I write stuff. A lot of it is about cars and motorcycles.

Electric Motorcycles Are Not Practical

Paul Crowe, over at the Kneeslider, addresses one of my personal hobby horses: electric motorcycles, and makes a key point.

The engineering expertise available today made short work of the obvious, designs began to make the bikes look good, powerful electric motors were built, the suspension is just adapted from standard models, nothing unusual there, it’s those pesky batteries. We need a small, light, fast charging, long lasting battery with big capacity. That, definitely, is not one of those easy parts, that’s a real head scratcher and, though there is a huge reward waiting for anyone who can design one, we’re just not there yet, which, itself, tells us a lot. Anyone who takes a cursory look at electric vehicles quickly sees the potential and monetary windfall waiting and still, no battery that takes the performance leap has been developed.

That last phrase is the key point.  No matter how much we might want or need electric vehicles–or some other zero-emissions technology–it will not magically appear simply because we want it…or because politicians mandate it by fiat.

Back in the 90’s, when I was hosting The Business Day on KMNY in Los Angeles, the state of California approved a mandate that required something like 40% of all vehicles be zero-emissions by 2006.  I spent an entire week talking to the big electric and alternate fuels execs at GM, Chrysler and Ford, and they all told me the same thing.  The technology to make electric vehicles with range and performance similar to internal combustion engined vehicles does not exist.

It didn’t exist in 1995.  It doesn’t exist today.  And despite the Olympian pronouncements of politicians in Sacramento, the zero-emissions mandate was superseded by that reality. And even if you get the range and power, there’s still the inconvenient 8-hour wait for the battery to recharge.

Somewhere, there’s a breakthrough in zero-emissions technology waiting to be found.  Until it is, though, all this electric motorcycle stuff is pure, feelgood, hype

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3 Responses to Electric Motorcycles Are Not Practical

  • I’ve commented another time about this already, and I stick to it: it’s happening. Slow, in the background, but it’ll come. Batteries get better by large leaps. They will need a few more leaps, sure.
    But if I’m looking at the usage pattern e.g. of 50cc scooters here in european cities, that matches what electric scooters can do. And since that’s true and prices dropped from insane to outrageous, people actually start buying them. The gas engine ain’t dead in that segment, but it’s not without alternative any more.
    Another already valid application is cross bikes. Electrics can hold up the half hour or so of track riding, and they’re entirely noiseless. They’ll make their inroads there within the next years.
    Sure – the big tourer community, riding a thousand a day, will not switch electric any time soon. But the commuters may think about it in a few years. Range and performance is not the major criteria to everybody.

  • By and large, I tend to agree with this article.  But you did leave out the fact that momentum is growing in the commuter market– baby steps are starting to take place.  Look at the Enertia, I would love to have that for a commuting bike, but I don’t have the money would be hesitant to shell out $7k anyways.   Of course most of the cost is due to the batteries.  Now think about 3-4 years down the road when batt mfg’s start to crank up production.   Surely we’ll see cheaper batts with at least some incremental improvements.

  • You forgot an important word at the end of your title… “YET”
    Imagine if engineers and tinkerers had looked at the newly invented steam engine with the same attitude. “We need a vehicle that’s faster and more efficient than a horse, but this here steam engine… well it just ain’t practical. Let’s give up and go back to the stables.”
    So we haven’t invented a battery that’ll recharge in six nanoseconds and have a range of 1000 miles. Let’s give up!
    How about this… let’s invent one. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.

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