Honda RC-E Super Sports Motorcycle Points to a Possible Electric Future

Honda RC-E electric super sports motorcycle concept

Honda RC-E electric super sports motorcycle concept

Honda just released its lineup for the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show in December. New models slated for production will be there along with concept models indicating what Honda has in mind for the future. One concept, the Honda RC-E, shown here, is an electric super sports motorcycle with a form factor the size of something in the 250cc class.

With all of the talk, development and manufacturer concepts like this one, sooner or later we're going to see electrics on the streets in numbers that will make them more than the curiosity they are now. A Brammo here, a Zero there and then a few Hondas, we'll get used to hearing the whirring and humming as they zip on by, but I wonder if we'll ever think of them in the same way as we do our gas powered bikes. Will we plan our rides like a pilot over water, always calculating the point of no return before we have to press on to the next recharge? Will the casual rides of today, knowing there's always a gas station somewhere ahead, be a thing of the past? I wonder.

Electricity isn't free and though standard outlets may already be plentiful, you'll need to find a friendly someone who will let you plug in, or a recharging station, and then you wait, perhaps for hours. Maybe bikes will have the ability to add some non rechargeable batteries, so you run into a hardware store to buy a few motorcycle Duracells or the like, to get you far enough down the road to where a real recharge is possible.

It seems that even as electric motorcycles become more capable, better looking and higher performing, there's still going to be some mental adjustment necessary. That's not necessarily bad, but considering how we've come to accept the convenience of our present vehicle technology, it's not something we can ignore, either, it's going to take some time.

Honda RC-E electric super sports motorcycle concept

Honda RC-E electric super sports motorcycle concept

Comments

  1. Alexander says

    I think that the idea of being able to buy non-rechargeable batteries is an interesting one, if the cost were right. The environmental impact may be considerable though. What may be a great solution though is if one were able to get standardized batteries (or cells that make up the batteries) which were still re-chargeable, which one could simply slot into your bike, after having slotted out the battery that was in, and completely/partially run down/discharged. If stores were able to supply these cells/batteries on an exchange basis, that’d be great. The stores would only need to keep a few in stock, and re-charge them for re-sale (again in exchange for discharged ones). If there was a simple way that the stores could see how mach charge was left in the battery, and only charge for the balance, (and the swapping/fitting) it may be a more fair way of pricing the swap. I understand that batteries have a limited lifespan, and that this too would need to be reckoned in to the equation too. Hmm, now just to have the different manufacturers to agree on a standard battery size/shape/type. Wild-cards stay away please! This could be a pretty green and liberating option. What do you guys think??

    • GenWaylaid says

      Mass. The newest generation of electric motorcycles are sporting batteries with 6 to 10 kW-hr of capacity, which equates to 60 to 100 kg of battery pack with today’s technology. Few people have experience with batteries that large, so it’s not surprising that many mistakenly assume a battery swap would be quick and easy.

      In reality, the battery is half the mass of the bike. As one big unit, it couldn’t be moved without a special wheeled cradle. As a dozen or more sub-units, it would require very different battery management. Instead of depleting all the cells evenly, the controller would have to exhaust the sub-units one by one so there would be some empty ones to swap.

      Then there’s home charging. Imagine you had a gasoline pipeline going right to your garage and could fill the tank every morning before you set out. How often would you go to a gas station then? Would the gas stations have enough customers left to stay in business? It’s not clear whether there will be a solid business case for public chargers, let alone the much more capital and labor-intensive system of battery swapping.

      In the end I doubt electric motorcycle riders will have much trouble with charging when they’re out on a ride. All the public chargers will be sized for electric cars with batteries up to ten times larger than what motorcycles will use (compare 1-4 gallon gas tanks on motorcycles with 15-40 gallon tanks on cars and trucks). As long as the electric motorcycles are designed to take charges at the maximum rate, motorcyclists will likely have wait times under 15 minutes.

      As for range anxiety? I ride smaller bikes (sub-500cc) on a regular basis. My range between fill-ups is rarely much more than 100 miles. Planning a trip around recharging instead of re-tanking wouldn’t be anything new.

  2. B50 Jim says

    Cordless power tools have revolutionized the construction industries — contractors wouldn’t part with their cordless tools under threat of death. The concept is there; battery packs that are literally a snap to replace, keep a few charged spares handy, and you’re on the job for the day.

    Granted, an ebike would require much larger and more batteries, but why not standardize them and have charging stations stock a couple dozen? The manufacturers can agree on battery standards; they do it all the time with other things. It’s easy to determine how much charge is left, and how much it cost to charge each pack. When your meter reaches the quarter-charge zone, swing into a charging station, swap out your batteries, pay and go. What’s so hard about that?

    As battery technology improves, we’ll see more ebikes like this Honda on the streets. It’s a good effort and looks like a “real” motorcycle. The plastic fairings and beauty panels that some riders hate serve the purpose of hiding all those batteries, just as they hide unfinished engine parts, hoses and all the other gubbins on a gas bike.

    I don’t think we’ll need a lot of readjustment when ebikes finally are practical; it’s only a matter of listening for different sounds, and we do that with gas bikes anyway when we discern a V-twin from an inline four. Ebikes would greatly improve motorcycles’ image with the general public — quiet and environmentally clean. Yes, I’ve heard the argument that evehicles only move the point of pollution from the streets to the power plants, but a single large plant is easier to monitor and control than a million individual machines, and large-scale renewable energy is more efficient.

    I believe we will be amazed how quickly society shifts to renewable energy as soon as the technologies are in place — and there’s an intense race on to develop that technology. When evehicles are as practical as fuel-powered vehicles, and at a comparable price, the infrastructure will be developed and deployed. Our grandchildren will look on our fuel-powered vehicles with the same bemusement that we regard our grandparents’ Model Ts.

  3. says

    the Honda looks great, but electric.. doesn’t sound like much fun. Mind you these days – can you really fiddle with a motorbike even if it isn’t electric. My first bikes were like AJS 350′s dug out from under a house that you had to put together and fiddle with and it was easy. In Amsterdam there are quite a few electric scooters and you dont hear any whine or so, they are totally quiet and that is scary and dangerous.Maybe they should have a recording of a pulse jet added so people know they are coming. I love benzine

  4. Carlos says

    Is there any threat of injury due to being electrocuted in an accident or if you land or pass through water? I know with Hybrids safety personnel have to take specific percautions, would there some kind of protective casing to protect against inadvertent conduction? Carolyne

  5. Chaz says

    Honda has been working on ebikes for some time, yet they only have a concept drawing? That makes me think that production is not likely in the near future. One of my Hondas has a fuel tank which is on reserve at less than three gallons, and burns fuel quickly if ridden hard. So after 100 miles, I’ll stop at any service station regardless of price. Maybe attention to fuel efficiency is the answer for now.

  6. B50 Jim says

    Carlos–
    Just as we ride around with three gallons of highly flammable gasoline between our knees with barely a thought, I’m sure the engineers will make riding with a few kilowatts of electrical potential just as trouble-free.

    I agree with graeme that ebikes will need some kind of noisemaker so pedestrians will hear them. E-cars are headed in that direction — maybe owners will be able to choose and download the noisemaker of their choice. How about a Gold Star (at an appropriate volume, of course) or a big twin? The module could increase its frequency with the motor’s speed. We’ll figure this ebike thing out yet.

    • Stan says

      Or for ultimate realism you could attach an actual v-twin somewhere to the bike. That would be cool.

    • GenWaylaid says

      And what about joggers? Those silent humans are careening along our sidewalks, often at speeds up to 10 miles an hour! We need to require them to yell continuously, lest some child playing on the sidewalk gets hurt. Or since internal combustion engines are such good noisemakers, maybe all the joggers should carry running chainsaws. For safety.

      Honestly, given how often motorcyclists get the “I didn’t see you” excuse, you’d think they’d be equally suspicious of “I didn’t hear you.”

    • Yeti2bikes says

      We’ll do the same thing we did with our bikes before we were old enough to ride motorcycles. Put a playing card in the spokes.

  7. Matt says

    Couple of points- There was a lawsuit in CA about a 5 year old that got hit by an e-car, the kids take on it later was “I didn’t hear it coming.” Hardly an excuse, but it sure had the loonies coming out of the woodwork proposing all sorts of bleepers and knonkers and whirlygigs that had to be attached to the e-whatevers so that 5 yo’s could hear them coming. One more boost to the “Loud Pipes Save Lives (and little kids)” campaign.

    The point about all the e-transports, especially on the smaller/lighter modes, ie motorcycles, its all about energy density. Gasoline will have the upper hand in having more potential energy per pound/kilo than batteries for a long time. The key, in my finite wisdom, is to match the energy source to the most appropriate use. They are getting a handle on doing this when car companies stopped billing their plugin all batt cars as a replacement for a person’s ICE modes of transport. They can’t replace them!!! But, they can supplement them!

    I would have no problems having 2 bikes, one e-bike (like the one in the article above *grin*) for my daily commute of 32 miles, and one dino-juice powered bike for rip snortin around the back roads of my favorite state. If they would just market them that way, and figure out a way to get the batts cheaper so that it is economically viable for a one scoot guy like myself to invest in a 2nd, they wills start to make some real headway.

    • Leo Speedwagon says

      I also nearly got run over by an e-vehicle, if you can’t hear it I assume you have to be able to see it – Humans have a total field of view between 160 to 208 degrees, perhaps they can invent an attractive helmet that alows you to see 360 degrees or some form of radar that tickles your nose when an e-vehicle approaches, don’t know what we’ll do when there are many…

      The perfect solution is to have emergency pedal set – these could be manufactured in billet aluminium or Ti so that you don’t look like a dork pedalling to the nearest eStation…

      • Jimmy says

        How about paying attention to your surroundings. There really is no excuse for being run over by a moving object when you walk,drive or ride out in front of it. It seems,today that no-one accepts responsibility for their actions.Just because a vehicle makes noise doesn’t mean that you or anyone else is going to pay any more attention to it.

  8. WRXr says

    Having spent a lot of time in Asia, where there are tons of e-bikes and equally silent bicycles on the road, the solutions are obvious: As a pedestrian, you learn to LOOK. As a rider, you learn to use the horn or bell.

  9. Marvin says

    Most electric assist pedal bikes seem to have standardised on the same batteries, maybe just because there is a big factory in china knocking them out cheap. The hole you pump the petrol into on a car also seems pretty standard so it shows it can be done by push or pull to the manufacturers.

  10. BB says

    As to the likelyhood of standardized batteries I invite you dreamers to look at the dizzying array of battery models for current production cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc. and guess the odds of emachine manufacturers settling on a standard.
    On the topic of pollution: When my 30 year old motorcycle is parked it is not burning any fuel or fouling the air(except through fuel evaporation) and the electric power plant doesn’t need to be running, waiting for me to recharge it.

    • Nicolas says

      That is a common misconception. Powerplants don’t run unless there is a need for power in the grid. First because no power company operates its equipment for free, and second because it’s not possible to inject some power in the grid if there is no consumption. There is no “hole” where the unused power gets dumped. Let’s try and explain … Imagine the grid as a gianormous wheel, and powerplants/users would be smaller sprockets directly driving/being driven by the gianormous wheel. If there is no demand for power (no user “sprocket” turning), the grid “wheel” doesn’t turn, and the powerplant “sprockets” don’t turn either. (the same way is there is no powerplant “sprocket” available to turn the “wheel”, the users “sprockets” can’t turn either). When you don’t plug your bike on the grid for recharge, there is no power generated (and no power wasted) for it.
      Now, modern fossil fuel powerplants have an efficiency around 60%, which is twice the efficiency of your 30 years old internal combustion motorcycle engine. So much for the pollution. There are loss in transmission, of course, but I’d bet it’s not as bad as fueling 8 mpg tanker trucks to deliver the gas to your local station from the local pipeline hub.
      As for alternative power generation means, it’s an entire other discussion, but there are serious studies showing that the US could be self-sufficient within 20 years by using more wind and solar power generation means. (disclosure : I’m no tree-hugger, and I work for a company that builds fossil fuel turbines, so I’ve no interest in promoting these alternative means). Solar technology is currently making giant leaps, and within 5 or 10 years, solar electricity will be a competitive power source, even without any federal subsidies. Sun is free, so far, as well as wind … of course there are maintenance and distribution costs, just like fossil fuel plants, but at the end of the day, that’s some really cheap power for our favorite 2-wheeled activity, and that should not be swept away jsut because it’s not how it’s done today, or doesn’t make loud noise and vibration as it ought to be for a real bikers … ;-)

  11. Bluegrass says

    While its is cool to see alternative power trains being developed in motorcycles, I don’t readily see batteries and electric motors becoming dominate for a long time, if at all. I think that the minerals needed for battery production may be too costly or limited to get at, but only the future will tell.

  12. Talon says

    Having owned an electric Vectrix for over a year now, I’ve got to say that the recharging issue isn’t as big of an issue as some portray and the situation is getting better all the time.. Given a bike with a 6kW charger and a battery pack able to handle that rate of charge and you’d be able to use the Level 2 charging stations that are cropping up (oh, and 50A service at RV parks) to add an extra ~30 miles of range in a half hour of charging. Suitable for cross-country jaunts? Nah, but if you start out with an 80 mile range to begin with, you could probably hit your favorite canyons, stop for a bite to eat while recharging and be back home with range to spare. Not to mention the benefits provided by an electric while on the freeway slog out and back (fantastic torque, no clutch, lower heat output).

    I’ll concede that current prices would not make this a vehicle for every rider out there, but just look what happens when you go from custom fab EV ($100K+ Tesla Roadster) to mass-production ($33K Nissan Leaf).

    PS- I do have a “true” motorcycle as well, an Aprilia Futura, but it’s the Aprilia that’s now laid up for the winter while the Vectrix continues to enjoy the open road…

    • Yeti2bikes says

      I already have 2 bikes and plan on having more so the idea of range isn’t an issue. If I want to go for a long ride I’ll take the Harley. I have a short commute to work which I usually accomplish on a Buell but would gladly ride on an electric. I wouldn’t mind not making noise when I roll on the throttle as long as I get torque when I do so. Lack of noise is not an issue. To me the only downfall of the electric motorcycle is price. When you can buy 3 or 4 traditional bikes for what an electric costs there is no way you’ll sell me one.

  13. Tom says

    It could simply work like a propane cylinder exchange. Switch out discharged rechargeable batteries for charged ones.

  14. spooky says

    Why is there an air induction vent thingy in the front fairing? Do electric bikes require air? How much extra horsepower does a ram-air electric bike get? I like the idea of instant torque, I dislike the sound of silence as I roll the throttle.

  15. todd says

    Electric motors, controllers, and batteries put out tons of heat. Nothing is quite yet 100% thermally efficient. The electric vehicle I am helping develop right now has two cooling systems, one integrated with a R134a refrigeration system. So yes, we still need radiators and plenty of air flow.

    As for the lack of noise, we could always add a Turbospoke:
    http://www.turbospoke.com/

    I wonder what the e-quivalent will be to the Ducati Monster?

    -todd

  16. Oldyeller8 says

    I say give all e-bikes a clothes-peg and a stack of bubblegum cards. It worked for my ol’ CCM (bicycle).

  17. Dawg says

    For track days and racing this type of electric bike is going to be great.

    Just been looking at the new KTM electric bikes. These will be ideal for commuting and for MX tracks where noise is a real problem.

    I am looking forward to new electric bike innovations and if they look like this and have a decent range then I would have no hesitation buying one. Any news on Hydrogen fuel cell powered bikes?

  18. Carlos says

    I have never seen anything like this before, would a silent bike still give the same thrill, isn’t the sound part of the kick? Perhaps that just something we have been conditioned to as part of the experience. I am wondering if you experienced guys would get the same satisfaction. And a second question telated to a comment above why would a regular bike be laid up for the winter aside from it being really cold to ride it, carolyne

  19. B50 Jim says

    Regarding too-quiet vehicles — a pedestrian with ear buds and Alice Cooper cranked up on his ipod won’t even hear a Harley with open pipes. We have eyes, and we’re expected to use them!

    I’ve noticed the conversation regarding electrics during the past couple years has moved from “they’ll never be practical” to “how can we make them work”. As more manufacturers get on board — especially the big companies like Honda and Chevrolet — the image of electrics has gotten a definite boost, from impractical playthings to inevitable technology. There’s a long way to go, but the movement is growing.

    The hurdle of battery capacity and charging time is getting the most attention, of course. On the molecular level where all the action is in a battery, most of the medium is empty space. Researchers are working diligently to find ways to use more of that space; doubling the capacity will put electrics firmly in the practical camp, but even a 20% improvement would make an all-electric commuter viable. It’s going to be exciting. Can’t wait to twist the potentiometer on 20 kilowatts and rocket to the horizon!

  20. Tom says

    Swapping depleted battery packs out for fully charged ones? You mean, like Columbia electric cars were doing one hundred and ten years ago?

    • Paulinator says

      I saw a pre-”first great depression” electric car that had about the same performance as an EV1…DC motor and lead-acid batteries. That said, I’m reading my Pocket Ref (Thomas J Glover – copyright 1989) that lists about 30 different battery compositions. Lead-acid has the poorest energy density listed, at 55 Amp.hr/kg. One type (h2 -o2) is 3000!!!

      • Carlos says

        Paulintor when you said a 50cc scooter wouldn’t cut it you weren’t kidding I saw a lady riding one today and the look of boredom on her face was actually painful to look at. If you have a scooter than can do wheelies post it up I would like to see that seems like a funny visual

        • Paulinator says

          Carlos, I should’ve qualified that statement. It does wheelies when its running. Engine exploded on the third tank of gas – everything was bent or broken inside so I big-bored it to 62mm from 57mm (note: had to because engine case was damaged), dropped in a big cam, ported/polished/profiled the head and intake, shaved the butterfly, built a high-flow airbox,straight-piped the exhaust, re-weighted the cluch and mounted a Kevlar belt. I blew another cylinder so I went up to 63mm (good Taiwanese with a thick skirt – not cheap Chinese with paper-thin skirt). Lost spark – stator (winding defect from factory). Lost spark – coil. Lost spark – spark plug (NGK knockoff from China – Porcelain blew out). Lost fire – manifold cracked. Lost spark – CDI. Lost spark – coil again. Lost spark…Don’t really know why yet, but I’ve already replaced everything once and some stuff twice…in 5 thousand fun-filled miles.

          I’ve taken up a new hobbie. I’m designing a small engine with total reliability in mind.

          • Carlos says

            Impressive! Are you going to put this engine in you design into your scooter? I have been inspired by you guys so I asked my husband if I could build a buggy out of one of the many old engines in our barn, he looked at me like I just asked him if I sleep with his best friend. He had a look of complete confusion on his face. I think he figures I have lost my marbles

  21. tim says

    Mehlectric. whatever. I LOVE that paintjob though. (Yep, I’m shallow). Beautiful take on their 1960′s schemes. What it needs is a 250cc 6cyl petrol engine. I’m just saying.

  22. Thom says

    I realize it’s defeating the purpose if an electric, but why not have some sort of generator on board, like a hybrid car? No more range anxiety!

  23. Rich says

    Of all the numerous reports of this concept bike, only the one from the infamous Motorcycle News is reporting that the bike uses the electric motor from Honda’s Insight hybrid automobile. Even checking Honda’s world website makes no mention of this. If true, we’re talking about a paltry 10kW – roughly 13 horsepower. Admittedly, it does make 58 lb/ft of torque which is not insubstantial. Paul – do you have any contacts at Honda that can conform the source of the motor?

    And the swingarm pivot being concentric with the sprocket appears to make for a rather lengthy singarm – which is good of course.

    • todd says

      wow, at 13hp it would be left for dead by a typical 125 (approx 15hp). Those brakes are good for 200 mph though. Likely if it’s pure electric it has a much larger motor. If it uses the total hybrid system out of the Insight it would include a 1300cc i-Vtec inline-four… Judging by the pure technical might of Honda I doubt it would not have a purpose-build system.

      -todd

  24. Byrd says

    If motorcycles all went electric, I wonder how much car/bike fatalities will increase because people can’t hear them.

  25. Ben says

    The only major problem I see is the electric grid itself. I work with people in the electricity industry and the grid was never designed for the load it carries. The Industry is racing to cope with the demands of all the electric needs. This may end up being one of the major hurdles in the conversion to mass electric vehicle usage. As far as the vehicles, they are more efficient in their energy usage and really cool. I will probably be staying with my alternative fuel motorcycle for a long time.

  26. MadScience says

    The objections about these bike’s lack of sound bothers me some. They aren’t silent, just listen to any of the TTXGP videos. They sound wicked, like TIE fighters or pod racers from star wars or something. I know they aren’t as loud as a Harley with open pipes, but those bikes are obnoxiously loud and no one but their owners like them. Most stock exhaust systems are nearly silent at idle, and less than wind noise at highway speeds. I don’t hear most motorcycles on the road until they pass me. And that’s just motorcycles, have you ever stood next to a running luxury car? They are silent at almost any speed. So how exactly are these bikes so quiet that they pose an unacceptable hazard to their riders and pedestrians? Because that seems to be the point some people are making and I just don’t see it.

  27. Super80 says

    For me personally, one of the biggest drawbacks of electric motorcycles is the possibility they wil end up being marketed just like consumer electronics. The minute you buy one, it is outdated and replaced by a newer model with better batteries, USB ports,turbo flux capactor, iElectricBikeOS 7.2, blah blah…..

    The psychology of perceived obsolescence is a fact in the marketing of gadgets today. I fear these vehicles will be sold much in the same way. Fast forward 20 years and imagine the stockpiles of outdated garbage.

    For the foreseeable future I will stick with my gas driven bike.

    • GenWaylaid says

      Aren’t sportbikes already marketed that way? Or for that matter, most cars? Just because the “latest and greatest” comes along every couple years doesn’t mean the older models are obsolete.

      In theory, electric motorcycles could last a long time with minimal maintenance and survive long periods of sitting almost unscathed. In practice, the significant amount of proprietary software in their controllers will be a big problem once they go out of warranty. I foresee a cottage industry in “jailbreaking” old EVs.

      • Super80 says

        Not exactly. For example, if I have a second hand 2007 r6, it is not considered an obsolete piece of junk. Now consider a cellphone from 2007. You have to pay someone to take it off your hands.

        Sure, bike manufacturers add features from year to year, but that sense of having something so outdated only months after you purchase it has yet to permeate motor sports, at least not to the degree I am referring to.

  28. Les says

    When you consider that honda doesn’t even have traction control on their top bikes then this looks very far away in the future.

    I think it’s gorgeous though :) Sure beats another useless fury or that overly complex goldberg machine they call the vfr1200 and it’s ugly ‘adventure’ brother or just about anything they have put out in the last 10 years.

    Battery Swapping – not going to happen. If we are lucky batteries will be advancing quickly. It doesn’t seem wise to lock into a tech for swapping stations and all that implies.

  29. Jon Hutchison says

    I wouldn’t hold my breath waitng for honda to actually take something like this to market. The havee shown nice electric scooters for several years …which better match battery technology… and none have hit this market

  30. Mark says

    Honda or any other large manufacturer could bring a bike like this to market tomorrow if they wanted.
    The reason they don’t and won’t for some time is that these bikes would cost approx $30K. Aside from a few hard core early adapters, these bikes would fail in the market place, especially now in this depressed market.

    Until battery costs drop dramatically, we’ll never see these bikes hit the market, they’re just too expensive, and no hope in the near term of getting significantly cheaper either.

  31. turbotech says

    Electric bikes blah blah blah. Let me know when they really work.
    Now wrap this bodywork around a 600/1000rr and a winner you will have. Move the designer of this bike up to the big leagues.

  32. says

    this is pretty dang neat, and looks awesome too. I am a fan of electric motos for specific applications, such as this, track bikes.

    I saw a Ducati 851 that was converted to electric the other day. It made me sad. Somethings should have booming V-twin gas engines.