It was just like a regular motorcross race, but without the high-pitched whining and the fumes.
Zero Motorcycles invited 10 teams and 50 riders to a race this past weekend at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds motorcycle park in San Jose, Calif. starting on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. and finishing 24-hours later.
"We're having a motorcycle race in the middle of the city, and it's silent. We all love those noisy motorcycles, but when you're in an urban environment this kind of bicycle has a place," said Gene Banman, CEO at Zero Motorcycles, and a former exec at Sun Microsystems, which he was with for fifteen years.
"The Zero X Motorcycle has no clutch and no gears. In some ways it's easier to ride well. The quiteneess takes a little bit to get used to and we don't have footbrakes. The brakes are all handbrakes," said Banman.
Finishing teams were said to finish at least over 1,000 laps on the track which made the race a display of endurance both for the Zero X bike as well as for the riders. The teams had access to fast chargers and changed the battery every twenty to forty minutes, depending on the rider's weight and driving style. And the Guiness World Record attempt for largetst off-road electic vehicle race was a success. All the ten teams finished with winning team HotChalks MDV riding its bike an estimated distance of 500 miles.
Although electric car makers like Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive have grabbed most of the headlines, a smattering of companies like Zero, Brammo (which will sells its bikes in Best Buy) and Mission Motors are trying to build a market for two-wheelers. Motorcycles and scooters need smaller battery packs, which cuts prices. Plus, the crash testing is far less severe.
Of course there's a lot of PR vaule at stake for Zero in arranging this kind of race. The company hopes to push its Zero X model and also its new Zero S, a street model, which is just now hitting the market.
But what does the CTO and founder of the Zero Motorcycles have to say to skeptics who think that electric motorcycles is just a toy?
"People think that they're toys and slow. We want to spoil that myth by showing that you can really go for twenty-four hours. Our bikes are fast and powerful. It weighs 150 pounds, compared to regular dirtbikes that weighs around 220 pounds. It has a lot of low speed acceleration, but not the high end top speed. But it really is a waste to have a high speed motorcycle in a big city", said Neal Saiki, CTO and Founder, who recently tried out the Zero X bike in downtown San Francisco with an average speed of 20 MPH due to the traffic.
The $8,400 bike (the upgraded version) accelerates from zero to 30 in under two seconds and delivers a 20-horsepower engine. According to Zero, it has a similar performance of a 250cc gas powered off-road motorcycle. It recharges in about two hours on a regular outlet and uses lithium-ion battery technology.
So how does it feel to ride it compared to a regular dirtbike?
"One time I came across some hikers, I was creeping up on them, zipping along, and they didn't notice me. I was in stealth mode and they got startled. It's not bothering anybody cause it's so silent," said Mike Marquec, who was competing in the race and is also technical manager at Fox Racing Shocks, the company that provides the Zero bike with it's shocks.
Gillas Lang and his girlfriend (who works at asolarcompany) drove to the race from New Mexico with his Toyota Prius, taking his own Zero bike on a trailer. He has had his bike for about a year and drives it on regular roads. The 24-hour race was a chance to to test it out on the dirtbike track.
"When i started riding it I was a little more heavy handed than I needed to be. Technical skills makes more of a difference. It's got a more sesitive response of feel. It was also fun to hear the birds singing. I'm hoping to get their street model, cause I use mine as a daily commuter," he said.
Zero Motorcycles is now releasing its street model S with a 31 horsepower engine and the power to go 60 miles on a charge. Top speed is 60 MPH and it weighs 225 pounds (the battery weighs 80 pounds).