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Electric Motorcycles, The Hidden EV Race

Electric motorcycles have come a long way and you would expect this highly enthusiast crowd to balk at it. However, of the years, EV motorcycles are gaining a strong foothold in the community, at least for those who dared to try.

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Names like Zero Motors, Brammo, and Quantya were obscure and unknown to the general motorcycle public a few years ago. While the normal objections are to be expected, especially when it comes to the lively biker community, those who have ventures on the EV paths have been pleasantly surprised.

The Pros & Cons. Internal combustion engine, ICE motorcycles are finely tweaked, much more than gas cars. Motorcyclist purists will tell you nothing beats a finely tuned motorcycle, rightfully so. The performance issue was a big one, but most rarely witness the unbridled torque an electric motor offers, 100% as soon as it spins. Then the KillaCycle showed that EV motorcycles could drag race and wipe much of the competition along the way. Nowadays, EV bikes go well into the 100 mph with a triple digit range. If price is a common issue with EVs, EV motorcycles are also affected. Yet, considering incentives, they’ve become more affordable with little to no maintenance, compared to traditional bikes.

Batteries Are Getting Better. Much to the chagrin of the heavy handed and petroleum backed hydrogen community, battery technology is getting better at a much faster rate. The rule of thumb is density doubles every 4 years. We can easily imagine 400 to 500 miles by 2020, even sooner.

Where Are The Players? So far, to my knowledge Honda is the only OEM to lift the challenge with its promising RC-E, on par with a traditional 250cc. However, the real players are Zero Motorcycles and Brammo who already have EVs with enough performance to please most riders. Europe has also has a few poking around the interests, such as KTM and Quantya to name the two biggest.

Racing Is Where It’s At. Finally, racing is where we will see concretely the results. Zero Motorcycles, as well as Brammo and other European makers duke it out on the TTXGP with great fanfare and success. As electric motorcycle Grand Prix develop through the TTXGP, and the Federation International de la Moto (FIM), public awareness will be raised and show the potent performance of EVs. As far as raw performance, according to fellow writer David Herron, the Nevada Salt Flats speed records is where Lightning Motors holds the current speed record with a 218 mph top speed. This same bike is also use for TTXGP racing and are one of the top teams.

All in all, the EV motorcycle world is the hidden EV race not know to the general public. This segment, backed by racing that has taken off and will be the perfect segway for EVs in general. And if you are still smirking, go ahead and take a Brammo or Zero Motors for a spin. Then tell us about it. I know I was surprised.

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David (not verified)    January 17, 2012 - 12:09AM

I have nearly 13,000 miles on my Vectrix electric motorcycle - I only use gasoline when I have to go distances beyond the range of the electric bike.

Battery AND Fu… (not verified)    January 17, 2012 - 1:22AM

Nice article and kudos to Honda for stepping it up at the OEM level. However, the author loses big credibility by taking the cheap shot at hydrogen fuel cell ELECTRICS, insinuating it is petroleum backed. I would offer, no more petroleum backed than the majority of electricity that comes from dirty coal AND clean natural gas... of which oil companies control in a big way. So lets celebrate the electric drive, not get all stupid over the source of energy and celebrate that fuel cell electrics and battery electrics are complimentary technologies whereby both will have their own role to play for cars, trucks AND motorcycles. Hydrogen? 3 ~ 5 minute refueling and good for another 200 ~ 300 miles.. at highway speeds. Batteries? Will serve smaller lighter weight vehicles, take much longer to "charge" and add greater weight for the same range as fuel cell. Last, the is NO rule of thumb to double the density of batteries every 4 years... hasn't happened in the last 4 nor the previous 4 years and even less likely in the next 4. As advances are made the gains are even more elusive. So lets celebrate the REAL gains in density and cost reduction each technology has made and leave the cheap shots and wishful thinking claims to the crazies. Get rubber!

Nicolas Zart    January 17, 2012 - 2:22PM

In reply to by Battery AND Fu… (not verified)

I agree we should celebrate the electric drive, period. However, no matter how I look at hydrogen, it just doesn't add up considering everything from production, storage and delivery. Battery technology and the recharging infrastructure is developing at a faster pace than hydrogen. Hydrogen as a storage means is much better used for short periods of time, i.e. wind turbines. Burning hydrogen makes more sense, NASA got that right already. I wish BMW would continue that route. As far as I can see, paper trails behind hydrogen goes back to the petroleum industry who produces plenty of it as a by-pass of refining oil. It seems we are at a point where we need to bet on the best horse, and battery technology is more practical and more advanced at this stage.

There is room for hydrogen. I'm not against it but I just don't see it in cars so far. Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous (not verified)    January 17, 2012 - 3:42PM

My daily commute is 83 miles of highway driving (riding) with no option of charging at work. I still feel like I need a 100 mile range to feel comfortable.

FreepZ (not verified)    January 22, 2012 - 11:01AM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

There are bikes out there with 100 mile range. Zero claims 114 mile range, but only 63 miles at highway speeds (70 mph). You would need a bike that can claim a 180 mile range to get 100 miles of highway speed range.
You can, in fact, get a 100 mile range, but you would need to keep your speed way down, which is no fun if you're trying to get to or from work.
In time, it will be possible for you to charge along the way since charging stations are popping up all over the place. The problem is charge time. At 110v you would be charging at about 10 miles of range per hour of charging (mphC). Level 2 chargers can increase that to 30 mphC, which is still pretty slow - i.e. you might take less overall time if you could keep your speed down and avoid having to charge at all.

Pinkyracer (not verified)    January 19, 2012 - 12:59AM

What people always forget when they say "EV's are more expensive than ICE vehicles" is ownership cost. It costs me about $200/month to keep gas in my gas-guzzling Yamaha R1. And I barely ride 800 miles/month! Then there's oil changes, valve adjustments (which they recently admitted to me are supposed to be checked after 16k miles, not the 26k they claim in the manual.) and all the rest.

Look at how much you spend on gas & maintenance, subtract that from the price of most EV's and you'll find it's a lot cheaper than the ICE equivalent. Electricity for charging costs pennies, so it's barely even an issue unless you want to install a fancy quick charger. I ran a 2010 Zero S down to nothing, pushed it across the street, plugged it into a random outlet, and 20 minutes later had 50% charge, more than enough to complete my trip. I can't WAIT to be able to buy an electric motorcycle!

Nicolas Zart    January 19, 2012 - 12:38PM

In reply to by Pinkyracer (not verified)

I couldn't agree with you more Pinkyracer. My Toyota RAV4 electric driver friends laugh when they said the 60,000 NO MAINTENANCE!

I just bought three air filters, three oil filters and including the oil change on all three cars, it amounts to close to $300. I make sure I use quality products also, but performance EV just don't require this. And you really hit it on the nail because this is the biggest paradigm shift the automotive industry is dealing with, replacing their old business models of planed obsolesce and planned maintenance. You don't really need to do that.

Imagine if you had a Ducatti. It finally went up to 12,000 miles instead if 6!

Thanks for your comment, Nicoas

Anonymous (not verified)    January 20, 2012 - 2:03PM

In reply to by Pinkyracer (not verified)

yes on my EVmc conversion 84 VFR first 4 years i saved $4,500 not paid for gas in my Toyota to commute 20 miles a day to work in these times a savings in my monthly household budget is a profit
and it just gets better and cheaper
I'm putting in a DIY solar system I can make my own fuel for $.03 Kwh
i get 80 wh/mi on my commute under 55 mph
1,000 watts/80wh/mi=12.5 miles per Kwh
.03/12.5 miles=.002 per mile thats 2/1000 cents per mile almost free to go to work
plus i have equipment to make my own fuel for the next 30 years no additional cost

Nicolas Zart    January 21, 2012 - 5:19PM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

That's another good point, you can actually drive an EV on the cheap if you have the technical knowledge and time. I know many people here in the Los Angeles bay that have installed solar panels and drive guilt free. This is something I can't say I feel when I put gas in one of my older cars...

Kudos on your project. Nicolas