RIDDEN: Where are all the EV bikes?
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When it comes to the constant march of technology, motorcycle manufacturers are always on the back foot compared with the car industry.
Between the smaller budgets of boutique manufacturers, packaging challenges and generally smaller market, it’s of no real surprise that it takes a while for tech to filter down from four wheels to two.
So where are all the EV motorcycles?
The most obvious bike in the EV world, at least for Kiwis who miss out on the likes of the big dedicated EV bike brands Zero and Energica, was Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire (above), which was spun off into its own brand shortly after launch.
It proved that an EV bike can not only work, it can be a heck of a lot of fun as well! But the circa $54,000 price was well beyond the means of many but the most dedicated enthusiasts and sadly, the brand has now been withdrawn from NZ.
Pricing, along with packaging enough battery range into a fun bike, is a problem that the industry is still fighting to this day.
One solution could be the recently announced consortium between Honda, Yamaha, KTM and Piaggio, which endeavours to share the R&D cost of developing swappable battery technology for the motorcycle industry and standardise charging systems.
Triumph Motorcycles (above) is developing its own EV platform with the help of Williams Engineering; the Speed Triple inspired TE-1 is now in the testing phase.
KTM and its sub-brands, Husqvarna and GasGas, primarily has its EV offerings aimed at kids, with the entry point being the Stacyc based 12e and 16e balance bikes priced from $1259, while the more performance oriented SX-E 5 was over $10,000 and dropped by KTM NZ due to its uncompetitive pricing. That was an unsurprising move, when the SX-E’s ICE equivalent can be had for a little over $6000.
There have been successful electric motorcycle startups that have come and gone, with the most successful to date of being California’s Zero Motorcycles, which has managed to keep itself out of the clutches of established motorcycle manufacturers looking to get a leg up on development. However, the closest Kiwis have ever gotten to an official Zero distributor was a brief foray by the company into the Australian market.
This was the fate of Zero competitor Brammo, which was gobbled up by Polaris Industries - the parent company of Indian Motorcycle - in 2015. To date, apart from the FTR Mini (below) which is again a product aimed at children, we’ve seen no sign of Polaris releasing a fully EV bike.
But that’s not to say motorcycle manufacturers aren’t working at catching up with the car industry.
BMW Motorrad actually already sells electric executive scooters in other markets and has recently shown off concept vehicles to fill gaps around the CE 04 such as the smaller CE 02 and the boxer inspired Vision DC Roadster concept.
Others, like Honda and Yamaha, have prototypes aimed at the performance dirt bike world, with Yamaha recently announcing a new version of its TY-E electric trials bike, while Honda has a CRF-E motocross concept.
There’s also a growing contingent of small moped and mini-bike style EV commuters such as the range supplied by Super Soco - which offer decent range and ease of use for commuter focused riders if not the thrills desired by weekend warriors.
However, despite the technological challenges faced by manufacturers in terms of EV development, by far the biggest barrier to EV success is motorcyclists themselves. No matter how fast, fun and thrilling an EV motorcycle is, motorcyclists are overwhelmingly drawn to the noise and smell of internal combustion engines. Overcoming this cultural view of what a motorcycle should be and creating demand for EV motorcycles is by far the biggest reason motorcycles are so behind the game when it comes to EV adoption.