2012 Zero S electric motorcycle [photo: Ben Rich]
Common wisdom suggests that any battery electric vehicle has to provide 100 miles or more of range on a single charge to be accepted by buyers.
The 2012 Zero-S ZF9 electric motorcycle advertises 114 miles on a single charge at urban speeds, but a recent quick search yielded no results from anyone who has achieved this.
Since I own this very model of motorcycle, I set out on a ride specifically to learn if 100 miles in real driving conditions were possible.
The 2012 Zero-S ZF-9 has substantial upgrades from previous versions, including a new lithium-ion battery pack, the addition of regenerative braking, and a switch that allows the rider to switch between "Eco" mode and "Sport" mode.
In Eco mode, acceleration is calm and smooth to conserve battery power, and the regenerative braking is more aggressive to recapture more energy--approximately 25 percent of the total.
In Sport mode, the acceleration is quick and always available, so you add speed quickly regardless of how fast you're going. Regenerative braking in this mode decreases to about 15 percent.
On Zero rider discussion boards, the general consensus is that to reach 100 miles, riders must stay under 30 mph in completely flat terrain. Most riders, due to range anxiety, have never gone more than 80 miles on a single charge--and they counted battery bars to estimate how far the bike would have gone on a full charge.
But those riders didn't account for the added margin provided by Zero, which made sure there would be some charge remaining even after all the bars disappeared.
During my range-test ride, I traveled up and down the hills of northern New Jersey, climbing a little more than 1,000 feet. Half the ride was spent at speeds above 40 mph.
The route was a mix of local roads and highways, with speed limits from 25 mph to 55 mph. Most of my ride was spent around 45 mph.
Throughout the ride, I used mostly regenerative braking--rarely touching the friction brakes. Flowing with traffic and sticking to the speed limits, there was nothing extraordinary about the ride.
The only difference from normal riding was that I rode in a more aerodynamic position above 45 mph. Motorcycles with riders generate quite a lot of drag, so reducing frontal area makes a significant difference--meaning that range can be cut in half during sustained high-speed travel.
After 65 miles of riding, only two bars of range remained--and they blinked continuously, to remind me to get to a charging station. At 86 miles, the blinking bars were gone and I was still about 5 miles--and one big hill--away from home. The Zero continued to perform normally, however.
2012 Zero S electric motorcycle with owner Ben RichEnlarge Photo
Back in my own neighborhood, I did laps on some local streets for 19 more miles, ending up with a grand total of 105 miles.
While I didn't quite achieve the advertised 114 miles, not only does 105 miles break the century mark, it was ridden in real-world conditions.
Since speed is a critical contributor to using up the range of an electric vehicle, I broke down the average speeds during each mile. The distance test included 18 miles between 20 and 29 mph, 34 miles at 30 to 39 mph, 40 miles at 40-49 mph, and 13 miles above 50 mph.
My conclusion: Zero Motorcycles has built a motorcycle that is not only fun to ride and looks good, but has a real-world range of 100 miles or more.
Note: After taking this ride, I learned that someone else traveled 143 miles on his 2012 Zero S ZF-9. See the video below.
Ben Rich is a teacher in New Jersey who owns a 2012 Zero S electric motorcycle. This is his first article for High Gear Media.