2013 Zero S: Proof That Electric Motorcycles Have Grown Up At Last

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As any parent will tell you, watching children grow up and mature is a powerful, life-changing experience. 

We’re not sure the same can be said watching a car or a motorcycle grow and evolve from one generation to the next--but if the 2013 Zero S were to have parents, we think they’d be proud. 

Zero Motorcycles--based in Scotts Valley, California--was founded in 2006 by former NASA engineer Neal Saiki to produce competition-ready electric dirt bikes.

After a few years of making a stir in the motocross arena, Zero decided to bring its expertise into the world of road-legal two-wheelers--and the first 2010 Zero S was born. 

With a limited top speed of 67 mph and barely enough range to tackle the daily commute, the 2010 Zero S was hardly what most people would call a motorcycle. Its design didn’t help either, with the seat perched flat on top of the frame in a way that made it look like the love child of a motocross champion and a moped. 

To its credit, Zero listened to criticism, learned from its mistakes, and continued to innovate, resulting in the 2012 Zero S. With a new motor, better battery pack and more sensible performance specifications, it could hold its own in the city and even enjoy the occasional freeway sprint.

But despite Zero’s hard work, even the long-range 2012 Zero S ZF9--with a 9-kilowatt-hour battery pack good for 114 miles combined range--didn’t quite feel like a real motorcycle. 

If the first six years of Zero’s history were its formative years in elementary school, though, the 2013 Zero S has thrown away the insecurities of junior high and is ready to play with the big kids.  

In fact, the Zero S has been given a complete ground-up redesign for 2013, with a more grown-up design, bigger, 40-kilowatt motor and either 8.5- or 11.4-kWh battery packs, depending on the model you choose.

Along with the extra power, big-boy sports-bike looks, and larger battery pack comes a redesigned chassis, better steering geometry, and a sub-6 second 0-to-60-mph time. 

Before we get to performance, though, let’s look at the design

With aggressive shoulders, accentuated ‘faux’ tank (which hides an impressively deep tank bag in a space most bikes would hold gasoline) and a two-tier seat, the 2013 Zero S is a motorcycle you sit in, rather than on.

While this might sound like an insignificant design feature, it isn’t. By making the seat lower and giving the Zero S a more conventional appearance, it becomes a much more approachable and enjoyable motorcycle to ride.

Most importantly, it also makes the Zero S look and feel like every other sports bike out there--gaining the respect and admiration of pretty much every biker we came across on our weekend-long test-ride. The last time we went out on an electric motorcycle, we got stares and pity laughs. 

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Comments (9)
  1. 50 yrs ago I was amazed at the fuel mileage I got from my Harley. If I was 20 yrs younger I would get one of these.

  2. I just got mine at age 60. Don't let age get in the way. I love my bike!

  3. It's a cool bike that's for sure. A near stock one was driven in the Pike's peak race by Jeremiah Johnson beat many top gas bikes.

    And the Lightning EV MC beat all MC's in the same race!!

    Facts are EV MC's, cars like these and the Tesla S is just the beginning of EV's dominating racing unless they get ruled out like Streamliner MC's were in the 30's.

    Wonder what MC's would be now if those races hadn't stopped innovation like aerodynamics and low seat/CG?

    Since these make EV MC's both long range and fast because of near no drag, you are going to see a lot of them soon.

  4. Jerry,

    I'm not sure where you get the low drag from. Motorcycles have extremely high drag unless they're streamlined in some way. That's the biggest reason why the Zero S has 137 miles range in city but only 70 on the freeway.


  5. Hi Nikki - I gather you are the ear of the electric motorcycle (eMoto or eMC? - NOT 'ebike'!) world I have been seriously considering replacing my Vectrix with either a Zero or a Brammo. I'm shying away from the Brammo because of the 6 speed gear box (Why? 2 would do, surely?) and from the Zero as it just doesn't look like a finished product to me and the reported hard ride in this review has not helped me to like it any more, either. I very much like the 'grown-up' look of the Vectrix and the protection its big, faired body provides. Do you think either Brammo, Zero or anyone else are likely to do a properly faired (& better Cd?) machine or am I stuck with my ageing Vectrix and its paltry (and falling) range?

    Regards, Martin Winlow.

  6. Martin,

    I drove a Vectrix for 6 years and recently sold it to get my 2012 Zero S. I love this bike! It's small, easy to control at all speeds, and quite thrilling. I made the mistake of test driving the 2013 model a couple weeks ago and now I'm selling my 2012 (still under warranty) so I can get the new one. These are awesome bikes!

  7. it would have been handy to know re-charge times in the story:

    8.5kW vs 11.4kW

    Charge time (standard)
    6.0 hours (100% charged) / 5.5 hours (95% charged)
    7.9 hours (100% charged) / 7.4 hours (95% charged)

    CHAdeMO charge time (accessory)
    1.5 hours (100% charged) / 1 hour (95% charged)
    1.5 hours (100% charged) / 1 hour (95% charged)

    Quick 2x charger time (accessory)
    3.6 hours (100% charged) / 3.1 hours (95% charged)
    4.6 hours (100% charged) / 4.1 hours (95% charged)

    Standard 110V or 220V
    Standard 110V or 220V

  8. Hey Nikki, Me, an ev advocate since the 1990's, finally put down my savings on a new Zero XU so a woman co worker could have my car and I would depend on the XU during our six month riding season. Since early to mid May 2013, the bike has been in the shop and hasn't been seen since June 28th this last time. I've only been able to ride it 14 days since my purchase. Zero has cheerfully said they would work on repairing it. I've written them multiple times. Their local service center is still working on it now at the end of July. I read glowing reports of how Zero is maturing well. Me personally, I'm being hurt bad by the ev owning experience. At this point, I'd really like ALL of my money spent for this nightmare back. Suggestions?

  9. I don't understand why they keep bringing up the price of this bike as if it's way too much to ask for. There are plenty of bikes on the market around this price that don't offer everything the Zero S does, namely smoothness, quietness, lack of vibration, loads of torque, comparatively light weight, the convenience of charging up at home, no more maintenance, Jetson-like sound, and incredible efficiency; up to 462 MPGe.

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