2013 Zero S | Road Test Review

2013 Zero S action
Riding on 17-inch wheels with a scant 55.4 inches between the axles, the Zero S is a compact package that weighs just 392 pounds.

Hey, now we’re talking! The last time we tested Zero Motorcycle’s pure-street electric motorcycle, the Zero S (Rider, September 2011), we could only squeeze about 30 miles out of a battery charge riding the bike on a mix of road types with a conservative throttle hand. Well, for 2013, the Scotts Valley, California, company has completely revamped its five-bike street and dirt electric-bike lineup with more powerful motors, larger lithium-ion power packs and revised chassis and styling. While our 2011 Zero S felt more like a mountain bike than a motorcycle, the 2013 machine has bulked up to small motorcycle proportions—now it’s about the same size and weight as the Suzuki GW250 tested elsewhere in this issue. But the Zero would eat the GW250 alive in any speed contest—claimed horsepower output has more than doubled to 54, and torque is up 62 percent to 68 lb-ft, putting its average output in 650-twin territory. Just as importantly, the 2013 Zero S model’s range with the larger 11.4 kWh power pack (8.5 kWh is standard) has grown to a claimed 137 miles in the city, 85 miles highway (at 55 mph) or 100 miles combined. Switched to ECO mode, our test bike did manage 100 miles with a 200-pounder aboard riding conservatively on surface streets and highways. More impressively it went a full 75 miles in Sport mode, which stands all of its little electrons at attention to give the bike maximum throttle response and top speed. That 75 miles included several top-speed runs to its governed 95 mph, and about 30 miles of twisty canyon road, as well as pulling no punches accelerating away from stops and on the highway.

2013 Zero S action
The Zero S has mostly upright seating with good legroom and a comfortable reach to the bars, but the seat will make you wish it was time to recharge long before the battery dies.

Turn the Zero’s key and after a brief system self-check the bike goes dead quiet, but now it’s ready to take off with a turn of the throttle. Power delivery from the air-cooled, brushless motor is instant and smooth, with genuine motorcycle-like acceleration that is eerily quiet except for a whine at low speeds. Both riders and onlookers, fooled into thinking it’s some kind of save-the-planet scooter by its docile manners at a walking pace, will be shocked by its quickness and seamless, shiftless acceleration that will give many middleweight motorcycles a solid run. When you get home, plug it in and 8 hours and about $1.20 later it’s fully charged again. There’s no stopping for gas, and with its belt final drive, no regularly scheduled maintenance. The standard 110V power cord stashes in a cylindrical hole in the frame amidships, or you can pony up for the optional Quick 2X plug-in charger (4.6 hours to fully charged; $599.99) or CHAdeMO accessory charger (1.5 hours). The latter requires a CHAdeMo station to use, though, and so far there are very few in the U.S.

Zero S Instrumentation
Green light indicates bike is ready to go. Also visible are the Sport/ECO switch, RAM mount for smartphone holder and fork adjusters. Very basic instrumentation lacks a clock.

For 2013, Zero has thoughtfully added a soft-sided, zippered storage compartment in the “tank,” which is handy for carrying your lunch and perhaps a copy of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. A regular tankbag will strap-on to the plastic shelter too. Despite the addition of a passenger seat and pegs this year, the tail section is rather slim and luggage averse, though I did manage to secure a seatbag with a little fiddling. Zero has also given its bikes Bluetooth connections and a smartphone holder on the handlebar, so you can use its iOS or Android app to monitor things like time to charged, battery condition, torque output, watts per mile and speed. The app also lets you tweak the parameters of ECO mode. Setting torque output and top speed to maximum and power regeneration on coast down and under braking to minimum, for example, makes ECO essentially the same as Sport mode. Reversing those settings maximizes battery life and still gives you decent acceleration with a hefty but tolerable amount of engine, er, motor braking. Instead of driving the rear wheel, on coast down the electric motor is driven, and becomes a generator putting out a maximum of about 15 percent of its capacity. While it’s capable of much more, the braking force could pitch the rider over the handlebar.

2013 Zero S Photo
2013 Zero S

Low weight is essential for electric vehicles, so the Zero gets an all-new aluminum perimeter frame and cast aluminum swingarm with sportbike-like minimalism. The large, boxy power pack is suspended in the frame ahead of the comparably small motor down by the swingarm. New bodywork echoes the sport theme, though the revised ergonomics and seat are standard-bike moderate, with a wide, flat handlebar and comfortable footpeg placement. If you don’t mind leaning into the wind a little, the hard seat is the only weakness in the comfort package. In the corners, the Zero S is a little devil since it’s so light and flickable, and its stock IRC radials on special lightweight cast wheels stick surprisingly well. Riders hoping that this would be the year Zero gets serious about suspension will need to wait a little longer, however, since the stock FastAce male-slider fork suffers from quite a bit of stiction, and its damping adjusters make only minute changes. The FastAce rear shock works better but is still on the light-duty side for us larger-than-average riders. For quick stops, the Nissin 2-piston caliper and floating rotor up front pack enormous stopping power, though its single-piston counterpart in back felt wooden and unresponsive. Overall, the bike is great for moderate commutes, getting around town and squeezing through traffic. It’s fun and easy to ride and comfortable for the duration of its range, too, except for the seat. I found a gel pad made a nice improvement.

That leaves the price tag as the only obstacle to quick, quiet, clean and low-cost enjoyment of the efficient little Zero S, which is just shy of $16,000 with the 11.4 kWh power pack. A buyer in 2013 would be entitled to the E-Motorcycle Federal Tax Credit of 10%, or about $1,600 straight off your tax owed, but the balance is still a hefty commitment for a motorcycle with limited range and touring capability. And whether or not the credit will be extended for 2014 is not yet clear. With an estimated life of 309,000 miles for the power pack—essentially the life of the motorcycle—there’s no concern about battery replacement, and consider the fuel and maintenance costs you won’t have as well. At 40 mpg and $4 per gallon, 300,000 miles would equate to $30,000 in fuel vs. about $3,600 in electricity, assuming you charge up at home. Hmmm…coincidentally, the eight hours it takes to charge the Zero S is right about the length of the average workday….

2013 Zero S action
The generous torque and lithe body of the Zero S will give middleweight sportbikes a solid challenge until bumps in the road upset its meager suspension.

2013 Zero S

Base Price: $13,995 (8.5 kWh power pack)
Price as Tested: $15,995 (11.4 kWh power pack)
Warranty: 2 yrs.
Website: zeromotorcycles.com

Smartphone app Zero S
Smartphone app page with ECO mode adjustments.

Type: Air-cooled, high efficiency, radial flux permanent magnet, brushless motor
Controller: High efficiency, 420 amp, 3-phase brushless controller with regenerative deceleration
Power Pack: Z-Force Li-Ion intelligent
Max. Capacity: 11.4 kWh (as tested)
Nominal Capacity: 10 kWh (as tested)
Standard Charger Type: 1.3 kW, integrated
Input: Standard 110V or 220V
Transmission: Clutchless Direct Drive
Final Drive: Belt

Frame: Aluminum perimeter w/ aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 55.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 23.8 degrees/3.2 in.
Seat Height: 31.3 in.
Suspension, Front: 38mm male-slider, adj. for compression & rebound damping, 5.5-in. travel
Rear: Single reservoir shock, fully adj., 5.9-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Single disc w/ 2-piston caliper
Rear: Single disc w/ 1-piston caliper
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.00 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 110/70-17
Rear: 130/70-17
Wet Weight: 392 lbs.
Load Capacity: 368 lbs. (per Zero)
GVWR: 750 lbs.

Smartphone display Zero S-2
Smartphone display when underway.

Claimed Range: 137 miles city, 85 miles highway (55 mph), 105 miles combined, as tested
Charging Time (standard): 7.9 hours (100% charged) / 7.4 hours (95% charged), as tested
Top Speed: 95 mph
Est. Pack Life to 80% (city): 309,000 miles

(This article Quick, Quiet & Clean was published in the January 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)


  1. Very cool commuter bike. Wonder if outside air temperature affects battery charge state, say if one takes a ride on a very cold or hot day. Styling appears excellent and looks well made. Most electric bikes I’ve seen, look, well, less than seamless I guess is how I’d put it.

    • I would guess that temperature; either very hot or very cold would definitely have to affect battery performance and range. I think with respect to e-cars that I’ve heard that the Ford Focus EV engineers overcame this problem by using sort of a radiator-type system circulating around the battery packs to maintain temps in the optimal operating range no matter what the temps in the environment. There could be other OEMs that use this or a similar system, which seems to me to be the only way to totally eliminate the temperature problem using batteries as fuel for electric motors. Of course, heating and cooling coolant has an energy cost and adds to manufacturing costs. I highly doubt, however, even though one has to come up with 128% more money to have this bike over a similar ICE-powered competitor, that this Zero has nothing to keep the cold or heat from affecting battery performance.

    • As far as the comment about the improved styling and quality of this e bike as compared to others, I think one has to keep in mind that this is a quickly-evolving industry. If one has seen previously-designed e bikes, no matter what the brand, each, new update is far, far ahead of the last design, so I’m not sure how one can compare this bike to anything except for the 2013 Brammo Empulse. I’ve only seen two serious players in this industry; Zero and Brammo. Both are making huge strides in each new iteration of their e bikes; both are American companies; and both are improving everything exponentially each couple of years except for price. Unless one’s idea of improvement in price is going up in the price of an already massively-expensive bike.

  2. Hot and cold weather has a small impact on performance, but not very much. Temperature differences affect electric cars more because you turn on the energy-sapping A/C or heater, but motorcycles don’t have those. The 2013 Zero lineup is a huge leap ahead of the 2012 Zeros with new motors and longer ranges. The 2014 line has some tweaks to the suspension & dash and there is an even longer range option.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here