Last weekend Tommy Heimburg, owner of ERIDE Motorcycles crashed his Zero MX at Motocross Wohlen track in Switzerland. The frame of the Zero MX broke behind the head tube. It seems this failure may have caused the crash. The history of this Zero bike is unknown as it was owned and race by a private party but obviously there is concern that this could happen to other Zero MX motorcycles and may cause a risk to owners.
Zero Motorcycles and Quantya have been the most visible manufacturers blazing a trail for electric powered dirt bikes over the last few years. Their mission to bring electric drive to dirtbike enthusiasts and racers is very similar but their approach is very different.
The heart of Zero’s dirtbike is designed from the ground up as an electric motorcycle. Zero forms aluminum into a strong, light weigh structure to support the weight of a heavy battery pack and maximize the range it’s limited energy density can provide. Quantya on the other hand builds on a traditional steel motocross frame designed for a low displacement gas dirtbike. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, Zero’s being the more innovative but also the less proven design.
A quick history of the Zero MX
The 13 pound aluminum Zero MX frame is engineered to be strong and rigid but also to be as light as possible to maximize battery life. Early marketing for the Zero X, which to our knowledge uses the same frame as the MX, designated the motorcycle as a “trail bike”.
However, reviews by motorcycle publications and high profile electric racing events saw the Zero X being tested on a motocross track. To meet this market demand Zero added features such as larger wheels and longer travel suspension to build the Zero MX. Since then Zero has seen a good number of racing successes including a strong finish in a French Motorcycling Federation race against gas powered bikes.
Is the Zero MX Track Worthy?
Obviously Zero felt very confident the Zero dirtbike frame was able to handle the abuse of a race track. Neal Saiki’s background includes mountain bike design and he is no stranger to building bikes capable of handling large jumps. Obviously the weight of a motorcycle being a big difference.
Have a look at this video gas bikes at Motocross Wohlen to get an idea of the terrain where the crash took place. The track is an open, high speed course with some large jumps and flat landings. Keep in mind the Zero MX has 8 inches of front suspension and 8.5 inches of rear. Full sized gas powered dirtbikes have around 12.5 inches.
If Heimburg’s bike had been ridden at this track often the repeated landings on 8″ suspension travel could have placed unusually high stresses on the frame. Most dirtbikes with 8 inches of travel are pit bikes and play bikes designed for small tracks and races like we will see later this month at Mini Moto SX. So while the Zero MX is designed for track use, the course at Wohlen may have exceeded the limits bikes intended use. I am only speculating here but this may be something Zero ends up better communicating to perspective buyers.
What does this mean for Zero, Zero Owners and the industry?
The extent of the impact of this failure on Zero Motorcycles reputation and the electric motorcycle industry in general will depend a lot on how Zero handles the situation. We’ve had multiple conversations with Zero PR and they have reached out to us with updates. Zero has been in contact with Tommy Heimburg to find out his condition and to arrange to have the failed frame shipped to Zero headquarters in California for inspection by their engineers. We have been assured Zero will be forthright with information on the failure. From our perspective they have done a very professional job so far investigating a potential risk to it’s customers.
If a recall is issued on the bike we can only hope Zero can weather the financial impact it has on the company. Zero has already navigated one recall which was likely less expensive than a frame recall would be.
There is no doubt people against the prospect of giving up gas will cling to this incident as proof of why electric bikes suck. This type of failure is very rare for dirt bikes and this is a first for an electric motorcycle. A little research into frame failures shows it has happened to gas powered bikes too. At this point it seems electric motorcycles have enough momentum to continue to gain popularity and gain a foot hold in the market.
Source: Plug Bike