A few months ago, at my magazine’s annual reader get-together in Livermore, California, a small squad of electric-powered Zero motorcycles silently arrived to fill that manufacturer’s booth at the event. One of them was a fetching green color, but even more remarkable was that it was there at all—it had been ridden from San Jose, 34 miles away on bumpy, twisty Highway 130, over a 4300-foot mountain. There was nowhere to plug the bikes in, and when the event was over, the jolly crew of Zero employees once again whispered away to meet the chase truck in San Jose. That’s not supposed to be possible on electric motorcycles, even with the 2012 model’s impressive 120-mile range.
Well, now we know how they did it. Zero announced the 2013 range of street and off-road motorcycles, with more range, faster recharge capability and most importantly to us gear-heads, a lot more power. For the S (standard) and DS (dual-sport) models, Zero introduces a “Z-Force” motor, the first motor the company has designed from the ground up for use in a motorcycle. It’s air-cooled, requires no maintenance, lets you tell people it has a radial-flux permanent magnet, and makes (drum roll, please) 54 horsepower and 68 ft.-lbs. of torque—yowza. Top speed is 95 mph (probably limited somehow), but I’ll bet you get to 95 in a hurry.
Juice is provided by an improved Z-Force battery, and buyers can select two different 102-volt power packs. An 8.5 kilowatt hour pack nets you 103 miles of city riding, 53 miles at a steady 70 mph, or 79 miles combined. If you pony up for the 11.4 kilowatt-hour box, you’ll go 137 miles in the EPA UDDS city cycle, 70 miles at 70 mph, or 93 miles combined. Home charging time is reduced 25 percent to 6 or 8 hours (for the big battery), but you can now purchase an adapter to use public CHAdeMO quick-charge stations, which can bring a flat battery to a 95-percent charge in an hour. Battery-pack life is estimated to 343,000 miles for the 11.4 kw-hr.
The chassis, electronics and other equipment get improvements, too. The frame is new, with passenger accomdations now standard, the swingarm is stiffer, the motor is a stressed member, and brake calipers are now made by Nissin. Curb weight is a claimed 350 or 382 pounds. The DS is similarly upgraded, but with slightly different weights and top speed, plus it now uses a 19-inch front tire. New bodywork makes the bikes look more motorcycle-y, and the “tank” is now a locking storage box. A smart-phone mount is included so riders can log in with an app to monitor detailed state-of-charge and real-time power-usage info. What doesn’t really change is the price—last year’s 9-kilowatt hour S ZF9 was $13,995, and the 2013 8.5 (which offers a little less range but a lot more power and speed) is the same. The 11.4 is an additional $2000.
Zero wasn’t through surprising the journalists at the Cologne, Germany INTERMOT show where the new models were announced. An all-new model, the FX, was also rolled out. They call it a “stealth fighter,” a street-legal urban dual-sport that’s the most powerful e-moto Zero has yet to offer. With 44 hp and 70-ft.-lbs of torque propelling a claimed 275 pounds (that’s the 5.7-kw-hr. version, the 2.8 is 233), it should be able to get out of its way in a hurry. The good news is the basic 2.8 kw-hr version is expandable to 5.7 with the addition of a second battery pack—and the packs can be easily removed to recharge, replace—or just keep safe from thieves. The FX seems based on the milder (27 hp and 42 ft.-lbs of torque) $7995 XU model, intended to be popular with short-distance urban riders, with 18-inch wheels and long-travel suspension. Base price is $9495, add $2495 for the second battery pack. There are more changes in the off-road lineup, with a more powerful motor, better components and better range for the motocrossing, 85-mph $9495 MX. Does your motocrosser offer 68 ft.-lbs of torque? And if it does, can you ride it on a golf course at 3:00 am?
With this lineup, Zero is sending a serious warning shot across the bows of Brammo. These new models offer impressive range, performance and looks at competitive prices. We think our next e-moto comparison will be much more interesting.