2009 Zero X Electric Dirtbike

We've Experienced The Future Of Motorcycling-And It's Eerily Quiet

By Ari Henning, Photography by Evans Brasfield

No gas, no oil, no coolant, no exhaust. Quiet enough to stalk a deer, and fast enough to catch it if it takes notice. With half the components of an internal-combustion motorcycle, the Zero X electric dirtbike is lightweight and surprisingly sprightly.

Operating out of Northern California, Zero Motorcycles was founded by Neal Saiki, an entrepreneur with an impressive technical resum. The heart of the Zero X is a lithium-ion battery of Saiki's own creation. One 45-pound pack can deliver 300 amps of current-enough juice to vaporize a wrench-without overheating. Drawing off the battery, the permanent-magnet motor puts out 23 horsepower and 50 lb.-ft. of torque-enough to propel the 151-pound package to 55 mph.

Because Zero ships direct to customers, light weight is a priority. Factor in Saiki's experience in the bicycle business and it's little surprise the Zero X uses many mountain bike components. The aluminum frame and swing-arm are purpose-built, but the shock comes from Manitou, the fork from White Brothers and the brakes from Stroker. The tires are a mix of MTB and MX, with a 20-inch Duro front and 17-inch Cheng Shin rear.

With no clutch, the rear brake lever resides on the left bar. A small dashboard consists of an LED battery indicator and two switches, allowing the rider to toggle between power and speed modes. With 100 percent torque available at any rpm, the X lunges forward as soon as you twist the grip-startling in terms of both its urgency and silence. Keep it pinned and the battery will sustain your antics for about an hour. Roll it back a bit and you can double that.

Although the press introduction was held at a motocross track, the Zero X shines on the trail. A foot of ground clearance and instantaneous, stall-proof power makes it an ideal tool for attacking steep, rutted chutes or torturous rock gardens. The light handling makes it ridiculously easy to pitch around, and its stealthy, spark-free operation means you can ride it anywhere. In fact, in 0-30 mph mode (there's also 0-60 mph) it qualifies as an electric bicycle, meaning you can ride it on mountain bike trails.

The X's feathery weight is nice for those coming from a mountain bike background, but those accustomed to heavier dirtbikes will think it feels skittish. We'd like to see Zero beef up its chassis and slide in a motor that's closer to a 250cc enduro than the 125cc playbike it compares to now.

You'd think a base price of $7750 (the Extreme model we tested, with upgraded motor and suspension, sells for $9450) would limit sales, but Zero's products were back-ordered much of last year. With production capacity increased for '09, the company sold more units in January than it did in all of '08. Zero has no dealer network but does have sales reps who will arrange demo rides for interested buyers.

Is this the future of motorcycling? You bet it is. Electric motorcycles face many technical challenges, but Zero has a head start on the competition. We can't wait to ride the street-legal supermoto bike that's in the works.

Tech Spec

Price Sport $7450, Extreme $9450
Engine type Brushed PM electric
Transmission Clutchless one speed
Claimed horsepower 23 bhp
Claimed torque 50 lb.-ft.
Frame Aluminum double cradle
Front suspension 32mm White Brothers inverted fork with adjustable compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Single Manitou shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake Stroker ACE four-piston caliper, 228mm rotor
Rear brake Stroker ACE four-piston caliper, 228mm rotor
Front tire 20 x 3.0 Duro Wildlife Leopard
Rear tire 17 x 3.5 Cheng Shin C-755
Seat height 36.0 in.
Wheelbase 54.0 in.
Claimed curb weight 151 lbs.

Contact
www.zeromotorcycles.com

Verdict
Well on its way, but like getting Lasik, we're willing to wait another year.

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