Abe Askenazi has the rare distinction of transitioning from Buell, a traditional (if trailblazing) bike builder, to the all-electric Zero Motorcycles company. Recruited for his expertise in the realm of conventionally-powered two-wheelers, Abe was put to task on making Zero's bikes more robust and motorcycle-like.
I caught up with Abe at Zero's 2011 press launch, picking his brain about the differences between internal combustion culture and the vanguard of electric bikes. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
What was it like to go from a traditional motorcycle company to an upstart that builds electric bikes?Basically, it's not much different from how it was during the beginning of Buell. Most of the guys on the [Zero] team are motorcyclists, they're very passionate individuals, all trying to make their mark on the world, on the motorcycle industry. So the culture is not very different from Buell in the early days; small and dynamic.
Tell me about some of the engineering challenges you've faced, in terms of bringing in your expertise from an area that's been around 100 years to something that's a little more out of the box.It hasn't been that different, and the only reason I can say that is because at Buell we mostly worked on chassis development; we got our powertrains from Rotax and Harley. We collaborated, of course, and had a powertrain integrations group, so what we're doing here is collaborating with motor companies and developing a high-performance chassis around them. It's not that significant a difference—of course, the battery technology was fairly new to me. We do have a pretty robust electrical engineering department that I direct that has lots of really good experience with this. I've been educated this past year, it's been a lot of fun to learn about new things. But it's still motorcycles.
The thing that did it for me relative to coming out here and taking this on is that Zero was positioned as a motorcycle company, not so much as an electric motorcycle, but as a motorcycle company that happens to be electric.