MSRP: $18,690 (as tested)
Living with an electric bike at this relatively early stage in their development requires a willingness to accept certain limitations. Range and charging time are the most obvious, but also there’s the high initial cost (offset somewhat by state and federal tax credits—although the latter are set to be killed off in the tax bill that Congress passed earlier this year) and limited dealer network.
The first question a Zero buyer needs to ask him-/herself is: longer range or faster charging? As we pointed out in our first installment (which includes a riding impression and specs), you can’t have both. Although we live and work in an area of California replete with Level 2 electric vehicle charging stations, which the Zero Charge Tank option requires, we opted for the Power Tank instead, which expands the battery capacity for extended range. There are still a lot of areas in the country that don’t have many Level 2 stations yet, so we figured we’d go all-in with maximum range, charging the bike off a standard 110v wall outlet. Every Zero comes with a power cord that folds up and tucks away into a compartment in the swingarm, so all you need is an outlet close enough to your parking spot…or an extension cord. At lunch, plug it in and over the course of an hour you could expect about a 10-percent increase in charge. Ride to work, plug it in and even if it’s near zero when you get there, you’ll ride home at the end of an 8-hour day with at least an 80-percent charge in the 13.0 kWh main battery and 2.9 kWh Power Tank. Zero also offers an accessory quick charger for home or office use that can cut charging time.
So how far will a full “tank” get you? We put our Zero SR in battery-sipping Eco mode, which maximizes range by limiting torque output and top speed, to find out. With a 200-pound rider aboard, riding in the blood sport that is Southern California traffic—go fast or get out of the way—we maxed out at 114.4 miles of mixed city and highway riding. We also played with the Custom mode, dialing up the torque to 100 percent, top speed to 108 mph and “regen”—engine braking that charges the battery—to 76 percent. With a smaller rider aboard, we achieved about 130 miles in the city and barely 100 on the freeway.
Our verdict: if you live in a city or have a short commute, the Zero would be a great choice. If you rely heavily on highways or like to take long rides, it might be best to wait for battery/charging technology to catch up. Regardless, we’re happy to see this American company pushing the limits and supporting progress.