Eclectic Electrics: Brammo Enertia vs. Zero S

MC Comparison

By Ari Henning, Photography by Tim Sutton

The Zero's stronger Agni motor and larger-capacity battery give it a leg up on the Brammo in terms of acceleration and top speed, and it's simpler to start, too. Turn the key and, 5 seconds later, the green light on the dash illuminates, indicating "all systems are go" and the throttle is live. Twist it and the bike whooshes forward like a magic carpet, although not as quickly as the last S model we sampled. Zero says the electronic controller was reprogrammed to improve range, which presumably entailed curtailing power output.

The Enertia's boot-up procedure takes five times longer due to a multi-step start sequence. Brammo incorporated these safety features to prevent unintended acceleration, which is an issue since these bikes emit no noise while running. Pulling away from a standstill on the Enertia is far from thrilling, but it'll still best the average sedan in a stoplight drag race, which makes all the different in urban riding.

The Zero indicates battery status using a repurposed fuel gauge, with 11 bars representing a full charge. It's a crude instrument compared to the Brammo's comprehensive digital display, which conveys estimated range, remaining battery charge, current power draw and other useful data. Range anxiety is an ever-present issue, and the Brammo's informative interface helps placate the rider's fear of getting stranded. It's the same situation when it comes time to charge up. The Brammo ticks off the time remaining until a full charge is achieved, whereas the Zero uses LEDs on the battery pack to convey charging status.

With no reciprocating parts there is no vibration, so the rearview mirrors remain clear at all times and numb appendages are a thing of the past. Power is delivered with a fluidity and progressiveness unmatched by any conventional motorcycle, and direct drive eliminates the need for shifting, so accelerating is as simple as twisting the throttle. Both bikes are respectably light-the S weighs in at 282 pounds, while the Enertia is 50 lbs. heavier-and handle accordingly. Although the Zero's suspension is more sophisticated, the Enertia yields a plusher ride, and its throttle response is more refined, too. Maximum velocity for the Zero is about 75 mph, while the Brammo tops out at 65 mph with my 175 lbs. onboard. If a comparison must be made, these e-bikes' performance is about on par with small-bore motorcycles like the Honda Rebel or CRF230, but not quite as quick as a Ninja 250. Once underway, they're eerily quiet. The only noise is the whine of the motor and the whizzing of the chain.

Besides the silence, the lack of engine braking is the most foreign part of the e-bike riding experience. With no engine compression to slow you down when you roll off the "gas," you are entirely reliant upon the brakes to shed speed. That brings to light the Zero's biggest flaw: its feeble front brake. Pull in the lever and it comes back to the grip without generating much useful friction. The problem was bad enough that we requested a replacement bike, but that machine demonstrated the same inadequacy. Zero reps say they're aware of the problem-which stems from an undersized master cylinder-and are in the process of remedying it. The Brammo's Brembos are superb, with good feel and more than enough power to pull a stoppie.

The only issue we encountered with the granny-apple green Enertia was an inability to effectively manage the motor heat that is an inevitable byproduct of the electricity-to-motion conversion. Tucked between the swing-arm pivots is its 30-pound motor, and once that sucker heats up, it doesn't want to cool down. The cooling fan runs incessantly during anything but the gentlest ride, and a "Thermal Cutback" warning frequently appears on the dash during more spirited adventures. Meanwhile, the Zero's temperature warning never illuminated, no matter how hard we flogged the bike. Its open-core motor and Z-Force cooling system are simply a better design.

Off the Record
Ari Henning
Age: 25
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 175 lbs.
Inseam: 33 in.
If you feel largely unseen on your gas-powered motorcycle, riding a whisper-quiet electric bike is like donning an invisibility cloak. During the three weeks I rode the Brammo and the Zero, the instances of drivers pulling out in front of me or moving into my lane doubled, plus I had more than a few pedestrians step into the street in front of me. Riding these silent transports makes you keenly aware of just how much people rely (whether consciously or not) on the sound of a bike's exhaust as a cue to look over their shoulder. I hate to add fuel to the "loud pipes save lives" fire, but there is something to be said for the safety benefits of making some noise.

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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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