First L.A. Times Ride, Zero DS: An electric hero from Zero

The golden sound of silence is not an attribute normally associated with motorcycle riding, but the sound of the Zero DS is one of its best qualities.

The DS is a high performance, dual sport, all-electric motorcycle. At top speed, and under extreme acceleration, it makes no more noise than a summer breeze.

It has no engine, which means it has no pistons, no crankshaft, no clutch, no transmission and no chain. No moving parts means no vibration, no engine heat and no noise.

All of the power from the Z-Force electric motor -- which produces 54Hp and 68 foot-pounds of torque -- goes through a drive belt directly to the back wheel. It's pure horsepower, with nothing lost along the way.

That means this motorcycle really moves. The clutchless, gear-less transfer of power is sweet and smooth, applying that torque right to the pavement and making for extremely zippy acceleration. On the freeway, at 60 mph, it loses very little time getting to its advertised top speed of 95 mph.

On a recent run up the Angeles Crest, I kept pace easily with my Ducati-, Triumph- and BMW-riding pals. Having seen earlier iterations of the Zero electric motorcycle, they were impressed by this one's speed, agility, acceleration and handling.

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Zero says this motorcycle is 85% new. It goes faster, and lasts longer, than its predecessors.

It also rides like a real bike. The designers and engineers behind it have worked at BMW, KTM, Husqvarna, Buell and other motorcycle companies. They were serious about building a serious bike, and they've done it. (Actually, several serious bikes. Zero, based in Santa Cruz, also produces "streetfighter," "stealth fighter," "urban crosser" and "motocross" versions, using the same technology that powers the DS.) This bike has real-motorcycle suspension, real-motorcycle brakes and real-motorcycle ergonomics.

The power comes from a big square battery, the Z-Force Li-lon. It produces enough energy to equal an estimated 426 mpg, in gasoline terms. A full "tank" of electricity (a recharge) costs about $1.20.

But it doesn't get you as far as some riders will want. Zero promises a range of 126 city miles, 76 highway miles at 55 mph, and 61 highway miles at 70 mph. Riding in "eco" mode extends the battery. Riding in "sport" mode drains it faster. You could go as far as 137 miles, the company says, if you were being ginger with the throttle and not hitting high speeds.

That fits my experience. The 70-mile Crest run up to Newcombe's and back -- with one brief blast to 95 mph to see about that promised top speed -- had me running on empty, and limping home with a bad case of what's known as "range anxiety."

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The bike recharges with a simple plug, and takes about seven hours to get fully juiced. You can also seek and find a CHAdeMO charging station, and recharge in an hour -- if you're in Northern California, Phoenix, Texas or Tennessee, or anywhere in Western Europe, but not if you're anywhere around Los Angeles.

That may be limiting for some riders. (The company says it's sold about 1,700 units over the last three years.) So too may be the price -- $15,999 for the model I rode, or $13,995 for the same model with a smaller battery.

It bears observing, though, that the Zero offers savings other than those at the gas pump. Imagine no oil change, no valve adjustments, no engine repairs, and a battery that the company says will run for an estimated 316,000 miles before it needs to be replaced.

The bike also comes with its own app -- the first of its kind, the company says. Synch up your iPhone and you can change modes and monitor battery charge, usage and range in deep detail.

What none of that can communicate is the magic carpet ride sensation of going really fast in total silence. Most of the people I've met who haven't ridden a Zero wonder why they should. Most of the ones who have ridden a Zero only wonder how they can get their hands on one.


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