But what if you could rip around silently? You’d be all but invisible to the average person! Zero has taken that concept and let it evolve over the past few years to become the recyclable and environmentally friendly 2010 Zero MX.
We’ve all seen reviews of similar electro-crossers that appear to have been photographed on a BMX track or soccer field. Not on Motorcycle.com! We abused our Zero just the way you would - like a real dirt bike!
We had our Zero MX outfitted with what Zero calls the “Extreme Package.” Basically, this adds a stronger motor and a stronger front fork. The Zero Extreme MX is ‘fun-sized,’ meaning it’s about the size of a CRF or TTR230 playbike. The ergonomics are correct, except it doesn’t have a foot operated rear brake for some bizarre reason. The recycled plastic looks and feels thick and cobby, and the suspension and brakes are essentially souped-up downhill mountain bike stuff. Because the Zero weighs a mere 170 pounds they can get away with using a small 420-sized chain, lightweight hubs and hydraulic bicycle disc brakes.
"We abused our Zero just the way you would..."
The frame and swingarm look strong enough to survive a nuclear blast. The Zero’s electric motor is rated at 50 ft-lbs torque, and is powered by a Lithium Ion battery that can theoretically last up to two hours and is rechargeable in about the same amount of time. It’s also, like the rest of the bike, landfill safe and recyclable.
The battery is a big part of the Zero’s total weight, tipping the scales at 46 pounds. Removing the battery for recharging or a battery swap takes about 30 seconds. Be careful removing it, because that battery is about the same weight as the engine of the new Husky 250F we tested in April. To save weight Zero uses smaller wheels than normal, a 19-inch front and 17-inch rear, mated to equally wimpy tires.
After our first few minutes aboard the Zero we were impressed at how well the bike pulled. There are different power settings; low torque/low speed, low torque/high speed and high torque/high speed. The electric motor makes good bottom-end power, but throttle response feels downright weird. We found the most ‘normal’ throttle response by using the low torque/high speed setting, but better throttle position programming is necessary here. Power builds instantly then flattens out, pretty much backwards to the powerband of any normal dirt bike. Still, the Zero Extreme MX has enough juice to do wheelies and burnouts and just about anything else you could do on a 250 four-stroke playbike.
Despite its name, moto is certainly not the Zero’s forte. The suspension, with 8 inches of travel in the rear and 8.5 up front, is under sprung, under damped and just plain bad. We fiddled with adjustments without much success. What the bike needs is a modern motocross fork and a normal motocross rear shock with a normal motocross shock linkage. Desperately.
Little jumps feel like you’re flat landing on a BMX bike, so in a way the fact the battery dies after about 20 minutes of semi-aggressive motocross riding is a blessing in disguise. The engine itself has more than enough guts for motocross, the frame is as solid as a rock and the bike brakes and steers quite well. The best part of riding the Zero is silence. All you can hear is the chain whirring around, which is no louder than someone riding past on a bicycle. The Zero is a stealth bomber supreme! Squishy soft suspension, low weight, quick turning, big torque…we knew instinctively where the Zero Extreme MX really belongs – in the woods! This bike can zigzag through first and second gear trail junk at a pace that is competitive with anything short of a trials bike!
During our test we never stopped wishing for a normal rear brake pedal and better tires. Battery life in the woods at race pace was about twice as long as it was at higher speeds on the MX track. We got about 40 minutes out of a charge while playing electro-enduro-racer, so theoretically, if you did a battery swap after each lap of an Eastern hare scramble…
"...we never stopped wishing for a normal rear brake pedal and better tires."
We asked the Zero rep if the bike was safe to get wet. “Sure,” he answered. “We power wash these things all the time.” A minute later we were aiming the little Zero at a swamp, fully prepared to not only get electrocuted but also to push the bike back to the trailer. The Zero survived its baptism without a hiccup, but unfortunately our test pilot ended up stinking to high heaven and the cloud of swamp gas we released could be smelled from space. We actually blasted through stink-water like this all afternoon and the Zero kept humming along just fine.
As we put more time on the Zero we ‘sort-of’ got used to the hand-operated rear brake, unusual throttle response and flat powerband. You could lay out a great little Zero off-road course in nearly any suburban woodlot. A word of caution here: it is very hard to get used to the sensation of speed with a silent engine, making it easy to ride faster than you think you are. Combine that false sense of security with the Zero’s poor suspension and tiny wheels and it is easy to ride over your head and into the ground. We crashed the Zero many times during the test for this reason.
So what do we really think? The Zero is far too expensive to buy - $8,295 for the base MX or $9,950 for the Extreme Package - though there are government-based incentive programs that can greatly reduce the cost. There are fewer moving parts to wear out than a normal dirt bike, so that saves some money. Zero estimates the cost of keeping the Zero charged is less than one cent per mile. But the batteries are crazy expensive, and you’d want to keep a few in the truck. The suspension is wimpy, the tires and wheels are too small and the plastic is cheap looking. The Zero Extreme MX scores bonus points for being built in the U.S.A.
So, yes, we want one! After our test we jointly decided if a law was passed tomorrow banning gas-engined dirt bikes the future wouldn’t be all that bleak. You’d still be able to go fast, pop wheelies and throw roost. Currently the best customer for the Zero Extreme MX would be the owner of a decently sized suburban lot who has lots of money and a moto-kid with nowhere to practice.
Like any new technology the price of electro-crossers will come down and the products will improve, but for now we were pleasantly surprised at how much fun we had on the Zero Extreme MX!