The running joke among enthusiasts with Electric Motorcycle reviews in the Motorsport press is that almost every one of them will claim whatever they happen to be talking about is the “First Production Electric Motorcycle”. Apparently it’s easier to make the claim than actually research it, but the Brammo Enertia and the Zero S are, in fact, the two “firsts” in the available, production, over-the-counter electric bikes.
Zero claims to be the actual first, and by all accounts they are. By April, ’08, they’d delivered some 40 machines… Brammo delivered their first models in February of 2009… regardless, they’ve both earned themselves a place in EV history.
The Brammo Enertia is positioned very much in the crosshairs of the commuter market. Everything on their site, and much about the bike is pointed to try to convince the commuter customer- maybe now riding a scooter or reluctantly driving a car- to consider the Enertia as a viable (and fun) option. Interestingly, part of the nut that funded Brammo came from Best Buy Venture Capital, and Brammo entered into an agreement to sell the bikes exclusively through Best Buy stores. Regardless of the spin put on this decision, it’s clear the target market is more the general consumer than the motorcycle enthusiast.
As such, the Enertia is built to look and be less intimidating to the first-time rider, easy to use, and fun to own. The bike, in spite of an off-road attitude, is designed specifically for the street. Unlike the Zero product line, the Brammo offers, at this time anyway, only the one street model.
Both the bikes are designed “from the ground up…”, as uniquely electric builds rather than adaptations of existing chassis. The Brammo has what started as a carbon fiber monocoque frame, housing the battery enclosure- fairly quickly moved to an extruded aluminum construction. The Zero claims a completely dedicated frame design- a twin spar aircraft grade aluminum frame- shown here- yet, in all honesty, it simply looks like many common state-of-the-art aluminum frames available today.
On one hand, there’s not much to be said for unique motorcycle design- almost any off the shelf frame today is so far advanced, and so much a result of decades of design evolution, you’d really have to work at building a bad frame. On the other hand, credit where due- the electric motorcycle represents the first radical departure in motorcycle drive trains in over 100 years. Out of the two bikes, the Brammo clearly has the most unique frame design- using the battery compartment as a stressed member.
Zero’s S model is, unlike the Enertia, part of a family of bikes. The Zero line includes an all-out trail bike which we’ll be comparing to the Quantya- they offer the street model we’re looking at here, as well as a Dual-Sport version. For all intents and purposes, this lineup is simply a set of subtle modifications of the basic design- taking advantage of the modular nature of the electric vehicle.
Simply by changing the battery configuration you can alter the characteristics of the machine- put in lightweight, high output batteries and you have a nimble off-road bike with limited range. Add more batteries, you get a commuter with more range, and more weight.
The Zero target market is clearly the motorcycle enthusiast, and it’s sold through a network of local sales reps. If you’re interested in a personal visit and a test ride, you get on the site and make the request, or happen to run into a rep at some local event. Heavy in the Zero marketing strategy is the test ride- they clearly see the value in putting “butts in seats”.
At $8000 for the Enertia, and just under $10,000 for the Zero S, these two bikes represent the current state of electric motorcycle design evolution today. In a few short years we’ve moved from machines that look and feel very much like the R&D projects they were, to motorcycles that can stand on their own merits as revolutionary two-wheeled transportation.