ELECTRIC: What does our future look like?

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Bob Pickett’s been investigating and has spoken to Dale Robinson, Zero Motorcycles‘ UK Manager. Here’s what you need to know…

The UK Government has decreed the end of production of ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles from 2035. Manufacturers like Maeving are filling the small-capacity space, but with just 11 years to go, the range of larger capacity/power electric motorcycles on the market still remains relatively small.

Leading the way in the larger capacity market since being founded by former NASA Engineer Neal Saiki in 2006 is Zero. Since releasing its first electric-powered bike in 2007, it’s gone from strength to strength, creating a range of bikes to suit riders of all dispositions.

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Zero Electric Motorcycles

Dale Robinson, Zero Motorcycles’ UK country manager since 2018 talks about about the current state of electric vehicle infrastructure, how they see this developing, and what the electric motorcycle industry has to do to catch up with the car side.

Let’s talk charging. How many public points do you feel will be needed to meet 2030/2035’s end of ICE production?

That’s a hard question to answer because for many customers it’s not really that relevant. The beauty of a Zero is that you can charge it through a three-pin socket, at home and at work, and because of that less people use the ‘infrastructure’ than you might think. Charging at home for a couple of quid, you’ve got over 100 miles of riding before having to recharge in most circumstances, so for most of the people, most of the time, they’re not even using public charging facilities.

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What about coverage? Some areas have got it better than others…

For sure there is better coverage in some areas of the country than others. I’ve personally been riding my Zero in Scotland this summer and found it one of the best parts of the country for touring on an EV. There are multiple charging points in most villages, a fairly standardised network through the Chargeplace Scotland scheme and, if anything, I’d say Scotland is one of the best parts of the country for coverage.

Zero Electric Motorcycles

Of course, everything can always be improved, but something people not used to riding ICE vehicles don’t consider is that you charge at home (or work) so you can always leave with a full charge. Most of the time you don’t have to use special facilities to refuel a Zero, which makes public charging infrastructure less of an issue than many (non-EV riders) think it is.

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And what about standardising payment?

This is probably one of the most frustrating things about using public chargers. I have so many apps on my phone and different RFID cards, but there does seem to have been a change in recent years. Most new facilities seem to be incorporating contactless, pay as you go, charging which is much easier, and hubs like the ones you mention and the ones from Gridserve are dedicated towards EV recharging.

However, the cheapest and easiest way to recharge for most riders will be at home, and that’s one of the biggest educational messages we try to make. You don’t have to use these facilities very often, it really is as easy as plugging your bike in at the end of a ride, and having a full ‘tank’ ready for you at the start of the next day.

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Do you feel riders need to shift the way they deal with ‘filling up’?

You do need to plan when making longer journeys, that’s for sure. Quickly you become aware of the effect your riding style has on range, and the famous range anxiety fades away with experience. On a longer journey you definitely want to start out fully charged, and to plan any stops in places where you know there will be a charger. Making sure you plug in the bike when you stop has its benefits, and even a 20-minute stop can add 40 or so miles to your range if you plan it right.

There’s no doubt that doing longer journeys with an EV requires the rider/driver to adapt, but if they start out fully charged, manage their speed and use the most effective charging posts then it isn’t the problem many think it is, and personally I have regularly racked up 300-mile days while out on dealer visits.

Like everything it is about experience. We are conditioned by a lifetime of petrol bikes and it is difficult to change things which are second nature. It can be bewildering, but those who embrace it know it’s not a problem. Like a mobile phone, you plug in at the end of the night and are fully charged the next day.

Unless you’re doing longer journeys, you never need to charge anywhere else, but we accept this is perceived as a major barrier to making the switch by many and much of our marketing is aimed at informing and educating potential customers, through our dealer training programme and through content on social media, where you can see all sorts of UK-focused films showing how to maximise range and to charge using public chargers.

What about the lack of sound? Could it be dangerous for pedestrians?

Vehicles are being made quieter and quieter all the time with the latest emissions laws, and modern petrol vehicles are also very quiet, so that’s probably more a question for the legislators than it is a manufacturer. A Zero still makes noise, the tyre noise being the most prominent. I don’t really feel there is any particular valid argument, and I am not aware of any such incidents involving our bikes. Increasingly we see pedestrians and drivers distracted by their devices today and I tend to ride more defensively in built-up areas these days whatever I am riding.

In terms of sound and feel, yes, I agree they are part of the motorcycling experience and the sound and experience of a Zero gives a totally fresh and unique perspective to riders – it’s part of the exhilaration and the reason many people are buying electric motorcycles! The smoothness and acceleration are unreal and the lack of an engine sound (although there is a futuristic ‘whoosh’) gives you a connection to the road that’s different to anything else.

I’m a motorcyclist: I’ve got two-strokes, V-fours, Harleys… all sorts in my garage. I’ve owned and ridden and raced pretty much everything out there and I love all my bikes for the character they bring. Zeros are like nothing else and that’s why we’ve been very active with our Experience Electric tour, where we take the bikes to riders and give them a chance to go for a no obligation ride. They come back with a smile, they always come back with a smile, even when they want to hate it, because it’s an amazing experience that compares to nothing else. They come along thinking it’s like a petrol bike with no volume, but they soon realise they’re full of torque and character, and you don’t miss all the things you think you will because everything’s so different when your senses aren’t being assaulted. Come along and try one, it’s the only way to understand!

How do you see Zero’s position in the marketplace evolving as ‘bigger’ manufacturers begin to release their own electric bikes?

As above, we’re the market leader and the sector innovator. We make electric motorcycles because we believe in them. We’re not here to bash petrol or preech to the masses, we think our premium electric motorcycles give an elevated riding experience that’s superior in many ways to ICE-powered machines. That’s our USP and right now people buy our machines because they want to, and not because they have to. We’re proud to be the torch bearers for this new sector and we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe we would continue to be at the forefront of the sector and the brand everyone is looking to as the market leaders.

Zero Electric Motorcycles

How about hydrogen?

Zero makes electric motorcycles, that’s what we do. There’s a lot of talk about hydrogen and I hear arguments for and against. We make 100% electric motorcycles and we do that because we believe in it.

Some argue that riding electric just moves the pollution elsewhere. What would you say to that?

All our research points to the lifetime emissions being less than that of an equivalent petrol motorcycle and, obviously, the tailpipe emissions are zero which keeps our cities’ air cleaner. How ‘clean’ the Zero is will depend on how the electricity is generated, but independent studies back up our own numbers.

But, at the end of the day, we know that the majority of our customers are not buying a Zero to be green, but because they love the experience. We’re seeing that in the car world, too, where drivers appreciate how easy EVs are to use and because they fit their lifestyle. We’re not telling people to buy our bikes for ecological reasons (even though there are some) but asking them to judge us on the elevated riding experience our product brings.

Bob has been living with the Zero SR/F – check back next week for his report!

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