Electric vehicles are nothing new. The first battery-powered transports appeared in the 1890s, and for a while were favored over internal-combustion automobiles because they were quieter, cleaner and easier to operate. More than a century later, EVs are reemerging for the very same reasons, and this time motorcycles are included in the ranks.
Oregon-based Brammo and Zero of California are two prominent manufacturers that currently have street-legal electric motor-cycles on the market. Zero's supermoto-inspired S and Brammo's proletariat Enertia are aimed at commuters with performance to rival other economically efficient options. Where the engine and ancillary components would reside on your typical ICE (internal-combustion engine) bike, these e-bikes carry their oversized battery packs, while their efficient and compact motors reside like a scooter's down by the swingarm pivot. Power for the Brammo's brushless permanent-magnet Perm motor comes from an 85-pound lithium-ion battery comprised of 6 modules, with a total capacity of 3.1kWh. The S's brushed Agni PM motor draws off of Zero's patented 90-pound Z-Force L-I power pack, rated at 4kWh. Both have sophisticated battery-monitoring systems and integrated onboard chargers. The Enertia's 8-foot tether is coiled under the seat, while the Zero's 12-foot cord is stored in the hollow at the base of the subframe. Plugging into a standard 110-volt wall outlet will yield a full charge in a little over 4 hours.
The Zero uses an attractive hydro-formed aluminum twin-spar frame mated to a double-diamond swingarm, with an inverted fork sourced from mini-bike supplier Fast Ace and a shock from mountain-bike specialist Manitou. Duro street rubber rides on 16-inch wire-spoked wheels, controlled front and rear by Gator brake components. It's a robust-looking package, and one that Zero claims is "ready to aggressively take on urban environments," as any supermoto worth its salt should be.
Brammo bases its Enertia around a black-finished extruded-aluminum frame with a cast-aluminum subframe and tubular-steel swingarm. Its six-spoke aluminum hoops are shod with Avon rubber in 18-inch front and 17-inch rear sizes. Up front is a Marzocchi inverted fork while the back end is supported by an Elka shock. Braking bits are straight from Italy, with Brembo components all around. Designed as "an approachable, simple, lightweight motorcycle," the Enertia is uncomplicated in operation and appearance, a unique blend of old and new styling.
Aesthetically, the Zero has come quite a way since the debut model we sampled last year. Racy graphics, a less conspicuous headlight and restyled turn signals elevate the bike's appearance from toy-like to legitimate. For 2010 the S was updated with Z-Force air induction, which pulls hot air off the motor core for better efficiency and durability. Our testbike also came with the accessory low Corbin seat ($450), which is hard as a board with uncomfortably sharp edges. It does drop the seat height by 2 inches, however, giving shorter riders an alternative to the stock 34-inch saddle.
Throw a leg over either of these two e-bikes and you'll be welcomed by an upright riding position and ample leg room. While they're both slim between your knees, the Zero has a more compact cockpit better suited to sub-6-foot riders, whereas the Enertia's higher bars and lower footpegs are a better match for taller pilots. The Enertia's seat rests 32 inches off the ground, and although it's narrow, it's softer and much kinder on your backside than the optional perch on our Zero.