There is little doubt the future of motorcycles, like cars, will see a shift from fuel to electricity. Announcements of new models of electric motorcycles are made on a regular basis. All the manufacturers are on it. However, progress is slow and adaptation is low.
Cleaner, More Efficient and Better Performers
In many respects it makes sense to shift to electric motorcycles. First and foremost, the obvious, the environmental impact. With efficient engines and zero emissions, electric wins over its fuel-powered sibling hands down. As the environmental standards in Europe get tougher we are likely to see a bigger push to electric. (I’m putting aside the argument about the impact and cost of producing the electricity needed for charging the electric bikes).
Then there’s the performance. Here, too, current models of electric motorcycles outperform their equivalent fuel-powered models in speed, handling and acceleration. High torque is available instantly with a twist of the wrist and is constant from 0km/h to maximum engine speed.
In addition, the efficiency of the electric engine is staggering. Electric engines can achieve 90-95% efficiency, compared with 30-35% efficiency of the internal combustion engine!
Radical New Designs
Another benefit is a very unexpected one: the design. Some of the concepts of future electric motorcycles we have seen show that designers are really thinking outside the box. They are coming up with some radical design concepts, very different from the “traditional” look of a bike we are so used to. Have a look at the small collection of pictures in the gallery below.
Despite all the above sales numbers are low, especially in Australia. So why the slow uptake? There are a number of reasons, including slow development and the low number of available models. The high purchase price is a major reason too. However, the more significant reasons are related to the batteries: capacity and charging time. Capacity determines the range, which varies significantly between models, and is shorter than the conventional motorcycles. Especially out of town, where the electric consumes more.
Charging time is even more of a problem and can take anything from 2 to 6 hours. Stopping at the servo for a quick refuel is going to get a new meaning. The lack of charging infrastructure is yet another issue, although charging stations will start to roll out in Australia soon.
Some riders will probably be put off by the (lack of) noise, the missing familiar sound they love so much. But I’m not sure how much impact this will have in the long term.
Everyone’s On It
At present all the major manufacturers, plus a whole lot of smaller ones, are working on new models. Zero, who have been selling electric motorcycles for nearly 10 years, Harley Davidson with their first LiveWire, KTM Freeride E-series, Energica, Ducati Elettrico, Triumph TE-1 project and BMW Vision DC Roadster to name a few. So there is momentum, although it is slow. Remember how long it took the car industry to go electric? There were electric cars running in California in 1995 (recommended watching: “Who Killed The Electric Car?”) but it’s not until 2008 that Tesla started selling electric cars commercially.
Serious advances in battery technology will be required in order to make electric motorcycles a viable replacement for the fuel-powered bikes. Larger capacity means longer range and fewer recharges. Fast charging will need to get a lot faster too.
So are electric motorcycles the future? Possibly. Probably. But we are certainly not in the future yet and we still have a long way to go.
Electric Motorcycles – Production and Concepts
Be safe. Enjoy the ride.