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Leaps Forward In Electric Motorcycle Technology

  Posted at 05:00:00 PM
  File under  Electrical Ecology
  Author: Mike Werner
  Location: Normandy, France

Although electric motorcycles have been on the drawing boards since the latter part of the mid 1800's (that's not a typo - source Open link in a new window), it's only in the last 4 - 5 years that they have been on the market actively. But in that very short time frame, electric motorcycles have been making enormous leaps forward. Technology, specially battery technology, has become better and better, and is starting to make electric motorcycle attractive to the general public.

Electricmoto's Blade .04
In 2004, the first "mass" produced electric motorcycles were destined for off road riding, like Blade (ElectricMoto Corp - EMC) with a top speed of 40 mph and a range that could be counted with a stopwatch. The Blade was a pure recreation motorcycle, meant to ride for a bit on a motocross circuit.

Other motocross electric motorcycles followed quite quickly, like Quantya Open link in a new window and Zero Open link in a new window. Ranges were still measured in time, usually enough for a short motocross race (about 30 minutes). But then battery technology caught up, and motocross bikes became dual sport, and so did the range of the motorcycles.


CityBird Electri City Vectrix scooter
Other manufacturers have since then seen the light of day (and some have already disappeared).

Notably, Vectrix Open link in a new window took a serious shot at producing a proper electric scooter, and even supplied several police forces around the world with this urban scooter.

Even motorcycle taxi companies have started purchasing electric scooters like this Vectrix (pictured is the French City-Bird Open link in a new window).

Vectrix even produced a prototype of a race motorcycle capable of 200 kph. And let's not forget about the Motoczysz Open link in a new window, a very fast electric race motorcycle. In 2009 it broke the land speed record, at 163 mph.

The batteries used had a limited lifecycle. Though they could be charged reasonably quickly, within the hour, their lifespan is around 400 to 500 charges. Then you have to replace the expensive battery.

But thanks to recent electric motorcycle races (like the TTXGP Open link in a new window), battery technology is making enormous leaps forward. The technical challenge is for making it possible for the racing electric motorcycles to go faster and longer.

New manufacturers came onto the scene. Brammo Open link in a new window probably the most notable one, and the most promising. The Brammo electric motorcycle is not based on an off-road bike, but on a street one, though designed from the ground up. The Enertia is a decent street bike, with a range of some 40 miles and a top speed of 60 mph. The Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries have a capacity of 3.1 kW per hour, with a 4 hour 100% recharge. The battery life makes it easier to own, since it'll last some 2,000 charges.

The 40 mile range is interesting. Statistically, the average daily commute (average for all vehicles types) is around 16 miles, one-way. Even with an aggressive riding style (the faster you go, the more electricity you use), the Brammo Enertia can still ride 30 miles. This means that you are at the limit of your range. So 40 miles falls short of making a comfortable commute, unless you "tank" up when you're at the office.

Brammo Enertia Plus

But with Brammo's recent announcement of the Enertia Plus, this electric motorcycle comes into the range that is acceptable and comfortable for most commuters. Using special lithium ion batteries, delivering 6 kW per hour, the range of the bike is upped to 80 miles, with the top speed remaining 60 mph. On the downside, the lifespan of the battery is limited to some 500 cycles (or around 30,000 miles).

With a extended range of 80 miles, even when riding full throttle your range is 40 miles, it should satisfy most commuters. But 80 miles doesn't get you your weekend ride. Those usually are longer.

Brammo Empulse
But for more aggressive riding, and even longer ones, Brammo have an electric motorcycle for you. Called the Empulse, the bike uses lithium ion batteries, delivering a whopping 10 kWh, but recharging it takes a lot longer, 4 to 12 hours (depending on the voltage used - Europe has an advantage with its 220 Volts of North America's 110). But then you do get a "real" motorcycle with a range exceeding 100 miles and a top speed of 100 mph.

With extended range electric motorcycles like the Enertia Plus, and with real street motorcycle that are fast and long range, bikers that do not ride RTWRound The World have a choice now.

The biggest obstacle for buying an electric motorcycle is price. Electric motorcycles are still more expensive than their gas guzzling counterparts, but even there, prices are starting to fall, and governments are subsidizing electric motorcycle purchases. Secondly, once you've parted with your kidneys to pay for the bike, your running costs are extremely low. Electricity is a hell of a lot less expensive than petrol, and that difference can only increase over time.

The only way that electric motorcycles will be reduced in price, and increased in range and speed, is when (not "if") the big manufacturers join the game.

BMW Open link in a new window have been prototyping an electric C1 scooter since last year. So far, it's an only model, but they are looking seriously at this prototype for future development, and I would not be surprised to see it coming to the market in a year or so. (article Open link in a new window)

Of course BMW's Mini released its own electric scooter, the E-concept. (article Open link in a new window)

Mini Electric Scooter

KTM Open link in a new window have recently announced their KTM Freeride, an electric motocrosser. With batteries conceived to deliver sufficient charge (2.5 kWh) for a top speed of 70 kph (enough for motocross and 90 minutes riding pleasure), it is a serious attempt of KTM to keep dominating the off road world in the future. (article Open link in a new window)
KTM Freeride

So far, these are still in concept stage, and will not see a dealer showroom before a year or two.

Honda and Yamaha have already a series of electric motorcycle, more scooters than motorcycles, and all are low power units meant for 50cc replacement (ie school kids). But even their efforts will pave the way for better, faster and more important, cheaper battery technology.

I for one am waiting to see the Brammo Empulse parked inside my garage... I really can't wait.

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