Electric Motorcycles: Riding a Wave Into the Future
Five years ago, if you wanted to ride an electric motorcycle, you pretty much had to build your own. There were lots of small suppliers who could supply tinkerers with parts for their science fair project bikes, and only California-based Zero had an off-the-shelf electric street bike. With a 67 mph top speed and 50-mile range the Zero didn’t exactly inspire confidence that electrics had a future.
Now, just five years later, there are several electric motorcycles available from various small manufacturers, some with a range over 100 miles and a top speed over 100 mph. Racers have also embraced electron drive—electric racing motorcycles have their own class at the Isle of Man TT, lapping the historic 37.733 mile circuit in 2015 at nearly 120 mph average and the fastest
motorcycle up Pikes Peak in 2013 was an electric Lightning, beating all of the gasoline bikes. BMW, Honda, Kawasaki, Victory and even Harley Davidson are talking about future product lines that include electric drivetrains.
Riding an electric motorcycle is a different experience than riders of traditional gasoline powered bikes are used to. Contrary to what you might have heard, electrics are not completely silent. The lack of any exhaust noise from engine combustion means that the sounds like the whir that comes from the drivetrain, the sounds of the tires rolling on the pavement, and as speed increases, the rushing sound of the wind are what you hear. All of these sounds are of course present on any traditional motorcycle; you just never hear them as they are drowned out by the sounds produced by the engine.
Very few electric motorcycles have any sort of transmission—electric motors produce their maximum torque from zero rpm, so the multiplication of torque provided by a gearbox isn’t really necessary. No transmission means no clutch, so riding an electric is in some ways similar to riding a big scooter with an automatic transmission, only faster. That huge surge of torque off the line makes electrics feel fast, even when they are carrying around a large amount of weight in the form of batteries.
Speaking of batteries, they are what is holding back the electric motorcycle and are probably the reason that you aren’t riding one today. When you think about the amount of energy carried in one gallon of gasoline you begin to understand how hard it is to replace fossil fuels. To carry the same amount of energy in traditional lead acid batteries that is available in one gallon of gasoline would require more than 3,600 lbs. of batteries. Even modern lithium ion batteries, like those used in the latest electric automobiles from Tesla, or the Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt would require over 400 lbs. of batteries. A gallon of gasoline weighs just six pounds and can push even the most ordinary motorcycle over 100 mph and cover up to about 50 miles. Refilling the gas tank takes just a few minutes.
The good news is that battery technology is rapidly improving. You can thank your cell phone or hand-held mobile device for much of the initial push to build small, light, powerful and quick recharging batteries. The technology that makes your phone work so well has been applied to giving electric vehicles improved range and performance, as well as reducing the cost of vehicle batteries. Although outlandish claims are made for future battery improvements, costs continue to fall and performance has improved enough to allow several bikes on the market that are perfectly adequate for day trips and local commutes.
Maybe that is all electric motorcycles need to be. It is highly unlikely that gasoline motorcycles will disappear any time soon. That’s just fine. But, with operating costs of around one cent per mile, almost no routine maintenance requirements (electric motors have effectively one moving part), never having to stop at a gas station to refuel, and a different but equally entertaining riding experience, electric bikes are carving out their own growing place in the world of motorcycling. The future may be here sooner than you think.
Energica is a brand from Italy that, so far, appears to have signed only two U.S. dealers: Newport Italian and Hollywood Electrics in Southern California.
The brand’s Ego model is a 568-lb. sportbike powered by a 11.7 kWh battery pack and an oil-cooled permanent magnet AC motor that are said to produce 136 hp from 4,900 to 10,500 rpm, 145 lb-ft of torque from zero to 4,700 rpm, and offer a claimed range of between 60-90 miles per charge.
The Ego’s electronic control unit includes four riding modes – Standard, ECO, Rain & Sport – as well as four maps for off-throttle power regeneration – Low, Medium, High and Off – all settings that are accessible via a 4.3-inch TFT color display info system with integrated GPS and Bluetooth.
The remainder of the chain-driven motorcycle’s running gear features a 43mm adjustable Marzocchi fork and Bitubo rear mono shock suspension, dual 330mm discs with Brembo four-pot calipers in front and a single 240mm disc with twin-piston rear, switchable Bosch ABS, and 17-inch cast aluminum wheels with Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires.
The Ego earlier this year received NHTSA accreditation and the green light from the EPA to be legally sold in the U.S. Price? Expect to plunk down at least $30 large.
H-D Project LiveWire Waiting On The Juice
Harley-Davidson in mid 2014 revealed a prototype electric motorcycle that the manufacturer dubbed Project LiveWire, a bike powered by an AC induction motor that develops 74 hp / 52 ft. lb. and has an estimated range of 50 to 60 miles.
H-D says Project LiveWire was specifically designed to get insights into the features and experience riders would expect from an electric Harley, and The Motor Company’s demo tour of bikes hand-built at the Willie G. Davidson Product Development Center in Wauwatosa, Wis., ultimately fulfilled more than 6,800 test rides across 30 stops in the U.S. to gauge customer reaction.
At the time, H-D said plans for retail availability of the bike would be influenced by the feedback obtained from those riders. Well, don’t expect to pick up your electrified H-D any time soon.
H-D CEO Matt Levatich, speaking at the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council’s yearly confab, suggested brand enthusiasts would have to wait beyond the coming model year to purchase a production version of Project LiveWire motorcycle.
Levatich’s comments, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, were that the LiveWire “will be ready for the marketplace when next-generation battery technologies are ready.”
Right now, he said, the electric bike would travel half the distance buyers want and cost more than what customers said they’d be willing to pay.
“This is new for Harley-Davidson,” said Jina Amaro, Harley-Davidson Integrated Marketing Communication Director. “To be truly customer-led, we want a deep understanding into what our customers are looking for and get it right for them the first time.”
H-D this year took the Project LiveWire demo experience to Europe, Canada and Asia-Pacific.
KTM’s new family of Freeride electric motorcycles consists of an enduro model (E-XC), a motocross model (E-SX) and a street-legal supermoto (E-SM).
All three models are powered by a liquid-cooled lithium-ion KTM PowerPack developed with Samsung and brushless permanent magnet motor that produces a continues 15hp but can develop 21.5 hp @ 4,500 rpm and an immediate 30 ft. lb. of torque. That power is sent to the rear wheel with a fixed gear transmission, eliminating the need for a clutch.
There’s enough juice for about one hour of riding (depending on riding style and terrain type). Charging takes 80 minutes, or riders can quickly switch out a depleted unit with a fully charged spare PowerPack. Weighing around 240 lbs., the machines are outfitted with WP suspension, Formula brakes, and 18-inch wheels (17-inch on the E-SM).
Prices for these three electric KTM start at 11.295 Euro ($12,000+). While these particular models will never make it to market in the U.S., their creation does show the Austrian manufacturer is preparing itself for greater prospects in the EV market.
Lightning Motorcycles Tracking the LS-218
Lightning Motorcycles is a small start-up electric motorcycle manufacturer based in San Carlos, Calif. After more than eight years in development, the company in late 2014 finally delivered its first five examples of the LS-218 to a select consumer group.
Pricing for the LS-218 ranges from $39,000 to $47,000. The bike features three battery pack options: a 12 kWh pack offering a range of 100 to 120 miles per charge, a 15 kWh pack offering 120 to 150 miles, and a 20 kWh pack offering a range of 160 to 180 miles. These power packs are mated to a liquid-cooled IPM motor developing 200 hp and 168 ft. lb. of torque. Speed tests have revealed a top velocity of 218 mph, and Lightning claims a charging time of two hours on a Level 2 public charger and – like the Mission R – 30 minutes utilizing a Direct DC fast charger.
Running gear on the 495-lb. bike is provided by either a RaceTech or optional Öhlins fork, Öhlins rear shock, Brembo brakes and Marchesini forged magnesium wheels.
The first five people who ordered the LS-218 received them in late 2014, with the company tracking what happens with them closely before opening up sales to a wider group.
Lito Green Motion of Quebec calls its Sora, draped in carbon fiber, aircraft-grade aluminum and plush leather, an electric luxury motorcycle. As it should be with a MSRP of $49,000.
Weighing in at 573 lbs., the Sora is powered by 12 kWh lithium-poymer battery modules and a liquid-cooled three-phase AC induction motor said to produce 60hp and 66.4 ft. lb. of torque.
There’s a CVT transmission, the bike is suspended by an adjustable 43mm inverted fork and Elka fully adjustable rear suspension, and stops via dual 310mm petal discs with radial mount four-piston Eringer calipers in front and a 250mm disc and twin-pot caliper in back.
Lito claims a range of 120 miles per charge. Recharging takes approx. 9 hours utilizing the 1.3kW onboard charger.
Mission Slow to Market
Mission Electric, formerly operated as Mission Motors and Mission Motorcycles, has been slow to come to market with its electric two-wheel offerings.
The company initially made headlines with its track-focused Mission R – of which the firm only sold 40 units – but later promised a more “streetable” version in the form of the Mission RS. Prospective buyers plunked down a sizeable deposit and expected their bikes to be delivered last summer. Now, a year later, they’re still waiting.
The Mission RS reaches a claimed top speed of 150 mph via its liquid-cooled three-phase AC induction motor with Mission’s proprietary InfiniteDrive powertrain that spins out 120 kW (163 hp) and 133.4 ft. lb. of torque from zero to 6,400 rpm.
Weight and travel range is dictated by battery pack size. A bike with a 12 kWh pack weighs 490 lbs. and can travel approx. 105 miles whereas a bike with the 17 kWh pack weighs 540 lbs. and should be able to cover approx. 140 miles.
Utilizing the onboard 4.5 kW charger with a standard 110V outlet takes 10 hours for the 12 kWh pack, 12 hours for an offered 15 kWh pack, and 14 hours for the 17 kWh pack. Using Direct DC fast charging allows all three to be fully charged in 30 minutes.
As for running gear: The Mission RS stops via dual 320mm front discs with Brembo M430 monobloc calipers and a 245mm rear disc with Brembo two-piston caliper, floats on a 43mm Öhlins adjustable inverted front fork and rear shock, and rolls on 17-inch Marchesini forged aluminum wheels wrapped in Dunlop rubber.
Mission has been asking for $32,499 to $42,499 for the Mission R and $59,000 for the Mission RS.
Oset’s Electric Trials for Tikes
Oset USA of Montrose, Colo., offers a range of electric Trials bikes for kids, including the 12.5 Eco ($1,199) and 12.5 Racing ($1,399) for ages 2-5, the 16.0 Racing ($1,999) for ages 5-7, and the 20.0 Eco ($2,599) and 20.0 Racing ($2,899) for ages 8 and older.
The manufacturer, Oset Bikes Ltd. of the UK, intends to offer a kids’ size electric motocross model, the MX-10, in 2016. For ages 4-7, the MX-10 comes with a 48v Oset drive system with three-stage output adjustability, an adjustable upside-down fork and adjustable oil shock at the rear, 160mm front and 140mm rear hydraulic disc brakes with adjustable levers, and laced alloy rims with 10-inch tires. Oh, and a Supermoto wheel/tire package is optional.
Victory Reveals the Empulse TT
Victory Motorcycles recently introduced the electric-powered Empulse TT ($19,999), a bike that borrows most of its parts from the Brammo Empulse R but was supposedly updated with what Victory calls “a focus on performance.”
Victory has been working with Brammo since 2011, but in January 2015 Victory’s parent company, Minnesota-based Polaris Industries, acquired the electric power specialist’s motorcycle assets. Since then, Victory says, engineers worked with the Brammo product team to achieve improvements in battery capacity, display function and handling.
Brammo Empulse vs. Victory Empulse
The Brammo Empulse and Empulse R were powered by a Brammo Power lithium-ion battery that develops 103.6V and holds a capacity of 10.2 kWh.
The Victory Empulse TT is powered by a Brammo Power lithium-ion battery that develops 103.6V and holds a capacity of 10.4 kWh.
The Brammo Empulse produced 40kW (54 hp) @ 6,000 rpm and 46.5 ft. lb. of torque. The Empulse R produced 40kW @ 4,500 rpm and 66 ft. lb. of torque. Both had a claimed max speed 103 mph. Range was a claimed 80 miles.
Victory says the Empulse TT produces 40kW and 61 ft.-lb. of torque, has a maximum speed of over 100 mph, and delivers a range of between 65 and 100 miles per charge. A Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) “combined 70 mph highway and city range” test revealed a range of 57 miles.
Weighing 470 lbs., the Empulse R featured an adjustable 43mm Marzocchi fork and adjustable Sachs rear shock, dual 310mm discs with four-piston radial mount Brembo calipers, Marchesini wheels, and 120/70-17 front and 180/55-17 rear Continental SportAttack 2 tires.
Weighing 470 lbs., the Empulse TT features an adjustable 43mm inverted fork and adjustable rear shock, dual 310mm discs with four-piston radial mount Brembo calipers, updated wheels with a smaller rear, and 120/70-17 front and 160/60-17 rear Continental SportAttack 2 tires. I contacted Victory to learn the brand names used for the fork, rear damper and wheels, but was told they don’t name suppliers.
Victory says recharging the Brammo Empulse TT using a regular household 120V outlet takes 8.9 hours. Utilizing an optional Stage 2 charger and 240V outlet will recharge it in just 3.9 hours.
As with the previous generation Empulse, riders can make the most efficient use of battery power by using the six-speed gearbox – with downshifting helping to create regenerative power – or operated in ECO of Sport modes, with Sport mode offering 20 percent more battery power for enhanced acceleration.
Brammo ended 2014 by significantly cutting prices on its models, offering the 2014 Empulse at $11,995, down from $16,995, and the 2014 Empulse R at $13,995, down from $18,995.
The Victory Empulse TT is scheduled to be available for purchase in late 2015. Will Victory be able to move the bike priced at $19,999? Only time will tell.
Zero Leads the Market
Zero Motorcycles, based in Scotts Valley, Calif., has been the most successful purveyor of electric motorcycles in the U.S., and for 2015 again offers four models that feature various power outputs.
The Zero S comes in three flavors – ZF9.4 ($11,995), ZF12.5 ($13,995) and ZF12.5+Power Tank $16,490) – each differentiated by the capacity of their power system. All three are powered by a Z-Force lithium-ion battery pack mated to a Z-Force permanent magnet brushless motor developing 40 kW (54 hp) @ 4,300 rpm and an immediate 68 ft. lb. of torque, and all three supply a claimed top speed of 95 mph.
However, while the base model holds a capacity of 9.34 kWh and a claimed range of 113 miles, the others hold 12.5 kWh and a range of 151 miles and 15.3 kWh and a range of up to 185 miles. Utilizing a standard household outlet for recharging, it’ll take 6.6 hours for the ZF9.4, 8.6 hours for the ZF12.5, and 10.5 hours for the ZF12.5+Power Tank.
However, especially neat from Zero Motorcycles is an available high-powered off-board charging system that you can install at home. Zero says it can reduce charging times by up to 75% (taking only 1.9 hours to charge the 9.4 kWh pack, 2.4 hours for the 12.5 kWh, and 2.8 hours for the 15.3 kWh).
All three examples are suspended by Showa bits, slow via Bosch ABS-equipped brakes and roll on Pirelli Sport Demon tires. Yet, because of that variable battery pack size, weight ranges from 376 lbs. to 452 lbs.
The Zero SR comes in two variants – the ZF12.5 ($15,995) and ZF 12.5+Power Tank ($18,490). Both are powered by a Z-Force lithium-ion battery pack mated to a Z-Force permanent magnet brushless motor developing 50 kW (67 hp) @ 4,000 rpm, 106 ft. lb. of torque, and capable of propelling the bikes to 102 mph.
Range of he 12.5 kWh battery pack is 115 miles. The 12.5+Power Tank (15.3 kWh) ups mileage to 141 miles. When using a standard U.S. outlet to recharge, the 12.5 kWh battery pack translates to a charging time of 8.6 hours while the 12.5+Power Tank needs 10.5 hours for full charge.
Both examples are suspended by Showa bits, slow via Bosch ABS-equipped brakes and roll on Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires. Weight ranges from 414 lbs. to 458 lbs.
Like the “S” model, the DS model also comes with three varying Z-Force lithium-ion power pack sizes – 9.4 kWh ($11,995), 12.5 kWh ($13,995) and 12.5 kWh+Power Tank ($16,490) – that, together with a Z-Force motor, all produce 40 kW (54 hp) @ 4,300 rpm, 68 ft. lb. of torque, and are capable of propelling the bikes to a claimed 98 mph. The varying battery pack output translates to a range/charge time of 78 miles/6.6 hours, 104 miles/8.6 hours, and 128 miles/10.5 hours.
Again, running gear is provided by Showa, Bosch and Pirelli (MT-60 model tires), and bike weights range from 381 lbs. to 457 lbs.
The Zero FX is a lightweight dual model. As with Zero’s other models, it too is offered in more than one power pack – 2.8 kWh ($8,495) and 5.7 kWh ($10,990). Utilizing a Z-Force permanent magnet brushless motor with those Z-Force lithium-ion power packs, both bikes achieve 70 ft. lb. of torque and a top speed of 85 mph. The varying battery pack output translates to a range/charge time of 27 miles and 4.1 hours for the ZF2.8, and 54 miles and 7.8 hours for the ZF5.7.
Like the other models, the suspension comes from Showa, brakes from Bosch, and tires from Pirelli (MT-90 A/T).
Zero ended 2014 by expanding its facility in Scotts Valley and making substantial investments in technology and people. “Highly advanced tools, improved systems and more skilled workers will allow us to continue to increase our production capacity and ensure premium quality,” said Kai Hypko, VP of Operations, Zero Motorcycles.