Potential Buyers Guide
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.
How does riding a Zero compared to the majority of combustion-powered motorcycles?
|No heat emitted from the motor||The motor wastes very little energy||
||No built-in warmth during cold weather|
|No vibration||The motor has no real moving parts||
||No "rumble" aesthetic|
|Stealth||Only the bearing and belt make a sound.||
|Always-On Torque||The motor's torque curve is not flat but extremely broad and shallow.||
|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
- "Sport" vs "Dual Sport"
- 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.
- "Offroad" vs "Supermoto"
- The FX and FXS have a similar basis, sharing the same frame while using different suspension and wheels to differentiate handling.
The sticker price is the most visible hurdle to buying a Zero (or any electric motorcycle); understanding how a Zero's cost structure works helps with an ownership decision.
A Zero's price to features ratio "on paper" doesn't compare with traditional gasoline-powered motorcycles. Some generally understood factors contribute:
- Battery Cost
- The most important thing to understand is that the batteries cost one third to one half 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).
- Battery Warranty
- The warrantee and lifetime of the battery is longer than and separate from that for the motorcycle.
- The battery is guaranteed to last a lot longer than most motorcycles.
- Presumably, Zero batteries once outdated will be suitable for recycling, trade-in, or some kind of technology re-use like residential power storage.
- Low Scale
- There are a few factors that come with being a small manufacturer:
- Mainly, 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.
- Impact on Purchase Decision
It's worth getting a battery pack that provides perhaps 50% more range than you require for your commute or average needs, so that you can suffer some loss of capacity and still have a safety reserve. That way you never need to worry about it and you'll easily get your 8-10 years of useful service by which point you've certainly had your money's worth from the bike and can upgrade.
Cost of Ownership
The payoff for a Zero is a combination of freed-up time and reduced cost of ownership per mile (or per thousand miles).
- Regular, high-mileage commuting gets the best value out of a Zero.
- The simplest way to ensure that you'll be happy owning a Zero is be able to use it for as much mileage as possible per year.
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 or car reduces or 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.
- Regenerative braking easing the load on the pads.
- Lack of powertrain vibration subtly easing the load on the tire tread.
- Brake pads and tires last up to twice as long for most owners.
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.
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.
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.
Electric vehicle ranges are a critical factor in a buying decision (because charging is so much slower than refueling), and electric motorcycles work differently from electric cars or regular motorcycles.
- Interpreting Zero's Claims
- Zero's marketing leads with the city (30mph) range, and then shows the highway (70mph) range of their largest-capacity configuration.
- The specs are very accurate for the conditions described; Zero's claims are repeatable.
- How This Varies
- Zero describes range factors officially on their website.
- Electric motorcycles are inherently sensitive to circumstantial range loss:
- The central factor in range is speed:
- The bike is working with very little stored energy compared to gasoline (at most ½ gallon of gas with a Power Tank).
- Despite maybe a 95% powertrain efficiency, the stock vehicle and rider together interfere very strongly with the air above 50mph.
- For these reasons of drag, Zero is right to point out that the 70mph range is half its city range.
- Hilly Terrain
- The energy spent climbing an incline will not be fully recovered by regenerative braking descending the same altitude.
- Cold and Wet Weather
- Anything that cools the battery significantly risks reducing its performance.
- This may or may not be accounted for in the onboard range estimation.
- Headwinds increase the bike's airspeed, and drag/power requirements increase exponentially with additional speed.
- (Yes, it's technically more like a quadratic figure.)
- This can be mitigated by investing in a windscreen or fairing.
For these reasons, it is worth considering a margin of range beyond your absolute needs in order to account for these factors. But once practiced with these bikes, range estimation is fairly straightforward.
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.
- Each charging upgrade of 3kW 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.
- Charger Comparison in the aftermarket page describes the common options and tradeoffs.
- Travel Upgrades describes the tradeoffs between buying a Power Tank and installing charging upgrades, which are for most customers mutually exclusive.
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.
Zero has pursued a dealer-centric sales strategy, which means that for the most part, Zeros are placed next to gasoline-powered motorcycles with sales and service staff learning them as a new aspect of their work.
- When New Models Arrive
- Zero announces new models in the late fall (October or November at prominent motorcycle shows) and then delivers them towards the end of the year or the start of the next.
- We strongly recommend against negotiating 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.
- For these reasons, haggling seems to be detrimental to the health of the community and market until battery prices reduce significantly, which is not foreseeable yet.
Buying Demo Models
Demo rides are arranged on bikes that are handled separately from the regular sales path; it's unclear whether the dealer buys the bikes outright or what arrangement is going on.
- Buying demo units once the following year's models have been released is a viable strategy if the unit has had all its regular maintenance and firmware updates applied.
- Demo units are vulnerable to damage from customers not taking the bikes seriously and over-torquing during the demo rides, so they may have taken some damage, but the real risk is a loose electrical connection after buying.
Here are the big picture items to check when considering a used Zero.
- Battery Health
- Find out how regularly the bike was charged and ridden.
- A bike left in unheated storage for several months or more will need significant scrutiny of the battery or possibly entire replacement.
- Check whether a dealer visit happened recently to get 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).
- Battery capacities tend to improve 15% every two years.
- Generic maintenance might need fixing if the owner assumes the Zero needs no attention:
- Loose and/or corroded bolts.
- Belt tension and vibration while riding.
- Brake pad wear.
- Brake fluid condition.
- Any models produced before 2013 were produced in small numbers, which makes them worth scrutinizing for quality issues.
- 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.
- The original motors are brushed, which have maintenance issues over time.
- The cells are from EIG, not the current manufacturer Farasis, and are not as mature a design, so at their age are likely to be in poor condition if not used regularly.
- On the positive side, rebuilding an old battery pack can be done with Nissan LEAF or similar cells with enough professional knowledge and care.
- Zero did offer 2014 model trade-ins for these bikes for a number of reasons.
- These models are the first years of the main line, and as such will be reasonable to buy, but they do present issues with age:
- Made by FastAce and less robust than later years.
- The models used are no longer sold; Zero does seem to have warehouse spares, but these are not easy to obtain quickly.
- The forks are susceptible to leaks on the left side, presumably due to the strain of a single-side disc brake coupled with perhaps slight installation mistakes or quality issues.
- Not very robust overall. Seek out replacements if possible. Frontend and shock swaps have been performed by some shops, and might get better support soon.
- No ABS support.
- Smaller brake discs limit stopping power.
- Lower 12V system capacity (related to the ABS support).
- The mirrors are angular and don't suit everyone's ergonomic needs.
- 2013 models retained some 2012 characteristics worth considering:
- The frame is marginally less robust.
- The frame and systems do not support a Power Tank or Charge Tank.
- The Accessory Charging Port only supports 30A input and is fused at that limit, so the fastest charge time will be 2.5 hours.
- The instrument cluster is a generic Koso gauge and is much less informative (especially for battery charge) or integrated than later years.
- The lower plastics are a stylistic holdover with a different mounting.
- The charger is a group of Meanwell units managed by a separate circuit board called the "CCU".
- These generally behave well but present a slightly more complicated troubleshooting process if something goes wrong.
- Overall, these bikes have been reliable and robust.
- Onboard Charger
- The original onboard chargers had a noticeable failure rate after the first thousand miles or so.
- Replacement chargers seem to behave better.
Buying Salvage Titles
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.
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.
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.
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.