Thursday, September 24, 2009


The all-electric motorcycle: Don't count on it

At least not for now.

As is my usual modus, allow me to preface a somewhat critical piece with a bit of balance: I have nothing against the concept of an all-electric motorcycle. Truth be told, I actually think it's a pretty great idea. In fact, I've often said that the day some very bright engineering and design team releases onto the market a 150-mile per hour, 6,000-dollar, all-electric motorcycle with a 200 mile range and a 10 minute recharge cycle, I'll be the first in line to buy. I mean that sincerely.

Unfortunately, that's not where the technology is right now. The average all-electric motorbike has a range of about 30 miles, a top speed of about 40 miles per hour, a recharge time of about eight hours, and a pricetag that'd get you a Hayabusa or Ducati race replica. And I won't even mention the costs associated with replacing worn out battery packs.

Yet, industry insiders and outsiders alike -- particularly in the mainstream media -- repeatedly represent the all-electric motorcycle as if it were a fully perfected, cheap, dependable mode of transportation. It's not. Far from it, in fact. In all but a precious few real-life riding applications, the electric bike is a generally useless purchase for anything other than helping holier-than-thou eco-mentals feel superior to their petrol-burning neighbors.

The way electric vehicles in general are marketed is partly to blame for the misconceptions surrounding the true state of the technology. For example, the Tesla Roadster, an ultra high-dollar, all-electric sports car, is marketed as having an almost 250-mile range. However, on the BBC television series Top Gear, the Tesla was found to have a range of only 60 miles. It was also noted that the 109,000-dollar car requires a battery pack replacement every 30,000 to 70,000 miles at a cost of almost $30,000.

All too often, these truths eventually come home to roost for the electric vehicle industry in for form of failure. Motorcyclist Magazine recently reported that the Vectrix electric motorcycle company is apparently on the verge of bankruptcy right now after pumping over 50 million dollars and more than a decade of R&D into its all-electric line of scooters and bikes. It makes one wonder if those who dropped 12 Grand or more for a new Vectrix will be left in the cold from a support standpoint should the company fold completely. And it's not just Vectrix. The list of financially troubled or failed companies producing similar products is considerable.

My aim here is not to trash the concept. As I said, it would be great if someone made all-electric technology tangibly viable, and I hope efforts continue. My aim is to make sure that you, the motorcyclist, are thinking critically so that you are not duped into a purchase you might later regret. Look to the realities, not the hype. Unless the buying public expects and accepts only the very best from the electric motorcycle market, it likely won't get it.

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