After the previous half dozen articles on electric powered motorcycles and bicycles, it might appear that I’ve become an advocate for electric power in all vehicles, all the time and it isn’t true. I’ve looked at the pros and cons, the current electric technology and the various use cases for batteries in place of gas tanks and in my view, gasoline is the better choice now and likely for a very long time to come and in some cases, better almost forever.
It’s easy to see the attraction of electric power
- The motor(s) can be placed in a variety of locations, sometimes in the wheel itself
- A motorcycle can be designed around the rider, not the engine
- Batteries can be packaged in all shapes and sizes, a flat rectangle, a cube, a cylinder almost any form factor at all which then gives a vehicle designer even more flexibility
- Battery weight can be placed in the most advantageous location contributing to better handling
- The entire system is simpler than one based on internal combustion engines, no need for the radiator and coolant, no crankcase and oil, no clutch and (usually) no transmission, no hydraulic brakes, fluid and lines
- Instant torque at zero RPM and everywhere else, no engine powerband
- Software updates over the air, get upgrades while you sleep
- Vehicle is quiet in operation (some say this is a disadvantage, but opinions vary)
- Zero emissions from the vehicle itself (where the electricity comes from and all of the various operations necessary to generate it means the emissions are shifted, not eliminated)
Sounds pretty appealing, but as Thomas Sowell has said, history is filled with examples of people replacing what works with what sounds good.
Think beyond technology – what is the vehicle for?
Why do you ride a motorcycle? Why do you drive a car? Sure, you have to get around, from point A to B, but there are a lot of ways to do that, you can ride the bus, take an Uber, take the train or fly in a crowded metal tube, but most of us ride because of the sheer freedom it gives us to go wherever and whenever we want. We don’t have to look up any schedules, call for a ride and wait, or stand in line and take our shoes off or get patted down like a criminal, we just want to exercise our freedom to travel short distances or long to any place at any time.
Electric limitations and concerns
- Range – how far can you comfortably go in any direction knowing you can get back without recharging? One way doesn’t count because that limits you to locations where you can find a charging station and the freedom to travel means you choose your destination without regard to chargers. Gas stations are everywhere, but even without refueling gas powered motorcycles easily exceed e-Motorcycle range.
- How long does it take to recharge? This includes the waiting time until a charge point is available. If more electrics are on the road, there will have to be a huge increase in the number of chargers or your 45 minute recharge, already a long time to wait, could turn into hours. Waiting at a gas station for someone to fill their tank is minutes, waiting for someone to recharge, …
- Swappable batteries that companies are now considering, take away the design flexibility listed above if you have to build batteries of a specific size and shape.
- Can the grid support massive growth in electric vehicles? In many areas, we’re seeing blackouts already. Unless we have a lot of new power generating capacity online soon, we have a problem.
- How long does an unused electric vehicle hold a charge? If you ride or drive to a distant point where no charging is available, how long before the battery loses enough of a charge to make the return difficult or impossible? Gasoline can sit for a very long time before it goes bad and an occasional start and short run can keep a starting battery charged.
- E-vehicles are more expensive, especially as a second vehicle which is the use case many would consider most appropriate. For some this is no issue, for many it’s a deal breaker.
- Rare earth elements necessary for batteries must be mined and are not available everywhere, political pressures can dramatically affect supply and now the same environmental groups advocating e-vehicles are battling mining companies that are trying to deliver those elements.
- If you can update software over the air, you can shut down a vehicle over the air. For those inclined to think this is far fetched, just remember, social media companies can block the President of the United States and books are being banned for political reasons. Individuals, groups or geographic regions could see their e-vehicles bricked with a quick over the air command, a real freedom killer. If the government wants to enforce a lockdown, just turn off the e-vehicles and/or charge points. It’s not unreasonable to be concerned.
Gasoline just works
Gasoline is energy dense, portable, easy to store in large quantities for a considerable period of time and easily delivered through existing infrastructure. A motorcycle can carry enough for two hundred miles or more and refill in 5 minutes from almost anywhere. Gasoline internal combustion engines simply work and the most recent variants are extremely low emission and powerful.
Electric vehicles are politically driven
E-vehicles, cars and motorcycles, are available now, but the overwhelming majority of customers are choosing gasoline. Car manufacturers like GM, Volvo and VW have committed to electric everywhere and most other companies are right on their heels, but this isn’t from customer demand, it’s in response to government pressure. Given freedom of choice, most customers still choose gasoline. Either choice is correct for that customer, but our governments want to choose for you and force you to take their choice. That is simply wrong.
You make the choice
We should not replace what works with what sounds good. E-vehicles have all of the benefits I outlined above, but also the shortcomings less often mentioned. They are much better suited to an urban environment where range is less of an issue and recharge points are more available. If that’s where you usually ride, you may not have an issue and the concerns I mention may not apply. You should make the choice, just the same as choosing where you go, when and how far. I choose gasoline, how about you?