There are some stunning designs and examples of great engineering among the electric motorcycles we’ve seen over the past few years, everything to indicate the electric motorcycle is just around the corner. Brammo is on sale in Best Buy, the Zero X and Quantya are dueling it out on the dirt and the TTXGP grew quickly, in just one year, into an event filled with more competitors than even the organizers had hoped for. We’re almost there, we’ll soon see them everywhere, just a few loose ends and the promise of electric bikes will be fulfilled, … real soon, as soon as those batteries last longer, … and charge faster, … and cost less, … and don’t weigh as much, … or maybe, just possibly, they’re still quite a ways off.
The engineering expertise available today made short work of the obvious, designs began to make the bikes look good, powerful electric motors were built, the suspension is just adapted from standard models, nothing unusual there, it’s those pesky batteries. We need a small, light, fast charging, long lasting battery with big capacity. That, definitely, is not one of those easy parts, that’s a real head scratcher and, though there is a huge reward waiting for anyone who can design one, we’re just not there yet, which, itself, tells us a lot. Anyone who takes a cursory look at electric vehicles quickly sees the potential and monetary windfall waiting and still, no battery that takes the performance leap has been developed.
If we ignore the battery issue, there’s the performance, that will surely win everyone over. Just consider how much torque is available to accelerate these bikes, look at the Killacycle drag bike, running the quarter mile in 7 seconds, Mission Motors gets the Mission One over 150 mph, but this only shows you can use a lot of electricity in short bursts to go fast. Although these feats are impressive, it won’t drive sales for electric street bikes. The average motorcycle buyer may like to see that sort of performance, but he wants to ride longer distances and not trade all of the distance just to show he can go really fast for a mile or two.
Adding a bit of the bizarre to the electric motorcycle scene, we’ve already had a split in the racing organizations. Before we get one functioning electric racing series off the ground, the FIM decides to jump in and form a competing series because they don’t want to be left behind when electric motorcycles take off. Has anyone told these folks we haven’t had a real race yet? There’s been much talk and lots of promise, the TTXGP had some bikes racing in a timed competition, but no actual side by side road races around a track. The differences between the various competitors in the TTXGP was considerable, too, there were no relatively equal bikes that could have actually raced. We now have competing electric race organizations before we have competitive bikes, interesting. I do think racing may be one place where electrics can succeed since the environment is confined and controlled and battery charging or replacement is, at most, just one lap away, but that remains to be seen.
Many of us look at electric motorcycles from a purely practical point of view, but, proponents keep offering the qualifier “carbon free” to excuse the shortcomings. It’s right on the home page of companies selling them and the TTXGP itself was founded as a carbon free race. Carbon free is beginning to sound more like an excuse than a plus because electric motorcycles, with all of the time, money, effort and tax credits thrown their direction, still don’t perform like a bike you or I would ride on a daily basis without constantly modifying our riding habits to make sure we don’t deplete the batteries at an inappropriate time. Forget “carbon free.” The best way for electric motorcycle enthusiasts to promote their carbon free bikes is to offer a “no excuse necessary” electric motorcycle.
Someone may show up tomorrow with a breakthrough battery and make all of these points moot, but, then again, it may be many years before that happens and, judging by the “almost here” rhetoric we’ve heard thus far, I’m beginning to suspect it may be later rather than sooner. Manufacturers of both motorcycles and cars are beginning to, or soon will, release electric versions of their products and a core group of supporters will certainly buy them, but those of us less interested in showing our green credentials and, who instead, just want a motorcycle or car for what it can do, will probably wait.
I look forward to seeing the electric motorcycle we can interchange with one of our current rides and get the same price, performance and practicality we have right now, but I think that future is a little further off than just around the next corner.