Santa Cruz, California-based Zero Motorcycles launched its new supermoto-style electric streetbike last month and gave Cycle News an exclusive look at it. The clutchless one-speed Zero S is powered by a brushed permanent magnet electric motor with a proprietary lithium-ion battery pack called Z-Force, which was developed by Zero's founder Neal Saiki. One of the early pioneers of modern mountain-bike suspension, Saiki says the Z-Force is the smallest, lightest lithium-ion battery pack to be used in a vehicle in the world.

It's been dangerous in the past to cluster more than 10 of this type of battery together because of the heat they generate, but Saiki says he figured out a way to group 334 in his unit safely and efficiently. He says he built a lot of safety mechanisms into the system, including a computer processor that monitors the system 24/7, and each battery has a fuse so that if things get too hot, the batteries will disconnect themselves.

The Zero S has a claimed 31 horsepower and 62.5 foot-pounds of torque. According to the spec sheet, the bike can get to its top speed of 60 mph in less than four seconds, although the speedometer was not hooked up on the model that Zero brought from its Santa Cruz-based facility.

When you first roll on the throttle, there's a small bit of a hesitation, and then the Zero S launches smoothly and silently. There's no engine braking whatsoever, which makes for a strange sensation when you let off the throttle - as the bike doesn't slow down until you squeeze the brake lever or press the foot-brake pedal. We'd like it if those hydraulic front two-pot and rear one-pot brakes were a tad stronger, especially for the unpredictable conditions of urban riding. Saiki says they are probably going to offer better brakes to customers later, and that the company is on a mission to constantly improve and update the bike.

The Z-Force is easy to disconnect and install and can be sent back to Santa Cruz for software updates or repair. The rest of the bike is made from "standard" parts, so it is not necessary to find a Zero technician to service the suspension, brakes or wheels.
The inexpensive stock tires on the Zero S are 110/70-16 on front and 140/70-16 on back, and customers who want to do more than ride around the block may want to swap them out first thing for a more familiar brand.

A replacement Z-Force power pack is a bit costly, at $2950, but it should last five to six years with average use - and you won't need oil changes or valve adjustments.

The seat height of the Zero S is 35.5 inches, and that might seem on the tall side for some, but with its overall light weight of 225 pounds, it's easy to handle and get the Zero S turned on a dime.

It takes three or four hours to fully charge the streetbike from a standard 110- or 220-volt outlet, and that charge will keep you rolling for about an hour. You can let it sit for several months and it will hold that charge.

With its limited mileage capability, it is not a bike for everyone. However, this is a fun around-the-neighborhood bike, and it is also an excellent option for someone who has a less-than-50-mile commute in a congested city. A college student could plug in the bike between classes and not have to do endless laps looking for a spot on busy campuses. It is a comfortable ride, with plenty of get-up-and go for those types of riding conditions. It costs under a cent per mile to operate, not to mention the benefits it offers against the growing air-quality and noise-pollution problems.

Saiki says there's already a waiting list of more than 100 for the 2009 streetbike.

"We're shipping orders almost as fast as customers are placing them," Saiki said.

But you can't get one from a dealer; Zero shies away from selling its bikes through dealers because, as Saiki explained, the dealers didn't explain the technology well enough or provide good customer service, so Zero decided to leave out the middle man.

Priced at $9950 (plus $500 for shipping anywhere in the continental United States), the Zero S also qualifies for the recently approved 10-precent Federal plug-in-vehicle tax credit and a sales-tax deduction, as well as other state-based incentives. This effectively reduces the final cost of purchase by a minimum of almost $1000. The Zero S complies with all street and highway motorcycle standards and can be licensed for the road in most countries.

 

Michelle Baird

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