Can A 2012 Zero S Electric Motorcycle Really Cover 100 Miles?

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 Rich

2012 Zero S electric motorcycle with owner Ben Rich

Enlarge 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.


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Comments (9)
  1. I would advise experimenters to drive down an interstate and use their mileage markers (and 1/8th mile markers) to see how accurate the bike's speedometer is before concluding what range they actually achieved. I would drive a minimum of 20 miles to
    get an accurate reading. Once you know your speedometers error (which could turn out to be either optimistic or pessimistic), then what you achieved on the 100 mile trip can be adjusted accordingly. You may well have traveled 114 miles on your test trip.

  2. Kent, do you mean odometer and not speedometer? Is it even legal to sell a vehicle that doesn't have a accurate odometer?

  3. Seems like it would be easier to just use a GPS device. I got a couple different ones on my cell phone for free.

  4. I also used a GPS device with the app "Cyclemeter" on an iPhone and it showed that I traveled 102.5 miles. However, there were several spots that the connection dropped off from the satellite, so I am more confident in the number provided by the motorcycle. Either way, it topped 100 miles, which was the goal.

  5. Ben, did you do your test run in eco mode or sport mode? It seems like the controller should be able to be reprogrammed to change the regen percentage in sport mode to a higher value like the eco mode. That way you can run sport mode and use throttle control to have easy take offs, but still have the kick when you need it in an emergency situation, and have the higher regen.
    I know your article is referencing a single run, but I would just like to point out that Terry Heshner,, has rode his 2012 Zero from Orlando to Miami in a single day (opportunity charging along the way) and I believe holds the world record for an electric motorcycle for longest road trip from Orlando to Tennessee.

  6. Awesome! It's great to hear other people are pushing the limits even more!

    This ride was done in Eco mode, I haven't modified my motorcycle so this is the performance you can get without any changes.

  7. Ben, just thanks overall for the informative article. I'm driving a Volt now and replacing my ICE motorcycle will either be next for me or after installing solar at home. So seeing progress in the field is great for me. My old beat needs to be replaced in 2013 or 2014, at the latest...

  8. That's good to hear. The electric motorcycle industry is still very young, but Zero seems to be learning quickly with each generation of bikes the produce. I plan on looking into other companies producing electric motorcycles for the public since there are finally a few viable options.

  9. Ben, i thought it was a great article. You expanded on the web site information. with any product real work results are the best endorsement. It also showed the variable aspects of speed, acceleration etc on the range. In a normal gas powered bike, the same parameters affect gas mileage and range. I did a Road Test on a DS today and enjoyed the ride. As battery technology increases so will range. I thought it was a very good point stating that the range bars were conservative. I stopped at 3 bars due to heavy storm coming in. Normal motorcycles do the same thing on their gas indicators. Overall a very well written article.

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