Zero Motorcycles has quite the lineup of plated plug-ins, everything from the S-model standard, to the lightweight FX city stalker, to the DS dual-sport. Zero Motorcycles was kind enough to loan us a 2013 Zero DS for a few weeks to see how it compared to Gabe’s experience with the S.
On paper the DS has slightly less range (by approximately 9 miles), but top speed and torque/power statistics are identical. For what it’s worth, the DS’ battery life is 25,000 miles less than the S; however, you’re still looking at a claimed battery life of 284,000 miles, a negligible difference in the long run.
Both the S and DS have the same sprocket count (132 tooth rear / 28 tooth front), front suspension, rear suspension, and brakes. However, the DS suspension travel is obviously greater than the S to account for riding offroad. The DS offers 1.5 inches more front travel (7 inches total) and nearly 2 inches more in the rear (7.69 inches total).
As you would expect, the DS swaps out a 17-inch front wheel for a taller, narrower 19 inch. Zero also stretched the DS’ wheelbase an inch (56.5 inches) to give it better stability in the dirt. The additional suspension travel tacks on just over three inches to the seat height, so at 34.4 inches vertically challenged riders will have to make do with side straddling at stops. The DS comes in 8 pounds heavier (395 pounds), reducing carrying capacity to 360 pounds.
The DS and S share the battery packs; therefore, you can expect the same charge times and cost to charge (about $1.73 in Central California). Both bikes come in at $15,995 ($14,995 for the 2014 models) when equipped with the larger 11.4 battery pack, and State and Federal tax credits pay you back about $2500.
What’s our 20 on the 80 Percent?
With the maximum speed test out of the way in our review on the S (about 95 mph) I moved on to range testing. We had already tested Zero’s highway claims on the S (70 miles at 70 miles per hour), so I chose to test claims for City mileage. Holding the bike at an average speed of 27 miles per hour without stopping, the bike will manage about 130 miles—slightly better than Zero’s claim of 126 miles. Bottom line is, What they say is what you get!
The DS and S share the same smartphone app, but as intuitive as it is I couldn’t initially pair to the bike. Zero customer support had me up and running within minutes though; flip the Sport/Eco switch a half dozen times with the bike’s kill switch in the off position and kickstand down: connected. The app allows you to apply self-parental guidance in Eco mode such as limiting the top speed which surely helps when you are trying to range test. Other than that, I never left Sport mode, why would you? There are many other functions, download the free app and run the demo.
Charging methods and times are identical for both motorcycles (it’s covered in our S review). Literally plug the bike into any standard outlet in your living room, kitchen, or garage. It makes a great focal point of discussion, center piece, or motorcycle…in that order. Within the next eight hours you’re ready to hit the road on a full charge. You can also plug in additional chargers ($600 each) if your circuits can handle the load—each one cuts charge time in half.
The DS is quite a comparable road warrior to the S without any notable differences. Either bike would suit a rider just fine with the S eking out a few more miles to the charge. You can’t go wrong with either.
The real question: What’s the 20 on the 20 Percent?
Sandy dirt spraying behind me, I jetted from the Bixby Bridge and headed up Old Coast Road. Before 1932 the only way to get to/from Big Sur was via Old Coast Road, a 10 mile hard-packed sandy, dirty, hole-y, washed out, impassible-in-the-rain path that now parallels Highway 1. Where better to test the future of motorcycles but on a derelict old road?
I am not exactly sure this is what Zero meant by 20 percent off-road, but I know the road well having ridden everything on it from streetbikes to supermotos. Riding the uphill, sandy open section with Bixby over my shoulder was what you would expect from any dual sport motorcycle. The bike felt planted, nothing sketchy, and had plenty of torque to throw up a dusty rooster tail.
The rear brake made for an interesting descent as I rode down into the redwood forest. I found myself having to either balance all 125 pounds on the rear brake lever (not advised) or feather the front during the straights. I have the same complaints on the street as I do in the dirt—the rear brake could use some bite. Fortunately, the descents on this public road are not too dicey, so it is easily managed. Add a few more degrees of slope and it would have been a different story.
Further along into the forest I again found myself compromised. More times than not I would either try to avoid potholes and washouts completely or crawl over them. The suspension is quite stiff and while I appreciate that on the street and track I would hope for the bike to absorb some of the beating, too.
I did all 10 miles of Old Coast Road, which proved quite the challenge for the Zero DS. However, the DS still came out on top despite its faults. Many of my complaints were easily managed by either slowing down or riding more cautiously. To be fair, I know I stretched the capabilities of the DS and I am sure this is not the 20 percent Zero is referring to. There is still nothing better than plugging into nature and Zero is the only large-scale manufacturer to offer an electric dual-sport in the USA.
If I was ready to drop 16 large and had to make up my mind on either the S or DS I would personally choose the S. I am confident that anywhere the DS can go the S won’t be too far behind. I am comfortable taking a streetbike on hard-packed dirt so I”m confident I could do the little bit of exploring that I would want to. And finally the S offers slightly better range and a smaller front tire, allowing me to push it more on the street or track. Because of these reasons I would choose the S model, but if you lived in an area with a lot of single track or owned a few hundred acres you would be at home on the DS.
See more of Thomas Gray’s photography at his website.