History, Sexiness and a Call to Action
There are currently a plethora of variations on electric motorcycles, bicycles and scooters. The lines distinguishing them from one another are becoming increasingly blurred. This blog will touch briefly on electric bicycles (e-bikes), which are human-electric hybrid vehicles. However, much more focus will be placed on electric motorcycles. As there is currently no acronym and for the sake of brevity I will be referring to electric motorcycles as e-cycles.
The history surrounding e-cycles is somewhat unclear. The first electric bicycle patent was filed in Boston on October 8, 1895. The patent is titled “Electric Bicycle” however the specifications and designs in the patent describe today’s definition of a motorcycle; two-wheeled vehicle, powered by a motor, and has no pedals. There was a another electric bicycle patent filed a few months later in the same year. The research I’ve done credits this patent as the first however I’m not sure why.
Hosea W. Libbey’s “Electric Bicycle” Patent, Dec. 28, 1897
These early model e-cycles were never commercialized. Despite several patents after 1985, the first commercial mention of an electric motorcycle didn’t occur until the October, 1911 edition of Popular Mechanics. The article doesn’t name any manufacturers but said electric motorcycles were being “introduced”. Popular mechanics was apparently wrong.
Forty years later in 1941 a Belgian company named Socovel (Company for Research and Construction of Electric Vehicles) manufactured around 400 electric scooters. They were created in response to WWII fuel rationing. They immediately dwindled in popularity post-war when gasoline became more available.
Socovel Electric Motorcycle
A series of advancements in the technology took place over the years to follow. However, serious commercialization of electric motorcycles didn’t begin until the late 60’s and early 70’s after Karl Kordesch created the alkaline battery and converted his motorcycle to electric.
Karl Kordesch on his converted e-cycle
Many variations of electric powered bicycles, scooters, mopeds, drag bikes and motorcycles have since been developed, manufactured and sold. The most popular and commercialized of these is the e-bike. This is understandable given consumers expect low speeds from a bicycle and adding clean, quite power to make peddling easier and slightly increase top speeds is a popular mechanism.
E-bikes are hybrid human-electric vehicles. E-bikes have pedals, whereas motorcycles do not. As I mentioned before due to marketing and the sheer volume of types there are no official guidelines for how things should be classified. There are all sorts of variations of two wheeled electric powered bicycles. Things like Segways, which help to blur the line. There are all sorts of e-cycle concepts as well that may be manufactured someday that will blur the lines even more; for example e-cycles with omnidirectional wheels similar to the Batcycle in the The Dark Night.
Except for a couple companies like Stealth and Cykno, e-bikes are not particularly cool looking. If your riding a powerful e-bike, you can reach speeds well beyond that of a bicycle and close to those of a motorcycle. However pedaling slowly while traveling 50 mph can look a little ridiculous. Despite this, e-bikes are increasingly popular, especially in China. They accounts for every 9 out of 10 e-bike sales. This trend of an Asian dominated market is projected to slowly change over the next 7 years as Europe and America begin to welcome the technology. I think the e-bike market this way because the American and some European markets are much more attracted to big powerful motors. For this reason perhaps, I too am much more interested in e-cycles.
With this in mind I want to address the noticeable lack of sexiness in the EV world. “What about Tesla!” EV enthusiasts might exclaim. Yes Tesla makes some sexy cars (and that’s all fine and well) but even the Model S which is less than half the price of their roadster is $50,000. That’s some expensive sexy. What I’m calling for is affordable sexy. Fortunately that will be coming in three or four years with a $30,000 model. I love Tesla and what they’re doing for the EV world but somebody needs to step up and do the same thing for e-cycles.
Tesla Model S
The average American when asked to think about EVs will probably think of the plug-in Prius, the Volt or the Leaf. While I think these zero emission vehicles are great, they attract people drawn to a very specific aesthetic. It is likely this aesthetic was chosen by the various car companies’ marketing teams to market EVs to the people most willing to accept the new technology. This perhaps was the most effective approach to boosting sales, however I want to call for a more forward thinking approach. One where EVs are marketed to everyone. Jumpstarting and e-cycle market would go a long way towards reaching this goal.
E-cycles today are making leaps and bounds towards catching up with their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts. Two electric motorcycle companies called Zero and Brammo are currently leading the way for e-cycles. Both companies are marketing models of their e-cycles to security and police forces. Several of these forces including The London Metropolitan Police Department and the Hong Kong Police are currently testing the bikes in the field.
Zero and Brammo may be leading the way in e-cycle technology but they’re still far behind ICE motorcycles. The Zero DS, for example, has a top speed of 95 mph and an approximate highway range of 82 miles. Even some gas-powered scooters can achieve 40 mph more than that top speed and more than triple that range. Clearly these policing forces using the e-cycles see something in them. Given their range and top speeds, one has to assume they’re using them for their stealth. I look forward to seeing how the e-cycles perform.
2012 Zero DS
The world’s fastest electric motorcycle is the Lawless Electric Rocket, which won a National Electric Drag Racing Association record. In 2012 the bike made 6.94 seconds at 201.37 mph over a quarter mile. This is just around 40 mph short of world record for a fuel bike. As you can see e-cycles have a long way to go to catch up to ICE motorcycles. I support progress in the technology and look forward to the day when EVs surpass ICEs but I think something needs to be done in the meantime.
So with the history of the e-cycle in mind I suggest motorcycle manufacturers take a note from the car companies. Until e-cycle technology catches up with motorcycles I suggest somebody begin commercializing hybrid motorcycles. I’m no engineer but I imagine that with relative ease, much like cars, hybrid electric motorcycles could be developed that would compete with ICE motorcycles.
There are currently several DIY conversions of ICE motorcycles to electric hybrids, but as far as I have been able to tell nothing has been commercialized. So this blog is a call to action. While we’re waiting for e-cycles to become more awesome let’s make some sexy hybrid bikes that can keep up with an ICE and make some serious progress with the #EVrevolution !
—–Luke Schneider @ Electric Vehicle Institute