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Motorcycle culture is more than just leather jackets and chrome exhausts. Since the 1970s, bikes have developed an almost religious association, as captured in the best-selling philosophy book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. This has endured almost 50 years later, with Jeff Goldblum recently taking to our screens to talk all things bikes.
But now there seems to be a fork in the road. Other vehicles are on the cusp of an electrical revolution, while motorcycles are lagging behind. Already we’re seeing push bikes and scooters be redefined. Electric bicycle sales are growing 16% faster than their analog predecessors, and UK cities are trialing e-scooters as a serious alternative to public transport. In both cases, the benefit is obvious: lower emissions, a reduction in traffic, and an increasingly mobile city.
Despite this, the motorbike industry remains ponderous in its electrical adoption. But that could change. The aim to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles has meant manufacturers are setting their sights on the electric vehicle market – including motorbikes. It seems that an electric motorcycle may well become the norm as opposed to a novelty.
The journey so far
Today, ‘electricity’ (as well as ‘autonomous’) is somewhat of a buzzword in the automotive industry. As a result, we’re increasingly seeing push bikes and e-scooters being introduced to the market. At CES 2022, for instance, we saw a few automakers discuss the “eMobility experience” while unveiling their tech. One such manufacturer, Segway, came to CES with a new scooter line named the P-Series and a new moped-type e-scooter, the E11a. With wider footboards and handles, these nimble vehicles are set to enter the personal market and supply shared operators.
As for bikes, Ukrainian startup Delfast introduced an upgraded model of its electric Top 3.0 bike. According to the company, these bikes can go up to 200 miles on a single charge and come equipped with a smart computer that can receive software updates as well as immobilize the vehicle if stolen. This is very much a part of the ‘connected vehicles’ theme we’ve heard a lot of recently.
But CES didn’t just highlight the advances in electric push bikes and scooters. From a new Mercedes boasting 621 miles per charge to an electric BMW crossover that can change colors, it goes without saying that electric cars are starting to find their stride. In fact, some would argue they already have. In the UK, the Tesla Model 3 is the company car of choice and became the second best-selling new car in 2021.
Yet these vehicles aren’t exactly affordable. At £42,500 ($57,500), Tesla’s electric car remains exclusive to more affluent UK households. This isn’t unique to Tesla either; four in five UK drivers say that electric cars generally are too expensive. And this is factoring in government support to buy them. What’s more, while cost is a factor, customers are hesitant to invest in technology that’s yet to solve an infrastructure problem. Namely, the shortage of charging stations globally.
This could be the reason behind a perceived lack of interest in electric motorbikes. Although there is one example to the contrary, which is winning the hearts of petrolheads and proving electricity can look good on two wheels. That example is the XP Zero, winner of 15 international design awards and capable of 110bhp from an electric motor. But as with other Zero Motorcycles models, customers are looking at a £12,000-£20,000 ($16,000-$27,000) price tag. So, how do we make e-bikes more accessible?
Hope on the horizon
It’s no secret that the more diverse the market, the better it is for consumers. And it’s likely we’re about to see electric motorcycles become commonplace soon. While they’re yet to unveil a personal vehicle, Ducati have shown their first electric racing motorcycle set to join MotoE. Known as the Ducati V21L, the electric prototype performed several laps on the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli track. The significance here, of course, is that the motorsport industry often leads the way in terms of innovation – where they go, automobility as a whole tends to follow.
Internationally, there are already business cases for electric motorcycles. Thailand is trialing electric bikes as taxis. Off a single charge, these bikes can travel approximately 100km – and the government is currently studying their impact on the economy and environment. In Africa, EV maker Opibus has formed a partnership with Uber to supply 3,000 electric bikes. With a big carrier, the bikes are ideal for luggage transportation.
Interestingly, Opibus’ bikes are built around a dual, swappable battery pack as opposed to being reliant on EV charging ports. This is something we're seeing on a much larger scale in China. NIO, often referred to as China’s Tesla, has pioneered battery swap technology in their home market and recently revealed that they’ve installed 778 stations across main highways and cities. Effectively, this means that instead of having to search for charging ports, consumers can swap batteries when theirs is depleted – a process that takes just three minutes. Norway is the first European country to sell NIO vehicles, and already 92% of buyers have signed up to the battery swap functionality over traditional charging stations. Again, this is good news for motorcycle enthusiasts, who can look forward to having the freedom to roam for hundreds of miles at a time without worrying about restricted energy sources.
Like motorsport, innovation in business is usually good for the consumer. As we see more stories about electric motorcycles being used in races and retail, we can expect to see manufacturers eyeing up the consumer market. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean audiences will flock to them. There’s a reason that the motorcycle industry has been one of the slowest to embrace electricity, and it’s something that manufacturers will have to overcome.
Road to adoption
For many motorcyclists, the lure is the unfolding of a map and plotting a course across the country, continent, or world. EV infrastructure presents a fear that these long, sprawling journeys will be confined to the limited charging points or battery stations that are currently available.
The loss of sound is another sticking point. The roar of engines will never be replicated in electric bikes in quite the same way. Co-founder of Fonz Moto, Michelle Nazzari, recently described how their social media feeds were often hit with “emasculating commentary” about the silence.
Environmental benefits may outweigh this loss, especially as traditional motorbikes emit higher levels of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. This is something that manufacturers will probably pitch towards younger generations – those who didn’t fall in love with motorcycling because of the roar of the engines, but for their eco-friendly output.
With 60% of young people saying they felt worried or very worried about climate change, there’s an argument to be made that there’s never been a better time for electric motorbikes. Young people want a solution to rising emissions, and these motorcycles offer that. What’s more, with battery swapping providing an alternative to charging ports, EV infrastructure is set to greatly expand.
At Wejo, we have our own plans to support the growth of EV infrastructure. By leveraging the billions of data points we process every day, we’re able to visualize how cities move. We intend to supply these insights to government authorities, who in turn can improve EV infrastructure and remove even more barriers from the mass adoption of electric motorbikes. For manufacturers, it’s simply a race across the line in terms of who can deliver the Tesla equivalent of the e-bike.
What do you think?
Take part in the electric vehicle conversation on our social media channels. After all, manufacturers are designing new electric vehicles as we speak, so why not tell us what you want to see on our LinkedIn and Twitter? There, you’ll also find updates on autonomous and connected vehicles.
In the meantime, if you’d like to get in touch about anything else, fill in our contact form and a member of the team will be in touch.
There’s no doubt that the future of mobility lies with electric and autonomous vehicles. Original car manufacturers are working hard to keep pace with new entrants into the industry and the tech companies revolutionizing it. With transportation emissions accounting for 29% of carbon emissions in 2019, the race towards cleaner, more sustainable transport, and a greener future is definitely on.
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