Here is a rundown on all the new motorcycles that are going to debut at INTERMOT, AIMExpo, and EICMA for the 2019 model year and beyond.
I first rode a Zero back in 2009. It was a horrible machine. It was so bad, I don’t even dare call it a motorcycle – the execution on that goal was just too far off the mark to warrant calling that creation a motorcycle.
For an example of this, I remember going for a ride on an early Zero S and the on/off switch was marked in sharpie, right on the frame.
The brakes were like wooden blocks attached to the wheels, which didn’t matter much because the tires were cheap rubber from China that were absolutely useless (and terrifying) in the rain.
It wouldn’t take long to learn that Zero’s focus on lightweight components was a bad decision as well, as we would see frames on the dirt bike models collapsing when taken over any sort of jump.
The bikes from Zero were so bad, the product reviews on them could serve as a litmus test of who in the media was bought and paid for, and who was actually speaking truth to power.
These machines were objectively awful, and anyone telling you otherwise was getting paid – straight up.
I could probably go on and on about the quality issues of these early machines, but it would rob us time from discussing the constant management issues that Zero has faced in the past decade, its failed dealership and servicing model, not to mention just the general branding issue of calling your product a “Zero”.
To their credit though, the folks at Zero have improved their product with each successive iteration. The management team finally seems to be stable; Zero now uses a traditional dealership model, and isn’t wasting time sending technicians all over the country in a van; and well…the branding is still tough, but there is a new corporate logo.
Most importantly though, Zero’s motorcycles are actually now motorcycles. The quality of these machines has improved dramatically, and generally the bikes are fun to ride.
So what is keeping me from putting a Zero in my garage, and using that massive electric torque to put a grin on my face? The answer is right there above these words, in the lead photo of this story.
Today is the day. Today is the day that the European Union begins taxing the importation of motorcycles from the United States into Europe. A retaliation to the Trump administration’s tariffs on aluminum and steel, the EU will now impose a 25% tariff increase on all motorcycles, 500cc and up, coming from the United States. This means that the new tariff provisions will affect both Harley-Davidson and Indian, but will not affect Zero Motorcycles, as electric motorcycles are not included in the trade war provisions. Specifically, the European Union is imposing the 31% tariff (there was already a 6% tariff on motorcycles from the USA) to the goods that fall under HS code 87114000 & 87115000 on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System.
“I ride a Zero” or “my bike is Zero” always seemed like rather negative byproducts of the Zero Motorcycles’ brand to me. Generally speaking, a company should avoid associating their product as being zero or nothing.
Of course, the name is a cue to Zero Motorcycles emission-free motorcycles, using “Zero” as a call to action for those with a green agenda.
This always bothered me too though, since the market for environmentally conscious motorcyclists is incredibly small (at least when it comes to the ones that vote with their wallets), and the production of electricity in the United States isn’t exactly carbon-neutral, but I digress.
Secretly, I have always hoped that Zero would change its name. It would be a single step in a process that would require many, but it would be the bold first step.
The rules for such a drastic change are pretty hard and fast though – with the biggest caveat being that you don’t change a brand unless it is going to affect your bottom line.
This usually means that a company uses a rebranding to define a crack in time – a point where they either compartmentalize the mistakes of the past into the “old brand” while the “new brand” promises a new hope. You also see new logos when a company pivots in a new direction.
Unfortunately for Zero, neither of these examples seem to be the case, and that’s the rub. For Zero, I think you can make a pretty strong argument that the American electric motorcycle marque has its fair share of radioactivity.
Most of Zero’s baggage comes from its early days though, when the product was dreadful, the management team looked like a game of musical chairs, and the business decisions (especially on how to build a dealer network and support staff) were dodgy at best.
Crappy bikes, upset owners, and dealers with burned bridges… Yes, changing the Zero name could do wonders for the Californian company’s bottom line. So, let’s consider today’s news the Diet Coke version of that strategy, as Zero Motorcycles is sporting a new logo.
We will have a full account of the 10th Annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering posted soon, but I wanted to highlight one of the more notable events at the California motorcycle show – the debut of the Curtiss Zeus, an electric cruiser with tech from Zero Motorcycles and styling from the now defunct Confederate brand.
The first all-new machine from the Curtiss brand (we are not counting the Curtiss Warhawk, which looks remarkably like something from Confederate’s previous offerings), the Curtiss Zeus features two electric motors from Zero, which share a common shaft, and help produce a claimed 290 lbs•ft of torque and 170hp.
That bonkers feature is matched to an equally divergent style, which builds upon the design ethos that Confederate established previously. For instance, note the front-end setup, which is a carryover from the Fighter line of bikes from Confederate.
Zero Motorcycles is reporting a very serious defect with its 2012 model year bikes, specifically affecting the Zero S, Zero DS, and Zero DSP (Police) models. The recall concerns Zero’s battery architecture for the 2012 model year, which may cause cells to fail, and thus create a runaway “thermal event” (read: catches on fire) within the battery pack. In total, this recall affects 218 motorcycle units – the entire volume of Zero S, Zero DS, and Zero DPS motorcycles that were sold for the 2012 model year. In its recall documents, Zero cites three instances (one in Hong Kong, and two in the USA) where the battery packs on the affected 2012 model bikes have failed and lead to a thermal event.
Strangely enough, we have talked about trade wars several times before, here on Asphalt & Rubber, as the Trump administration has been keen to use this tool in its toolbox, often with effects that reach into the motorcycle industry. The first time around, we talked about how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) affected the motorcycle industry, namely Harley-Davidson, and how the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement would likely be a negative effect for US motorcyclists. We have also had to talk about how fighting over beef imports could lead to possible tariffs on small-displacement European motorcycles in the United States, a tariff that would seriously hurt Piaggio/Vespa scooter sales and KTM dirt bike sales.
Confederate Motorcycles is to become the Curtiss Motorcycle Company. We reported on this story back in August already, so loyal Asphalt & Rubber readers should know that the news comes with the twist that the new company will focus on motorcycles that have electric drivetrains, provided by Zero Motorcycles.
Not much beyond those details was available at the time, and admittedly we don’t have a plethora of new information about this boutique American brand at this point in time as well, but we’ll share with you what we do know.
First of all, Curtiss Motorcycle will ultimately have a bike for a wide range of pocketbooks, not just the uber-rich that were serviced by Confederate. Curtiss’ first bike will be called the Hercules, and it is scheduled to drop on May 5, 2018.
A fairly small recall in terms of affected units (36), Zero Motorcycles is recalling a number of 2018 motorcycles because their Vehicle Emission Control Information (VECI) label displays the incorrect model year.
Because of this data input error, the units fail to comply with 49 CFR Part 567, “Certification.” As such, this recall affects certain Zero S ZF13.0, Zero S ZF7.2, Zero SR ZF14.4, Zero DS ZF13.0, Zero DSR ZF14.4, Zero FX ZF7.2, and Zero FXS ZF7.2.
We are in the final days of Confederate Motors, as the Alabama-based company just debuted its last motorcycle: the FA-13 Combat Bomber. Once the uniquely styled cruiser is sold out though, a new company will be formed: Curtiss Motorcycles. The name Curtiss is a nod to aviator Glenn Curtiss, who before he battled with the Wright Brothers for control of the sky, was an avid motorcycle builder and motorcycle racer. Like its namesake, Curtiss Motorcycles will be looking to the future, and thus its first model will be an all-electric motorcycle. As such, Curtiss Motorcycles has partnered with Zero Motorcycles to build the Hercules, an electric motorcycle with two Zero motors. This should produce roughly 175hp and 290 lbs•ft of peak torque.
Zero Motorcycles is recalling a bevy of its motorcycle models because of a turn signal that may stop working, without alerting the rider, which happens to violate Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) #108, “Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment.”
Thankfully, the recall only affects a grand total of 10 motorcycles: the 2017 Zero S ZF6.5, Zero S ZF13.0, Zero DSP ZF13.0, and Zero SR ZF13.0 lineup.