World's Cleanest Dirt Bike
The Electric Zero X has zero emissions
This is part of IEEE Spectrum's Special Report on IEEE SPECTRUM’S HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE 2008
Dirt bikes aren't the cleanest vehicles. There's the noise, oil, and grease, and the noxious fumes from the combustion engine. And then there's all that, um, dirt. The Zero X electric motorcycle, from Zero Motorcycles, in Scotts Valley, Calif., can't do much about that last item, but it's got to be the quietest and least polluting off-road bike around—and the lightest. With an aircraft-quality aluminum chassis, the 64â¿¿kilogram Zero X is less than half the weight of a gas-powered motorcycle. That helps its 20â¿¿horsepower electric motor go from 0 to 48 kilometers per hour (30 miles per hour) in less than 2 seconds. Its lithium-ion battery pack runs for about 60 km on a 2-hour charge.
The Zero X is the brainchild of Neal Saiki, a former aerospace engineer who holds a master's in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic State University. While working at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, in Edwards, Calif., he participated in a state-funded panel looking at transportation alternatives. In terms of environmental impact and cost, the panel concluded, electric vehicles overwhelmingly made the most sense.
Saiki left NASA in 1991 and started designing mountain bikes. He never forgot the lesson about electric vehicles, though, and he kept tabs on developments in battery technologies. Finally, in 2005 he saw that lithium-ion packs had achieved sufficient power density to make a good electric motorcycle. He figured motorcycles offered a much easier entry into the electric-vehicle market than cars. Then, too, he'd always had a passion for riding.
Since coming on the market in April, the Zero X has won over quite a few veteran bikers. ”Off-roaders value a lighter-weight bike because it's maneuverable and can handle higher jumps,” Saiki says. When former motocross champion Jeff Emig first rode a Zero X, the bike's speed and acceleration surprised him, and he wiped out almost immediately, Saiki recalls. ”He jumped up, all bloodied, and he said, ’I can't believe I just got thrown by an electric motorcycle! I love this thing!' ”
But the Zero X is also good for complete novices. Just flip a switch and you can reduce its top speed by half; a second switch decreases the acceleration.
At US $7450, the Zero X runs about $1000 more than a conventional 250â¿¿cubic-centimeter bike—but you'll never spend a dime on gas or on filters for the oil and air. The battery pack should last five to six years with normal use, and it takes about 30 seconds to swap it out. ”The battery industry is advancing all the time, with new chemistries and new technologies,” Saiki says. ”We wanted to make it really easy to upgrade the battery pack.”
Currently, the Zero X can be ordered only from the company's Web site, and there's a three-month waiting list, which the company hopes to eliminate by tripling production. For those who must ride before they buy, Zero has models available for test drives at the company's headquarters and 15 other U.S. locations. Bikes for test drives will be available in Europe in 2009.
Kits are also available to convert the Zero X into a ”streetable” bike, Saiki says. A more powerful street-legal model, the Zero Supermoto, will be introduced this January, and the company is already taking orders. --Jean Kumagai