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Do Electric Motorcycles Have A U.S. Future? One View Says No

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2013 Zero Electric Motorcycle Lineup

2013 Zero Electric Motorcycle Lineup

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Motorcycles, as any biker will tell you, are as much a device for recreation as they are a method of transport.

More so even than many cars, they're bought for the thrill of the open road, the interaction between man and machine, and the freedom to go anywhere.

And that, says The New York Times, is just a handful of reasons as to why electric motorcycles may not have a future in the U.S.

While electric car sales have been relatively slow, electric bike sales have just about been a non-starter. Sales are estimated at fewer than 1,000 units in total, from almost 441,000 motorcycle sales last year in the U.S.

A wealth of inexpensive commuter bikes with good gas mileage, and sports bikes with high performance, have meant that electric motorcycles have been left to take whatever ground is left--not a great deal, in other words.

The electric motorcycle's plight could be likened to the reason we have no diesel motorcycles to choose from.

Diesel is primarily the fuel of working vehicles or gas sippers. Nobody goes misty-eyed over romanticised diesel road trips and few drive diesels solely for recreational purposes.

If ridden gently, bikes are already relatively fuel-sipping so there's little advantage to be had by putting a heavy diesel engine in there. And motorcyclists like the noise too--whether that's the scream of a Japanese sports bike or the thunder of a Harley-Davidson.

Electric motorcycles cover much of the same ground as their hypothetical diesel cousins.

Many motorcycles are used at weekends, for special trips or just to have a bit of fun on back roads. Riders cover short enough distances that saving money on gas is fairly irrelevant, but long enough that a circa-100 mile range is inconvenient.

And then there's the expense. A 77 mpg Honda CBR250R is $4,509.

An electric machine with equivalent performance and around half the range, the 'S ZF11.4', made by popular electric motorcycle manufacturer Zero, has an MSRP of $15,995.

The average commuter trying to save money would take decades to pay off the difference, and an enthusiast with $16,000 to spend could get an incredibly special machine, with huge performance or crazy detailing.

Electric motorcycles are still fun to ride, but until they capture the American freedom image of a Harley-Davidson, or offer cost-effective commuting--combined with an Apple-like "must have" factor--they may be doomed to occupy an almost non-existant niche in the market.

That may change, of course--and riders who own electric motorcycles certainly enjoy them--but for the time being, the appeal is limited.

Do you ride, or intend to buy an electric motorcycle? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Comments (10)
  1. As a long time rider of gas motorcycles I can say that I want an electric motorcycle really bad. I see gas powered motorcycles as inferior goods for the intended use of my future electric motorcycle--commuting and running errands. I can buy pretty much any motorcycle I want but it's an electric I have my eye on. Currently I use an electric bicycle to get back and forth to work since it is too short a distance to drive and a little too far and dangerous to ride my pedal bicycle. I think electric motorcycles have a big future but it will only take off when a big manufacturer joins the fray. There are just too many advantages like low maintenance, low noise, and refuelling at home, potentially on solar.
     
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  2. About your paragraph on diesels; I have had many a romanticized trip with a diesel, a VW TDI. Diesels are dang fun to drive believe it or not. Torque is what it's about and it is what ties diesel and electric for me. When you've driven torquey vehicles it is hard to settle for less. That's why I love electrics. They are torquey yet clean, quiet and very cheap to run.
     
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  3. Thanks for the comment Jim. I've driven a great many diesels (living in Europe, it's almost unavoidable) and some of them are great fun indeed...

    ...But at the same time, I've never dreamed of doing any of my bucket list road trips in a diesel vehicle. Given the chance to drive Route 66 or the PCH in otherwise identical gasoline or diesel vehicles, I'd pick gas every time.

    Well, unless someone lent me a Tesla Model S...
     
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  4. It actually makes sense to go electric with motorcyle as most motorcycle don't need too much range and long range riders do take breaks (which is perfect for recharging).

    Now, a lot of the buyers of Motorcyles in the US buy them to "make noise" and "want attention".
     
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  5. The 2012 Zero XU Electric Motorcycle is only $7,695 and the 2012 Brammo Enertia Electric Motorcycle goes for $7,995.
     
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  6. I want one of the new Zero bikes! I see electric motorcycles as a less expensive way to get into an EV. The new Zero road bike is not quite a Tesla Model S, but it might be as much fun.
     
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  7. I want an Electric motorcycle and Electric car. Prices are prohibitive and there is much price manipulation in the market still. However, electric and hydrogen are the future. It's undeniable.
     
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  8. I have a 1994 Hyundai that gets 45 MPG highway that gets about 3,500 miles a year and an electric recumbent bike that gets >6,000 miles a year! It costs 12 cents to do about 40 miles. If I include battery replacement costs, it is about 42 cents a mile.
     
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  9. Take it from me - I've ridden nearly 20,000 miles on electric motorcycles (Vectrix and Zero). It is a sweet ride. Just plug in at night, ride during the day. These things are not only fun, but pay for themselves in the long run. The rate at which they pay for themselves goes up directly with the increase in gas prices. The new Zero has a ChaDeMo fast charging option which eliminates the need to wait for charging. The future of two-wheeling is bright.
     
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  10. What is with this opinion that only Wallmart shoppers should be considered when a new product arrives? Too cheap to pay for state of the art transportation? Then step aside. $15,000 is not out of line for a motorcycle. Batteries are small enough to switch out and offer hours of use. When going on an extended road trip, maybe the EV is not a choice, but for in town use the EV covers all your needs.
     
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