Electric Motorcycle Technology

May 28, 2019
Since their reintroduction in the last few decades, sales of electric vehicles have soared, with global cumulative sales hitting the 5 million milestone in December 2018. Electric vehicles offer several key advantages over conventional gasoline vehicles, among them lower refueling expenses, quieter operation, and fewer emissions harmful to the environment. From hybrids like the Toyota Prius, to fully-electric BEVs (or battery electric vehicles) like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, this technology has defined and constructed a whole new segment in the automotive industry. Now, cars, trucks, trolleys, even some nations’ submarines, all harness the power of battery-driven propulsion. But what about motorcycles? While the motorcycle industry has been reluctant to adapt this new technology, changes are being made. Harley-Davidson, the American motorcycle company known for producing classic cruisers over its 116 year history, released its LiveWire electric prototype in June 2014, with production planned for 2019. BMW Motorrad released the C Evolution electric scooter in Germany in May 2014. Piaggio took a similar path, releasing an electric version of its classic Vespa, named the Vespa Elettrica, in the beginning of 2019. Finally, reports suggest that the Japanese Big Four Motorcycle manufacturers—Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha—are reportedly working together to create a new electric motorcycle standard, with Yamaha planning to enter the market with two new models.


As with its application in cars and other light-duty vehicles, electric motor propulsion is not merely a gimmick or a novelty in motorcycles. Instead, several key advantages can be seen with this technology as compared to conventional gasoline engines. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is the matter of performance. Tests have shown that electric motorcycles of roughly equivalent weight and size to their gasoline counterparts exhibit similar, and in certain cases, even better performance. In 0-60 mile per hour (about 100 kilometers) acceleration tests, electric motorcycles hold a clear advantage due to the inherent nature of their design. Electric motors develop peak torque instantly, in comparison to gasoline engined-motorcycles, which require a clutch and the breaching of a specific RPM threshold to achieve peak torque. This means quicker and consequentially safer passing opportunities, better performance in traffic, and—let’s face it—a lot of fun. Electric motors require comparatively lower maintenance, again due to the inherent nature of their design. With less money going into maintenance, this frees up funds for more gear, tools, and riding excursions. Additionally, fuel costs are substantially lower than they are for gasoline. While each electric motorcycle or scooter will vary in its power consumption, they have a universal advantage over gasoline engines in this regard.


Electric motorcycles are of course not without their disadvantages, however. Firstly is the issue of range: put simply, they suffer a considerable disadvantage in riding range. Even high-end electric motorcycles will struggle to go more than 130 miles (or about 209 kilometers) on a single charge. Bikes of this nature that exceed the 130 mile range threshold are unfortunately the exception and not the rule. Furthermore, maintaining a high speed, such as on the highway, saps even more energy from the motor and results in a further-reduced range. Those planning to undertake long distance journeys with an electric motorcycle or scooter must plan their experience diligently, carefully calculating estimated battery expenditure and keeping note of local refueling stations, which may not always be available. Range is not the only factor that suffers with electric motorcycles. Refueling times are significantly longer than with their gasoline counterparts, further inhibiting one’s ability to take long distance journeys. For simple daily or local commuting, overnight charging may suffice, but anything much more than that will again require some planning to ensure a positive experience. Finally, the issue of noise, or more accurately, the lack of it. Especially in dense city environments, riders utilize the sound of their exhaust to warn pedestrians and drivers alike of their presence. Due to the near-silent nature of electric motor operation, this is simply not possible with electric motorcycles and scooters; a possible safety concern.


While electric motorcycles are marred by their disadvantages, their future is promising. With advancements in technology, we may see increased range, faster refueling times, and lower prices in the coming years. Indeed, even world-renowned manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson and Yamaha have put forward plans to introduce new vehicles of this type to the market, with more manufacturers following suit. Although perhaps not the most practical option in their current state, an electric motorcycle is well worth your consideration for your next big purchase.
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