The Many Faces of Motorcycles - Electric Motorcycles

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Many Faces of Motorcycles - Electric Motorcycles

A century seems like just a short time when you think about how long the world has been spinning. But a lot can happen in a century and motorcycles are a perfect example of that. From tiny motors attached to bicycle frames to over 200 mph sportbikes and even touring bikes with practically an entire home entertainment system built in. But motorcycles are the kind of technology that will never stop moving forward. And with so much already being produced, enthusiasts are looking for the next big step forward in the motorcycle industry and many have discovered it: electric motorcycles.

1911 electric motorcycle
Popular Mechanis magazine published that an electric motorcycle was available in 1911.

But electric motorcycles aren't exactly a new idea. The first introduction of the idea that we could find wasn't in the last ten, twenty or even fifty years. A popular mechanics article made mention of a bike concept using a battery rather than petrol in 1911. So if electric motorcycles have been an idea for over a century, why are we still relying of fossil fuels to get us moving? Well, early in the 20th century, we weren't really aware that we were burning giant holes in our ozone and slowly suffocating our planet. Plus the cost of gas didn't require us to take out a second mortgage. So there wasn't really a need.

Now that there is a need, it's taking engineers and designs a bit of time to come up with the battery technology required to give electric motorcycles the range and power that we've come to expect from our rides. Still, they're not quite up to the consumer's par yet and those that come close come with a hefty price tag. Several companies are fighting to start production on the first affordable and yet practical electric motorcycles.

2012 Zero S
The 2012 Zero S hits up to 88 mph with a fairly decent battery range.

Zero Motorcycles was one of the first to make a decent sized splash in the motorcycle industry. Taking the concept and putting into a production motorcycle that is available to consumers was a huge step in making electric motorcycles possible. But with the short term charge life of the batteries paired with the high cost of the bike, most of the public still found Zero's motorcycles to be a bit unrealistic. Today, Zero's technology has advanced enough to produce bikes with decent range for around the town riding or short distance commuting. The Zero S ZF6, their most basic of street models, reaches 76 miles around the city and 43 miles on the highway before needing to be plugged back in. Plus it can reach a very reasonable 88 mph.

Their motocross bike, the Zero MX, can ride on the track for 45 to 90 minutes before needing a charge or a battery swap while it can last an hour to two hours on the trails all while reaching a top of 54 mph. Of course, Zero also has started producing a dual sport model as well as advanced models such as the Zero S ZF9, which is the exact same as the ZF6 but with a bigger battery, more range and a chunkier price tag. The basic 2012 Zero S ZF6 starts off at $11,495 while the 2012 Zero MX is going for around $9,495.

2012 brammo enertia
Brammo went for a more futuristic look with their electric motorcycle, the Brammo Enertia

But another company is catching up. Brammo was originally known for the odd styling of their electric bikes. Going away from the traditional motorcycle look, Brammo embraced the futuristic vibe of electric motorcycles and made a model that looked like nothing else on the market. The Brammo Enertia has no reminiscence of an engine but more of a solid yet sleek body. On average, the batteries can get up to 42 miles while hitting top speeds of 60 mph. And though the price is a more swallow-able $7,995, any motorcycle enthusiast will tell you that 60 mph doesn't cut it. Their Enertia Plus will give you an 80 mile range for a grand more, but it still lacks power.

2012 brammo empulse
The Brammo Empulse has some of the best range paired with top speeds that beat any other competition.

But Brammo hit the proverbial nail on the head by coming out with the Empulse. Taking a cue from the more traditional motorcycle style, the Empulse not only looks like a fast motorcycle with just a dash of futuristic air, it has some serious bite. The simplest of the Empulse models is the 6.0, which has a 60 mile range but can hit a tasty 100 mph. The Empulse 8.0 is the next step up and reaches 80 miles before needing an outlet while also hitting up to 100 mph. The Empulse 10.0 has a fantastic 100 mile range and 100 mph speed making it one of the most advanced electric bikes on the market. While the Zero S ZF9 gets about the same range, it can only hit 88 mph and only costs $500 less. So while the two are comparable, the Brammo Empulse has a little more bite for $13, 995.

If you're an off-road rider, Brammo is finally dipping their toes into that market. Though all of the details have yet to be released, Brammo's Engage MX is priced at $9,995 and has the classic dirt bike look. Range and speed are yet to be announced however.

ktm freeride e
KTM became one of the first major motorcycle manufacturers to release a production possible electric motorcycle with their KTM Freeride E

But it's the major motorcycle manufacturers who have yet to jump on the electric bandwagon. Many, such as BMW, have shown and announced electric prototypes that are promised to be released in the immediate upcoming years. KTM, on the other hand, is one step ahead and has released their first electric bike, the Freeride E. Boasting a price tag of under $10,00, KTM still hasn't made their battery powered baby available to the general masses but they have announced that the bike gets a half hour of riding in before needing some new juice. Compared to the 45 to 90 minutes of track riding on the Zero as well as the Zero MX's price tag also residing under $10,000, the battle for the better electric dirt bike will come down to how they handle.

bmw e-go
BMW owned company Husqvarna has yet to release any info on its powertrain abilities but boast an extremely light weight.

In the following years, the motorcycle industry will certainly see a lot of advancements and possible surprises on the electric front. Last fall, BMW-owned Husqvarna debuted it's electric motorcycle concept bike, the E-go, which showed a lot of promise and great advancements such as a single sided fork and a featherlike weight of 176 pounds, almost half of the weight of the Brammo Enertia. But Husqvarna still has yet to reveal the power train abilities of the super light E-go.

honda oree
Two German college students came up with a promising concept design that they called th eHonda Oree.

And a call from the public to the major manufacturers to join the electric motorcycle movement still remains. A the 2008 INTERMOT bike show in Cologne, Germany, two German college students released their concept model under the Honda Oree name. The bike features an extremely futuristic look with still a touch of the motorcycle styling we know and love in our petrol bikes. It was projected to have a top speed of 120 mph with a range of 80 to 190 miles. Still, as advanced as the concept was compared to actual electric motorcycles being produced today, Honda has yet to acknowledge the bike as a part of the Honda line and has made no public moves to make it a possible production bike. But Honda has very recently released their own concept model. The RC-E is a fully electric superbike, which may have some potential. However, at the release, little performance information was released leaving the concept an enigma.

Electric motorcycles are undeniably a burgeoning corner of the motorcycle market. With independent electric motorcycle manufacturers producing a healthy stream of bikes that are constantly improving, it's only a matter of time that the major motorcycle manufacturers will be forced to put their own efforts into the pile. But one can only wonder, after we perfect the electric motorcycle, what will come next in the evolution of motorcycles? Dreamers... start your engines.

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