Eclectic Electrics: Brammo Enertia vs. Zero S

MC Comparison

By Ari Henning, Photography by Tim Sutton

You'll have to exploit the bikes' coasting capabilities if you want to attain both manufacturers' claims of an average 40-mile range. In an attempt to test that, we followed a suburban course selected for its minimal stop signs and elevation changes. Trolling along at the speed limit, rolling the throttle open as gently as conditions allowed, the S covered 38 miles. As battery power dwindles the Zero's speed comes down, and after the last bar of energy disappears from the energy gauge the bike begins emitting an audible warning. When you hear that, it's time to plug in or start pushing.

Over the same course, the Enertia made it 34 miles. At 20 percent capacity the low-battery warning comes on. At 10 percent things get dire. Asking the battery for too much, say by rolling the throttle open too quickly, results in a total system shutdown: no motor power, turn signals or brake light. Granted, arriving at that rather dangerous scenario requires you to ignore the steadily declining numbers on the dash, but it would be nice if there was a last-chance warning similar to that of the Zero.

Alternatively, holding it pinned on the freeway will net you about 23 miles on the S, and slightly less on the Brammo. The superslab, you say? While we were initially wary of pointing either bike down a freeway entrance ramp, they are capable. Sure, you'll feel safest hiding in the shadow of a slow-moving school bus, and you may have to utilize a faster vehicle's slipstream to make a pass, but it's nothing riders of small bikes and scooters aren't accustomed to. Keeping the pace down improves range dramatically, but the distance traveled on an electron load ultimately depends on your trip profile, which includes factors such as your weight, rate of acceleration, speed, number of starts/stops and changes in elevation. As they say in infomercials, "Your results may vary."

Compared to their small-bore ICE counterparts, these e-bikes are pretty pricey. Brammo's Enertia costs $7995, and that's after improvements in manufacturing and a $10 million deal with Best Buy knocked $4000 off its price tag in 2009. The Zero S rings in at a hefty $9995. Look to the operating expenses, however, and things start to balance out. A full charge rings in at well under a dollar and there are no expensive maintenance procedures to be performed. The motors are expected to last the life of the machine, and the battery is said to have a 5-year lifespan for the Zero and an 8-year lifespan for the Brammo under everyday use. Then there's the 10 percent federal EV tax credit and the unquantifiable satisfaction you'll get from knowing you're emitting zero tailpipe emissions. Admittedly, with the current grid makeup the batteries are most likely pulling their charge from a coal-fired powerplant, but if you do the math the operational cost equivalent comes out to 300-400 miles per gallon. You can't beat that with a Louisville Slugger!

For the worker with a short commute, there's no sacrifice required to ride one of these e-bikes, and it's undeniably liberating to disregard gas stations and their ever-increasing prices. While the Brammo is a little dull, it doesn't do anything wrong. It was designed as a commuting appliance, and it serves that purpose obediently. The Zero is quicker and cooler, but its flaws cannot be ignored. Inferior brakes and a torturous seat weren't our only grievances. Less than 100 miles into our test a number of spokes on the rear wheel worked dangerously loose, requiring the wheel to be trued and re-tensioned. Although the Brammo has heat-management issues, that doesn't inhibit its performance or functionality. Commuters will appreciate the Enertia's reliability, comfort and communicative data display. The fact that it costs $2000 less than the S, comes in a spectrum of colors, and can be purchased at your local Best Buy store makes it a clear winner for the hard-working and discerning commuter.

Off the Record
Marty Estes
Age: 40
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 220 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.
Having never ridden anything powered solely by electricity, it was a real trip to take these e-bikes for a spin. The silence is truly unnerving at first. You hear sounds that exhaust noise normally masks.

While the Zero's cooling system is better than the Brammo's, my added weight and heavy throttle hand overloaded the system, and I found myself coasting with the warning light blinking. It recovered quickly, but it did overheat.

Ergo-wise, both bikes run small for a bigger guy like me. Being a dirtbike rider, the Zero felt familiar and comfortable, whereas the Brammo's footpegs were too far forward. These e-bikes aren't for everyone, and with my 50-mile commute they're clearly not yet an option.

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Somehow,I don't think that twisting the throttle and getting a Bzzzzz is going to quite do it for me !
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