Zero Motorcycles 2011 - First Look

Zero continues to refine its line of all-electric motorcycles.

Zero Motorcycles 2011 - First Look

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Zero Motorcycles hasn’t launched all-new motorcycles—at least not yet—for the 2011 model year. What the company has done is so thoroughly upgrade its current models that they might as well be considered new, with upgrades to essentially every major system.

Begin with appearance: New plastic bodywork starts to move Zero away from the box-of-batteries look that characterized earlier bikes. The battery packs themselves are enhanced: All use the latest EV-rated (electric vehicle) Molicell lithium-ion power cells, good for 12.5 percent more energy than in prior years and many more charge/recharge cycles than with previous Zero batteries.

The Zero S (now a streetfighter rather than a motard-style machine) and DS dual-purpose bikes both carry a 4.4 kW-h lithium-ion battery pack, good for about a 45-mile range in suburban riding. Both machines share a common platform and get numerous detail improvements, including the option of using a second, smart charger (that must be plugged into a separate 110-volt circuit) to cut the charge time in half, from 4 to 2 hours. Both Zeros have switched to 17-inch wheels (now with strong, MX-specification rims), and both have moved from chains to maintenance-free Gates toothed belts that—because of the smooth power of the electric drive—can be narrower, lighter and more efficient than the chains they replace. Perhaps more importantly, the belt will remove the annoying chain whir that was the loudest sound when riding these quiet electric machines. (A chain kit will be available for the DS if an owner is planning on a lot of deep mud or other severe off-road riding that’s hard on belts.) Brakes are from American-based HB Performance (better known as Hayes Brake), with a larger, 310mm front disc, and are claimed to offer a substantial improvement in feel and power over the units they replace. The repositioning of the Zero S as a streetfighter has seen its suspension travel shorten to a range typical of streetbikes, and it has also allowed its claimed seat height to drop to a low, 30.8 inches. That’s five inches lower than the seat on the DS, which now has a new, trail-tuned suspension with 9.4 inches of front travel and almost 8 inches at the rear. Detail changes to the frame and swingarm increase strength and reduce parts count.

Similarly, the off-road MX and its street-legal variant (they differ mainly in gearing and the addition of lights) have seen a similar thorough improvement. Both get the higher-energy, longer-life cells in more-rugged battery packs that are rated at 2kWh and capable of being both quickly swapped or quickly charged. Zero claims a swap, if you have an extra pack, can be made in less than a minute, while a quick charge, using an optional second smart charger plugged into a second circuit, can bring a pack up to 90-plus-percent capacity in less than an hour. Both versions of the MXer get a much stronger steel-stanchioned fork with 9.4 inches of travel, and the 8.7 inches of rear wheel travel are controlled by new shock damping and tuning. The wheels, now in 1.85 x 19- and 2.15 x 16-inch sizes, are by ProWheel and are much stronger than in previous years, and they’re fitted with—according to Zero—much better tires. As with the pure-street Zeros, the brake calipers are now supplied by HB Performance and are claimed to boost both power and feel. And helping to put those brakes to good use, a more powerful Agni electric motor with higher sustained power capability has become standard for both versions of the MXer.

Essentially, Zero’s engineers have been busy over the last year improving almost every system on their motorcycles, and have made them stronger, longer-ranged, quicker to charge, better-braked and better-suspended. At the same time, the company has managed to get additional venture-capital funding and government grants to develop a new, motorcycle-specific electric motor. So, we suspect that this is only a hint of what is to come from Zero over the next few years.

006 2011 Zero DS

005 2011 Zero X

004 2011 Zero X

003 2011 Zero S

002 2011 Zero MX

001 2011 Zero MX