.

      • emotofreak says:

        What is with you guys and fuel cells? You realize Hydrogen is not free? It is actually more energy efficient to charge a battery than it is to create hydrogen. Not to mention large scale distribution has not been established yet. The only advantage hydrogen has is better energy density(for now). And you’re still ignoring the fact that there is NO COMMERCIALLY VIABLE FUEL CELL SOLUTION at this time. So you can continue to chase the mythical hydrogen unicorn, or you can actually purchase and use the workhorse of the EV industry, Li-Ion batteries.

        One of these solutions actually exists, works, and is continually improving at a phenomeonal rate. The other only exists in prototypes and white papers.

        Sorry if I sound harsh, but spreading mis-information is a dis-severice to the EV industry and society at large.

        • Steve says:

          EMo… if you are such a subject matter expert on all things “battery”…. then please tell uss how come no one wants a Volt or a Brammo e-bike?

          I’ll tell you why… THEY DO NOT SATISFY BUYERS REQUIREMENTS!
          P-E-R-I-O-D-!

          They could be giving these things away (which Obama/GM has are trying to do using MY TAX $$ without my permission) yet no one wants one. While I tend to agree with you that there’s a good chance e-bikes/cars will be at least part of our future, I disagree with your implication that the future is already here so why don’t we all rush out & buy a Volt + a Zero… That is just too much pie-in-the-sky… it sounds like the rhetoric spewed by Obama & Geithner.. telling us “happy days r here again”…. they can yell it from the rooftops but no one believes it! Same thing… “e-vehicles will save us”…. I’m still trying to figure out what they will save us from… the only thing we need saving from is our misguided, arrogant, freedom-restricting government!
          Objection over ruled!
          I rest my case…

  17. org says:

    The exciting possibility of Electric Motorcycles is reduced weight. Better batteries should be less massive allowing less bulky components.ICE efficiency is close to being maximized economically, and gas weighs about 10 lb/gallon.
    Light is fun !

  18. EmpulseBuyer says:

    If you would like to compare total cost of ownership between electric motorcycles vs ICE motorcycles, there is an app for that! http://www.empulsebuyer.com/tcoCalculator.php

    Speaking of transmissions in electric motorcycles, rumor has it that the Brammo Empulse will be in production in May! The idea behind the transmission is to improve low end and top end performance eg: 0-30 / 70-100… you can also just leave it in any gear and ride just using a single speed too.

  19. Goose says:

    Nice to see some of you are open minded enough to see that electric vehicles will be a big part of the future transportation mix. I’m not quite ready to make the big move yet but a I can see the Zero in my garage. I just hope I can afford to keep an ICE bike too. That might be tough when gas is $20 a gallon.

    I’ve got a friend with a GM Volt who has averaged 500 MPG over 10,000 miles. Sure, he cheats. He has a good sized solar array on his roof and his employer lets him charge at work for free. Still, he is nearly independent of OPEC and the petroleum industry. I’d like to say that about myself some day.

    Goose

    • MGNorge says:

      I can see the day when it will benefit, if not be totally necessary, for homes and businesses to have solar panels on their roofs to help or totally free them from fuel and utility costs. Expensive though.

  20. Fantastic article! I want to see more things like this. Rather then have to scrounge the internet to find tidbits of information I would love to refer to an established publication that I already trust!

    I have owned a Brammo Enertia for almost 2 years now. It’s shortcomings as an electric motorcycle are overcome with the best customer service I have ever had. I cannot wait for the Empulse model!

    And “halfbaked”, I do recharge it with solar in sunny So Cal ;).

    All the best,
    Aaron Lephart

  21. Reagan says:

    Expensive, poor run times, long charge time, no public charging areas and old lady like performance. Plus there are documented studies by universites acusing these e-bikes as being more filth producing than conventinal motorcycles.Here we go again, Same old Electrics. Please gentelman, lets keep it real.

    • Gabe says:

      116 mile range is a poor run time? 85 mph-plus is “old lady” performance? 1.8 hours to full charge is “long charge time?” 7200 public charging stations is “no public charging areas?” And $7995 is “expensive?”

      Are you sure you read this article? Or were you looking at old issues of Popular Mechanics from 1985 to get your data?

      • mpolans says:

        Wasn’t that more like a range of 116 miles *OR* 85mph+ speed? It seems with electric bikes right now, you can’t have both reasonable range and reasonable highway speed.

        • Gabe says:

          116 miles at city speeds, or maybe 30 pinned. Still, most people’s commutes are less than 25 miles each way on a mix of city and freeway, and either Zero model would meet those needs. If you want to go further, roll that ICE bike out of your garage for your once a week or once a month long ride.

          Again, who only has one bike?

    • Steve says:

      The ‘filth’ from electric bikes would be if the electricity is generated from dirty coal or nuclear and its resulting waste.

    • emotofreak says:

      Reagan, you either have an agenda or are horribly mis-informed. Like you said, keep it real.

    • Reinhart says:

      If I was to ride one of these e-bikes to my local curvy roads I would travel 75 mph on the freeway with the flow of traffic. It’s a 30 mile ride, so I will have to stop and do a full recharge once off the freeway. How long is that? Then I will do some time in the twisties, perhaps 50 to 60 miles of fun roads at speeds from 30 to 70 mph. Will I have to stop again to recharge? Yep. So the question is…. if I leave the house at six in the morning for my weekly ride to the canyons on one of these new e-bikes, what time will I get home, or rather, what day?

  22. Steve says:

    Very nice. The quiet is a huge improvement over the blattity, blat, blat, blat so many unmuffled motorcycles sound like. For most riders, the range is plenty. As for the wheelies and stoppies, it’s real hard to look smart when you are riding like a punk and when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, unless of course it doesn’t go well, then it gets interesting.

  23. Gary says:

    Actually, even if electric vehicles gain widespread acceptance, we are decades from abandoning petroleum dependency. Petroleum raw materials will be used to harvest, transport and build a new generation of electromobiles. There will be a demand for oil for generations to come, no matter what happens.

    • Hair says:

      It might take even longer since a good share of power-generation in the US comes from natural gas plants.

    • Gabe says:

      You are 100% correct–but isn’t it better to use non-renewable resources to make stuff than to just burn as fuel? It will last longer.

  24. Tom says:

    I say bring on the Ebikes! They can’t come soon enough for me. No more motor oil, no more valves to adjust, no more giving my money away to the OPECkers, no more carburetor to clog up over winter time ( I ride an old dualsport)and no more noise to kill my already fragile hearing. YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Gary says:

    Nice article. Good to see that there are some moto journalists who are open-minded. I am sold on the idea of an electric, but not as an only bike. Not yet. But it is clear to me that the days of internal combustion are numbered. Add a solar panel to your roof and you are virtually self-sufficient.

  26. Dave says:

    I still do not understand why the e-bike (true bicycle, motorcycle or scooter) does not incorporate a transmission as the torque of an electric motor is greatest at its lowest speed, so (thinking relative to internal-combustion) the torque curve drops off steeply as RPMs build. I would think an e-powertrain with a CVT would really honk! It would add complexity, cost (both initial and maintenance), and weight but would make such a vehicle really competitive with existing internal-combustion powertrains vis-a-vis acceleration at any speed. Might even extend the range too.

  27. emotofreak says:

    Wow, not 1, not 2, but 3, intelligent, unbiased, and well-written reviews. I am now a MD fan. I am so happy you hit upon the “wheelie” mode concept. Imagine an “auto-balance” like a segway. Would make picking your way around gnarly off-road single-track, to parking the bike in your garage much simpler.

    And I agree, the next 5-10 years are going be very fruitful. ICE bikes days are numbered.

  28. Marco says:

    Complaints can generally be boiled down to: “It’s different, and it makes me nervous.” If that’s you, don’t buy an electric vehicle. My electric car works perfectly for me. 50 miles a day on cheap electricity. No pollution. No laying out hundreds of dollars a month to the terrorists at BP and Exxon.

    • FreddyJ says:

      No pollution? Where does the electricity come from? I’ll admit that it’s easier to control emissions at one power plant versus thousands of vehicles, but there still are pollutants.

      I also think that the price of electricity will skyrocket as the coal plants are mothballed because of EPA regulations. Then we’ll see how “cheap” electricity becomes.

      Electric vehicles are the future, no doubt, but they’re a long way from becoming really practical. Compare the total ownership cost of a Prius to a Corolla, and you’ll see what I mean…

      • falcodoug says:

        And they don’t wheelie :)

      • SplinterOz says:

        If you are comparing a Prius and a Corolla you are comparing two petrol powered cars. The Prius gets all of it’s energy (current and past models) from the fuel it burns.

        If the coal plants are mothballed (great I say) then centalised and decentralised Solar and Wind will take over. The price will be as expensive as that technology is, I estimate maybe double.

      • protomech says:

        2012 Corolla LE 4A $38k 5 year TCO
        http://www.edmunds.com/toyota/corolla/2012/tco.html?style=101419638

        2012 Prius Two CVT $40k 5 year TCO
        http://www.edmunds.com/toyota/prius/2012/tco.html?style=101420728

        2012 Nissan Leaf SL $43k 5 year TCO (including federal subsidy)
        http://www.edmunds.com/nissan/leaf/2012/tco.html?style=101397755

        The above was calculated with $2.56 gas btw. I don’t see any $2.56 gas around me.. recalculate with $4/gallon gas and the Prius and Corolla TCO both go up to $43k. No guarantee that gas will stay where it is now, of course.. it could go back down to “only” $3/gallon or continue to rise.

        At $4/gallon gas, the Leaf is price-competitive with both the Prius and the Corolla. With state subsidies or if gas prices continue to rise, the Leaf becomes a clear price winner based on operating costs. Battery replacement (costs and schedule) is an open question for most people, though, and that uncertainty will likely delay adoption.

        If the EPA pushes for a heavy tax on coal then they will likely push for an increased tax on gasoline as well. That will just push the tipping point for solar and wind power a little closer..

  29. christow says:

    Awesome article. Really looking forward to owning an electric motorcycle. It will be perfect for putting on the back of my RV and silently terrorizing campgrounds (replacing my xr-185). An enduro would really be best for me.

  30. George Krpan says:

    Richard Harmon calculated that it cost $1.04 to go 76.8 miles on the Zero and that it would have cost $8.21 on his Triumph.

    8.21/1.04 = 7.89. Gas costs almost 8 times more.

    The price of gas would have to drop to 50 cents a gallon to match the economy of electricity.

    • FreddyJ says:

      Comparing either of these to the Triumph isn’t a fair comparison, since the Triumph makes about 3x the power. Try comparing the operating cost to a 250cc standard and then you might have something…

      • George Krpan says:

        Motorcycle Daily averaged 56mpg in their road test of the Honda CBR250R.

        78.6miles/56mpg = 1.4gals x $4.49 = $6.29/$1.04 = 6.05 times the cost of electricity. Like paying 67 cents a gallon.

      • sands says:

        Exactly, you can’t compare these vehicles as far as costs compared to a bike that makes much more power..And from the article “43 miles on the higher speed (cruising at 70 about half the trip) test.” Wow, it goes a wopping 43 miles before having to do a recharge which takes 4 to 6 hours…No thanks!

        I do like the concept and I do like quiet bikes…When they can get comparable range, hp, and recharge in the time it takes me to fill up a gas tank then I’d think about it..As it stands now they ARE WAY OFF…43 miles on the highway compared to my bandit 1250 which can do 200 more miles and fill up in 2 minutes and the ability to fill up everywhere..Boy would I hate to be out on the road on one of those in need of a recharge…The battery pack life seems o.k. but what about that electric motor life ? Everytime I think “electric motor” I question longeity…It always reminds me of the many electric appliances I’ve had that gets used so little but ends up broken.

        • Dave says:

          The potential customers of these aren’t going to use them that way. They are going to use them for short hops, urban commuting, similar to the way a medium weight scooter is used. It’s not a touring bike. It’s not meant to be.

    • Reinhart says:

      Unless you’re really hard up, gas for a small motorcycle is still relatively affordable. Doing a cost analysis will show you that you will have to ride your new e-bike a long, long time before you realize a savings over a small gas powered bike. Add the fact that these bikes (which to me look more like toys) are unproven and may not even last the many thousands of miles it will take to even break even, you are currently better off letting riders with lots of disposable cash take the leap and do the testing for us at their expense. You can always wait and see how this whole thing pans out before becoming a test dummy for the e-bike revolution.

  31. steveinsandiego says:

    i’m not quite ready to sign on the dotted line, but the more i learn the more i like these buggers. i’m 63, so i hope the vast, expected improvements are nearer than 10 years. LOL

  32. Hair says:

    I can’t wait until the day comes that I can ride an electric bike to work. But like everything else I need to use up my current commuter before I upgrade. And maybe a few more years of development will make this technology more affordable.
    What we really need is to pair electric car/bike technology with the ability to charge the bike while at work. Some sort of charging station that allows for a identifying carrier signal to be feed back into the station while my bike is charging. At the end of the month I pay my account just like any other electric bill. And the feedback signal that my bike uses assures that I only get charged for the power that I used.

    Once that happens I will then say that electric technology has arrived.

    • mickey says:

      Interesting mix of thoughts and idea. I’m not ready to dismiss or accept electric vehicles at this point, but do encourage mfgs to keep working on them. My issue is I work in sales and drive up to 400 miles in a day. As a motorcyclist, I might ride 500 in a day, 1000 in a weekend, or 4000 on a 2 week vacation. Electric vehicles at this point, simply do not meet my requirements. I turn 62 in may, hope to ride another 8 years ..more if health stays good…and doubt electric bikes will be viable for my needs in the time I have left. They will undoubtedly be in my 33 year old ons garage someday…next to his antique Ducati monster.

  33. Wanderer says:

    Who will be the first person to do an IBA ride on an electric? How about the IBR?

    • protomech says:

      Current electric bikes are suitable for commuting and short trips, but they probably won’t be suitable for touring for some time.

      A 4 gallon tank fillup in 5 minutes (stop, pay, fillup, stretch, back on the road) in a 40 mpg bike represents a range recovery rate of 2000 miles/hour.

      A 1 kW charger as seen on the Enertia and Zero bikes can recharge at 10+ miles/hour for city riding or 4 miles/hour for freeway riding. Any 110v socket will work fine to charge.

      A 3 kW charger as seen on the upcoming Empulse will be 12-15 miles/hour freeway riding. You’ll need a J1772 charging station to charge at this rate.

      As battery packs increase in size, they will be able to tolerate higher absolute charge rates. You still have to package the onboard charger (if pulling from 220v AC) and build out the infrastructure to support this.

      Tesla is talking up a rollout of very high power charging stations called Superchargers. These level 3 DC charging stations will probably be around 90 kW to a battery that can receive that kind of power. They claim a 160 mile charge in 30 minutes (320 miles/hour), though this is assumes a 55 mph trip. A 70 mph trip is probably more like 250 miles/hour.

      If a bike had a battery that could tolerate these very high charge rates then they should see 400 miles/hour recovered.

      Aero fairing will also help by reducing energy per mile at interstate speeds, and thus increasing the miles/hour charge rate at a given power level. A good fairing might enable 600 miles/hour.

      100 miles in 10 minutes is probably the high side of what we’ll see in the next 10-15 years. It depends on a number of things:
      1. Buildout and standardization of level 3 charging stations. Leaf has a 48 kW level 3 fast charger, Telsa has a 90+ kW level 3 fast charger. I don’t believe these two are compatible, sadly. Nissan sells a $10k 48kW fast charger, as prices will drop it will be easier to widely deploy these fast chargers.
      2. Motorcycle-size batteries that can tolerate a 90 kW input without significant degradation. Leaf can charge at 2C, Tesla Model S can charge at about 1C. Another 4x increase in battery density would be a ~30 kWh pack, which have to tolerate a 3C charge.
      3. Aero fairings that can decrease interstate drag by 30-40% without substantially increasing crosswind vulnerability. We basically have these now (see the Lightning electric superbike), electric bikes are just now getting enough range and power to be useful on the interstate.

      Going beyond 600 miles/hour (to approach gas @ 2000 miles/hour) will probably require an entirely different energy delivery system, such as the “Cambridge Crude” pumpable electrolyte, battery replacement systems a la A Better Place, or even another energy type entirely (onboard hydrogen fuel cell and tank, natural gas microturbine, etc).

  34. Tony says:

    Excellent article Gabe, thanks for the ride reviews on these electric bikes! Looks like you enjoyed them quite a bit.

  35. Denny says:

    One question, if I may. Why that wheel pulley is so large? It spoils otherwise tidy appearance. Is it because they cannot control motor at low speed or because they want to restrict speed of vehicle?

    • Dave says:

      It’s likely the only reduction on the bike. These usually don’t have transmissions.

      • Denny says:

        I believe it can be done and in fact IT IS done electronically. As far as I understand the motors are of AC kind, but that is no hurdle at all. My interpretation is that for some reason they have to run at high rpms perhaps to deliver best efficiency (and output). Thanks for your view and attempt to provide explanation.

        • Dave says:

          Motor control is all done electronically, the motors have a broad enough torque curve (and a tremendous amount at slow speed). They have a great deal of control over the motor. I think they “get away” with not having a transmission because of the low-speed torque potential. A transmission could still reduce load and current draw.

          • Denny says:

            Very true, it could and in addition it could be the ‘gearless’ type. Perhaps that is the next step.

  36. Mark P. says:

    Meh. Still holding out for a Brammo Empulse, if that ever turns out not to just be vaporware.

  37. clasqm says:

    Fourteen thousand dollars. $14,000. 14 grand.

    A BMW R1200 R

    A Ducati Monster 1100 with 2 grand left for fuel.

    A Honda CB1000 R with 2 grand left for fuel.

    A Harley XR1200 X with 2 grand left for fuel.

    That’s what the Zero competes with on price. On functionality, however, it competes with Chinese scooters costing a quarter as much, if that. Or if you want something a little classier, you can buy two, count ‘em, TWO, Vespa GTV300 scooters for the same amount of money.

    No amount of creative accountancy will remove the barrier of that initial outlay. So, the running costs are low. Now factor in the money you had to borrow to buy this outrageously overpriced machine. If you can buy this bike for cash, it is probably the fourth or fifth vehicle in your garage and running costs are the least of your concerns.

    At $8,000 the Brammo makes a much stronger argument for electric motorcycles. Of course, both share the traditional shortcoming of motorcycles marketed as “commuter bikes”. Where is the commuter supposed to put his laptop?

    Yes, electric motorcycles are the future, and will be the future for a long time to come.

    • Tim says:

      I doubt that anyone is going to cross shop ebikes and CBR1000RRs, but I see your point. I think the better point to make however, is comparing these ebikes with something else you’re likely to shop for, a Ninja 250.

      If we assume a new ninja is $4000, then for the same price as a Zero you have enough money for a ninja 250 and $10k in gas. I commuted to a summer job during college that was 120 miles round trip. Running about 65mph on country roads to get there, the little Ninjette averaged about 62 mpg.

      So with $10,000 in gas, and current gas prices at $4.00 per gallon, I could buy enough gas to travel 155,500 miles before I break even with the Zero (not counting oil changes and maintenance and such). 155,500 miles!!! Oh ya, and the ninja would also do 100 mph with my big butt on it, and I NEVER worried about it running out of juice on the way home.

      I really hate to knock electric bikes because I think they are necessary for the future of our sport to continue. With all the closed off road parks, noise complaints, safety issues, and news articles I see about motorcycle emissions, the sport of motorcycling seems to be in jeopardy everytime I read a newspaper. Ebikes may very well be the salvation of our sport. But to claim that ebikes have finally arrived…I just don’t see it. They may have ‘arrived’ for the overprivilaged-rich-and-famous, for the everyman like me, they just aren’t financially viable.

      • Gabe says:

        Now do the math with the ZF6 ($12,000, $10,000 with incentives), gas at $5 a gallon (which it will be soon), and the 2008-2012 Ninja’s REAL MPG: 50, unless you ride like a Grandma. Oh, and the cost of the Ninja’s full service every 5000 miles–about $200. That first 50k miles on the Ninjette will run you $7000. Plus the initial purchase price, you’re looking at an $11,000 investment versus $10,000. So you’d break even in 4-5 years of 15k miles a year.

        Comparing this bike to a Chinese-built scooter shows that Clasqm has never ridden the 2012 Zero. This bike will hit 85-plus mph, has great midrange, good suspesnion and brakes and will whip a chinese-made scooter in any contest, especially reliabiltiy!

    • Artoo says:

      Zero is counting on the fact that both the federal Government and California, where Zero has its HQ offer very substantial rebates for purchasing an electric vehicle, both could up to $5000 for what I read, taking down the price very significantly.

      I agree we’re not there yet. We need more players and more competition to see prices drop and practicality increase.

      • protomech says:

        The federal rebates for electric motorcycles ended on Dec 31 2011. Brammo and others are pushing for their reinstatement, but currently only state rebates are available for e-motorcycles.

  38. Fastship says:

    I think more prosaic motivations may apply to the take up of electric bikes. When I was young (I’m in the UK) older people in the ’50s & ’60′s used bikes and bikes with sidecars for simple mobility and they couldn’t afford a car. As the country became richer they could afford cars and bikes became leisure items.

    Today no youngster can afford even the madatory insurance on a car (>$8k a year) and petrol is $9 a gallon here and rising. Doesn’t take a genius to see where the real market could be for electric bikes, at least here in the UK.

    Having said that – electric cars, despite being heavily subsidised here have totally bombed.

    • Denny says:

      No wonder, no heating in winter. You have cold weather too, right? They will never go for most of EU, not to mention NA.

  39. JR says:

    OK.. the Brammo Enertia looks more interesting, meaning a more functional motorcycle look about it, but some detail remains when purchasing any vehicle for $8,000.00
    Where are the dealers for parts and or service?
    Why would you spend that kind of money without a test drive?
    Why does the replacement battery pack need to cost over 43% of the bikes original cost?
    Why doesn’t the Brammo have belt final drive?
    I think many other people have these same questions.

    • Gabe says:

      -There are Brammo dealers all over, although probably more on the West Coast. Polaris is a stakeholder, so expect to see them in Polaris dealers at some point. I don’t think this bike will need much service beyond brake pads, suspesnion service, chain tension and tires–stuff you can probably do yourself.

      -Most OEMs don’t offer test rides, but Brammo does, at least at some dealers–the bike in the story was a demo unit from Scuderia West in San Francisco.

      -The battery is most of the cost of an electric vehicle! Think of it as buying $4000 of gas up front. Expect this cost to shrink as the volumes produced increase.

      -I’d expect future Brammos to have belts. I imagine cost or supplier was the issue, but it’s not as if the chain is really noisy.

  40. Barkeep says:

    can’t effing wait, hooray for evolution! and hopefully moore’s law will apply to the price/specs aspect over time as well. once battery packs reach a 200-mile range with a 30-min. charge time i will have a very phenomenal ST1100 for sale.

  41. Dont’ expect the gas industry to embrace this tech. They will fight it until they die. Only consumers and forward-thinking cities will come up with the infrastructure. Here’s hoping for rapid improvements in battery tech. The oil industry can’t go away soon enough.

    • Montana says:

      You bet, the sooner the oil industry goes away, the better. I assume you’ll volunteer to be one of the first passengers to fly transatlantic on a battery powered 747. No? How about crossing on a nuclear ship? Nuclear’s no good either? Well then, welcome to the “forward-thinking” world of wind power.
      See you in a few months.

      • AndrewF says:

        Nuclear power is fine by me, I don’t share the superstitious fear of anything labelled as ‘nuclear’ so prevalent among the common folk these days… now if you could install a nuclear reactor on my bike, I would be really stoked – that would solve the range issue once and for all :)

    • DaytonaJames says:

      “The oil industry can’t go away soon enough.”

      AMEN to that my friend.

      • blackcayman says:

        Oil becomes a lot more than gasoline and diesel fuel – Do a little research on “plastics”.

  42. philschl says:

    Great Article.

    Two important things that I think some people would appreciate which the article missed:

    1. No more breathing in cancerous smelly fuel vapour fumes at the service station and
    2. No more breathing in cancerous smelly fumes for people sitting behind you in traffic (and yes, you’re sitting behind someone else’s exhaust as well, mate)

    I acknowledge that there are a number of people who happily poison themselves with cigarettes and will vouch for the fact that petrol fumes smell ‘good’, I do have hope that the majority of humanity would prefer living in a clean environment. Internal combustion engines are the world’s foremost air polluter today. And they pollute the air right where we breathe it. And the height of the exhausts means those most vulnerable (our kids) get the dose directly into their lungs. I do hope that we will see the end of the petrol engine rather sooner than later!

    • Steve says:

      yeah… but wait until they tell you that sitting on top of a large battery & the electro-magnetic field it produces will fry your man-parts & cause them to shrink, shrivel ultimately fall off….

      • DaytonaJames says:

        We’re at 7 Billion people now… an increase of about 3.5 Billion in just over 50 years.
        Fewer ‘man-parts’ might just be what the planet needs now.
        I’m done with mine so I’m good… Bring on the Zeros

  43. George Krpan says:

    I will say it, the days of internal combustion vehicles are numbered.
    There will be batteries in the not so distant future that will recharge in the time it takes for a gas fill up AND gas stations will have charging equipment.
    When that happens, the last impediment will have been surmounted.
    I like that the Zero has no name suspension components that work well. I see that sort of thing happenning in bicycle components. The big brands have gotten shockingly expensive and have to rely on hype, more and more, to sell their stuff. Meanwhile Asia is quietly selling components at at a fraction of the cost and work perfectly.
    Speaking of bicycles, electric bikes are nowhere near the state of development as electric motorcycles. They really are bad.

    • Stratkat says:

      there will come a day when the internal combustion engine is replaced but its not right around the corner.
      the thing people dont mention is the electricity has to come from somewhere and it comes from power plants. power plants have to consume something to make electricity. so its still not going to be pollution free or cheap for that matter. supply and demand.

      • Fangit says:

        Power plants don’t have to burn fossil fuels. We could have solar panels at home and work charging up all our electric vehicles, for example.

      • Gabe says:

        I have 3 things to say to this response, which is a common red herring tossed out by folks with a hidden ideological bias against electric vehicles (not saying you) but is a good point nonetheless.

        1. In California, 80% of our power is generated in state. Of that, 1.8% comes from coal. Over 25% is from renewable sources, the rest from nuclear and natural gas. More renewable power is being added every year.

        2. If our energy mix includes dirty sources, that’s not the fault of electric vehicles, but the power industry for not investing in cleaner sources of energy. Since e-vehicles will be a tiny consumer of power for many years yet, they are not the problem.

        3. E-vehicles are many times more efficient than ICE, so even if the power mix is 100% coal, there is still less pollution per mile traveled.

        • FreddyJ says:

          All else being equal, I’m all for green energy. However, all else is not equal since green energy is much more expensive to produce. That’s why CA pays 45% more for electricity than the national average. The power industry is not investing in renewable energy because it’s not cost effective (yet), and these are companies that need to turn a profit to survive. E-vehicles are many times more efficient than ICE, but they also cost a bunch more than an equivalent ICE vehicle. Compare the total ownership cost of a Prius to a Corolla, and you’ll see what I mean…

          • Gabe says:

            I dunno Freddy–my PG%E bill here in Oakland, CA is $45 in the winter, $20 in the summer. So if I could save $10-20 a month by breathing in the crappy emissions from a coal-fired power plant, I’d say no thanks.

            CA’s energy mix is mostly natural gas, which is pretty clean and very, very cheap. Do you have a source for this 45% higher number?

          • FreddyJ says:

            The 45% figure was in an article by Jude Clemente @ San Diego State University. Believe me, I wish solar, wind, etc. were more cost effective. Who wouldn’t love free energy? I guess it all comes down to whether you think man is causing global warming (which I don’t). Take that out of the equation, and the market will determine the best option.

    • Gabe says:

      I shouldn’t have said “no name!” it’s actually by Fastace, which is a pretty trusted name in bicycle, scooter, ATV and motorcycle transmission. Good stuff, too.

      • HalfBaked says:

        In sunny So Cal we always have the option of throwing some solar panels on the roof and charging our e-bikes that way.

        • Bruce says:

          I could see getting an e-bike if the price dropped.
          Here in the midwest, our power rates are very affordable. I live in Nebraska, we own our own power production with public power plants. This info is a bit old, but still pretty valid.

          http://www.electricchoice.com/electricity-prices-by-state.php

          California electricity rates are double what we pay!
          I’m pretty sure everything else is a lot more too.
          That must be the “sunshine tax”.