MotorcycleDaily.com – Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

Living With Electric Power – A Reader Perspective (If There Is One)

Electric powered two wheelers are expected to be the future by many.  There are already motorcycles and bicycles available that are purely electric or supplemented only by human pedal power.

We want to know your perspective.  If you have been using a two wheeled vehicle powered by an electric motor for any extended period of time, we would like to know your thoughts in the Comments section below.  Give us the details of your purchase, including make, model and price.  Tell us what your experience has been.  Has the useful range (miles available before necessary recharge) been sufficient for your purposes? Do you recharge at your destination (work or school for instance), and do you do this for free?  How has charging your electric vehicle impacted your electric bill?  Are there any maintenance issues or expenses dissimilar from those faced by owners of traditional, internal combustion engine motorcycles? Would you buy the same motorcycle/scooter/bicycle again?

We will be testing electric-engined two wheelers in the future, but we want to know what your experience has been to this date.  I also want to invite readers who have electric automobiles (electric only, not hybrids) to share their experiences.  The Nissan Leaf is an example.

41 Comments

  1. Sabu says:

    As someone who lives in a dense urban city, whose typical ride is quite short, and who is somewhat concerned about environmental issues, I guess you could say I am the ideal demographic for these bikes. What turns me off is that the lack of noise is extremely unsafe for urban riding, and I don’t like the idea of a fake annoying noise to make up for it.

    Report this comment

    • william says:

      The whole loud bikes means safety thing is a topic in itself. For electric, close pedestrians might hear the whine of the electric motor, road noise of the tires, and chain and sprocket noise. Other people in cars cannot hear you anyway because they have the windows rolled up listening to the radio, talking on the phone, or too engaged in sending text messages. I almost changed lanes into some loud bikes because I heard the massive noise approaching my position and it sounded like I was about to get run over by a train or an airplane was going to crash land on me or something. It sounded like it was comming from the other direction, must have been bouncing off of the concrete walls along the freeway. I didn’t end up changeing lanes but I now know loud bikes do not always mean safety because I experienced that loud can cause problems. I don’t think electric will ever replace gas bikes anyway, untill we run out of oil anyway. When that happens we will probably have bigger problems to ponder then optimal bike noise. So loud and obnoxious will still be available for those who like it. People do that with cars today already, they fill the trunk with subwoofers and annoy everyone in a 20 mile radius.

      Report this comment

  2. william says:

    Brammo is experimenting with gears instead of just 1, which answers someones inquiry below. Electric dirt bikes just might save the sport, or better yet allow it to expand with more riding areas. Low noise and exhaust smell will allow riding closer to neighborhoods. I would even move to a new house to get in on a neighborhood riding area. Wishful thinking I know, but it could be possible with electric and not possible with gas. What I see offered now is lacking range but other performance is in the ballpark already. I want to buy an electric dirt bike, but unfortunitely I have to watch my money a little closer sine I don’t have a lot. Thus I am waiting for some more improvements before I buy. I wish there was a battery breakthrough tomorrow, I don’t want to wait any longer.

    A dirt bike that sounds like a tie-fighter, awsome. Plus electric is way more simple than building a gas engine, which makes me suspect I would see more companies selling dirt bikes in the future. Not that many offroad choices available right now, not counting the mx bikes. I am bored with the same old gas bikes.

    Report this comment

    • fazer6 says:

      Actually, most issues with dirt tacks, and residential-area riding has to do with dust–Which unfortunately, ebikes create just as much as ICE.

      Report this comment

      • william says:

        Large portions of the dunes have been closed off that border private land to make a noise buffer. There is no dust there for example. Also no riding after 10pm due to noise, and a 93 db limit. Other areas here the sheriff actually does sound checks. If noise was not a factor then why is there a sound limit that keeps going down? I can see dust being a factor in some locations, however that in no way negates the fact that noise is a huge problem for the sport and less noise will help. Electric bikes so far have a huge noise benefit, thats awsome, and it will help in every area I ride. Less noise is not some irrelevant benefit due to something else being the driving factor. Less noise is huge! I will be hopeful and look forward to a victory on the noise issue, which will help vastly. In the areas where dust is the issue, if the dust problem was fixed, then noise would probably become the problem. In those areas I guess a solution to both would be good.

        Report this comment

  3. Morris Bethoven says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. An internal combustion engine is a living, breathing thing. An electric motor with it’s synthesized sound track can never equal the sound and feel of internal combustion. We stand to lose a lot in the process. Oh well, I’ve enjoyed burning hydrocarbons all my life and will probably go out kicking and screaming. They will have to pry the gas pump handle from my cold dead hands!

    Report this comment

  4. Xaero says:

    Its funny that people say that gas motorcycles are cheaper. They are in the short run but what about 10 years down the road? With gas, oil and engine maintenance the gas motorcycle is more expensive than electric, up to thousands of dollars depending on how you ride. In ~80,000 miles how many times will you change your oil, rebuild the engine? How much gas is that? That is the 80% mark for some electric motorcycle batteries. Just because its at 80% does not mean it needs to be changed, so you can continue on to maybe just over 100k miles before even thinking about changing out the batteries. Most Ninja’s die around 20k miles and need the engine replaced or rebuilt from my experience. To many moving parts.

    Report this comment

    • Dean says:

      While many crotch rockets may die around 20k miles (if you are correct with that) it is likely due to the extreme power output will comprimise reliability. Given the way that many of those bikes are flogged, even a team of mechanics couldn’t make them last much longer.

      However, if someone were to ride a crotch rocket with a more calm head (and wrist), there is no reason to doubt that it would last much longer with proper maintenance.

      Look at the average life of “regular” motors in Goldwings, Harleys, Standards, etc… 20k miles is just getting started! I have over 35k miles on my Vstrom1000 (riding in a “spirited” manner) and it has been nothing but gas, oil, and filters. Plus the tires and one chain so far. It still rides like new. Many bikes easily get over 100k miles.

      Batteries willgo bad, even if they are ridden (discharged) and recharged properly. More advanced power cells are like crotch rockets. If they aren’t properly taken care of, they too will die prematurely. Too many moving electrons…

      Report this comment

    • fazer6 says:

      Any good size battery pack is still many times more expensive than a small engine rebuild.

      And remember, at this point “parity” with ICE is in the 250cc range–Not exactly expensive engines to repair/rebuild. In fact, you can get a whole replacement engine for a Ninja 250 for about $1000. That’s 1/7 the cost of an average battery pack, and a properly maintained 250 will easily run 100,000 miles or more, with cheap (mine is about $6) oil changes and upwards of 80mpg.
      Tires/chain apply to both modes of propulsion, so cancel out.

      Report this comment

  5. Agent55 says:

    It’s really hard to get excited about electric bikes (cars are marginally more acceptable to me) after riding combustion engines my entire life. Gas-engines just have so much character and feel that ties into the whole experience.

    I suppose a savvy electric bike company could successfully simulate a combustion engine feel using electric power, but I’d much rather see something like a hydrogen-powered combustion engine (yes, I realize there’s a slim chance of that happening) that changes the rider’s experience little-to-none. I haven’t even mentioned the sheer variety we have in motorcycling today; V-fours, singles, twins etc. All of that would be gone in an electric world.

    Report this comment

  6. Ed says:

    Test rode a Brammo @ Daytona last year. No thanks.

    Report this comment

  7. secret asian man says:

    With an ICE, the power storage (fuel) is light, and the powerplant (motor) is heavy.

    With an electric, it is the exact opposite. Electric motors are light and powerful, but batteries are heavy and low throughput.

    What this means is that while ICE bikes have plenty of range, electric bikes cannot. Like an aircraft or rocket, they are fuel-weight limited. More range requires more battery – and more battery requires even more battery to carry around the weight of those batteries. At current energy densities (100x less than gasoline), an electric motorcycle is just a city street commuter’s toy.

    Crank up that energy density by a factor of two (likely within the next few years) and the incredibly low weight and 2wd potential of the electric motor come into play. Plus, traction control in an electric is trivial. Imagine two electric motors, front and rear, with a computer watching gyros and managing thrust perfectly.

    It’s going to be epic.

    Report this comment

  8. Southerner says:

    I’m keeping my eye on developments but we’re not there yet.

    Love the look of the Empulse.

    The big bottleneck is, of course, the batteries. There’s the lack of range, the time to recharge, and, as has been pointed out here, the degeneration of the batteries. Finally, there’s the environmental question of how to recycle or at least properly dispose of all those exhausted batteries.

    Prices for the machines are high but can be expected to come down when economies of scale kick in. An electric bike HAS to be simpler to manufacture than an ICE bike.

    For now, it’s better to just find the smallest ICE scooter or MC that fits your needs. The smaller the engine, the better the MPG and the lower the harm to the environment.

    Report this comment

    • Steve D says:

      I completely agree with every point you make. I find it regrettable that it is rarely (if ever) so clearly expressed in the general media. Usually what you get are all the what-ifs and on the horizon statements and sales pitches. The fact is that the physics are not yet there in anything approaching affordability or competitiveness. this may change but the breakthrough does not appear to be imminent.

      Report this comment

    • Dean says:

      Right on… One of the owners said he just runs errands, and runs about 45mph on hilly roads. If he were to get a new Suzuki TU250 (looks like a model out of the 70′s, air cooled single, etc…) or even a Ninja 250 or CBR250, he could keep that same pace while getting almost 100mpg (he uses gravity alot, so that should be easy for him).

      The old style Suzuki probably would run a long time without oil changes, so it is just a bit of gas, and the same tires / chain upkeep that the E-bikes have.

      He could even go for a long ride if he wanted! Even break the 50MPH barrier if he dared!

      Report this comment

  9. protomech says:

    @Mickey

    GM published a sales target of 10k Volts in 2011. They’ve sold just under 4k YTD. They sold 700 in September.

    They’re definitely below their (arbitrary?) target. Keep in mind that the Volt is only available in a small number of markets, they had very limited production early in the year, and they took down the assembly lines recently to upgrade to higher production. Few dealers even have a demo unit on the floor for potential buyers to look at.

    Here’s some reasonable analysis of where GM is now, and what the numbers mean:
    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/chart-of-the-day-the-chevrolet-volts-sales-challenge/

    Report this comment

  10. Jeremy in TX says:

    I have nothing against an electric power plant; but until the issue with range is resolved and the technology to charge the battery packs in a matter of minutes vs hours is available, I could never have one.

    And they really need to start putting transmissions in these things. I want performance too!

    Report this comment

  11. Gandalf says:

    Yesterday, I found myself on youTube and in the electric vehicle area, that had video’s of motorcycle’s (street, off road, trials and drag bike’s) and car’s for the street and strip. I was very impressed when the electric vehicle’s outran all competition. The drag bikes were especially interesting: no drama like smokes, noise and such, just stage and hit the toggle!!!!! Same way with the dragsters, absolutely amazing. The Tesla handily outran a Porsche turbo like it was standing still. The trials bike’s were amazing and even at this stage did anything that their gas brethern did. The motocross bikes were very impressive too. Imagine a dirt bike riding area right in the city with nobody complaining about the noise. This technology is in it’s infancy: just imagine it in a few short years.

    My experience is 49 years of licensed street riding, from 170 mph crotch rockets, to BIG cruisers to touring rigs, to dualsports to all types of desert and motocross bikes and even trials bikes and maxi-scooters, 68 in all to this point but I still would enjoy an electric bike on my 24 mile round trip to work, on country roads at moderate speeds. I ride a 2010 Honda NT700 currently.

    Report this comment

  12. hermit says:

    I have a blender powered by an old Kawasaki two-stroke.
    That thing rocks

    Report this comment

  13. Mickey says:

    I guess they (the mfg’s) should keep trying and improving, but I think few Americans really want electric powered anything. I heard on the radio the other day that Chevy had expected to sell 10,000 Chevy Volts by now and that they have only sold 650. I’m guessing Ed Begley Jr was one of them, but I’ll bet Al Gore wasn’t.

    Doesn’t bode well, and really tells you something (or it should)

    Report this comment

    • Dean says:

      Like one of the comments below, 80% commuting, but you need another Gas vehicle for the 20% of “fun” riding. That means most electric vehicles will be a 2nd vehicle. If it fits and you can afford it, cool.

      You can probably apply that to the Chevy Volt also. It really has to fit, and you really have to want it.

      By the way… How do the E-bikes perform with Stoppies!!?

      Report this comment

  14. Dave says:

    I have a coaxial R/C helicopter that flies for 10 minutes on LiPo battery power. For hobby purposes, electric is fine. But, I still need a gasoline engine in my motorcycle because I frequently ride 50, 100 or 150 miles in a day.

    Report this comment

  15. Brammofan says:

    Like Phantom, I own a 2010 Brammo Enertia ($7995 retail minus 10% federal tax credit) and use it to commute to and from work, daily. My round trip is about 25 miles and the bike handles it without a problem – and I do not charge it at work. Maintenance is limited to chain lubing (ea 250 miles) and tensioning (as needed… about every 1000 miles). Charging at home has not had much of an effect on my electric bill, as my daily commute ends up costing me about 25 to 30 cents. Would I buy the same one again? Maybe, but the Empulse is looking might fine.

    Report this comment

  16. 1lesscar says:

    I have owned a 2010 Zero S (supermoto street version) for 2 years. It has 2100 miles on it. I live in southern Indiana about 8 miles outside of a midsized city. My average ride is 22 miles. About 15 of this is at 45 mph on hilly twisty backroads with the remainder in city at 30 mph. My projected maximum range under these conditions is 33 miles. To ride an electric motorcycle requires an attitude adjustment. You have to ride it like a gravity racer. If you have to use the brakes you have screwed up. Maintaining momentum and maximizing range adds an additional challenge beyond avoiding people in cars trying to kill you. I am retired so don’t use the bike for commuting but running errands, grocery shopping, hanging out at coffee shops etc. I have been riding and racing motorcycles for 44 years and currently also have a BMW R1200GS, a Kawasaki Versys, and a Yamaha RD350

    Report this comment

  17. Tom B says:

    I have a question about safety. Lead-acid batteries contain sulfuric acid. In the event of a crash, if the battery ruptures you could be seriously burned. What about Lithium-Ion and other new battery technologies?

    Report this comment

    • Dave says:

      A Lithium battery if damaged/shorted is a hazard. All batteries give off gas when damaged, lithium gives off hydrogen. Newer/better batteries are more stable and safer (I’ve seen video of LiMn batteries having holes drilled in them, no fires). Safety really comes down to the packaging. If the battery is corretly armored then the above won’t happen.

      FWIW, there is more energy in gasoline by volume than any existing battery so whatever the case, a gasoline fire would be larger than a battery fire. A gasoline fire would also spread as far as the liquid could spread, a battery fire would more likely stay contained with the bike or battery.

      Another note, while this thread is still fresh. Long time gas bikers will come on and bash electric for having too short a range and not being able to do what a gas bike does, exactly the way a gas bike does it. These guys don’t get it. The real future of electric motos is shorter distance commuting and utility. Electric may never have the longer range potential that fuel vehicles do.

      Report this comment

      • Scott in the UK says:

        Spot on Dave. Research here shows something like 80% of motorised journeys are under 5 miles (or something ridiculous like that!) each way. Thats IDEAL for electric technology, even as it is now. When I lived in London I had a 5 mile commute each way on the Guzzi to work and back. It was faster, cheaper, more fun, and more flexible than both the car or the bus/train. An electric scooter like that Vectrix could have done that commute no worries AND I would have been able to blag free juice from my employer. And just like the bike, secure undercover parking for nothing.

        Now I wont be selling that Guzzi and swapping it for an electric bike in the near future, as I prefer it to anything else to ride for pleasure. But to commute – if I had the money, electric would be considered for sure.

        Report this comment

        • Jamie Paterson says:

          Fantastic result if you are one of the 80%.
          If you assume that every person in the US (Mind you I’m in Australia) has a gas guzzling jallopy, and 80% converted to Electric, then that still leaves 20 Million people in need of something that can go a longer range…. Gee….. Big Numbers….
          Oh… and are we going to keep using fossil fuels to run the power stations?
          Hmmm…. I don’t think the whole picture has been thought through yet.

          Report this comment

        • Tim in US says:

          what about the other 20%? IF 80% is commuting to work, the remaining 20 are weekend backroad rides with friends – the stuff people live for. Quite a few of us can’t afford a luxury of owning multiple vehicles. Therefore, if electric bikes are to have a future, they absolutely must be able to perform as both a commuter and fun ride machines.

          Report this comment

  18. MGNorge says:

    Ditto on Tom’s comments. I fly electric helicopters and their performance is such that the nitro birds are becoming a thing of the past. The cost of batteries are coming down as well. In time we will see a shift.

    Report this comment

  19. Phantom says:

    I own a 2010 Brammo Enertia motorcycle which cost $7,995 plus shipping that I have owned for about two years. I took advantage of the 10% federal tax credit for EVs which brought my cost down. I use it to commute to work which is less than ten miles from my house. I charge it at home and the daily cost to charge it is less than 50 cents a day.

    The only maintenance I have done so far is to keep the chain lubed and tight and to make sure there is an appropriate amount of air in the tires. It is low maintenance and it is fun to ride. It suits my range needs and I have never drained the batteries down to zero as there are gauges and controls to give enough warning to plan your next re-charging.

    There is a forum for current Brammo owners and future owners called http://www.brammoforum.com if you want to find more information about Brammo owners.

    I am looking forward to owning a Brammo Empulse when it is available.

    I did a lot of research before my purchase and I am glad I went with a Brammo.

    Report this comment

  20. Paul Nilssen says:

    I bought a Vectrix VX1 in April 2008, and have travelled 24000km on the V since.
    My previous bike was a ’83 BMW R100 which unfortunately fell over and broke. The intention was to re-power the Beemer as an EV, but I purchased a new bike with a warranty instead.
    The V cost $14500 Australian and was about the same price of a new Bonneville at the time, but I am a nut for electric transport as well as a bike rider and an electrician, so the V won out. Not really a scooter kind of guy, but it’s ELECTRIC!
    The V is a fun ride, top speed of 110km, able to drag off the tin-tops at the lights, reasonable handling good lean angle, stable in strong winds, did I mention fun?
    My commute is 21.7km each way and for the first 18 months I rode to work regardless of weather. What a privilege to ride every day! Alas this didn’t last and the bike became unreliable in heavy rain. I have made several repairs to the bike and may have a permanent fix, but this is not yet proven.
    Other maintenance issues: Cell interconnects replaced by dealer, free of charge. Motor controller replaced by dealer – free of charge. Failed cells – I replace a couple of the NiMH cells every 6 months with spares supplied by the dealer, free of charge. The dealer has closed in Australia, so any V riders here are on our own.
    Rear tyres last about 6000km and about 9000km on the front. No filters, chains, oil, plugs etc to replace, even the brake pads will last due to the regen braking. I do my own (electrical) maintenance, cos I can!
    Costs me about $1 a day to charge at home, offset by solar panels on the roof. I also recharge at work and they started charging me for each 5.5kW/h charge, but have forgotten to send accounts for the last 2 years.
    Range, range, range. Most Vectrix riders report a usable range of about 40 to 60km. My range is 25km. This gets me to work -charge- and then back again. I really would like to go for a looong ride on weekends or after work. Can’t do this.
    So in conclusion, cheap transport, ride most days, fun and I have to pull it down twice a year to replace dead cells.
    I want to go further than 15km before thinking about turning around for a charge.
    Perhaps 3 years and 24000km is about long enough to prove the concept. Would I buy another electric bike? In a heartbeat if it looked like a proper bike, had some storage and a real 100km range, but Brammo is not available in Australia.
    I am saving up for the next bike and it will fulfil the following criteria: Not chain drive, maximum of three cylinders, ABS, heated grips and not a tractor (by tractor I mean Harley) BMW R1200R is the front runner at the moment.
    Cheers PN

    Report this comment

  21. fazer6 says:

    Let me start by saying I’ve ridden motorcycles for two decades, with over 100,000 miles under my butt. I also ride bicycles, with fewer miles probably, but another decade or so. Including 10 years daily commuting on ICE bikes, both big and small, fast and not so fast.
    At one point, not long ago I decided to commute on an electric bicycle (by legal definition) and sell off all my ‘real’ motorcycles. This experiment lasted for 14 months, and about 4000 miles.
    Since the ‘big’ electrics were way to much to outlay for their relative performance, and having ridden a few (brammo, zero, that derbi one–I forget the name), I decided a custom build was in order.
    I used a Felt cruiser as the base, and added a 500W 36V BionX motor/battery kit. This consists of controller (with thumb throttle), brushless hub motor and lithium battery pack.
    It looked awesome and rode awesome.
    I loved it.
    Initially range was about 15 miles @ WOT on flat ground. Less with wind. Max speed (sustained or otherwise) was 30mph. No pedaling. Wouldn’t do any good if I wanted to, since the gearing was to low to add to the motor’s power and speed.
    When I built it I had a 6.5 mile commute. Perfect for riding both ways on one charge, which had no discernible impact on my home’s electric bill. A few cents a day probably.
    After a few hundred miles, range deteriorated to about 12 miles.
    Problem.
    A second charger located @ my storage location (a local bike station, the Tempe Bicycle Cellar) equals problem solved.
    At about 3k miles, I moved. Commute was 11.5 miles.
    No problem right? Wrong. As with all lithium batteries, rather than developing a chrage memory (like ni-cads for example), they go develop a depletion memory, for fire-protection (a good thing!) to protect the weakest cell from overheating. And like all lithium packs, the pack was made of several small cells. Thus, as possibly only one cell became over drawn on a daily basis (twice a day!), range began to drop. 11 miles. 10 miles. 9 miles.
    Problem. Big problem.
    Time to buy a new battery pack, right? Yep.
    Fork over some major dough (even a rebuilt pack would be costly and void my warranty on the rest of the system).
    Or, go back to ICE.
    I calculated the per month cost of running ICE (including purchase price and all operating costs) vs. the price of continuing to replenish my ebike with batteries, amortized over 12, 24, and 36 month periods.
    Electric lost. Big time.
    Back to ICE.

    Oh, I was also an early adopted, having owned a top-line “ebike” (the Lee Iacoca one) over a decade ago. I had about 5000 miles on that when it was stolen. By that time there were no other ebikes, so it was replaced with ICE then too.

    Report this comment

    • Tom says:

      Great write up on total cost of ownership.

      I fly RC planes as another longtime hobby. Electrics are taking over that space with lots of people adopting brushless motors and lipo batteries as the only source of power for their models and giving up on nitro. We purchase our lipo’s from a place in China at pennies on the dollar. (Sorry US economy but I’m not a share holder I’m the guy working for the share holders)

      Larger electrics are becoming the norm as 6 cell 5000mah packs are under $50. These with larger motors deliver great predictable power. I see the lipo costs coming down with more use. I predict their affordability to be less of an issue over time. Good news is Lipo’s are environmentally safe and do not have the toxins found in other cell types. BUT THEY ARE A FIRE HAZARD if overcharged. Lots of stories in RC forums about houses and cars getting burnt by a bad lipo getting charged without a balance charger to verify the cells are good enough to hold a charge.

      As the prices come down more people will enjoy the lower cost of ownership.

      Report this comment

  22. Jeff Adams says:

    If they look like that I’m in!

    Report this comment