2011 Zero X First Ride

March 31, 2011
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
Off-Road Editor|Articles|Articles RSS|Blog |Blog Posts |Blog RSS

Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA's Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn't matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

The 2011 Zero X electric motorcycle takes silent, motorized riding to the trails.

The forbidden fruit for any off-road trail rider is the hidden mountain bike trail. Trails that are not part of a recognized network; pirated stretches of single-track painstakingly cut up the steepest mountain, through the thickest brush by a group of rogue pedal-pushers. We’ve all found them, and we’ve all partaken with a twinge of guilt every time our motorcycle knobbies tear deeper than a 24-inch wheel ever could. It’s trail poaching, and it’s uncouth, but there’s a new way to snag our guilty pleasure with a lot more stealth, and a lot less impact.

Zero Motorcycles has a full line of electric motorcycles that range from dirt to street. The 2011 Zero X is a silent, fun machine designed for trail riding that is engineered and manufactured in Santa Cruz, California. Its Z-Force air induction system power pack is rated for a maximum 2.0 kWH and draws from the lithium ion battery. A quick-charge option cuts recharging time from two hours to around one hour, and the battery can be swapped out of the vehicle with amazing ease. The new batteries are said to be more powerful than the older generation and offer a claimed 15% increase in range. The 2011 Zero MX model uses a slightly more powerful Agni motor, but it was almost impossible for us to determine a difference in the supposedly slower X. As expected from a battery power source, power starts dropping from the instant the throttle is turned. With multiple journalists bouncing from one bike to the next, any difference we felt could have been from a variance in battery charge.

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We’ve used it to describe gas-powered motorcycles before, so why not the actual thing – power delivery is “electric smooth.” Despite a direct drive from the electric motor to the countershaft, there is a noticeable lag when the throttle is first turned. Otherwise there are no flaws in the delivery, but this does take some adjusting when backing off the throttle and trying to get on it again for an obstacle. Dual power settings allow for an aggressive or energy conservation mode depending on if the rider is trying to maximize the claimed 30-60 minutes of range or trying to shave off seconds. The power curve is linear and will get the X up to speed. It proved adequate to play around on for our test rider’s weight, which is nearly identical to that of the machine (185 lbs. in dirt trim, 201 lbs. street-legal).

That’s right, the X (and all 2011 Zero models) can be ridden legally on the pavement with factory-installed components. This is a move that will greatly increase their attractiveness in Europe, which is the newest target for Zero. The X comes from the showroom as a street-legal or dirt-only model. Zero also offers a street legal kit so owners can upgrade their dirt versions at any point. The kit comes with a modular lighting harness, bolt-on tail structure and tail pod, headlight, turn signals and brackets, side mirrors, side stand, integrated front dash and fly screen and a smaller rear sprocket (61 vs. 71 tooth) for higher speeds. Some of the bikes we rode were equipped with full-blown Bridgestone dirt bike tires like what is found on the MX model, but the standard X and street-legal trail tires aren’t nearly as impressive.

Lithium ion batteries are the heart of all Zero motorcycles. The X model is available in street-legal form. The battery management system relays information on charge based on current.

Engineers revised the suspension for 2011 with new internal settings and an updated triple clamp. The rear shock can be tuned for preload and rebound while the fork offers compression and rebound damping adjustments. Wheel travel up front is 8.2 inches and the rear gets an extra half-inch of movement.

Zero is the best electric trail bike we’ve seen.

It is the suspension that makes the X model our tester’s personal favorite. Equipped with full motocross knobbies, it’s a kick to ride on the trails and the comfort level is much higher than the MX version. We took it on the motocross track and it proved capable on the more aggressive terrain. The suspension bottoms out easier, but the compliance over chop, especially acceleration bumps, more than makes up for it. The 16-inch rear wheel has no problem staying in contact with the ground, tracking and driving forward even as the speeds pick up. It also doesn’t deflect the way the stiffer MX does.

Another reason it’s our fave is that it looks cool with the black front fender and updated white/red/grey graphics which accent the shot-peened, anodized aluminum frame, black seat, Pro-Wheels hubs, sprocket and rims. Footpegs are attached with a moto-industry-standard clevis pin so buyers can upgrade with aftermarket components. We’d suggest it – the stockers are fine for buzzing around town, but the teeth are too flat for aggressive off-road riding or wet conditions.

Zero is proud to offer a two-year limited warranty on the X and there are multiple tax credits available because it is an EV. The federal credit is 10%, but a second battery must be purchased in order to qualify, which jumps the $7995 MSRP significantly ($8495 street-legal). Regardless, it’s still the most affordable model in Zero’s line of electric vehicles. For someone who’s the silent, eco-friendly type that likes playing in the dirt, we have yet to see a better option. The beauty of the X is that not only can a rider search out and blaze down those euphoric hidden trails, but they can head back up just as easily which makes for twice the fun.