ON THE RECORD: Abe Askenazi, Tech Head at Zero Motorcycles

From Buell to Zero, the Mexico City native continues to cross new frontiers.

Abe Askenazi headshot

I started at UC Berkeley as an Electrical Engineer because I used to love playing with electro-mechanical stuff as a kid and teenager. Unfortunately, the EE program at Berkeley was much more of a Computer Science program, and I really missed working with my hands on real things.

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Plug and play will be part of the future and Zero electric motorcycles has lengthened its stride with these new models.

So, since I’d also been into motorcycling for many years (started when I was 10 on a Carabela while growing up in Mexico City) and was spending a ton of time riding and working on motorcycles at UC, I decided to switch over to Mechanical Engineering, with the hope that I could eventually get a job at a motorcycle company. Eventually, I decided to go for my Masters in Mechanical Engineering, focusing my thesis work on “single track vehicle dynamics”, and set my sights on Buell. When I graduated, I only applied to Buell, and I was fortunate that Erik offered me my “dream job.” I was with Buell for a wild and wonderful 15-year ride, until its unfortunate demise.

A very short time later, when Zero offered me a job heading their Engineering team, I knew how lucky I was to be able to continue with my motorcycle engineering passion AND go back to my EE roots. So, I guess developing electric motorcycles was my destiny.

As is the case with Zero, Buell had a wonderful team of individuals passionately chasing our dream. Forming a company is a ton of work, but it's very rewarding work. Developing innovative designs, processes, systems, and ultimately exciting and competitive sport motorcycles was very intellectually and emotionally enriching. And I loved living in Milwaukee! It is truly a great city, even with its crazy winters.

So, yes, there are a ton of lessons I learned at Buell relative to what makes a motorcycle handle well; things like mass centralization, low unsprung weight, optimized chassis geometry and stiffness, as well as other more general design optimization techniques, such as ensuring structural efficiency, having one part do multiple tasks, or rationally sharing components across models and platforms. So, I can proudly say that I’ve applied at Zero much of what I learned at Buell; but I believe you would think me silly otherwise.

2016 Zero Motorcycles line-up near ocean shore

When I started at Zero, we had a few significant headwinds: The motorcycle industry had just collapsed, we were a small start-up, and we were developing new and unproven technology. So, established industry suppliers that I personally knew from my time at Buell, but who were bleeding from the ears, responded to me with something like "Abe, we really enjoy working with you, but call us back when we've recovered from this shock and Zero is a more established (i.e. less risky) company." So, we had to do business with smaller, much less known companies, because they were the only ones willing to do business with us–and I should note that we remain very grateful to them, since we wouldn't have been able to move forward without them.

But ultimately, we knew that to play in the big leagues, we had to convince the brand-name suppliers that we were worth their partnership and collaboration. And, after multiple years of ongoing conversations, as they’ve recovered and we’ve become the acknowledged leaders in our space, we finally got them there, and here we are. Did I mention we were the first electric motorcycle to introduce ABS?

We'll see a major tipping point with lighter, stronger and more affordable batteries allowing Zero riders to top 200 highway miles in a single charge within the next five years. The present and future of electric motorcycles is so exciting! In the last handful of years there has been more money invested in battery technology than in its entire prior history. And this investment is only continuing to grow. Our 2016 S delivers 5.8 times the range vs. our original 2009 S. And currently, there are experimental batteries in research laboratories, both private and at many universities, that have 2X, 4X or even higher multiples of the energy density of today's batteries.

details of 2016 Zero SR power pack

Detailed look at the 2016 Zero SR power pack.

So, beyond the continued optimization of current chemistries, it’s just a matter of time before a “step function” is realized. What’s really cool about this is that, as energy density goes up, batteries will get smaller and smaller. With today’s batteries, our 2016 SR ZF13.0 with a Power Tank (i.e. largest battery configuration we offer) delivers close to 200 miles in the city and close to 100 miles at 70 mph. This is already a very capable product for a variety of usage cases. And, when energy density doubles, we could build a similar bike with twice the range, or with similar range and half the battery weight and cost. The latter means being able to eliminate close to 100 pounds and thousands of dollars.

Now think of when energy density goes 4X or 10X. What ICE technology is on the horizon that can promise similar weight and cost savings? This is the reason we are convinced that electric is the future. And think of all the creative design possibilities that open up when the biggest component on the motorcycle shrinks to half or a quarter of its size! I see a future motorcycle that’s light, sexy, efficient, stealthy and very much thrilling. ICE has had its 100-plus year run; we’ve been able to develop some truly great motorcycles in just a few years, and we’re just getting started.

Our guiding philosophy of "sophisticated simplicity" was born out of the realization that what makes electric motorcycles such an awesome experience is their purity: distilling the ride to its basic fundamentals of the rider and the road. Without the veil of vibration, noise, heat, fumes, shifting, etc. all you're left with is this magical sensation of flying. You can feel more crisply what the chassis and the tires are doing. You can hear what's going on around you. You're thrilled by the drama-free thrust of the powertrain. It is truly the magic carpet ride. Hence, early on we decided that we needed to make sure our design choices would only accentuate this experience instead of getting in its way.

2016 Zero FXS studio 3/4 view

2016 Zero FXS.

Always striving for the simplest, most efficient and effective design solutions to achieve our goals. The FXS and DSR are great ambassadors of this philosophy. With our latest electric powertrain married to its lightweight chassis with high-performance tires and suspension, the FXS makes you feel like Superman; it truly is an awesome ride. And the DSR ups the ante with 106 lb.-ft. directly and stealthily driving its dual-sport rear tire.

Accelerate hard without ever worrying about missing a shift. Enter a corner hot without ever worrying whether you’re in the right gear. Negotiate technical terrain without ever fearing a stall, frying the clutch or cramping your hand. It is simply all the fun of motorcycling without the (unnecessarily) hard work.

We are pioneering something that's truly revolutionary and exciting for our sport. So, thinking of all the different design and product possibilities, how we can continue to enhance the ride, makes for busy-brain nights. I am blessed (or plagued?) with a good memory; so, when I get to my computer in the morning, I just send messages to my team on the crazy thoughts that kept me awake, so we can vet them and hopefully use them to advance all of our individual and collective ideas in order to continue driving this thing forward as quickly as we can.

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Abe Askenazi.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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Zero Motorcycle battery packs.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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Zero Motorcycles frames.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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Zero Motorcycles motors.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero Motorcycles line-up.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero DS studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero DS studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero DS studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero DS details: front forkZero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero DSR studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero DSR studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero DSR studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero DSR details: front brakeZero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero DSR details: instrument panelZero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero FX studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero FX studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero FX studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero FX details: rear brakeZero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero FXS studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero FXS studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero FXS studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero FXS details: front wheelZero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero FXS details: cockpit viewZero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero FXS details: power pack swapZero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero S studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero S studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero S studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero S details: front forkZero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero SR studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero SR studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero SR studio.Zero Motorcycles Photo
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2016 Zero SR details: power packZero Motorcycles Photo