Silicon Valley does motorcycles
Behind the Wheel: Zero DS
With the recent proliferation of electrified transportation, it seems things are swinging solidly from Who Killed the Electric Car? to “Who Maimed the Gas Engine?”. Motorcycles are no exception, with e-alternatives offering several advantages over gas-powered bikes, like clutchless drive, instant torque, nearly silent operation and reduced heat signature. One of the best e-bike makers out there, Zero, let us test their Zero DS ($14,000 base) for a few weeks in L.A. to see if a silent motorcycle is a groundbreaking way to ride or a tad emasculating.
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The DS (dual sport) has a sleek yet rugged look. In fact, several people asked if it was some new BMW they had never seen — quite a compliment for the Santa Cruz-based manufacturer. Being a dual sport meant it was great on the road and the dirt, which worked well for L.A., since there are a number of traffic-avoiding short cut paths and alleys that a street bike couldn’t handle nearly as well as the DS did.
The 8.4 and 11.4 kWh battery pack options provide 95 or 126 miles of city range, respectively. Our 11.4 kWh pack upped the bike’s price tag by a few thousand, but having more battery is clearly the better way to go. Though the larger pack takes almost five hours to fully charge on its own, if you opt for additional charging accessories the time gets whacked down to a mere 1.5 hours. We got a range of about 100 miles on a full charge, but that was while pegging it around empty streets in town and gunning some short freeway stints around 70 mph. The 54 hp Z-Force motor connects to the wheels via a carbon fiber belt and gets to 95 mph without shifting gears. The suspension is manually adjustable, the Nissin brakes are custom for the DS and the frame is aircraft-grade aluminum for light weight and high strength.
It is entirely strange to cruise at 70 mph and only hear the sound of the wind, and there’s also definitely a loss in that you can’t rev the DS’s engine. Still, that’s about all that’s missing. The ride was extremely smooth, and I’ll admit it was nice to not worry about the clutch, shift, clutch, brake that comes with all the traffic lights and stop signs in L.A. Its slingshot torque gets the blood coursing just fine; an app that connects your phone to the bike via Bluetooth displays speed, battery info and average watts per mile. You can also control the amount of brake regeneration and top speed.
Purists will cry foul that the Zero is silent — “loud pipes save lives” and all — but the tradeoff is gobs of electric torque, a stylish design and excellent ease of use. Those who’ve never ridden a motorcycle before will find it easy to pick up because of the lack of gears or a clutch. While internal combustion is still king of the road, Zero’s DS, along with the brand’s portfolio of high-powered street bikes, various other dual sports and even strictly motocross bikes, will definitely change some minds on the viability of muted two-wheeled thunder.