Duke’s Den – Is Electricity the Savior of Dirtbikes?

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It’s always interesting to see how cutting-edge technology is incorporated into new motorcycles. Having written about bikes for the better part of two decades, I’ve seen the introduction of aluminum frames, inverted forks, electronic fuel injection, antilock brakes, a proliferation of exotic materials (titanium, magnesium, carbon fiber) and, more recently, semi-active suspensions and traction controls.

But this infusion of technology to motorcycles doesn’t really change what a motorcycle is and what, ultimately, you can do with it.

Enter the latest buzz in vehicle technology: electric power, which has the potential to change the ways we can use a motorcycle, especially riding off-road.

We’ve been early proponents for electric-powered motorcycles and have marveled at the astonishing development in performance we’ve seen over the past few years. Yes, they’re expensive relative to petrol-fed motorcycles. And, yes, we acknowledge range limitations that severely limit their use as everyday motorcycles unless your commutes are fairly short. In fact, the term “range anxiety” has been added to contemporary lexicon because of it.

2014 Zero FX Cornering House

Yes, that’s a house in the background, and its occupants were unaware there were three dirtbikes romping nearby.

Another e-vehicle foible (to some, though I’m not one of them) is the lack of auditory conspicuity when riding in urban situations. Almost completely silent when ridden slowly, e-vehicles are targets of naysayers who point out the potential dangers to pedestrians.

However, a recent experience testing Zero’s updated FX platform made me realize the e-bike equation changes radically when riding in the dirt.

Read our Zero FX Review

First off, battery range won’t be an issue unless you race Dakar or Baja. Even then, it wasn’t a problem for multi-time Baja champ and Dakar racer Scot Harden, who spent the day riding FXs with us and didn’t fully deplete the bike’s 5.6 kilowatt-hour battery reserves. And the FX is no slouch in terms of power, belting out an impressive peak of 70 ft-lb of torque and a claimed 44 horsepower.

Scot Harden interview with video

But our day aboard FXs, which conveniently are also legal for street use, taught us a much more important lesson about e-bikes: Their nearly soundless nature changes the paradigm of how motorcycles can be used.

We rode three FXs in Harden’s rural backyard from morning till sundown without annoying anyone – not the neighbors surrounding our improvised track, nor the equestrian stables next door. Take a look at the video below in which we attempt to describe visually how the off-road game is changing.

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If you think my paradigm-shifting description to be overblown, you might not be aware of how Europe’s off-road market has been decimated due to vast land closures primarily due to sound emissions from dirtbikes. Land closures in America, while not as draconian as in Europe, are a constant threat on our shores.

The dirtbike’s savior may turn out to be electric power. Dark Green Motorsports operates an off-road riding facility dedicated to renting quiet and easy to operate Zero Motorcycles e-bikes in North Carolina, and I predict we’ll see similar operations popping up over the next several years. Or imagine transforming an old warehouse into an indoor, all-season riding location for electrically powered dirtbikes, whether you BYOB or rent one.

“If you too narrowly define what you think motorcycling is and what two-wheel recreation and transportation is, then you can see all sorts of roadblocks,” explains Harden, who is Zero’s vice president of global marketing. “But if you change your focus for just a minute and look into other areas, you can see nothing but opportunity, and that’s where we’re looking.”

Related Reading
MO editor Troy Siahaan races Pikes Peak on a Zero FX
MO editor Troy Siahaan races for 24 hours on a Zero FX
2013 Brammo Empulse R Vs Zero S ZF11.4 – Video
2012 Lightning Motorcycles Exclusive First Ride – Video
Scot Harden 2010 interview
Electric Motorcycles Primer
All Things Electric on Motorcycle.com

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  • CaptainPlatypus

    My willingness to browse a website is in inverse proportion to the number of autoplaying videos it includes. Fix it.

  • Craig Hoffman

    An e-dirtbike would be perfect for someone who has a 5 acre spread in a semi rural area. We have a lot of properties like that in Colorado. It would be cool to lay out a track on such a property and be able to roost to your heart’s content without any reasonable objection from the neighbors. I have a friend who owns such a property, a guy a few plots over incessantly rides his 450 MX bike, pisses off the neighbors to no end.
    How was the hookup/traction? I am curious about a true competition level e-bike in the rocks and gnarl. Seems like an electric motor could kick ass in such terrain. No power loss at elevation either :)

    My Husaberg 450 has the stock an on it and is very quiet, but I still enjoy the “thump” and sounds that a high perf engine makes. Riding without that would take some getting used to.

  • john burns

    I think you are def. onto something here. I got to ride the Zero last fall on some trails up near Yosemite, and I felt good about riding along a stream with quite a few cabins within sight, knowing I wasn’t stepping on anybody’s ears. I never did any trials, but it was uncanny how you could climb big granite boulders from a stop with no problem. And you’re right, range is no problem off-road where you just don’t typically cover great distances.
    Waiting to see what kind of excuses our Civic Officials can come up with to keep somebody from opening an electric MX park in the heart of Orange County. Would’ve been great not to have to drive two or more hours to take my kid riding. I bet a KTM 50 Freeride would resurrect the moto boom of the `70s. Maybe. ??

  • mms

    Supercross in my living room without choking to death on fumes or disturbing the neighbors! Now I just need a really really big living room. Seriously though, trail riding quietly through a forest without scaring the animals would be brilliant. And how great for park rangers, and how deliciously bad for the people who want to come up with more reasons to ban offroad vehicles and will hopefully run out of arguments.

    Anyway thank you for the link to Dark Green! I’ll detour to there on my next NC ride for sure.

  • bugs

    I have a 2011 Zero X. I have 3 acres surrounded by subdivisions. We ride our Zero X in the back of the property and don’t disturb any neighbors.