A motorcycle's clutch can be considered an unsung hero. It’s so much more than a means to engage and disengage the transmission, as it plays more important roles, particularly when it comes to grace and finesse.

It’s also a useful tool when doing hooligan moves like wheelies and burnouts...

With the electric age well and truly upon us, it would appear that the clutch’s job is being phased out. A lot of the new electric motorcycles have a one-to-one drivetrain, with the electric motor connected directly to the rear wheel either via chain or belt, and there’s no need for a transmission, and hence, a clutch. As a consequence, however, motorcyclists who want the utmost finesse—which can only be provided by the precision slippage of a clutch—are left wanting.

And while electrification is a facet of life we can’t deny, it’s good to see that some manufacturers have our backs. Zero, for example, recognizes the additional finesse and control a clutch provides, as it recently filed a patent on a “simulated clutch” system for its electric motorcycles.

Zero FXE - Boat Ride Bokeh

The Zero FXE is an electric motorcycle I'm particularly excited about

 

Different in principle from tech like Honda’s E-Clutch, Zero’s innovation exists solely to provide another layer of control separate from the bike’s throttle and brakes. In fact, in Zero’s patent, it doesn’t even make use of the word “clutch,” instead calling it a “Vehicle Control System.”

Operationally speaking, Zero’s Vehicle Control System sees the addition of a vital component to the bike’s left handlebar: a lever that looks just like a clutch lever found on an ICE bike. The only difference here is that pulling the lever doesn’t release a bunch of plates within the motor allowing it to rev up without load, but instead, connects to the motor’s electronic controller thereby regulating torque output.

Zero's Vehicle Control System looks just like a regular clutch

Zero's Vehicle Control System looks just like a regular clutch

The patent explains: “By reducing the torque output of the engine, the control lever on the left-hand side mimics the operation and feel, for example slippage, of a clutch of a multi-speed transmission present in motorcycles and other vehicles that are powered by internal combustion engines.”

The graph shows how the Vehicle Control System affects the motor's power output

The graph shows how the Vehicle Control System affects the motor's power output

Of course, on paper, this is all exciting stuff. But we’ll have to wait and see if Zero’s simulated clutch feature actually feels like a clutch. It’d be cool if you could hear the electric motor zipping up as you pull in the lever, akin to that of an ICE bike or some of the new EV trials motorcycles. Nonetheless, it’ll surely make fun stuff like wheelies and burnouts much easier, more controllable, and not to mention, much safer.

It’s good to see manufacturers like Zero investing time and resources to develop technology that focuses on the subtler nuances of motorcycling. And tech like Zero’s simulated clutch aims to bring back some of that feel that’s been lost in translation.

A drawing of the motorcycle cockpit with Zero's Vehicle Control System installed

A drawing of the motorcycle cockpit with Zero's Vehicle Control System installed

And while simply adding a clutch-like gadget to an electric motorcycle—which on paper, doesn’t really need it—by no means replaces the charm and unique character of an internal combustion engine, it’s nice to know that manufacturers are still thinking of us enthusiasts when developing new tech.

I recently joined a moto gymkhana competition (stay tuned for my full story on that), and have been casually into the sport for quite a few years now. The clutch plays a vital role here, as maneuvering tight obstacle courses and effectively putting power to the ground involve a higher level of mastery when it comes to balancing the clutch, throttle input, and rear brake actuation.

Quite frankly, I can’t imagine competing on an automatic motorcycle, let alone an electric bike. But maybe this would help?

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