Carving the canyons on the electric 2013 Zero DS is easy, exhilarating and quiet. Photography By Andrea Wilson
I’m not naïve and cocky enough… okay, I’m not naïve enough to think that someone from Zero read my test of the 2011 Zero DS and built a bike that would shut me up once and for all. But they seem to have done just that.
Reading back on my write-up of the bike from two years ago, I complained with good reason that the bike wouldn’t get me from home to work and back on a single charge. And it wasn’t like I lived far. How about 28 miles? Too much to ask?
If I rode it in, charged it up all day while at work and rode it home again it was fine. But the round-trip? Forget about it. In fact, it ran out just short of home at the 27.6-mile mark. Talk about buzz kill. And I’m not even talking about the full day at work part.
I also stated that the bike wasn’t fast enough. I wanted to feel more speed, more acceleration. I wanted to feel it in my chest when I grabbed a handful from a light. I wanted to feel safe on the freeway that I could zip past the make-up applying supermodel before she sent her next text. Basically I wanted to go farther. Faster.
Damn it, I wanted to beat a Prius in a straight fight. Well, get in line.
In the world of electric motorcycles that’s what everyone wants (okay, not the part about the Prius). More speed and more mileage… the Holy Grail of electric motorcycles.
The Zero DS has undergone some cosmetic changes over the years, but it's the changes in performance and mileage that have truly made the Zero relevant.
But in the two years since I sampled the 2011 DS, Zero has taken massive steps toward exactly that. They’ve made the Zero go farther and they’ve made it go faster. They’ve basically given me what I asked for. And, yes, it will smoke the rear tire.
To be honest, I had my doubts when Zero dropped off the DS for our test. Then I rode the bike. And, voila… no more doubts – at least in terms of its performance prowess. But I still had more questions than answers.
The newest incarnation of the Zero does take your breath away and it does accelerate hard enough that you do feel it in your chest – even if you don’t hear it. And it’s fun to ride… it was before and it is even more so now.
But what about the mileage? That’s the part that still made me squirm. That’s the part that chapped my hide the last time I tested the Zero.
I’d read the press kit, saw that it was capable of traveling up to 126 miles. At what speed? It meant nothing to me. I’d seen this movie before and the last time it resulted in me and the 2011 DS getting picked up by a friend with a pick-up truck about .46 of a mile from home. Claims are claims… and I didn’t care about 126 miles at whatever non-hooligan speeds that would come at.
I wanted 60 miles at normal speeds, normal traffic, normal roads. Normal dude riding it. So what does a guy do when he wants to find out if the new DS will do just that? He gives it to his associate Kit Palmer to ride home from Irvine to Redlands. He sends him on his merry way and then he prays. And waits.
Then the text arrives. “Made it. 62 miles. No problem and this thing is a lot of fun.”
That’s all I needed to know.
Later that night, Kit charged it up and the next day he rode it back to work, this time he got it down to just a few bars on the meter as his speeds where higher than on the way home when he was lane splitting, etc.
Again, he was smiling. And, again, he’d made it 62 miles.
To me that’s a game changer. The bike was already fun, but now it was faster and it was capable of going over 60 miles while ridden fairly hard. Now it really could be thought of as an option to the other bikes that fill our shop.
So how did Zero get it to this point?
Well, the DS is based on the 2013 Zero S. That means it comes with the new Z-Force motor and with Zero’s claims of being 93 percent more powerful with 62 percent more torque (a claimed 54 horsepower and 68 foot pounds of torque) and 13 percent greater range in the city. It’s important to note that electric bikes aren’t like your regular motorcycle in that cruising on the highway at 65 mph actually goes through the battery faster than the stop-light-to-stoplight barrage faced on a city commute. Thus Zero claims 126 miles of city riding vs. 76 miles on the freeway on a single charge, which Zero says is 25 percent faster now while still using standard outlets.
Our Zero DS was powered by the bigger and more expensive 11.4 kWh battery pack.
The DS is available with two different battery options: The longer life 11.4 kWh unit (good for a claimed 316,000 miles) or the standard 8.5 kWh package (good for a claimed 237,000 miles). It takes 7.9 hours to fully charge the 11.4 and 6.0 hours to charge the 8.5. With an optional accessory, you can charge your DS at CHAdeMO charging stations in one hour or less according to Zero.
What the heck is CHAdeMo, you ask? Well it actually stands for "CHArge de Move," or to "charge for moving." With the accessory costing $1799 to make it so you can use the CHAdeMO, we’re guessing it could also stand for CHA-de-CHING! But if you’re in a hurry and you’ve got almost two large in your pocket, it’s probably worth it. Or if you’re light on cash, you may be able to charge it… ba-da-boom. Okay, that’s enough.
And the DS now goes 95 mph. Okay… a claimed 95 mph. I can only vouch for 85 mph before I opted to back out of it for obvious reasons. But it’s plenty fast and it’s really the torque you notice most as it’s got arm-pulling power never experienced before on an electric bike. It’s also got two modes – Sport and Economy – that you switch on the front of the bike. To be fair, Kit rode the bike in Economy mode, but even he will attest to the fact the bike still has plenty of get up and go even in its juice-saving mode.
What about the rest of the bike? Since we’ve gone over how it goes, let’s talk about how it stops. The brakes have been upgraded to a two-piston 310mm hydraulic disc up front and a 220mm single-piston Nissin at the back. The front is adequate, but the rear brake is a joke. I thought the pads were glazed over or something was “missin’ from the Nissin,” but it turns out they are just horrible brakes. Even stomping on the rear brake won’t make it lock up. I didn’t miss it while riding on the street, but it’d be nice to have a rear brake that works for the times you might want to take it off-road.
And we did take our test unit on the dirt, though mainly on a jeep trail for a few miles. Although you wouldn’t want to motocross it (there’s the Zero MX for that), the DS does just fine on the dirt. Again, a better rear brake would do wonders.
The suspension is better suited for the street than the dirt, but it handled some of the rough stuff just fine – even with a photographer on the back. The rear shock offers 7.69 inches of travel with the front 38mm upside-down fork giving you 7.0 inches. Both feature adjustability. The DS also gets uprated tires this year – a 100/90-19 up front and a 130/80-17 at the rear.
The new DS looks good, with a tall, semi-off-road look to it. If it looks tall it’s because it is with a seat height of 34.4 inches. The bike is also hefty (thanks mainly to the battery) with a curb weight of 363 pounds with the smaller battery and 395 pounds with the bigger unit. But it doesn’t feel overly heavy when riding it and our test unit came equipped with the bigger power pack so it was close to 400 pounds. For comparison sakes, a Ninja 300 weighs 379 pounds and a Honda XR650L tips the scale at 346 pounds.
The DS also gets a new frame (the motor is now a stressed member of the frame) for 2013 with a stiffer swingarm and adjustable rear axle. The handlebars are also two inches wider than on the previous model and the footpegs have been uprated. The seat is also new and was comfortable for both operator and passenger – and passenger pegs are now standard.
Our test unit was the green version, but it’s also available in yellow. Both models have blacked-out frames and there’s an integrated, lockable and removable storage compartment inside the fuel tank where the fuel would go if the bike used fuel. Whew.
As if I needed one more use for my iPhone, Zero has come up with one. Yes, you can pretty much control the Zero DS from your iPhone (and Android devices). Using the Zero Motorcycles App and Bluetooth, you can adjust the performance of the bike – making it either sportier or more economical – and also the engine braking. Guessing with the right kind of gloves, you could do all that on the fly. Not even Rossi can do all this from his iPhone.
The App also serves as a useful display when you mount the iPhone in the holder that's located on the handlebars – and it also gives you a more precise reading on your battery life than the meter on the dash display!
So there. I’m pretty much sold on the Zero. The mileage is there, the speed is there and it finally works like a real motorcycle.
And you don’t have to be a nuclear physicist to deal with it. You plug it into the wall, wait until it’s charged and then ride the hell out of it until it needs another charge.
But naysayers will still bring up the hefty price tag (the DS starts at $13,995 for the smaller battery and goes up to $15,995 for the larger one); the fact that electric vehicles aren’t as “green” as they are claimed to be; and that you still have to use power to charge them. True, true and true.
But there is nothing truer than this statement: The 2013 version of the Zero DS is 1000 percent better than the 2011 Zero DS we last rode. And that, my friends, is a fact.
For more on the Zero DS click here.