Electric motorcycles; is this the future?

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Electric motorcycles

I can remember standing at the start line of the 2011 IOM TT waiting for the start of the inaugural TT Zero race. It was the first ever TT for electric motorcycles. Although, I use the term ‘motorcycles’ loosely. You should have seen them; there were one or two that looked like bikes, the rest of the field looked like a line-up of Stevie Wonder’s various attempts at building a caravan. With the exception of a few, they’d all quite clearly been thrown together by long haired students, hippies and weirdos. Actually, maybe they’re all the same thing, come to mention it. Anyway. It was a bit of a joke if the truth’s known and when the flag dropped and the first ‘bike’ crawled away from the start line to a soundtrack of scoffs and sniggers, I had to question whether or not it would catch on.

The one-lap TT Zero race lasted until 2019. It was around the time the organisers decided the ‘roads closed’ could be put to better use. Put to use with ‘proper’ bikes going round (either practicing or racing) rather than half a dozen mini milk floats. After all, in 2019, there were only nine starters, seven of which finished. At least if you manage to make it round you’re guaranteed a good result.

Why am I banging on about the TT Zero? Well if you ask me, I think certain conclusions can be drawn from the success and popularity (or lack thereof) of the aforementioned TT class. You see it was quite clearly started with the very best intentions. The aim was obviously to try and drag the gas guzzling motorcycle sport industry into the green age. But I don’t think motorsport was ready for it, and I certainly don’t think motorcycling was.

Zero SR/S

I’ve been lucky enough to have a go on a few electric motorcycles, and believe it or not, some of them aren’t as wank as you might think (although some of them are).  At the time of writing (2021), the only electric motorcycles available are either too crap or too expensive for a sensible person to really consider buying.

Take the Zero SR/S for example. For an electric bike, it’s actually really, really good. It handles reasonably well (if a little heavy) and it looks the part. It’s fast enough to ride at a very sensible pace, too. But at £19,590 (for the bottom spec one or £21,590 for Mr. Bling Bling) it’s still too expensive. Even when you knock the £1,500 government grant off the price (that you get for purchasing a new electric bike), you could still buy yourself a new BMW S 1000 RR and have change.

And then there is the other end of the spectrum. There are, of course, a handful of electric bikes that aren’t going to break the bank in quite the same way. But you wouldn’t want to rely on one of them to get you to work on time. In fact you probably wouldn’t want to rely on one to you to work at all.

Electric Energica

And realistically, if your office is more than 50 miles away from your front door you’re going to struggle. You’re probably not going to get to work and back on even the longest-range electric bike. Unless you can charge it up there, or you’re going to ride it like a complete girl. Today, the Zero SR14.4 claims to be able to go further than any production electric motorcycle on the planet; capable of 220 miles on a full charge. I’d bet my balls that you could drain a ‘tank’ in less than half that if you were trying though. You see, it’s not until you read the small print that you see that its 220 mile range is only if you are pottering about town. Who needs a 220 mile range to do that? I certainly don’t.

In order for electric motorcycles to make sense, the way people ‘do’ motorcycling needs to change. With a decent electric bike (of which there are only really a very slack handful), you could probably keep up with your mates on their mid powered ‘proper’ bikes for 50 miles or so. But you’d be desperate for juice. If they like you, you might be able to persuade them to stop and fill up too… if they really like you, you might be able to persuade them to stop and fill up at a spot that facilitates EV (Electric Vehicle) charging. But there is no way they like you enough to sit and wait for hours whilst you recharge your battery.

Harley Davison Livewire

If you’re going to go out for a ride on a Sunday and do 50 miles or so. Then stop, plug in and have a cuppa. And then go and do another 30 miles before stopping again, plugging in again, having another cuppa. And this time maybe treat yourself to a bag of crisps, or perhaps push the boat out and have a Cornish pasty whilst you have a go at The Times crossword puzzle. Only then unplugging and getting a few more miles under your belt. Maybe then having an electric bike would work for you.

But if that’s the case, you can fuck off telling me you’re saving the planet and filling your ‘tank’ for pennies. You’ll probably do a tenner in Starbucks and fuck knows how many paper cups every time you stop. All whilst your mates have been out enjoying themselves. Save the rainforests my arse. I’m sure Greta would be really proud of you.

No, you aren’t going to save the planet with an electric bike. You aren’t going to save any money with an electric bike, either. And they’d be no good for commuting unless you live near work, can charge it up at work or don’t mind riding like a fanny. I love the idea of it, I really do, but until they are cheaper, faster, have a better range and don’t take so long to charge up, it’s a no from me.


14 Responses

  1. Tend to agree with you. Maybe my next car might be electric as I dont do 40k miles a year any more, but it’s taken a decade or so for me to get interested. It wasnt until I got left for dead by a Tesla I took an interest, but then I found out they were about £80k at which point I quickly lost interest again. The speed of technological progress on electric motors and more critically batteries is getting faster as theres some serious money behind it now, so maybe 5 years to get me interested in an electric bike

  2. One big company recently made a breakthrough with the charging speed of batteries, reducing a full charge from 4 hours to a few minutes. There are also loads of battery technologies being worked on such as ones which are built in a similar way to carbon fibre that can be used structurally in cars and motorcycles. Technology is moving forward, and that’s not a bad thing in this regard.

    What is an issue IMO and what will result in the death of the motorcycle is automated driving technology. Once cars can be safely driven in a fully automated mode, the requirement for motorcycles becomes redundant. I think it’s telling that the UK government has proposed to ban the sale of petrol cars by 2030 or whenever it is, but has not done the same for motorcycles. As far as the government and the powers that be are concerned, motorcycles are a thorn in their side which contribute to road deaths. Get them off the road, and road deaths would be quickly and easily reduced. Automation and electrification might provide a way to do that via the back door without having to come out and say “we’re going to ban bikes”. THAT is what I’m worried about in the next 10 to 20 years.

  3. I have worked with hybrid car systems for years. The maintenance, materials and disposal of the cell blocks is not very eco friendly. The thing is there are so main types of battery chemistry, you can guarantee that the Harley and the zero are different. Within reason all bikes can run on a unified fuel pretty much anywhere in the world. I think the next best thing will come along before electricity can surpass liquid fuels.

  4. Beyond even all the limitations of an EV motorcycle, I buy a motorcycle for its engine first and the amazing feeling that riding provide. So it will be very difficult to convince me to switch. Yeah its probably fast with all that torque but well fast is not everything

  5. “And they’d be no good for commuting unless you live near work, can charge it up at work or don’t mind riding like a fanny.”

    Yep! This is exactly the point. I would have one to commute and even teach on (CBT) it would be great for that. I don’t have to commute far (10 miles there and back) It’s just that they are so expensive.

  6. Agree totally, some people like to argue on the internet and use articles that tell them of break throughs with batteries and charging and this has gone on for like 10 years now…. and electric cars and bikes really haven’t improved, whereas “normal powered cars and bikes have become so much cleaner, more powerful and more efficient to the point where we really are at the point where some bikes and cars are too fast .
    Now with the very imminent production of synthetic fuels that essentially makes normal vehicles unharmful, I can really see us ending up going down this route even if everything is hybrid etc.

  7. I picked up a 2018 Energica Ego for pretty cheap for commuting. My commute is only 15 miles or so each way. Mostly got it for the novelty, as you are absolutely correct. Even with 150ft/lbs of torque, it can’t hold a candle to my Panigale V4. It easily weighs 250lbs more or so, and you can absolutely feel every extra pound in the twisties. However, it’s great for piddling to and from work as it opens up a lot of mental processing power usually spent on making sure I’m in the right gear for what’s happening (or could happen) and whatnot. I feel like I can stay much more alert and aware of the jackasses around me since riding the bike is easier than… riding a bike.

    It’s cost effective here in southern California since gas prices are a little more than my electricity prices. There’s a massive charging network so getting stranded is very unlikely. Overall, definitely a good commuter, but I’m not exactly pushing to get it on track any time soon.

  8. I have a Tesla and it’s great, makes most other cars seem archaic. The tech and ability of it is something to behold. Don’t knock it until you try it. I have a ZX6R for my mechanical thrills and as long as policy makers consider bikes niche then we can continue to enjoy 200bhp internal combustion engines. It’s not like in 20 years you will be banned from riding your ‘classic’ S1000R.

    Electric bikes will happen and to be honest if they can get them right then they will outperform anything we have at the moment. Give them 10 years but for now just live for the moment.

  9. Boothy you sound like a daily mail car journo from 10 years ago. Then Tesla happened. Someone with buckets of cash and top R&D produced a luxury car with 600hp and a mid sized hatch that handles better than an m3. I owned a model S and the power never got old. I currently have an s1000rr and there isn’t an electric bike that touches it, yet. If I can fast charge a 100kw car from empty to 300 miles in 40 mins I should be able to charge a 20kwh bike in the time it takes to buy a tank of petrol and neck coke. The huge benefit a leccy ducati will have is a 24000 mile service interval. No belts, no valves, no exhaust, no plugs, no oil etc. Imagine a honda or bmw with their electronics, carbon frame, carbon wheels 230bhp, instant torque no gears… that’s going to be the new TT, no pit fireballs, just slot a charged warm battery in. If its anything like a model S it won’t be the same, but it won’t be dull.

  10. Any two wheeler (motorcycle, scooter or bicycle) requires more skills, fitness and responsibilities from the owner to use, while providing less comfort, less convenience and more risks compared to most four wheelers or any mass transportation. In developed countries with increasingly faint and fragile populations, do gooder public and risk averse and overprotective governments there is little place for two wheelers on the streets, electric or not.

    We should be grateful motorcycles allowed at all, for now. Governments will find a way to ban it, make commercially not feasible for manufacturers or simply boring for the users: via ever-increasing emissions requirements (electric bikes have emissions too), “safety” standards or absurdly low speed limits.

    However, as a niche sport recreational activity, motorcycling (petrol or not) is not going anywhere. Look at vinyl records sales, horse riding, classic cars clubs, hunting or sailing. It’s just going to be more expensive.

  11. When you have had to travel around on mobility scooters with range anxiety. You’ll know the UK Government will cheat you out of the best and bleed you dry for the rest.
    Once all the vessels have sucked the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere; It will be full steam ahead with hydrogen and fossil fuels again.
    There are oil fields in abundance for the next million years but they don’t want you to know the truth because it is a way to bleed the traveller dry.
    Ever asked yourself, what batteries are going to propel haulage vehicles and the domestic gas networks?

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