Sunday, August 7, 2016

Zero DS R test ride - trying electric the second time

The dual sport space is relatively dead still and new stuff is few and far between. The 690 Enduro was introduced in 2008 and it still has very little competition. Huskys 701 is certainly one, but as we know it's basically a rebadged KTM (for now). Since the local dealer started selling Zeros I decided to give the Zero DS R a go. My previous experience with E-bikes is limited to the KTM Freeride. The following is purely my opinion based on a short test ride so adjust your attitude accordingly.


The looks of Zero DS is a bit on the dull side in my opinion. Modern in a way, but mostly black plastic and black aluminium. It sort of looks like a pre production bike missing paint and details. Fit and finish was certainly ok and nothing really jumped at me for being poorly made. The use of belt drive in a DS type of bike makes me wonder if it is a sensible solution. I've read many times over how rocks and such eat holes in the belts and the belts arent exactly cheap.


The lack of a clutch and gear lever requires some getting used to, but the operation is otherwise very similar to any other bike. Throttle is smooth as butter you would expect. Everything is linear and there are no dips in the power delivery. From a stand still the DS feels very fast and even induced a spontanius wow cry from me. Once you get going, it sort of calms down and doesn't pull so strongly anymore. At highway speeds the DS certainly moves like a proper motorcycle, but is in no way spectacular. At "city commuting speeds" overtakes can be however done in a blink of an eye. Makes you smile. The overall feel is both nimble and heavy at the same time. The bike isn't that heavy by the numbers, but it has a slightly sluggish character when changing directions. (for a DS) Maybe the center of gravity is higher than "normal"? The brakes are very good. ABS would not allow me to lock up the rear and I didn't try to turn the ABS off. I'm not sure if it is possible? Suspension was ok, but to call it a proper DS suspension is a bit  much. I think the suspension is more supermoto than DS. The lack of engine sound and vibration makes the ride sort of a pure experience. I really liked that outside of the slight whining noise from the drive train there was nothing but the sound of the wind. I do see why people like these. More than anything I would like to take one of the Zero to a race track. It seems that the lack of distractions like changing gears would make things much more fun for.


A few things keep me from seriously considering buying one.


The DS is outrageously expensive (at least in my country) 23 278 USD, Yes, really. You can get a brand new Africa Twin and have money left over or buy two DCT version Honda NC750Xs for the price of one Zero DS. I've heard claims that the cost will even out because these things need virtually no maintenance. I'm not so convinced about that. You still need to replace brake pads, change brake fluids, belts etc. etc. Sure, you don't need to pay for gas, but it still doen't add up. The other thing is resale value. What will be the resale value of a say 4 year old electric bike if and when the tech has progressed significantly?

As for insurance, the DS is categorized so that it is relatively cheap to insure.


This one is a serious deal braker. If the charging time was drastically shorter or the range greatly longer I could live with it, but not as it is now. The bike has a max. real world range of 200 kms and depending on your power source the charging time from empty to full is over 8 hours.

If I had done my latest FOUR day ride (averaging 480 kms of riding each day) with the zero DS R in it's standard configuration I would have spent 64 hours (2,6 DAYS) waiting in gas stations and such for the thing to charge up. This is assuming that I would have been able to charge the bike fully every night and that the bike would do the full 200 kms regardless of the highway stretches. (which it doesn't do).

If I were to buy all the available accessory chargers, I could narrow the charging time down so it would sum up to 17 hrs during the four days. That's 4-5 hours of burning daylight daily. Just no.

For many the range/charging time combination will not be an issue but for me who has the financial ability to own only one bike that has to do everything from commuting to road trips, this combination is not acceptable.

The reality is though, that the bike is good enough for me to be somewhat convinced that the future will indeed be electric. The big OEMs will likely soon come out with their own offerings and both the pricing and range issues will likely fade away with time. The fact that big OEMs haven't yet come out with bikes that would directly compete with ICE bikes makes me think that the tech is not quite there yet partly for the reasons above.

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