Zip-zapping around the bends

A lot's been happening in the the world of electric motorcycles. Let's hope their fun factor can provide surprise boost to global EV momentum.

Sorry. I just can’t contain my enthusiasm for what is silently happening in the world of electric motorcycles, and the implications for our world.

This month, California’s Zero Motorcycles slipped out a press release on its new 2014 range to coincide with the Milan motorcycle show. Although I haven’t ridden the latest model, yet, the specifications and ride reports from journalists are unanimously positive.

Readers would know that I am excited as a motorcyclist and Zero owner, but mostly for what it means.

The 2014 model has undergone a bunch of suspension, braking, chassis and electronic updates which should address the criticisms of the motorcycle press. More excitingly, this 100 per cent electric motorcycle now has speed, acceleration and range performance that puts it tantalisingly close to a range of conventional motorcycles. In fact, I would suggest (based on my test ride of the 2013 model recently) that a huge proportion of motorcyclists and motorcycle manufacturers are about to get a massive surprise.

It’s going to change their worlds.

Let’s geek it up

I’ll come back to performance in a minute but, for the geeks, the new model has 11.4kWh of lithium ion storage and (very cool) option to add a another 2.8kWh in a newly designed Power Tank.

This is in a bike which weighs 201kg, and provides a range of up to 276km. Top speed is now up to a very respectable 164kmh. With the fast charger, you are refueled in the time it takes to have a coffee and a sandwich after riding for 1½ hours. Battery pack life? 605,000kms. Decent.

This is the first production bike in history to ever have anything like this range and it's selling at under $20,000 in the US. For that price ($1370kWh), it’s almost worth buying just for the storage capacity in home solar systems! 

“Yeah, it’s a solar storage system; it's 100 per cent portable, installs with a plug, requires no protective case and you can take it with you if you move house. Oh, and if you don’t need the energy storage, ride it – the bikes included for free!”

This is really what makes it different and game changing. The performance as a motorcycle is great, more than adequate for a huge proportion of society. But the reality is it can no longer be compared to a motorcycle, in terms of price and performance – you are getting either a free motorcycle or a free 14.5kWh storage system, depending on your needs.

For the sake of the argument, you could split the price of each feature –  which means you now have an outstanding motorcycle for around $10,000 and storage system at $689 kWh, which starts to make great economic sense. And fun.

At 14.5kWh, the Zero has enough energy to meet 70 per cent of the daily power needs of an average Australian home. If you are marginally wise with your energy consumption you could run your entire home and have enough to get to work and back, too, and you would need around 3kW of PV to keep it 100 per cent carbon neutral.


Seat of the pants feel is crucial and until I can get one of these new bikes into Australia and my quivering hands, I can only speculate. But what we can see is that, on paper, this thing is simply stunning. How stunning? Well, I collected a bunch of statistics on other bikes that are around the same $20,000 price range and a few dream machines for good measure, and the result is telling.

Any rider will tell you that seat of the pants fun is typically spelt "t-o-r-q-u-e”. That stump pulling, tire shredding, instant feeling you are on something a little wild and which you need to manage carefully creates exhilaration, fear and respect. If you can ride, it creates punch. So how does a Zero stack up? Out of the 14 bikes I picked, only one bike has more torque – the 2249cc Triumph Rocket. It has 8 per cent more than a 1098cc Ducati Penegale, 38 per cent more than their Hypermotarde, and 56 per cent more than BMW 850 or Honda CBR600F. Check the graph:

Graph for Zip-zapping around the bends

Now, of course, torque is cool but it isn’t everything. The combination of power, torque, weight and power delivery are what makes the difference between bikes. So, we analysed that, too. In outright power terms, this is where many regular bikes still cut the Zero’s lunch. Even taking into account the weight, many bikes have a better power-to-weight ratio. However, in torque-to-weight almost none of them can beat it – this thing delivers a lethal combination of some of the best torque of any motorcycle in a very light package.

Graph for Zip-zapping around the bends

What I also know as an owner is that due to its gearbox-less design, there is no lost time on gear changes – twist and go like hell.

In the real world this means that a 2014 Zero SR can accelerate seamlessly and smoothly from 0-100kmh in an astonishing 3.3 seconds; seriously fast. How fast? Here you go – 116 bikes I could find times for ranging in age, style size and performance.

The Zero places at No.47 with its time alongside 2000 Aprillia SL100, 2011 Ducati Daivel, and 848 Evo. The nearest Harley (renowned for grunt) comes in at position 81 and 4.2 seconds. This bike is comparable to a high-end Porsche and many Ferraris, for those who don’t get bikes.

Graph for Zip-zapping around the bends

Excited? Hell, yes. I’ve already instructed my boys: "Boys – here’s something incredible. By the time you get your license, you won't be riding a petrol powered motorcycle. You will ride fast, cheap, silent electric bikes.” 

The most beautiful thing was their reaction. They stared at me, stared at each other and laughed.

“Yeah dad, duh.”

It’s so blindingly obvious that a five-year-old can see it! It's only five weeks till Christmas, so I need an airfare and a container because they aren’t available in Australia. Yet. Stay tuned.

Nigel Morris is the director of Solar Business Services.

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