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Electric Bikes: A Lot Of Promises, But Where Are They?

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You can’t go far these days without hearing about electric motorcycles. It seems like every week there is a new announcement, a bit of concept design shown off, promises of a specific bike being “the motorcycle of the future.” This is all well and good, and as we know, competition only results in good things for the consumer. There is only one problem, however: Where are the bikes?

So far, the only real success stories about electric motorcycles have come either from the e-Bike craze—with the top end ones able to reach 25 or so MPH—and a few companies with major investor backing like Zero and Energica. Promises and concept releases are great, but in today’s world, if you want to actually sell your motorcycle, you first of all have to make the damned thing!

The answer to the question of where all the electric bikes are is far more complicated than just “they’re coming,” and that is the reason we’re going to look at both the past of the electric vehicle revolution and the future of these motorcycles.

A Quick Overview of the Electric Vehicle Revolution​


It might surprise many, but a lot of the first electric cars that were on the road were not made by Tesla. In fact, the earliest of early “realistic” electric cars came from companies in China, Taiwan, and a couple of companies in the UK that had serious investment money put into them. To be brutally honest, they were fairly useless, tiny, and had a range of about as far as you could throw them.

Tesla, it must be said, really was the launching point of the modern electric vehicle revolution, both before and after Elon Musk bought the company. We have to mention them here, because aggressive marketing, a “Made in the USA” stamp on the car, and the fact that the cars were able to travel between cities without needing a recharge halfway there brought forth the idea that an electric car was, in fact, viable.

Of course, to offset the initial investment, the first of those cars, the 2008 Tesla Roadster, was sold at a premium, with a base price at the time of $98,000. Ouch.

2010 Tesla Roadster 2.5
The initial Tesla Roadster 2.5—the car that showed that electric vehicles didn’t have to be boring, slow, or have limited range, and which kickstarted the electric vehicle revolution. Image from Wikimedia Commons

It was around this time, in 2006 and 2007, that Zero Motorcycles was founded by a former NASA engineer with the idea of taking the rapidly developing interest in the electric car and bringing that same enthusiasm to two wheels. After just over 3 years of prototyping and working through some major issues regarding battery life and the electric motor used to power the bike, Zero launched the Zero S and Zero DS in 2010.

2022 Zero S
The 2022 edition of the Zero S, the electric bike that started it all for the American company. From wBW

2010 seems to be when the revolution really took hold, as with the success of Tesla drawing industry attention, the big manufacturers realized that there was, in fact, a viable market for mass-produced electric cars. Two manufacturers produced what they hoped would be the first affordable family cars that were fully electric, with the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Spark.

Both cars made sales, but nowhere near their projections or targets. The infrastructure had not yet been fully built out to support EVs as it has been over the past decade, and both cars were still quite expensive for the power and features they carried.

This made many, including those that were initially setting up competitors to Energica and Zero in the two-wheeled world, pay attention to the fact that you couldn’t just make an EV, place it on the market, and expect it to sell. What you needed was something that to this day, even now, an electric vehicle needs: people who want to buy it.

Why Many Electric Motorcycles Are Being Delayed​


One of the core reasons why a lot of electric motorcycles are being delayed (or are sometimes outright failing to materialize) is that the motorcycle world is much, much more discerning than the electric automobile world. This is exemplified by one of the biggest motorcycle companies, Harley-Davidson, bringing out the LiveWire in 2019. It was announced in 2014, and while it did garner interest, most riders waited for the “important” stuff: price, power, range, and reliability.

2021 Harley Davidson LiveWire.
The 2021 version of the LiveWire, the last before LiveWire was spun off into its own subsidiary electric motorcycle manufacturer. Image from Harley-Davidson

Then, when it was released, it started at $29,000, had “only” 105 equivalent HP, had a range of under 150 miles, weighed about as much as the average mountain, and took a while to recharge because initially, it wasn’t supercharger compatible. As such, it was absolutely destroyed in the motorcycle press, being labeled as a good idea executed poorly, too expensive for the price asked, and even being considered dead on arrival by a few.

The failing point was that Harley-Davidson had bet the bank on name recognition and the rapid rise of interest in electric vehicles to carry its product, and it landed with a very weak, somewhat wet splat in a marketplace then dominated by inline fours and V-twins (before being run over by the wheels of those motorcycles).

Another (and equally important) reason why a lot of electric motorcycles are being delayed is because of the one issue that soured Zero Motorcycle’s name for quite a while in the past decade: reliability. Motorcycle engines, especially V-twins, have been around for over a century, and through that time, continued interest and development have refined these engines into workhorses that, as long as you are diligent about maintenance, will last you for hundreds of thousands of miles.

Zero, however, had the misfortune of being the first out the door, and they’ve had to handle the issues that come with that distinction. Their models are at the right price point—and are, in fact, decently powerful for that price—but the misfortune of a bad production run from 2014 through part of 2015 saw nearly 50% of the bikes sold during that time needing to be replaced entirely or serviced to replace parts such as faulty batteries, poorly performing motors, burned-out control computers, and the like. The company is still recovering from that run, even 7 years later.

The third, and final, reason that electric bikes are being delayed is that electric motorcycles are inherently difficult things to make, despite the seeming simplicity of battery, motor, frame, and wheels. You are, in effect, riding an oversized laptop computer battery, and if you’ve ever popped the battery out of your computer, you’ll notice that it is a significant portion of the notebook’s overall weight. Battery packs are dense, heavy things—and as we all know, the heavier something is on a bike, the more power is needed to get that thing moving.

This isn’t quite as bad with an electric car, as those have four wheels that can be independently powered by the batteries, giving them a lot more options for power delivery. Motorcycles get power through one wheel, and only a bit of rubber the size of a credit card is what we have to work with.

There are two ways to combat this, which are to either reduce the size of the battery and sell it as a low-range motorcycle, as Zero has done with some of their models, or to accept the fact that the motorcycle is heavy and try to sell the consumer on other features. Technology is catching up to the point that things such as graphene layered batteries are on the horizon, but as it stands, if you’re looking at an electric motorcycle, you’re almost for sure signing up for something that weighs 500 lbs or more.

When Can We Realistically See Them on the Road?​


We’re not meaning to be all doom and gloom here, but the electric motorcycle milestone that suddenly switches everyone’s mind over to them being a good choice is still yet to happen.

For the automotive world, that moment can honestly be pinned down to 2015, when Audi announced their electric future plans to be all EVs by 2030, Lotus Cars announced that they were developing the world’s most powerful electric hypercar (the Evija EV), and Tesla announced the Model 3 was in development for release in 2017. The moment that happened, all of a sudden the Chevy Bolt started to sell, Ford announced that an all-electric F150 was in the works, and EV development departments opened in literally every car manufacturer around the globe.

Us riders, however, are still waiting for that “ah!” moment. Things are starting to happen, such as Harley-Davidson doubling down on the LiveWire, making a spin-off subsidiary called LiveWire Motorcycles, and renaming and reworking the LiveWire into the LiveWire One. Zero has worked hard to bring their reliability record out of the dumpster it was tossed into, and folks are finally noticing that hey, their bikes actually aren’t breaking the instant you look at them.

Our Concorde moment may be extremely close, however. Energica Motorcycles has shown that supersport electric bikes are possible, and a Canadian company named Damon Motorcycles, if the promises and marketing are to be believed, have cracked the range issues that electric motorcycles have been suffering from.

The Damon Hypersport is on the horizon, they are taking reservations for it, and with a promised range (in full sport mode) of over 200 miles, it does feel like we’re teetering on the razor’s edge of “the moment.”

2023 (maybe) Damon Hypersport
The 2023 (we hope) Damon Hypersport. Image from Damon Motorcycles.

The biggest thing that Damon has done to push the boulder over the edge is that instead of suspending the battery in the frame of the bike, the battery is part of the frame (as a stressed member). This nullifies the need to have a strong support frame to carry the heavy battery, and lets the suspension tree up front (and the subframe and swingarm out back) be made of lightweight composites and alloys.

Let’s just hope that in the next year, when the Hypersport is due to be released, their claims are proven, and we can finally look forward to electric bikes that are as fast, as fun, and can go as far as our gas-drinking fun machines!

The post Electric Bikes: A Lot Of Promises, But Where Are They? appeared first on webBikeWorld.

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LearnedButt

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Zero is a nonstarter, because the second they recovered from their perception of unreliability, they started engaging in microtransactions and DLC like they were EA games. The other makers either have monstrously expensive bikes that price them out of most people's ranges, or are straight up kickstarter scams.
 

670cc

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The electric motorcycle industry could greatly benefit from better battery technology and more widespread support and infrastructure for rapid changing stations and/or battery swapping systems. If we were farther along in those developments, we would likely have more and better electric motorcycle choices today.

That we have made so little progress so far can be largely attributed to the fossil fuel industry’s (Big Oil’s) efforts to hang on to their very profitable oil business. I don’t recall the exact dates, but Big Oil had their own scientists and they were well aware, roughly four decades ago, that their core oil industries would likely shrink in the future due to the environmental damage their main products caused. Big Oil began to develop alternate energy sources, but also ran a little campaign at the time to influence government figures important to energy policy decisions. Big Oil found out that their actions to sow doubt and spread lies about fossil fuel caused climate change, and to influence government policy in order to keep their profitable core oil industry alive were easy and hugely successful. You can still see how successful Big Oil‘s misinformation campaign has been by the number of (human caused) climate change deniers that still exist in the public and in government today. Thus, Big Oil scrapped their alternative energy projects and did everything they could to keep oil alive. The public and the government bought the lies, and we therefore have since squandered away decades of opportunity to further develop alternatives, including electric vehicles, advanced battery technology, and supporting infrastructure. The human population in general has lately begun to see through the lies and to see reality, but we have lost much time.

In summary, to answer the question of where are today’s electric motorcycles, the answer is largely that the electric motorcycle choices and their supporting infrastructure have been partly delayed by Big Oil’s misinformation campaigns that ensure continuation of their highly profitable oil business. Their profit and our convenience today comes with the price that our grandchildren and their children will have a much more difficult life in the future than what we all have enjoyed In our lifetimes.

When people say they won’t buy an electric motorcycle today because the range is too small or the recharging is too slow, well it’s a shame they aren’t good enough yet, because I believe that had we been more serious about them in the past, they might be a much better product today. I bought a Zero motorcycle. I love the machine, and I hope my purchase supports the electric motorcycle industry so they can develop even better future models.
 

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I can ride 200 miles on a tank comfortably and refill in under 10 minutes. When and electric bike can do the same I’ll consider it.
It is really as simple as that!

For an electric bike to be really acceptable it must actually be able to compete in the real world. I'd probably consider one that was comparably priced to a simple naked bike if it had a solid 150+ mile range of highway miles and recharged in a reasonable time.

Highway speeds tend to shorten the range of e-motorcycles pretty dramatically. Being a rural dweller I am surrounded by rural highways and towns miles away, cities are even farther. E-motorcycles may be reasonable for short distance city dwellers but not so much for rural residents or people who want to travel on by motorcycle.
 

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I have enough motorcycles, I'd like a electric motor scooter. One with enough under seat storage for two full face helmets, a reliable 100+ city and rural mile range and could be recharged in a reasonable time at a 110 volt service outlet.

I had a AN400 scooter that was a great grocery getter.
 

670cc

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I have enough motorcycles, I'd like a electric motor scooter. One with enough under seat storage for two full face helmets, a reliable 100+ city and rural mile range and could be recharged in a reasonable time at a 110 volt service outlet.

I had a AN400 scooter that was a great grocery getter.
I agree that an electric scooter would be a great machine. Regarding your ideal feature list, it is mostly physics based on the scooter aerodynamics and efficiency as to what size battery pack it would require. Let’s say it might likely need a 13 kWh battery to go the 100+ mile distance you prefer. Fully charging that battery from 0 to 100% from a 15 amp, 120 volt outlet is going to take about 8 or 9 hours. That time can’t be designed any differently by the scooter manufacturer, rather it is limited by how much current you can get out of that 15 amp outlet. For faster charging you would need a power source with higher voltage and/or more current available. If you had, say, 240 volts at 30 amps available, the scooter manufacturer could build in a charger that could charge the scoot much faster.
 

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670cc, I'm not sure I buy into that big oil conspiracy as being the reason we don't have alternate energy. Bottom line, they don't really need to do much suppressing when their product really is the bee's knees when it comes to energy storage and utilization for transport.

As to needing a 200 mile range with a fill up of 10 min, I'm not sure that's all it needs to hit mainstream. Sure, I would need that if it were my only bike, but I've been looking at E bikes to add to the stable specifically for summer commuting purposes. Current tech would do that, if the bikes out there were not overpriced overpromised garbage.
 

670cc

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670cc, I'm not sure I buy into that big oil conspiracy as being the reason we don't have alternate energy. Bottom line, they don't really need to do much suppressing when their product really is the bee's knees when it comes to energy storage and utilization for transport.

As to needing a 200 mile range with a fill up of 10 min, I'm not sure that's all it needs to hit mainstream. Sure, I would need that if it were my only bike, but I've been looking at E bikes to add to the stable specifically for summer commuting purposes. Current tech would do that, if the bikes out there were not overpriced overpromised garbage.
I totally agree that oil is an easy sell and that oil “really is the bee’s knees when it comes to energy storage and utilization for transport”. The problem is that it’s widespread usage is unsustainable if we wish to maintain life as we know it on the planet. That’s where the Big Oil misinformation campaign comes in, to suppress the public’s and government‘s knowledge, understanding, and concern about the negative effects of oil usage, while the positive side of oil sells itself and at the same time reduces the incentive to develop other energy sources.

On the subject of overpriced, overpromised (electric motorcycle) garbage, I don’t think that is universal for the industry. My Zero delivers exactly the performance and range that the company and the dealer promised. I do agree that other companies are marketing unrealistic range and performance specs by doing so in perhaps intentionally misleading ways directed to the uneducated potential buyers. As for the price, yes it is high but the Zero has higher end suspension, brakes, frame, and OEM tires than what Honda might supply. But electric is still a low volume niche market that commands higher prices for the manufacturers to stay in business. If Honda and the rest of the big four were not behind the times and were now supplying electric motorcycles/scooters at high volumes, I think the price for performance and features of electric motorcycles/scooters would be comparable to that of ICE motorcycles/scooters.
 
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Think your right ^^^^^[[[ ………..not overpriced overpromised is a real stumbling block for most. Even if it’s a toy…..cost is always concern. True high end full suspension EV Mtn bikes are over $10k.
 

670cc

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If exhaust fumes were killing the planet, it would be dead already. Climate change is a Chicken Little fallacy.
A 40 year old that smoked 3 packs of cigarettes a day for 20 some years might say something similar.
“If smoking is a health hazard, I’d be dead already; therefore why quit?”
 

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I totally agree that oil is an easy sell and that oil “really is the bee’s knees when it comes to energy storage and utilization for transport”. The problem is that it’s widespread usage is unsustainable if we wish to maintain life as we know it on the planet. That’s where the Big Oil misinformation campaign comes in, to suppress the public’s and government‘s knowledge and understanding of the negative effects of oil usage, while the positive side of oil sells itself and at the same time reduces the incentive to develop other energy sources.

On the subject of overpriced, overpromised (electric motorcycle) garbage, I don’t think that is universal for the industry. My Zero delivers exactly the performance and range that the company and the dealer promised. I do agree that other companies are marketing unrealistic range and performance specs by doing so in perhaps intentionally misleading ways directed to the uneducated potential buyers. As for the price, yes it is high but the Zero has higher end suspension, brakes, frame, and OEM tires than what Honda might supply. But electric is still a low volume niche market that commands higher prices for the manufacturers to stay in business. If Honda and the rest of the big four were not behind the times and were now supplying electric motorcycles/scooters at high volumes, I think the price for performance and features of electric motorcycles/scooters would be comparable to that of ICE motorcycles/scooters.
The ability to produce many of the minerals in quantities to give everyone an electric vehicle is also unsustainable. Hydrogen will eventually be the fuel of the future but we either need nuclear on a massive scale or cold fusion to make that happen.
 

670cc

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The ability to produce many of the minerals in quantities to give everyone an electric vehicle is also unsustainable. Hydrogen will eventually be the fuel of the future but we either need nuclear on a massive scale or cold fusion to make that happen.
I agree. No one energy supply method (that we now have) can alone be workable long term. We need many types of energy sources. Electric cars and bikes are not the sole answer, and their production introduces it’s own problems.
 
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mzflorida

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The electric motorcycle industry could greatly benefit from better battery technology and more widespread support and infrastructure for rapid changing stations and/or battery swapping systems. If we were farther along in those developments, we would likely have more and better electric motorcycle choices today.

That we have made so little progress so far can be largely attributed to the fossil fuel industry’s (Big Oil’s) efforts to hang on to their very profitable oil business. I don’t recall the exact dates, but Big Oil had their own scientists and they were well aware, roughly four decades ago, that their core oil industries would likely shrink in the future due to the environmental damage their main products caused. Big Oil began to develop alternate energy sources, but also ran a little campaign at the time to influence government figures important to energy policy decisions. Big Oil found out that their actions to sow doubt and spread lies about fossil fuel caused climate change, and to influence government policy in order to keep their profitable core oil industry alive were easy and hugely successful. You can still see how successful Big Oil‘s misinformation campaign has been by the number of (human caused) climate change deniers that still exist in the public and in government today. Thus, Big Oil scrapped their alternative energy projects and did everything they could to keep oil alive. The public and the government bought the lies, and we therefore have since squandered away decades of opportunity to further develop alternatives, including electric vehicles, advanced battery technology, and supporting infrastructure. The human population in general has lately begun to see through the lies and to see reality, but we have lost much time.

In summary, to answer the question of where are today’s electric motorcycles, the answer is largely that the electric motorcycle choices and their supporting infrastructure have been partly delayed by Big Oil’s misinformation campaigns that ensure continuation of their highly profitable oil business. Their profit and our convenience today comes with the price that our grandchildren and their children will have a much more difficult life in the future than what we all have enjoyed In our lifetimes.

When people say they won’t buy an electric motorcycle today because the range is too small or the recharging is too slow, well it’s a shame they aren’t good enough yet, because I believe that had we been more serious about them in the past, they might be a much better product today. I bought a Zero motorcycle. I love the machine, and I hope my purchase supports the electric motorcycle industry so they can develop even better future models.

I don't know that "largely attributed" to big oil a correct characterization considering the sources I have relied on. Oil is in play, but I don't think they are as influential in this space as is sometimes reported. "Big battery" companies like LG and Panasonic are substantially responsible here, very likely more so than the oil industry. Battery companies recently spent billions retooling for lithium battery production. They are not eager to just throw that investment out the window and may be the largest contributor to why we consumers only see incremental changes in battery performance. Change materials and you must change the production approach. The costs of retooling from liquid media to solid state media would dwarf the costs associated with retooling specifically for lithium ion (and solid-state batteries are prospective). This is set back further by current construction costs, which won't necessarily delay development but certainly will delay production. I'm not saying they shouldn't; they should, but they won't until it makes sense to them as measured by shareholder sentiment. If a battery company could disrupt the oil industry, they would. They just can't right now.
 

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For the past 100 years we have been able to pull our cars up to a gas pump and fill the tank with gas and be on the way until gas is needed again.
There is no place around here that I can pull up my EV and charge up and go.
Yes I could in my garage. So for commuting it would work. Not for going on vacation or long trips anywhere.
Until the EV charging stations are built, sales will suffer even if all they sell is EVs!
I was on vacation in upper Wisconsin this past weekend and I think I can say for certain 75% of the people that live there drive pickups.
Why? Because in rural areas you need to haul heavy big stuff. EVs wont get that done. Even the new F150 could only do part of the work.
First the city dwellers will have to be sold on EVs. Then it will expand.
For now I do not want any EVs. Not one.
I dont even want a commuting EV bike - all I see are fugly anyway!
 

mzflorida

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The ability to produce many of the minerals in quantities to give everyone an electric vehicle is also unsustainable. Hydrogen will eventually be the fuel of the future but we either need nuclear on a massive scale or cold fusion to make that happen.

I agree. No one energy supply method (that we now have) can alone be workable long term. We need many types of energy sources. Electric cars and bikes are not the sole answer, and their production introduces it’s own problems.

Those are interesting perspectives. This is a topic that is important and interesting to me. We should be doing something at a legitimate cadence that will provide solutions, options may be a better choice of words, that reduces pollution.

I feel that as more American politicians retire (or get indicted) change will be realized. The concept: We will have whatever the millennials want as they take over in Washington…universal healthcare, non-ICE vehicles, etc. Every political generation advances their own agendas it seems.
 

670cc

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Those are interesting perspectives. This is a topic that is important and interesting to me. We should be doing something at a legitimate cadence that will provide solutions, options may be a better choice of words, that reduces pollution.

I feel that as more American politicians retire (or get indicted) change will be realized. The concept: We will have whatever the millennials want as they take over in Washington…universal healthcare, non-ICE vehicles, etc. Every political generation advances their own agendas it seems.
Well said. I suspect things will change, eventually, when the crises are handed off to the next generations. The particular problem here is that time is not on our side, and the progress of change is too slow. When we reach tipping points, we are likely powerless to go back to the way things were.
 
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