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Will Electric Bicycle Manufacturers Overtake Traditional Motorcycle Manufacturers?

Yamaha already has an established Ebike business to complement its ICE-powered motorcycle business.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said “change is the only constant in life.” Change is certainly at the center of motorized vehicle industries at this moment, whether four wheels or two. Some major jurisdictions, in fact, are mandating a relatively rapid move to electric powered vehicles, and the increasing focus on climate change may force internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles off the roads sooner than we might imagine.

Of course, we spend plenty of time in the motorcycle industry talking about the rise in popularity of motorcycles powered by electric motors, rather than traditional ICE – with perhaps the largest issue being the relatively short range, and lengthy recharging time, associated with electric motorcycles.

A related trend might be even more important, i.e., the rise in popularity of electric bikes worldwide. Electric bicycles are the powered two wheelers that are exploding in popularity, even here in the United States. The growth rate in electric bike sales far outstrips that of motorcycles.

Here are some numbers for context. Before 2005, electric bikes were rare throughout Europe and China. Currently, there are over 200 million electric bikes in use in China, and annual sales of electric bikes in Europe are approaching 2 million units today. The U.S. has been lagging when it comes to the adoption of Ebikes, but U.S. sales are now roughly 300,000 Ebikes per year. Some forecasters expect worldwide Ebike sales to grow more than 60% by 2025.

Electric bikes, of course, have pedals by definition. In various jurisdictions they may be limited to 20 mph, or 28 mph, in order to permit their operation without a license, registration and insurance, as well as to make them bike lane legal. Some Ebike manufacturers, of course, are already moving into full fledged scooter and motorcycle production, while some traditional motorcycle manufacturers are making Ebikes.

Yamaha, Ducati, and KTM, for example are traditional motorcycle manufacturers selling or developing Ebikes. Yamaha Ebikes can be found on the same internet homepage occupied by Yamaha motorcycles here in the United States.

Our recent article regarding Harley-Davidson’s acquisition of a children’s’ Ebike manufacturer highlights the creation of brand loyalty by developing a customer base through the sale of Ebikes. That same type of brand loyalty is now being developed by Trek Bicycles, Specialized Bicycles and other traditional “pedal-power-only” manufacturers that have hopped on the Ebike bandwagon. Countless other Ebike-only manufacturers, and component suppliers, are growing in financial strength worldwide. Many of these electric powered two-wheel manufacturers will eventually embrace larger, faster scooters and motorcycles as their customer bases demand it.

Will Ebike manufacturers displace many of the traditional motorcycle manufacturers as the two industries eventually merge over the next 5 to 10 years? Give us your thoughts below.


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64 Comments

  1. 1Up5Down says:

    Electric vehicles are soulless. Compare a Moto E-bike to say an Aprilia with its v4 growl and character. All the hype over global warming is akin to the Y2K false hysteria that was propagated in the 1990s. When the year 2000 came around no planes fell from the skies, none of the power grids in third world countries shut down. It’s just another chicken little screaming that the sky is falling. There is plenty of fossil evidence which shows the Earth was much warmer and more tropical prior to the ice age than it is today. The Earth is just returning back to its natural state. Mankind is not going to go extinct. Somethings geographically will change, and people will need to adjust, but that’s it.

  2. George Krpan says:

    The advantage of electric bicycles is they can be ridden where bicycles are ridden. This makes them a whole lot safer than a motorcycle. I ride bicycles 7500 miles a year. I’m not all that attracted to electric bicycles. But, I did just buy a Honda CB300R after not having owned a motorcycle since 2006. Some bicycles cost more than the CB and that is just ridiculous. Maybe I’ll get an electric bicycle but I’m not sure I’d like it more than pedal power. A motor is a double edge sword. It makes things easier but then you lose your fitness. It’s just not possible to be fit and slim without hard physical activity on a daily basis. Even though I now own a motorcycle, I am first and foremost a bicycle rider.

  3. steveinsandiego says:

    i would be very happy to buy an elec honda super cub 125, but honda is not importing them to the US….yet….boo and hiss. in fact, i think honda is having trouble meeting delivery promises on the 2019 ICE super cub 125.

    • todd says:

      Why didn’t you buy a Symba? It was for all intents and purpose a Honda Cub. Now they have been discontinued (probably because Honda wanted to put their name back on that model) but you can probably find a new or barely ridden one for cheap.

      • Jason says:

        I didn’t buy one because:

        1. It had a carburetor. I’ve had nothing but trouble with carbs and E10 fuel. All my EFI vehicles run fine on E10 from the pump.

        2. It was only 110cc with a top speed of 50 mph. I need to be able to do limited runs on roads with a 55 mph speed limit.

        • paul says:

          A little trick for using fuel containing ethanol in a carbed engine is to add an ounce or two of ATF to the tank, no more problems. When I fill up I just add some more, that way it is always in the system. Jets are always clean and protected from varnish.

        • todd says:

          I’ve never had problems with carburetors that haven’t been sitting with gas in it for years.
          My 1969 Trail 90 could sustain 55mph all day long with less tha 5hp. My buddies S90 was a touch faster (gearing?). This 110 should be able to handle 55mph and probably will do it right out of the box. Did you try it out or dismiss on face value?

  4. Friedclams says:

    I never comment on here, I’ll make an exception… This is a timely article. Google knows that I like reading about motorcycles on my phone and lately it’s been feeding me many articles about e-bikes. Very interesting…

    I appreciate the comments discussing riding e-bikes on trails, I was totally unaware of that use. A testament to this site’s readers!

    I live in a flat city on the U.S. East Coast (down the street from the makers of the Copenhagen Wheel, look it up) and the number of e-bikes is noticeably increasing. My take goes along with what Dave is saying: e-bikes will exterminate/replace ICE scooters in the near-term. Then maybe commuter motorcycles, and motocross/dirt bikes. But it’s hard to imagine e-bikes replacing larger motorcycles meant for riding distances, at least not anytime soon. Different use case, different buyers, charging headaches.

  5. Fastship says:

    Last weeks Geneva motor show was significant for the fact that the last of the pure ICE supercars were shown. The following generation will have to be hybrid or pure electric to comply with (the despised) EU euro 7 emission regs from which they will no longer have derogation. The major manufacturers have it worse with fines of over a billion euros extracted from some for non-compliance. In a little over ten years ALL ICE cars will be banned in parts of Europe.

    Against that background the tiny motorcycle industry stands no chance. It’s over. Future generations will be condemned to bland, characterless twist ‘n go’s with tiny range at best.

    Motorcycles reached peak development in 2007, it’s been all down since. At least I lived in the best of times.

    • todd says:

      Used values will just increase. They have been for me. If you notice, most manual transmission cars and trucks are priced much higher than the equivalent automatic version of the same vehicle in the used market. I shop used bikes and am willing to pay a premium for a clean, low mileage example. I tend to look for bikes that are simple; no electronic rider aids or transfomer styling (why is this a thing?). Thankfully, no one is forcing anyone to buy an e-bike or automatic car.

    • roma258 says:

      Scaremongering non-sense. If gas bikes will banned in 10 years, manufacturers would be tripping over themselves to develop electric platforms, and strangely…they are not. I mean I honestly wish they did, but they seem pretty relaxed in at least the middle term.

      As far as actual electric motorcycles. Have you ridden one? No ofcourse not, because calling anything close to bland would be ridiculous. They’re crazy fun and powerful. Sure it’s a different experience, but in many ways better! The handling on these bikes, with no reciprocating mass from the pistons, is telepathic.

      Anyway, relax chicken little, it’s gonna be ok.

  6. falcodoug says:

    Electric bikes sell because people are lazy or broken. Electric motorcycles are for the same people that buy a motorcycle and 10 years later there is four thousand miles on it’s clock.

    • Dave says:

      yeah. that must be it… [eyeroll]

    • Stuki Moi says:

      In Europe, hundreds of thousands, perhaps a few millions, of people now commute many/most days of the week by ebike. Most of them drove cars before. It’s hardly the people who now ride; slower and with lots of assist to not arrive sweaty in the morning, faster and/or with less assist back home in the afternoon, who are the lazy or broken ones to complain about.

      Ebikes are about the ideal way to commute 3 to 20 miles, as long as weather isn’t too horrible, and arriving sweaty and roadgrimed isn’t your thing.

      • roma258 says:

        Bingo, and I bet those e-bike commuters get better exercise than OP on a daily basis. E-bikes make for fantastic commuters, fun and efficient. Not great for touring or scratching twisties, but that’s what motorcycles are for!

    • Tim says:

      I recently bought my wife a Specialized e-bike and it’s been great. I can ride my regular road bike and she takes the e-bike, and it’s allowed us to ride together. I’ve ridden her bike a couple of times and it’s actually fun. We live in a very hilly area and it just makes climbing the hills a little less painful. I’m not giving up my road bike anytime soon, but I could see adding a mountain e-bike at some point. We’re in our late 50’s and the steep hills aren’t getting any easier.

      I have 3 motorcycles, and I don’t view an e-bike as a substitute for those, but there’s something to be said for getting off the couch and doing something that requires a little physical exertion. If e-bikes can get people off of their rears and moving, they’re OK in my book.

  7. azicat says:

    It’s worth pointing out that many postal services in AU recently replaced their entire fleet of Honda CT110 delivery motorcycles with e-bicycles. The CT110 topped the motorcycle sales charts in this country for many years due to these contracts, until now. This appears to have hit Honda’s sales significantly.

    https://www.mcnews.com.au/australian-motorcycle-sales-figures-2018/

  8. CrazyJoe says:

    Why certainly surpass them in price. I’m in their burbs so a Honda cub would be a better choice for me. Downtown riders might have more options on bike trails and then street where traffic is slower. Visibility is a problem with bicycles. I’m pretty sure I would need all the battery assist I could get to help pedal a fifty or sixty pound bike. A twenty pound road bike with high pressure tires is a lot easier to pedal than a thirty five pound mountain bike. I’ll stick with skinny tires.

    Will I live long enough to see something replace lithium ion batteries like nickel metal hydride was? (Actually NiMH is still being used in Toyota Corolla Hybrid because of supply problems with Li ion). Hondas work with Nasa promises a flouride battery ten times more powerful than Li-ion. I plan to wait.

  9. Rapier says:

    I’m not sure what overtake means. Overtake in sales by dollars? I suppose it’s possible but don’t have any numbers. In any case they are not the same thing beyond the fun of a two wheeled vehicle with the seemingly magical self stabilizing abilities provided by the trail of the front wheel behind the steering axis. If you get my drift.

  10. mechanicus says:

    Where I live is just too dangerous for bicycles/ebikes. Over-development without road improvement + morons looking down at their cell phones + rude over-aggressiveness = certain death.

  11. cw says:

    Ebikes are the new moped. I think they will get people who wouldn’t be on a bicycle on two wheels and keep ppl who already rode bicycles on two wheels longer.

    I don’t think the point here is really another “electrics will take over” conversation so much as who will be the big players in this new transportation boom – will the current moto makers become the ebike/escooter makers.

    I don’t know if we in the US will really notice because we are such a comparatively small market for two wheels be it pedals, pegs or floor boards.

  12. takehikes says:

    Ebikes for sure are coming and hard. I like it. Now that we have bike lanes I see no issue with running 20mph around town in the dedicated lane. No it won’t replace a motorcycle for cruising or long distance but in town it will.

    • Stuki Moi says:

      The theft problem is even bigger wrt ebikes than motorcycles/scooters. And, as opposed to regular bikes, the e-assist ones are much more of a pain to simply pick up and carry with you up to your office.

      In Europe, more and more places of work set aside dedicated, locked, rooms for ebike parking. But without something like that, the bikes will face an uphill battle in the US. They are “worth” as much as a motorbike to a thief, yet is as easy as a bicycle to steal.

      And laws still treat them as bicycles. Meaning, the law, and cops, are not there to protect bikes from being stolen. But rather to protect bike thieves, from bike owners trying to protect their bikes from being stolen.

  13. downgoesfraser says:

    I am 68 and the last motorcycle I will own is the ’97 Ducati Monster that I have now. I was thinking about a Honda Cub for buzzing around town, but for the same money, can buy an e-bike. Don’t fool yourself, these are going to have a negative effect on traditional motorcycle sales.

    • Dave says:

      Another moto-site (that also prints magazines..) published an article with a stunning statistic – The euro L1 class of scooter (50cc city scooters) has dwindled from 900k units to 300k – a HUGE loss. I speculate that much of this has come with the proliferation of e-bikes (not all, as it is known that e-bikes are also displacing conventional bikes) and some with 4-stroke scooters replacing the older 2-smokers.

  14. gpokluda says:

    ICE motorcycles will be displaced Ebikes but probably not replaced. Meaning the ICE bike market will shrink but not go away as market share goes to Ebikes.
    Any motorcycle manufacturer that does not recognize this is doomed. Any rider that does not embrace the trend will be left to grumble in their rocking chair on the porch.

    • Superlight says:

      You make it sound like such a certainty that ICE bikes are doomed. Until E bikes provide truly comparable performance to ICE bikes at the same or less cost ICE bikes will continue to rule.

      • gpokluda says:

        Stick your head in the sand if you want. EVs, including electric motorcycles will be the predominant configuration over ICE vehicles in the next 5 to 10 years, maybe even sooner.

        It is certainty.

        • Superlight says:

          You may be biased about EVs, but regular consumers are just looking for the best “bang for the buck” in a motorcycle. Right now EV motorcycles are too heavy, too range limited and too expensive. That will change if 1) battery technology makes a giant leap or 2), governments force manufacturers to build EVs through legislative action. OBTW, nothing in life is a “certainty” except death and taxes.

  15. Michael says:

    I have a Trek Powerfly (mountain) ebike and love it, will it ever replace all my motorcycles, nope, BUT it certainly has it’s place in my 2 wheel line-up. I am thinking of adding a 28mph road style ebike just to fart around on on the backroads.

    • Superlight says:

      I ride both pedaled mountain bikes and motorcycles and wonder where you ride that Powerfly? When I’m working hard to climb a hill on my mountain bike the last thing I want to encounter is an E-bike rushing past me, the rider just twisting the throttle. Many mountain bike trails prohibit E-bikes and rightly so in my view.

      • Dave says:

        When he rushes past you, he will not be twisting a throttle, because Bosch equipped e-bikes don’t have one, he’ll just be going a little faster than you are and your ride will go an as normally as it would have if he hadn’t passed you.

      • cw says:

        My inkling is that you likely won’t notice the rider because they will be pedaling – pedal-assist ebikes seem more like what dedicated MTBers would use (ok, maybe more fun would be had twist-and-going on the flatter stuff).

        Either way, what about it would bother you, barring being in a competition?

      • Anonymous says:

        And the last thing hikers want is some jackhole on a mountain bike whooshing past them. What’s your point?

        • Dave says:

          We’re already at max-saturation of “jack-holes”, and have been since the early 90’s. E-bikes aren’t attracting any more of them. Plus, aside from going uphill, an e-bike can’t go any faster on MTB trails than a conventional bike can. All the same limitations – traction, space, obstacles, and rider skill exist for both.

          • Stuki Moi says:

            E assist mtbs are much heavier. Hence hit others much harder in a crash. They’re not quite dirtbikes, but some are getting closer to the likes of KTMs Freeride size wise.

            Due to E-assist, people also tend to buy them in more downhill speed focused designs (since they no longer have to drag all that weight uphill by themselves.) Which add further to both speed and weight.

          • Dave says:

            They aren’t. The Bosch and comparable systems add approximately 16lbs to the weight of a conventional MTB of the same type. That’s less than the difference in weight among the people who ride them.

            This entire line of thinking also assumes that people who buy e-bikes don’t have a self preservation instinct. By and large, the people who buy e-mtb’s are less aggressive, risk averse riders who want to use the bike to expand their riding range, be that mileage, or climbing assistance. The DH crowd is so far, completely uninterested.

          • Stuki Moi says:

            I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen an e-mtb under 50lbs….. While the kind of XC bikes normally being ridden where people hike and run, is under 30. Some under 25. Just have one of each fall over on you as you air down. The ebikes are much less pleasant to be hit by.

            I’m not anti-ebike by any means. Heck, I’m a huge proponent in general. But they’re not nearly as universally compatible with sidewalk, building lobby, elevator hallway, grocery and book store, and crowded SoCal hiking trail use, as typical non powered bikes are.

            Triply so when the motor is used to justify riding around on a bakfiets or other cargo bike, loaded down with weight. Which I, again, am a huge fan of doing. I’m just concerned that the wave of ebikers insisting they are just like any other bicyclist, will end up getting even regular bikes regulated, and prosecuted, more like motos.

            So, keep them separated. Bicycles almost completely unregulated, ebikes slightly more, and motos slightly more than that again.

  16. arrowrod says:

    I have an ebike. I’m 78. I also have a 919 Honda and a 650 Burgman. I rarely ride my Honda or Burgman anymore. I use my ebike 90% of the time. Riding through town, I get to my destination faster than with a motor vehicle. My bike is powered by an Bafang 1000W mid-drive, with a 52v battery. I usually ride at 22 to 25 mph, can go to 33 mph if pushed (rarely). I’m now under 175 lbs, from 185. I just ordered a full suspension ebike frame with a Bafang G510 motor from China.
    Here in Florida, law enforcement ignore us. I’ve read the NYPD punishes ebike riders with confiscation and $2500 fines for minor infractions, then posts videos of their meriment.
    I have noticed few ebikes where I live.

    • cw says:

      The riding situation in NYC is unique – aside from. Aside from having so much more traffic of different kinds interacting, there has been an issue of certain. Types of riders (largely food delivery) have had common tendencies to flout laws in ways that became more problematic with the addition of ebikes.

      Well, such was the perception anyway. As a bike rider who also did some delivery, I didn’t like the way some on ebikes rode. And as more people got on bikes overall (with the introduction of the City bike program), there was a greater need for riders to become and adhere to rules.

      And NYPD is NOTORIOUS for “crackdowns” of any type when there’s some bad press or folks in one of the monied neighborhood complains…

      I *think* it has died down now some as people are becoming more aware of the bikes, however.

      Which is a long way of saying that you are far less likely to be bothered for having an e-bike in most US cities than NYC (or San Fran).

      • Dave says:

        NYC has legislated a path forward for e-bikes. They’re now legal, assist-speed limited to 20mph.

        The debacle is as it’s ever been, governing behavior by equipment Riding down sidewalks or the wrong way on streets presents the same hazards on regular bikes as e-bikes.

        • cw says:

          Having lived there for so long, I would argue that I saw the technology affecting rider behavior in some cases.

          The larger point being that you will likely not see much attention from your local PD until there is a local perception that there is an issue.

          FTR, I was once stopped on a regular bicycle in NYC, on a bike path, for stopping then continuing against a red…that was constantly trafficked by pedestrians not observing rules.

  17. Magnus says:

    Remember the slogan,“You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda”? That little bike and others like it created half the motorcyclists on earth (not fact, just my unresearched opinion). The E-bikes of today are the Honda Cubs of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The teens and twenty somethings are riding E-bikes because they are the next affordable step after a pedal bike just like the Cub was, and meet their social (now environmental) values just like the Cub did. They will move onto the next logical step and, in my opinion, it won’t ever be gas powered motorcycles.

    • Superlight says:

      I agree with much of what you say here, until we get to the notion that E-bike riders will step up to EV motorcycles. In my opinion EV motorcycles face a tougher challenge than EV cars, since you delete one of the joys of motorcycling (the engine/intake/exhaust sounds), add extra weight due to poor battery efficiencies and replicate EV cars’ poor range. Perhaps some day the EV bikes will be more exciting than ICE-powered examples, but that day isn’t here yet.

      • Magnus says:

        I hear you. What you may be missing is the “engine/intake/exhaust sounds” aren’t part of their childhood. These young adults didn’t put playing cards on their bicycles. They grew up with much quieter cars on the road. They grew up surrounded with electronics. They are comfortable with electric bicycles.
        I commute every day on an electric motorcycle (Zero FX). I definitely prefer it over my Honda CRF230l. It was a tough choice between the Zero and a KTM350exc. In the end it was maintenance and noise that tilted the balance. If I need more range, I can buy more batteries.

        • Jeremy says:

          “What you may be missing is the ‘engine/intake/exhaust sounds’ aren’t part of their childhood. ”

          I agree. Those are things may make up an inseparable part of the motorcycling experience for previous generations, but I’m not so sure newer generations feel that way. The fact that electric bikes are quiet may be a huge benefit as far as they are concerned.

          I grew up with a love of internal combustion engines. I learned how to fix, build, and modify them. Still have a great appreciation for the ICE. I enjoy hearing them work, picturing them work in my head.

          I’ve also learned that I enjoy hearing virtually nothing. And, frankly, I like that more. That virtual silence is one of the most striking differences between riding a mountain bike (and I would assume an electric bike) through the mountain trails vs. the dirt bike. It provides a completely different experience that can be appreciated all on its own. I got the same feeling on the street when I test rode a Zero.

          Eerily quiet, perfectly smooth, no fumes to breathe or fluids to change. But still plenty of cool programming and electro-mechanical stuff going on to appreciate. Yeah, this motorhead could get on board with that. Just need a clutch and enough range for single-track riding, and I’m in, even if it costs and weighs a little too much.

  18. azicat says:

    I say yes. The number of e-bikes appearing at the trail centres and commuter lanes in AU have jumped over the last 1-2 years. Meanwhile, motorcycle sales have been stagnant. E-bikes are accessible and affordable, with much less regulation (for better or worse). There are also less barriers at point of sale; some don’t even need contact with a pushy salesperson at a dealership, with online purchasing available.

    • Stuki Moi says:

      The ease of getting into them, is a big selling point for ebikes. For outsiders, the whole “motorcycle culture” can be a bit intimidating. While Ebikes are sold to anyone, with or without a license to walk, at the European equivalent of Big5. Or Amazon. What they are challenging, though, is not “American style,” 750+ thrill ride motorcycles. But rather the smaller, more utilitarian motorbikes more common in other countries. I doubt many will ride their fringed out children’s Ebike to Sturgis. Even if the maker is owned by Harley.

  19. Grover says:

    I hope not.

  20. fred says:

    I guess I’m the luddite in the crowd. Ebike bicycles do not compete with motorcycles, they compete with bicycles. The whole premise is wrong. Far more bicycles than motorcycles are sold (definitely units, probably not in dollar volume).

    Ebike bicycles are a niche market. Ebike motorcycles are a different niche market. There is room for both, but neither are a threat to gasoline-powered motorcycles.

    • chris says:

      Thank you. Perfectly said.

    • Stuki Moi says:

      Ebikes are no longer a niche in Europe. Obviously even less so in China. For bikes sold for utilitarian uses, most buyers now seem to want one with an assist motor. In America anything smaller than a full size truck or SUV, is niche.

  21. todd says:

    Do we think that everyone is going to start riding bicycles everywhere? There are more than twice as many motorcycles at my work than bicycles. I just sat at lunch with four women who rode motorcycles, one sold her R6 and just picked up an R3. Bicycles are very inconvenient. I live 20 miles from work, my motorcycle serves this commute well, a bicycle -not so much.

  22. motorhead says:

    This old grandpa was waiting for Honda to come out with a good electric bike, but I can certainly settle on a Yamaha ebike! I’ll ride with the grand children.

  23. Ken says:

    I think the younger generations will be all over this like a rash and the future for EBikes is very bright indded.
    There is clearly no interest in ICE motorcycles by the younger crowd with decling sales aparent worldwide as us oldies slowly die off and/or become more and more irrelevant.
    I think this lack of range argument doesn’t really hold water either, bikes were never long range tools anyway.
    It’s a new world.

    • cw says:

      No, there is definitely interest in the younger set in ICE bikes, the use/ownership model just may not be the same… and they may get more like you as they age.

      • Ken says:

        “… and they may get more like you as they age.“. What? More and more irrelevant? I can only hope so! Haha

    • Jason says:

      Motorcycle sales are not declining worldwide. They are declining in the developed world where the typical bike is used for recreation. The EU and USA combined make up about 4% of the global motorcycles.

      Sales are steadily climbing in the developing world as more people enter the middle class and purchase 50-150cc motorcycles for transportation.

  24. Criquet says:

    On some trails in the mountains, electric bikes offer pretty much the same fun as dirt bikes and often require the same skill set. Downhill, they can rival the speed of the best dirt bikes, have better agility and a better acceptance level from the public because of reduced pollution, sound level and footprint.