Fifty things you’ll never do with an electric motorcycle

Saying a fond farewell to internal combustion engines also means bidding adieu to a raft of maintenance measures. But how does an electric bike handle the crash test?

Most of you are painfully aware that I have spent the last two years riding a 100% electric motorcycle, in my case a 2010 Zero DS.

It’s true, I’m a little obsessed and not just because I’ve always liked riding bikes. For me, the real revelation is that an electric motorcycle can not only provide all the excitement of riding, but perhaps more excitingly I can now see that their applicability as a household energy storage appliance is inevitable.

As much as I love my 2010 model, since riding the latest models I have been looking for excuses and ways to get a new one. Electric vehicles are advancing at incredible speed and in just a few short years since mine was made the performance, range and sophistication of their bikes has been astounding.

It was therefore somewhat ironic and fateful that I flew over the handlebars of my 2010 model, courtesy of a nice old man who wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing. I suspect that I may be Australia’s inaugural electric motorcycle crash test dummy.

Luckily, I bounce pretty well for an old bloke although my joints and tendons keep reminding me that I’m not 16 years old anymore and that bitumen isn’t very bouncy.

The bike was less fortunate, although it was an excellent real world test of its strength and the crash safety of an electric vehicle. It didn’t spontaneously combust, electrocute me or anyone else. In fact, it came away pretty well apart from from some cosmetic damage. The post crash assessment revealed that the frame and running gear were all perfect and the battery pack and electric drive train all tested just fine. I was concerned that the forces may had caused some internal stress on the battery cell terminations and other electrical connections, but these things really are built strongly. Zero’s investment in design and testing just passed a real-world proof of concept test. I’ve almost completed the cosmetic repairs and she’s already back on the road.

Having said this, there is nothing like fate to create opportunity and excuses for change and it forced me to make two decisions. The first predictable outcome is that I am now the very proud owner of a brand new 2014 Zero DS 11.4. I’ll warn you now that you will be hearing a lot more about my new ride in due course.

The second and perhaps even more profound change is that I am giving up on petrol powered bikes and selling my other bike, a quite rare and much loved Moto Guzzi V11 Rosso Mandello. After more than three decades of riding and owning more than 40 different petrol powered motorcycles I have decided to sell my sole remaining one.

That’s right, I’m going 100% pure electric.

As a consequence, my neighbours are now intimately familiar with the sounds of air compressors, metal polishers and the late night clanging of tools. Although the old girl has very low mileage, the prospect of a sale warranted a meticulous overhaul and she has undergone a frame up restoration to bring back her former glory.

I have spent the better part of 100 hours on the job already and it was around 3am one morning that something suddenly struck me. By converting to 100% electric there are some things that I will quite possibly never ever have to do again when it comes to owning and maintaining a motorcycle. I had just spent a full 9½ hours sanding, grinding and polishing the entire stainless steel and carbon fibre exhaust system and was covered from head to foot in an unfathomably sticky combination of wax and cotton residue from the polishing wheels. It’s a job that I will be very happy to not ever do again. Ever.

On the flipside, I got to use some tools and skills that I’ve had since I first learned a trade 30 years ago. I even used the opportunity to teach my two young boys a a few of the finer points of mechanical restoration, cunningly disguised as a punishment for beating the crap out of each other one too many times. I still read restoration and vintage bike magazines on a daily basis and am in awe of the craftsmanship required so it was with a tinge of genuine sadness that I realised that these old skills are in my case, less relevant.

However, now I just wish the Guzzi was done but the list of tiny jobs just goes on and on so, for fun, I kept a list of all the jobs I had done that are pretty typical of an overhaul that I will never have to do on an electric motorcycle.

  1. Fit new seals to petrol tank cap

  2. Replace overflow lines to petrol tank

  3. Refit petrol tank

  4. Refurbish fuel lines

  5. Clean and descale fuel taps

  6. Replace fuel filter

  7. Check fuel pump operation

  8. Prime fuel system

  9. Clean air filter

  10. Clean air filter box

  11. Refit air filter box

  12. Check and refit fuel injection intakes

  13. Check and adjust throttle linkages

  14. De-scale exhaust system

  15. Polish stainless header pipes

  16. Re fit exhaust system

  17. Replace heat affected rubber isolators

  18. Polish and repair exhaust hangers

  19. Fit new exhaust gaskets

  20. Fit new exhaust studs

  21. Check and adjust valves

  22. Clean and refit rocker covers

  23. Fit new rocker gaskets

  24. Fit new spark plugs

  25. Fit new oil filter

  26. Check and clean spark plug leads

  27. Clean and check sump bolts

  28. Clean and check oil cooler

  29. Check HT coils

  30. Drain and replace gearbox oil

  31. Drain and replace engine oil

  32. Drain and replace bevel gear oil

  33. Clean and adjust drive system

  34. Replace oil cooler breather

  35. Reconnect all fuel and air lines

  36. Check clutch wear

  37. Check gearbox wear and gaskets

  38. Check pushrod condition

  39. Replace clutch fluid

  40. Bleed hydraulic clutch lines

  41. Lubricate and clean clutch lever

  42. Clean and refit gear selection lever and linkages

  43. Check starter motor

  44. Check and torque set almost 400 bolt tensions

  45. Check and maintain around forty bearings

  46. Clean and lubricate several hundred parts

  47. Lubricate tachometer cable

  48. Restore and polish generator cover

  49. Clean and restore alternator

  50. Repair busted alternator cover bolt

Of course, this list doesn’t include the potential for a full engine, gearbox or drive train system rebuild in the event of a fault or major overhaul, which would add a list of around 200-300 more jobs, I reckon, plus thousands of dollars. For comparison, here are the things I would have to do with an electric motorcycle, most of which would also be done on an internal combustion engine.

  1. Check around fifty bolt tensions

  2. Check and maintain two motor bearings

  3. Check and replace drive belt

  4. Check and replace brake pads

  5. Replace and bleed brake fluid

  6. Check and replace suspension fluids

  7. Check and replace wheel bearings

  8. Conduct computer analysis of performance and errors

  9. Clean and lubricate around 30 parts

  10. Check tyre pressures

As an old friend said to me “Geez Nige, if you don’t get to fiddle with all these things and do all this cool mechanical stuff, doesn’t that sort of take the fun out of it?” The answer to me was pretty clear. “Nope. It just means I can spend more time working on aesthetics, electronic performance enhancements, bodywork modifications and riding.”

More fun, less work.

Nigel Morris is the director of Solar Business Services. 

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