I’ve ridden all sorts of motorcycles, from Harleys to sidecar rigs, to all manner of sport and touring machines. But up until a couple of weeks ago, I had never had the chance to ride an electric motorcycle.
Thanks to Eugene Morin of Seems Electric Vehicles, I was able to cross that off my bucket list. The bike Tony (Tony’s Track Days) and I rode was the Zero “FX” , which is the dual-sport model. This particular motorcycle is outfitted with police lights and siren for the Block Island, Rhode Island Police Department. Eugene has outfitted machines for the Newport, RI men and women in blue, as well.
How Long Will it Go?
The number one question I get when I tell people that I rode an electric bike is how long will it run on a charge? According to Zero’s specifications for the FX, it can go for up to 35 miles with a single battery configuration, or 70 miles on a dual-battery setup. This is for what they call “city” riding. 70 mph highway riding causes the battery life to plummet to only 15 miles with the single battery and 30 miles with the dual battery.
But, this dual-sport model is perfectly suited for the job it is intended for: curb jumping, rock hopping and general shenanigans, and not for droning on a highway.
What About the Power?
The Zero FX puts out 70 foot-pounds of torque from the moment you twist the throttle. The unit we rode had just a single battery, but a second battery is available that provides more horsepower (but the same torque). With 70 foot pounds of torque from the bottom, the bike jumps to life, reaching 60 mph in 4 seconds! Yahoo!
However, once underway you quickly find the top end of its 27hp (44hp with two batteries). Max hp is reached at just 3,750 rpm. Flat out, baby.
Tony and I took the little FX in some dirty parts of Thompson Speedway’s infield, dodging construction equipment and roosting the rear tire to see what the potential is for trail riding. In four words, “it is a blast”. This is more of what the FX is made for.
There is no gearshift lever or clutch to modulate, just twist the throttle on and off to regulate speed and power. With fully- adjustable suspension, the bike will handle most anything you toss in front of it.
On the racetrack, it was lively, but ultimately, it fell flat once you got the motor wound up. Max speed is 80 mph, but I wasn’t comfortable going much over 60 on the dual-sport tires. The bike only weights 240 pounds, so it was light and flickable. Perfect for off-road or city riding, but out of its element on a pavement racetrack (or extended highway riding).
We didn’t mess too much with the power modes, but there are some. One mode delivers a mellow power delivery, while the other snaps to attention with a bit more authority. There is much more to learn about all the settings. I can see the potential for some riders to just hit the “easy” button and ride happily for weeks.
What’s It Like To Ride?
Riding the Zero FX was a pleasant surprise. I expected scooter-like sensations. What I got was the power and responsiveness of a real motorcycle. It’s combination of liter-bike torque with 250 Ninja horsepower is something I’d have to get used to. But, that torque is enough to satisfy me and make me want to ride the Zero more and more.
The other observation that stands out when riding the Zero is that something visceral is missing…sound. What you hear when the bike is stationary is complete silence. Tony had to ask whether the bike was “running” or not. It was. There is an ignition key and some safety switches to prevent accidental launching, which is a good thing, because it is impossible at a quick glance to know whether the thing is loaded or not. Until you get used to the immediate torque and the safety systems, it’s probably best not to point it at any solid objects before you’re ready to roll.
Can I Live With One?
Electric bikes are definitely something I am interested in. I can imagine stealthily working my way through the woods or traffic with just the whistle of the wind, the whine of the tires and the whirring of the Z-Force® 75-5 passively air-cooled, high efficiency, radial flux permanent magnet, brushless motor to remind me that I’m on a motorcycle.
The range may be a problem, but not if you use it for what it’s designed for. A bike like this would be a great trail bike and commuter. I would keep my Triumph Sprint for long-haul duty and my Street Triple for the track.
The street versions offer more power and range and a more streetbike-like experience, or so I’m told. (Try 106 foot pounds of torque for the Zero SR!) Thankfully, Eugene promises to bring a handful of Zero Electric Motorcycles to a few Tony’s Track Days events for us to try (yes, customers can ride them, too). Join the TTD mailing list to stay informed.
For you loud pipes folks, I never believed that loud pipes save lives, so I am not concerned about any safety deficit. And even though I love the sufficiently muffled, but booming sound of a V-Twin, or the music of a spinning triple or in-line four in my ears, I can equally appreciate the silence of an electric motor. My neighbors will, too.
Imagine eliminating all the problems off-road and paved racetrack owners have now with neighbors who complain about loud motorcycles. Silence is golden, people.
Unfortunately, prices are still a bit high for my personal bank account to endure. The FX retails for $9,500.00 with a single battery or $12,000.00 for the two-battery setup. What you get is a unique, quality-built machine that happens to get the equivalent of 470 mpg (city).
Prices should continue to fall, so I suspect we will be seeing more and more electric bikes in the woods, on the street, and on the track in the near future. One may even appear in my garage before the next decade rolls around. But for now, I’ll have to stick to fossil fuel-consuming road burners.
Last weekend I conducted a seminar at the Thompson Speedway (in CT) and I thought I’d share a particular concept that came up during the presentation… the concept of “load management”.
When I first verbalized the term, I thought it sounded like the material for a crass poop joke. But, it is a concept I believe every motorcycle rider should adopt as a way to ensure that you have a sufficient amount of traction.
Before I talk about specifics of load management, it makes sense to lay some theory on you. In its most basic form, traction is the friction between your tires and the road or track surface. This friction can vary greatly depending on several factors, including tire compound, condition and temperature, as well as the quality of the pavement surface (or dirt for you dualies out there).
But wait. The quality of your tires and the surface is only part of the traction equation. The other part is the amount of load that is placed on the tire’s contact patch. The more weight or load that each tire is supporting directly relates to the amount of grip each tire has.
When you brake, the front suspension compresses as the weight of rider and bike pitches forward. This increases front tire traction. But, at the same time, the rear suspension extends and the load (and traction) at the rear tire decreases. More traction on the front means you can use the front brakes harder. But, it also means that there is less load at the rear and therefore less rear tire grip for hard use of the rear brake. Load shifts constantly with every maneuver you make…braking, cornering, swerving, accelerating etc.
Loads also shift with the terrain. Riding uphill shifts weight rearward. Riding downhill moves the load to the front. Riding over bumps also causes momentary shifts in load and changes in traction. Road camber also affects load.
Managing Your Load
So, managing traction requires you to manage the location and amount of load. This means making sure your front tire is sufficiently loaded before you introduce maximum front brake force. Squeeeeeze the front brake lever. It also means easing off the rear brake as load pitches forward when you brake. The key is to apply the brakes only as much as the tire can handle, which means paying attention to the amount of load there is on each tire.
Now, too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing. In this case, you can overwhelm the front tire while braking and skid. However, if you squeeze the front brake progressively then you should not have this problem. If you grab the brake, then you risk locking the front wheel.
You can also overwhelm and push the front tire into a lowside skid when cornering hard. To avoid this, you need to get on the throttle just after you initiate lean to balance load between the front and rear. If you coast through the turn, you’re asking the front tire to not only manage the cornering forces, but also the engine braking forces caused by not getting on the gas.
The amount of throttle used should be just enough to transfer load to the rear tire. Do this by gradually rolling on the throttle. DO NOT twist the throttle to the stop or you’ll overwhelm the rear tire and spin it out of control.
The best riders are keenly aware of the amount of traction they have available at any given time. They also use advanced techniques that minimize abrupt spikes in load and allow the tires to maintain grip.Some of these techniques include brake and throttle overlap, trailbraking, and advanced body positions that allow the suspension to work fluidly.
Start by paying attention to how load affects traction, then move on to developing these advanced techniques for load and traction management. I’ll write about these techniques in future blog posts, but you can read about them now by ordering your copy of Riding in the Zone.
Northeastern Racetrack Drought is Officially Over!
New Hampshire Motor Speedway has been the only game in town for motorcycle track day riders and racers for many years. We New Englanders had to drive 6 or more hours to the New Jersey Motorsports Park in southern Jersey to ride another racetrack. But, that’s is changing. Last year, New York Safety Track (NYST) opened its doors, making motorcycle track days a reasonable drive for most of us Northeasterners. Now, we have Thompson Speedway building a road course within 2 hours of Boston, 3 hours from NYC, and an hour from Providence! If that isn’t enough, Palmer Motorsports Park is well underway in Palmer, MA. Tony and I have been talking with the owners about running track days there in 2015.
Tony and I went to Thompson this past week to review the progress of construction. We met with Josh about the Tony’s Track Days 2014 schedule and with Louis about certain changes we wanted to have happen to ensure that motorcycles will be accommodated. Our list included barrier protection where a lot of runoff isn’t possible, redirecting path of travel to minimize risk when going under the bridge, as well as discussions about curbing, and runoff material. Louis and Josh listened carefully to our concerns, so we are confident that they will do the very best they can to make Thompson a safe as possible.
The track itself is 1.7 miles long and combines very fast, sweeping sections, a loooong strait, and some very tight corners, some off camber. Tony and I have decided that we will run it in both the counter clockwise and clockwise directions, to expand the “number” of tracks we have available to us in New England. We also run NYST in both directions, so that alone can be thought of as 4 different tracks to ride! Take a look at the drive around we did last week.
Thompson Speedway clockwise
Thompson Speedway counterclockwise
A beautiful new garage is being built next to a scoring/observation tower that will have a classroom and a pro shop. There is a golf country club connected tot he facility that will be serving lunches and dinners for track day customers. Camping will also be allowed.