Despite making peak figures of 30.6bhp and 79.7ftlb of torque, the new Zero S ZF6.5 is A1-legal and therefore classed alongside 125cc petrol-powered bikes - which means it can be ridden with L-plates on a provisional licence. So how does a machine with almost as much torque as a BMW S1000RR class as a 125?
Continuous power figures are defined as the amount of power the motor can continuously sustain over 30-minutes. With a petrol motor this is constant, but on an electric vehicle the power drops as the battery’s charge decreases, reducing the average figure. This means electric vehicles have large peak values but considerably lower continuous values, making them technically conform to power-restricted classes. BMW exploited this loophole with their C evolution scooter, which was also classed as a 125 when it was first launched despite outperforming its 647cc petrol siblings.
However while I understand why Zero have homologated their Zero S into the A1 class, I’m not sure I agree with it being in there in its current specification. Electric bikes produce all of their torque almost instantly from any revs, and when you have nearly 80ftlb being transferred through a skinny (and often cold) rear tyre with no form of traction control, it can be a recipe for disaster. Especially with inexperienced riders and the slightly detached feeling you have on an electric bike’s throttle. And that’s my main problem with the Zero.
I’m a fan of electric bikes and I can certainly see them playing a role in urban transport in the future, and I really like the route Zero are taking forging the path for this new technology, but not putting traction control on the S is a mistake. I rode the bike in the wet and you need to exercise a high degree of caution. It’s the silly mistakes that catch you out – accelerating on gravel, asking for too much power when you are pulling out of a junction while lent over, diesel soaked roundabouts – all errors that I can see being committed and on such a torque-laden bike with no electronic safety net that is a worry. And it’s a shame as I like the rest of the Zero.
The fact it only has one battery compared to the dual battery ZF13 model leaves a huge lockable space to go with the tank compartment, not only increasing its practicality but also making it 43kg lighter than the twin battery version and more manoeuvrable at low speed. I like the overall feeling of a quality product with fully-adjustable suspension, smartphone connectivity, ABS and varying power and regeneration modes. The five-year warranty on the battery is impressive and like all electric bikes, there is next to no servicing costs when it comes to the motor.
The Zero is a nice bike to ride and I could live with the EU-certified range of 52-miles as when ridden in an urban environment it is far closer to 70-miles and the Zero’s range indicator is accurate enough to be relied upon. So what’s stopping me buying one? The lack of traction control is one factor, but at £9190 going electric is still too expensive. And that’s before you consider adding an extra battery to double the bike’s range for £3000, the power tank range extender for a further £2600 and then £702 for a quick charger unit!
If the Zero S ZF6.5 were closer to £6000 it would be a genuine alternative for urban riders, but until the prices drop significantly, electric bikes are still only for the dedicated few who are prepared to pay that premium price to subsidise future product development.
• Permanent magnet AC air-cooled electric motor
• Claimed average range of 52 miles
• 4-hour recharge time to 95%
• A1-licence legal
• Peak figures of 30bhp and 79.7ftlb of torque
• Two lockable storage compartments
• Smartphone-compatible via App
• 5-year warranty on the battery
Price: £9190 (after £1500 government grant)
Motor: Permanent magnet AC air-cooled
Battery capacity: 6.5kWh
Battery life: 291,000km @ 80% capacity
Battery warranty: 5-years, unlimited mileage
Peak power: 30.6bhp @ 4150rpm (continuous 15bhp
Recharge time: 4.7 hours on standard 240V, 1.6 hours with max accessory chargers
Suspension: 41mm Showa inverted forks, fully-adjustable. Rear: Showa shock, fully-adjustable
Brakes: 1 x 320mm disc, two-piston caliper; 240mm disc, one-piston caliper. ABS
Seat height: 807mm
Tyres: 110/70 17in; 140/70 17in
Rider aids: ABS, three power modes
Battery range: 51.2 miles (EU certified)
Claimed best battery range: 81.2 miles (in city test)
Power: 30.6bhp @ 4150rpm
Recharge time: 4.7 hours
The Zero S ZF6.5 needs traction control, but in terms of practicality and performance it has everything an urban rider needs, provided they can stomach the high price tag. So we've given it 3/5 stars.
Read more of MCN's motorbike tests and verdicts here.