Electric Bike Newcomer Rides the 2015 Zero S | DOIN' TIME

An eBike newbie and Harley rider takes the electric Zero Streetfighter for a spin.

WRIST: Brian Hatano
MSRP (2015): $17,840 (as tested)
MILES: 997
MPG: NA
MODS: None
Update: 2

My first experience with an electric-powered vehicle happened back in 1989, when then-Chairman of General Motors Roger B. Smith invited me to test drive a GM concept car called Impact (it was later determined that the name "Impact" wasn't such a great choice, duh). Although the battery technology was still in the lead-acid dark ages, the Impact was, for all intents and purposes, as close to a production-ready electric vehicle as I had ever seen.

One of the scenic spots in my PV Drive loop is this park overlooking all the Harbor area oil refineries, making gas that the Zero S will never use.

I recall being thoroughly impressed after driving the Impact. Not only did I praise its 0-60 and top-speed performance on live ABC news coverage, I made a safe prediction that this car would soon see production. The concept evolved within a few short years into the EV1 production car.

As Senior Editor for Car Craft magazine at that time, I was familiar with every new domestic performance machine and many foreign ones, too. My knowledge of electric technology was limited, however; other than a golf cart, I had never driven a non-ICE car. I later learned that this was exactly why Mr. Smith invited me; he wanted feedback from a traditional hot rodder's perspective.

Earlier this week, when the bossman asked me to ride the electric Zero Motorcycles Streetfighter and pen the next Doin' Time write-up, I advised him that I was a total eBike noob. Like the GM honcho, this is pretty much what Cook had in mind: a short review by a staffer who had never ridden an electric motorcycle.

A stark contrast to the smooth and silent-running Zero is my '97 Harley-Davidson Springer. It's loud and lives up to its Milwaukee-vibrator reputation.

I had a two-day window to form an e-pinion of the Zero S. No time for an extended trip. It was back and forth to work, plus one quick pass through my local Palos Verdes loop. But since my total commute is just under 100 miles per day, this was ample seat time to get that first impression.

Before I took the keys to the Zero S, Cook gave me a quick eBike intro and also had me load the Zero app onto my iPhone, then I was off and rolling into traffic and headed for the freeway onramp. No get-acquainted parking lot putt or cruise around the block. I just headed straight into LA rush-hour traffic.

My regular long-term bike is the Indian Scout, a powerful and smooth (by V-twin standards) cruiser. But the Zero S introduced me to a whole new level of smooth. The total absence of any engine vibration, combined with the instant acceleration of an electric motor, took me like a whirring rush up to whatever speed that I wanted to level off at. Once on the freeway, I had a nice open stretch where I kept the right grip twisted all the way until I felt the bike hold at a steady 93 mph. Within that short time I noticed that my power meter indicated that I'd consumed about 10 percent of a full 100-percent charge. So I backed off to a legal pace and mixed in with traffic.

My main requirement for an urban commuter is to have ample power on tap should I want or need to zip past cars or big rigs. So I slowed a bit to around 65 and then gave it a twist to test the roll-on power of the Zero S. I was rewarded with a mild but pleasant burst of acceleration that made me feel confident enough to mix in with the hectic 405 Freeway traffic that expands as wide as eight lanes.

I stayed heavy on the throttle until I noticed that the Zero’s top speed and that burst of acceleration was gradually dwindling. I “gassed” it and felt nothing but a slow creep up to about 83mph. I also noted a solid temp light on the dashboard and recalled that the Zero would limit power once the temperature reaches a certain point. Apparently I had reached that point, so I backed off until the temperature came down below 210 degrees and the light went into a flashing (warning) mode.

Even knowing the Zero’s limitations in terms of speed and operating temperature, I still felt that I could keep the motor within its full-power operating range and ride it very effectively to and from work everyday.

As I rolled up to my driveway some 48 miles later, I glanced down at the dash and noted that I had 32 percent power remaining. This meant that I would not only need to charge at both ends of my commute, but the bike would have to be down for several hours in order to have sufficient juice for the next commute.

For me, the Zero doesn’t leave much pleasure power should I decide to take an after-work cruise or need to run some errands. Granted, my almost-100-mile daily ride takes me out of the ideal category for electric motorcycle ownership. However, if my daily trip to work was a more manageable 10 or 20 miles, the Zero S would be an excellent urban commuter.

One of the scenic spots in my PV Drive loop is this park overlooking all the Harbor area oil refineries, making gas that the Zero S will never use.
A stark contrast to the smooth and silent-running Zero is my '97 Harley-Davidson Springer. It's loud and lives up to its Milwaukee-vibrator reputation.