I’ve recently come back to work from maternity leave and one of the exciting things is that I have an excuse to ride my motorbike again. Being back on the road has been quite a wake up call, however, with the traffic feeling busier than ever. The roads are more congested and vehicle fumes more intense, a reminder that air pollution is high on the social agenda. Being a mum has made me look more seriously at my transport of choice and the impact I’m having on the environment.
The mainstream appeal
Having a baby has meant I haven’t ridden my bike for nearly 2 years and although I get much joy from being on two wheels (with an engine), I’ve been looking into the electric motorbikes on the market as I am now much more aware of the pollution I am contributing to. It’s amazing how many electric (EV) motorbikes are available now. And the industry is changing. It started off as a niche market with the likes of the futuristic looking Saietta motorbike whichnever made it to market but I’m not that surprised considering its over-stylised design. Personally, I never understood who the target audience was. The manufacturer definitely couldn’t have been aiming for the main stream market. Now, however, there are a quite a few appealing electric motorbikes on offer which is encouraging considering the sale of petrol motorbikes is dropping. The age of bikers is getting older and the younger generation just isn’t as interested.
Making real life exciting
The younger generation (Millennials/Generation Z) are spending far more time online, texting friends and scrolling through social media and have less leisure time for anything else. They want to spend their time and money in front of the ‘glow of smartphone screens’ which is forcing large motorbike manufacturers to innovate and create something exciting enough to get them back into the action in real life. Electric motorbikes with the latest technology could be one of the many ways. This makes for exciting times in the motorbike industry. The demand for electric bikes is making them more accessible.
It’s interesting seeing how motorsport innovation has been leading the way for electric cars, yet seems to be the other way around when it comes to electric bikes where ground up innovation seems to have been driving the motorbike industry. Small, unknown manufacturers have been developing electric bicycles and motorbikes, forcing the big players in the market to innovate and develop their own electric models.
Is the next generation ready for electric motorbikes? Will mainstreaming electric motorbikes help shift behaviour in the average motorbiker and inspire new key audiences, including more women? Harley Davidson think so which is why they have announced production of their first electric model, the EV. The styling of the Harley Davidson Electric bike isn’t the classic Harley that you might imagine. It’s very much a sporty-looking road bike which is a clear sign that they are targeting a new, younger audience.
Riding experience versus footprint
I’m always looking for ways to reduce my carbon footprint and have wanted to convert a motorbike to run off recycled chip fat. It’s been done but needs development (Harry Lyon-Smith converted his Royal Enfield to run off vegetable oil). Electric vehicles on the other hand don’t just tick the sustainability box for environmental protection but also help society by reducing noise pollution. The beauty of an electric engine is that it’s nearly silent. This, on the other hand, may not appeal to the purist motorbiker who enjoys the purr of a petrol engine. There is something compelling about hearing your engine start and the noise from the throttle letting you know if your bike is running properly and reliably. Another big factor stalling the EV market is the bike’s range. No one has quite managed to address the battery life like the electric motorcar industry. Without getting too technical, it’s to do with the weight of the battery versus the size of machine. Motorbikes are very sensitive to weight and the energy density of the power source is crucial.
So what’s the future?
Not many of the well-known bike brands have one to offer yet (Vespa have an electric scooter but BMW are only in concept stage). Who’s going to be the Tesla of electric motorbikes? Will it be the Alta Motors who Tesla have financially backed? And is it simply the battery that is preventing this industry from scaling up? Maybe we need our government to help more. It does seem that the government focus is on incentivising electric cars, vans and buses over motorcycles. This does make sense since motorcycles are only responsible for 0.5% of the 92% contribution of road transport to greenhouse gas emissions.
There is still some way to go to making electric bikes more accessible but I’m excited about seeing electric motorbikes filling the London streets. In the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying my Moto Guzzi (and bicycle) 🙂
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