Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A little off-topic

I know it's a little off-topic, but I couldn't help myself. I've loved dirt bikes since I was a kid and the time I've spent riding has been too short and too infrequent.

Here's my dream: And it's rapidly becoming reality. It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine...

Electric Motorcycle Impresses Motocross Crowd
By Chuck Squatriglia April 06, 2009 | 7:31:25 PMCategories: Electric Vehicles

SAN JOSE, California -- Dirt rider Brandon Savory had just cleared the last jump on the last turn of the last lap of the "24 Hours of Electricross" endurance race when it all went bad in grand fashion.

Savory was among 50 riders onhand to show the Zero X electric motorcycle is a real motorcross machines, and he showboated the last few laps. He got big air off the jumps and threw dirt rooster tails over teammates gathered at the last turn of the half-mile track. With excitement mounting as the end of the unprecedented 24-hour race drew near, Savory launched the bike high in the air and nailed the landing before going head over heels.

The rear suspension had collapsed faster than one of Bernie Madoff's investments after a nut securing the bolt holding it together apparently snapped came loose.
"All I can say is thank God for the helmet," Savory said moments after he and several other people carried the crumpled bike across the finish line Sunday. "That was a full head skid. I'll be feeling it tomorrow."
It was a spectacular end to an unprecedented race that otherwise went off without a hitch. Zero Motorcycles had invited 50 people to flog 10 of its Zero X electric motorcross bikes for 24 hours straight. The company wanted to prove that these new battery-powered bikes are every bit as competitive as those burning fossil fuel.
"We want to show the world we can do a 24-hour race with EVs," Neal Saiki, the company's founder and chief technology officer, said. "The technology is here, and it works."
The Santa Cruz startup leads a growing field of companies hoping to shake up the motorcycle industry by offering electric bikes to the masses. As electric motorcycles from Zero, Brammo and Vectrix catch on, big players like KTM and Honda are ramping up plans for green bikes of their own.
If last weekend's race was any indication, these rivals will have their work cut out if they want to catch Zero Motorcycles.

The Zero X is an EV you can buy right now for $7,450. It weighs in at a bantamweight 150 pounds, delivers as much as 40 miles on a charge from a lithium-ion battery, and with a 23-horsepower motor it'll hit 57 mph (and throw up a big spray of dirt getting there). Sakai says it offers the same power as a 250-cc gasoline powered bike, and with 50 foot-pounds of torque it'll smoke the tires on pavement.

Sakai, a longtime rider who previously designed mountain bikes for the likes of Santa Cruz and Haro, started developing the Zero X about five years ago. He was convinced electric drivetrains are the best way forward and motorcycles the logical place to develop them. They're smaller and less complex than cars, and the regulatory hurdles to getting them on the road aren't as high.

Off-road bikes also lend themselves to electric power because they're typically ridden short distances, so range isn't a huge issue. Electric motors also provide loads of torque, a big plus in motocross riding. The Zero X produces power instantaneously, which can catch you off guard because the bike is all but silent. Snap the throttle too hard and you'll lift the front wheel.
The company he founded has shipped 200 bikes in the past 14 months and expects to ship another 400 to 500 this year, says CEO Gene Banman. Eager to show the technology works, Sakai and Banman thought it would be cool to stage a 24-hour endurance race and set a Guinness record for longest electric vehicle race. Some 50 people on 10 teams came from as far away as England to participate.

"We're going back to spread the word about electric bikes," said Scott Snaith, who arrived in San Jose from Loughborough, England, the day before the race. He and his brother Tim sell electric bicycles at their shop 50 Cycles and have been looking to add a motorcycle to the mix.

"We've wanted something like this for five years, but it's only now been available," Tim Snaith said. "There's definitely a need for them. Gas is about a pound a liter (about $5.50 a gallon)."

Advocates of electric motorcycles believe the bikes could help preserve access to parks and public trails because they're silent, they don't pollute and they don't do as much damage to the landscape because they're smaller and lighter.
"I think the fact people are starting to lose access because of noise and pollution issues will really accelerate the development and acceptance of this (technology)," said Jay Friedland, Zero's VP of sustainability and legislative director for Plug In America, the EV advocacy group. "These bikes are quiet. We're staging a race in an urban area and we aren't pissing off the neighbors."
The race started at 11 a.m. Saturday in what had to have been the quietest start to a motorcycle race ever. Ten bikes streaked away from the starting gate with nothing more than the whir of their 8-inch, air-cooled electric motors and the chatter of their chains. Each team was allowed three batteries, and the first bikes headed for the pits about 20 minutes in. Zero says the 2 kilowatt-hour batteries are good for 40 minutes of hardcore riding, bbut the teams were pushing them hard all day and didn't want to risk running out of juice on the track.

Swapping the batteries proved remarkably easy: Loosen a thumbscrew, remove a bracket and slide it out. Installation is the reverse of removal. Even with a stripped thumbscrew, one team managed to get in and out of the pit in less than two minutes. The best of them were doing it in less than a minute.

By noon, the field had spaced out as bikes came and went to swap riders and batteries and quickly douse the motors with water to keep them cool. Riders did 15- to 30-minute stints to start - motorcross racing can be grueling - but as evening fell they starting getting tired.

"We were all starting to feel it about 7 (p.m.)," said Wired's own Ryan Meith, a member of Team Marin Zero-Wired. "We'd all been going flat-out until then."
Things really started getting tough in the wee hours, as riders tried to catch a little sleep between stints on the bike.

"I was trying to sleep, but every time I'd move, my legs would lock up," said Jason Matson, a materials manager at Zero who was participating in the race. "It was getting tougher and tougher to kick a leg over the bike."

They key to success was maintaining a consistent pace, managing battery use and keeping the bike in one piece. Teams were replacing brake pads with some regularity, a few shock absorbers blew out and one team managed to fry its motor. Still, several people were impressed by how well the bikes took the beating. The riders took almost as much abuse, and by morning many of them were stiff and limping.
"It's been a long event," Meith said.

But as the sun rose, so too did the adrenaline, and with every passing hour the teams got more excited as the end of the race drew near. Suddenly the bikes were a little faster, the jumps a little bigger. Savory was putting on a spectacular show before the back end of his bike broke; it looked like the swingarm mounting bolt snapped under the abuse incurred during 300-plus miles of hard riding.

Savory and his teammates carried the bike across the finish to take ninth place, having completed 858 laps. That was well short of first-place finishers Hotchalk, which racked up an impressive 1015 laps (507.5 miles) and clocked a top speed of 27.49 mph.

"We were behind several times," said rider Rex Halepesha. "We really had to work for it. Saving the battery and saving the bike was key. It was a whole lot of fun."
As for Team Marin Zero-Wired, it took fourth place, completing 927 laps after team captain Dave Wood literally crept across the finish line with a dead battery.
UPDATE: Tuesday, April 7: Gabriel DeVault, production manager for Zero Motorcycles, dropped us an email late Monday night to say the bolt didn't snap, a nut came loose. "It sounds bad when you say the bolt snapped," he notes. He also notes that all 10 bikes finished the race.

He's got the frame and offered to send pictures and more info; we'll post it once we've got it.

Photos: Jim Merithew /
Video: Andrew Lebov / Meatier Media. Courtesy Zero Motorcycles
See Also:
The Zero X: Two Wheels, Zero Emissions, Loads of Fun
KTM Promises a Race-Ready Electric Dirt Bike in 2010
Motorcycles Finally Go Green

Riders pushed the bikes hard on the half-mile course, racking up as many as 507 miles in 24 hours and averaging 25.86 mph. Many riders said the bikes took the abuse remarkably well, although brake pads wore with some regularity and a couple of shocks blew out.

The Zero X uses a 2 kilowatt-hour battery that weighs 40 pounds and is good for about 40 minutes of hard riding. Each team was allowed three batteries and two chargers - a standard 10 amp unit that did the job in 2 hours and a "quick charger" that cut that time in half.

Lloyd Clarkson of team 50 Cycles catches a few Zs after a two hour stint on the bike. Although most riders did no more than 15 to 30 minute stints, Clarkson spent two hours on the bike in the wee hours so his teammates - all of whom came over from England - could get some shut-eye.

Members of Team Hotchalk gather at the track's last turn to catch the last minutes of the race, which they won after completing 1015 laps.

Brandon Savory gets a hand carrying the remains of his bike across the finish line after the rear suspension collapsed following an especially hard landing. His team finished 858 laps.

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It's so weird to not hear the loud, buzzing, screeching, two-cycle engines!
Posted by: Kevin Cotham | Apr 6, 2009 6:53:33 PM

This is a great idea for motorcycle world :-)
Posted by: isma | Apr 6, 2009 8:55:15 PM

@ Rodax - an average speed of 27 mph over 24 hours and 507 miles on a tight and twisting dirt track is pretty damn quick. keep in mind they rode for 24 hours, so the average speed would come down as fatigue set in.
Posted by: EVs RULE! | Apr 6, 2009 8:59:56 PM

The article has a misprint. 27.49mph is probably the winner's average speed, not top speed.
Posted by: Jeremy | Apr 6, 2009 9:00:57 PM

Posted by: Sparcus | Apr 6, 2009 9:17:20 PM

I agree, averaging 27mph for 24 hours, replacing brake pads, batteries, etc. is a good pace. It's hard to say how good without gas cycles doing the same test on the same track. Either way, I can't wait for them to come down in price.
Posted by: Steve | Apr 6, 2009 9:35:30 PM

They claim 23 horsepower is the same as a 250cc gasoline-powered bike?
News flash: 250cc motocross bikes have been making 45-50 horsepower for 30 years.
I love electric technology, but it's not well served by dishonest hyperboly. Watching these machines make laps, I was more reminded of BMX bicycles than motorcycles.
Instead of a 24 hour challenge where "anyone" could ride, why not two 45 minute motos? In the first, use pro riders and their factory machines; in the second, the same riders on electric bikes.
Compare apples to apples: bike vs. bike, rider vs. himself.
Posted by: KBCraig | Apr 6, 2009 10:16:33 PM

There are a few technical mistakes in this article.
The top AVERAGE speed was 27 mph, this includes pit stops and slow corners, etc... That means they're spending a lot of time at 35-45 mph to hold that average.
The bike that failed on the last jump of the race simply had a nut come loose on the swingarm pivot. Nothing snapped. It should have been checked regularly, things tend to come loose during a 24 hour race.
All 10 of the bikes that started the race finished, even if the last one was pushed the final 50 yrds to the finish line.
The fastest riders could dump a battery in 15-20 minutes, but as they learned how to properly utilize the energy available they streched their stints to 30 minutes or so. I'm looking at the transponder data now and will post some further info on the Zero site soon.
Most of these riders had never even tried a Zero before jumping on and going at it for 24 hours. It was simnply amazing to see how fast they adapted and while there may have been a few complaints about battery life, not one person complained about the performance of these machines.
The bottom line? These bikes proved their mettle and it's beyond question that electric motorcycles have arrived in a big way! It's only a matter of time untill you see electric classes at every track, and you may very well see electric-only tracks in urban areas where gas bikes are simply too loud.
Posted by: Gabe | Apr 6, 2009 10:17:35 PM

comparing 23 hp electric to 50 hp ICE power is not that far off - especially when it comes to off-road and racing conditions.
The reason is that the electric drivetrain delivers the full torque at /any/ RPM, including standstill.
There are no interruptions, no shifting is necessary. This gives the driver full control over the power at any given time!
You cannot overstate the advantage this gives you in an offroad race.
Posted by: Tom | Apr 6, 2009 10:33:54 PM

Gas and gas-powered vehicles will become the new status symbol. Rich people are always looking for new symbols. There will be ultra-exclusive clubs where if you don't burn some amount of hydrocarbons regularly, you won't be considered proper breeding material. :)
Posted by: ray | Apr 6, 2009 11:26:21 PM

You lost me three paragraphs in with this horrendous metaphor: "The rear suspension had collapsed faster than one of Bernie Madoff's investments..."
That's not very fast. In fact, it took years for Madoff's (and Nadel's) Pomzi shemes to start unraveling. The Bush administration went in and out of office faster than Madoff's economic implosion.
That wasn't a misfired pop-culture reference, that was a reference to major news, actual bona-fide REAL NEWS. You might as well have misspelled "9/11."
I have no idea what the rest of this article was about. I stopped at the third paragraph, not wanting to read more from the clueless.
Do you guys have any editors? Do you want one? I'm available.
Posted by: John Patten | Apr 7, 2009 4:25:49 AM

god bless you
Posted by: wsty | Apr 7, 2009 5:31:37 AM

Not impressed. About the only one I would consider is the KTM, and even then no thanks. 40 miles per charge? 27hp?? That is less than a 250cc MX 4 stroke bike (just a whopping 7 more than a 150cc 4 stroke CRF150R), long way to go and the price needs to come down, 7k for a bike that could only compete against 85cc 2 strokes and 150cc 4 strokes? please.
2 Stroke DI for me (KTM needs to bring this on over), MX bike prices have gotten stupid crazy and now with these they'll be even worse and environazis will STILL ban them because of (enter one of a million reasons here).
Posted by: Rickey | Apr 7, 2009 5:32:32 AM

Too bad all you horsepower haters don't understand electric motors and torque. Have you seen the Hp and torque curves for a 250cc engine? VERY peaky. This electric motor probably makes more overall power.
Posted by: 50pascals | Apr 7, 2009 6:13:16 AM

I too choked at "The rear suspension had collapsed faster than one of Bernie Madoff's investments..." John Pattern nails why this is a poor metaphor. Besides the factual issues, it reads as pathetic knee-jerk cuteness. Analogies should heighten consciousness, this one was instead numbing. I hope the author doesn't cook the way he writes.
Posted by: Dave | Apr 7, 2009 6:56:35 AM

Unfortunately, after market products to increase the sound of the bike will become commonplace because the loudness of motocross is what makes it so fun to watch, and you could also say, ride, negating one of the main reasons environmentalists and the such would adore it. But other than that, this is a pretty impressive concept.
Posted by: Aaron | Apr 7, 2009 7:00:48 AM

John Patten is a douchebag. Stay on topic dummy.
Posted by: batman | Apr 7, 2009 7:30:21 AM

and apparently Dave is too...dummy
Posted by: batman | Apr 7, 2009 7:32:36 AM

This will make an awesome trail bike.
I know that there are many off-roaders who really like the destruction of the environment, giant horsepower, noise and general rudeness in the back-country, but, alas, I am not one of them, I think this would be perfect for my old days riding back-country in the Colorado mountains at 12000 feet, and no power loss from altitude, no jetting problems, no scarring animals away.
And, no, for me or any other man who is confident in themselves, this not a threat to our manhood.
Posted by: bvocal | Apr 7, 2009 9:09:44 AM

"and quickly douse the motors with water to keep them cool."
Can you do that with an electric motor? Or am I missing something here?
Posted by: madmax | Apr 7, 2009 9:21:15 AM

If you waterproofed the circuit boards in this bike you could literally run it underwater. The motor and battery will happily churn along fuuly submersed.
Check out the river crossing in the video on this page...
Posted by: Gabe | Apr 7, 2009 10:03:22 AM

As a former 2-stroke enduro rider, I can't tell you how much fun I would have with one of these. I watched my youth unfold with one area after another close to off-road riding, due mostly to noise. Neighbors get on your case. But electric - wow - you could ride ten of these things past someone's backyard and not wake the baby. You could put motocross parks in any city or town with no complaints about pollution or noise. You could allow trail riding on tons of lost access areas by eliminating the noise and smoke. Bring it!
Oh, yeah, and by the way: I've done almost every conceivable sport and thrill ride from rapelling, rock climbing, catamaran sailing, river kayaking, scuba, mountain bikes, street motorcycles, ultralight aircraft; and I will say that off-road motorcycling is probably the most consistently fun. Find the right riding area and it's like an all-day roller coaster ride.
Posted by: ArtInvent | Apr 7, 2009 10:12:33 AM

Totally cool story and even cooler product. There was a show, I think on the discovery channel, that pitted an earlier prototype of this bike against a gas powered one and did well, even beating the gas bike in some tests. To the genius who questions horsepower at 23 for the electric bike against 45-50 for a 250 gas powered - did you even read the part about the ebike weighing 150 lb..? How much does the 250 weigh? Ever hear about power to weight ratios? I mean come on do you have a clue or are you just being negative to be annoying? To all the other nay sayers - what is it exactly about moving forward that terrifies you so much? Even the most dim witted of the herd should be able to see that there is little down side to this direction and it is approaching becoming inevitable when stacked against all the obstacles motor sports are/and will be experiencing (environment, noise, gas prices). Not a perfect solution yet, but then how many of us would like to drive around in a model T. Amazing for a first gen. attempt.
Posted by: Ledhead | Apr 7, 2009 10:18:05 AM

@ madmax-The motors would have to be sealed from dust anyway, so yes water is fine to spray on them, they'd probably have fins on the outer case for air cooling, water would just accelerate the cooling.
I've ridden an electric-converted honda 50. With two tractor batteries and a 12 volt automotive starter motor for power. the range wasn't great, but then again the parts were not new tech either. It ran fine and the speed off the line was very surprising for such a relatively heavy setup. having ridden many larger (than a honda 50) bikes, I'd say it was as good off the line as a 1978 Yamaha 175 dualsport I had in high school. Bring the tech up to date and it would have been much better. The one I rode weighed probably twice what was quoted in this article.
Electric doesn't need the horsepower that gas does due to nearly constant tourque across it's rpm range, that's a part of why hybrids are efficient. Imagine sitting at idle and slipping your hand off the clutch. A gas engine would die, the electric (if it had a clutch for some stupid reason)would just bog down, draw a lot of current and take off, probably spinning the back tire the whole way. These electrics probably won't compare to a gas on the track, but then again how long has the gasoline motorcycle engine been in development vs. the electric motorcycle motor? How close has it gotten in a short time?
Posted by: Hoax | Apr 7, 2009 10:21:16 AM

Give me my 2-stroke smoke and BRAAAAAAPP!
Posted by: ScottieBoy | Apr 7, 2009 11:11:07 AM

Just like one of the comments above, Once I see it on a real Supercross track with real riders keeping up with the current 250 and 450 Four-strokes I'll be excited.
Posted by: Ben | Apr 7, 2009 11:17:32 AM

@bvocal - this bike and others like it are going to be fun for the track, this test was an impressive performance. But you would have to be nuts to take it into the back-country of Colorado or anywhere else far from an electricity source with range this limited. Over time I'm sure that the range will improve as the technology continues to evolve but for now people need to be realistic.
Posted by: Rider | Apr 7, 2009 12:37:21 PM

Excellent idea, I would love to own one. I am going to research online right now where can I purchase mine.
Keep the great job!
Posted by: | Apr 7, 2009 12:40:57 PM

@John- "plenty of speed and power without the noise and pollution."
Ah-- yeah, those Lion batteries won't cause any pollution when you are done with them (or in their manufacture). And I'm sure the power you use to charge them isn't coming from Coal or Gas fired plants either... Oh-- dreams of fuzzy bunnies playing in the meadows.
Remember the burning laptops? Now your car or bike can too!
Posted by: libtard | Apr 7, 2009 1:28:57 PM

Wow, we have some petro-fascists, well Rome was not built in a day, I am sure you would have laughed an Noah too, hope you can tread water well, LOL. Yah lets trash the planet for a few extra horsepower, nice.
These bikes are just plain cool and, maybe they don't have the specs of the petro bikes, but again, the last I checked petro is not a renewable resource at this point, meaning we are finding resources stored a long time ago, we are not creating the resources today via a renewable method like solar, wind, water movement... yes today's economy and grid still runs on petro products, but I think it should not take too much vision for where we need to go, and renewable sources must be sought..
Batteries will be recycled, why will that generate pollution? I do not follow. Burning batteries is a design and manufacturing problem, ever see a petro spill? you know how much water can be contaminated by an improper oil change?, ever see a fire caused by a petro tank? again I think those are specious arguments focusing on a relatively young technology. I on the other hand see tremendous breakthroughs in practicality and I really believe more will follow, this is just the beginning not the end.
Electric motors actually have tremendous potential for rapid torque, its the power plant/ battery that needs research and Development, but it will come, I have no doubt.
Actually alcohol is renewable, there could be bikes made for running ethanol, this is the best of both worlds, but I think battery breakthroughs will be needed because the larger passenger car demands will not be satisfied with ethanol, unless we find a way to make ethanol with electricity, hello garage innovators .... :-)
Posted by: David | Apr 7, 2009 2:34:36 PM

My only whine as an avid hiker (I support multiple activities on FS lands, etc; i'm not anti-ATV), is that the silence could actually cause some issues if the drivers aren't paying attention. I'm used to being able to hear these bikes before they come whining down the trail and around a corner so I can step out of their way. If they're practically silent, it could be dangerous.
Posted by: BWS | Apr 7, 2009 4:29:14 PM

I took part in this event and we did cool the motors by pouring water on them at the pit stops. 24 hours of motocross racing and the bike kept running.
How many high strung modern 4-strokes could survive 24hrs of racing with out mechanical failure?
As far as riding in the back country, if you are trail riding at a moderate pace you could get about 1.5 hours of ride time. We changed batteries after 30 min. to keep the batteries from discharging to far down that would increase charging time and to keep the riders from getting too tired. Besides we were accelerating hard out of corners and braking hard into them. This style of riding burns more juice.
They are now working on a purpose built MXer. I can’t wait!
Posted by: rob | Apr 7, 2009 4:34:55 PM

Why use electric on already efficient motorcycles? 'cause you get a big bang for the buck.
@ Steve, who said:
"It's hard to say how good without gas cycles doing the same test on the same track."
Gas motorcycles actually can't do the same test on the same track. That's why they used electrics.
@ KBCraig, who said:
"Instead of a 24 hour challenge where "anyone" could ride, why not two 45 minute motos?"
For this first event, because 1) electrics can do a 24 hour off road motocross challenge in the middle of a large city, which gassers cannot, and 2) a 24 hour endurance test truly stress tests both riders and equipment, which a 45 minute ride does not to the same degree. The first step was apparently to demonstrate off road durability and overall track long term range - mission accomplished, I'd say.
In the case of this event, electrics did what gassers cannot, so a comparison isn't possible.
Nonetheless, you might eventually see both electric and gassers at some of the same events.
Keep in mind that all existing tracks are set up with gasser performance in mind which has basic characteristic differences from electrics (as displayed by some of the poster confusion trying to understand why electrics can do better in some situations with less horsepower). Wait until you see both gassers and electrics (and hybrids, eventually) on courses that are specifically set up for the relative strengths of electrics. For a fairly unrelated example, consider Formula One automobile racing, where the electric KERS system doesn't win you a race automatically (there are too many other factors than just power train type), but it makes those that use it harder to pass on straight sections.
Just a guess, I suspect for pure no shift electrics vs pure gassers it'll be a low end torque no shifting electrics at the very start of acceleration areas vs. faster top end speed gassers at the end of long straight aways see-saw to some extent.
Stay tuned - the racing world is just starting to get interesting.
In the real world, how often do you get to go at your maximum top gasser speed on your way to work before you hit a red lightm stop sign or traffic, the police stop you for speeding or some soccer mom in a big SUV cuts you off without warning?
Posted by: Nice job in that 24 hour electric enduro, rob. | Apr 8, 2009 4:01:12 PM

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