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Zero 2011: A Toddler’s First Steps

Okay, there are MD readers out there who don’t want to hear about e-bikes at all. There are others who only want to hear about e-bikes that offer the value and functionality of internal-combustion machines. All you guys can get up and go make yourselves a sandwich or have a cream soda. You won’t like this story. 

For the rest of you, you may have read my test from 2009 of the Zero S supermoto and you may have surmised I didn’t really find the S to be a developed product. During my test ride and visit with Zero CEO Gene Banman I noted issues with its brakes, seating position, wheel size, top speed, charging time and even the seemingly loud rattle of the chain. Banman must’ve read the story, as many of these issues have been addressed by a major redesign of Zero’s four-bike product line for 2011. 

Zero’s past models have been very interesting from a design and engineering perspective, but they had a definite techno-geek/bicycle nerd look to them. The bodywork and frame looked gawky, the tire choice (for the S) was odd, and the bikes even utilized downhill mountain bike rear shocks. But the company seems to have changed direction somewhat. Famed off-road racer (and BMW/Husqvarna insider) Scot Harden got hired as the national marketing director, and former Buell engineer Abe Ashkenazi is now VP of Engineering—a clear message that Zero is serious about building real motorcycles, not just feel-good eye candy. And to back that up, the new bikes suddenly look more like real motorcycles, with smooth, flowing shapes, recognizable motorcycle hardware and other changes aimed at improving performance, handling and braking. 

Performance is helped by some important changes. The battery gets 12.5 percent more capacity, and an optional quick charger reduces charging time to about two hours (expect four hours without the quick charger), and an accessory plug adapter allows the use of standardized public charging station plugs. Top speed is 67 mph, and range—by the EPA’s UDDS urban driving test—is 43 miles for the S and DS dual-sport, and 30-60 minutes for the X trail bike or the high-flying MX. (Both the X and MX are also available in road-legal versions. ) The S and DS free themselves of their chains, instead getting clean, quiet, maintenance-free belts that Zero claims will last the life of the bike. 

Brakes, wheels and suspension also get upgrades. The fork and shock get new internals (but the shock is still based on, presumably, a Fox bicycle item) and more adjustability. The S and DS brakes receive a bigger front rotor, steel-braided lines and other improvements. The wheels on the S and DS get cool red anodizing, and the S now has semi-normal supermoto tire sizes—a 110/70-17 in front and 130/70-17 rear. The DS has a most-undualsport-like 100/80-17 front and 110/90-16 rear. 

But the biggest news, I think, is the styling. The bodywork has been simplified, turnsignals, lights and mirrors are reshaped, the S and DS seats look more like they’re designed for humans, and both the S and Ds get new fenders and flyscreens as well as black-finished battery cases, which make the bikes look more compact and light. Pricing is $9995 for the S, $10,495 for the DS, $7995 for the X and $9495 for the MX. All Zeroes get two-year limited warranties, and the street-legal versions are eligible for big price breaks in the form of state and Federal tax breaks and rebates. 

Sure, at those prices nobody’s going to say these bikes are bargains, especially if they’re judged against their fossil-burning cousins, even with the state and Federal incentives. But for a low-volume made-in-USA product, the Zero line represents a solid value. And that’s not just my opinion; Zero is selling enough bikes to expand its manufacturing space in its Scotts Valley, California (near Santa Cruz, naturally) facility to 34,000 square feet and add another 25 employees in 2011. 

Baby steps compared to the millions of motorcycles sold worldwide, but at least we’re talking about baby steps and not crib death. I may have a chance to ride the new bikes—and tell you about another new Zero model—next month.

130 Comments

  1. William says:

    It seems Zero is putting most of their effort into street versions. It looks more difficult for electric to compete with gas on the street. Street has higher speeds and longer range, both are tough for electric right now. For offroad, 50 miles of trails is a good ride, thats when most 400cc and up bikes run out of fuel anyway. The lower speed and range for offroad, along with the huge benefit of less noise make offroad a great fit for electric. I wonder why they are not pursuing offroad with more effort? It seems like a more obtainable goal.

    Zero’s new updates do look a lot better and more refined, I am glad they are doing something and seem to be growing. Hopefully their products will continue to improve. With the value of the dollar falling/plumetting as compared to the Japanese yen, it might give American vehicles some help to compete. Perhaps allow new companies to start. It doesn’t take a huge company to make electric, but it does take some pretty big resources to develop and produce a gas engine.

    A 250cc gas bike doesn’t have the power of a 1300cc bike, that doesn’t make it bad or worthless, it is just different. Same concept applies to electric, it’s different. I like the idea of electric motorcycles. I hope some day we have as many choices of electric as we have gas today.

  2. “All you guys can get up and go make yourselves a sandwich or have a cream soda.”

    Extra points for a Midnight Run reference.

  3. james says:

    wow, guys it is just a bike, electric or not.

    I like it, ready or not. I know I will be riding an electric bike one day, i don’t miss carburettors all that much and I bet eventually I won’t miss gasoline either.

    Oh I might wax nostalgic now and then, but gas motorbikes are headed for the corner of the garage reserved for the ‘classics’. Electricity is the future.

    Then we get Nu-Cu-Lar!

    Change happens.

    (unless you are H-D that is) :-)

  4. Joe says:

    The bottom line on electric motorcycles as they stand today is not good. Battery capacity/size is crippling the e-bike ability as even a fringe player in the market. Cost of the machines and battery replacement cost also hurt its viability. Running accessories of any type such as electic jacket, gloves, and GPS futher drain precious power stored in the batter set. Cold temperatures cause issues for e-bike batterys as do riding up rising altitude. All big negatives.
    Can electic motorcycles be a player in the future. Possibly. They have made great stides forward from there begining. With a breakthrough or too they can become the next big thing.However, at this place in time one must conclude that e-bikes are not ready for prime time.

  5. Billiam says:

    E-motor vehicles would have some merit and place, but I feel there is a huge unmentioned elephant in the room.

    Fact one: common thought says plug-ins are “perfect for urban dwellers”, and less so for the ‘burbs.

    Fact two: dense urban areas has remarkably less garaged vehicle parking than do single family homes away from mid-town.

    Elephant: if all, or even most of the vehicles now parked at the curb in our cities had to be plugged in, where would this happen without unprecedented infrastructure updates along every curbside. The cost in dollars and time would be incredible. The alternative would be what… extension cords running everywhere, up to mid-rise apartments?! Crack Heads loves them some free copper.

  6. Montana says:

    In his article Gabe references “the state and Federal incentives” used to promote E-bikes.
    In his follow up comments, he complains: “Man! I don’t know why you guys who aren’t interested in e-bikes insist on reading and posting comments to e-bike stories! I wish you’d discuss politics elsewhere.”
    I agree with Gabe, you bikers should stop sending hate mail complaining about how your tax money is being squandered. You’re obviously too stupid to know what’s good for you so your opinions don’t count.

    • ROXX says:

      +1
      How can this not be political?
      As I said before, there are two kinds of people here;
      One that wants to ride e-bikes, and one that wants “you” to ride e-bikes.
      Don’t ramm this down my throat and take away my choice.
      No Thanks!

      • steve says:

        I totally agree…

        ROXX said it best “One that wants to ride e-bikes, and one that wants “you” to ride e-bikes”

        the worst part is that NONE of the posters here OWN AN E-BIKE but feel ok to preach to the rest….

        sounds like healthcare… all the congress & obama have a totally different plan than they are trying to force us to take!

        yeah… sure… that’s fair

        thank you sir can I have another!

  7. David A. Park says:

    Electric propulsion if quite good, electric storage (batteries), not so good. Perhaps electricity needs to be produced on-board the vehicle (fuel cell or future device). Barring some miraculous progress in battery energy storage, battery powered vehicles will be secondary, not primary outside of niche markets. Two things need always to be published by honest manufacturers: (1)What is the range of your vehicle at constant freeway (70 -80 miles per hour with lights and accessories on) speeds if they can operate on freeways or range at their top speed otherwise, also with accessories on? (2)What is the cyle life and replacement cost of your battery? [Notice we're not asking here for the vehicle's capabilities in extreme cold or heat or its towing or hauling capabilities.] What’s forgotten in some discussions is just how wildly capable most gas powered vehicles are. Think about a typical six year old sedan. Would you think it a big deal to put three other people in it while pulling a 500 pound trailer on a summer night’s trip into modest mountains with the a.c. and headlights on? Try that with a battery powered car, even an expensive one.