It was only a matter of time before motorcycle manufacturers hopped on the EV bandwagon. One could argue, in fact, that an electric motorcycle makes more sense than a car: no clutch, no hot exhaust pipes and full torque from a standstill means a much easier riding experience — which is why in just a few short years electric motorcycles have gone from boutique offerings to mainstream production realities. Zero Motorcycles was an early innovator with a successful prototype bike in 2006, and now, just eight years later, they offer four production models, all fully electric. We tested their do-anything DS and were sold on the electric motorcycle, but that wasn’t enough. We wanted more, and we got it with the chance to cruise around on their torquey 54 horsepower sport bike, the 2014 Zero S ($12,995).
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Frame: Twin-spar 22-lb aircraft grade aluminum
Motor: 40 kW (54 hp) Z-Force air-cooled brushless
Battery: 8.5 kWh, optional 11.4/14.2 kWh upgrades
Charge Time: 6 hours standard outlet, 3.5 hours optional quick charger
Range: 103 miles city, 64 miles highway
Full torque off the line and no sloshing fuel or spinning engine parts to throw off your center of gravity make an electric bike a great choice for city life, and the sleek all-black Zero S handled beautifully. The S punched above its weight class with 68 lb-ft of torque shooting it to 60 mph in around four seconds; a top speed of 95 mph isn’t enough to melt your face on the freeway, but it certainly never felt short of power when punched down side streets and up on-ramps.
As the bike picks up speed there’s a futuristic, industrial whirring as its 40 kW motor spins up. It’s certainly different than the explosive exhaust pipes riders know and love, but it’s not long before the sound becomes less a Jetson-esque oddity and more a Pavlov’s bell signaling instant acceleration. Toggling between Sport, Eco and Custom drive modes adjusts power output and manages range, an easy way to tailor the bike to your desired ride and needs. Engine braking feels just like a gas bike; however, the Zero S recovers energy (regen) as it slows down to get as much mileage out of its battery as possible. Granted, you’ll never come close to refilling its power significantly, but gaining even one extra mile is better than nothing at all, especially when you’re at the end of a longer ride.
It also looks great, and its added features — Timex Indiglo blue LCD screen, settings adjustable from a smartphone app, and added storage space in the “gas tank” — add a particularly thrilling uniqueness to the entire experience. Zero also claims the average cost to “fill up” the bike is less than a dollar for more than 100 miles of city range. Still, a $13k price tag takes money savings handily off the table. If you can handle the price and are after an easy ride that ditches petrol without turning in its soul, the Zero S is a great option.