Weighing in on electric dirt bikes

dsc_6986The war between dirt bikers and the NIMBY’s could be coming to an amicable solution without either side having to give in.

KTM, on the heels of Zero, is the second dirt bike manufacturer to unveil a 2010 line of electric motorcycles that will see the riders still enjoying what they love to do while the nay sayers can still sit on their porch with their book in peace and quiet.

Austrian KTM’s recent announcement in Japan comes on the heels of California manufacturer, Zero Motorcycle Company, bringing out its full 2010 line up.

German designed Zero is dedicated to electric motorcycles only and is currently in production, tested and deliverable to your front door while KTM has a full product line up of motorized vehicles and plans for electric  delivery in the Spring of 2011.

Three models are in the 2010 Zero lineup – the dirt bike for off roading; the dual sport for changing terrain on the fly and the street legal sport bike and KTM plans to bring out an Enduro (dual sport) and Supermoto for the street.

Wes Barten, an independent rep in B.C. answered some questions.

When asked how Barten learned about the Zero, his response was, “I found it on the internet.  I’ve been following electric propulsion for vehicles, cars and motorcycles for quite a while and I’ve been following Zero. They’ve been in development for quite a while. This is like a third generation bike now and it finally came to the time that I thought gee whiz I better try one of these and now they’ve got the power to be competitive with a real motorcycle and my X Extreme is basically on par with a 250 four stroke motorcycle. We have lots of power now so now there’s nothing holding us back to have a quiet bike.”

Even though the 2010 Zero fleet is scheduled to make its way through the Okanagan in May, Barten offered a 2009 Zero X dirt bike model and I spent an afternoon in the woods around Naramata experiencing silent off-road riding.

Breaking the silence with the high pitched whine of a dirt bike will soon become more balanced with nature as the whine makes way for the whir of the chain and lowers the decibels for the woods. Engine revs between gears will be replaced with ….nothing.

In fact, the Zero X is so quiet that you could possibly sneak up on a bear because it wouldn’t hear you coming unless you were talking to another rider. The whir of the chain barely registers and if there is strong wind blowing the branches, you won’t hear anything.

Barten narrated a rundown of the bike,  “Basically, it’s like getting on any regular motorcycle. Everything is straight forward. The big difference is you turn on the key, you hear a nice audible click and that means that you’re running. So the surprise is that when you are running, there’s no sound what-so-ever. No clutch and we have a front and a back brake, both up on the handle bars and that’s it for controls. So you have throttle, stop and go, no shifting, and one gear.”

“In the motorcycle world, the biggest thing for off road riders, of course, is learning clutch control and throttle control and mastering the clutch does take quite a while.  Now we’ve eliminated that totally and all we have to work on is throttle control so you’re down to one basic skill to master.”

The low torque option is perfect to start your electric experience.  The bike is lightweight which it makes it tough to comprehend that it is a full fledged dirt bike. I am used to the weight giving grip in corners and over uneven surfaces. The perception with this bike is that you are riding on ice because it doesn’t have the weight behind it.

I also didn’t realize on how much I rely upon sound when riding. I listen to my motor, my transmission, etc. When riding the Zero it was tough to gauge speed because there is no engine noise involved. I also noticed that bike operation took some getting used to as well with only go and stop options.

For more information on the Zero in Canada – visit the Canadian website:  www.zeromotorcycles.com/ca

For comparison

  HP Wt Trans. Engine Type Spd Price
Zero X 250cc four stroke 23 161 lbs curb wght (73 kg) Clutchless one speed electric Patent pending lithium ion battery – up to two hours or 40 miles 105 km/h $7,595 base price
KTM – Freeride 125 cc two stroke 29.5 90kg Clutchless one speed electric Lithium ion plug-in battery 70 km/h $13,000




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