It’s not easy being an early adopter, but I am mind-bogglingly excited to announce that my Zero electric motorcycle is now back on the road.
Right at the start, I am going to say that although my experience has been a trying one, I am deeply, deeply indebted to Zero motorcycles for their patience, support and ultimately helping me get back on the road with minimal cost, despite my bike being out of warranty.
They showed amazing goodwill, and whilst they aren’t perfect I have and continue to recommend that if you want an awesome electric motorcycle, you should look no further than Zero Motorcycles.
Avid readers would remember that a little over two years ago my seven year electric motorcycling life came to a stuttering halt after 50,000kms and two bikes.
Despite some generous, remote help from the factory I was caught in a bind – I needed a replacement motor and advanced diagnostic support but there was no-one approved to do it in Australia.
And so, I waited. And emailed. And nudged. And phoned. And emailed. And waited.
In desperation, I even resorted to buying a wrecked vintage motorcycle and setting to work on a total restoration, falling back on my experience as a former motorcycle mechanic with a mea culpa.
At least (I figured) I could do all the work and trouble shooting in my shed with some rudimentary tools, hundred of years of global experience and an actual workshop manual.
In a classic case of serendipitous co-incidence, my vintage restoration is about to hit the road (having taken a lot longer than planned) at almost the exact same time as my Zero was finally reborn. Turns out, I’m having twins!
After around a year, I resorted to taking the bike to ELMOFO, who are without doubt the most innovative, experienced and willing to help electric motorcycle experts in Australia.
Despite months of diagnostics and experimenting they were stumped by an inability to access the depths of the Zero’s firmware without factory help but to their credit (and my overwhelming personal benefit) owner Brett Sutherland took yet another brave investment into the EV world and convinced the factory to appoint him as an official service agent.
This allowed ELMOFO to get access to new parts, diagnostic software and crucial factory support. It didn’t happen fast, but it did happen.
A Zero essentially has five interrelated computers that all need to work in synchronous harmony – A Main Bike Board (MBB – the central control system), a Battery Management System (BMS the battery manager), a Power Controller (the power controller and inverter), the Charger (an AC to DC converter) and the Motor Encoder (a small board that tells the rest of the system what the motor is doing).
Although minor errors in any one of these components may not necessarily stop the bike, they do all rely on each other to varying degrees and unresolved faults or errors can escalate issues.
Amongst other things, ELOMOFO discovered early on that the controller was only seeing around half the battery voltage and with the factories generous support, a new BMS was installed first.
Unfortunately, nothing changed although a detailed test and analysis did reveal my battery is in excellent condition and was not resting at half voltage, which was a re-assuring surprise.
Then, a new MBB was sent over under the assumption that perhaps it had suffered a fault, but nothing changed.
After a period of months and a lot of cajoling, pleading and reminders Zero then sent a new controller and for good measure a new motor (incorporating the motor encoder) and replacement charger.
Essentially it is now blessed with a 100% new electric drive train and management system.
With all the new components in place and some careful tuning and configuration on Friday the 5th March 2021 at 14.06pm I received a video of the bike working from the ELMOFO team.
It was clear that having had it in the workshop for so long and genuinely wanting to understand what went wrong, why, and how to fix it – they were as relieved as me to see it working. These guys love EV’s even more than me.
My first test ride generated a beaming grin and warm feeling of familiarity akin to hugging an old friend.
First and foremost, let me state for the record that I am not an electronics engineer, a software engineer or an electrician. I am merely an ignorant dolt with a small amount of knowledge, a willingness to learn and dangerous enthusiasm to pull shit apart.
So, the following analysis is merely my interpretation of what I think happened based on asking lots of questions and listening to other users’ experiences and conclusions.
At this stage, we still do not fully understand why my bike bricked itself and may never know.
We do know that that it all started shortly after I sucked some wet tar and gravel into my belt drive, which jammed in the pulley and suspect that this started the entire cascade of problems, probably by damaging the motor encoder.
It also seems logical to assume that the original fault then caused some serious errors in at least one of the bikes on board computers.
Over time, it seems like these unresolved faults cascaded into errors and faults in the other computers and ultimately the firmware became a confused and corrupted mess. Kind of like a bunch of corrupted sectors on a bunch of hard drives.
Software updates can only do so much and hard flashing new firmware outside the factory is not really a thing it seems – in this day and age replacing the component is more practical and more than likely a legal requirement for motor vehicles.
Now some readers may be saying “that seems like simple stuff, how can this not be more manageable and user friendly in this day and age?”.
In fairness its worth remembering that my bike was manufactured in 2014. This means the design philosophies, software, firmware and technology were developed two to three years earlier while they prepared for the release of the platform my bike uses.
In the EV world, development years are like dog years, things move so fast that my tech really should be considered e-vintage now.
I know for a fact, Zero’s latest generation of bikes have taken a myriad of lessons from the thousands of bikes they have sold and edge cases like mine have undoubtedly added to their collective wisdom.
From my perspective the fact that Zero can and are willing to help an owner with a seven-year-old bike that is long out of warranty is testament to an amazing commitment to their owners and to the sector.
See you on the road.