Zero-X Electric Motorcycle - Riding Impression - Dirt Rider Magazine

If you like irony, get a load of this: The next big buzz in the motorcycle industry could come from something completely silent. That's right, the electric bike market is currently surging (no pun intended), and some pit pundits are claiming it's only a matter of time until we're all trading in our gas cans for power strips. But before this drastic changeover can occur, we need to ask ourselves the all-important question: As soon as our bikes' motors don't go "braaap" anymore, how in the heck will we describe to our riding buddies what our bikes are doing?If the electric bike market were a class at your local motocross race, Zero Motorcycles would be leading the first lap after getting a solid-though somewhat uncontested-holeshot. This Santa Cruz, California-based company has been toying around with electric motorcycles for a few years now, and its new Zero-X Electric Motorcycle represents the latest edition of a wild idea nurtured by Neal Saiki, Zero's inventor and founder. Some of you may remember our test of one of Neal's first models-dubbed the Electricross Drift-R-that ran in the July 2007 issue of Dirt Rider. That particular machine was an early generation electric bike, and while the Drift-R and the Zero-X share many of the same components, the latest version is far more advanced and able to meet the needs of the gas-powered moto and off-road crowds. Although you didn't read about it, we also had the chance to ride Neal's second-generation electric bike at the MiniMoto SX event (where, I might add, both DR Executive Editor Jesse Ziegler and myself beat motocross champ Sebastien Tortelli, who was kind enough to give us an itsy-bitsy head start). To date, each machine in the Zero lineup has been better than the last, and the '09 version of the silent little bike is the most capable electric bike that we've ridden.So, what's the scoop on the new Zero-X? Let's start with the aesthetics. This bike looks like it came from either (a) outer space or (b) Walmart. The overall design of the frame and plastic is completely revolutionary (which is a nice way of saying "weird"), and the layout of the electric motor itself is likewise innovative (yep, here it comes again: "weird"). However, it makes sense that this little bike doesn't fit the mold; after all, anything fueled by a proprietary lithium-ion power pack may as well look like it. The recently beefed-up, aircraft-grade aluminum frame and swingarm give the bike an appearance that is part mountain bike, part dirt bike and part "Jetsons," but without a doubt the biggest eye-catcher on this machine is the massive power module cradled dead center in the frame. Weighing in at 45 pounds and taking up most of the room in the motor area, this rechargeable battery is the spark that makes the whole bike come to life.Speaking of life, this bike lights up with quite possibly the most painless starting procedure we've ever seen: You turn the key to top dead center, flip the on/off switch to "on" and then wait about 0.562 seconds for the green light to come on. Just like that, the Zero-X is ready to roll! Caution must be heeded here, however, as one can easily forget that the machine is on and an innocent flick of the throttle can turn into an act of war in the pits. But assuming that you started off on the bike correctly and made your way out of the pits, the Zero-X greets you with a hard-hitting snap of instant power. The delivery on this machine is, as they say, like flipping a switch, and the abrupt hit is something that the seasoned dirt rider never really gets used to. Powerwise, the Zero-X's stock curve is smooth, steady and strong. How strong? Well, Zero claims 20 horsepower, and I was able to climb Glen Helen's famed Mount St. Helens-the massive hill that Bubba rockets up at the Outdoor Nationals-with little trouble. As with the previous Drift-R model, this bike's power makes it surprisingly fast, and those expecting the insouciant powerband of a golf cart are in for a real treat. There are two switches behind the handlebar-think of them as "high/low" and "hard hit/soft hit"-that you can play with to alter the Zero-X's power. The "hit" switch doesn't seem to make a massive difference aside from tempering the character of the bike a bit, but the "low" setting makes the overall speed of the electric motorcycle much mellower. You have to toggle the key to go from low to high, which is a good safety feature.Fact: You should not swing a leg over this motorcycle and expect to ride it like a real dirt bike. Go check out an opinion on the Zero-X from another magazine or a bigger rider (see below) and you'll likely read something about how it broke the bike because it is "flimsy." Sure, compared to a full-size 250 the Zero-X is fragile, but that's because you're contrasting it with a big bike. In relation to a mountain bike, though, this motorcycle is quite strong. You truly have to ride it like a bicycle, and that means no blatantly hard landings and no slamming into things; you have to use finesse to ride the bike. At 151 pounds, the Zero-X is about all that the mountain bike-style fork and shock combo can take, and the entire chassis takes on a nimble, flickable feel in the dirt. Although not as stable as some would like, the lightweight feel of the machine certainly is a benefit to the power-to-weight ratio, and though the Zero-X can't take super-hard hits or big drops, it is still capable for mild trail scenarios.One thing that we hadn't done previously on an electric bike was ride it on serious off-road terrain, and this was perhaps one of the biggest disappointments of the Zero-X. Yes, it does well on flowing, twisty and even hilly terrain. But ride the bike anywhere that traction is a factor and you're in for a frustrating ride. In rocks-and I'm talking big, loose and sharp EnduroCross-style rocks-the Zero-X is a letdown. Why? Think about it: An abrupt hit combined with little weight equals a wildly spinning rear tire that just can't hook up. The power of the Zero-X may be good, but in trail situations where you need to finesse the throttle (think "flywheel weight" and "clutch control") getting all that power to the ground just isn't an option. Unless you are planted square on the pegs with your rear end over the swingarm, that 17-inch rear tire will be spinning and hopping like an RC car with a stuck throttle on a frozen pond.

Ergonomically, the Zero-X feels as odd as it looks, but you certainly get used to the layout. With two hand brakes and a throttle being the extent of the controls, your feet will find themselves bored with only the task of staying on the pegs to keep them busy. In tight creek beds and such, the width at the pegs is quite apparent and you'll find yourself wishing for more ground clearance. Other components-the chain guide, for instance-are low, obtrusive and simply not designed for serious off-road use (but then again, neither was the bike). One thing that the Zero-X crew definitely did their homework on is the frame geometry, as the specially designed chassis feels fairly even and balanced as far as steering and handling. The brakes are yet another mountain bike-inspired part and do a good job of stopping the bike when new, though we've heard from customers who bought this bike in late '08 that the pads wear out almost immediately.Above all, the battery duration on the Zero is the one aspect of the bike that takes the most getting used to. We ran three batteries out at the Zero-X intro, and they all died in distinctly different fashions. One battery slowly grew weaker and chugged to a stop, another felt as though it operated at one-third power forever and then fell out, and yet another battery dropped dead like someone had turned the key off. This variation is most likely because the speed with which the battery runs out, much like a tank of gas, is dependent on which mode you are in and how hard you are on the throttle. Swapping out a battery with a replacement takes less than three minutes, but that's if you've forked over the extra $2950 (plus shipping) for the replacement. If not, then you'll have to wait about two hours to recharge. But hey, look on the bright side: Each battery is nontoxic and lead-free, so you no longer have to worry if you see junior gnawing on your Zero-X in between rides. Yippee!Although this is the latest Zero-X model, we expect to see even more improvements on this bike in upcoming years. With a high-power "Extreme" package in the works and an electric supermoto bike rumored to be on the horizon, the great minds at Zero are likely to keep churning out ideas and revamping this product until it's fully off-road capable. Right now, the major competitor to the Zero is the Quantya electric bike, a machine that we've already ridden and are in the process of evaluating; look for a head-to-head Zero vs. Quantya standoff in the near future. In the meantime, you might want to look into a fanny pack-size soldering iron, because if things keep going in the direction they are, our gasoline-drinking dirt bikes will be considered lead-laced paraphernalia before the next election rolls around.Specifications
MSRP: $7750
Claimed Weight (with battery): 151 lb
Fuel Capacity: Ha! Funny.What's Hot!
Light, snappy and fun to ride.
Noise, smoke, gas and lead (oh, the children!) free.
Totally stealth.
Innovative and revolutionary
(see paragraph three).What's Not!
Caution: Handle with care.
One recharge takes two hours.
Hits like a Dio song.
Not built for (or cut out for) gnarly riding.
Durability: Unknown
Where is your Zero dealer?Brian Catterson
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 215 lb
Editor, Motorcyclist Magazine
I really wanted to like the Zero-X. And I did-for a few laps. But my first two outings ended in broken motors. To be fair, Zero knew it was taking a chance when it invited the motorcycling press to a motocross track. Its electric dirt bikes really aren't designed for that. And each broken motor was replaced in a matter of minutes, such failures said to be covered under the company's very liberal warranty program. Listening to company founder Neal Saiki talk, I got the impression that Zero's customers are for the most part willing R&D; partners, a philosophy that likely stems from his roots in the mountain bike business. That's admirable, but I'm not sure I'm down with it; if your motorcycle breaks out on the trail, you can't just carry it home...A proprietary lithium-ion power pack. Say that five times fast.The Zero-X has more in common with your kitchen appliances than your KTM 200!Jesse Ziegler
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 175 lb
It's not a dirt bike. Really, it's not. But it is fun. I raced the second-generation Drift-R at MiniMoto SX last year during a halftime show, and while I was happy to beat Chris Denison, I was even more stoked to be able to talk smack to him while we were racing. Electric bikes just might be the future. Although I sure hope the bikes keep evolving, or else our future will be full of short bursts of laughter followed by long stints of repair and recharging. I have hope, however, that evolution will happen and these bikes will begin to perform to legitimate off-road standards. I just pray I can afford it.It's On! The Quantya
Quantya is a Swiss company attacking the electric bike market with a bike that shares a lot with the Zero-X. Both bikes are "fun size," dimensionally about the ergonomic feel of a 150cc playbike. Quantya makes the Strada ($10,700) and the Track ($9,950), with the difference being the street-legal Strada has full road-legal lights (drawing power from a second battery) and different gearing.We got to ride some stock Quantyas and a modified version at this year's Torture Test. Like the Zero-X, the Quantya's power is strong and willing. The limiting factor to speed is traction, as the small, unaggressive knobbies are designed with rolling efficiency rather than traction in mind. The front tire is more of a factor than the rear as neither guiding the front end over uneven trails or aggressive braking on the Quantya can compete with a bike with real treads. The Quantya's stock suspension is rather harsh, producing a jarring ride as if the suspenders were expecting to be holding up a much heavier machine. The rear brake on the handlebar is great for dragging into corners, but soon makes arm-pump from a clutch lever seem like a pesky itch.The exciting news is that Quantya's modded bike shows the company has some good development already toward eliminating its shortcomings. A revalve proved the suspension components are very capable of a smooth and controlled ride, the fitment of true off-road knobbies instantly threw out any traction issues, and the current stock bike now comes with the option of a rear brake lever down where it belongs (and already-sold models will be retrofitted free of charge if the customer desires).We're going to be taking possession of or own Quantya bike soon and can't wait to give it a full test. Then we'll compare it head to head with the Zero-X...and let the sparks fly. -Pete Peterson

A proprietary lithium-ion power pack. Say that five times fast.
The Zero-X has more in common with your kitchen appliances than your KTM 200!