January 7, 2015

ZERO Motorcycles - Thailand

"Electric bikes are not reliable"
"They have a very limited range"
"In the future maybe, but right now just not viable"
"I would miss the sound of a real engine"
"Too slow"
"Too expensive"

These are some of the objections and I would say 'misconceptions' many motorcyclist express whenever there is a discussion about electric motorcycles.

First and foremost, I'm in love with classic and vintage bikes because I'm a romantic at heart (at least when it comes to bikes...), but I certainly don't exclude other types of bikes from my riding experience. Trying new things keeps you young at heart guys!
In the past 10 years, the development of electric vehicles has seen a dramatic change. Initially, small companies like Brammo or Zero Motorcycles ventured in those uncharted territories, but now more and more established manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon, with KTM (Freeride) and HD (LiveWire) being the most eminent ones. Yamaha will apparently release two new electric bikes this year as well.

Being the curious type, I always wondered what it would be like to ride one of those bikes. Reviews would praise the unusual power delivery and remarkable torque. Intriguing.

It shouldn't come as a surprise then that when given the chance to test ride them, I was first in line.
Thanks to ZERO Motorcycles for making this dream a reality! I first met Matthew at the last Motor Expo in Bangkok. He had opened his shop less than a month before and was enthusiastically promoting these electric marvels. I have to admit that I, like so many others, had my reservations regarding electric bikes, but after admiring the build quality I came to the conclusion that I was standing in front of proper and well made bikes. Interest increased even further.

Yesterday then was the great day: I lost my 'electric virginity'!

Matthew (the owner) and the very helpful and knowledgeable Tony introduced us to the 3 diffenent available models. The Zero FX, a lightweight (only 120kg) offroad, the ZERO DS, a motard style bike, and the ZERO SR, the top of the range street bike.

When the time came to go on the first ride, I expected a lame parking lot tour, but no! We were allowed to go out on the 4 lane road in front of the shop and ride on a very busy stretch of road, even for Bangkok's standards. Not ideal, but a hell lot better than a parking lot! This move was really important to experience the full potential of the bikes and is actively encouraged by the ZERO headquarters in the US.

So, off I went, first on the FX in ECO mode to get used to the bike. After 50 meters of pacing myself I thought  'I got this', so immediately changed to SPORT mode.
What happened next will be forever etched in my brain cells! Imagine a traditional 800cc motorcycle weighing only 130kg....that would nearly explain it. You would still have to change gears and be subjected to the non linear power output of the petrol bike. Not with the ZERO. Once you open the throttle it's pure acceleration, from 0km/h all the way up to...well the next car in front of you. What a rush! 70 ft-lbs of torque and 44hp can do that to your system. I felt I had to put all my weight to the front to avoid being launched into the stratosphere.

I returned to the base with a big grin on my face, my heart pounding and ready for more. Oh, and there was more....there was the mighty SR. If the FX and the DS are equivalent of an 800cc bike, the SR can be compared to a 1.400cc petrol bike, I've been told.
I obviously skipped the ECO mode and went straight for the SPORT. The SR is capable of doing 0-100km/h in 3.3 seconds, has 25% more power and 56% more torque than the 2 smaller brothers.
I really really wanted a big sport bike to show up next to me and leave it behind me in a cloud of defeating dust.

Lastly, I rode the DS, which I enjoyed for the seating position and handling, but after experiencing the power of the SR, there's no going back for me. This is not to say the DS is gutless by any means. It has been designed that way to be more user friendly. I can assure you, there's still plenty of power to push your eyes back into your skull.
Handling was very good on all 3 models and even the 'heavy' 188kg SR felt lighter than I expected.
I didn't miss the engine noise to be honest. The quiet whizzing was actually a novelty worthy to show off at traffic lights. It even has a very satisfying humm at throttle release.
The only shortcoming seemed to be the brakes, which very not very intuitive and didn't match the levels of performance of the rest of the bike. This problem however, will be solved with the release (in March) of the new 2015 model, which will see a number of improvements, including upgraded suspensions, brakes with ABS, even more range and power.
The batteries can go for 500.000km, after which they drop to about 80% of full capability.The warranty lasts for 5 years or 100.000km. Maintenance is relegated to only brakes and tires. How is that for reliability?
Charging can take about 8.6 hours (SR model), but can be reduced with accessory chargers down to just 2.4 hours.
The range obviously depends on your riding style and for the SR goes from 124km (highway) to 243km (city).

Fully customizable dashboard and riding mode...

...at the tip of a finger.
The riding modes (ECO - CUSTOM - SPORT) are changeable while riding by pressing a button where usually the electric starter button is. The custom mode and the whole dashboard are completely customizable through an easy to use mobile app.

The real issue here of course is the price. These are imported bikes and thus are subjected to heavy taxation in Thailand. On the bright side though, ZERO is planning on starting a production here in Thailand if the sales quota is met. This would drastically reduce the price and make the bikes accessible to a much wider audience of mere mortals like me.

There would be a lot more to say about these bikes, but I suggest you get the info from the official ZERO Motorcycles website or even better, go to meet up with Matthew or Tony and let them explain it to you. Most importantly though, like Buddha said about his teachings, don't just believe what others tell you, go and try for yourself!

Contact Matthew for a test ride....tel: 089 891 3290 (Thai & English).
You can find Zero Motorcycles here:

ZERO headquarter in Bangkok

ZERO DS "The friendly one"

ZERO FX with police equipment