Zero % Scooter 100% motorbike.

I’ve just got back from the UK launch party for the two hottest electric motorbikes to hit the European market this year. (Zero launched the Zero X electric dirt bike in 2008, but we’ve not had the chance to get our leather-clad hands on them yet.)

Today however, the UK arm of Zero motorcycles launched the Zero S and Zero X to the UK market. For the small, select bunch of people gathered there there was only one reaction. WOW. Unlike some of the electric ‘motorbikes’ which came before, the Zero S and Zero X are actually real motorbikes. There’s not a hint of scooter about them, unlike the Vectrix Maxi Scooter, which has for a long time had to deal with criticism from the biker community that it was nothing more than the plaything of rich commuters. In fact, the Zero S (The road-legal version of the Zero Motorbike) is about as far removed from the Vectrix as you can get. Small, nippy and surprisingly fast, it’ll do up to 60 mph and has a maximum range of 60 miles. Although, I have to admit, if you’re going to have as much fun as the people trying them out today at the launch, perhaps that range won’t quite bit that far. Thanks to the incredibly low weight of the road bike (102.1kg) it’s got a phenomenal accelration and while I didn’t ride it myself (I had strict instructions from my partner and my family to never get a motorbike) I could see the grins on those who did take it for a spin on the quiet Hampshire lanes surrounding the launch venue.

The Zero S is one sexy electric motorbike.

Although looks are very motorbike, the actual riding experience is a little more scooter, thanks to a clutchless one speed transmission. There’s no foot brakes either, so hardened motorcyclists may take a while to get used to it. But seeing one guy turn up on a big Harley Davidson and then take off on the little Zero S convinced me that the adjustment certainly didn’t appear to be that large.

Everyone I spoke to at the launch told me how much they’d enjoyed riding it. And no, that wasn’t just the team involved in bringing the Zero bikes to the UK. Battery wise, Zero claim to have the cleanest lithium ion technology on the market, with no toxicity.

No-one offered to injest the battery but it certainly is cobalt, nickel, lead and mercury free, so your fun won’t be hampered by the fear that your battery is going to kill the dying gay baby whales. That same battery is expected to last up to five years and will recharge in under 4 hours. In the motorbike manufacture, Zero claim a carbon footprint just one eighth of that of a normal

motorbike. The UK importer, ZEVltd, have a launch price of 9,500€, £8,540 at the current exchange rate, for the Road-legal S. It’s not cheap, but compared with some of the other options for zero emissions motoring it’s garanteed much more fun. Add to that the 0-60 time of less than four seconds and it seems a tempting proposition as a commuter bike. It’s speed, weight and street cred puts it a long way ahead of the more middle-aged Vectrix. And for anyone in London or any similarly congested city (my home city of Bristol is gettig pretty bad these days) it’s an ideal vehicle to weave in and out of the traffic and charge up when you get to work, thanks to the built-in charger.

If commuting by motorbike isn’t your thing how about the Zero X, Zero’s acclaimed off-road dirt bike. At €7,500 it’s a lot cheaper than it’s big brother but still keeps all the fun. Thanks to a smaller battery pack and off-bike charger, the Zero X only weighs 68.5kg. Zero creator and former NASA engineer and world-class mountain bike designer Neal Zaiki demonstrated the Zero X’s ultimate party piece; a 20.5 kg battery pack which could be removed and swapped for a fully charged one in under twenty seconds. Impractical for the road version of the Zero, but so right for the dirt bike, this enables the Zero X to be raced almost continually for hours and hours on end. In fact, as Neal told me, they’ve done twenty-four hour endurance races with them, switching battery packs faster than a regular gas bike can fill it’s tank. Impressive.

The Zero X motorcross bikes amuse the RSR motorcross team riders. Professional Dirt bike riders, Olly Mayhew and Paul Dunford, from RSR Motorcross team took two of the Zero X dirt bikes around a make-shift course.

They first got on the bikes earlier on in the day and told me that they were feeling at home in the saddle after a few minutes.

Throughout the day they took every opportunity to get on and ride around and didn’t need any persuading to jump back on to have fun for the camera. Without the roar of petrol engines both Paul and Olly’s delighted squeals, laughs and exclamations could be heard around the field.  The Zero Motorcycle duo of S and X are going to set the UK motorcycle scene alight with the possibility that not every cool motorcycle has to be petrol-powered. The big boys are in town, and they’re about to set the electric motorcycle scene alight. [youtube]