Zero Motorcycles CTO On The Benefits Of Electric Motorcycles


Zero Motorcycles turns 10 years old in 2016, and anyone who has followed the company’s progress, even from the periphery, can’t deny the progress Zero has made in advancing electric motorcycles. Giving his take on the electric motorcycle movement, and the role Zero Motorcycles has played in it, is company CTO Abe Askenazi. In his statement below, Abe argues the benefits of electric propulsion (though range and charge times are curiously absent from his statment). Clearly he has a stake in the electric game, but for those unfamiliar with Askenazi you should know that he spent a significant portion of his career in a similar role working alongside Erik Buell at Buell Motorcycles. A company, if you’ll remember, whose name was built on building a sportbike out of the unmistakable, gasoline-burning Harley-Davidson V-Twin. -TS


Zero Motorcycles: 10 years of leadership

By Abe Askenazi, CTO, Product Manager and Director

Zero Motorcycles is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. In many ways, we still have a lot to prove and achieve in leading the EV transformation of the motorcycle industry. We’re still a young company by the standards of our industry.  In the US, Harley-Davidson has been around since 1903 and Indian was originally formed in 1901. Elsewhere, Triumph, in its original form, started in 1902, BMW in the early 20’s, and many of the iconic brands of our industry (e.g., Honda, Ducati or KTM) in the decade following WWII. So we’re young, barely a teenager, but we don’t lack in confidence. If you find us brash, feel free to credit our attitude to youth and our roots in Santa Cruz, California.

We believe electric powertrains are vastly superior to internal combustion engines (ICE). They’re not only greener and significantly more energy efficient, they’re just plain better. Electric vehicles provide a better experience, and particularly so our motorcycles.  The always-available plentiful torque, the direct clutch-less and shift-less connection to the rear wheel, the absence of noise, vibration, heat and fumes all contribute to a superior riding experience. The exhilaration of telepathic and muscular propulsion without needless drama, what Zero riders call “the magic carpet ride”, is at the very core of why we all got to riding motorcycles in the first place.

For those of you who are technology historians, the late 19th century saw the emergence of both electric and ICE powertrains that offered credible paths forward for self-propelled vehicles. It could have gone either way, but the world went the ICE route, and ICE powertrains then benefited of 120+ years of refinement and optimization. Electric powertrains were relegated to industrial applications, forklifts and golf-carts. Electric powertrains have only caught up in earnest in the last decade. Today, a short ten years after we started, we challenge anybody to ride our motorcycles and compare the experience to that of traditional ICE motorcycles. You will be impressed. While electric powertrains will continue to benefit from much steeper technology dynamics than ICE powertrains in the foreseeable future, and will therefore keep increasing their relative advantage, the future is already here.  You can ride a Zero and experience the future today, and have more fun doing it than you should be allowed.

What we do is not easy. Motorcycles and powersports applications require unique EV technology, which Zero has mastered through sustained efforts and investment. Our battery packs are the most power-dense and most weatherproof in the EV industry, because, unlike cars, motorcycles do not have the luxury of extra real estate or watertight compartments. Our proprietary motor design optimizes torque and space. Our proprietary Battery Management System and Main Bike Board (what we call our Vehicle Control Unit) handle all the smarts needed for operating our motorcycles. Our sophisticated simplicity philosophy has guided all our technology developments and our powertrain and vehicle designs, which is why we have no clutch, no gears, and our powertrains are entirely passively air cooled. Anything else would be trying to emulate ICE for no reason other than a blind and short-sighted adherence to constraints that are not ours. We will continue to prevail because electric powertrains are superior, and we design them to optimize EV technology, not to pay a nostalgic tribute to ICE powertrains.

As I said, we’re young, and maybe we’re brash. But we’re also right. Come and experience why.

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Zero Motorcycles announced today that Chief Technology Officer and Product Manager Abe Askenazi has been appointed to its Board of Directors, a reflection of his contributions and leadership. Since joining Zero, Askenazi has played a pivotal role in making the company the global leader of the electric motorcycle industry.

A passionate lifelong motorcyclist, Askenazi holds both a BS and an MS in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley; his Master’s thesis was on “The Dynamics of Motorcycles.” Upon graduating, Askenazi joined Buell Motorcycle Company in Engineering, where he reported to Erik Buell and became a member of Harley-Davidson’s Senior Leadership Group. He joined Zero Motorcycles as VP of Engineering and quickly rose to the position of CTO and member of the Executive Committee.

Abe is the chief architect of Zero Motorcycles’ robust technology infrastructure and has directed the development of the company’s industry-leading intellectual property in battery systems, control architecture, motors and vehicle integration. He nurtured the company’s relentless focus on sophisticated simplicity, the guiding philosophy behind Zero’s powertrains and motorcycles.

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