Last Saturday and Sunday, April 4th to 5th, about 50 motocross riders participated in the first 24 hour long endurance race....on electric motorcycles. The event, 24 Hours of Electricross, was hosted by Zero Motorcycles, the creators of the Zero X motorcycle, an off-road electric bike, and the soon-to-come Zero S street legal motorcycle. From 11 a.m. on Saturday to 11 a.m. on Sunday, 10 teams competed to see which could complete the most laps on one Zero X motorcycle. With a maximum of 3 batteries, the teams had to consider their speed, use of their braking systems, and how often to switch out and charge their batteries.
I was lucky enough to check out the race down at the San Jose fair grounds Sunday morning. The riders and the Zero Motorcycles staff were plenty tired by that time but the leading team Hotchalk was just shy of breaking 1000 laps - or 500 miles. The 10 teams came from the San Francisco Bay Area, New Mexico, even Canada and the UK. And all told, the race was the largest of its kind (in fact, it was the first of its kind) and set the Guinness World Record for the largest all-electric off road race. Each team was formed around one Zero X motorcycle and the love of electric bikes.
I chatted with Scott Snaith, the captain of the 50 Cycles team who came all the way from England to participate in the race. Snaith and 50cycles.com are soon to be dealers for the Zero motorcycles in the UK. He said, "We've been selling bikes for about five years...this is the sort of technology we've been waiting for in regards to the battery technology and the motor."
Given that the bikes are electric (and therefore, sublimely quiet compared to gas-powered bikes), there was just a slight whir or hum around the track. The lack of noise was the reason the race was allowed to continue for 24 hours, even with the close proximity to luxury apartment buildings. And in fact, when the racing Zero X bikes were put to the test on a decibel meter, they came in below the level of normal conversation. Snaith said all the riders thought it was "nice to be able to talk during the race."
I also got a chance to talk to Neal Saiki, the inventor and founder of Zero Motorcycles, while he was taking a bit of a break from helping out the teams make small repairs to their bikes. He said the motorcycles had been holding up really well and all the riders were still going fast (the Zero X gets up to 50 MPH top speed; and on the motocross track, most riders were getting up to about 30 MPH). Neal said, "[The event is] setting a world record and really setting a trend because you can talk to all these racers out here. They had a great time and everyone is just astounded with how fast they're going on these motorcycles and how durable they are, lasting 24 hours. So it's really a a great thing and without a lot of noise and no pollution, it's really changing the way we do racing."
To check out some footage from the race, more of Neal and Scott's interviews, and a quick walk around the Zero X, check out the video below or head on below for the transcript of Neal's interview.
Q: Tell us about the event! How has the local attitude been in regards to the noise or the lack there of?
A: This race wouldn't be possible here if we were doing gas motorcycles because they don't allow night time events here because...because of the noise. W'eve got apartment buildings you know right next door, there's a church right over there. So you know this is really special. It's the first event of it's kind here and it's the first...well, it's the first electric motorcycle event EVER in the world. So we've got the biggest race. It's setting a 24 hour endurance record and I can tell it's going to be the first of many, many races to come because everyone's really having a great time.
Q: How's the event been going?
A: It's going great. Boy, I'm really happy how it turned out. It's been a long day, been 23 hours out of 24 hours but we've got all the bikes going and it's just pretty amazing. The bikes are going strong and the riders are tired...but you know, everyone is still riding really really fast. So it's incredible out there. They're riding really really fast laps.
Q: How many laps are they doing?
A: The winner's going to...I think he's about to break 500 miles, so uh, it's amazing. Yeah, 1,000 laps. That's like running the Indianapolis 500. It's pretty amazing and that's all off road with jumps. You know, that 500 miles, there's probably a mile of it in the air.
Q: How have the bikes been holding up?
A: It's been going great, we've had one motor failure and lots of little crashes and broken off pieces but nothing major. No one hurt too bad. We had one cut, a few stitches, and that wasn't even riding it was just putting a motorcycle on a stand. So everybody's been really good. We've had a really good race, we've been really lucky.
Q: What do you think of the teams' battery strategies?
A: Yeah, the battery strategy...it really threw people for a curve ball because I think a lot of teams expected to just go charge it all the way for 500 miles but we limited the number of batteries to 3 batteries per team. So you had to charge two batteries while you ride one, and they had to conserve their energy. So they're going really really fast but they had to ride really smooth and stay off the brakes and try to carry their speed through the turns a lot.
Edited by stins - 4/8/2009 at 08:12 pm GMT