Can an elec­tric bike cut it in the real world?

£16k Zero DSR takes on a CB500X that costs just £5k on the MCN250


Elec­tric ve­hi­cle firms go to great lengths to con­vince us bat­ter­ies are fast and ex­cit­ing, as well as good for the planet. Mu­gen’s multi-mil­lion dol­lar Shin­den proudly laps the TT faster than a 250cc two-stroke GP bike, Tesla cars silently as­sas­si­nate Porsches at traf­fic lights and from next year a bunch of the world’s best rac­ers will line up on the grid on En­er­gi­cas in the Mo­toE cham­pi­onship.

It’s not high volt­age mar­ket­ing spin, ei­ther: elec­tric cars and

bikes can be rapid. Take the £21,085 Zero DSR Black For­est you see in the pic­tures. It makes a claimed 108ftlb of torque (3.5ftlb more than a su­per­charged Kawasaki H2), so it ac­cel­er­ates swiftly and so smoothly that mir­rors stay blur-free. And it’s not even that heavy at 190kg. Things look even bet­ter when you start look­ing at how lit­tle it costs to run, which all starts when a £1500 Govern­ment grant plops on to your door­mat. A full overnight home charge costs less than two quid and pub­lic charg­ers aren’t much more. Some are free.

So far so good, but the jum­bo­sized ele­phants in this elec­tron­charged room are bat­tery range, charg­ing time and, of course, the Zero’s eye-wa­ter­ing price. Cur­rent tech­nol­ogy means that an elec­tric bike’s forte is com­mut­ing a set dis­tance and be­ing able to plug it in when you’re at work and home. You could ar­gue it isn’t fair to take the DSR around our MCN250 route, but range and charg­ing time are the two mostasked ques­tions about E-bikes. To give the Zero some con­text we’re pitch­ing it against a Honda CB500X. It has sim­i­lar styling, is around the same phys­i­cal size, has the same up­right rid­ing po­si­tion and tall screen. The CB’s 471cc, 47bhp par­al­lel twin might be giv­ing away a zil­lion torques to the Zero, but it’s only 22bhp down and there’s only 6kg in it (the Honda is heav­ier). With a recharg­ing time of two to three hours, we need to plan our stops care­fully and eke out as many miles as we can on each charge. Rid­ing the MCN250 usu­ally takes be­tween seven and nine hours but it’s go­ing to take two days on the Zero and that’s if we take it steady. Our start point is MCN’s HQ in Peter­bor­ough, where there’s a charg­ing point, rather than the usual petrol sta­tion in Oun­dle where there isn’t. Even with a 100% charge dis­played and a range of 80-odd miles show­ing on the Zero’s dig­i­tal dash I re­sist the temp­ta­tion to open it up straight away. In­stead I se­lect Eco mode and ride like an an­gel. The idea works and within a few miles the range has gone up to 100 miles. You know how you ride when you’re on re­serve and you don’t know where the next petrol sta­tion is? Well that’s how I’m hav­ing to ride and by the time I’m in Northamp­ton I’ve got used to lor­ries leav­ing me in


The Zero’s head­light (left) is pretty hope­less

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