Not using a drop of fuel is just half the fun although highway speed needs work.
Wayne Gerdes - CleanMPG
- Dec. 14, 2009
2009 Zero S – $9,950 not including tax credits and rated at an eye popping 455 mpgUS
Having seen our first Zero X Motorcycle at the 2009 Chicago International Motorcycle Show
last February, it has been my desire to ride the soon-to-be-released, beautiful, and lightweight Supermoto-styled Zero S. To actually ride a Zero for a review took some doing, however. After months of emails and phone calls to Zero’s HQ near San Francisco, it all came down to when the bikes were finally on the street. The local Zero Motorcycle reps Mike Mastrangelo and Susie Serafini-Oniel received their Zero S less than a month ago. Although the late November, Northern IL weather and temperatures were not completely cooperative, Mike graciously allowed me to take his bike for a spin.
Zero Motorcycle History
The founder and CTO of Zero Motorcycles, Neal Saiki, has a background in engineering and aerodynamics which he put to good use working for NASA. With experience gained in lightweight metallurgy, he developed a multitude of commercial and consumer vehicles from airplanes and helicopters to mass production of his own mountain climbing gear and mountain bikes. While continuing to develop some of the most advanced mountain bikes in the world, his attention was drawn to another idea whose time has come.
The Zero Electric Motorcycle has been a work in progress over the previous 6 years. Neal started his dream of an all-electric motorcycle in his garage and later formed the company Electrocross (now Zero Motorcycles) in January of 2006.
“I did not create this motorcycle in a vacuum,” Neal said, “I did not just take a gas powered motorcycle and stick a battery pack in it. It was really a ground up design which involved a lot of skills, a lot of product development that I have been doing for over 20 years. It was my desire to combine my research at NASA with my love of motorcycles.”
Why Electric? High power availability with much lighter weight, vastly improved efficiency and simplicity with a rotor moving within a magnetic field compared to a gasoline engine.
Similarly, why a motorcycle? “Motorcycles are just more fun than cars,” Neal added.
2009 Zero Motorcycles Zero S – The Li-Ion battery
All Zero’s are built around the proprietary “Z-Force” pack. The pack is built using old school, steel encased cylindrical cells sourced from a Canadian company. What makes the bike work as well as it does is the Li-ion pack's current and power output capability, due mainly to a non-welded tab design in which the high current capacity conductors (up to 300 Amps) are attached to the cell terminals mechanically.
Pack longevity? Under normal use the battery is expected to last about 5 years. If you take care of the battery pack by allowing smaller discharge cycles and plugging it in after every ride, much longer.
2009 Zero Motorcycles Zero S - Price, Performance, Instrumentation and Specifications as tested
MSRP: $9,950 with a $995 tax credit currently available.
The Zero S offers a 0 to 30 mph time of approximately 2 seconds which works very well with local traffic. Unfortunately, the previously promised 70 mph, then 60 mph, then 55 mph top speed has been periodically reduced from initial promotion to final production. The Zero S in 40 to 50 degree F temps was capable of just 52 mph.
An analog and digital speedometer, odometer, trip A and B odometers and a SoC meter are included in the S’s modern-looking instrument panel. Why Zero includes both an analog and digital speedometer readout is unclear.
Hi-Lo beam red toggle lever and the instrument panel during boot up sequence.
A great addition is the red, Hi/Low beam toggle lever. No longer will you have to flip the Hi/Low beam toggle button up and down manually. Simply pull back and release for a cycle. Very forward thinking and a much appreciated addition to the motorcycle.
The bike's full specifications can be viewed in the Zero Motorcycles 2009 Zero S Specifications
2009 Zero Motorcycles Zero S - First ride
Sunday morning motorcycle gathering place near North Chicago, IL.
After making arrangements with Mike Mastrangelo, the Zero Motorcycles Midwest Rep, it was time to take his Zero S on a short ride from a local haven for riders from all over Lake County, IL.
Amongst a backdrop of big-bore Harley’s, BMW’s, Ducati’s, Honda’s, Kawasaki’s and Yamaha’s, the all-electric Zero S was parked by its lonesome and garnered the most attention. It is not only striking in appearance but thanks to its all-electric propulsion, it is noiseless and emission-free while representing the future of transportation.
A few minutes of discussion amongst the many onlookers and some direction and insight about the Zero S’ details from Mike, it was time to don my Aerostich Darien gear, BMW Ralleye GS2 boots and Cross Gloves, and Arai XD-3 helmet.
2009 Zero Motorcycles Zero S - Ergonomics, Performance, Ride and Handling
The Zero S’ appearance as can be seen in the various pics is top notch. The all aluminum frame and swingarm with the all white plastic fairings and fenders make the Zero S Supermoto really stand out from the crowd.
- The first thing you will notice when throwing a leg over is how the seat height at 35.5” is made for a somewhat taller rider. Sitting side by side with other Dual Sport, Supermoto or Cruiser reveals a bike of shorter stature however. Next you will reach for the S’s controls and find the lack of a left hand clutch and gear selector. Interesting paradigm shift and after a minute or two, you will never give it another thought.
The Zero S’s sportbike-oriented forward leaning ergonomics.
Seating is a bit odd as this supermoto feels more like a sport bike in both leg, body and arm position. If you stand up on the pegs as a dual sport rider might, you will find this is a sit down bike under all circumstances. Given Neal’s mountain bike background, the forward leaning layout is understandable but most supermotos have a more upright riding position.
Seat comfort is an area that most dual sport and supermoto manufacturers skimp and the Zero S is no different. The seat is minimalist and rock hard. For a 30 minute ride, it is really not a problem but any longer and you will long for a cruiser's shaped and padded seat to comfort the ole backside.
- Once the S has been booted up, the power switch has been moved to ON, and the kick stand has been pulled up to release the bike's controller, you are ready to roll. And thus began our first experience of the future! Simply roll on the throttle and the S moves off abruptly and almost silently.
Initial throttle roll on or Tip-in is buttery smooth from a dead stop all the way up to max output. From 0 to approximately 48 mph, acceleration is very linear with decreasing performance as the electric motor begins to peak. During acceleration and steady state at any speed, the Zero S is so smooth and quiet you will be looking at the speedometer just to make sure you are accelerating or riding along at your expected speed. The only thing you will hear is a slight motor whine below 3 mph and a very small amount of chain lash as the chain guide keeps things quiet underneath. As I struggle to describe the noise of a chain running through a chain guide, hopefully you have an idea as to how quiet the S truly is! In particular, the S’s NVH is exemplary by comparison to any 250 – 800 cc bike when running up through the gears or riding at any steady state speed with only the wind around your helmet disturbing the eerie silence of the S underneath.
The working end of the Zero S
Zero S’ Top End Performance
Left and right sides of its high RPM motor.
- When anyone thinks of a street bike, consideration for highway riding is a must. This is an area where the Zero S fails to deliver. Like most CleanMPG reviews, 0 to 60 mph is not that important a requirement as long as the vehicle can get out of its own way amongst traffic. The Zero S exceeds this requirement around town as it has enough acceleration for stop light to stop light city/suburban commuting without issue. In the urban jungle of Anytown, USA, the Zero S’s high torque at low RPM and low NVH allows a wonderful experience and is actually a joy to ride.
Out on the Interstate however, the S’s top end of 52 mph when tapped out is simply too low to comfortably take on the highway. Its all-highway range reduction by up to half of its maximum stated is not much of a problem as long as you know the all-electric S’s range limitations. Its top end however is unacceptable as you approach 48 mph when the Zero S begins to run out of steam much like an internal combustion engine-equipped bike that has been revved beyond its torque curve. The S does not fall off abruptly but there is simply not much left. All said, taking the Zero S out on the highway is an undertaking best left to a future variant with another 10 to 15 mph available on top.
Ride and Handling
- Handling is best described as quick. Probably too much so but with a limited top end, there really is no reason for additional rake and trail. A small amount of countersteer above 15 mph and she will lay over and head in your intended direction of travel without a second thought.
Regarding ride, from the factory and for my weight, the rear shock rebound damping was too sluggish and the front end compression damping too light with plenty of dive when on the binders strong. There are front and rear end adjustments available but my time on the bike was too limited to customize it for my needs.
- The horn is about average for a bike. A bit underpowered for what I would really like but nothing different than most other manufacturers' horns.
The S’s mirrors are small and placed so that you will not look around your arms; you look between your body and your arms to see behind. Zero needs to work on mirror location.
Lighting - The Zero S does not include any LED’s (yet) but for the front light, it has a DRL based off a small bulb. The three-position light switch can shut down the head light, tail lights and DRL.
The Zero S lacks a helmet lock and rear rack/grab handle (which would be useful to move/load and secure the bike during trailering).
Bootup key and steering lock location.
The location of the key on the top of the tank looks a bit out of place as if Zero was looking for someplace convenient to place it? Additionally, to engage the front wheel steering lock, you have to place the key in sideways between the top plastic fairing and the top fork tube.
2009 Zero Motorcycles Zero S “Electricity Economy” Results
Along with an approximate 20-mile city/suburban ride and early impressions, it was time to charge up the pack and begin the serious business of reviewing the Zero S along with its all-electric range.
Given the lack of top end, I chose a night time ride route consisting of 35 to 45 mph roadways heading north while paralleling Lake Michigan before heading west to home. From an initial 12 bars of Soc, I arrived after 23.1 miles with 4 bars of SoC depleted in high 30 to low 40 degree temps.
A location you will never see a Zero S __________________________
23.1 miles out when shutdown for the night.
A ride around Northern Lake County’s country roads showed the Zero S with 41.7 miles.
With 5 bars of SoC left, a bit of E-Reserve and just 15 miles to make it home, no problem...
At 49.5 miles out and still almost 7 miles from home, I was greeted with a blinking 2 bars of SoC on the display. Drop the S’s speed to the low teens and begin to ride the edge or paved shoulder allowing traffic from behind to pass cleanly.
A blinking 1 bar of SoC appeared at just 51.0 miles and I was still 5.7 miles out.
A blinking gas mimic with 0 bars of SoC appeared at 53.8 miles and I still have almost 3 miles to go. The last 2 bars of SoC literally disappeared in just 4 miles
An Emergency Reserve beep began at 54.6 miles and I still had 2 miles ahead of me.
At 55.2 miles, the pack was empty and I began the long 1.5 mile walk home in gear with the 270 pound Zero S at my side. This was no fault of the Zero S as I was pushing its range envelope to its practical limits... Quite literally I might add
55.2 miles out and the Zero S has no electrical power left.
Immediately after arriving home, I begin the charging process to gain insight into Zero’s charging profile.
8.34 Amps - 1003 W - .03 kWh less than a minute after charging commenced.
The Zero S’s onboard charger is a 1,000 W unit that will bring the pack up to approximately 3.9 kWh at a full 9-amps over a 3:40 (hours : minutes) charging period. Between 3:40 and 4:00, the charger input/output (minus charger losses of course) drops from an initial approximate 1,000 W at 9 Amps down to approximately 140 W at 1.25 Amps in a very steady ramp down which brings the pack up to just beyond 4 kWh. Over the next approximately 10 minutes, the charging profile continued to hold that 140W at 1.25 Amps and immediately switched to a standard trickle charge at 5W and .11 Amps. The final kWh in according to the Kill A Watt was 4.15 kWh over 4:09 when taking the Zero S’s Li-Ion pack from empty to full SoC.
Final Trickle Charge with .11 A - 5 W and 4.15 kWh in over 4 hours and 9 minutes.
Final: 55.2 miles on 4.15 kWh = 13.3 miles/kWh
What we do not know is if the actual Li-Ion pack was at a true 0% SoC or if the controller was holding actual at around 20% in order to protect the packs longevity.
Did the Zero S meet its specs
First is the penny per mile claim. My local electricity rate is ~ $0.12/kWh after all the delivery charges, taxes, service and supply fees: (4.15 kWh * $0.12/kWh)/55.2 miles = $0.00902/mile
It certainly did. Consider a vehicle like the 2008 Honda CRF230L
we tested last fall. Even with its 128 mpg Review FE, it would cost ($2.70/gallon)/(128 miles/gallon) = $0.02109/mile and this is the most fuel efficient vehicle we have ever reviewed! Additionally, the Zero S did not consume a single ounce of fuel from either a foreign or domestic source. Great news indeed!
Did the Zero S charge in under 4 hours? From a Soc so low it could not move the Zero S another foot to a fully topped off Li-Ion pack in 4:09, it just missed. However, that last 10 minutes of charging simply topped off the pack in as gentle a manner as the onboard charger could be programmed and added only another 25 Wh. Since 4 kWh was consumed from the outlet at the 4:00 mark, it was certainly close enough.
One last high speed run
The route to take the Zero S back after the full charge consisted of 15 miles of 45 to 55 mph PSL roadway in the standard Northern Chicago Suburb rush hour traffic. There was enough traffic side with everyone doing the standard Chicago “Slice and Dice” for the Zero S to hold a steady 55 mph without being in that soft and nothing left area. Once the vehicle packs cleared from the side or ahead, the bike would drop back down to 45 + mph to maintain that same level of confidence. Although bars of SoC do not display an accurate representation of what the pack holds (SoC is apparently a simple terminal voltage conversion), over 18 miles of this “ON IT” riding, the Zero S’ SoC fell from 11 to 7 bars.
2009 Zero Motorcycles Zero S - Conclusions
Given a “fuel free” range of over 55 miles in high 30 to high 40 degree temps, the Zero S proved its range capability in city/suburban stop light to stop light-type roadways. As temperatures rise, even more range should be available and with an outlet at work, over 80% of today’s commuters could easily make it back and forth with range to spare.
Unfortunately, the Zero S needs at least another 10 mph top end and a few thousand $’s lower cost to meet the Battery Electric Motorcycle (BEM) promise of an inexpensive and emissions free local commuter. Our reluctance to recommend this fantastic all-electric bike is disheartening given that in anything below 45 mph you will enjoy it immensely. It is when you ride up to a freeway entrance ramp that you realize your ride will be a far less relaxed one in order to arrive at your next destination safely.
The strictly off road Zero Motorcycles Zero X, MX and on/off road DS all-electric bikes would be truly wonderful companions as long as there is no highway involved.
About that 455 mpgUS EPA estimate... It is based off an obscure EPA formula in which there is 33.705 kWh/gallon of gasoline. When operating a Zero S from full to discharged, the Zero S “should
” consume 3.7 kWh. Based on EPA estimates, 3.7 kWh is .10978 gallons and with a 50-mile range, 50/.10978 = 455 MPG equivalent.
Zero Motorcycle's Future
I was assured all items on the Zero S’s tick list (including more top end, more useable mirrors, more comfortable seat, an improved steering wheel lock, and location for a rear rack/grab handle) are currently being looked at and worked on by the Zero Motorcycles team. With rumors of a 2010 Zero S including a more powerful output allowing for higher speeds, I am very much looking forward to the next revision. Once proven, the Zero S should be a consideration for just about everyone.
For those that have purchased a Zero in the past, Zero Motorcycles will provide upgrades to the pack, controller and motor, albeit for a cost. This is a promise you will never hear from a major Asian or Taiwanese manufacturer and yet another way that Zero thinks outside the box.
With the ongoing threat of higher gas prices in the future and the ever-present problem associated with this country's addiction to someone else’s oil, the Zero Motorcycle lineup will become more attractive as time goes by. I am very much looking forward to their next all-electric bike and I hope you are too.
Individuals behind the scenes
Mike Mastrangelo and Susie Serafini-Oniel displaying the Zero X at
the 2009 Chicago International Motorcycle Show earlier this year.
I want to thank both Midwest Zero Motorcycle reps, Mike Mastrangelo and Susie Serafini-Oniel, for their time, energy and effort to provide CleanMPG the opportunity to ride the Zero S. I also want to thank Ashley Garing of Driven Media, Zero’s Media Communications contractor, for the quick replies and answers to emails whenever asked. And of course the entire Zero Motorcycles staff who have brought us the bike of the future today.