A Zero MX suffered a catastrophic frame failure during a round of the
Swiss e-Moto electric MX series this weekend, it looks like the head tube snapped off
the frame rails. The bike's rider, Tommy Heimburg, suffered a
concussion and a partially collapsed lung in the ensuing accident, but
plans to continue racing once he recovers. The damaged bike is being
shipped to Zero's HQ in California, where they'll examine it to
determine the cause of the failure. It's not completely unprecedented
for a motorcycle frame to snap, but it usually indicates a manufacturing
flaw or previous damage. Having said that, the incident could seriously
hurt Zero's reputation.
Zero has come under some criticism, some of it from us, for specifying components that blur the line between motorcycle and mountain bike parts. They do this to achieve the lowest possible weight to maximize the limited performance currently available from electric powertrains, but often, the products end up feeling flimsy. Last May, Zero lost an electric supercross race to Quantya after Ryan Dudek's X shed its spokes. In response, Zero released the MX, a beefed up version of the diminutive X intended for competition use. After this incident, a Quantya Track went on to win this race too.
Throughout the criticisms of its dinky componentry, Zero has been able to point at its aluminum frames as an example of its light-as-possible approach working flawlessly, saying their construction technique makes the frames both lighter and stronger than any equivalent items. The frame on the Zero MX (pictured) is constructed from aluminum with a wall thickness of just 80 thousandths of an inch and weighs just 13lbs. To strengthen it, Zero uses double pass welds in crucial areas, then heat treats the completed frame to restore the material to its pre-weld strength. Additionally, the MX frame is shot-peened and anodized and gussets are added around the head tube, all in the pursuit of strength and longevity.
Unless a manufacturing flaw or previous damage is found to be the cause of this failure, it could fundamentally question Zero's approach to building its bikes. Even though this is an isolated incident, snapped frames are dramatic enough to grasp the public's imagination, destroying consumer confidence, witness the Suzuki TL1000S, which saw sales plummet after on a handful of high profile frame cracks. Should Zero be unable to peg this incident on previous crash damage or a one-off screw up with its quality control, they'll likely need to redesign, brace or otherwise alter the frame to restore confidence in their products. We'll keep you updated.