Sometimes story ideas originate from the strangest of places. Back in November, 2016, Robert Abbasi, president of RTI Properties in Gardena, California, asked us if we could help him post a job listing at his company that was looking for a motorcycle courier. We happily obliged, not thinking much of it (and, as it turns out, it was through our post that Abbasi found the candidate he was looking for – Enrique Villegas and his Kawasaki KZ1000, a former police bike).
Fast forward a few months later and the crew of MOrons is brainstorming a way to test Zero’s latest model: the Zero DS ZF6.5. It, along with its Zero S ZF6.5 sibling, represent the most affordable way to enter the Zero S/DS family, though it’s still a tad pricey at $10,995 (before rebates). As you might have deduced based on the name, the 6.5 is able to slide lower down the cost scale in Zero’s lineup due to its smaller battery. Using only half the battery packs inside the sealed monolith as its ZF13.0 bigger brother, the 6.5 sees max range reduced to a claimed 81 miles city (versus 161 city miles for the ZF13.0), and 54 miles of 70-mph highway riding.
However, what the DS6.5 gives up in range it makes up for in lightness, weighing in at 313 lbs full of electricity – that’s a whopping 95 lbs lighter than the ZF13.0. Also, with the extra battery packs removed, the space it formerly occupied is now a lockable storage compartment, big enough to carry a sacked lunch or even a set of gym clothes, if a lunchtime workout is your thing.
We prefer to eat during lunch instead of pump iron, but the extra storage compartment was what got us thinking back to Abbasi. In his job posting, there’s a mention of serving notices and performing inspections at property sites. Doing such would likely entail carrying documents – documents that would fit inside the Zero’s new storage compartment.
When it comes to testing electric motorcycles, it can be pretty difficult coming up with original ideas. We’ve done all the standard road tests one can do, many times on a Zero. But those were all done on the high-end versions of the model lineup. This time around we’re dealing with the Zero on the other end of the price spectrum, looking for a task outside the box to put it to the test – and unfortunately, we’ve already used up the excuse of finding the best veggie burritos in Los Angeles…
The next best answer, then, was to put the DS ZF6.5 to work, real work, serving notices and inspecting job sites for, you guessed it, Robert Abbasi and his company RTI Properties. Abbasi was excited about the idea, too, as his business tries to operate as eco-friendly as possible – much of the workplace is paperless (except for physical notices, of course), and the idea of an electric motorcycle fit perfectly with the eco-friendly theme while performing the job of motorcycle courier. It doesn’t hurt that he is an avid motorcycle fan, too, with several bikes in his garage.
For this test, Abbasi put together a route consisting of five job sites needing to be visited. Abbasi’s office would serve as the start and end point, and in total the route would consist of 41 miles, not including a lunch stop. Since the DS 6.5 has enough range for anywhere from 54 to 81 miles, says Zero, we figured it would be perfectly suited for this task. Our particular test bike was outfitted with Zero’s optional Charge Tank accessory ($1,995), which outfits the bike with a Level II J1772 adapter to be used at most electric vehicle charging stations throughout the country, and can recharge a completely drained battery in two hours. And in the interest of true courier duty, we also decided to add an accessory top case ($400) just in case we had to haul around bigger items.
To be clear: These were real tasks needing completion, not a staged route put together just for the sake of this story. Because of this, and since I’m not at all certified (or qualified!) to serve notices or inspect property sites, both Abbasi and Villegas escorted me along the ride.
The plan was simple: complete the first two tasks, grab lunch while letting the bike recharge, then finish off the rest of the items on Abbasi’s list. Should be simple, right? Of course, things rarely go as smoothly as we hope at MO…
Get To Work
To make this test as realistic as possible, I decided to ride the Zero (and not truck it) the 35 miles from my home to Abbasi’s office. Almost immediately an issue with being an e-courier in Los Angeles came to light – freeways. You can’t go anywhere in L.A. without hopping on the freeway, and a highway drone for miles on end is an electric’s worst nightmare. Nonetheless, the challenge was already on, and there was no turning back. As morning traffic came swarming past me on the freeway, I made sure to keep the Zero in Eco mode, which caps speed at 70 mph, and did my best to stay out of everyone’s way.
Using the free Chargepoint app, a cafe with a Level II charger was located less than a mile from Abbasi’s office, providing an ideal spot to take a small break and let the bike recharge – for just one dollar an hour. But here we experienced another problem: the 35-mile freeway jaunt left just 33% charge left, according to the Zero’s battery display on the dash. Range anxiety was starting to set in…
With only 20 minutes to charge before needing to meet Abbasi, the DS 6.5 now stood at 57%. This without even completing a single task yet. After meeting Abbasi and Villegas, checking out their respective Ducati Multistrada and Kawasaki KZ1000, and getting a brief overview of the day’s work, we were off. The first stop was only 11 miles later, but it was mostly on the freeway. Not the place we wanted to be to conserve energy.
Nonetheless, we arrived to our first task: inspecting a pool at an apartment complex RTI manages. No extra equipment was needed, so the Zero wasn’t unnecessarily weighted down. In fact, for the entirety of the day the only extras needed were a few pieces of paper announcing a future inspection or serving a notice. So extra weight was kept to a minimum.
Turns out the pool only needed a very minor fix, which a contractor remedied within a few hours. Meanwhile, it was on to the second stop only a mile away. Obviously, such short distance meant we could be a little more liberal with the e-throttle, which is where Abbasi got to experience the rush of electric acceleration for the first time. Intoxicating, yes, he said, but a mile is hardly enough distance to understand an electric.
Having spent more time on electrics than Abbasi, I can tell you the baby DS, in sport mode, accelerates like any other bike in the Zero line except for the SR and DSR – that is, with neck-pulling alacrity. Part of that is due to the lighter weight, but a more significant factor is the more powerful motor seen on the S/DS platform for 2017 – now rated at 550 amps compared to 420 amps before (R models also get upgraded motors – up to 775 amps from 660).
Ergonomically, the DS feels as it always has; upright, with a relaxed knee bend and gentle reach to the bars. Its seat is perfect for a courier, that is to say its cushioning will encourage you to get off and make a delivery somewhere between 20 and 50 miles into a ride.
The second stop included an inspection of a property to make sure it was up to snuff, and from there it was on to lunch. We decided to head back to the same cafe I stopped at in the morning, as it was in the direction we needed to travel for the other three stops. However, on the 12-mile ride to the charging station, Abbasi got a first-hand taste of range anxiety in its purest form – the Zero’s battery meter eventually dropped down to zero, pun not intended. We rode another two miles or so with the meter flashing wildly for us to find a charger, and to its credit, the DS made it back to the charge station under its own power, though its pessimistic gauge display added a bit of undue stress to its rider.
With the J1772 charger doing its thing, we did our thing and got a bite to eat. Meanwhile, Abbasi and Villegas shared their initial thoughts about the Zero. First and foremost is the added stress that comes from the battery gauge rapidly depleting. Freeway riding is a staple of life for the L.A. courier, and to use up energy so quickly riding normally on the freeway is stressful, to say the least. Keep in mind, too, that our route on this day was less than half what Villegas normally does. He tells me he can make up to 12 stops in a day, covering 120 miles or more, stopping only for gas or a (quick) bite to eat. Nearly all of those miles are on the freeway, and sometimes past the posted speed limit (this is L.A. after all).
As it stood, we were already waiting at our lunch stop for 60 minutes. The Zero was back up to 45% (indicated), but with three more stops to make (four, including the RTI office at the end) and 29 miles left to cover, plus another 35 miles back home, we decided to wait longer, at least until 80%. Another 30 minutes later and the DS was reading 63%. Shocked and slightly disappointed, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer and were going to make the push to finish out the rest of the day. Then, in the 15 minutes it took for us to finish talking, do some filming, and put our gear on, the Zero’s battery meter jumped from 63% straight to 95%, before moments later it read a full 100%. Weird.
With a full tank of, uh, electricity, the remaining 29 miles we needed to cover was a breeze. In the interest of riding like a real courier, the DS was deliberately kept in Sport mode so I could keep with Villegas on his clapped-out cop bike and with Abbasi on his pristine Ducati Multistrada. The next two stops were rather mundane. More inspections and an overview of some major plumbing work going on in a complex. However, the third and final stop had potential – posting a notice on a tenant’s door informing them they could be evicted if they don’t start paying rent. It was starting to feel like a reality show with a twist waiting for us if the tenant wasn’t happy with the potential eviction notice – and if things were to get physical, I knew the Zero’s acceleration would make for the perfect getaway vehicle.
Alas, the tenant wasn’t home.
The Best Laid Plans…
At the end of our time with Abbasi and Villegas, the Zero DS ZF6.5 covered the 41 miles, impressing us with its acceleration and storage capacity. The lack of noise was seen as both an advantage and disadvantage to Abbasi, as the element of stealth is favorable when he decides to perform an unscheduled inspection, but not so when splitting lanes on the highway.
Speaking of which, the highway proved to be a bigger energy suck than we expected. Sure, if we had started our route with a full battery, then the five tasks would have been completed much quicker, but let’s not forget that Villegas, or others like him, would have a hard time completing 12 stops and 120 miles around the greater Los Angeles area – even with Zero’s ZF13.0 variant of the S or DS.
One possible solution would be if Abbasi, or any other business owner, kept a fleet of fully-charged vehicles at the ready. Even then, range anxiety and recharge times while out in the field could amount to the Zero being not quite ready for courier duty – but it’s close. More importantly, couriers won’t always have the option of returning to base to grab a recharged bike; they’ll get their route in the morning and won’t return until the end of the day.
As it stood, after completing the 29 miles after lunch, the DS’s battery was down to 45% – not enough to get me the 35 miles home. A half-hour top-off got me back to 100%, of which I used 96% to get me home at normal SoCal freeway speeds, leaving only 4% left as I pulled into my driveway. Plugging into my 110v wall outlet, the Zero’s display estimated it would take four hours and 18 minutes to recharge fully. I went to bed and saw a fully charged battery the next morning.
This was an eye-opening experience, as we thought the Zero DS ZF6.5 would be the perfect tool for this job, only to be proven wrong. However, Abbasi and Villegas agreed that a motorcycle like the Zero would be much better suited to electric courier duty in a city like New York, Chicago, or even San Francisco, cities far less expansive than Los Angeles, where constant throttle at high speed is the exception, not the rule.
Interestingly, Abbasi doesn’t automatically consider the Zero’s price as a negative. “For me, the cost of the motorcycle is just one factor in the overall decision,” he said. “As a business owner, I need to look at the ROI – will it save me money in the long run? Maybe. Maintenance is less expensive [than a gas bike], and so is electricity. But for now, the stress is just too great.”