Electric motorcycles? Yes please!

February 14, 2011

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In my previous blog entry, I made some comparisons between several gasoline-powered and alternative-fuel vehicles: Two passenger cars (a Toyota Prius® and a Toyota Camry®), two exotic sports cars (a Tesla Roadster Sport and a Lotus Evora), and two motorcycles (a model S from Zero Motorcycles and a traditional Harley-Davidson®). The Prius and the Roadster Sport are practical and very fast, respectively, and are comparable in performance and price to their gasoline-only counterparts, so it’s clear that we have low-carbon-footprint choices in automobiles these days. However, regarding the electric Zero model S, the technology has a long way to go; it has a top speed of 67 MPH and a range of 50 miles.

This isn’t to say that you don’t have choices in motorcycles. A reader pointed out a couple that I overlooked, such as Mission One’s PLE (Premier Limited Edition). It has enough kick to pull a wheelie at 70 MPH and it achieves a top speed of 150 MPH. It develops 136 HP and 100 lb.-ft. of torque at 6,500 RPM. Granted, it’s expensive— about $68,000. The Zero and a basic Harley-Davidson cost about $10,000. Regardless of the PLE’s price, it’s good to know that you can buy an electric motorcycle that goes twice as fast as most states’ speed limits.

KillaCycle® set the standard for high-speed electric vehicles for more than a decade. Its fastest ¼-mile time is 7.82 seconds (168 MPH). Its top speed is 174.05 MPH. Of course, this is a different category altogether. It’s not street-legal, and only one exists.

What do these high-performance electric vehicles use for energy? It turns out to be not very exotic. Tesla and Mission use lithium-ion batteries. These are commonly used in consumer electronics. KillaCycle uses lithium-iron Nanophosphate™ batteries. This is a type of lithium-ion battery, but it has a key advantage over the standard ones: It is more stable, chemically and thermally, which is a fancy way of saying that it’s safer. I guess that would be a good reason to use this battery in a motorcycle that tops out just shy of 175 MPH.

I had no idea that electric motorcycles were serious contenders in racing events, so I dug a little deeper. If you think that electric vehicle racing is a tiny niche populated by a cult of BEV (battery electric vehicle) fanatics, you’re right, but the niche isn’t as tiny as you might think. It has its own organization, the National Electric Drag Racing Association, and electric races are growing in popularity. The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Race, a series of motorcycle races that run over 10 days or so, included a zero-emissions race in 2009.

I stand by my original point, though, that practical electric motorcycles for the masses aren’t available. But then again, Mission and KillaCycle are making great progress, as are several automobile manufacturers. Just as digital cameras have been taking over for film cameras, cell phones are replacing landline phones, and cable and satellite have supplanted broadcast television, I wonder if (or perhaps when) battery technology will replace gasoline-powered engines for motorcycles and cars.


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Eric Lundin

Editor
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