Life on bikes

Will electric motorbikes be any good?

Marc personally guarantees the Government will completely screw up the Clean Air Plan that proposes to ban petrol vehicles by 2040. Nevertheless, it’s going happen and electric motorbikes makers have got 23 years to come up with something decent. He takes a look at how they are getting on.

Volvo recently announced that it will be ceasing production of exclusively petrol and diesel powered vehicles from 2019 in favour of electric and hybrid models.

France has already announced its plans to move away from fossil fuelled vehicles in an effort to curb greenhouse gasses and nitrogen oxide which is very bad for public health.

This month the UK government announced its ‘Clean Air Plan’ which contains a whole bundle of badly conceived measures like changing road layouts, traffic light timings, removing speed humps (Yay!), creating Clean Air Zones and charging people for entering them in certain types of vehicles, at certain times, or something, maybe.

Included in the Clean Air Plan is the banning of sales of petrol and diesel vehicles starting in 2040. This plan surprisingly includes hybrid vehicles leaving only one option after that date – all electric.

The government has also ensured this plan will be chaotic and unworkable by delegating most of the actual responsibility to local councils to interpret and act upon. I’m sure it will all go without a hitch.

The backbone of this plan is actually pretty good – lower pollution benefits everyone – but obviously, this is the British Government we’re talking about.

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The best-laid plans…

I personally guarantee this will be a gigantically expensive clusterfuck of negligently managed uncoordinated bullshit that will somehow have the exact opposite effect than was intended. This is Britain, this is what we do. What’s genuinely surprising is that it’s come from a Tory government rather than the Greens.

All of that aside how the fuck is this going to work out? Obviously, there will be delays, exceptions and compromises, so the 2040 date won’t be carved in stone.

If you’re sceptical about that let’s think about the UK changing from imperial to metric weights and measures, first discussed in parliament in 1818 and finally abandoned in 2009 after millions of pounds spent over decades. That’s how we do things in this country.

No one has explained yet how vehicles other than cars are going to be affected. Tesla has teased an all electric lorry to be unveiled in September and I’m sure it’ll be amazing and excruciatingly expensive. But what about industrial vehicles? Cranes, tractors, combined harvesters? There’s talk in the gov’s plan of ‘retrofitting’ commercial vehicles but no actual evidence that this is feasible or even possible.

How is the additional energy going to be generated when there is already an energy shortage on the horizon?

Maybe the biggest problem to overcome is getting the infrastructure in place to charge all these new electric cars. Answers to these questions are not forthcoming.

Or… there will be a car utopia

The best possible outcome is that fifty years from now self-driving electric cars which can navigate on their own will be the norm. There may be wireless charging points built into lamp posts or road surfaces but probably not one for every car. So cars will need to be able to find their own charging facilities, charge up and then move on to make the charging space available for other cars.

People will get up in the morning, press a button on their phone app and their car will arrive outside their door from wherever it happens to be, freshly charged up. The car will have been out all night gallivanting with its mates and finding the cheapest charge points.

Oh yeah, if you think electricity is going to stay free for cars, think again. The government make a lot of their pocket money from fuel duty. If petrol and diesel become a thing of the past they’ll have to raise that money by putting a tax on car electricity. Champagne doesn’t grow on trees after all.

People will drive to work, hopefully car sharing, when they get there the car will toddle off on its own and find a parking/charging space which might be miles away from the owner. This will actually increase the volume of traffic on the roads and it’s going to be odd watching empty cars driving around. There are two big business opportunities here, massive out of town car parks with charge points and autonomous taxis.

To drop the last piece of the jigsaw into place, the national grid will be supplied by atomic, wind and solar power. The clever bit is managing the grid, so when Coronation Street finishes and 15 million kettles get switched on the grid will be capable of actually sucking power out of all the cars that are on charge at that moment, using them as a massive reserve of power.

Of course, we’ll all have compulsory smart meters installed in our homes by then that bump up the cost of electricity at peak times so no one will actually be able to afford to put the kettle on in the evening. And the government will probably be opening new tyre burning power stations that are owned by Russian oligarchs, but that’s another story.

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Where does the motorbike fit into this?

You might not like or be interested in that future but it’s the best option. The alternative is ever growing gridlock and pollution. Be comforted by the thought that self-driving cars will be less likely to pull out in front of bikes, swerve crazily from lane to lane or get inexplicably aggressive.

How we get to that future from where we are now is anyone’s guess. Obviously, the Clean Air Plan is all government puff and posturing. No government strategy ever gets completed or goes according to plan. But the writing’s on the wall. Petrol and diesel are on the way out and electricity’s on the way in. Slowly.

So what does that mean for us? Will old bikes be viable in the future?

Well yes, old technology doesn’t disappear overnight. Petrol will become a ‘specialised’ fuel that might be expensive. There might be penalty taxation for riding a petrol bike in certain areas but they’re not going to disappear.

Assuming that the government do in fact ban the sale of dinosaur powered vehicles in 2040 there will still be millions on the road that still need feeding. A conservative estimate would be a lifespan of fifteen years for some of those vehicles meaning that we might see the last petrol engines on the road up to 2055? And maybe hipsters will want to keep them alive like vinyl or steam trains.

So there’s no immediate panic. Most of the people reading this might never need to throw a leg over an electric bike.

But the government’s announcement has made electric bikes slightly more interesting today than they were last month. So what are the electric bikes that exist right now actually like? Are they any good?

Generally, not really. Purchase cost is extremely high, range is low. Charging times are not impressive and the bikes themselves are not the dream machines we’re used to. If you have a strange urge to go out and purchase an electric bike today you have very limited options.

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Here’s my list

1. The most realistic offerings are Zero Motorcycles who actually have a few dealers in the UK and offer six different models.
They might not be the most exciting looking bikes but they’re real, not pipedreams.
On paper, the Zero SR looks quite appealing. With 69 hp peak power and a maximum range of 167 miles it looks like a slightly lesser competitor for the Yamaha MT-07 thought the 100 mph top speed’s a bit limp.

electric motorbikes
The Zero -S has a good looking side profile

But, Zero are up and running with models available right now. I’m quite impressed by their bolt-on additional battery pack, the claimed 550,000 km/341755 mile battery life, their mobile phone app that provides information on the bike’s performance and controls over maximum speed, torque and regenerative braking. Though why you’d want to fiddle with those I don’t know.
Zero looks like a convincing product, as long as you want to spaff £16,623.59

2. The Italian Energica company currently has two models the Ego and Eva which look like bikes that you might actually want to own and ride (although that rear shock looks a bit standy uppy to me).
Energica has one listed dealer in the UK
Max power 143 hp
I can’t find any information on range
Three and a half hours for a full charge/half an hour fast charge taking it up to 85%
Energica quote a battery life of 1200 cycles which I’m guessing means charge/discharge cycles
Prices start at £22,715.60 (without VAT!!)

3. Lightning

Lightning claim to produce the ‘World’s fastest production motorcycle’: 200 hp, 218 mph with 100 mile range or up to 180 miles if you opt for the ultimate battery pack.
Two hour charge time
£29,383.06
If you’re in the market for this kind of thing then you probably won’t be interested in economy. The company’s web site sells a range of polo shirts, jackets, baseball caps and keyrings but if you want to buy an actual bike you’ll have to pre-order it.

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4. Evoke 

The Urban S looks like a conventional 125 and as such not that exciting but looks like good solid transport for European city dwellers.
What is exciting here is that MyEvoke is a service rather than an individual bike. Like the Boris/Santander bikes in that there London, MyEvoke allows riders to grab a bike from a charging station, ride it where they need to and swap it for another charged up Evoke at the next charging station.
While this is a fantastic solution for mass transport which might work very well in civilised European cities, my mind is boggled at the though of how this would pan out in London. Bikes crashed, dropped, stolen, vandalised leaving paying punters stranded.
75 – 125 mile range
No clutch, no gears.
81 mph
25 hp
8 hour charge or 3 hour with level 2 charger
One impressive feature that’s mentioned is the five inch instrument screen that can easily link to the rider’s mobile phone giving satnav and most likely a method of paying for the service.
Why can’t we have that on proper bikes?

Electric motorbikes
The Victory’s more radical lines scream something different is going on

5. Victory
Previously sold as Brammo
The Victory Empulse TT
54 hp
100 mph
Four hour charge – 5 year 100000 mile warranty but no information on range.
£15,114.49

6. Saietta
Based in Oxfordshire and looking like Ridley Scott’s Alien facehugger impregnated a sports bike, Saietta expect ‘first customer bikes will be delivered before the end of 2017 as part of a limited edition of up to 100 bikes priced around £50,000’
Saietta’s website uses words like ‘vision’ ‘reinvent’ and ‘radical’ quite a lot.

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7. KTM Freeride E-SM and E-XC
KTM currently have three pretty similar models one of which looks like a small 15 hp road legal supermoto.
Sorry I kind of fell asleep at that point.

8. Alta
Alta have a couple of models the Redshift MX motorcrosser and Redshift SM, a road legal supermoto with 40 hp
50 mile range a six hour charge time.

9. Brutus
Four models are available,
Brutus 2 A chunky monkey where ‘specs may vary’
Brutus 2 Cafe – as above but with clip ons
V2 Rocket, a built-to-order prototype sports bike for Captain America wannabes
V9, a big ol’ bagger offered in civilian format but interestingly with a law enforcement option
Prices? Performance? Who knows?

electric motorbikes
The Sora is an altogether different breed of bike

10. Sora
‘The first luxury electric superbike’
£58,229.52 (model shown actually £78,655.85)
Do you need to know any more?

11. BMW C Evolution
An electric scooter that even BMW don’t seem to like.

There’s a pattern emerging here. Kickstarters developing radical new bikes at astronomical prices, lightweight motocross inspired bikes, rich folks’ toys and underwhelming (on paper anyway) roadsters.

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Time to step up bike makers

Two things are surprising. Firstly I would have expected to see lots of little electric scooters. They would be ideally suited to current electrical technology being used for short trips at lower speeds by consumers who don’t have any great attachment to petrol powered sports bike performance.

Secondly, where the hell are the big four Japanese manufacturers? Are they working away on electric bikes in great secrecy and waiting till their products are ready for prime time? Maybe they’re playing safe and biding their time. Or perhaps companies skilled in the art of the petrol engine aren’t best placed to develop electrical technology.

Small start up companies are interested in taking risks and pushing the engineering to its limits. Big motor corporations are interested in safe bets, steady, reliable sales and ongoing sales of spare parts so maybe the electrical revolution will belong to battery companies.

Living with an electric vehicle right now has its less than fun aspects. A guy I work with is very green minded and has a hybrid VW Golf. He doesn’t want to put fuel in it if at all possible so charges it whenever he can. He lives in an upstairs flat and doesn’t have a driveway so he has to bring a grubby bag to work every day, unpack the hefty power lead, ask people to swap parking spaces so he can drape the lead though a window, open the VW badge on the front of the car and plug it in. He has to do this every fucking day. He only lives up the road! It’s actually a really nice car and it’s easily faster than any petrol Golf but that’s a lot of hassle. Inevitably soon after he took delivery of the car it died. The VW dealer was completely clueless, none of their mechanics had training on EVs. The batteries in that car hold enough juice to turn a careless mechanic into something more like a burnt pizza so a special electrical technician had to be called out from Germany to fix what turned out to be a software fault.

Yeah. The joys of being an early adopter.

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I’m imagining the same limitations with an electric bike. Carrying a massive cable around in a rucksack, having to park close to a power point…
But I’m also thinking about the massive torque from an electric motor, the lack of any real servicing.

The big hurdles to electric motorbikes are not technological, that’ll come with time. They’re acceptance. No one wants to be stranded at the roadside with a dead battery, no one wants to sit at a service station for two hours waiting for their bike to charge up. No one wants to buy a bike and then two years later buy a new battery pack that costs as much as the bike did originally. No one wants short range, expensive transport no matter how good it is for the environment.

One day the infrastructure will be in place, the technology will be better and the price will be lower. Then we’ll have exciting bikes, low running costs and high reliability. And that’s what we want really, it doesn’t really matter if these things are provided by petrol or electrical motors.

Even if 2040 were a firm deadline (it really isn’t) it’s not a bad one. Compare the mobile phone in your pocket with one from 1994. That’s what we’re looking at right now, chunky clunky first generation brick bikes. The 2040 deadline gives scientists, engineers and manufacturers twenty three years to improve the battery technology, develop the infrastructure and prove to it’s customers that e-bikes are going to be everything we love. Fast, powerful, exciting and desirable.

What will electric motorbikes be like in the future? Now THAT’S a question I’m really interested in.

More on electric motorbikes: Are electric motorcycles really our future?

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The Author

Marc Ryan

Marc Ryan

A bike nut since he was 17, Marc was forced to lay off the bikes for over 10 years, on doctor's orders. Finally given the nod he thought he'd ease himself back in gently on an XL 250 but promptly bought an SV650 which made him shit his pants for the first month.
He also writes his own random meanderings at his own blog, https://isontheroad.wordpress.com