If you read last week’s review of the 2012 Zero S, you’ll know that we’ve recently visited the headquarters of Zero Motorcycles in Scotts Valley, California.
Five years ago, Zero started off as a firm producing electric motocross bikes that could compete on equal grounds in off-road races with gasoline ones, but now its range totals five different models, each catering for a different segment of the motorcycle market.
Today we’re going to concentrate on its answer to the dual-sport world: the 2011 Zero DS.
Based on the same frame as the 2011 Zero S we rode last week, the 2011 Zero DS might look identical from a distance to the uninitiated.
But get closer and the higher seat, higher handlebars, longer wheelbase, chunky tires and taller forks hint that the DS is -- as its name suggests -- happy on both road and trail.
Even though this is a dual sport motorcycle, Zero has kept the same beautifully clean design lines found in the Zero S, meaning its powerful 22 kilowatt peak DC brushless motor and 4.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack are clearly visible nestling within its super-lightweight 19.3 pound frame.
Interestingly, while the Zero DS weighs exactly the same as its road-going sibling, we found it felt more substantial than the Zero S, caused in part by the higher seat and more upright riding position.
Just like the 2011 Zero S, the 2011 Zero DS features the same simple startup procedure: turn the key, turn off the throttle-mounted kill switch, and fold away the substantial kickstand to ride. There’s no gimmicks, only sensible safety features most motorcyclists should already be familiar with and non-motorcyclists should find easy to understand.
Although it has different profile tires to the 2011 Zero S, the 2011 Zero DS has essentially the same drivetrain and power electronics to the Zero S, meaning it gives similar acceleration and the same electronically limited top speed of 67 mph.
But thanks to a more upright riding position and its off-road style front suspension, we felt the 2011 Zero DS was a little more refined when braking from speed, with the front end dipping less under hard braking.
Handling, ride quality
That feeling of refinement continues beyond straight-line performance, with the more relaxed riding position giving the Zero DS the feeling of a much larger dual-sport machine.
Unlike most dual-sport motorcycles which tend to be a little top-heavy, the lightweight curb weight of only 297 pounds means you don't have to lift weights in order to feel in control. In fact, the Zero DS is the lightest dual-sport motorcycle we’ve ever ridden.
But that lack of weight doesn’t mean the 2011 Zero DS performs like a toy. With its years of off-road experience, Zero’s engineers have set up the suspension to give just the right amount of dampening on bumpy terrain, leaving a much smoother ride on rough road surfaces than the Zero S we told you about last week.
When it comes to steering, we found the Zero DS was lighter than the Zero S, responding to a much lighter touch. Thanks to a more balanced weight distribution, we found the Zero DS was easy to push into corners, eagerly leaning in with the minimal of counter-steering force and begging us to open the throttle to follow the riding line out the other side.