Test Drive: Zero Motorcycles’ Electric Zero S

The latest contender in the burgeoning zero-emissions all-electric motorcycle field is here--how does it stack up against the competition?
With a top speed of 70 MPH and an estimated ride time of 45 minutes, the Zero S is true motorcycle in every sense except that it's quiet. Zero Motorcycles

It’s shaping up to be the summer of the electric moto–in addition to Brammo’s Enertia, which we drove last month, Zero Motorcycles has just begun shipping their Zero S all-electric bike. How does the latest battery-powered ride compare? We took one for a spin to find out.

First Impressions
At first glance, both Brammo’s Enertia and Zero’s S cut a thinner, trimmer profile than your average internal combustion motorcycle. The Zero S is a bit thicker through the knees than the Enertia in order to accommodate its custom-built battery pack. And while this heft was designed with a “more is more” consumer mentality in mind, it doesn’t exactly contribute to a, “Boy, this sure is comfy” feeling on the bike.

The Enertia is considerably more refined in this department. Aesthetically, the fairings, framework and electrical layout all contribute to some very clean lines, where the Zero S has a raw and unfinished quality reminiscent of something out of Mad Max. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just depends on your personal style.

Both posses Cheshire-grin-inducing pickup that only an experienced rider could differentiate. But there is a difference: Boasting 20 more pound-feet of torque than the Enertia, the S’s front end could easily come up on a rookie rider with a lead fist. The Enertia’s horsepower, while ample, is no threat to buck its jockey.

The Zero S also boasts a top speed of 70 mph vs. the Brammo’s 55 mph, making the S more highway-friendly. This can come in handy for avoiding those 4-wheeled monsters on the road who won’t necessarily hear you coming up behind them.

Both bikes are extremely fun to throttle in a straight line. The Zero S’s power helps you pull away quicker from danger but the Enertia’s superior handling ability creates a more secure-feeling riding experience.

The Zero S weighs 225 lbs vs. the Enertia’s 280. However, the Enertia’s weight is so well distributed that it feels like a feathery 100 lbs. while in motion. The position and bulk of the S’s battery pack gives the overall sensation of added pounds making it less responsive during evasive maneuvers.

Both bikes are priced a bit higher than a traditional 600CC Japanese machine or a more petrol-friendly scooter. The Enertia, listed at $11,995, is $2,000 more than the $9,950 Zero S, but it does come with the support of Best Buy’s Geek Squad. Overall maintenance costs on the Enertia couldn’t be calculated at this time.

For 10% above the sticker price, the Zero S comes with a 2-year, no-fault warranty. This “anti-waste” warranty, in addition to covering the basic mechanical parts, also covers the batteries (which are not user-swappable). If your Zero S’s battery becomes obsolete within that 2-year span, you can buy the upgraded battery at 50% off. In addition, software upgrades on the S are currently free.

Both are eligible for a 10% federal tax credit as well as state and local benefits.

Green Factor
Both motorcycles are fully electric and produce only the indirect emissions via the electricity necessary to charge them. The Brammo Enertia uses a more “off-the-shelf” lithium iron-phosphate batteries, while the Zero S’s Lithium-manganese battery is custom-built and accounts for 50% of the machine’s overall price tag.

Brammo claims a life span of 75,000 miles, depending on usage, for each of their six power packs and in addition to being recyclable, Brammo believes that each unit could be utilized in another electrical power format afterwards.

Zero’s battery cell technology is encased almost entirely in copper, which disperses cell-damaging heat 5 times more effectively than most steel housing units. This pricey engineering decision leads to a longer cell life-span, Zero hopes. In addition, Zero is claiming 100% recyclability and landfill approval in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Final Decision
All told, there is something for everyone in each of these machines. Personal taste, rider experience and economics are all important factors when considering either.

As for me, this city-slick art director must side with his aesthetic sense and the Brammo Enertia. The Zero S’s is just a little too rough around the edges, corners and my posterior, but it’s a great lead into what is quickly becoming a nicely fleshed out category of bikes.