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The Zero all-electric motorcycle. (Zero Motorcycles)
The Zero all-electric motorcycle. (Zero Motorcycles)

Motorcycles

The buzz behind the Zero all-electric Add to ...

Last weekend's spring motorcycle show in Toronto was the first time the Zero all-electric motorcycle has been shown to the public in this country.

And, according to Stephen Bieda, Zero's director of sales and marketing for Canada, it won't be the last. "We've got 10 stores in Canada right now where you will soon be able to buy the Zero," he says, "and I expect us to have 20 or 30 dealerships by the end of the year."

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At this point, however, buyers must still go online to order the bikes, and Bieda claims to have "a couple of hundred" models on back order.

Electric motorcycles are nothing new, of course. There's a wide range of models already on the market in Canada, but most of them take the form of budget-priced scooters and mopeds, and many of those are government-mandated not to exceed 32 km/h.

The Zero, on the other hand, is a full-fledged, roadworthy motorcycle that can more than keep up with traffic and, says its inventor, Neil Saiki, will accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in about five seconds, with an electronically governed top speed of about 110 km/h.

The Zero's battery pack is of the lithium-ion variety, because, Bieda explains, although it's more expensive than the usual lead-acid units, it offers a higher energy density.

It powers an electric motor that develops up to 30 horsepower and features a sophisticated cooling system the company is calling Z-Force air induction. The electric motor itself is mounted low on the bike's frame for better manoeuvrability and handling, with a clutch-less one-speed transmission and chain final drive.

Brakes are discs, front and back, and the front forks are inverted and, with some models, built-in adjustability.

The Zero will be available in a variety of models, and all are motocross/supermotard in flavour, with a lofty riding position and minimal creature comforts.

The Zero S street bike comes with a standard seat height of 864 mm, although an optional "low" seat of 813 mm will be available. All three varieties: dirt, street, and dual sport reflect the company's motocross background. The frame is apparently constructed of aircraft-quality aluminum and the key to the bike's performance is its light weight. The S, for example, tips the scales at a scant 124 kilograms.

Most models have a range of some 80 kilometres - depending on how the bike's ridden, and the battery pack can be recharged in about four hours, via an adaptable plug-in cord located on the bottom of the bike. It will accept either 110 or 220 volts, Bieda says.

In operation, the Zero is almost completely silent. There appears to be some tire noise and a slight whining from the motor, but the abrasive exhaust note and engine growl that usually accompanies these kinds of motorcycles is completely absent, and you'll look in vain for an exhaust pipe.

This may or may not be a good thing. For a lot of motorcycle aficionados, it's as much about mechanical presence as it is about getting from A to B on two wheels. Some bikes have engines and drivetrains that are almost works of art - think of the old Vincents or some Ducatis, for example - and most riders are unrepentant motorheads; they can wax rhapsodic about things like transmission ratios, camshaft duration, valve lift, ignition timing, exhaust pitch and anything else that goes into the construction of a motorcycle. Some will even insist that bikes have mechanical souls.

But the Zero has, well, almost zero in the way of mechanical bits and pieces. Where the engine should be is a slab of plastic, and the Zero is pretty much an appliance on two wheels.

On the other hand, because of its electrical power, it gives almost instant torque, without the spooling up and revving necessary with an internal combustion engine and drivetrain. Get on board, twist the throttle and you're away.

For a little while, at any rate; 80 clicks can go by pretty quickly on a bike and, at this point, the Zero seems to be destined primarily for urban duty, although there are off-road models. Thus, the 100 km/h speed limit governor.

Most of all, of course, it's entirely non-polluting and almost cost-free to run. Stephen Bieda claims that you can operate his company's bikes for as little as a cent a kilometre.

When it hits dealers showrooms, during the first week of May, the made-in-California Zero will range in price from $8,695 for the X dirt bike, up to $11,495 for the Dual Sport. There will also be various options, including Corbin seats, an off-road lighting kit, a lowering shock for the back suspension, aluminum panniers, body fairing and so on.

Is the biker community ready for the Zero? Stephen Bieda thinks so. "I see this company eventually becoming one of the great names in motorcycles in the future."

Hold that thought.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

 

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