Here’s what I wrote earlier this year when I reviewed Zero’s excellent 2013 S:
Zero seems to have found a happy place after many years and millions of dollars of product development, and I’d expect it to stay mostly the same for several years at least. “We’ve reached a great platform from which we’ll see incremental improvements—no more wholesale doubling of range and horsepower,” Zeros’ PR manager Scot Harden told me. Instead, he said, customers will see “continuous improvement, but it won’t be an outmoding of the previous year’s bike. Don’t be afraid to step up.”
…Harden also hinted at an accessory battery pack that could be plugged into the bike…
Harden was true to his word. If you ponied up and bought the 2013 Zero S or DS, you are probably really enjoying it (owner reports are very positive), and you shouldn’t kick yourself for not waiting until 2014. But there are some interesting upgrades to the 2014 that could make Zero the premier manufacturer of electric motorcycles.
The biggest news, I think, is the Power Tank accessory. It’s a 45-pound, 2.8 kilowatt hour (kWh), $2495 (yikes!) battery that plugs into the big empty space in front of the rider. It gives either the 8.5 kWh or 11.4 kWh models a 20 percent boost in range—up to 171 miles of low-speed city riding, or 106 miles at a steady 55 mph (because of gearing, tire size and weight, the DS has about 10 percent less range than the S). A leadfoot (leadhand?) on a Zero S can now go 88 miles at 70 mph. The pack is easy to install (at a dealer, says Zero), and comes with a color-matched panel to cover it up. The bad news is it can’t be retro-fitted to the 2013 models, as Zero tells me it needs a structural base to support it that the 2013 doesn’t have (even though Zero has probably been working on this since before the 2013 was available). The extra battery makes the curb weight of the 11.4-equipped S 444 pounds.
The other big announcement is the Zero SR. It gets both a high-performance motor (that doesn’t overheat as easily) and more-powerful controller unit to boost torque to 106 ft.-lbs (from 68). These changes give the SR a claimed 0-60 time of under 4 seconds, a top speed of over 100 mph and a sustained top speed of 85 mph—possibly knocking the Brammo Empulse off its perch as the high-perfomance e-moto. The SR only comes with the 11.4 kWh battery and is $16,995, $2000 more than the S or DS 11.4—which are actually $1000 less than the 2013 models.
Lower price, and with some of those “incremental improvements” Scot was talking about. Suspension is still by Taiwanese bicycle/pitbike specialist Fastace, but the front fork is now a beefy 43mm instead of 38mm and the rear shock has new internals. There’s a new rear brake caliper and disc, and the front brake disc is also new. The frame is stiffened by the above-mentioned Power Tank mount as well as a new swingarm pivot and bearings. The rear tire is now a 140-section.
There are some styling and convenience features, too. The dash is also all-new, a blue backlit LCD display with more information and features, including the ability to adjust riding modes without using the smartphone app. There’s new switch gear, and the headlamp and other bodywork have been subtly restyled. There’s also a chin fairing, now standard. Another improvement of note is the warranty, which in addition to covering the bike for two years, covers the battery for 5 years and up to 100,000 miles.
The Zero FX—which I have yet to test—gets many similar improvements, including the suspension, upgraded brakes, new swingarm pivot and improved steering-head tube. The FX is interesting because its intended as a more urban bike, a street-legal dual-sport that has shorter range, but is configurable with room for two of the 2.8 kWh battery packs. The packs can be pulled from the bike in less than a minute, says Zero, so apartment-dwellers can charge their motorcycle if they have to park it on the street. With both packs, the FX can go 70 miles at city speeds, or 30 miles at 70 mph. Split the range in half if you only have one pack! Curb weight for the FX is 238 pounds (add 42 pounds for the extra pack). The base price is $9495 before state and Federal incentives.
The Zero models I’ve tested lately have been solid-perfoming, fun and economical for the right owner—I’m looking forward to seeing how much the new Power Tank adds to the experience.
Gabe Ets-Hokin is the Editor of City Bike magazine, and a frequent freelance contributor to MotorcycleDaily.com