Zero Motorcycles: Making Harleys and Hondas Look Like Dinosaurs Since 2006

Zero DS 25 photos
Photo: Zero Motorcycles
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So far during our EV month, we've showcased EVs of all shapes and sizes on four wheels, train tracks, water-based, and even electric airplanes. But of all the form factors possible to shove an electric motor into, perhaps none is better suited than that of motorcycles. Why? Because weight is the enemy of every EV.
When there's hardly any weight at all to begin with, you have the recipe for one spicy road beast, track monster, or trail carver. Whichever variety of motorcycle you most prefer, chances are pretty good Zero Motorcycles of Santa Cruz, California, has you covered. The man behind Zero's founding had their training in a field a touch more prestigious than common motorcycles.

That's right, Neal Saiki, founder and lead engineer behind Zero Motorcycles, spent time at NASA as a legit aerospace engineer. Before opening his own business in the Santa Cruz area. An area pretty well known for being kind to tech startups.

Admittedly, the original office building for the company was located adjacent to Santa Cruz proper in the small suburb of Scotts, California. Founded as Electricross in 2006, the company's first-ever bespoke electric dirt bike weighed a featherweight 140 pounds (63.5 kilos). Or nearly light enough to lug onto a subway train, but not quite.

The Zero-X, as it was known, had only two switches. One to turn the electric motor on or off, and one to toggle between a setting geared toward either low-end torque or a higher top speed. That's all you need when your electric drive trains is so simple and versatile.

Zero S
Photo: Zero Motorcycles
Automotive royalty Jay Leno profiled the bike in 2008, perhaps the first big break for the fledgling company. Everyone knows Leno's endorsement is as good as gold. By 2009, the company was staging titularly named endurance races for their own customers to compete in.

The inaugural 2009 running of the event covered 502.1 miles and a scarcely believable 1,015 laps of the tough dirt circuit tracks. That same year, the company unveiled its first road-legal motorcycle. This new bike was christened the Zero S.

Geared for street and light track use instead of dirt trails, The S and the upgraded Zero DS were touted as also being halfway decent off-road. Even while running on street tires to boot. To cap off a landmark year, the company founded its first European operations team in Holland.

The company would get a very helpful endorsement from the then Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, an avid motorcycle enthusiast in his own right. Soon after, the company unveiled its Zero XU urban commuter. A moderately powerful EV bike designed to be perfect for working-class city folks who needed something cheaper than a car to run around in.

Zero S
Photo: Zero Motorcycles
By 2013, Zero riders were riding cross country in five days, or 135 hours, and developing their own mobile apps to use in tandem with their bikes. That same year, a Zero Motorcycle was victorious in the first-ever running of Pikes Peak's EV motorcycle hill climb race division.

It's done so year after year every time out since. By the following year, the brand's flagship Zero SR was topping 100 miles per hour and zero to 60 mph (100 kph) in the low three-second range. Eat your heart out, Suzuki and Kawasaki. Skip to 2016, and the Zero FXS Supermoto is ready to show off the crazy innovations behind its unique Z-Force IPM (Interior Permanent Magnet) motor.

Rest assured, this isn't your mom and dad's electric motor. It's a proprietary designed system which is only has a few moving parts. This made the motor perfect for use in a supermoto application. The company marked its ten-year anniversary with the release of the DSR adventure motorcycle. The most versatile and capable electric motorcycle ever produced up to that point.

With fast-charging capability, custom graphics, and a wicked black paint job, it's a shame it's not a more well-known and well-celebrated motorcycle. By this stage, the company employed over 150 people, up from just a handful of sales staff and techs when the company first opened its doors.

Zero S
Photo: Zero Motorcycles
Skip again to late 2021, and the unprecedented buzz behind the 2022 S street bike and the DS and DSR dual-sport models necessitated the company release the bike well ahead of schedule. Imagine that happening with a new Harley or Ducatti. It'd be unheard of.

By this stage, power figures and performance data from Zero's extensive line of electric motorcycle models were starting to make an impact that companies like Husqvarna, Honda, and KTM could no longer ignore. In the era of Tesla's domination of the passenger car EV space, this is perfectly understandable.

And so, the future looks nothing but bright for a start-up company that was founded with such modest ambitions. Safe for a couple of suspect recalls over the years, the venture's been nothing but a success.

Nowadays, the SoCal team behind these electric bikes could teach industry heavyweights a thing or two about how to build an EV motorcycle the correct way. If we were Kawasaki right now, we'd be taking notes.

Zero FX
Photo: Zero Motorcycles
Check back for more from EV month right here on autoevolution.
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