Today, technology is constantly evolving into something that is better than what was available yesterday. Just look at modern motocross bikes; as technology keeps improving, it seeps deeper and deeper into the motorcycle community and is slowly changing the way we work on our machines. Now we have wires running in and out of each crevice, and you can even plug your computer into your dirt bike! Zero motorcycles are completely electric and don’t use a drop of gas. The only gas you will be using is what you put in your thirsty truck, unless you’re super enviro-cool and have a bike rack on your Prius. Only then are you truly going green.If you’re sick of hearing about the all-new fuel-injected bike with a million and a half changes for the new model, here is something that’s completely different from dirt biking as you know it. The 2011 Zero MX has undergone a makeover and is night-and-day different from its previous self. Lucky for us, we attended Zero’s worldwide press launch in Santa Cruz, California, for the 2011 appetizer of sweet electric dirt bikes.
As a new, or should we say revamped, company, Zero is pushing hard to get the ball rolling and has raised $26 million in funding. With the right attitude and a motivated new team, which Zero definitely has, there is no telling what might come charged and ready to rip out of the factory. Even then, Zero has quite a steep hill to climb being that it’s one of the pioneering manufacturers of electric motorcycles and is forced to go through a “trial and error” sort of learning curve. The list of changes for the new company goes on and on, whether it’s the endless list of ideas and parts that went into the new model or the exciting addition of experienced engineers and scientists who are working toward a perceived greener dirt bike future.At this stage, it’s almost unfair to compare the Zero MX to a gas-powered machine because they literally come from two different worlds. The gas engine world has been around for far longer and therefore has had much more time to grow and evolve. On the electric side, and in Zero’s case, there is far less data to use for reference, and the battery world is much younger and has a long way to go. Right now one of the biggest things holding back electric motorcycles is battery technology. With what is currently available, the Zero MX will last around 15 minutes when ridden hard. Other riders were able to get anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes out of a battery depending on how fast or aggressive they were riding. With a second battery, you can have twice as much ride time, and swapping them in and out is very simple and requires no tools. All it takes is unscrewing one knob, sliding out the bar the knob secures, unclipping the battery from the controller and out slips the battery. As easy as that sounds, it’s hard to justify the $2,995 price tag of an additional battery and charger. With two chargers, you can double charge your battery which cuts the charge time in half from two hours down to about an hour. If you’re charging a completely drained battery, charge time may be longer. Although some states offer rebates that cover the cost of the battery and charger, and can even knock down the price of the bike when everything is said and done, entry pricing is steep; try $9,495. Depending on how you look at it, you might walk away with an additional battery and charger for free.
Dirt Rider attended Zero’s press event to rip around the private test track and get some good fun seat time on the buzzing MX model. The conditions were perfect, and an overcast sky served up an all-you-can-roost buffet of traction. It was time to ride, so I hopped on a quiet little bike and knocked out some laps. The biggest thing I had to get used to was the motor. It was unlike any gas-powered dirt bike I had ever ridden. You have to be careful getting on the electric gas, er, juice, especially when you’re in a technical section or aren’t going that fast because one snap of the throttle can cause you to slide out unexpectedly. This isn’t a problem when you’re riding at higher speeds because the motor mellows out and doesn’t really have a snap in higher rpm or throttle positions. Part of this is how an electric motor makes torque. I haven’t seen the dyno charts from Zero, but it was explained to me that the torque curve on one of these bikes is opposite from the torque curve on a gas engine. A gas bike starts out low in the torque range and builds up as you go. The Zero, on the other hand, makes maximum torque immediately off idle and winds down from there. In other words, this means that at the crack of the throttle you need to be ready for everything she has. This makes the motor less controllable right off idle, er, right off buzz, and the faster you go (when the motor is more wound up), the more throttle control you have because there is less torque waiting to be unleashed. It’s important to be patient the first few times you ride the Zero because getting used to the inverse torque curve is a very foreign feeling.
Cornering and jumping on the Zero feels more at home than the electric motor does. You have to remember this bike is similar in size to a supermini or big wheel 85, so it brings back those mini days. Remember how much you loved to ride back then? Good times. The fork and shock feel a bit unbalanced as the fork feels too stiff and the shock is on the soft side. In whoops the fork did great and stayed on top, but the soft shock allowed for the rear end to drop into every hole. If the bike were any bigger, I would have been getting bucked in the rear, but half the fun of playbikes is being able to manhandle them. In corners the stiff fork would cause the front end to push but after a few laps I found that elongating my line through a berm or even a flat corner would eliminate this problem.Timing is everything on the Zero, from rhythm sections to ruts in corners. There is a slight delay in the throttle that is, in a way, like a bog on a gas bike. It doesn’t cut out, it just takes a second for the throttle to translate “Go!” to the rear wheel. It could be a good thing if you become accustomed to the delay and then go back to your faithful steed and find yourself whacking the throttle earlier. I think everybody could benefit from getting on the juice a little bit sooner. The Zero MX makes for the perfect backyard playbike because of its size and how quiet it is. All you need is the right balance of buddies to ride your backyard track with countless sessions of shooting the bull and a load of extra batteries on the charger for later. Your neighbors won’t even know you’re riding and getting into mischief. They might hear you laughing when you take out your buddies, though. So just keep it down when you’re making your own dirt bike noises.
Remember how technology works? That computer you bought last month probably has a 2.0 version available, and now you have yesterday’s product. Just like computers, these motorcycles appear to be evolving at a high rate. A motorcycle can’t have a new version every couple of months, but as all that technology is constantly getting better, imagine what next year’s bike will have hidden in the motherboard. Electric bikes still have a ways to go, so it is up to you to decide if you want to jump on board or wait awhile and let them evolve.
2011 Zero MX
|Claimed weight:||196 lb|
|Power system:||Permanent magnet brushed DC motor|
|Economy:||Typical cost to recharge is $0.21|
|With no noise, the neighbors have nothing to complain about.|
|100 percent gasoline-free.|
|Very low maintenance. No air filter, oil changes, valves, pistons or cranks. Fewer things to go wrong.|
|Perfect bike for you and your buddies on a backyard track.|
|Expensive for a bike the size of an 85.|
|Stock suspension settings work for a bigger guy but not the kiddos.|
|Battery lasts only 15–30 minutes depending on how you ride it.|
|Footpegs aren’t too grippy and allowed for some slippage.|