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Is there an electric motorcycle in your future?

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May 28, 2012 by Rider Newsletter Staff

OK. We at The USA Trailer Store are probably ahead of the market here, but electric motorcycles are beginning to make a mark in the industry. Will we see a large group at the next Sturgis run? No. Will we begin to see more and more people riding them to work in city centers? Probably. Are they a growing element of the motorcycle market? For sure.

To be clear, we’re not talking about scooters and runabouts. We refer to motorcycles worthy of the name. Vehicles that can hold their own with other traffic, even on freeways, and keep up with gas powered machines off road and on the racetrack. Then, there’s the question of range. A true motorcycle must go far enough on each charge to be worth owning.

The electric motorcycle market has been the domain of small, specialty manufacturers for a number of years. BRD (https://www.faster-faster.com/index.html), Brammo (http://www.brammo.com/home/) and Zero (http://www.zeromotorcycles.com/) are among the current (pun intended) leaders in the field. They’ve come a long way and gained a ton of respect in the past few years. Zero, for example, offers a full line of off- and on-road machines, many of which can travel more than 100 miles on a single charge.

The financial markets have certainly begun to notice. According to a recent article in Wired Magazine, 2011 saw Brammo receive $28 million in funding and Zero raised $26 million. The article also includes brief reviews of the newest models from the current “big three.” For now, the relatively small electric motorcycle market belongs to small, highly specialized companies like these.

Recently, however, some of the big guys are showing an interest in going electric. In November 2011, Honda introduced the RC-E, an electric super sports bike concept that leverages the company’s existing automotive hybrid technology. Details were very sparse, but all indications are that this concept bike will become reality in the fairly near future AND it will provide some exciting performance capabilities.

Why are electrics starting their move now? Enhancements in battery technology are constantly increasing both the performance and range of electric vehicles of all kinds. Motorcycles are great candidates for electrical power because they are, by their nature, lightweight and nimble. They are also ideal vehicles for shorter trips. A reasonably priced electric motorcycle could serve as an adjunct to a car (or even a touring motorcycle), providing a low-cost, low-emission alternative for running errands and, dare we say it, having fun.

Electrics are far easier and less costly to maintain. What’s more, electric motors offer incredible off the line performance and provide tons of torque. An electric motorcycle will beat almost anything off the line and the power provided to the wheels make off-road electrics real competitors. Lightweight, high-performance electrics may be on the offing; however an all-electric, long haul touring machine is probably not in the cards anytime soon.

Finally, there’s the controversial subject of emissions. Most of today’s motorcycles offer little or no serious emission controls, making them greater polluters than cars. This fact was driven home by a recent segment of the Discovery Channel program Mythbusters, which compared emissions for cars and motorcycles over three decades of production. The rather surprising result was that while motorcycles used 28% less fuel and emitted 30% less carbon dioxide, their emissions of hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen were significantly higher.

So, will we see an electric Harley-Davidson Electra Glide (Electric Glide?) or Honda Gold Wing anytime soon? Probably not, but don’t think it will never happen. The market will belong to smaller companies until it becomes clear there’s a serious demand. Then, the big guys will enter the fray. You can bet, however, that every major manufacturer has electric vehicle research programs underway. 2012 could very well be the year the electrics truly make their mark.


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