Zero MX Frame Failure In Switzerland

04/28/2010 @ 12:32 pm, by John Adamo14 COMMENTS

Zero MX Motorcycle Frame Failure

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

  • Pingback: Asphalt_Rubber()

  • dafra

    I maked a test ride with ZERO MX and QUANTYA TRACK. At the same speed, I was surpised that the QUANTYA drive range was a little better than ZERO.

    As explained in the interview (see above), mee too I thought taht Zero, being lighter, had more autonomy. However, the reality is different.

    If the ZERO weighed as Quantya, his driving range would be disastrous.

    Mr. Saiki says the truth. Probably the Zero has a light and delicate frame because it must compensate the poor performance of its battery.

    But now he have two problem to solve: frame & battery

  • Galgenstein

    All I have heard is that Tommy Heimbergs bike was an older one, dating from 2008. Unlike the two Quantyas (which had been placed 1st and 2nd in the race), that were heavily tuned by the factory and ridden by pros, the third place in that race was on an ordinary Zero. Surprisingly enough it was not even an MX, but an ordinary X with an enforced rear shock absorber and a driver who had about twice the age of the Quantya drivers.

    I have had a chance to ride them both and must say that the Zero is not just much easier to handle 8half the weight to transport), but the battery lasts longer without loosing power.

    This years Zeros got some enforcement on the frame, they are much easier to transport and … they really look gorgeous.
    The real thrill is that Quantya has got a competitor and now we can watch who will win the race. Let’s see.

    Last word on Quantya’s battery. I have seen to many of them burst into flames. Even if they might last a little bit longer (what I doubt), I regard it this as the Quantya’s weakest and most dangerous point.

  • dafra

    Hello Galgenstein,

    I saw the race and no battery of Zero or Quantya are burned. But I have seen many broken thermal engines.

    During the races, all bikes are tuned for an extreme use: electrical and thermal bikes. Everything is broken, even the Ferrari Formula One. Are you surprised ?

    In Austria, a small european country, 160 cars burn each year on the road. And the recent problems of Toyota, Daewoo, etc.?

    Everything breaks. But there are different types of damage: those serious and others less serious.

    It’s nice to see ZERO and Quantya that challenge. I’m sure that Zero will win some races. But I believe that security must be the priority. The reliability comes after.

    Even Mr. Saiki explain clearly the know-how of this two manufacturers is different.

    Zero knowledge is based on mountain bikes, Quantya on MX.

    The ZERO error is the marketing. They say that X or MX are a real dirty bike but, in fact this bike is an hybrid cross between a mountain bike and a two-wheeled vehicle.

    Certainly ZERO has its merits, but it is absolutely not a real dirty bike.

  • i was for a test with a zero bike and after a little jump in a bmx track the front whell broke, it was the rim who wasnt strong enough, although i felt a little bit unsafe while riding faster, on the streets i felt good, relly nice handling, more like a mountainbike

    before i tested the quantya in a german quantyaparx, this are the places where everybody can rent a bike for riding, i think this company offers that since they entered the market with their bikes, for me it looks that his bikes are more made for offroad but you also can use it in the city, i finally bought a used one out of a park and havwe fun with it since 8 months now. no problems.

    i dont know a second comapny who offers their bike for rent in mx tracks, i think these guys knwo what they are doing, offroadbikes without noise!!

  • Tooms

    In February this year, I went to the motorcycle show in Zurich, Switzerland.
    I tried both the Quantya and the Zero there. I know that the little circuit was not enough to get a full grasp of what both these e-motorbikes can do.

    But !!! I can assure you that the zero’s with bicycle brake discs were not reassuring in the least. In fact, I was quite appaled that a maker which state that the top speed of its e-motorbike is 100km/h dare install such items on them.

    It never pays to take shorcut and it is dangerous.

  • Galgenstein

    It seems too me that Zero tries to be a little bit more hightech, so the try to most out of new materials to make the bike lighter.

    I do not see the brake issue Tooms is mentioning. The brakes – amazingly – work really well. As the X series does not drive faster than 45 miles and as the bikes weighs 60 pound less than the Quantya it should be enough. The Zero built for the road, the Zero DS and S have brakes of a much larger dimension as these machines are much heavier and faster. The whole bike seems to be more state of the art than the Quantya.

  • I do believe Zero changed their brake setup from a bicycle-style arrangement to something more conventionally found on a motorcycle after getting feedback from riders and press. So it’s possible, you’ve both ridden different iterations of that machine.

  • Steve

    We rode the 24 hour electricross race that Zero held in 2009, and at least one bike folded in half when it landed a jump. It “taco’d”.

  • I also was at the zuerich moto show while the two companys quantya and zero did a little stunt show with factory riders on their bikes. it was ridicolous to see the stunt rider of zero damaging the front brake caused by a stoppie with a few meters on a flat surface, not offroad. the brakes werde teared out and the riders crashed into the spectators near the track. thats bycicle stuff not high tech.


    i think if i have a look at the promotion material and the website from zero there is no doubt that they are offering bikes for mx use. all the pictures are showing real action and big airtime. Now, the zero people are telling us: “tommy abuses the bike with riding it on a mx track”, i think the abuse the promotion pics and their homepage to give a wrong idea how to use their stuff. i mean: if the bikes are not able to jump and land please dont show this pics!!!!

  • BikePilot

    As a former MX and off road racer the current crop of off-road e-bikes are far too fragile to interest me. Most of the components appear to be roughly equal to high end downhill bicycle parts. Like e-Bikes bicycles are so underpowered that a lot of durability is given up to save a bit of weight. Just with my 2 legs and 150lbs I managed to break forks, shocks and tear headtubes from high end DH mtbs. Adding a bunch of batteries and more power will only make matters worse. Current MX bike chassis are in an entirely different world of durability. Sure folks manage to break them on (very) rare occasion, but it is generally after stuffing the front end into the face of a triple after flying 120′ through the air or by head-on collision. In almost two decades of crashing MX bikes I’ve yet to break a single one. I’ve also never seen one break from what would have otherwise been a rideable event.

    I’d really like to see e-bikes take off, but as of now they can’t compete with gas powered MX bikes. A trials version might actually be a better option as much less power and durability is required. Many folks also like to play with trials bikes in their suburban back yards where the silence of an e-bike would be particularly useful.

  • JoeKing

    BikePilot is right on target with using e-bikes for trials…THAT would actually be an excellent application of the technology…

    Trials has nothing to do with speed, sound, 40 minute motos & the power application of an electric motor would actually be superior to an ICE…why isn’t someone making an e-Trials bike???

    Answering my own question…because Trials has always been a niche segment & the “glam” is in MX & roadracing. Sadly, for the e-bike manufacturers..this is where they have slim to no chance of replacing conventional motorcycles. Like KIA making a supercar.

  • skadamo

    I agree, trails would be great for electric drive.

    OSET makes electric trials bikes for kids and you see them at many trials events. The foundation has been poured. The kids and parents are already educated on electric in the trials world. Who wants to start a company? Some might call it low hanging fruit.

  • Ry_Trapp0

    I really don’t see this being a big problem for Zero. As everyone has alluded to, these electric bikes are still very very young, so of course your going to have some issues pop up. This frame for instance may have been extensively FEA tested, but the real world may have exerted unforeseen stresses on it. This isn’t an end of the world scenario, just make the necessary changes and get them back out on the track! It’s only a matter of time before we see ground up designed, reliable, consistent electric bikes.