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.
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.
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.
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.