Potential Buyers Guide

From Unofficial Zero Manual
Jump to: navigation, search

Zero has some decent marketing for a company its size, but if you want to know what owners generally think, we'll try to summarize it here.

Riding Differences

Qualitative Differences
Difference Reason Pros Cons
No heat emitted from the motor The motor wastes very little energy
  • Hot weather isn't made uncomfortable
  • Any dirt or debris on the motor won't "bake"
  • No range wasted
No built-in warmth during cold weather
No vibration The motor has no real moving parts Less fatigue No "rumble" aesthetic
Stealth Only the bearing and belt make a sound.
  • Doesn't wake/irritate the neighbors or bicyclists.
  • Sneak by people/cops/etc.
  • Completely silent at stops.
  • Can startle pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers.
  • Little noises from brakes, suspension, and even turn signals stand out.
Always-On Torque The motor's torque curve is not flat but extremely broad and shallow.
  • Escape agility is always available.
  • Merge into traffic very smoothly, fine-tuning at the throttle.
  • No maneuverability interruption from shifting.
  • Take care pulling away from a stop!
  • Eco mode in slick surface conditions reduces risk of traction loss
No Lean Resistance Electric motors don't resist leaning into a turn the way moving cylinders do. Easier turning into and pulling out of a corner and changing line within a corner. Steering and suspension tuning can seem very sensitive.
Better Awareness Lack of distractions from noise, shifting, and vibration You can scan traffic more thoroughly, which makes negotiating traffic much easier.

Via this forum thread: Unexpected advantages of an electric bike

Models

The S/SR and DS/DSR are marketed as sport and dual sport configurations, but they use the same frame, and have the same geometry up to the suspension and wheels. They are standard bikes with specializations like suspension, handlebars, footpegs, front fork geometry, wheels, and tires.

Price

Scale

Many wonder why the price to features ratio doesn't compare with traditional gasoline-powered motorcycles. There are a few factors that come with being a small manufacturer, mainly that the factory overhead for fabrication and testing are higher per motorcycle until they manage to produce and sell ten times as many motorcycles per year than they are now. Also, they can't demand volume deals with their suppliers until they prove sales that can justify the volume orders.

Battery Cost

The main point is that the batteries are a significant fraction of the cost of the list price. By reading the list price for the FX or FXS, a little math shows that each battery brick costs $2250 and the price for a FX/FXS without any batteries is $6500. The S/DS/SR/DSR line's batteries likely represents an even higher fraction of the motorcycle cost; given the 3-brick vs 4-brick list price, it seems like if the "brick price" were $2200 the base battery-less price would be $4800 (this is bogus but illustrative).

It's worth remembering that the warrantee and lifetime of the motorcycle is separate from that for the battery; the battery is guaranteed to last a lot longer than most motorcycles and presumably will be suitable for recycling or a trade-in at the end of its life or when battery technology is much better in a few years.

Haggling

Don't try to negotiate a lower price - these motorcycles do not make a dealer a lot of money in servicing fees, so they don't anticipate making back profit after the initial sale. The margins on these vehicles are not generous; see above about the batteries, etc. New dealers especially need to prove that these vehicles will make them money, and there are many concerns for dealers about electric vehicles, so don't make it harder for them to do business.

Performance

Horsepower levels for the S/DS technically match a healthy 500cc sportsbike; torque levels are similar, however, torque on any Zero is accessible in such a way that it will feel like a bike in a higher class. For most traffic situations, even these basic configurations are enough to escape all but the most determined sports car drivers.

The SR/DSR models have horsepower that matches a healthy 650cc sportsbike. Torque levels are technically similar, but don't peak by dumping the clutch or any other gearbox-focused techniques. Torque is broadly available in a way that matches Zero's specifications on their website but does not exceed it without changing the gearing or overriding software-configured limits (and few will do this for you).

The FX and FXS are marketed as offroad and supermoto configurations, and this is fair to characterize, but they won't quite match expectations from others in that market. Again, torque is high and broadly available, but no gearbox-based peak torques are available to wheelie trivially.

Exciting Exception
2017 SR and DSR models appear to crank out enough torque accelerating hard from a stop to lift the front wheel, due to upgraded motor and controller specifications, a stronger belt, and a slightly higher gearing ratio.

Range

Zero's stated ranges are very accurate for the conditions they list.

You can trust them, but also be aware of the factors that reduce range day-to-day:

  • Hilly terrain.
  • Low temperatures.
  • Headwinds.

Charge Time

The onboard charger will charge a Zero in several hours, which means you can recover a full charge during a workday or overnight.

  • Drawing from 220V vs 110V will heat the cord up less but not improve charge rate.
  • A larger batter does not improve charge rate, but will increase charge time.

Investment in charging should be made with one metric in mind: the rate of range recovery per hour (mph or kph). The onboard charger will recover range at 12-15 miles per hour. The Charge Tank or an added Elcon will recover about 35-40 miles per hour. Your daily range needs, if an overnight charge does not cover them, can be accommodated on a schedule determined by your charging equipment.

Maintenance

From a gas motorcyclist's perspective, a Zero means a cleaner garage and lower maintenance cycle. Mileage put on a Zero instead of another bike delays the need for chain maintenance, oil changes, and other regular chores.

The wear and tear on most Zero parts also tends to be lower: brake pads and tires last up to twice as long for most owners, due to factors like regenerative braking easing the load on the pads, and lack of powertrain vibration subtly easing the load on the tire tread.

The belt typically lasts per the manufacturer's recommendation, and tension doesn't require much checking and adjustment, but obviously belts are riskier and can snap if jerked on a bad landing or if gravel or sand gets between the sprocket and belt.

Repair

Zeros sometimes need repair like other motorcycles, or have issues that are completely novel. Because they're a small manufacturer that has qualitatively different issues from the major existing manufacturers, this can still be a bumpy process in terms of troubleshooting, parts ordering, and time to deliver.

Zero's corporate customer service hotline can be quite helpful, but they often direct you readily to your dealer at some point as a matter of policy so it's not always an ideal interaction and your relationship with (and proximity to) your dealer can be very important sometimes.

One reason this website exists (apart from forums) is to complement this experience and share knowledge to improve everyone's experience with these vehicles.

Components

Through 2014, suspension and brakes were sourced from FastAce and Nissin. The economic factors that force choices for a manufacturer of their size are basically that a large manufacturer will not give them a good price until they prove sales volume.

Zero invests in mechanical component upgrades as soon as they can get them available at prices their MSRP can afford. Better parts generally would raise the price of the vehicle.

Battery price also figures as from a third to a half of the vehicle's price overall. Lithium batteries are not cheap, and Zero's cells are denser in charge to weight and volume ratios than all electric cars. Zero targets a price point and a vehicle weight to make a useful standard commuter bike with performance features.

Electric motorcycles with better components than Zero tend to cost from $5k-15k higher, because they're produced in smaller batches. The economics of scale are unavoidable - if Zero sells more units, they eventually can demand better component deals.

Used

Any models produced before 2013 were produced in small numbers, and each year iterated on a number of engineering pieces that make them a little too special to keep running without decent expertise, or using them modestly with a little luck. Zero did offer 2014 model trade-ins for these bikes for a number of reasons.

If you buy used, check for basic maintenance: loose and corroded bolts, belt tension and vibration while riding, and brake pad wear. Mainly, find out how regularly the bike was charged and ridden, and whether a dealer visit happened recently to get the latest firmware updates. Definitely ensure that the motorcycle's range matches your needs (daily commute plus a buffer for errands or distractions, or whatever joyrides intended).

Salvage Title

Because electric motorcycles have totally different systems and their frames are not produced in wide numbers, any bike that has been written off by an insurance company as a total loss should be treated as extremely risky.

Any money saved by buying a salvage title is at risk from damage to the frame or powertrain being a catastrophic risk in the future or some of the electrical components being compromised over their lifetime.

If you really want to get a bike this way, have an expert on Zeros specifically look the bike over and give a thorough assessment. Also consider treating it as a parts bike for yourself or others. It is conceivable that the recovered battery, when used in a stationary setting for a house battery, could deliver some value, but you will definitely want a professional for lithium batteries to be involved in assessing it.

Storage

The battery is impacted and potentially damaged by temperature extremes.

If you intend to buy a Zero, have a plan that keeps it above freezing temperatures throughout the winter, and to keep it from overheating in the sun in particularly hot climates. This means storing in indoors or under shade as appropriate.

See Zero's Hot and Cold Weather Operations Guide for specific limits.

Warranty

Zeros have a limited warranty. Terms of the warranty are subject to change. As of this writing (April 2017) you can find the specifics for any model/year at Zero Warranty Information. In general, the warranty for the battery is five years; everything else is two years.

Extended Warranty
Some dealers may offer extended warranties for the bike and (from personal experience) separate warranties for wheel damage, etc.
As of this writing these warranties are third-party, and are in no way connected with/endorsed by Zero Motorcycles Inc.
Discussion

gyrocyclist posed a question on the Zero forum: extended warranty: is it worth it? Doug S responded with an excellent post that's applicable to vehicles in general, electric or ICE:

Defining "worth it" is the problematic part. Virtually all warranties aren't "worth it" in the sense that it's a bet you're hoping you lose (you're betting your equipment will fail, in which case you collect the cost of repair or replacement), and more often than not, you pay more for the warranty than any service/parts/replacement the warranty covers.

But it's a very different story in terms of peace of mind and how expensive it can be if something does happen. Virtually nobody with a mortgage doesn't have homeowners' insurance, and rightly so...the potential for loss can easily be permanently life-changing. Even though homeowners' insurance may be pricey, it's a fool (or a wealthy person who can afford to self-insure) who has a mortgage and doesn't have it.

So it's a numbers game. If the stars (mis)aligned and your battery failed just out of warranty, would you be catastrophically affected or could you scrape up the money to repair it? That's the downside of not having an extended warranty. The upside is not having the payments. So it's a small chance (5%?) of a major expense versus the certainty of a somewhat smaller expense.

Keep in mind that the insurance companies are not in business to pay out more than they take in, on average, and extended warranties are some of the most lucrative for them.