ZERO S (2020 - on) Review

Highlights

  • Vastly improved electric roadster
  • ‘Fuel’ cost of 2-3p a mile, town range 150+ miles
  • Minimal servicing costs

At a glance

Power: 59 bhp
Seat height: Medium (31.8 in / 807 mm)
Weight: Medium (419 lbs / 190 kg)

Prices

New £12,690
Used £11,000 - £12,700

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
3 out of 5 (3/5)

In 2020 electric bikes seem to be divided between ultra-premium £20,000+ tech-laden flagships and ultra-affordable, sub-£5k Chinese-built scooters and 125-substitutes. In between those two extremes it’s slim pickings to find an electric motorcycle at average petrol-bike money. But one offering is the Zero S. Officially it’s £14,190 (2020 price), though a £1500 government grant leaves £12,690 for an owner to find.

That buys a reasonably quick yet relaxed roadster – 59bhp peak power, 86mph top speed – which is incredibly simple to ride and costs peanuts to run. The range and recharge time realistically limit its role to the daily commute and short leisure rides, which is also where the relatively basic chassis parts feel most at home. But if you face a regular round trip of 70-ish miles, have a garage to recharge it overnight, and hate handing your hard-earned over to petrol companies, this offers an interesting emissions-free alternative without a stratospheric price tag.

This isn't our first go at reviewing the Zero S. Previously in 2017 we put a 6.5kWh version of the ZF13 model to the test. Read our 2017-2019 Zero S ZF6.5 review here.

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
3 out of 5 (3/5)

Fully adjustable Showa suspension at both ends sounds promising, though the ride quality lacks the plush sophistication you’d expect from a £13k bike. At steady speeds on smooth surfaces it’s fine, but try to ride sportily or on rough roads and the suspension turns harsh and loose. Steering is quick and easy, thanks to its surprisingly light weight (just 190kg on our scales, identical to a Triumph Street Triple RS), along with sharp steering geometry (a tiny 80mm of trail) and skinny tyre sizes (110 front, 140 rear).

Brakes look basic given the bike’s price – just a single disc up front with a sliding two-piston caliper, though you do get braided lines and, of course, ABS. That said there’s enough stopping power for normal riding, especially given any conscientious electric rider will want to maximise range by riding smoothly and using the motor’s regeneration as much as possible.

Overall the S feels quite small physically, with a riding position that sits you on top of the bike, rather than deep inside it. It’s not cramped, however, with decent legroom thanks to low footpegs. All in all it feels designed as a relaxed, easygoing naked commuter, rather than a seriously sporty roadster.

Engine

Next up: Reliability
3 out of 5 (3/5)

The S is powered by Zero’s ‘Z-Force 75-5’ electric motor. It’s totally air-cooled, and with no gearbox or clutch there’s no coolant or oil to change come service time. Instead it’s direct drive, with a low-maintenance belt between motor and rear wheel. That means it couldn’t be easier to ride – just twist the throttle and it goes. You can’t ever be in the wrong gear, plus it’s impossible to stall.

Peak output is 59bhp and 80lb·ft of torque, though the lack of a gearbox limits thrust at the rear-wheel. In full-power ‘Sport’ mode it pulls away from a standing start briskly, rather than mind-blowingly fast, then carries on pulling with smooth, linear, consistent force all the way to its restricted 86mph top speed. No doubt it could go faster, so the limiter is likely in place to preserve range and not over-stress either motor or battery.

One curious quirk of the way electric motors are classified means that, even though it puts out 59bhp, from 2020 the S falls into the same licencing category as a 125, despite being so much faster. That means it can be ridden on an A1 licence – handy if you happen to be a 17-year-old with a spare twelve grand.

The motor’s fed by a 12.6kWh (nominal capacity) lithium-ion battery pack – that’s the same size as Zero’s flagship SR/S and SR/F models, which are considerably pricier. Real-world range varies between 70-75 miles if you’re out in the countryside enjoying the speed, 90-100 miles if you mix in some steadier riding, and over 150 miles in the city. On one ride in ‘Eco’ mode staying below 30mph, we covered 18 miles using just 10% of the battery, meaning Zero’s 178-mile claimed maximum range is pretty plausible.

Recharging is done by simply plugging one end of a three-pin lead (like a kettle flex) into the side of the bike and the other into a regular household socket. With a slow 1.3kW onboard charger, a full recharge is an overnight affair – around 10 and a half hours. Zero offer a couple of options to speed things up or access public charging points, but in stock trim the S is primarily meant to be recharged at home.

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
3 out of 5 (3/5)

There’s arguably a lot less to go wrong than a petrol bike, given the lack of moving parts in an electric motor. Early Zeros suffered a few hiccups, though the quality seems to have improved a lot in recent years. That said, between the simple single-colour plastics and some of the slightly industrial-looking fixtures and fittings, it still doesn’t have the same overall air of build quality as a similarly priced petrol bike. That’s understandable, given so much of the budget has to go into the battery and drivetrain.

Funnily enough, the one bit most riders might fret about – battery life – is actually one thing that’s unlikely to be a problem. Zero offer a five-year, unlimited-mile warranty on the battery pack, and rate it as good for well over 100,000 miles (over 240,000 miles at city speeds) before capacity has dropped to 80%. In short, it’s designed to last the life of the bike.

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
3 out of 5 (3/5)

Tricky to gauge, because it depends on what you consider a rival. If you’re looking at other electric bikes, it’s half the price of a Harley-Davidson LiveWire or a fully kitted Zero SR/S. If you’re looking at other daily commuter roadsters, it’s twice the price of a Honda CB500F.

Beyond that initial price, running costs are phenomenally low. A full charge costs around £2 (depending on your electricity rates), which works out to a fuel cost of just 2-3p a mile. Ride 60 miles a day, five days a week and you’d save around £100 a month over a typical 50mpg petrol bike.

On top of that, servicing costs are rock-bottom (no fluids, filters or spark plugs to change, and no costly valve clearance checks), while vehicle excise duty is totally free. Clearly there’s a sizeable sum up front, but the more miles you ride the more financial sense going electric starts to make.

Equipment

2 out of 5 (2/5)

Electric bikes might sound futuristic, but the S’s spec list isn’t cutting-edge in 2020 – especially when you consider its price. An LCD dash would have looked super-flash 10 years ago, but in 2020 even a £3800 KTM 125 Duke has a colour TFT display. The Zero S has three riding modes: Sport; Eco; plus a Custom mode whose settings are adjusted via Bluetooth using a smartphone app.

But there’s no traction control, no cruise control and no IMU, most of which can be found on plenty of £12,600 petrol bikes nowadays. The S’s charging setup is limited too, with no fast-charger or way of accessing the vast majority of public charging points in standard trim. The skinny tyres and basic brakes don’t give a sense of luxurious equipment either. You do get a small lockable storage cubbyhole where a petrol tank would normally sit, which is a practical touch. So too is the belt drive, which means no lubrication or cleaning, less-frequent tensioning, and a claimed lifespan of 24,000 miles.

Specs

Engine size -
Engine type Air-cooled electric motor
Frame type Aluminium twin-spar
Fuel capacity -
Seat height 807mm
Bike weight 190kg
Front suspension 41mm usd forks, adjustable preload, rebound and compression
Rear suspension monoshock, adjustable preload, rebound and compression
Front brake 320mm disc with two-piston caliper. ABS
Rear brake 240mm disc with single-piston caliper. ABS
Front tyre size 110/70-17
Rear tyre size 140/70-17

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption -
Annual road tax -
Annual service cost -
New price £12,690
Used price £11,000 - £12,700
Insurance group -
How much to insure?
Warranty term -

Top speed & performance

Max power 59 bhp
Max torque 80 ft-lb
Top speed 86 mph
1/4 mile acceleration -
Tank range -

Model history & versions

Model history

  • 2012 Zero S ZF9

Zero’s first road bike to reach the UK. Made 29bhp at the back wheel, had a 7.9kWh (nominal) battery, weighed just over 150kg. Top speed of around 85mph, real-world range between 50-60 miles. Crude build quality, poor suspension. But it’s a start.

  • 2013 Zero S ZF11.4

Totally redesigned with a new 102-volt powertrain and Zero’s own brushless motor. Battery capacity up to 10kWh (nominal), with power increased to 54bhp and 68lb·ft. Suspension and brakes still from the budget end of the spectrum. Real-world range up to 70-80 miles.

  • 2015 Zero S ZF12.5

Battery capacity increased 10% to 11kWh (nominal), adding more range. ABS now standard, while Showa suspension and Pirelli tyres introduced for the first time. Power remains 54bhp, top speed claimed to be 95mph.

  • 2016 Zero S ZF13.0

Redesigned internal permanent magnet motor offers more efficiency and improved cooling. Battery capacity up a whisker to 11.4kWh (nominal). Also available as a 6.5kWh version reviewed here.

  • 2018 Zero S ZF14.4

Zero introduce a version of the S with their largest-capacity battery yet, the ZF14.4 (12.6kWh nominal). Range of around 100 miles in mixed riding, or well over 150 miles at city speeds. Peak power up to 59bhp.

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