Zero Plus Thirteen… Plus One

More thoughts on the 2013 lineup of Zero Motorcycles:

-I completely forgot to mention the storage space.  2012s don’t have any (not even under the seat), but 2013s will have a cubby in the “tank.”  Not just a nook for your wallet and phone, but a good-sized volume.  Even better, you can pull out the storage container, for security, or just to clean out the bottom.  Moto storage is something you don’t miss until it’s gone… and now it’s back ‘in a big way.’

-The seat height decreased significantly, but other dimensions increased.  The 2013s will simply feel more substantial than the equivalent 2012s.  Whether this is good or bad depends on your dimensions.

-Chain/belt tensioning goes to an explicit tensioner wheel.  For 2012, you literally shifted the motor forward and back.  A separate tensioner is one more component, and probably won’t help belt life.  But not having to unfasten and refasten the big torque producer is probably a net benefit.

-Lots of people were wondering just how the networking (pairing with iPhone/Android over Bluetooth) would be implemented.  Would a liable company really let people mess with a powerful, open-air vehicle on public roads?  More details are now out.  The phone will act as a second dashboard, showing more stats.  You will also be able to tweak regenerative braking, and detune horsepower and torque.  No, Zero won’t let you do anything that might cause damage.

-Speaking of dashboards, the regular one is externally similar to this year’s.  However, internally there are two changes: the analog gauge now shows rpm instead of speed (which for 2012 was redundant with the digital number).  Of course, on a one-speed vehicle, rpm is still redundant with speed.  Also, there’s an additional warning light, for some battery function.  This should save one or more of the existing battery status lights, which today can only be read while stopped, dismounted, and stooped in front of the vehicle.

-The internal charger gains throughput, going from 10 kW to 13-15 kW, depending on which source you believe.  13 kW gives you little leeway on a 15-amp circuit breaker.  15 kW gives you almost none, and would require a 20A breaker.  Don’t know if you can dial it back.

-The big news- CHAdeMo charge capability- is less clear.  It now appears optional, with no word on how much extra.  I’m guessing it won’t be too much more, since CHAdeMo locations use an offboard charger to bypass the internal charger.  Still, the CHAdeMo connector must be mounted securely and reliably, and it’s not a common part.  Note that bike charging with CHAdeMo is slower than car charging, despite bikes having much smaller battery packs.  I’m guessing the Zero packs don’t have cooling loops or even fans, and CHAdeMo is then limited thermally.  Let’s hope Zero doesn’t pull a Nissan here…

-I complained that the ZF6 size was gone, which was appealing to lower market categories.  Instead, the Zero S ZF6 was effectively replaced with the Zero FX.  For the same price, you get more power and torque, even lighter weight, a similar battery capacity and range, and more aggressive tires and styling.  It’s essentially an urban supermoto, and can still go off-road.  Too bad the headlight looks lame- they tried to rough it up with a headlight surround, but it’s clearly just a trim piece.  I see a lot of FX riders buying aftermarket headlights.

-The Zero FX, MX, and XU with pull-out batteries split them into two half-packs, and can run with just one half (though with reduced performance, of course).  This makes carrying, charging, and upgrading a lot handier.  I can see buying, storing, and swapping a third half long before I’d try it with a full 5.7 kWh pack.

-All reports are that the brakes are way better.  Nissin calipers (someone we’ve actually heard of) should- no, must- feel better.  Also, at least some models will link front braking with the level of regenerative braking in the rear.  Not much change in the suspensions as far as I can tell, though.

Overall, some qualifications, but all improvements.  It’s a shame that CHAdeMo costs more money, because that could be a major leap.  But the Zero FX took me by surprise- it’s in this sort of filthy niche that I predict electrics will really match, then beat gassers.  It’s also a (relatively) cheap entry point into electrics- I see tuners and hackers getting into this bad boy.

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Charging, Part Zero/Nothing But Zero Part III

How do I charge my plug-in vehicle? I plug it in.


Oh, you want more? I add an extension cord, since the Zero Motorcycles included cord is 10 feet.  Otherwise, it’s a standard household outlet: 3-prong, 120 volt (officially, “NEMA 5-15R“).  In the EV world, this is then called Level 1 charging.

The motorcycle end is actually IEC320 (actually, IEC 60320-C14), the standard  power connector for desktop-computer power supplies, monitors, larger printers, AV equipment and guitar amps, stationary medical devices, etc.  Basically anything that’s usually or often rackmounted.  It’s not a proprietary plug by any means; if you need a spare or replacement, find someone tossing their desktop for a laptop.  Why IEC320?  I’ll speculate: it’s geeky.  Zero is based near Silicon Valley, after all.  The IEC320 standard also autoranges from 120 to 240 volts, so the company doesn’t have to homologate European and Asian sub-variants.  They just ship with a different wall end, while the bike end stays IEC320.

The bike draws 10 amps- this charges mine in 6 hours, or 9 for the larger ZF9 battery pack.  Or rather, 6 hours from completely empty, which is essentially never.  If you actually hit empty, you planned poorly.  Also note that charging from partway to, say, 80-90% full is faster than charging from 90-95% to 100%.  Lithium cells are vulnerable to overcharging, so the battery management system slows down as you approach 100%.  There’s no timer, if you want to save even more by charging at off-peak or super-off-peak hours after you go to bed.  Just buy a COTS timer, plug it into the wall, then plug into that.

Most residential circuit breakers today are rated to 15 amps; some upscale homes  now get built with 20A circuits, old homes might have 12A.  Adding more amps actually doesn’t charge you any faster; the power supply built into the motorcycle can’t take any more than 10.

What you can do for faster charging is purchase optional, external power supplies from Zero.  An external power brick then plugs into a 2nd household outlet. Combined, the 2 power supplies can halve the charge time.  Of course, they both draw 10 amps, so the outlets have to be on 2 circuits, or you’ll trip a breaker.  (No, a 20A circuit can’t take two 10A loads- you have no margin for grid hiccups, or parts running off-spec.)  You can daisy chain up to 4 power supplies (the 1 internal, plus 3 external) with included Y-adapters. This then cuts the charge time to 90 minutes (with the ZF6 pack, 135 min with the ZF9 pack).  But no one does that. (Well, one…)

What you can’t do is plug this motorcycle into a J1772 charging point (Level 2), the standard for public charging locations.  More and more chargers are being installed with J1772, fewer and fewer with slow ol’ NEMA 5-15.  Zero sells an adapter (J1772-to-IEC320), but it’s $700, and doesn’t charge any faster.  No thanks…

LED There Be Light Pt. 2

Allow me to clarify that last post.  I’ve had a few LEDs now, big enough to be considered “lighting,” not just indicators or accessory illumination.

It’s pretty hard to find flashlights that aren’t LED-based now.  LEDs are shatterproof, and make the batteries last longer- what’s not to like?  The deal, however, has been that these products are small enough to be easy to switch to LEDs.  Small LEDs do not run enough power to roast themselves.  In particular, using multiple small LEDs spreads the heat out enough that no one LED gets cooked.

I then bought a desk lamp.  If LEDs and compact fluorescents are about 4x the efficiency of an equivalent incandescent, then this 3-Watt jobbie should be equal to 12W in an old desk lamp.  Desk lamps are inherently a good application, since LEDs throw light in one direction.  No lampshade necessary.  In this particular case, overcooking the LED can be avoided.  The lack of a lampshade allows lots of cooling airflow, and the LED and housing are well-integrated to couple the heat.  This, too, is because the LEDs can last 15,000-50,000 hours, or 5 to 20 times longer than an incandescent.  The LED then never needs changing, is built directly into the housing, and can conduct its heat away through the entire “head” area.

The lamp was ten bucks.  Maybe a little more than an old-tech lamp, but again, it won’t burn out for years, likely a decade or two.  I don’t even know what we’ll be reading two decades from now.  It’s a neutral-to-slightly warm white, not a weird bluish like some LEDs put out.  If you walked in the room, you might never know it’s an LED and not an incandescent.

It’s not all great, however.  The switch is a little cheesy.  Occasionally, you have to jiggle the switch, like some annoying toilet handle.  However, that’s a completely separate issue from the LED, and could’ve happened with an incandescent lamp anyway.  Push comes to shove, I can replace the switch by wiring a new one in.  Or just bypass the switch, and unplug the lamp from the wall every time.

The next step up is a room-scale LED.  These have waited until the heat issue could be solved reliably, while building in quantity, at price.  Apparently, the issue is solved.  People have still kept working, since even after I posted last, you can now find this size of LEDs for under $20.  I’ll post again when I’ve found a reputable one, at a good price, and have some hours on it.

LED There Be Light

You want transformative tech?  I give you… LEDs and domestic-class lighting.

Do you have MP3s, or cassettes?  Do you watch YouTube, or filmstrips?  This same upheaval is coming to lighting, whether we like it or not.  Last week, Ikea announced that they would phase out all light bulbs except LEDs by 2016.  All- including compact fluorescents too.  The medium-term promise of LEDs is now compelling and confident enough for the company to stake such a bold claim:

-All the light of an incandescent bulb, but from a quarter of the power.

-Lifetime durability- tens of thousands of hours, instead of hundreds like an incandescent.  You’ll change houses before you need to change a quality LED light.

-Instant-on, unlike any fluorescent.  Not all that relevant for domestic use.  Also highly durable and shatterproof, unlike halogens, more useful in a vehicle or an industrial setting.

-No mercury content, though fluorescents didn’t really have that much mercury to start with.  The mercury accusation is a red herring.

-Not as hot as a halogen, for less fire risk.

In essence, a good LED will be a lifetime light- you’ll forget there’s even a separate bulb in there.  Some products won’t even let you get to the LED.  So, if they’re so great, then why aren’t we already buying these wonder-bulbs?

First, LEDs are vulnerable to heat.  They’re made of semiconductors, like computer chips.  But your computer needs a fan, because otherwise the CPU could fry itself.  Similarly, LEDs can’t take as much heat as an incandescent filament, and need good heat sinking to survive.

Just like solar panels, you’re paying for that enhanced lifetime up front, instead of in recurring costs.  A lamp-sized LED may last as long as fifty incandescant bulbs, but you’ll pay fifty times more, then pull ahead in your energy bills over that time.  But people don’t want to pay upfront; the mere sight of a bulb with a $20-40 price tag on it makes one recoil if you can’t do the math on total cost of ownership.  And unfortunately, most people can’t do the math on total cost of ownership.

Also, it took time to get to $40 prices.  And reliable, 50x lifetimes.  While LEDs in this size class were being hyped in 2008-2010, a lot of shady outfits were selling units that wouldn’t actually last that long.  You had to know who had the good ones, and you had to pay.  The “L Prize” helped.  The federal government (i.e., Department of Energy) held a contest to see who could meet the goals of long life, low power consumption, affordable cost, and a good light quality.  Philips won the prize money.

Don’t tell that to the conspiracy nuts, though.  Apparently, “the government will take our bulbs away.”  No such thing will happen.  No one will actually enter your home, looking for proscribed possession.  Instead, a phased-in tax will make incandescents less appealing, starting with large bulbs (easily replaced with fluorescents), then adding lower and lower wattages (to be replaced with LEDs).   And if, BTW, you don’t like the color spectrum of a fluorescent or LED, there’ll be another, with a different phosphor spectrum.  The fact that you can’t be bothered to look doesn’t mean LEDs as a category are all bad.

Incandescents will still be sold, though (just, not at Ikea).  Incandescents still make sense in closets, stairs, some bathrooms, attics, etc.  Here, you cycle a light on and off.  This is harsh on fluorescents (while not really meriting a halogen), and the total burn time is not long enough to make LEDs save money.  Fortunately, most homes only have a handful of these places, and the number of incandescents bought won’t be too high before LEDs get really cheap.

There will be some “incandescent-like” bulbs.  Because no technology really dies, halogens and xenons will exist in niche uses.  There will also be “halogen-like” incandescents.  A few incandescent bulb lines may survive by running hotter than they do now, because hotter is more efficient.  At that point, the line between incandescents and halogens will blur.  Some of these are sold now, such as GE’s HIR and Sylvania’s IR.

But in a few years- oh, 2018-2022 or so, incandescent bulbs will be rare.  Like dead cassettes along the side of the road.

Zero Plus Thirteen

I was writing up some other posts, but what the hey: big news from Zero Motorcycles.  The 2013 lineup has been revealed.  Highlights:

-POWAAA!  Power rises greatly, from 2012’s measured 17 hp at the rear wheel, to 54 hp (40 kW).  Not 24… fifty-four.  It’s not clear whether that’s motor output, or power at the rear tire.  But with simple drivetrains and few losses, an e-moto has both numbers very close to each other.

-Torque is not so dramatic.  But it still goes from a measured 40+ ft-lbs, to a claimed 68 ft-lb (92 Nm).  Still more of a gain than you’ll see in a piston engine from year to year.  Or even generation to generation.

-All told, top speed goes from 88 to 95 mph.  Not huge, since aerodynamics is still an issue… the issue.  I don’t doubt you’ll get to 95 faster, of course.

-Styling is subjective, obviously.  But the bodywork is cleaner, and looks less tacked on.  Won’t help the drag too much, since the rider causes most of it.  Drag should still decrease somewhat, though.

-The seat is an actual street seat, not a motocross-spec salvage.  Height has eased greatly, from 35+ inches to 31.3″ (794mm).  It looks more comfortable, but of course what isn’t more comfortable than motocross.  A ride will tell.

-Passenger pegs appear standard instead of optional.  Or maybe the publicity deceives me.  At least, they’ve thought of it; this year, the extra pegs weren’t even sold (or pictured) until midway through riding season.

-While we’re on accommodations, the frame spars are smoother.  Should be easier on the knees and thighs.

-Networked connectivity.  Finally.

-Mirrors are more useful than they appeared… but the big news is…

CHAdeMo.  The bike can now quick-charge at public CHAdeMo stations in an hour.  That’s one hour from empty, to 95%.  That last five percent must be slower, to avoid overshooting and possible damage.  Still, that’s a step change from before.

-Meanwhile, the ZF6 battery pack (i.e., 6 kilowatt-hours) has been dropped.  Instead of ZF6 and ZF9, there are ZF8.5 and ZF11.4.  Possibly to avoid apples-to-apples comparisons with the 2012 ZF9.

-Those packs will give you corresponding ranges, compared to each other and to 2012.  The gains seem to have been put into sprinting, not marathonning (yes I know that’s not a word).  ZF8.5 now claims 103 miles city, 70 highway (166/113 km), with a new spec of 53 miles pure highway (85 km).  For 2012, the highway claim was not a steady-state cruising range but included some traffic.  Slower speeds mean lower drag and longer range.  The pure-highway figure now represents, well, a pure highway, and dirtier aerodynamics.  The ZF11.4, then, gives 137 city, 70 pure highway, 93 highway (220/133/150 km).

-Prices, too, correspond.  The ZF8.5 pack runs $14,000, which is even with the 2012 ZF9 when you consider all the revised specs (let alone CHAdeMo- not negligible).  The ZF11.4 is $16,000.

-Weights, too, correspond.  The ZF8.5 is 350 lbs (159 kg), about what the ZF9 weighed.  ZF11.4 = 382 lbs (173 kg).  Any efficiency gains were apparently eaten by the additional features.

All told, a huge improvement if you live in a CHAdeMo region (the entire Pacific coast, Chicagoland, Houston/DFW, the Tennessee Triangle).  If you don’t have a CHAdeMo station in range, well, then you get the best urban-assault motorcycle ever in the ZF8.5. The ZF11.4 is a strange beast without a quick-charge location nearby.  It’s not truly an interstate machine, but it’ll get you well out in the country.

I don’t see Zero’s endorsement settling the charging issue for CHAdeMo, by the way.  The total number of Zero motorcycles sold is around a good month’s worth of Leaf sales for Nissan.  The total mileages racked up are probably a similar story: anyone who can afford a Zero can afford a daily driver, either a cage or a gasser bike.

I do see Zeros swinging people into the electric world.  Between this, available Brammos, and the Lightning option, there is now a motorcycle for most categories of serious riders (not 18-year-olds and dabblers).  I just wish there was still a ZF6 option for locals.  If this leapfrogging keeps up for 2014, the category of electric motorcycles will soon apologize for nothing substantive, and actually demonstrate utility beyond gassers.  So, there will be a better one in 2-3 years

Drivers shouting through their passenger-side window = bad

Today, while stopped at an intersection, I turned to see a guy with a puzzled face.  He tried to ask me questions from his car.  Not unusual, except… he got in my lane with me.

Yeah, I know it’s a new, unusual vehicle, dude.  But GET OUT OF MY LANE.  That’s a violation even when I’m on a bicycle.  Also, he was in a big sedan, so I think he crossed the center double yellow in the process.