August 8th, 2020 by Joe Wachunas
The nonprofit Forth and CleanTechnica are partnering on a webinar August 19 devoted to electric motorcycles, and CleanTechnica contributor Susanna Schick will be on the panel. Register here for this free event!
Electric motorcycles have come a long way in the last 10 years, and exciting things are on the horizon, with new models coming out by big players and sales of e-motos skyrocketing. For the latest word on where we’re going and where we’ve been in this rapidly developing sector, we interviewed Susanna Schick, e-motorcycle aficionado and columnist for CleanTechnica.
Forth: How did you get involved with electric motorcycles?
Susanna Schick: I developed an interest in sustainability years before I came upon an electric motorcycle. I wasn’t actively researching them, so I was happy to see Zero was giving demo rides at a MotoGP race at Laguna Seca in Monterey. I tried one out, and although its performance wasn’t very impressive, I was very excited about the possibility of getting around without gas. It wasn’t until 2013 that Zero finally won me over with the FXS. Back then, Hollywood Electric would convert the FX to a supermoto. I tried one and instantly knew it was the bike of my dreams. Light, quick, and so much fun to ride.
What is the overall state of the electric motorcycle market and how has it changed over the last 10 years?
When talking about the e-moto market, it’s Zero and the rest of the competitors. Zero has sold the most motorcycles by far, and has been around the longest. I’ve seen their bikes improve dramatically over the 11 years I’ve been reviewing them. They went from selling what rode like a glorified moped to selling a proper sports bike with a full range of powerful motorcycles for on and off road. They’ve also become more reliable, have longer range, and better components, all while bringing the prices down, thanks to batteries constantly becoming cheaper and better.
Ten years ago, there were so many e-moto startups, the starting grid of TTXGP races was quite diverse. There were a host of manufacturers all hoping to make it big. Some made truly excellent bikes, like MotoCzysz and Lightning. Lightning is still around, selling electric superbikes made to order. MotoCzysz sadly passed with its owner Michael Czysz. But there’s one e-moto maker from those races that certainly made it big — Energica. Eleven years ago, it was a project in the back of CRP racing technologies, a carbon fiber 3D printed component company. It has since grown into an electric motorcycle company so successful the MotoE series chose its motorcycles for the single OEM series.
Where do you see e-motorcycles headed in the next 5–10 years?
I’ve seen this industry grow from a few project bikes to an industry that could keep motorcycles legal long past the coming day when cities (countries?) across the world ban gas-powered vehicles entirely. So, where the industry goes really depends on regulation more than anything. Yes, the Gen Y kids are into technology, but they’re also into being in a group. Will they choose motorcycles as a way to rebel against their overprotective helicopter parents? Some will. But I think environmental consciousness, regulation, and government incentives will continue to drive this industry.
In the near term, as so many people have picked up cycling during COVID lockdowns across the world, maybe they’ll find they like that feeling of freedom and don’t want to go back to their cages when it’s time to go back to the office. I hope this brings on lots of new motorcyclists, and I know that Zero electric motorcycles are the perfect starter bike because they have no clutch to get used to, and you can lower the torque with your phone, while you get used to it.
Can you tell me in a few words how electric motorcycles are better than fossil fuel-driven motos?
My personal favorites:
- VERY low maintenance
- I never have to enter a filthy gas station, especially on the way to work.
- Plug in at night, wake up charged and ready to go!
- I’m doing my part to stop global warming.
- Sooo much fun to ride! Especially the Zero FXS — it feels like a toy!
- When money is tight, I don’t have to spend any of it on gas.
- The quietness is calming. I find when I get back on my gas bike I’m stressed out.
What emotional connections do people have with ICE bikes that are challenges to adoption of electric ones and how do we overcome this?
Some people love vintage, especially authentic vintage motorcycles. That’s a hard thing to overcome. Yet they drive modern trucks to pick up their vintage bikes when they break down, don’t they? There’s also brand loyalty. I love Yamaha because that’s what Rossi rides, but also because they’re reliable. The day Yamaha builds and sells an e-moto, I’ll buy it. But I also love my gas bike for being a racy sports bike, which is why my next motorcycle will be the Energica Ego, the motorcycle raced in MotoE.
What about noise and clutch?
To everyone who says “loud pipes save lives,” I reply, “no, loud colors save lives.” Most of the sound from a gas motorcycle goes behind the motorcycle. So the motorists in front of you, the ones that matter, can’t hear it anyway. A flash of movement from a bright color out of the corner of their eye is far more attention getting than any old pipe trying to compete with their music or conversation.
Very few e-motos have a transmission. While many experienced motorcyclists claim they wouldn’t know what to do without their clutch, I’ve gotten so accustomed to riding without it, I can no longer get a good, clean launch with my gas bike. It’s so much fun to just GUN IT when that light turns green!
One way that some people are introduced to electric cars is to acquire one for their second car. How does this apply to motorcycles? Should folks start out buying an electric motorcycle for their second or third bike?
When I lived in Los Angeles, my main ride was a Yamaha R1. I loved that bike, and hated torturing it by making it suffer city riding. When Zero finally released a bike powerful enough to handle LA traffic, I bought it! Pretty quickly, the R1 started having “wet storage” issues because I never rode it anymore!
I think electric motorcycles are perfect for most of the trips a person takes. But I do enjoy playing in the canyons with my friends, and kept the R1 handy for that and for the occasional long trip that would be challenging on the Zero. I started renting out the R1 to basically have other people ride it to keep it fresh so I wouldn’t have to!
Can you take an e-motorcycle on a road trip yet? What does that look like?
I haven’t, but Terry Hershner rode cross country on the early Zero motorcycles many times. He stopped to charge as needed, and kept his speed close to 55 mph to extend his range. There are electric motorcycles that can use quick chargers, others can be adapted to use them, and quick chargers make the trip a LOT shorter. Some e-moto owners have even hacked their bikes to make Tesla Superchargers think they’re charging a Tesla. But I personally haven’t tried this.
What does the typical charging experience look like for e-motorcycles both around town and on trips?
Around town I can easily find a 110V outlet most of the time I need one. In Los Angeles, there are also plenty of Level 2 charging stations, and they’re easy to find with the PlugShare app! Even if I’m in the twisties and need to knock on someone’s door, some people share their stations. Sometimes you’ll find PHEVs using them, and if no other station is available, I’ll unplug the PHEV, since they don’t need the juice to make it home.
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