Hooniverse Asks: Why aren’t electric motorcycles more popular?

An electric motorcycle is an mode of transportation that makes a lot of sense to me. Range figures are growing. The performance is great for the majority of riders. And the ability to slip to and from work, emissions and fuel free, is enticing. Especially for those who live in a state that allows for lane splitting (granted, that’s just California right now but other states are wising up).

Harley announces Livewire specs, sky doesn’t fall

So why don’t we see electric motorcycles in greater numbers out on the street? Sure, some of them are relatively pricey but not insanely so. And there are enough models that are affordable, yet you typically don’t see any of them out and about.

Now, I’m not a rider. So there’s definitely a number of things I’m missing regarding the ownership and operation of an electric motorcycle. I’d love to hear from our riding friends about why an electric bike isn’t a great idea. Or conversely, why they opted to purchase one.

Sound off below!

23 Comments

  1. For me, the question is, “why electric motorcycles in America at all?”

    Having commuted on a motorcycle in my younger, poorer, days, I will tell you that bike commuting only works as a ‘practical’ mode when you live in a very urban area and have at least one alternative mode of transit. You need something with some carrying capacity for shopping, be it a bus or a train, or (gasp!) a car. Then there’s weather. Getting out the rain suit to put over your work attire is a nuisance… and bike covers are a pointless annoyance if you commute. Where do you put the wet cover? Do you recover the wet bike with the wet cover when you get home? Now, these are true of any motorcycle, but if you suddenly add the need to park where you can plug it in every night…. Hell, you need a garage, and why just park a bike in there? Further, there’s no economic justification for an electric bike. You can buy a decent gasoline bike for less, and bikes use so little fuel, you can’t rationalize any -statistically significant- savings there. The same is true for pollution. A single motorcycle pollutes so little that even the Angels dancing on the head of a pin won’t be able to find any measurable benefit to planet earth.

    So in the end, all motorcycle commuting is vanity commuting for pleasure, and only when circumstances permit. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can ride in the rain and snow…but if you have any other alternative, you’re just being…. Vain? Stupid? Fanatical? Young?

    Then, as a sport bike, why electric? You get great torque, but that’s hardly a problem for bikes anyhow*. Range anxiety and recharging time will keep you out of the mountains with your gas-bike-buddies unless you all agree to stick to a pre-mapped route based on your limitations. You’re sure not going very far off-road on one. Maintenance simplicity? Modern bikes require no more maintenance than modern cars- almost none. Mechanical simplicity to keep costs down over the life of the bike? Most bikes die of accidents or old age rather than wearing out parts. Oh, and noise? Motorcycle exhaust noise is a choice by the owner, not a fundamental characteristic of motorcycles. Bikes can be as silent as modern cars, and many are from the factory.

    So, I can’t think of any way in which an electric motorcycle provides any measurable benefit over a conventional one. Just because technology makes an idea possible, that doesn’t make that idea a good one: Change is not always equal to Progress.

    * By the way, “great torque” is not always a virtue on rainy days. You’ll learn this the first time your back tires skitters sideways on a crosswalk paint stripe as you pull away from a Red Light.

  2. I’d like to ride one, seems like a great application of the inherent benefits of EV’s. Still waiting for the anti-plow-over-motorcyclist systems to be universally deployed, which is to say, I don’t see myself being a motorcyclist, electron fueled or otherwise, again.

    sigh.

  3. If I were to own a motorcycle again, it would absolutely be electric. The one thing I hated most about motorcycling (other than the drivers around me) was the noise. Of all the EV applications out there, the electric motorcycle is an absolute no-brainer. Most people use them for short trips or commutes anyway, so range isn’t a big factor. Instant torque on demand? Yes, thank you. The quiet operation is a huge plus for heightening your senses (despite all those Harley guys that think noise pollution keeps them safe), and the smaller battery demand means charging is quick and easy. Besides, it seems to me that the term “motorcycle” suggests it’s electric already. Everything else is an “enginecycle”.

    I think I’ve mentioned before on this forum that the Zero DSR impresses the hell out of me. I’d have one in my garage if it weren’t for motorcyclist injury statistics.

  4. I think there’s two main hits against them. You’ve got the older “loud pipes save lives (but helmets are for dorks)” crowd that demands the ability to rattle windows at idle. Then you’ve got the people (like me) who are broke as hell. I like the idea of an electric bike, but I bought my SV650 with 2,500 miles on it for just $3,500. The market is flooded (at least when I bought my bike) with cheap, used, Japanese motorcycles. I don’t see electric bikes hitting that point anytime soon.

    1. I would add a couple of more points. People either want a light bike that they can ride for short distances. (I assume that like electric cars, electric bikes are heavy.) Or they want a big bike that they can ride for a few hundred miles a day. There is some significant overlap between the “loud pipes save lives” and the distance riders, at least around here. It is quite popular to take your bike from the metro Atlanta area up to the mountains in northeast Georgia, usually a couple of hundred miles or so round trip. The 110 range of the Livewire falls far short. Most of the around town, beach, short distance Harley riders are looking to rattle windows, so electric is out there. So basically the range is too short for day trips and it isn’t LOOK AT ME enough for the cruising crowd.

      1. The Zero models range from 250 – 500 lbs, depending on size, output, and range. Considering 250 is what you’d expect in a scooter and 500 a cruiser or heavy sport bike, I’d say that’s not too bad for a rolling battery. It’s a far cry from the 850+ lbs you see in many tourers, but then again, the Zero DS has the greatest range at 200 city / 100 highway, and that won’t get you very far on a day trip. They certainly aren’t for the look-at-me crowd or saddlebag weekend riders.

  5. The range is tough to deal with. As a commuter they are perfect, but a lot of my riding is in the hills and mountains. The Zero motorcycles are probably the most mature of the group and they have roughly a 100 mile range. That severely limits the amount of “weekend fun ride.” If I want to do any touring (average 350 miles a day) its pretty much not an option.

    I want one but can’t justify it for my usage patterns. 🙁

  6. Electric motorcycles exist in a strange niche where they make total sense, and no sense at all. An electric vehicle works best as a supplementary vehicle for short trips and commutes. Motorcycles are generally supplementary vehicles used for short trips and commutes. On the other hand, motorcycles don’t see as much use as cars, so the benefits of going electric are diminished. The fuel savings and the reduced emissions don’t add up to much, and it’s harder to “make back” the premium of buying an electric motorcycle. Motorcycles are also more often about pleasure than utility, and without gears to shift, they lose that level of engagement. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t consider an electric motorcycle. I’m just not sure why I would. I suppose as a commuter, there is something to be said for charging at home each night rather than constantly having to stop for gas. The fuel mileage for a motorcycle is usually pretty good, but the tanks are tiny.

  7. For me, the question is, “why electric motorcycles in America at all?”

    Having commuted on a motorcycle in my younger, poorer, days, I will tell you that bike commuting only works as a ‘practical’ mode when you live in a very urban area and have at least one alternative mode of transit. You need something with some carrying capacity for shopping, be it a bus or a train, or (gasp!) a car. Then there’s weather. Getting out the rain suit to put over your work attire is a nuisance… and bike covers are a pointless annoyance if you commute. Where do you put the wet cover? Do you recover the wet bike with the wet cover when you get home? Now, these are true of any motorcycle, but if you suddenly add the need to park where you can plug it in every night…. Hell, you need a garage, and why just park a bike in there? Further, there’s no economic justification for an electric bike. You can buy a decent gasoline bike for less, and bikes use so little fuel, you can’t rationalize any -statistically significant- savings there. The same is true for pollution. A single motorcycle pollutes so little that even the Angels dancing on the head of a pin won’t be able to find any measurable benefit to planet earth.

    So in the end, all motorcycle commuting is vanity commuting for pleasure, and only when circumstances permit. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can ride in the rain and snow…but if you have any other alternative, you’re just being…. Vain? Stupid? Fanatical? Young?

    Then, as a sport bike, why electric? You get great torque, but that’s hardly a problem for bikes anyhow*. Range anxiety and recharging time will keep you out of the mountains with your gas-bike-buddies unless you all agree to stick to a pre-mapped route based on your limitations. You’re sure not going very far off-road on one. Maintenance simplicity? Modern bikes require no more maintenance than modern cars- almost none. Mechanical simplicity to keep costs down over the life of the bike? Most bikes die of accidents or old age rather than wearing out parts. Oh, and noise? Motorcycle exhaust noise is a choice by the owner, not a fundamental characteristic of motorcycles. Bikes can be as silent as modern cars, and many are from the factory.

    So, I can’t think of any way in which an electric motorcycle provides any measurable benefit over a conventional one. Just because technology makes an idea possible, that doesn’t make that idea a good one: Change is not always equal to Progress.

    * By the way, “great torque” is not always a virtue on rainy days. You’ll learn this the first time your back tires skitters sideways on a crosswalk paint stripe as you pull away from a Red Light.

    1. I’d just add the minor point that, at least by the sounds of it, motorcycle commuting makes a ton of sense in Southern California with legal lane-splitting, and the brutal traffic that makes lane-splitting a big advantage. One small chunk of the country, but a good percentage of the population.

      1. So a niche in the LA/Bay areas.

        Fair point…

        However, I’d suggest that having an electric motorcycle adds nothing to lane splitting, and lane-splitting removes any advantage from possible HOV lane access for an electric bike.

        For what it’s worth, I lived in Tokyo in my 20’s for about a dozen years, and had a variety of bikes then. I did a lot of lane splitting in traffic, and I called it good therapy to go to the front of every queue when traffic was heavy (almost always). It is a point of pride with me that when city traffic lanes were too tight to lane split, I was never the first one to ride up the sidewalk, scattering people around me. They’d already been scattered.

        1. Point taken, but I bet if you lived in Tokyo in your 20’s, it was not for a dozen years. A decade, max; the remainder spilled into your 30’s.

  8. Well, I’ve owned an automatic transmission motorcycle for 3 months now and I can tell you that shifting gears is a major part of enjoying a motorcycle. An electric motorcycle wouldn’t shift at all, so I think that would take a lot of the fun out of motorcycling, which is a recreational market primarily.

    The upcoming generation of electric scooter and hoverboard riders will probably adopt the electric motorcycle, just give it time.

    Electric dirtbikes, I think, are the best application of the electric drivetrain. In tight technical stuff there’s no need to feather with the clutch, and you can weight the left foot any way you like. In our national forests the idea of enjoying a nice, quiet fire road ride without scaring every critter (and birdwatcher) for a mile around seems like a plus. They may catch on before street electrics.

    1. Good point about electric dirt bikes. I guess I should have qualified my enthusiasm by stating that my two-wheeling background is in dirt biking, so I’d most likely only ride pavement as long as it took to get to the nearest trail.

    2. Good point about electric dirt bikes. I guess I should have qualified my enthusiasm by stating that my two-wheeling background is in dirt biking, so I’d most likely only ride pavement as long as it took to get to the nearest trail.

    3. I’m absolutely convinced that electric dirt bikes have huge potential to be the grassroots motorsport of the future. You could build a track in an urban area and there’d be no noise issues.

    4. In addition to the practical value of electric dirt bikes, there’s the fun value of making tree hugger’s heads explode from the cognitive dissonance of combining something they love with something they hate, Thus the optimum tool for hauling your electric dirt bike is a Prius cut down to a flatbed.

      1. (Used) Tesla Model S with the hatch removed? Or a Model X and see if you can drive in through the “falcon wing” doors… before they fail.

  9. There’s a huge gap in the market, one I’m waiting to be filled. You can get the equivalent of a 50cc scooter or a 650cc+ motorcycle. What I want and would buy is the equivalent of a 150-250cc “maxi-scooter” something like a Honda Elite. The form factor makes more sense than a motorcycle style. Batteries go in the floor, keeping the CG low. Max speed of 50mph, so one could commute on 45mph surface streets. If they build it, I’ll buy it.

  10. So one big thing is simply what’s been available.

    Outside of sportbikes, nobody’s really looked at the aerodynamics, so highway range is atrocious on most electric motorcycles. Tacita’s the only one to really try for long range so far, and they went for a huge battery in a cruiser frame, without actually addressing the aero problems.

    So, that means that most of the electric motorcycles are, as shipped, really good for a suburban commute, urban stuff, and (in cases like the Alta Redshift and the Zero FX/FXS) heat-based racing. And, for that urban stuff, you run into the huge problems of actually charging the damn things if you don’t have a parking space with an outlet. Some manufacturers get it and are offering removable batteries, but there’s not much outside of Taiwan with removable batteries and more than 50 cc-class performance other than the Zero FX/FXS, and those batteries aren’t *really* designed to be removed for charging daily (on the heavy side, no carrying handle, etc., etc.)

    Ironically, I think it’s actually possible to make a long-range electric full-dress tourer more easily than a sport tourer or adventure bike or the like, and that’s for a few reasons. If you allow yourself the 900+ pound weight budget of a full-dress tourer, you can get a hell of a lot more battery in there than a 500-700 pound sport tourer or adventure bike. And, the lower, longer profile of a full-dress tourer means you can do more streamlining to improve aero, making it more efficient, and even longer range.

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