If you have an opinion on electric motorcycles (and let’s face it, you do. You know you do and you should!) then you fall into one of three categories.
The two ends of the spectrum tend to sound like this:
- Hell yes – I’d love one and look forward to that day (or even have one now) even if it involves some inconvenience or personal cost
- Absolutely not, petrol engines are holy machines that turn chemistry into velocity and electric whisks with wheels are a blasphemy
And then, of course, there’s the category most of us will sit in:
3. When it doesn’t cost any more than a petrol bike, has the same range as a petrol bike and when I can charge it about as quickly as I can fill up with petrol and have a pasty and a wee, yeah, sure, I’ll make the move.
On the face of things, that’s perfectly reasonable. If something wants to earn a place in our lives, it has to be at least as good as what it replaces. See: Smartphones, which we adopted en masse, and 3D TV, which we really bloody didn’t.
Were we talking about a new gadget or some idle frippery, that would be an acceptable philosophy. However electric vehicles are so, so much more than that. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that they’re one of the bigger changes we’re going to have to implement in order to try and, yeah I’m gonna say it, save the world.
There comes a point where we have to stop and look at our lives and decide if we can live with our decisions and the costs of our lifestyles. Be that petrol motors, cheap Chinese luxury goods, eating meat or playing your music through your phone speakers on a train like a damned animal.
However, this isn’t a morality tale, I’m not George Monbiot and this definitely isn’t the Guardian. What this is, instead, is me admitting that I was wrong about a lot of things. I used to cling tightly to the belief that petrol is sacred, manmade climate change might not be happening and we had time to see how this played out. Truly, I figured it was fine.
Yet over the last few years, I’ve done the research, I’ve looked at the evidence and unlike a certain [Australian politician], I don’t believe NASA is behind a conspiracy to corrupt climate data.
The other thing that’s happened during this time period is that electric vehicle technology has gotten significantly better. Why? Largely because Evil/Good Moonbase-building Genius/Likeable Supervillain Elon Musk is doing incredible things. As a Tesla employee said to me recently, ‘he’s building electric cars and powerbanks to save the world, and rockets in case we’re too late.’
What he’s really done, though, is made electric vehicles socially acceptable, cool and put them at the bleeding edge of innovation. Tesla invented some amazing things, and then did the inconceivable to most: they made the patents freely available to anyone who wants to use them in making their own electric vehicles. But that’s not all, that’s not just why they’re almost universally loved by everyone (except other petrol car makers).
There’s a reason that all the young people who were 18-24 during the recession don’t trust big institutions and companies, and the recent unforgivable emissions cover ups and subsequent meltdowns by VW, Mitsubishi and others, not to mention BP’s Deepwater Horizon utter…. Well, there’s not a word for how much they fucked us all over with that.
The point I’m getting at is that the people who were most affected by the biggest companies in the world tanking the global economy lost their trust in institutions across the board. Governments, banks, corporations.
When someone like Tesla comes in and shows us another way, makes technology that’s not only good for the environment but objectively good… then we have someone to love again.
But what about motorcycles? We don’t have 15-minute superchargers yet, nor comparable ranges or a charismatic lunatic to look up to.
What we do have instead is brands doing genuinely good work and making incrementally better vehicles despite the fact that battery technology hasn’t really improved at all since the inception of lithium-ion in 1991. The truth is all the real innovation has been in improved efficiency of motors, drivetrains and… sorry I’m getting lost in glorious, dull technology again.
The point I started getting at was that electric bikes are now pretty good. They can lap the TT course as fast as a sidecar and a 250cc GP bike – and they will close that gap in a decade compared to the century internal combustion engines have been at it.
Okay, you want examples? The Energetica EGO is a stunning superbike with the pedigree of the CRP Group who are Formula One craftsmen and it’s £18,000. And it’s been described by MCN’s Michael Neeves as having one of the most exciting power deliveries of any motorcycle he’s ever tested.
Or take the KTM Freeride, a beautifully Spartan trials-crosser that’s as bonkers and impractical as any four-stroke equivalent is. Electric off-roaders have perhaps the best potential (pun intended) of electric bikes as short, intense riding fits with mud-botherers’ modus operandi, plus they can do one thing that’s truly wonderful: reconcile off-road riders with the public.
The tiny Bavarian town of Siegsdorf had a problem – residents hated local motocross events because they brought loud bikes. However, with the introduction of Quantyaelectric bikes, which are effectively silent, town mayor Thomas Kamm signed off the construction plans for a new motocross park. This was back in 2008, and plans are in place for more than 50 more. And bikes have only gotten better since then.
And there’s more – there’s the BMW C Evolution, which pulls like an S1000RR up to 30mph, sounds like a fridge turning on and is genuinely a hoot to ride. And in an unexpected, but welcome, twist they’ve just announced that next year’s model has the new batteries from their i3 car and a 65% range increase. Well, that’s not too shabby at all.
There’s Zero, the US-based factory churning out ever-improving versions of their supermoto and off-road bikes and more. Brammo, who make the admirable Empulse, just got $58 million in funding and are tripling their staff.
The Japanese manufactures won’t be far behind, Victory have already unveiled the first (rebadged and very much Brammo)Empulse TT and there are definitely more coming. Now, they’re not yet as good as a petrol bike. They can’t go as far, or as fast, or be bought as cheap. But that’s okay.
They’re good enough for enough of us to use for enough of our riding to be accepted. They are the future. And we’ve got to buy them anyway.
We have a responsibility to buy them, or at least support them, or they’re not going to get better.
Sometimes it’s okay to buy a worse product if, in the end, it’s better for us all. For motorcycling, for the planet and, eventually, for us as an individual. Because electric bikes will be faster, smarter, cheaper, torquier and all round better.
But first we gotta do our duty and support them while they’re not.