The Zero Superbike That’s Coming (Op-Ed)


Over the years, I’ve gotten to know a bunch of the guys at Zero.  Some of them personally, some of them through email conversations and forum discussions and a some through the mutual consumption of malty beverages.  There’s one common thread.  They love their bikes.  They love speed.  And they’re fiercely competitive.  Throughout this discussion, let’s keep in mind one particular madman talented engineer, Luke “liveforphysics” and his “bike of doom”.  Remember him?  The guy who raced and beat a Tesla on a bicycle of his own design?  Right.  Keep him in mind, and that he works with a bunch of people just like him.

Victory branded Empulse for IOM TTZero

Victory branded Empulse for IOM TTZero

So here we are, with Zero owning big market share, sitting in the catbird seat, Brammo bought out by Polaris as Victory, racing two mildly-outdated bikes with some loosely suggested upgrades at the Isle of Man, Mission Motorcycles all but gone (they won’t return my emails anymore, after the last promise of “something really exciting coming up in the next week or so”, and the Facebook page is removed), MotoCzysz pretty much AWOL, and Mugen Shinden stepping up with pretty amazing machines, which, painfully, make even the Zero SR look anemic.  All but the Mugen bikes are 3-5 year old technology.

Mugen Shinden, at the Isle of Man 2014

Mugen Shinden, at the Isle of Man 2014

Oh right, we have the rumblings of Harley Davidson’s Project Livewire, of course, and the Energica EGO well on track for release in late 2015.  And Lightning.  Oh, Lightning.  What exactly is the deal with Lightning, anyway?  Lightning’s been making noise about selling bikes for years now, and to our knowledge have delivered one.  That’s 1 bike.  Again, it’s now technology that’s a few years old, in a market measured in “dog years”.

I find it hard to believe that almost every one of the people I know at Zero aren’t chomping at the bit to build a 100kW, 150mph-capable superbike with 100 miles of range.  I know they can do it, because their battery and motor game is that much higher than Energica, they’ve been keeping to the knitting, learning the ropes of motorcycle manufacture, including dealer support, warranty and customer service, and have built up a good base of dealers around the country, and the world.  Hell, even I’ve planned such a bike, because I could build such a bike in my garage.

You just know those guys want to do it.  And they can.  And by now, Zero management should let them – even if it’s just for show.

Wired Magazine called for this bike, and that was back in 2010.  And don’t forget all the internet gossip about the Ducati conversion, and associated rumors of the Ducati CEO trying the bike out.  Naturally, the speculation spinning out of that is Ducati’s looking at Zero for a possible buyout, if not a partnership.  I don’t think it’s going to go that way, though.  That’s a deal that Zero doesn’t really need, and if Ducati wanted it, they’d have to pay good money for it.  If I was Ducati, however, and wanted help with my drivetrain?  Yeah, Zero would be the place to go.

ca. 2010 Zero TTXGP contender (via Zero Facebook)

ca. 2010 Zero TTXGP contender (via Zero Facebook)

So what am I thinking?  I suspect that this summer, maybe by the end of the summer, you’re going to see some leaks out of Zero about a concept superbike.  Oh, say, at Intermot in September.

It’s going to be 100kW and maybe more, running higher voltage – possibly close to 300V rather than the 125V or so they run in their small bikes.  It’s going to be close to 150mph-capable, maybe even matching the “150mph – hardware limited” spec of the Energica EGO, which is due out Q4 by reports.

It’s going to have a range of 80-100 miles, like their SR now, with “Power Tank” options that will allow you to strip off some weight for better performance and handling if you’re not needing the range.  It will have the most energy-dense battery packs in the electric motorcycle industry.  It’s going to weigh in at a beefy 500lbs or so, but the focus, like with the Energica, will be tuning the handling and components to get that weight to behave.

It will be promised for 2016, late-season, or it will be debuted in September ’16 for a 2017 model-year release…  and it will come in at under $30K.  Don’t forget, now, Zero just cut their prices across the entire line, mid-season. It’s not too much of a stretch to think part of that fairly unusual strategy is some forward-thinking shuffling to get the model line in shape for a top-tier addition, is it?

Just for fun, wander on over to The Electric Chronicle’s 3-way spec shootout between the Mission, the Lightning and the Energica, here.

Here’s the short version:

Mission R Energica EGO Lightning LS-218
120 kw liquid-cooled 3-phase AC induction 100 kW oil-cooled PMAC 150kw+ liquid cooled IPM 10,500 rpm motor.
Crank: 180 Nm (0 – 6400RPM) 195 Nm (0 – 4700 rpm) 228 Nm
Top Speed
140+ mph (225km/h) Limited at 149 mph (240 km/h) 218 mph (350.8 km/h)
12 kWh: 490 lbs (222kg) 11.7 kWh – 569 lbs (258 kg) 495 lbs (380V 12kwh battery pack)
15 kWh: 510 lbs .. (n/a) 380V 15kwh battery pack
17 kWh: 540 lbs .. (n/a) 380V 20kwh battery pack

Dreams?  We’ll see.

Category: Bikes

15 responses to "The Zero Superbike That’s Coming (Op-Ed)"
  1. Mico says:

    Next Intermot is in 2016.
    It’s a biannual event.
    So EICMA 2015 for the HV-SRR?

  2. mhpr262 says:

    I bet they would have even more success with a cruiser model. Those are by far the best selling bikes in the US, and there must be a considerable portion of potential cruiser riders who do not buy into the “loud pipes save lives” manure.

    1. John says:

      This is what I’m holding out for.
      My knees just won’t let me buy a sport bike.

        1. Steven says:

          Have you looked at their prices?

    2. Very savvy comment, mhpr.

    3. Steven says:

      Which is what I’ve been saying for some time now.

      There is one ebike company that is filling that niche, the problem is their bikes are too damn expensive.

  3. I don’t think anything rolling off of zero’s floors with Luke behind it will be high voltage. Its just not worth it. Right now you can lick your fingers and firmly touch both pos and neg on a 28S zero pack, and you don’t die (and ill post a video if anyone doubts me). You cannot get that level of intrinsic safety to both assembly laborers and first responders with high voltage systems. Also, the myth that high voltage = high power is a fallacy. Existing >150V Mosfets in production settings have the potential to double or triple the current ratings of existing controllers. (Right now the Sevcon is running an 8 yr old 11Mohm RDSon dinosaur fet). The current state of the art does not involve the insane complexity of 90+ balance lead/bms channel/HV wiring failure points, vs just doubling your existing buss and cable weight/size. And when you are doing your own motors, it is no biggie to just set them up for low Voltage and high Amps.

    /rant end

    1. Ted Dillard says:

      You, sir, can rant on my stories any time… 😀

  4. Chip says:

    Zero would sell a lot more bikes if electric bikes qualified for incentives.

    In the UK, there is a point of sale tax rebate of £5000 for electric cars but nil for electric bikes; as a result Zero withdrew from the UK market.
    A google search found one former distributor advertising Zero bikes in the UK, but their web site has a footnote saying “Electric Motorcycles Ltd is an independent business and is not associated with Zero Motorcycles Inc. USA” :

    Brammo appointed a UK distributor – GoinGreen who used to sell the G-Wiz quadricycle. They list the Brammo empulse R at a hefty £15,350 including VAT at 20%:

    I would like a ‘power tank’ option to becomes available for the Zero FX to provide weekday commuting & weekend off road fun.

  5. wavelet says:

    I sincerely hope Zero won’t spend a dime on a racing bike. They’re not nearly big enough or rich enough to do it, and it wouldn’t have positive RoI for now.

    Yes, racing improves the breed, but the issues they’re currently facing have nothing to do with performance — as you noted, people can, and do, build decent-performing racebikes in a garage.

    Zero needs to
    (1) Tackle the range problem for long day trips, which is the most significant use case (in the US, much more so than commuting);
    (2) As much as they can, try to lower the price.

    Every cent they can spare needs to go into those two points.

    People familiar with EV and EV bike capabilities know performance bikes are doable, so Zero doesn’t have to impress them.
    The larger motorbiking public isn’t going to buy an e-bike until they can do a day trip on it and/or the price goes down a bit.

    Brammo focused on racing, and we know what happened to them.

    1. wavelet says:

      (when will be able to edit comments…?)
      Of course, I forget
      (3)sell as many bikes as they can — so focus on marketing and sales — and when volume justifies it, extend the model range.

      Racing (both race engineering and actual participation) requires a lot of management attention, that doesn’t in any way help the other goals.

      Once they get large enough, sure, but for now it’s enough to simply allow privateer racers to buy parts for the bikes.

    2. Ted Dillard says:

      Who said anything about racing? 😀

  6. Richard Harmon says:

    My thoughts are that the Zero staff would love to make a bike like that, but I don’t think the Zero Board would want to spend the money to do so. Unless things have changed recently, the board seems to be focused on sales numbers, not enthusiast motorcycles.

    While a sport bike would be the most exciting item for many of us, sport bikes are just not a hot market item lately.

    From a marketing standpoint, developing a new “adventure” model would be the way to go right now. The DS is OK but really needs some updating to fit in with the latest ADV market trend. I think the superbike is wishful thinking and the Zero company will stick with updating the current models and continue looking for the broadest market that will produce the highest sales numbers. I might be wrong, but that is the way I see it.

  7. Vinny says:

    I would love to see Zero produce an electric superbike but I don’t see it happening in our lifetimes. Right now faster charging seems to be a bridge too far. Zero is just happy with commuter and dirt bikes.