Zero X Electric Motorcycle Click the following link for the a video with the inventor of the Zero X Electric Motorcycle, Neil Saiki.Click any photo for a larger version.

Sometimes you get to peek at something that feels like it’s slightly ahead of its time, and the Zero Electric Motorcycle definitely feels like that. All of us have felt the pinch at the gas pump lately, and hybrid cars (and their technology) are increasingly popular. We also hear more often about tracks being closed due to exhaust noise. The Zero X motorcycle addresses all of those things, in a 140-pound package that's one part motorcycle, one part beefed-up mountain bike. Right where you'd expect to find a two- or four-stroke powerplant, it's instead replaced by a quiet but surprisingly powerful 20-horsepower electric motor.

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The complete bike uses a mix of motorcycle and mountain bike technology, along with a 20-horsepower motor that's surprisingly fast.

According to the founder and inventor of Zero, Neil Saiki, the real heart of the bike is its Lithium-Ion Power Pack. This high-tech battery weighs about 40 pounds, and a two-hour charge provides between an hour and two hours of ride time. The lifetime of the battery is expected to be between five and six year, with average use. Replacement batteries are (gulp) a whopping $2,950. But to charge it? Expect to spend a whopping quarter. Yep, just 25 cents.

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The Lithium Ion Battery is replaceable (for $2,950), charges in two hours, and is good for between and hour and two hours of riding.

Among Neil’s past pursuits included education in Aeronautical Engineering, and stints at NASA, as well as Santa Cruz Bicycles, and he gets to draw from his whole background to build the Zero X.

The 18-pound aircraft aluminum frame looks like it definitely fits somewhere between a full motorcycle and a mountain bike, though a lot of the components (bars, stems, brakes, suspension and more) have mountain bike heritage. The forks on our test bike were Marzocchis, and the shock was a Manitou. But Neil also got to spec out some special gear, like the wheels, that aren’t exactly standard-issue gear for the pedal-powered set. He also opted for a mid-sized (3/8-inch) pitch chain. The bike definitely is unique.

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The controls include front and rear brake (no clutch), and a normal twist throttle.

Getting in motion is simple. Twist the key to the on position, pick your speed range (low or high) and roll on the throttle. Simple.

The low speed range is good for 0-30, which in some areas, makes it legal for street use as a motorized bicycle, but be sure to check your local laws for a ruling on this. There’s also a 0-60 for full power applications.

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All the braking is handled by lever-operated front and rear hydraulic discs.

But there’s also a switch for two power ranges. Easy and Sport mode. The Zero crew suggested giving the Easy mode a try first, to get a feel for the bike. Then afterward, to bump it up to the sport mode, for wheelies and a full race-style powerband.

Two things stuck out at us while on the bike. First was a bit of controls confusion. With the handlebar-mounted front (right), and rear (left) brakes, we did hunt for a brake pedal a few times. The brakes were also backwards from how we’re used to running mountain bike brakes.

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The front end of the bike uses a Marzocchi Bomber fork.

We rode the bike at the Lake Elsinore Motocross Park’s Mini track, which is a bit like riding a concrete skatepark with a sprinkling of sand over the top. It’s definitely slippery in the corners, and as you accelerated out, it was fairly easy to break the rear wheel loose. Let off that gas and there’s very little to no engine braking. All your braking comes from the two lever-operated hydraulic discs on the bike, and they’re definitely up to the task.

It’s said that the bike will accelerate from 0-30 in under two seconds, and we believe it. It hauls. Gauging the power without the usual engine noise that we’re accustomed to is a challenge, though. With more time in the saddle, we’re sure you could make the transition…but it was unusual.

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The drive chain uses and unusual 3/8-inch pitch. Check out the width of the rim on the rear wheel.

There’s no transmission on the electric engine, but you can change gearing for different applications. But wherever we were, as soon as we needed instant power, it was ready to go with a twist of the throttle.

With nothing but an electric whine coming from the Zero’s Powerplant, you did hear every clank and rattle, but otherwise it was nearly silent…well, except for another sound you don’t generally hear from your normal motorcycle. That was the tires clawing for traction.

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The Manitou rear shock was a bit oversprung for our tastes, which seemed to keep the rear end of the bike jacked up in comparison to the front.

That’s one big advantage to the bike, that you can ride it nearly anywhere. Neal mentioned that the Zero X wasn’t really purpose-built for use on a regular motocross track, and that it’d more likely be happy on trails, or fireroads (again, check your local regulations). There’s definitely some safety built into the current frame design, since the swingarm seemed a bit overly long (we’re guessing to make it harder to wheelie…or loop out as the case might be), and the rear suspension was also on the stiff side compared to the front. That gave it a bit of a stinkbug feel that made it just slightly unnerving in the sandy corners. But as a trail bike? Or on some tacky terrain? Or as something to ride in an area where noise restrictions are in place? We’re guessing it’d be a ton of fun.

There’s no doubt that it’s an eco-friendly motorcycle (and we never thought we’d EVER say that), and a pretty amazing piece of engineering. You can check out the video (see the link above) for more explanation from Neil about the technology involved in creating it.

Suggested retail for the complete bike is a stout $7,450 (and tack on another $300 for shipping), and rather than being available through a dealer network, it’s sold via the web only at www.zeromotorcycles.com. The bike is delivered in three boxes, and can be shipped anywhere.

What do you think? If you’re a Vital MX member (membership is free), you can leave a comment below, or talk about it in the Vital MX Forums.

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