Originally published on CleanTechnica.
By Mike Barnard
What is the fastest production motorcycle in the world? What bike beat every other motorcycle and most cars up Pike’s Peak in 2013? What motorcycle had massive brake and shock upgrades while getting almost $2,000 cheaper in the past two years? What motorcycle is cheapest to own and run over several years?
The answers are electric motorcycles from Lightning and Zero. The rate of change in electric motorcycles is truly phenomenal, and mostly outshadowed by Tesla’s great job of getting amazing press by delivering amazing electric cars.
Let’s start with Zero.
The graphic on the right shows the 2011 to 2014 evolution of the Zero motorcycle: quadrupling of range, 50% increase in top speed, 150% more horsepower, and 150% increase in torque.
What it doesn’t show is the price or a couple of other key specs. In 2014, Zero also massively improved the brakes and shocks on the bike while dropping the price by $400. In 2015, the company left the specs of the bikes alone, but dropped the price tag by $1,350. How were they able to do that? Rapidly declining battery costs, mostly.
What is the Zero SR most comparable to? Well, in terms of torque, it’s up there with 1000 cc gas bikes, while in terms of horsepower, it’s equivalent to 600 cc bikes. That means it’s very quick off the line, with the SR rated at 3.3 seconds to 60 mph. The top speed isn’t as insane as bigger bikes, topping out around 100 mph — also known as the speed at which fines start being enough to fund municipal budgets and having your bike taken away from you is a serious possibility.
My last bike was a BMW F800ST, a beautifully mannered and very quick sport tourer from Bavaria. It took 3.5 seconds to get to 60 mph. I only took it above 100 mph a couple of times, and not by very much. Mostly, I enjoyed the quickness of it and cornering on it, rather than exotic speed.
I test drove an older Zero S a couple of weeks ago and started seriously thinking that maybe another bike was in my future. It was very quick, had no problem keeping up with the 650 cc sport bike that the staff member was riding and handled adequately. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t try out the SR with the better shocks and acceleration, but I was more surprised that the oil town I’m currently living in had electric motorcycles at all.
The exploration led to wondering what the total cost of ownership would be comparable to, similar to the assessment that one enterprising husband did a year or so ago between a Honda Odyssey minivan and a base model Tesla. He found it was almost the same price over 8 years of ownership, and was able to justify having a dead sexy car instead of a sex-killing minivan. I decided a comparison between a decent entry-level bike, the Suzuku SFV650, the Zero S and Zero SR, and my old BMW F800ST would be interesting.
It’s well known that it’s a lot cheaper to run and maintain electric vehicles. The assessment above took purchase prices, safety gear, fuel cost, insurance, depreciation, and annual maintenance costs into account. One key difference is that, right now, electric bikes are depreciating a lot faster than gas
bikes. This isn’t because they are wearing out faster but because new bikes are so much cheaper and better. It’s like the curse of the Tesla owner who bought a Model S 60 a week before the Model S 70D became the base model.
As can be seen, a Zero S is only about $4,400 more expensive over 8 years than an entry-level Suzuki, or 16%. And the Zero SR is only about $1,400 more expensive than my BMW F800ST over 8 years. When we start talking about BMW prices, that’s an irrelevant amount.
The BMW is suddenly $4,700 more expensive than an SR. If you aren’t worried about depreciation, all of a sudden, the SR starts looking financially appealing. The Zero S, not shown, becomes about $800 cheaper than the entry-level Suzuki, making it a very inexpensive choice if you are in the market for a bike.
The maintenance assessment was based on percentage likelihood of specific major repairs and maintenance such as annual tire changes, annual brake adjustments, annual tuneups and lower likelihood expenses such as oil pump changes, fuel pump failures, and the like.
But those numbers are based on the USA, where gas is fairly ludicrously cheap at about $3 per gallon compared to places where it’s more sensibly priced to drive market behavior that’s aligned with little things like climate change and pollution. The numbers also exclude any rebates such as California’s $900.
The Canadian average is $4.16 per gallon right now, and the European average is around $6 per gallon. In Canada, an SR is about $5,700 cheaper than the BMW over 8 years, while the S is about $1,700 cheaper than the Suzuki. And in Europe the numbers are even more startling, $8,400 and $4,300, respectively. Those are decisive numbers. They pay for a lot of upgrades to the Zeros, undoubtedly including new factory batteries with much greater range.