Riding impressions: Testing the Zero Motorcycles lineup


Read more: Zero Motorcycles aims to lead the electric bike revolution

It doesn’t matter what the parent company does if the product doesn’t perform. To find out, we grabbed seat time on each of Zero Motorcycles 2011 models.

It’s easiest to think of the model range as two families: the “S” line composed of the S and DS models and the “X” line composed of the MX, X, and XU. The S and DS are the primary streetbikes, both of which share the larger battery pack (and thus longer range of approximately 43 miles), feature a belt drive and are otherwise extremely similar with tires and suspension to differentiate them.

The MX and X are the motocross and trail variants (both have street-legal options as well), and the new XU is an urban-minded runabout. All are more specifically focused than the S and DS and feature the lighter dirtbike chassis and removable battery, which is designed to be pulled from the frame easily and swapped for a fully charged replacement.

Each bike is extremely compact, even the relatively tall DS, and each is very light. With a host of cycle parts improved for 2011, each bike also stops and turns like any other lightweight motorcycle you’ve ridden. Twist the throttle and you get an OK amount of forward thrust, simply without any noise or drama. You hear a slight electric hiss and wind noise, but that’s it.

Make no mistake, these are not fast motorcycles, but there is something surprising about the way their stealthy performance can quickly see you speeding well over the limit on tight back roads or urban environments, i.e., the ideal home for an electric motorcycle. And that’s the point: These aren’t designed to be an enthusiast rider’s toy but rather super-practical daily transport. When ridden as such, the user-friendly drivetrain truly shines and the light handling makes maneuvering a pleasure.

When the above-mentioned rain started to pour on the second testing day, the motorcycles didn’t miss a beat. The word “robust” was used time and time again during our briefing, and our initial rides supported that description . Of course, range is still the bugbear, and on one full-throttle ride we managed to kill the smaller X-series battery on an XU in less than 7.5 miles.

If you do want to have fun, however, grab one of the MX bikes and hit a trail or circuit. Here, the punchy electric powertrain offers plenty of thrust (a claimed 50 foot-pounds of torque) to get the blood pumping. It’s clear that the electric powertrain offers plenty of performance once batteries are able to provide the needed energy density. In the meantime, it just means that EV fun comes in slightly shorter doses.