Electric motorcycles? No thanks.

January 31, 2011
By: Eric Lundin

Everyone knows that liquids, mainly gasoline and diesel, have been the main fuels for vehicles for decades. Although steam and electricity competed with gasoline at the turn of the last century, gasoline won that battle and ruled the automotive industry ever since. However, the oil shocks of the 1970s were enough to revive the interest in electric-powered vehicles. These days, if you’re interested in cutting your dependence on gasoline, or reducing your carbon footprint, you have several choices.

If you have a modest amount of money and you’re interested in fuel efficiency, a hybrid vehicle like the Toyota Prius® would do the trick. Starting at $22,800, it comes equipped with an 80-HP electric motor and a 1.8-liter gasoline-powered engine rated at 98 HP (at 5,200 RPM, to be precise). The EPA estimates the fuel efficiency to be 51 city, 48 highway. Let’s compare that to a Toyota Camry®. The basic model is $19,820. It’s equipped with a 2.5-liter gasoline-powered engine that develops 169 HP at 6,000 RPM. The fuel efficiency is estimated at 22 city, 33 highway.

Got all that?

If you have a ton of money and want an exotic sports car, you could purchase Tesla Roadster Sport. Despite being battery-powered, its power, torque, and acceleration are enough to make any adrenaline junkie drool. It develops 288 HP, 295 lb.-ft., and goes from 0 to 60 in a jaw-dropping 3.7 seconds. Let’s compare that to another exotic, a Lotus Evora, which is gasoline-powered. The performance is roughly comparable: 288 HP, 258 lb.-ft. of torque, and 60 MPH from a dead stop in 4.9 seconds.

The top speed for both is well into triple digits. The only real difference is in the emissions. The Tesla produces none. It’s not a hybrid; it’s completely electric.

Do motorcycle enthusiasts have an electric option? Yes and no. Yes, you can buy an electric motorcycle; no, if you’re an enthusiast, don’t bother.

Zero Motorcycles makes quite a few zero-emissions motorcycles. Its X and MX models are for trails and tracks; model S is for the street; and its DS is for both dirt and street. The cost for a model S is comparable to a basic gasoline-powered motorcycle, at about $10,000. The chief attraction is the cost-per-mile to ride one. Zero claims that it costs about a penny per mile to ride its street bike, model S. You can get a Harley-Davidson® Sportster® 1200 Low for about the same price, and when gasoline is $3.00 per gallon, it costs 6 cents per mile to ride.

Other differences? Numerous.

First, you don’t have to watch Marlon Brando in his coolest role, Johnny Strabler in “The Wild One,” to know that everything about a motorcycle is cool—the kick-start; the throaty, rumbling exhaust at idle and the roar at high speeds; and the combination of speed, acceleration, and handling that you just can’t get from a car. Likewise, you don’t have to see a Harley-Davidson commercial to know that a motorcycle imparts a feeling of freedom on the road like no other vehicle. When was the last time you saw a group of people in a cluster of cars cruising down the highway for the sheer enjoyment of the ride?

An electric motorcycle offers none of the cool factor. No kick-start, no wake-the-neighbors exhaust sounds, no clutch, no shifting gears, no nothing. To top it off, the performance is mild, to put it nicely. The top speed of the model S is a mere 67 MPH and the range is 50 miles (followed by a four-hour battery charge). Bikers stop to get gas, not to recharge batteries. This is a far cry from the tattoos-and-Harleys image most of us associate with bikers.

It brings to mind a conversation with an old friend last time I was in Georgia. He said he’s been known to ride 1,300 miles in a weekend (“My friends call me Iron Ass,” he said) and, well, a four-hour stop to recharge after 50 miles on the road would take some of the mystique and distance out of weekend riding. I guess it would limit Iron Ass Grigsby to about 200 miles per weekend.

Given a choice, I’d take the Harley.
Eric Lundin

Eric Lundin

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8262