Recently, I got the chance to ride an electric sportsbike made by Zero Motorcycles on Zero demo day at Coleman Powersports in Falls Church.  Founded in Santa Cruz, California, Zero Motorcycles offers four models, from the enduro-style FX to the SR streetfighter.  Like an electric car, electric bikes are clean to ride and efficient, but what is it really like to ride one? Could a traditional gas-powered sportsbike owner truly enjoy the electric ride?

I demoed two models, the Zero S and the Zero SR. Featured here is the Zero S, “developed to aggressively take on urban environments while encouraging the occasional detour” –Zero Motorycles. Sitting on the bike was comfortable and noticeably upright, unlike the race bikes I’m accustomed to. The bike was not surprisingly narrow, since there’s no gas tank nor combustion engine.

Zero S Specs:
103 miles per charge, city (w/out optional power tank)
Top speed: 95 mph
Max torque: 68 ft/lb
Max power: 54 hp @4,300 RPM
Typical cost to recharge: $0.96
Charge from 0-95%: 5.5 hours (w/out optional power tank)
Weight: 367 lbs (w/out optional power tank)
Seat height: 31.8 inches
MSRP: $12,995 – $17,490

Each bike has a similarly large display, featuring power level, speed, time, an odometer, mode and battery temperature. Most of the bikes have three riding modes: Economy, Sports, and Custom, which you can change with the quick double tap of the mode button with your throttle thumb.

Demo riders were reminded that there is no clutch; to just turn the key and twist the throttle. This, for me, was strange–but change can be good!

Power inlet on the left side of the frame, to use with a normal 110-volt outlet.

Zero Motorycle drive train
Next up: the Zero SR, the fastest and most powerful of the Zero line. I was really excited to ride this bike, capable of going from 0-60 in 3.3 seconds. The Zero Motorcycles rep claimed that this bike could beat a Suzuki GSXR in a 1/4 mile drag race.  

Zero SR Specs:
137 miles per charge, city (w/out optional power tank)
Top speed: 102 mph
Max torque: 106 ft/lb
Max power: 67 hp @4,000 RPM
Typical cost to recharge: $1.28
Charge from 0-95%: 7.4 hours (w/out optional power tank)
Weight: 407 lbs (w/out optional power tank)
Seat height: 31.8 inches
MSRP: $16,995 – $19,490

And we’re off! Which sounds a lot more exciting than our departure from the motorcycle lot: these bikes are quieter than church mice. The lack of engine noise is a frequent complaint of any electric vehicle owner–at least at first. I found it calming, and almost stealth, to ride through residential streets seemingly unnoticed. However, riding unnoticed is not the name of the motorcycle safety game, so I found myself much more aware and alert of myself and other vehicles, while approaching speeds up to 65 mph.  Also, speaking to my fellow riders at a stop light, instead of shouting over a muffler, was ridiculously easy.
Riding in Northern Virginia, especially during rush hour, will leave the typical rider waiting at a fair number of red lights, quickly raising the temperature of a running gas-powered bike to more than 200 degrees. But even after four straight minutes at a red light, the temperature of my S and SR models never exceeded 127 degrees F.

Along with the cool battery came cool legs; look ma, no exhaust pipe!

In lieu of a gas tank, the Zero bikes feature a deep, removable lunch box-like trunk.

So what was it like? Riding a Zero motorcycle is insanely quiet but smooth, and braking was effective and seamless. Acceleration was responsive, but never felt as immediately responsive as a manually geared bike, not even close. There’s an inherent power in determining and feeling your motorcycle’s gears and mastering your bike’s performance between each pull of the clutch. I admit, this opinion could be a product of years of sportsbike riding and the physical sense of your bike’s gear and engine power, markedly absent on a clutchless electric bike. The lack of manual gears would take a while to get used to, but I think it’s an incredibly effective commuter motorcycle. Racing?…that’s another story entirely.