The Zero S charges up while I enjoy some quality time at my favorite mall.

Last week, Zero Motorcycles handed me the keys to a long-awaited ride, a 2014 Zero S ZF11.4. I was completely blown away by the range, even without the Power Tank, and even riding the way I do- pretty much the opposite of hypermiling. I’m one of those people who thinks hypermiling is far more dangerous and wrong than speeding. Honestly, I just wanna go fast. If you want to go slow, that’s what busses are for.

Thus I was not ready to own an electric motorcycle until 2013, when I felt like they were finally fast enough to survive in LA. The 2014 Zero S is plenty fast to keep the CHP happy to see me and to compete in MWGP instead of M1GP. This is great news for sportbike enthusiasts looking for a bike that’s fun to ride, costs almost nothing to maintain, and can be refueled while you sleep, for a fraction of what it costs to keep a proper sportbike fueled.

Having ridden Yamaha R1’s pretty much every day since 2002, that is my primary comparison for the 2014 Zero S. My latest R1 has 158HP and 80 ft/lbs of torque. It’s like riding a 2-wheel Lamborghini- much more powerful and capable than most riders will ever need. But as they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Until one can find an acceptable substitute. A year ago, I bought my own Zero, a 2013 FX- a supermoto style bike perfect for devouring the mean streets of LA, but seriously lacking in range for any real canyon carving.

Once I took delivery of the Zero FX, I had to force myself to ride the R1 occasionally. It’s complete overkill and too heavy for daily riding around town compared to the electric FX. Plus with fuel economy of 20MPG, it’s almost as bad as driving a Lamborghini around, and a great way to support the poor, beleaguered oil industry. The  2014 Zero S is also a lot more fun in the canyons for a rider of average skill, like me, than the Yamaha Rocketship. Or any liter bike, really.  It’s 40 lbs lighter than the 2009 R1 and yes, boasts only 54 ponies and 68 ft/lbs of torque.

However, I never felt underpowered the whole day in Malibu or even on the LA freeways. I rode in all three modes at different times, and all were fine. I set custom mode to 100% for everything, and the regen didn’t feel excessive. On the FX, I keep the regen at 70%, because 100% is ridiculous. It feels like the bike is about to do a stoppie. Braking regen at 100% is fine on the smaller bike, but not “roll-off” regen. Sport mode and my “all fast all the time” custom mode felt the same, only maybe less regen in sport. This is new for 2014- the 2013 models had “sport” and “eco”.

Eco was where you could use the app to customize the bike. Now that’s in “Custom” mode, while Eco mode is determined by the factory. It’s easy enough to switch between modes while riding. I am still overjoyed that I can tune my bike with my PHONE. Top speed, torque, regen, and braking regen are all just a swipe away. Well, once you realize that you have to have the kill switch “off” to modify the settings. The app and bike are paired via Bluetooth, which is easy enough to sync once and never think about again.

I took a route I commonly take for Sunday rides on the R1. It’s about 60 miles of tight twisties and 40 miles of freeway there and back. We usually stop at The Rock Store and/or Malibu Country Mart for at least an hour. Because the rock store was closed on the Monday I rode, I figured I could make it to Malibu Country Mart.

I did indeed, with 25% leftover after pushing the bike much further and faster than I had the 2012 Brammo Empulse I tested on the same route. I had to skip Latigo and take the shorter, less fun Kanan Dune Rd to get to the Level 2 charging stations at Malibu Country Mart. There are also ample outdoor 110v outlets there, so charging the Zero is easy too.

The Zero S has a lower seat height than I like, at 31.8” (the FX is 35″) I’m 5’11 with a 34″ inseam. I was able to ride much better than I’d thought I would on such an upright bike. After 50 miles in the canyons, my knees hurt about as much as they do after the same route on the R1. Yet my ancient wrists felt fine. Normally they feel like shattered glass after about 20 miles on the R1. On the Zero S, the bars are high enough to not put pressure on my wrists, but low enough to easily counter steer into any corner.

Suspension is softer than the racetrack settings I’ve got my R1 set to. The softer settings are much more appropriate for city and canyon riding, especially considering 70% of LA streets failed LADOT’s grading system. It soaks up the bumps just fine and dips into the corners with authority. I felt more confident on the Zero S than I do on my R1, as it’s lighter yet has plenty of torque to get me where I want to go. Plus there’s none of that mucking about in the wrong gear wishing there was a 1.5th gear for some of the tighter twisties.

The Zero S is a proper sportbike disguised as a standard, thanks to the upright ergonomics. I suspect that and the pink leather jacket were enough to keep both cops from turning around to follow me, despite being the only other soul on those Malibu canyon roads on a Monday afternoon.

Range notes:

  • Monday playing in Malibu: Used 75% over 62 miles- 20 on freeways with moderate traffic, the rest in the canyons riding as fast as I dared…which feels so very slow compared to the fast guys.
  • 1:50 hrs later the S had 44% so I took the long way to Culver City via Piuma & Las Flores. Got to Culver City with 10% and the odometer reading 95 miles. Plugged in and was back up to 42% three hours later when I was ready to go home.
  • Tuesday lunch with a friend: 54 miles round trip 90% on freeways with light traffic. Used 80% of battery pack riding like I stole it.
  • All other rides were my usual short trips around town, for which the S has way more than enough range.