2009 Zero S Electric Motorcycle

Electric Supermoto For The Masses

By Ari Henning, Photography by Drew Ruiz

Street legal in all 50 states, the Zero is the first mass-produced, high-powered electric motorcycle on the market. Equipped with a powerful 22,000- watt motor, an advanced 4 kilowatt-hour battery, and all the tungsten filament the DOT can ask for, the new Zero S supermoto is the road-going sibling of the Zero X dirt bike we rode earlier this spring (MC, 2009) and the conscientious commuter's dream.

A tall board of a seat and high, wide bars put this bike out of short riders' reach, but for those that can throw a leg over, the Zero offers a comfortable upright seating position. The compact instrument cluster has both a digital and analog speed readout, and also displays motor temp and battery status. A built-in charger lets you top up anywhere there's an outlet, but expect to wait about four hours for a full recharge.

The Zero S feels like any other supermoto-until you get rolling. Turn the key, flip the secondary safety switch, and...silence. Rather than the hum of a fuel pump or the bark of exhaust, "running" status is indicated by a green light on the dash. The only audible indication that the bike is ready to roll is the loud click of the battery solenoid closing.

Twist the throttle and the Zero bolts forward like a prodded steer. With a claimed 62.5 lbs.-ft. of torque (more than a GSX-R750) on tap from the word "go", the S would buck you like a bull if the controller didn't soften initial output. As is, the Zero will still lift the front wheel with a slight yank on the bars. The permanent-magnet motor is said to produce 31 horsepower, and draws off of Zero's proprietary lithium-ion Z-force power pack. The 80-pound battery has twice the capacity as that of the Zero X dirt bike, enabling the S-bike's exhilarating acceleration to last stop light after stop light. Range is said to be 60 miles, making the Zero S the most commuter-capable electric yet. Our short ride didn't allow us to put that figure to the test, but based on our experience with the X-bike, it sounds reasonable

The Zero's twist-and-go, rocket-like acceleration is far better than a scooter's, and awesome for jetting through gaps in traffic. Quick, lissome handling and light weight make it feel like a bicycle, effortlessly changing direction and carving around obstacles. Duro street tires offer plenty of traction for sport riding, and hold firm while firing out of tight turns. Like a proper supermoto, the Zero S maintains its off-road abilities with ample suspension travel: 8 inches up front, 9 inches in the rear. Firm stock settings give a surefooted feel on the street, but the adjustable Fast Ace fork and Manitou shock can be tuned for any road surface. Unfortunately, the brakes don't match the rest of the bike's performance, lacking the power and feel necessary for more aggressive riding.

In an effort to make the Zero go as fast and as far as possible, every component has been scrutinized for weight savings. The frame is hydroformed from thin-wall aluminum, and 16-inch wheels where selected to reduce rotating weight and improve acceleration and handling-although the odd sizing will limit tire choice. Top speed is set at 60 miles per hour, a speed the Zero is said to achieve in under 4 seconds. While the S-bike is capable of going much faster (an optional 47-tooth rear sprocket raises top speed to 75 mph), wind resistance and drag at higher speeds reduce the bike's range significantly.

The Zero's $9950 sticker price is a shock, but do a little research and it starts to look like a pretty good deal. With no air filters to clean, oil to change or valves to adjust, maintenance costs are kept to a bare minimum, and a full charge costs just $0.60. Plus, the Zero qualifies for a 10% federal plug-in vehicle tax credit which lowers the price by about $1000, and you can write off the state sales tax when you file at the end of the year. There are also numerous state-based credits and incentives (up to $5000), so the actual cost can be significantly less than the number on the tag.

While 60 miles at 60 miles an hour is hardly impressive, it is a major improvement compared to what was attainable just a few years ago. With technology making such rapid and dramatic leaps forward, Zero understands that people may be hesitant go electric so soon. To ease concerns, the company offers an optional 2-year warranty that not only covers parts, labor, and shipping, but also allows owners to upgrade with newly-developed components at a 50% discount.

Considering how much fun the Zero is to ride and how easy it is to operate, scooters may finally be put out of their misery.

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