I love electric vehicles. No, I really love electric vehicles. I didn’t used to love them so much, and you may not, either. But then I rode one and fell in love.

It wasn’t love at first sight. My first EV experience was back in 2009, when I rode Zero Motorcycle‘s early version of its S supermoto-styled machine. It was probably the most boring and disappointing test I’ve done of a motorcycle. The $9,950 motorcycle topped out at about 55 mph, had a claimed 60-mile around-town range (it would probably go less than 20 miles on the freeway) and accelerated like a 250cc scooter. The bike was light, but it also had an uncomfortable seat, a weird riding position, and odd tire sizes. It was much more like a fast and heavy electric bicycle than a serious alternative to a gas-powered motorcycle.

2010 Electric Motorcycle Shootout

At the time, I optimistically predicted that in 10 years half the motorcycles sold would be electric. I was really, really wrong. It turns out that battery technology doesn’t really advance at the rate of Moore’s law (which observes that computer power and memory storage approximately doubles every two years). It doesn’t even advance at the rate of Jude Law. Instead, it seems to advance – or more accurately, decline in cost per kilowatt-hour of capacity – at about 8% annually. Good, but not enough to reach parity with gasoline anytime soon.

Humble beginnings. The 2009 Zero was about as exciting to ride as an arthritic pony with heat rash.

Humble beginnings. The 2009 Zero was about as exciting to ride as an arthritic pony with heat rash.

Gasoline, despite being absurdly dangerous, is very cheap and energy-dense stuff. For about three dollars, six pounds of gas can propel my 450-pound motorcycle 40 miles at freeway speeds. Contrast that with the $10,000 (estimated cost), 150-ish pounds of batteries in Zero’s 2015 12.5-kWh models which will take that 450-pound (with Power Tank) motorcycle about 70 miles at 70 mph. That means (roughly) that the lithium-ion batteries that are the current (har har!) state of the art need to be about 10 times more energy dense and a whole lot cheaper to beat gas. That’s not going to happen before 2019. Sure, there are plenty of promising new battery-storage technologies (the tech blogs seem to announce a new one every week), but they’re all in the lab right now, years away from being finished products.

That sounds grim for fans of electromobility, but things are progressing as efficiencies and small improvements make the technology more user friendly. The incremental improvements to the Zero, for instance, have changed the S from a goofy conversation piece into a serious and practical commuter. Charge times are getting shorter, and the bikes are getting cheaper. I don’t think we’ll see $10,000 motorcycles that go 200 miles on the highway and charge in 15 minutes before 2020, but I do think almost every OEM will offer an electric motorcycle by then. Most of these models will offer 150 miles (or more) of range, a quick-charge time of an hour or less and a sticker price that will still be shocking (holy crap, I’m on a roll!), but not more than a heavyweight cruiser or open-class superbike.

Yamaha's PES1 looks production ready. It just needs a battery dense enough to provide decent range and performance. It's coming.

Yamaha’s PES1 looks production ready. It just needs a battery dense enough to provide decent range and performance. It’s coming.

I think the technology is there now to achieve these goals, but the OEMs won’t be able to meet them without volume sales. We’re close to seeing that with cars: BMW has tooled up to build the innovative i3, Nissan has sold 171,000 Leafs since 2010, and Tesla‘s Model S is now parked in 66,000 garages. Expect that number to go completely crazy when the Tesla Gigafactory starts gushing out enough batteries for 500,000 cars per year by 2020.

Panasonic, a partner in the Gigafactory, makes batteries for all kinds of applications, so motorcyclists could benefit from that vast economy of scale as well. With batteries maybe 20-40% more efficient and charging technology similarly improved, we could see the kind of motorcycle that’s a unicorn today – a high-performance, affordable, long-range vehicle that charges in a 30-minute riding break.

I don’t need such breakthroughs. I’m enjoying the benefits of electric transportation today. I drive a plug-in hybrid car with a 20-mile range on battery power that turns in about 40 mpg when the battery runs dry. Twenty miles is all I need for around-town errands, so I burn very little gas for personal use. My wife just leased a Fiat 500e, and it’s pretty amazing. It can go over 90 miles on a charge, but for her round-trip commute to work she only needs about a third of that. It’s silent, peppy, effortless to drive and park and might be the most fun car I’ve ever driven – like a 90-mph golf cart with a roof. The money we save in gas almost pays for the lease.

Von Jacobi's electric motor, c.1834. This design will be used in the production Harley-Davidson LiveWire for maximum authenticity.

Von Jacobi’s electric motor, c.1834. This design will be used in the production Harley-Davidson LiveWire for maximum authenticity.

However, I’d gladly drop every electric car ever made in the crusher for the chance to own an electric motorcycle. I love electric motorcycles not for the gas savings or the tech-geek coolness or the overrated environmentally friendly image (battery production is pretty hard on the environment, even if the carbon footprint is reduced in the end, which is why I think the only truly environmental act is self-immolation), but for the unique and magical experience an electric motorcycle affords. No shifting, no noise, no vibration and 100% of available power at 1 rpm (theoretically). If 10,000 engineers were paid billions of dollars, maybe they could build an internal-combustion engine like that after 10 years. Probably not, as they’ve already been trying to do that for the last century and seem to have neared the peak of engine development. Anyway, why bother? We’ve had electric motors for 180 years. They work pretty fricking well.

The bottom line is I love electric motorcycles because they’re the closest thing we have to a magic carpet. If the perfect motorcycle transmits all the experience of the ride without imposing anything between the rider and the road, electric propulsion is the clear answer. An electric motorcycle is the best way to convert you into a mere grinning, disembodied head, hurtling through space and time. That’s why they don’t need to be that much better. Sign me up, I’m ready for the ultimate ride.


Gabe Ets-Hokin is available in Cool Mint, Wild Berry and new Peppermint Blast at participating Quik-Stoppe markets.

  • Generic42

    I had the opportunity to ride a Zero FX through the backwoods of Kentucky and it was an experience like no other. I could hear the leaves crunching under the tires as I zipped down the trail, no noise, no vibrations, just nature and me.

    • bammerburn

      Now imagine riding a FX through a city at 3 am in the morning when everything is quieted down. And going full throttle, even. It is amazing.

      Goodbye, gas motors. It’s been a nice ride.

      • ZeroRider

        Or riding at night in the country. Plus that unduplicatable instant silence at a stops. (no cooling clicks or pops either)

  • http://www.proteusmusic.com/ MrBlenderson

    I’m definitely very interested in the Zero off-road version, but they’re still pretty pricey.

  • Jeff Baysinger

    I love that you love electric vehicles, motorcycles in particular. I do too, enough to have purchased a 2014 Zero S with the baby 8.5kwh battery. However, I think you’re still missing the point a bit which is curious since you extol those missing virtues in your 4-wheeled EV and hybrid machines. In your daily use, you said that you and your wife rarely exceed 20-30 miles of driving. Would that change significantly if you’re on two wheels instead of 4? My Zero with its 69 mile real-world range (mixed highway and surface streets) far exceeds what I need for commuting, errand running, and around-town scrambling, which is my primary use for a bike. Yes, I do like to stretch my legs outside of city limits from time to time for which I keep two cheap (sub $2500) gas bikes around. In fact, I’ll be selling one of those soon as it doesn’t get enough use to keep the carbs clear, I’m always on the Zero. Gas is still king when the open road beckons, so I’ll keep the fuel injected machine that withstands long downtimes better. I too like the quiet, vibration-free, eye-widening performance of my EV bike, but what I really love is the convenience. In the morning, I unplug the bike with a full charge, head off to work, run around on my lunch break, run errands on the way home, pull back into the garage with 40-60% charge remaining, plug back in, and call it a day. Repeat the next day, the next, and so on. I don’t stop for gas as it doesn’t use it, I don’t check or change the oil or coolant as it doesn’t contain any, I don’t lube the chain because it has an ultra-low-maintenance belt final drive. I get on, ride, go home, plug back in, ride again. Eventually it will need tires, then brake pads, and at some point I’ll take 10 minutes to bleed the brake lines (only fluid on the bike, mind you). Otherwise, it’s all about riding, and to the tune of about $0.04 per mile compared to $0.16 per mile for my most frugal gas powered vehicle. For those thinking an electric bike will never match the performance of their , I invite you to take one for a test ride. You don’t have to buy it, just try one. No, it won’t exceed 100mph, but how often do you really do that? It’ll scramble to 95mph as quickly as I’d ever want, and I’m an acceleration junkie to match any other this side of a drag racer. In any case, the EV bikes are not long haulers (yet), but they do what 99% of us use bikes for 99% of the time better and more cheaply than almost any other vehicle on the planet!

    Gabe, you REALLY need to talk someone into getting you a long-term tester so you can see how insanely easy it is to live with an electric motorcycle day-to-day. Write another one of these in 3 months, then again in 6. By then you’ll really “get it.”

    • bammerburn

      You got it spot on – the experience, the convenience, etc. But, it is quite sad that the “limited riding range” overshadows all of those factors for electric detractors. They obsess quite fervidly upon that, and discount the absolutely awesome experience/convenience of electric propulsion, and then refuse to budge from that viewpoint. This horse-blinders effect really is quite something to behold.

      If you really want “range,” then just get a cheap $2,000 SV650 or something for those rare days that you go long-distance.

      • Jeff Baysinger

        Hah! Close. I’m keeping the Versys, selling the Magna.

      • mooner

        I focus on the limited riding range because, due to my situation, my motorcycling is exclusively for pleasure and exploration. I very rarely will go for a ride under 100+ miles. I therefore refuse to budge from that position until I can get the performance of a 400lb 90 horsepower machine with a 200 mile range. I don’t think that is asking too much.

        I can see the appeal and novelty of silent operation. Not sure that long term it would more appealing than the intake “honk” from an open airbox, aircooled Ducati with Termis…for me at least. Not only the sounds, but the smells and engine character play into the enjoyment for me as well. The cost of gas is a very small price to pay for that experience.

        Just another viewpoint from the other side…

        I will definitely have to search out a test ride in the near future if only for the experience.

        • bammerburn

          Yes, get a test ride. And of course, “just another viewpoint” – everybody else says the same thing, that’s the problem. :) I loved the airbox intake on my old Ninja 636, but I loved the silence and extraordinarily smoothness and effortless power sensation I got from my Zero even more, so much more that I sold the Ninja a month after I got my Zero, the Ninja feeling antiquated as hell to ride. It just didn’t feel the same after I got accustomed to electric! o.O

        • Bill Manewal

          I hear ya about sounds and smells and character. I felt the same way, but, after riding an Empulse for 24K miles over the last two years (every day… no car), I’ve come to associate amazing acceleration, always-available-torque with the smooth jet-engine whine and THAT has become a new experience of “character” for me. Now, when I get on an ICE bike, my first thought is, “Why the hell is this thing trying to shake itself apart between my legs?”

    • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

      Hey Jeff! I have spent some really long periods with electric bikes (up to two months, in fact) and I almost never wanted for range.

      I’m not sure if you think I’m critical of e-bikes–I’m not! But I couldn’t have one as an only motorcycle, not quite yet. I don’t exceed the range of a 12.5 Zero S with 90% of my trips, but my regular sport ride is a 150-mile loop with aggressive throttle twisting for 100 or more miles of it, so unless Zero adds onboard fast-charging capability, I can’t use it. For now.

  • Brent Randolph

    “Von Jacobi’s electric motor, c.1834. This design will be used in the production Harley-Davidson LiveWire for maximum authenticity.”

    I almost spit out my water reading that! Great article :)

  • bammerburn

    Dude, you should try a 2015 Zero FX. It’s ages beyond the 2009 model you tried. Loving mine, it changed my understanding of what motorcycling should be, and I’m never going back to a gas-burner motorcycle for a commuter/hooning machine.

  • Andrew

    I’m all electric on four wheels now (Kia Soul EV) and it’s fantastic, but I ironically need much more range on two wheels. Many of my riding days are 400+ mile affairs on my CBR (ouch) and I’m often with at least one other rider who wouldn’t want to wait around for a 30 minute quick charge.

    I’m all in for an electric bike but it needs 250 miles of range and DC quick charging capability to meet my needs. In the car 100 miles is fine.

  • El Apestoso

    I really like electrics, in theory. Unfortunately all of the production electric bikes I’ve checked out fall far short. Cheap, chintzy components, severe limitations on range and top speed, crappy, chinese-like styling, and all for more than double what you’ll pay for an ICE with comparable specs.

    Electric motors are great, it’s the bikes they’re attached to that are the problem.

    • Bill Manewal

      Have you tried a Brammo Empulse? Mine has Brembo brakes, Marzocchi forks, Marchesini wheels, fully adjustable Sachs shock, and an aluminium Accossato frame. If these are “chintzy”, what ARE you looking for?

      BTW, my buddy says my bike handles better than his Ducati.

      • El Apestoso

        Wasn’t talking about the Brammo, their problem is more that the company itself is sort of in a state of limbo. That and that crappy headlight, the same exact one that Zero uses. I don’t trust any company that charges that much for a bike, then slaps on a crappy headlight. It displays a serious lack of attention to detail.

        • Bill Manewal

          Not quite sure what you find to be crappy about the headlight. H4 doesn’t work for you? Besides Zero, Yamaha MT-03 uses the same design. BTW, I installed an LED bulb in the shell and it focuses well. But then I’ve never passed on a bike because of the headlight. And I’ve always added running lights for my poor night vision.

          • El Apestoso

            It’s a cheap, off the shelf unit, put on a bike that costs more than $15k. If I’m going to spend that kind of money on a bike, I expect a lot better than that.

            Which sort of encapsulates my problem with electric motorcycles: For me, they’re not worth anywhere near what they charge for them. Too much of the build quality and components belong on a budget bike, such as an MT-03, not on a bike priced in the same ballpark as MV Agusta’s more expensive offerings.

            I’m aware of all the reasons Zeros and Brammos cost what they do, but that doesn’t mean I’ll overlook it. No doubt there will come a time when an electric makes financial sense to me, but right now, it doesn’t. What they offer just isn’t worth the premium they charge.

          • Bill Manewal

            This tool may aid in your quest for making financial sense:

            http://www.empulserider.com/tcoCalculator.php

          • El Apestoso

            That site only confirms what I already know: Electric bikes are too expensive.

          • ZeroRider

            http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/08/30/covert-operations

            Not riding electric bikes is too expensive. Lost freedoms to corporate interests.

          • ZeroRider

            I am not certain you have a constitent standard.

            How much is your cell phone?
            How long does the battery last?

            What did it cost?

            I scrolled back through your comments and I am missing you railing about smart phones and their batteries. Or even bottled water.

            But I did see your comments quite easily defending the $40k cost of the “Custom Ducati Tracker”… i believe your defense of that pricepoint was: “If someone’s willing to pay that much, then yes.”

            Well the entire production run of the LS-218 is sold.

            “Then Yes”.

          • El Apestoso

            So what, in all of that, has any impact on what I said? An electric vehicle, for me, is not worth the money. Which seems to be something none of the people trying to convince me seem to grasp, no matter how many different ways I’ve tried to explain it. I’m not telling anybody what to buy, I’m not advocating for or against electric vehicles. Yet anytime anybody dares say they don’t want what’s currently available, the EVangelists come out of the woodwork trying to convert the infidel. None of you are going to change my mind. In fact, the guy who offered me the link to the handy cost comparison thing only managed to confirm my views on the subject.

            I’m just going to ignore the rest of what you wrote, as it was just too weird.

          • ZeroRider

            “Not worth the money” seems a silly tidbit to share without an alterior motive, and you do not demonstrate a grasp of your own motivations.

            There is in this world a concisely definable demographic that have been driven to negatively react to astounding technological conservation advances for no tangible reason – oddly this message is distributed by a group calling themselves Conservatives through a multitude of artificial information channels. I’m not saying you are a victim of just overt moves as talk radio and fox news – even social media is deeply populated with artificial accounts, fake comments and wholly derived reviews. There is a very successful industry dedicated to shaping your perception on a variety of issues you might not even care about at all if left to your own devices.

            So some of us end up with a pretty calloused approach – have someone pull coal on you a few times – tends to get one a tad brusk so of course there is a readily floatable moniker already socially distributed for you to label us. Branishing the “EVangelists” defense is a well implanted resort.

          • El Apestoso

            You really are taking all of this way too personally. Your arguments are disorganized, desperate, and way too emotional. It’s also pointless. You’re not going to change my mind on the subject. The fact that you keep trying is baffling, as well as insulting.

            Bottom line, ride what you love, love what you ride. And let others do the same.

        • ZeroRider

          How about a Lighting LS-218?

          I agree the headlamp is cheap. The “money” isn’t in the headlamp, it is in the drive system. I’m not in the “premium motorcycle market”. I’m in the “entry level Electric motorcycle market”. A fixation on using just price for comparables is awry.

          • El Apestoso

            The Lightning’s way too expensive for what it does. All electric motorcycles are, unless, like you said, you’re in the electric motorcycle market. But for clarification, the money’s not in the drive system, it’s in the batteries. I think Zero’s run about $800 per kwh. Sure, the prices will eventually come down, and by then, hopefully, issues like range and charge times will cease to be issues. For now, I’ll stick with something that works for me, which is not an electric.

  • Buzz

    Excellent job Gabezilla. It’s about time you come around to the limitations of batteries and the effect Big Mining! will have on the environment.

    I think electrics are fun to drive as well but the limitations will always keep them as an around town vehicle (which admittedly is most of our driving).

    The biggest hurdle that may never be cleared is that electrics lose power as the charge nears the end of its life. Your gasoline bike makes the exact same power whether it has a full tank or a 1/4 of a gallon left.

    I had a rented Prius a few months back. We all had fun driving it and called it the spaceship because of the eery quiet feeling when we powered away electric only.

    • ZeroRider

      My 0-60 times are the same on 100% battery as 13% 6.32 seconds +-0.2. (i’ve not run below 13% battery yet after 7,000 miles.)

      If that is (in your mind) “The Biggest Hurdle” it was cleared long ago.

  • darrenthedude_nyc

    I don’t understand the obsession with silence or even saving money. Riding a motorcycle is an adventurous, sensual experience where Motor grunt, gear changing, acceleration roar are all part of the experience. If riding was just about being rational, practical, and saving money, than most people would switch from motorcycles to scooters. I own an Aprilia Magna, essentially a large scooter that resembles a motorcycle. Not until i changed the exhaust out to a Leo Vince did it do anything for my pulse. It was surprisingly fast yes, but boring. Now it looks like a bike AND sounds like one.

    As for saving money, who needs it? Most of us are riding for the thrill, not counting pennies. With all the used gas bikes out there, costing half or even a third of their original price, it will be quite awhile for the electric bikes to challenge cost.

    • bammerburn

      Get some real seat time on a fast electric motorcycle, instead of making assumptions.

  • Backroad Bob

    They really work. I’ve been saying it since 2009.