ZERO TO HERO
EBA: How does a guy from the heartland end
up making motorcycles on the West Coast?
Abe: My first job out of college was with Eric Buell
at Buell Motorcycles. I started as an analysis engineer, and it was a great company to be with. When
Harley-Davidson shut Buell down, I transitioned over
to Harley, but it wasn’t a great fit. I was contacted by
Zero Motorcycles, and they needed somebody with
motorcycle experience to drive the development of
the models and platforms. I’ve been here a bit over
four years, and my focus has been making sure that
we build products that are relevant in the motorcycle
industry and to introduce the industry to this wonderful thing that is the electric powertrain.
EBA: What kind of critiques do you have for
the early Zeros?
Abe: Before I joined the company, there was no
one with motorcycle-industry experience. There is a
lot of high tech in this area, but there are also a lot of
bicycle companies here. So there were people from
the bicycle industry and people from high tech, and
they created a very interesting product, but it was
very bicycle-like. It was not a true motorcycle. After I
came on board, the company hired more motorcycle
people. The first task was to create a true motorcycle
with the electric powertrain.
EBA: How far do you think the Zero has come
in your four years?
Abe: It is amazing. There are two measures of
electric performance: range and power. The best
range we had back then was 40 miles in the city, and
now we are up to 170 miles in the city. That is huge
in terms of how relevant the Zero is for the consumer. At 40 miles it was a niche product. Now it will
work for most people who commute. It is not a touring bike. We have a long way to go before we are a
factor in touring. But for everyday use and weekend
sport riding, the Zero is relevant.
In terms of brakes, real suspension and even the
fit of the motorcycle, we have come a long way.
From a bicycle pretending to be a motorcycle to
a real motorcycle. That has been a great journey.
From a power standpoint, we have gone from 27
to 67 horsepower. We were also at 40 foot-pounds
of torque, and now we are at 106 foot-pounds, and
from 35 or 40 mph to 102 mph.
EBA: What is the most significant increase in
Abe: It depends on your outlook of what is
important. From a powertrain standpoint, whether
you are talking off-the-line torque or horsepower
at speed, if you ride a 2010 or even a 2012 model
Zero, and then ride the 2014, especially the SR; the
difference is night and day. We have made significant
improvements in so many areas that it is hard for me
to tell you what the most significant change is. Prior
to my joining the company, there was no industrial
design function. Before that, people were doing their
best with what they knew, but the bikes looked a
little odd and a bit unfinished. Since we brought Matt
Bentley in, the motorcycles are much more appealing
than they used to be.
With a BA and MA degrees
in engineering and 15
years of experience in
Abe Askenazi put Zero
Motorcycles on the map.
He streamlined production
and suppliers, modernized
and refined the design, and
pushed forward all aspects
of electric motorcycle performance.
The supply room has three aisles packed to the ceiling like this.
Despite what looks like a rich parts supply, keeping parts in stock is
what limits the production.