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.

First Impressions

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. 

2011 Zero DS Electric Motorcycle

2011 Zero DS Electric Motorcycle

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. 

Starting, stopping

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. 

2011 Zero DS Electric Motorcycle

2011 Zero DS Electric Motorcycle

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. 

2011 Zero DS Electric Motorcycle

2011 Zero DS Electric Motorcycle

Options, extras

Just like its other electric motorcycles, the 2011 Zero DS comes with its own set of options,  including a soft luggage set, enhanced suspension and summer screen. 

The 2011 Zero DS comes as standard with a belt-drive system, but Zero recommends riders who regularly go off-road will want to upgrade to a chain drive system. 

Nosier than the belt, it reduces the risk of breakage on trails, but does require extra maintenance. Riders more familiar with gas-powered motorcycles may find the chain drive system preferable as it gave more audible clues as to our speed, meaning we could concentrate more on riding and less on the speedometer. 

Also included as an option on the 2011 DS is the ability to fast-charge from a 240-volt power supply. An additional $595, it halves the time taken to recharge the on-board 4.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack to just 2.3 hours and can even be used in conjunction with the optional $499 J1772 charging socket to let you charge up your Zero DS wherever there’s an available J1772 electric car charging station.


At $10,495, the 2011 Zero DS isn’t a cheap motorcycle.  In fact, it costs more than the venerable king of dual-sport motorcycles -- the 2011 BMW GF650GS.

But the Zero DS isn’t meant to compete with the likes of BMW, Triumph and KTM. And if it did, the stocker-price contest wouldn’t be a fair one. 

2011 Zero DS Electric Motorcycle

2011 Zero DS Electric Motorcycle

For a start, to truly experience life from the seat of a large gasoline dual-sport motorcycle you need a full tank of gasoline, a winding road in a remote location and a tent strapped to your back.  To experience the thrill of dual sport riding with the 2011 Zero DS, you just need to ride it: it makes every trip feel like you're going on a year-long adventure.

While the Zero DS isn’t perfect -- we’d like to see a higher top speed, more than 58 miles of range and the ability to carry a passenger -- we think it offers the best ride of any electric motorcycle we’ve ridden to date. 

Sure, it’ll do the daily commute to work just fine, but this is the first time we’ve ridden an electric motorcycle that makes us want more. It’s the kind of motorcycle that  you make excuses to ride. And that can only be a good thing. 


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