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Author Topic: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws  (Read 3773 times)

pinaz

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taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« on: September 15, 2015, 05:42:51 AM »

Zero's recent effort to sell off an overbuild of 2014 models with a offer to trade-in (and crush) "classic" models caused me to take stock of some of the faults of the 2011 XU that I bought.  It is no wonder they should want to get these things off the road.

I think the single most egregious design flaw of my 2011 XU (and other "classics"?) is the swing arm and chain.  The chain crosses over the swing arm, resulting in interference when the chain slaps.  Scandalously, Zero waited until the 2013 models to re-design it.  Instead, they used a piece of Delrin (or similar material) to keep the chain captive to prevent it hitting the swing arm.  One of the side effects of this is the noise (Fisher Price Popper) the bike makes.  However, it is far more serious than this.  In my opinion, the design is a ticking time bomb.  When the Delrin wears and breaks apart, the fragments risk getting jammed into the chain and sprocket.  When the bike suddenly grinds to a halt, goodbye rider.

That alone should be reason to get these bikes off the road.

One of the regular maintenance items is the chain tension.  The chain tension adjustment mechanism is appallingly ill designed.  There simply is inadequate clearance for something that must be done weekly/monthly.

Any change in the eco/sport switch causes the bike to become disabled.  When the user accidentally hits the button (or rides over a pothole), the bike stops working until it coasts to a halt.  This endangers the rider in traffic.

The throttle angle is so broad as to force the user to have to re-grip the throttle whilst trying to reach normal traffic speed.  In a normal motorcycle, throttle travel is normally small as the rider uses a subset of the range of the engine in tandem with gears.  It is not valid for Zero to expect safe operation when such a broad angle is used for such a small road speed change.

Zero spent a lot of time marketing how its aluminum bike frame was designed by NASA engineers and how light it was (as-is standalone, not when integrated into the bike assembly).  I wish they spent more time thinking more holistically about how components were going to bolt onto said frame.  In my opinion, there was a clear lack of thought (fairing brackets, motor position, chain adjustment, and the dreadful chain/swingarm alignment).

Speaking of the frame assembly, disparate metals were used without consideration of Galvanic reaction.  For example, the bolts on my bike that hold on the seat became seized because the iron reacted with the aluminum.

The OBD diagnostic port is a sham to only pretend to the California regulators of being compliant.  The interface is actually completely proprietary, and there is no service information.  This is a vehicle, not a $500 smartphone expected to be thrown away after a few years.  Zero acts like it is a smartphone and has seemingly already washed its hands of 2012 and earlier models (predictor of its future behavior when the next model is released?).  I think we've all experienced Zero brush off bike issues with the excuse that the engineers are too busy with the launch of the next model.

Motor control is a half-baked amalgam of an Alltrax motor controller and an ill-designed Zero embedded controller than translates the user inputs into signals into the Alltrax motor controller.  Said Zero controller watches use of the battery charger (to allow Zero to sidestep warranty if the battery is disconnected for more than 72 hours), but does little of use to user.  Error blink codes are temporary and not stored.

The battery charger gets intermittently confused and tries to repeatedly feed high current to battery.  The charger has to be powered off for many hours (or day or more) to restore normal operation; user has to periodically check on the bike for this error condition.
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drumgadget

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2015, 08:10:15 AM »

Umm .....

All swingarm bikes that I know of force the chain to cross the swingarm .....  how that is handled is the only issue.  Many long-travel suspension bikes (MX, etc) use delrin guides for this purpose.  Of course they wear .... and must be replaced unless you dig the rat-a-tat-tat (which also wears the swingarm ......


Mike
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pinaz

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2015, 08:19:59 AM »

All swingarm bikes that I know of force the chain to cross the swingarm .....  how that is handled is the only issue.  Many long-travel suspension bikes (MX, etc) use delrin guides for this purpose.  Of course they wear .... and must be replaced unless you dig the rat-a-tat-tat (which also wears the swingarm ......

It is an expected wear item for which Zero hasn't had the foresight to provide replacement for.
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BenS

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2015, 09:27:07 AM »

Steel bolts inside aluminium is also common on most other brands, like on the rear axle adjusters. Anti-seize compound is a good thing to use, especially if the parts can get wet.
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2015 FX 5.7, DIY Electric "Jesse James" chopper bicycle, and DIY Electric 26" Lowrider bicycle. ('10 KTM 530exc, '06 GasGas EC250, '06 YZ450F, '06 GSXR1000.)

Justin Andrews

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2015, 12:27:31 PM »

Umm .....

All swingarm bikes that I know of force the chain to cross the swingarm .....  how that is handled is the only issue.  Many long-travel suspension bikes (MX, etc) use delrin guides for this purpose.  Of course they wear .... and must be replaced unless you dig the rat-a-tat-tat (which also wears the swingarm ......


Mike

True that. I've had a worn chain snap on an ER-5 which then proceeded to then wrap itself around my rear wheel. Did it coming out of a turn too, its annoying, and very much a brown trousers moment, but its not goodbye rider.

That ER-5 had some wear on the swing arm from the chain dragging on it too. Lesson? Replace my gorram chain when it's stretching too far... ;)
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pinaz

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2015, 06:42:27 AM »

Another quirk of the earlier "classic" models was that the owners manual on models through years 2009 said to never ride them in the rain.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2015, 06:46:12 AM by pinaz »
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CrashCash

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2015, 09:59:44 PM »

The Delrin slider is a maintenance item on most dirt bikes, including the big mfgr Japanese models.

I have had chain adjustment mechanisms that took 5 different tools and at least 20 minutes to make an adjustment.

On my last SV-650, when they added the ABS, they broke the procedure to replace the rear brake pads. It went from the usual 5min & 1 tool, to spending an hour having completely to disassemble the caliper attachment bracket system.

Also, the ABS hydraulic unit blocked the cam tensioner on the rear cylinder, so you then had to drop the entire rear swingarm to get to it and adjust the valves.

Several models of SV-650 cam chain tensioner mechanism designs had a habit of relaxing and letting the cam chain loosen and lunch the engine. They went through at least FIVE different designs that I'm aware of. C'mon, cam chain tensioners have been around for 40 years, is it THAT hard?

The rear brake caliper bracket bolt on my FJR-1300 seized, tearing a big chunk out of it and necessitating a new rear caliper. Dat wuz some bux.

On a lot of Yamaha sportbikes, including the R1 and my FJR-1300, you have to drain the coolant to even check the valves, as the coolant lines run through the middle of the valve cover, so you have to disconnect them to remove the cover.

The OBD on my '90s era Camaro was completely proprietary. No 3rd party shop could work on it. Same for the ABS system. This is the car that tried to kill me when the ABS failed.

Back in the '80s, with drum brakes, it was a common thing for the rear brake torque arm to fail, allowing the rear brake to not only fail to do anything, but lunch the brake, the rear wheel, and the swingarm. The attitude was "oh darn, hate it when that happens. check your torque arm bolts regularly"

Ask the BMW rider forums about the many common BMW faults, including complete rear swingarm failures, that BMW refuses to acknowledge.

To be honest, it's HARD to design a motorcycle. Modern ICE bikes are so good because they've iterated the living fuck out of the design and learned what not to do, as well as what to do. I was there in the '80s when the Interceptors and Ninjas, and other bikes showed up with brand new features like anti-dive, deltabox frames, and disc brakes on both ends. The 500 Interceptors used to fire rods through the blocks with depressing regularity. Everyone disconnected the anti-dive systems because they turned the brakes to complete mush and were impossible to completely bleed. See any bikes with anti-dive these days?

The joke about first adopters that "you can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs" is sadly based in fact.

True that. I've had a worn chain snap on an ER-5 which then proceeded to then wrap itself around my rear wheel.
What's even more fun and expensive is when the chain wraps around the output sprocket and proceeds to destroy the engine case. I've see that happen a couple of times.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2015, 10:14:20 PM by CrashCash »
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drumgadget

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2015, 10:49:24 PM »

Great post, CrashCash ...... !

I've owned over 70 ICE bikes over the years from the ridiculous to the sublime, and I can assure that every one has its idiosyncracies and downright design "flaws".  I'm not a Zero owner yet (got one on the way), but I'm sure it will be no exception.  Part of the fun and excitement of 2-wheelin' ......... !
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pinaz

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2015, 11:12:18 PM »

Yes, great post, CrashCash.

'm not a Zero owner yet (got one on the way), but I'm sure it will be no exception.  Part of the fun and excitement of 2-wheelin' ......... !

You have my sympathy.  Owning a Zero means paying a premium for a bike that is worth zero 2.5 years later.  Owning a Zero means a bike that either doesn't work for weeks or becomes disabled miles from home.  Owning a Zero means a motorcycle that can't be maintained/repaired because Zero doesn't document it and discontinues parts for any model out of its 2-year warranty.

But not to worry... Zero will give you a small trade-in allowance towards some high-priced models that are two model years old that they couldn't sell.  (That is the same two years upon which replacement parts begin to disappear.)  That way, suckers can repeat the whole thing all over again.
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BrianTRice

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #9 on: September 16, 2015, 11:46:00 PM »

Yes, great post, CrashCash.

'm not a Zero owner yet (got one on the way), but I'm sure it will be no exception.  Part of the fun and excitement of 2-wheelin' ......... !

You have my sympathy.  Owning a Zero means paying a premium for a bike that is worth zero 2.5 years later.  Owning a Zero means a bike that either doesn't work for weeks or becomes disabled miles from home.  Owning a Zero means a motorcycle that can't be maintained/repaired because Zero doesn't document it and discontinues parts for any model out of its 2-year warranty.

But not to worry... Zero will give you a small trade-in allowance towards some high-priced models that are two model years old that they couldn't sell.  (That is the same two years upon which replacement parts begin to disappear.)  That way, suckers can repeat the whole thing all over again.

If everyone had this attitude, we wouldn't get any new products of this complexity. Zero is not out to bilk you, they're trying to survive and grow. If they exhaust their budget serving one need (comprehensive serviceability), they might not break even or prove to investors that the next year is worth funding.

The 2013+ models seem to be a mature platform, even if they're not ideal. The cure for this is: buy a Zero with your eyes open, knowing that the right use-case is that you buy it and ride the hell out of it to get your money's worth, and that it's a secondary vehicle that will lower your overall maintenance needs.

Perhaps you're just waiting for (say) BMW to address your concerns; seriously, who else is going to step into this market and satisfy you? BMW doesn't exactly have a user-service-friendly reputation. Plenty of people think that BMW treats people like suckers. I think this says more about them than BMW.
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drumgadget

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #10 on: September 17, 2015, 12:01:03 AM »

BrianTRice ...... +1

So, pinaz - just out of curiosity, are you currently riding an electric motorcycle?  If so, what brand and model?  I'm jumping in with a good deal (I hope!) on a clean 2011 Zero S because I have to start somewhere.  I've watched this scene for years, ridden several prototypes and conversions, marvelled at the high asking price for ALL of the possible choices.  I'd be eager to hear suggestions ...... a cheaper alternative with sporting capabilities, a better engineered (but still high priced) bike, etc etc.  Like, maybe ...... a Tesla motorcycle, anyone ...... ?

Mike
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pinaz

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #11 on: September 17, 2015, 12:07:39 AM »

If everyone had this attitude, we wouldn't get any new products of this complexity. Zero is not out to bilk you, they're trying to survive and grow.


Zero keeps shafting its existing customers to sell bikes to more first-time suckers.

I think the 2013+ crowd is beginning to awake to this.  Look at this forum; 2013 model owners find that the batteries are different to 2014+ models.

If Zero was more upfront about their strategy, I would be more sympathetic.  I'll re-quote a post I made 23 Jan 2013 citing a still unmet claim from Zero:

Quote
And here are two (optimistic) quotes from director of customer service Richard Kenton:

"We’re working to minimize that risk for new dealers and customers. All of our current owners and buyers are essentially E.V. advocates. We touch base with our riders for real-world feedback on usage, problems, potential changes and accessories. We are currently small and agile enough that we can really reach out to our customers and incorporate what we hear."

"We now have flat rate manuals, parts fiche and service manuals all online, in multiple languages to service our different markets."

http://www.dealernews.com/dealernews/article/zero-motorcycles-aims-lead-electric-bike-revolution


These days, they don't even pretend to sell parts for models prior to 2012.  I suspect that will become 2013 in a matter of weeks/months when the 2016 model comes out.

I think "Zero Maintenance" (e.g. throw it away... how very green) should be their tag line. :)
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pinaz

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2015, 12:21:57 AM »

So, pinaz - just out of curiosity, are you currently riding an electric motorcycle?  If so, what brand and model?  I'm jumping in with a good deal (I hope!) on a clean 2011 Zero S because I have to start somewhere.  I've watched this scene for years, ridden several prototypes and conversions, marvelled at the high asking price for ALL of the possible choices.  I'd be eager to hear suggestions ......

I have a 2011 Zero XU that I bought new (one of the two model year old leftovers that no one wants) and made the same leap as you appear to be set to.

I thought (naively, with hindsight) that it would be maintainable because it was using off-the-shelf components.  I bought it unseen out-of-state because there was no Zero dealer within 700 miles.

What I found was exceptionally bad engineering on Zero's part (to the point where I, as an engineer, would feel uncomfortable with).  Zero makes itself a middleman to do anything, and they really don't care to support their product (despite claims, at the time, otherwise).

From the propaganda I hear through the Zero dealer, I think Zero's funders are now positioning it as a motorcycle (secret sauce) battery company.  They know that they can't build motorcycles.  I assume the companies with the engineering to make motorcycles are waiting for someone else in the market to commoditize battery prices.

So, BrianTRice's point about eyes open and riding the hell out of it to get your money's worth is valid.  My added caveat would be that you have only two years or so from the model year where you can hope to get any cooperation from Zero (and still be ready for it to be offline for weeks, so it is not practical as a sole vehicle).  At the end of that two year period, be ready to throw the bike away for nothing.
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drumgadget

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #13 on: September 17, 2015, 01:21:41 AM »

Duly noted .....

You make it sound pretty grim.  I'm a retired engineer myself, and still naive enough to think that something could be done with the basic platform of a 2011 Zero S - seems to me that it can't all be junk ....... !
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pinaz

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Re: taking stock of Zero motorcycle design flaws
« Reply #14 on: September 17, 2015, 01:39:04 AM »

You make it sound pretty grim.  I'm a retired engineer myself, and still naive enough to think that something could be done with the basic platform of a 2011 Zero S - seems to me that it can't all be junk ....... !

Let me put it this way:

Buying a Zero within the two year from model year period assures you the possibility of warranty repairs (but be ready for unreliable operation and periods of inoperation).

Buying a Zero after that point is no better than buying a hobbyist electric conversion of a motorcycle.  Perhaps a conversion is somewhat better in that there is hope for buying standard maintenance components.

For example, the Delrin assembly that I despise so much (and which I got flack above as being "normal" for dirt bikes) is custom milled, not mentioned in the user manual as a wear item, and cannot be purchased like the "normal" dirt bikes that are being compared to.

As long as you are comfortable with the money invested being completely lost, I think it can be a worthy (if not fun) experiment.  I feel sorry for people who bought these on finance terms (appropriate for ICE motorcycles) under the mis-belief that the bike would survive that period.
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