The fully electric Zero S is unlike any other bike on the market, and I am going to approach this review unlike any review I’ve written before.
I am going to focus on the two most obvious questions about any electric vehicle: how fast and how far does it go.
First, let’s get a number of lesser questions out of the way. Is it a real motorcycle? Yes. Does it handle like a real motorcycle? Yes. Does it feel like a real motorcycle? Yes. Is it exciting? Very – it would probably out-accelerate most sub-1000cc bikes. Is it green? No, it’s black, but it doesn’t use a lot of fossil fuel.
IS IT PRACTICAL?
Is it practical? Therein, as they say, lies the crunch.
On the plus side, the Zero gives a practical range on a single charge. On the minus side, it takes long to charge: about seven hours from flat to fully charged.
What this means is that while it makes the bike eminently practical as commuter or a urban runabout, it is definitely not suitable for long distances.
IMAGE GALLERY: 2015 Zero S electric bike tested
Why do I say that? Let’s look at the numbers. I commute between my home in Pretoria to my office in Johanessburg, a total distance of 114km per day.
I cover the bulk of that distance on the N1. On roughly 40% of my route, traffic is light enough to allow me to maintain 120km/h. My speed on the remainder ranges between 30km/h and 80km/h, depending on the level of congestion. Under these conditions, I used on average 98% of the battery’s capacity to work and back.
Read: 2015 SA Bike of the Year finalists
That means that under the conditions I tested the bike, I would only just be able to make it on a single charge, but with very little reserve power. But this still doesn’t really give a proper picture of what you can expect.
The Zero has three modes: eco, sport and custom. Eco mode is limited to 40% of the bike’s torque and a top speed of 114 km/h. Custom mode is user adjustable (I settled for 45% torque and 130km/h speed limit).
Sport mode, as you would expect, doesn’t impose any limits. Riding in eco mode, a round trip would use 94% of the battery’s power, while in custom mode it wouldn’t be doable, because it would require 102% of the capacity. For me this was a moot point, because I was able to recharge the bike at work. It would take roughly four hours to replace the power I used in each direction.
Another caveat is the fact that I tested the bike in winter. With battery efficiency dropping sharply in cold conditions, it is possible that I would be able to do the round trip on a single charge in custom mode in summer. Things also change drastically if you bring the speed down.
In urban conditions, where you rarely exceed 80km/h, the bike would probably come close to the manufacturer’s claimed range of 160km. If you live within 20km from your office you would be able to commute for more than a week on a single charge.
Living with the bike on a day-to-day basis turned out to be quite easy. It charges through what looks like a 3m-long kettle cord which you plug into a normal wall socket. I would ride to work and plug it in to charge. If I needed to go anywhere during the course of the day, I would simply unplug the bike, run my errand and plug it in again on my return.
At the end of the day I would go home, and plug it in to charge overnight. If you run your errands in an urban area, and hour’s charge is good around 30-50km range.
WHAT'S THE COST?
The crunch comes with the bike’s price. R159 900 for the 12.5kWh Zero S I tested seems expensive for a bike that is little more than a commuter, but when you consider the running costs the perception changes somewhat. The electricity for my daily commute cost me around R16, Over a month (I worked on 25 days because I don’t ride a lot over weekends) it would cost me R400. My monthly petrol spend is R1900, R1500 more than the same distance would cost on the Zero.
To make it even more attractive, Cayenne World, official importers Zero motorcycles, offer a deal consisting of an installment of R1950 per month, including a three-year service plan and guaranteed buy-back after three years at 60% of the original price. In addition, there is a five-year or 160 000km warranty on the battery.
Running an electric vehicle from South Africa’s less-than-stellar electricity supply is not without challenges but you can plan your charging around load-shedding. It’s also worth remembering that you don’t always need a a full charge – a partial charge may be enough to get you home.
As far as the practicality of electric bikes is concerned, I think the current Zero bikes represent the tipping point – from here onwards things will only get better: battery efficiencies are constantly improving, charging times will come down, and maybe we’ll one day see quick-charge points at filling stations. I believe electric bikes are here to stay.
I have seen the future, and it is rechargeable.
BIKE OF THE YEAR
The number of finalists for the 2015 SA Bike of the Year has more than doubled.
As has become customary, a panel of 14 South African motorcycling journalists, drawn from a variety of publications, will have three days to test the cream of SA's biking crop before casting their votes.
Judging will be held over August 12-14 and Wheels24's Van der Walt is a member of the judging panel.
Wheels24 readers can vote for their favourite bike and stand a chance to win one of three R500 shopping vouchers. You can also vote - independently of the prize competition - on our home page voting booth.
Manufacturer: Zero Motorcycles
Model: S (ZF 12.5)
Type: Z-Force 75-7 passively air-cooled, high efficiency, radial flux permanent magnet, brushless motor
Maximum Power: 40kW @ 4300 rpm
Maximum Torque: 92Nm
Power pack: Z-Force Li-Ion intelligent
Charger: 1.3kW, integrated
Type: Clutchless direct drive
Final drive: 132T / 28T, Poly Chain GT Carbon belt
Wheel base: 55.5 in (1410mm)
Seat height: 31.8 in (807mm)
Curb weight: 185kg
Front: Bosch Gen 9 ABS, J-Juan asymmetric dual piston floating caliper, 320 x 5 mm disc
Rear: Bosch Gen 9 ABS, J-Juan single piston floating caliper, 240 x 4.5 mm disc
Front: Showa 41mm inverted cartridge forks, with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear: Showa 40mm piston, piggy-back reservoir shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
WHEELS & TYRES
Tyre, front: Pirelli Sport Demon 110/70-17
Tyre, rear: Pirelli Sport Demon 140/70-17
PRICE: R159 900