Welcome to Netrider ... Connecting Riders!

Interested in talking motorbikes with a terrific community of riders?
Signup (it's quick and free) to join the discussions and access the full suite of tools and information that Netrider has to offer.

Electric motorcycles are as disruptive as Tesla’s cars

Discussion in 'General Motorcycling Discussion' started by Mouth, Aug 11, 2015.

  1. What is the fastest production motorcycle in the world? What bike beat every other motorcycle and most cars up Pike’s Peak in 2013? What motorcycle had massive brake and shock upgrades while getting almost $2,000 cheaper in the past two years? What motorcycle is cheapest to own and run over several years?

    The answers are electric motorcycles from Lightning and Zero. The rate of change in electric motorcycles is truly phenomenal, and mostly outshadowed by Tesla’s great job of getting amazing press by delivering amazing electric cars.


    Let’s start with Zero. The graphic above shows the 2011 to 2014 evolution of the Zero motorcycle: quadrupling of range, 50% increase in top speed, 150% more horsepower, and 150% increase in torque.

    What it doesn’t show is the price or a couple of other key specs. In 2014, Zero also massively improved the brakes and shocks on the bike while dropping the price by $400. In 2015, the company left the specs of the bikes alone, but dropped the price tag by $1,350. How were they able to do that? Rapidly declining battery costs, mostly.

    What is the Zero SR most comparable to? Well, in terms of torque, it’s up there with 1000 cc gas bikes, while in terms of horsepower, it’s equivalent to 600 cc bikes. That means it’s very quick off the line, with the SR rated at 3.4 seconds to 100 km/h. The top speed isn’t as insane as bigger bikes, topping out around 160 km/h — also known as the speed at which fines start being enough to fund government budgets and having your bike taken away from you is a serious possibility.

    My last bike was a BMW F800ST, a beautifully mannered and very quick sport tourer from Bavaria. It took 3.6 seconds to get to 100 km/h. I only took it above 160 km/h a couple of times, and not by very much. Mostly, I enjoyed the quickness of it and cornering on it, rather than exotic speed.

    I test drove an older Zero S a couple of weeks ago and started seriously thinking that maybe another bike was in my future. It was very quick, had no problem keeping up with the 650 cc sport bike and handled adequately. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t try out the SR with the better shocks and acceleration, but I was more surprised that the oil town I’m currently living in had electric motorcycles at all.

    The exploration led to wondering what the total cost of ownership would be comparable to, similar to the assessment that one enterprising husband did a year or so ago between a Honda Odyssey minivan and a base model Tesla. He found it was almost the same price over 8 years of ownership, and was able to justify having a dead sexy car instead of a sex-killing minivan. I decided a comparison between a decent entry-level bike, the Suzuku SFV650, the Zero S and Zero SR, and my old BMW F800ST would be interesting.


    It’s well known that it’s a lot cheaper to run and maintain electric vehicles. The assessment above took purchase prices, safety gear, fuel cost, insurance, depreciation, and annual maintenance costs into account. One key difference is that, right now, electric bikes are depreciating a lot faster than petrol bikes. This isn’t because they are wearing out faster but because new bikes are so much cheaper and better. It’s like the curse of the Tesla owner who bought a Model S 60 a week before the Model S 70D became the base model.


    As can be seen, a Zero S is only about $4,400 more expensive over 8 years than an entry-level Suzuki, or 16%. And the Zero SR is only about $1,400 more expensive than my BMW F800ST over 8 years. When we start talking about BMW prices, that’s an irrelevant amount.


    What if depreciation is taken out of the mix, however? The numbers change a lot.

    The BMW is suddenly $4,700 more expensive than an SR. If you aren’t worried about depreciation, all of a sudden, the SR starts looking financially appealing. The Zero S, not shown, becomes about $800 cheaper than the entry-level Suzuki, making it a very inexpensive choice if you are in the market for a bike.

    The maintenance assessment was based on percentage likelihood of specific major repairs and maintenance such as annual tyre changes, annual brake adjustments, annual tuneups and lower likelihood expenses such as oil pump changes, fuel pump failures, and the like.


    But those numbers are based on the USA, where petrol is fairly ludicrously cheap at about $3 per gallon (~3.75 litres) compared to places where it’s more sensibly priced to drive market behavior that’s aligned with little things like climate change and pollution.

    The Canadian average is $4.16 per gallon right now, the European average is around $6 per gallon, and the Australian average around $4.50. In Canada, an SR is about $5,700 cheaper than the BMW over 8 years, while the S is about $1,700 cheaper than the Suzuki. And in Europe the numbers are even more startling, $8,400 and $4,300, respectively. Those are decisive numbers. They pay for a lot of upgrades to the Zeros, undoubtedly including new factory batteries with much greater range.

    Are the Zeros perfect? Not a chance. With range extenders, they are limited to about 185 miles (~300 km) of range and slow electric vehicle charging because they aren’t on the Supercharger network yet. You can buy and daisy chain additional chargers and hook them up to CHADeMO chargers — another extra price option — and get charge time down to about 90 minutes, but really, Tesla’s got this figured out and is building the infrastructure needed, so I personally hope that everyone just gets on board.

    However, those are short-term limitations. With the very rapid expansion of Tesla Superchargers and other, less effective options, it’s going to be fairly quick that rapid charging will be baked in. 270+ miles (~430 km) range and 10 minutes to charge? That starts looking very appealing and likely something that will be available in the next couple of years.

    The Zero line is very interesting, and includes dual sport and dirt bike versions as well, but they aren’t the fastest production motorcycles in the world. And while they do just fine getting up Pike’s Peak, running near the middle of the pack this year, they aren’t the fastest bike up the fabled mountain in its 99-year race history.

    That’s the Lightning LS-218.

    The 218 is for miles per hour, which is 350 km/h in most of the world. They hit that on the Bonneville Salt Flats during Speed Week.

    As for Pike’s Peak, they took their bike there in 2013 and beat every other motorcycle up the mountain by 20 seconds, and most of the cars as well. Other people took notice, obviously, as this year the winning car at Pike’s Peak was electric, and that was with its rear motor pack failing less than half way up. A new course record, the winning time, and the driver and team were disappointed as they expected 30 seconds better.

    What’s really amusing about the Lightning wins is that they powered both the speed record and the Pike’s Peak runs with solar panels they had mounted on top of their transport van. Each speed run cost them about 8 cents. Compare that to the other vehicles, which depend on a massive infrastructure for digging up multi-million-year-old fossilized plants, transporting them often thousands of miles, refining them, then refining them more, then distributing the resulting gasoline potentially thousands more miles before it gets into a petrol tank. And then the petrol has a shelf life of maybe a year before it will foul the internal combustion engines that use it.

    It’s worth pointing out that two mainstream motorcycle companies now have electric bikes in production or prototype too, although they aren’t nearly as interesting as the Zero and Lightning. Polaris, which manufactures and sells Indian and Victory motorcycles, acquired Brammo in its Victory brand earlier this year and just released an updated Empulse, making it the first mainstream bike company with an electric motorcycle in its lineup. The Brammo went its own way by actually bothering to have a gear box, which pretty much every other electric vehicle company in the world realised was a bad decision; most people who ride the Brammo just leave it in third, apparently. And Harley Davidson of all companies actually has been showing of an electric motorcycle prototype, something unlikely to make it to production in my opinion. (Harley’s CEO claims it’s coming before 2020.)

    Is it time to buy an electric bike? If you are in the market for a new bike, you’d be foolish not to look at the option seriously. And in not too many years, you’ll probably be foolish to buy a petrol bike of any sort.

    I’ll leave you with a regular rider reacting to the acceleration of the Zero S — not even the SR — at 3:17 in this road test video.

    Source: CleanTechnica.
    • Like Like x 2
    • Informative Informative x 2
  2. Hey all nice and sweet, great overview however these are the 3 things: 1. Exhaust mate, where's the exhaust, bike ain't a bike without a braaaap and more so when you roll off and enjoy the sound of a compressing tone? 2. Character? i like bike as a character and not Prius. 3. Bike ain't a bike without a clutch. It is great to use torque coming off an induction motor but I just went to a vintage show and yeah I do not want us to be saying " yeah that's how they made real bikes in the old days" . Keep the character, keep the noise and the love of the throttle. Otherwise they become goog- Le things and only zzzzzzzzzz coming out from them :) cheers
    • Agree Agree x 1
  3. #3 dbrain, Aug 11, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2015
    Markus_15Markus_15 If you're really lucky they might put a speaker on commercial electric bikes somewhere that makes pretend exhaust noises. Might even put a clutch lever and gear changey foot thing with force feedback and "stalls" if you use them wrong.

    Seriously though, I'd miss the gear changing.. I mean I'm shit at it, but when I do it well I feel good about myself. I don't think it would stop me moving to electric when there's a good quick way to charge them though.
    Quiet I'm fine with. No-one hears my "fat pipes" anyway, short of my neighbours when I leave at 5am.
    • Like Like x 1
    • Funny Funny x 1
  4. Yeah it may be that exhaust speakers come as optional upgrade and for those who can afford premium extra- a volume adjusting knob could be installed as well?
  5. Man, on paper electric really seems to be the way to go.

    I do share the feelings that other expressed, electric just doesn't seem to have the character of the IC engine.

    Personally, I think the electric revolution will only take place when the performance is at a point that leaves IC dead in the water (and it's coming).
  6. 10c per kwhr, is it 1980?
  7. I'm sure electric will take off, especially once fuel spikes up again, but yeah, that whole visceral thing about a real engine and real exhaust will be hard to beat. And yeah, I hadn't realized they had no clutch or gear change, what's the skill in that?

    I'm not home so can't hear much. What's their sound like? Is it as audible to pedos and cagers as the real ones? With a vision impaired wife, I'd be alarmed if they were too quiet
  8. The way I see it, electric bikes, and somewhat cars for that matter, will become commuters and everyday use type vehicles, much cheaper to run, easier to use and much less maintenance. Whilst conventional gas bikes will become the weekend bikes for when you want to go out and have fun.

    And yes, electric cars and bikes do have ways to create sound.
    • Agree Agree x 3
    • Like Like x 1
  9. You can't beat those horses, the sweat the flies, the intelligence to be self driving at times, self re-fueling. These internal combustion engines just don't have the same sound or feel, I can't see them catching on. ;)
    • Winner Winner x 3
    • Agree Agree x 1
    • Funny Funny x 1
  10. #10 Noidea, Aug 11, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2015
    To update the old cliche' "There are only three things certain. Life, Death......and Change".
    • Power Steering
    • Anti-lock brakes
    • shock absorbers
    • Windscreens
    • Electronic stability control
    • Air conditioning
    • blah blah blah..
    I'm sure all of the above were guilty of "poisoning" the visceral feel of the motor vehicle however that didn't stop them becoming standard on every new vehicle over the years. Why... because we want them. They make cars safer, faster and overall a more enjoyable experience.
    And if we're talking about sound, do you want noise for yourself .....or to impress everyone you drive past? Cause let's be honest most of the general public aren't overly impressed with your twin straight through Yoshi's that leave their children's ears ringing for 10 mins after you've passed.
    If it's just for you, well they're already got you covered for a mere $60

    Change is coming and there is nothing we can say or do to avoid it.

    • Agree Agree x 3
    • Funny Funny x 1
  11. So what you're saying is you'd like bikes to become more cagelike? Cars are in most cases obese pointless monstrosities so I spit on that sentiment. How is it relevant to bikes? I don't care what people think of the (quite small really)noise, it's feedback just as much as feel is.

    What about all the electronic controls, people(myself included) already worry about the insidiousness of ecus that log pretty much everything. Electric vehicles are even more worrisome in that regard.

    Nothing I can do or say to avoid it? Nonsense, there are enough motorcycles in existence free from abs and other electronic wretchedness that I'll be quite able to resist change for the foreseeable future. EVs are still a joke, crap range, crap suspension, no infrastructure...
  12. As much as I like the sound of a nice engine and exhaust, I think I'd be willing to forego all that to ride that amazing torque wave you get with an electric motor. As long as it still went around corners well. In fact, I'm starting to think my next bike might just end up being electric.
  13. The point is, just like with electric starter, fuel injection or ABS, electric motorcycles and scooters will become wide-spread in a couple of decades or so. Convenience + lower 'fuel' price = high demand which will shape the market. And a lot of enthusiast riders(those of them for whom speed, power and torque are the only factors that matter) will be very likely to embrace electric motorcycles as well, meaning more high-end electrics.

    Will that mean the end of IC motorcycles? Most likely not, but they will become more and more exotic choice, just like 1950s cars are now. Is it a good thing for the motorcycling community? Maybe, maybe not. But that's something that is very likely to happen regardless of us liking it or not. But still, no one forces us to go electric, ICs still have enough juice in them to stay relatively wide-spread in our lifetime.
  14. Why stop there. Why not just go back to drum brakes and a kick starter on your 1000cc tourer... I bet there were some who hated that fact that a button replaced that lovely feeling when the engine backfires halfway through the stroke nearly ripping your leg off. Or when you're leg missed all together but your ankle still caught the foot peg on the way down.
    How about modern LED/HID lighting or would you prefer the oil lantern.
    Or 55 profile tyres that wander every chance they get...

    Let me know if you want any more bike specific examples?

    Even Harley Davidson (who still use 1950's tech on their bikes) is on the front foot as they know you can only sell so much "nostalgia" before reality overtakes you. My point was that yes, you can "delay" it but change in inevitable whether we like it or not so why fight it?

    • Agree Agree x 1
    • Funny Funny x 1
  15. Range is still a serious issue for me in this debate. I need a motorbike, and a car, to be able to go for 800+ kilometres in a day. But I only need one to do that, and my other vehicles can be smaller range "commuters" doing around 100 kms in a day.

    I looked into converting a car to electric a few years ago, and while the $ added up, the performance and range were always going to be marginal. So I didn't do it. Now I am starting to think about it again. I live 40 kms from my work, so fuel is a significant cost. So is servicing, and while I do some of the servicing myself, it still adds up in $. The almost total lack of servicing of an electric vehicle, brakes and tyres only really, makes it another reason for going there.

    I would be very surprised if I don't have at least one electric vehicle in 5 years time. It will most likely be a car, as I can't see myself buying a new bike anytime soon. I will keep my 4WD ute for its usefulness on the farm, and its ability to travel long distances in one day.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  16. If I had a café I'd be looking at installing quick charge ports :)
    • Winner Winner x 1
  17. All those improvements have enhanced the fundamental usefulness of the vehicle. ABS has not, TC has not, being spied on has not. A frightfully impractical energy source is of as yet marginal benefit has not. Why fight it? Because I know what I like, because a man needs to have principles. And because one of things I like most about my bike is it's minimalist nature, there are minimal annoying frivolities or utter pointlessnesses; I've a long list of features I'd prefer to avoid. Any inevitable change with brings with it umpteen petty or otherwise irritations. I'm not a hypocrite; lots of ICE bikes would doubtless annoy the piss out of me too.
  18. How are ABS, TC or ECU logging NOT adding fundamental usefulness to the modern motorcycle?
    ABS has added safety to both the rider and other vehicles that may be involved accident because a motorcycle has lost control. How many new riders wash the front end out when they panic brake in their first 12 months of riding. Does you car have ABS? Did you ask the dealer to disconnect it?
    TC means that you average punter can spit his BMW 1000RR round a corner faster than he ever though possible.
    ECU logging. When you take your bike to Mr Mechanic who instead of billing you for half a day's labour finding that electric gremlin can tell you in 30 secs once he connects the hand controller.

    • Agree Agree x 2
    • Like Like x 1
  19. Will definitely consider electric once prices go down and range/charging infrastructure is improved.
    Sure you lose something from the experience along the way, but there's also plenty to gain.
    • Agree Agree x 2
  20. I'll go electric for sure, but I'm guessing it's still 5-10 years away before it's financially viable for me. I don't buy new bikes.

    All the boy racers will own them though,no chance the IC engines will keep up unless you have something with FI.