In its five-year history, Zero has gone from a single electric motorcross bike to a global operation, building five different electric motorcycles for a variety of markets. 

So while we were visiting Tesla in California last week, we decided to drop by on Zero's Californian headquarters for a few test-rides.

During our visit, we rode three of Zero’s motorcycles, the 2011 Zero S, 2011 Zero DS, and 2011 Zero XU. Each with a different character, they offer three very different takes on the world of electric vehicles.

Today we’re going to tell you about the Zero S, Zero’s road-going super-moto-meets-sports bike with an electrically-limited top speed of 67 mph and a range of between 43 and 58 miles per charge of its 4.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack. 

First impressions

2011 Zero S Electric Motorcycle

2011 Zero S Electric Motorcycle

Unlike the Brammo Enertia we reviewed last week, the 2011 Zero S shows its internal organs for the world to see. Clearly visible through its frame is the sealed lithium-ion battery pack, power electronics and large 22 kilowatt peak DC permanent magnet motor. 

Following Zero’s minimalist, functional design ethics is the beautifully welded lightweight chassis. Encasing everything else, it makes the Zero S look very much like a conventional gasoline motorcycle, and extends just below the saddle towards the front headset, giving riders plenty to hold onto with their knees. 

Starting, stopping

Open the throttle, and the Zero S leaps to 30 mph in under 2 seconds, getting you to 60 mph in the same kind of time you’d expect of a 250cc motorcycle. 

Admittedly, there are plenty of gasoline motorcycles which are a lot faster, but thanks to the instant torque and smooth throttle response, the Zero feels great, accelerating right up to its electronically top speed of 67 mph without any fuss.

When it comes to stopping, the lack of engine braking means that rolling back on the throttle won’t slow you down as quickly as it would on a gasoline motorcycle -- but the Zero S’ dual piston 12.2 inch front brake disc quickly helps shed speed when needed. 

The back brake -- a single piston, 8.6 inch disc brake -- is also firm and responsive, providing additional stopping power at speed and excellent stability when executing tight, slow turns. 

2011 Zero S Electric Motorcycle

2011 Zero S Electric Motorcycle

Handling, ride quality

With a curb weight of 297 pounds, the Zero S weighs less than many 250cc gasoline motorcycles. However, on the tight, twisty Californian roads around Zero’s Scotts Valley factory we found the Zero S to be quite front-end heavy due to the forward riding position and 22.7 degree steering rake. 

Although the excellent shock absorbers dispatched most smaller potholes without incident, the front-end-heavy riding position transmitted shocks from larger potholes through the forks and into the handlebars.

Potholes aside, we found the Zero S to be a relatively easy ride, easy to lean into corners once the handlebars had been given enough force to initiate counter-steering.

With enough torque in the DC electric motor, the Zero S was able to always provide acceleration out of corners, creating a safe, secure ride. 

Refined ride

2011 Zero S Electric Motorcycle

2011 Zero S Electric Motorcycle

Overall, the 2011 Zero S felt a refined ride, giving a grown-up motorcycle feel in something weighing very little.  Used to riding nosier motorcycles, we found the ultra-quiet belt drive system that connected the motor to rear wheels made it quite difficult to judge speed on our short test ride -- although after a few more hours we feel that would have been less of a problem as we learned to rely on our other senses to assess speed. 


Like most electric motorcycles, the 2011 Zero S comes complete with an on-board charger and charging cable. Plug it into a standard 110 Volt outlet, and it will charge its 4.4 (3.9 nominal) kilowatt-hour battery pack to full in 4 hours at an estimated cost in California of 48 cents.  For a quicker recharge time, buy the optional quick charge pack, which recharges from 240-volt power supplies in just 2.3 hours. 

Zero is also the first electric motorcycle manufacturer to offer public charging station compatibility, installing a J1772 outlet on the Zero S’ frame if you wish to use it with any of the public charging stations now installed nationwide. 


Combined with an impressive range of optional extras, the Zero S is an electric motorcycle that traditional motorcyclist won’t be ashamed to ride. In fact, the 2011 Zero S is the first electric motorcycle we’ve ridden which truly feels like a regular gasoline motorcycle. 

With gasoline-like acceleration and tons of torque, there’s a lot of fun to be had -- without committing any traffic violations.

The only major drawback? The 2011 Zero S isn’t set up for a pillion rider. Then again, if you’re looking for a grown-up electric motorcycle to commute to work on you may not need that two-up capability. 

As an electric motorcycle manufacturer, Zero has come of age with the 2011 Zero S, giving better handling, better performance and better range than Zero S motorcycles of previous years. 

For the 2012 model year, Zero promises even more -- although company executives are remaining tight-lipped about just what that means.  

Watch this space. 


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.