The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Zero DS Electric Bike

Has the Electric Motorcycle Come of Age?

It wasn’t so long ago that electric bikes were easy to dismiss. Who in their right mind would want to throw a leg over something that resembled a Huffy with a washing machine motor bolted to it? After all, the mental image of fat girls and scooters didn’t enter the national vernacular for no reason. We spent 500 miles on board the Zero DS, and now we’re not so sure. For some users, an electric motorcycle would prove to be a huge advantage, particularly in the scenarios envisioned in our sister publication, RECOIL OFFGRID.

It doesn’t take too much in the way of mental gymnastics to imagine an event that throws our fragile, “just in time” distribution system into chaos. If refineries suddenly stop producing the lifeblood of our transportation arteries, then those MREs you put away for a rainy day just became a whole lot more valuable, as the shelves of the local grocery store will be stripped bare in a couple of hours.

Zero DS Electric Bike photo

Likewise, with the contents of the underground tanks at your neighborhood gas station. Should the power grid go down for a prolonged period (EMP, cyber attack, or plain old cascading failure due to antiquated infrastructure — take your pick), then we’ll see just how many meals away from societal breakdown we really are. Having transport that can operate independent of 21st century infrastructure is certainly appealing, and an electric bike coupled with a photovoltaic solar generating system allows you to do just that. Getting bored with sitting around waiting for societal collapse? Hop on the DS and go for a hoon.

As I pulled the key out of the Zero’s master switch (there is, after all no “ignition” on an electric bike), my buddy greeted me with a nod and an approving, “Hey, good-looking bike.” It wasn’t until we’d exchanged further pleasantries that I pointed out the lack of an exhaust and waited for the other SIDI to drop. “Holy shit, is that thing electric? How’s the ride?” Well, we’re pleased to report that the ride’s pretty good.

Zero DS Electric Bike photo

Forget any preconceived ideas about it being the Prius of bikes. The Zero DS looks the part and offers 60 HP and 81 lb-ft of torque.

Living With the Zero DS

One of the first adjustments you have to make regards the lack of either a clutch or gears. There’s nothing for your left hand or foot to do, and on numerous times I caught myself pulling in a phantom clutch lever and stabbing a toe at non-existent cogs. Instead, there’s nothing but pure, seamless torque all the way from standstill to triple digits.

Once manufacturers started putting high-performance motors in electric bikes, there was a spate of high-side accidents where riders grabbed a handful of throttle and the bike then gave exactly what they demanded. This resulted in spinning up the rear tire, whereupon the rider would wind off the power, the tire would grip, and the bike would launch the rider into the weeds. These days, power delivery is managed by a computer, and you can select just how aggressively it comes on tap by means of either the dashboard menu or an app.

Zero DS Electric Bike photo

Showa 41mm rear shock is adjustable for rebound, compression, and preload. Charger cord plugs into the frame.

Power is stored in lithium batteries, and in our test model, we opted for the additional range offered by a second set of cells. Between the standard Z-Force power pack and the upgraded Power Tank, we managed around 100 miles before needing to recharge, which is accomplished by simply sticking one end of a power cord into a wall outlet and the other into the socket in the bike’s frame. No special hardware required. Running around town, rather than blasting down freeways almost doubles your range, as the benefits of regenerative braking come into play.

Most Japanese dual sports arrive in the United States with their suspension set up to accommodate the more petite riders from the land of the rising sun, and can be overwhelmed when asked to cope with supporting a corn-fed American. Not so with the Zero. Its suspenders are definitely oriented toward pavement use (the designers accurately predicted that’s where the bike will spend 95 percent of its time) and provide plenty of feedback.

Zero DS Electric Bike photo

Aluminum wheels betray its street focus — we’d like to see some old-school wire spokes for offroad use.

The USD Showa forks are adjustable for preload, rebound, and compression damping and while they wouldn’t be out of place on sport bike, they’re a little stiff for sustained off-road thrashing. Brakes are strong and linear, benefiting from assistance offered from the bike’s motor when it switches to generator mode. Overall ergonomics are roomy and comfortable — if the battery pack would allow it, a 300-mile day wouldn’t be a chore, though the lack of wind protection leaves the rider feeling like they’ve been sparring with Pat Mac after 30 minutes at highway speeds.

If loud pipes save lives, then the Zero DS might just be the most dangerous bike in the world. It’s hard to get used to the almost complete absence of noise and there were many times when we’d pull into an office parking space and be strolling past the front desk before the receptionist looked up from their Facebook feed. Figuring this might just be the bike’s strongest suit in a post-apocalyptic world, one night we disconnected the headlight wiring harness and taped off its display, then spent an interesting couple of hours cruising around on NODs, completely blacked out and almost silent apart from the crunch of tires on gravel. Stealth mode level 10.

Zero DS Electric Bike photo

Dashboard displays power delivery profile, as well as remaining range. We found ourselves glancing nervously at it on longer rides.

The Zero DS and its ilk offer an interesting alternative to solvent-powered motorcycling. Although they’re not at production levels that allow them to compete on price with a regular dual sport, they’re getting there. While other electric vehicles are dependent on dedicated charging stations, here there’s no such restriction, and the ability to recharge from either a solar array and battery bank or a generator could be a huge benefit in a grid-down scenario. There’s little doubt that we’ll see more EVs of all types in the coming years, especially as battery technology (and range) advances. No, we’re not about to swap our entire fleet of two-wheeled gassers for electric bikes, but this one plugs a capability gap, and that’s enough to get the wheels turning ….

Zero DS Electric Bike photo

Front binders are J-Juan aysmetric two-pot calipers tied to a Bosch Gen 9 ABS system. Despite the 450-pound curb weight of the DS plus its extra battery pack, they had no problem stopping it.

Zero Motorcycles

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