Six reasons to buy an electric motorcycle

Electric motorcycles have been in the headlines for almost 10 years now. Between 2011 and 2015, we regularly saw stories about independents like Chip Yates and Michael Uhlarik building electric superbikes, along with larger companies like Lightning and Brammo (now owned by Polaris, sort of). More recently, we’ve also seen growth in street-legal machines from companies like Zero and Alta.

Despite all that buzz, electric motorcycles have not gained rapid acceptance in the marketplace. Most Canadians don’t even know where to buy a battery bike, and they don’t know anyone else who owns one.

So, we reached out to a couple electric motorcycle enthusiasts that we’ve been in contact with over the years, Terry Hershner and Ben Rich. Both riders have put down serious miles on electric motorcycles, and Hershner in particular was a pioneer in the scene, even managing a battery-powered Iron Butt ride (1000 miles in 24 hours). With some input from the experts, here are six reasons you should think about buying an electric motorcycle.

Behold, the Lightning LS218, supposedly the fastest production motorcycle you can buy.
Superior performance

There are three key aspects to electric motorcycle performance: power, handling and range. All three have seen improvements in the past few years, but improved range has been the most important breakthrough.

When it comes to power output, there’s a wide range in the electric motorcycle segment, ranging from plug-in step-throughs from Honda and Vespa (with power output similar to a 50 cc scooter), to fire-breathing superbikes like the Lightning LS218, supposedly the fastest production motorcycle in the world, at 218 mph.

Most electric motorcycles don’t have the power output of that Lightning LS218, but they do deliver instantaneous torque, with no need for a gearbox or shifting to stay in the motor’s powerband. It’s a tremendous difference, and a huge edge over gasoline-powered motorcycles. For potential customers, a ride aboard an electric bike, feeling that constantly available power is perhaps the biggest selling point.

“It’s not just Teslas that are fast,” says Terry Hershner. “A Zero can go 0-100 km/h in about three seconds.  They will blow away all other gas bikes in the hands of regular riders.” Of course, a Hayabusa has a much higher top speed than a Zero, but stoplight-to-stoplight, who’s counting?

Energica Ego electric superbikes will soon be performing on a global stage, racing in front of MotoGP fans as an FIM-sanctioned series. Expect the technology to improve rapidly once the bikes are observed under race conditions.

Electric motorcycle manufacturers are building more powerful bikes every year, as well as upgrading components like brakes, tires and rims and shaving weight to improve handling. Battery bikes have come a long way from the big-motor barges that were running the land speed circuits five years ago, trying to set new records.

But the biggest improvement of all is battery range, thanks to larger batteries with more density, and bikes designed to house those batteries. In the last six years, electric motorcycles have roughly doubled their range. The 2018 Zero SR with accessory battery is rated at 359 km of city riding, 270 km of combined city/highway riding on a charge.

A 350-km battery range is still no good if the recharge times are too long, but Terry Hershner says that isn’t an issue anymore, if you’ve got the money to upgrade your chargers.

“With the one-hour recharge time with the Diginow Superchargers, you can easily do over 1,000 km in a day of riding, or 2,000 km over a weekend,” says Terry Hershner—and given his impressive resume of long-distance riding on electric bikes, he’d know. Hershner reckons the recharge times could be even lower. For now, the battery and motorcycle manufacturers are keeping it where it’s at, but he figures the technology exists to get to half-hour charge times.

Other manufacturers, particularly Honda and Yamaha, are working on cross-brand swappable batteries, so instead of charging your battery, you simply change a dead battery out for a fresh one at a service station. Expect to see more about this technology in coming months.

Think you can’t have fun wrenching on an electric bike? Think again. This retro-futuristic custom, looking straight from Mad Max, was actually built with an Energica as a basis.
Increased reliability

Another major advantage of electric drivetrains is improved reliability. While suspension, frame and braking components are relatively similar to conventional motorcycles, electric bike motors have a fraction of the amount of moving parts in an internal combustion engine, and the constant vibration that plagues those engines isn’t a factor either.

For some riders, that’s missing some of the fun of motorcycling, as they like wrenching as much as riding. But you can still work on your bike, even if you aren’t adjusting valves or changing the oil. “There isn’t as much tinkering to do on electric motorcycles as with gas bikes,” Ben Rich says. “That doesn’t mean you can’t improve the bike with LED lights, crash bars, or other farkles. The aftermarket for electric motorcycles is growing and it will get bigger once the market expands.”

With no clutch control skills to master, the Zero S is easy for a beginning rider to master.
Ease of use

For beginning riders, electric motorcycles are significantly easier to master than than their gas-powered counterparts. Not only does the lack of an internal combustion engine mean far fewer maintenance issues to keep on top of, but there’s also no clutch to master. Ben Rich figures that makes electric bikes very appealing in an industry that’s trying to attract new riders.

It’s true that lack of charging infrastructure does impede the usefulness of electric motorcycles in many areas (good luck finding a charging station in rural Newfoundland). But, in urban centres where these machines are designed to run most efficiently, that’s not an issue.

Buy a made-in-Quebec SORA, and you’ll be guaranteed to be the only motorcyclist showing up a bike night with one of these machines.

If you’re one of those people who wants to have the latest iPhone, then an electric motorcycle is definitely going to position you as an early adopter. But be aware, just like those buyers who purchased the earliest smartphones, your electric motorcycle purchase will likely be outclassed by whatever comes out next year.

Harley-Davidson’s deal with Alta means we’ll soon see electric bikes become widely available in North America.
Improving availability

Finally, electric motorcycles should soon be widely available. Zero’s dealership presence in Canada has been small for years, and plans to bring brands like Brammo, Lightning and other high-end electric marques always fell through.

But, Harley-Davidson plans to have an electric bike in its lineup by 2020. Naysayers predicted it would never happen, and then the MoCo turned around, bought into Alta Motors (arguably the hottest electric brand in North America now), and announced plans to develop two machines in conjunction with Alta. Bam! Given Harley-Davidson’s massive dealership reach, this should put electric bikes well within driving distance of most Canadians.

As for other major manufacturers—we wouldn’t expect to see electric step-throughs from Honda or BMW here anytime soon, but those machines are for sale in other markets, and could come here in theory. Same goes for KTM’s E-XC electric enduro bike. Don’t expect it here next summer, but you probably should expect it here before too long.

Yeah, electric bikes cost a lot up front, but users say the long-term savings make up for the big MSRP.
Long-term savings

“The main thing holding back electric motorcycles is the price,” says Ben Rich. Electric motorcycles cost more up-front than a bike with internal combustion engine, and that MSRP is a big deterrent.

However, Terry Hershner points out the high initial cost isn’t the only number to look at. Over the long term, an electric motorcycle like his Zeros offer consistent savings.

“If your total goal is to save as much money as possible, and you don’t ride very much at all, it’s best perhaps to get a Ninja 250 for doing less than 100 km a month,” he says. “The Zero really pays for itself for riders who ride a lot and ride far when they ride.  I personally ride a lot, I’ve logged 125,000 miles on Zeros in six years.  Between gas and maintenance on my last motorcycle, that would have cost me close to $25,000 USD.  About $1000 for every 10,000 miles of travel for gas, and at least that in maintenance and repairs.  Just the valve adjustments alone can cost that over 125,000 miles.

“So it really depends on whether you ride a lot or not.  If you do, get a Zero.

“If you rarely ride, and still want one, get a used one with less range, but that’s OK as you probably have a backup vehicle for longer distances.  If you want to give up buying gas all together, buy the newest Zero with the biggest range and fast chargers.  It will pay for itself completely in no time.”

29 thoughts on “Six reasons to buy an electric motorcycle”

  1. It was good to read this story, and you were wise to consult Terry Hershner and Ben Rich, but your introductory history is a little twisted. Zero was already far bigger in 2011 than Lightning was in 2015! (I know because I visited both factories). You should have mentioned the H-D LiveWire project of 2014-2015 and above all you should have mentioned the key part to be played by aerodynamics. Terry demonstrated this with his Craig Vetter-modified machine in 2013-2014 and Cedric Lynch has been demonstrating this since he built his streamliner in 1991 (still on the road daily in 2018). Above all, the all-electric Peraves Monotracers have been showing this since the first electric Ecomobile was built in 2008, since Peraves won their class and 2.5millionUSD in the Progressive Automotive prize of 2010 and since Tobi Wulser and Franck Loacker took their Brusa-powered, Peraves-bodied ZeroTracer around the world in 80 days in 2010-2011! Start educating yourselves by having a look here:

    1. You can’t buy a Terry-modified machine. You can’t buy a Livewire. There’s lots of stuff going on in electric motorcycling, but that stuff isn’t all reason to buy an electric bike. A consumer needs something that has the range and performance to handle their day-to-day riding, not some purpose-built streamliner made to win a Vetter mileage challenge or a concept bike that will never see the light of day.

      1. A few points: You CAN buy precisely the 2015 Zero which Terry Hershner has been riding since he moved on from his 2012-based Zero streamliner, and the Hollywood Electrics handlebar fairing is probably the most important bolt-on part, since, according to Terry, it has increased his range by 15-20%. The Peraves machines were not ‘concept bikes’ there were several of them made in metal and carbon fibre which went out and won prizes and broke records and I personally know someone who bought a production version. AND, if all goes according to plan, there will be an updated Peraves electric cabin machine available for anyone to buy by the end of 2018. How many Lightnings have been sold?!

        1. The Livewire IS a concept bike. Or rather WAS, since Mission isn’t around to help make it anymore.

          You cannot buy the streamliner 2012 bike was my point. I said nothing about Peraves, and I’ve never seen any hint of them coming to Canada. All the other brands mentioned at least saw attempts to be imported.

          1. Zac, you obviously have a different idea from me about the meaning of the word ‘concept’. For me, a concept bike is just an idea, represented as a flashy drawing, some CGI video or a full size, non-functional mock-up. Once you actually make a rideable, testable version of a concept bike, it becomes a prototype, whether or not it ultimately goes into production. By these criteria, the H-D Livewire, with at least 6 machines built and ridden by thousands of people worldwide, is much more than a mere concept and definitely a prototype. Now that H-D have announced that they will be putting an electric motorcycle into production AND have linked up with Alta Motors, I’d say that’s further evidence to confirm my point of view.
            As for Peraves in Canada, I have news for you. One of the very first Peraves Ecomobiles was imported into Canada by the Canadian pilot who owned it, back in the 1990s. More recently, a Peraves Monotracer was imported into Canada by another Canadian and starred in the Hollywood remake of Total Recall, back in 2012. And I know the owner, whom I first met at a Peraves training at the Brno GP track a few years earlier…

  2. A Zero SR with the extra battery pack is rated for 166 km on the highway at 113 km/h. Even less the faster you go. The battery pack takes the place that could otherwise be occupied by the “charge tank”, so no level-2 charging on the road with that. Replace the extra battery with the charge tank and range is down to 130 km on the highway (at a whopping 113 km/h). If that range happens to take you to where there is a level 2 charger available (more and more, but probably not out in the sticks where I like to ride), you can recharge in “only” ~2 hours. Without the charge tank, you’re looking at ~11 hours to charge the large battery.

    I still can’t see where these things are good for much more than a city runabout, and are awfully expensive for that purpose. Too much money for too little utility. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon, for the type of riding I do.

    1. You can charge fast with after market chargers. Cost is similar to putting a go fast exhaust on a petrol bike, but unlike those ‘go fast’ parts, extra chargers actually do make you go faster! You can charge up in an hour, so while you have lunch or dinner, the bike is charging. I’ve done 800 km days that way, and that’s on a 2014 DS with the 11.4 battery and 5 kW of accessory chargers. With the 13.2 kW chargers and the SR’s 18 kWh pack, 1000 km days are no problem.

  3. I find electric bikes very interesting but when you add up the extra battery and a charger the price can be around $25,000. As there are less moving parts in these bikes I can see the price dropping significantly so I’ll be waiting for a while.
    The other issue that I have is if in the future electric vehicles are the norm, can you imagine 200 million of them in North America being plugged in every evening to a 240 volt charger? Utility prices will skyrocket or we will be building huge power plants all over the place to pick up the load.

      1. In most places, peak load is in the summer when the AC is on. There are already shortages in populated areas. There are 263 million passenger vehicles in the US not including trucking and as I stated I was referring to the possible future where most vehicles could be electric.

        1. That’s why you want to discourage people from charging at peak times by utilizing Time Of Use (TOU) rates. This is easily managed by owners using timers built into the cars (or bikes) or the charging supply equipment. Alectra Utilities in Ontario is piloting a super off peak rate specifically designed for EV owners Based on the current growth of EVs the electricity system has plenty of time to adapt.

    1. 1979 Sportster owner, added 2013 Zero S which became my preferred commuting vehicle. The price of electrics pushed the median age and income squarely into the Harley demographic.

    2. You obviously haven’t heard about the Harley-Davidson LiveWire prototype project of 2014-2015, which took 6 prototype machines to H-D enthusiasts to try, first all over North America, then across the world. It should have been mentioned in this article! The LiveWire was met with enthusiasm by everyone who tried it, including me! It was by far the nicest, best-handling Harley I’ve ever ridden!

  4. Electric receptacles are virtually everywhere so you can charge basically anywhere. What charging stations at 240v (Level 2) give you is a faster charging time. You can go to work, charge the whole time you’re there (get your employer’s permission) and go home with a full battery.

  5. Well guys, ya got me thinking, myself, I would love an electric bike, but your comment on charging stations in Nfld hit home, I know a friend of a friend has a Tesla in St. John’s and I’ve seen one here on the west coast running around all winter, so I made a phone call and found out to my surprise, there are charging stations across the island, and one here in town to boot. Which I did not know. Asking Google where are the charging stations in Nfld I see 9 between Port aux Basques and St. John’s and about a dozen or so in the metro area. The longest gap is between Port aux Basques and Deer Lake. 270kms. That I know because I drive it almost daily, sometimes twice a day. But if needed, you could leave Port and side trip a little into Stephenville and charge there. About 170kms. Distance between stations are about 200kms or under. It appears most are private companies offering the service. Auto dealers, hotels, RV parks.

    I learned something today!

    Myself, I would like something like the Zero fx. A dual sport setup where I could pass a couple hours wandering the logging roads or just booting around town for a bit. Right now I wouldn’t feel confident with it’s 150km range but once that moves to a little over 200 I think that would be a great 2nd bike. Maybe even a first bike.

  6. The standardized, swap out battery idea is the solution. I can do it now with my BBQ propane tank, so why not ? Otherwise, the ongoing bugaboos of range, recharge time and recycling will continue to limit the growth of this market.

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