Tomfoolery – Looking To Get Ahead Of The Curve

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A long time ago, in a small town far, far away, the motorcycle dealership at which I worked hired a new service writer. His name was Bart. Days before Bart was to begin he was involved in an accident. Nothing critical, but his start date was pushed back giving him time to recuperate and deal with insurance, law enforcement and transportation matters.

When Bart did arrive and we met, he was riding the circa 1989 Ninja ZX-10 upon which he was struck by the car weeks prior. I don’t know what the bike looked like before, but it was now devoid of bodywork and painted rattle can black. He called it “The Thing.” I liked the bike’s Road Warrior appearance and thought it an inexpensive way to repair the bike and continue riding. Little did I know I was looking at a rat bike progenitor.

This isn’t Bart’s bike, but you get the idea.

This isn’t Bart’s bike, but you get the idea.

A few years on and rat bikes were all the rage. Guys were buying used or even new bikes to seemingly crash on purpose in order to phoenix the perfect rat bike. Had I the foresight to see the future in Bart’s, “The Thing,” I would have scoured the surrounding motorcycle cemeteries cherry picking dead sportbikes to resurrect into rat bikes. I could then have been chucking rat bikes off the back of a flatbed to rat bike owning wannabes like humanitarian food bags to war ravaged Syrians, making a tidy profit on each one. The key phrase here being; had I the foresight.

The next trend I missed getting in front of was the cruiser revolution. Customer waiting lists for new Harley models were longer than first-year iPhone lines outside Apple stores. The Japanese contingent, after nearly 20 years of trying, finally got the styling/performance equation right and were selling every chrome-laden model with a long wheelbase and minimal cornering clearance to folks who couldn’t or didn’t want to afford a Harley. Then, of course, there were the upstart cruiser companies that no longer exist such as American IronHorse, Big Dog and Titan among many others.

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What’d I do? I stood by and incredulously watched these “motorcycle OEMs” sell these garishly adorned, rolling noise makers to folks lacking the basic skills needed to ride one in a straight line to the bar prior to getting drunk. What should I have done? Purchased an industrial sized erector set, a lifetime supply of JB Weld and a vat of Sherwin-Williams and set to work making a small fortune. Or, I could have at least purchased some Harley stock before it skyrocketed.

From the ashes of the Great Recession has emerged two current trends: 1970’s UJMs made into cool cafe racers and Adventure-Touring bikes. From KTM’s 1190 Adventure to Suzuki’s V-Strom 1000 and BMW’s F800GS to Triumph’s Tiger 800 we’ve got so many Adventure-Touring bikes we’re running out of destinations of reasonable cost and distance with which to test them all.

While we still seem to be in the upswing of the Adventure-Touring bike trend, I’m uncertain how to capitalize the opportunity. Perhaps a search and rescue squad whose mission is to save the novice motorcyclists who failed to recognize the difficulty of piloting a 600-pound A-T bike off the beaten path in search for two-wheel adventure.

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Wait a second, I’m being told that the majority of Adventure-Tourers sold only traverse the dirt that’s washed onto the pavement of their daily commute following a rain storm. OK, so scratch the search and rescue idea.

Anyone know where we’re at in the custom cafe racer scene? I’m thinking I’m probably too late to this party too, but if there’s any hipsters out there wanting to buy my ’75 Honda CB400F I’m only asking $15k. Going once … going twice …

As far as I can tell there’s one prospective trend that’s still in its infancy – electric motorcycles. Having ridden many of the current electric motorcycle models available I’m enthralled by the possibility of what could be, but reticent to buy into the movement for fear of acceptance by the general motorcycle public.

On the other hand, look at what Elon Musk has done with Tesla. In the space of about a year and a half Tesla has become the car to own and its stock has soared 750%. If only I saw that coming. With my luck, however, I would have invested with Fisker.

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I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines, reporting on the successes and failures of others. I want in on the action. To profit on the upswing of the next motorcycle trend. I want my cake and then I want to pay someone to eat it for me.

So what do you think? Am I correct in believing that electric motorcycles will be the next big thing? Will a first year model Zero one day be collectible? Both Zero and Brammo are private companies, but when/if they go public, with which one should I invest my money? In other words, between Zero and Brammo, who’s going to be Tesla and who’s going to be Fisker?

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  • Devin Clifford Ringwald

    My money is on zero. Seems to have more mainstream hype in my opinion, and I think a lot of the first buyers of electric bikes will be relatively new Eco concious riders. The majority of current petrol riders won’t be on board until these electric bikes can keep up with their buddies liter bikes, for fear of being caught in the back of the pack along with the guys still riding 400cc cafés from the 70s and those god awful chromed out pseudo-custom choppers. Hail science!

    • pdad13

      It’s not really fear of being left behind, unless you’re talking about running out of juice. Range is still the main issue.

      Sure, they don’t make enough cool noises and most have no gears (a few view that as a positive). They’re also heavier. Oh, and too expensive.

      The fuel cost savings are obliterated by high asking prices and the only-whispered need to replace the battery packs after a few years. Batteries are expensive. Really expensive. And the cost of those batteries is not expected to decline for decades. Maybe a new technology changes things.

      Tesla may have turned a corner with cars, but it’s hard to say which of the current e-bike brands will survive, much less win. As far as I can tell, none of them sell more than a handful of bikes right now. It’s only a matter before the investors start swinging axes.

      • Jason

        I was told by technophobes that the battery in my Prius would have to be replaced in a few years too. 10 years later it is as strong as ever and I get the same mileage as when it was new.

        • pdad13

          I’m happy for you.

          Please explain how your Prius is the same as an e-bike, aside from the fact that it partially runs on electric power.

          It doesn’t even get as good fuel economy as some gas engines.

          Technophobe? Hardly. Just not willing to join the cult until the reality of these things actually comes close to matching the hype.

          • Jason

            It has a battery. A battery that I was told by technophobes that would be useless in a few years and would have to be replaced at great expense. That didn’t happen.

            Which conventional gas engined car sold in the USA gets better mileage than a Prius? Answer: None. The Jetta TDI comes close. I had a 2002 TDI wagon that averaged 46.6 mpg over the 10 years / 240K miles I owned it. It was a nicer car to drive than the Prius but cost more per mile to operate. A Prius isn’t a fun car to drive but it is a very practical car. When it came time to replace the TDI we bought another Prius.

          • pdad13

            It’s not the same because it’s a gas/electric hybrid, not an all-electric powertrain. And it’s a car, one made for utility, not fun and performance.

            The Prius has a good reputation for battery life, but all batteries degrade. The e-bike manufacturers have made rosy claims for charge cycles–as much as 1500-3000 in some cases–but I’d be leery of anything they claim. They’ve been exaggerating range and power claims forever.

            Chronological age, high temperature (above 86F as I recall), low temperature (below freezing) charging habits, usage and a host of other factors play important roles.

            Some manufacturers claim a battery service life of about seven years until the batteries can drop to 80% capacity, which doesn’t sound all that bad until you consider that e-bikes don’t have adequate range at 100% capacity.

            Nissan claims five years for the Leaf but they also claim that in some cases individual cells can be replaced.

            Incidentally, at 80% capacity, batteries are no longer considered useful for vehicles.

            Now consider that e-bikes cost far more than reasonably equivalent ICE bikes and you’ll want those batteries to last far longer for one to be economically justifiable.

            E-cars also fair a bit better than e-bikes because they can hold more batteries and don’t require quite the same performance. Most are utilitarian. However, the Tesla S is fairly exciting and has decent range because it has a lot of battery capacity crammed into it.

            I’m sure your Prius’ battery has faired well but it will degrade. I suspect you won’t notice it as much because the gas engine will pick up the slack.

            The Mercedes E250 Diesel has been reported to be more efficient than the latest Prius. As you mentioned, the VW TDI is close. Also note that the EPA ratings for hybrids are generous as compared to those of diesel and gasoline engines.

          • Jason

            You may not believe the manufacturers of E-bikes. However, until their owners start reporting that the battery only lasted a few years and had to be replaced, your view on battery life has no basis in fact and is just speculation.

            You may think that e-bikes don’t have adequate range but again, that is just your opinion. Different people have different requirements.

            The Mercedes E250 Bluetec is a very nice car but it is not a gasoline powered car. While there is no doubt the EPA mpg figures for diesel are lower than reality the E250 is only rated 28 city / 45 highway for a combined 34 mpg. The highway mileage is close and I have no doubt with careful driving one could get 50 mpg or more on the highway but the city figure isn’t going to get anywhere close to a Prius.

          • Siena Fath-Azam

            Actually Jason you are wrong. Road and Track even did a mixed use (freeway and city) test with the Prius and the Mercedes and the Mercedes used half a pint less fuel. It is a pure ICE that is both far better to drive and at worst as economical to drive as the Prius hybrid if not more economical as seems to be the case in the data available.

          • Jason

            All well and good but the Road and Track test is not a controlled experiment. The biggest problem is that they used pumps at a regular fuel station fill their vehicles and they only did one tank. A difference of a half a pint is well within the margin of error.

  • Luke

    I agree with Zero. I think to “make it big” with e-bikes, you got to be smaller so you can sell a ton in other countries where people use them for daily transport. I haven’t heard Brammo talk about “building a bike for normal people” so my vote goes there. Also Zero seems capable of improving (drastically) their bikes at a very fast clip – much faster than ICE companies do. Every round of R+D-to-Production will give them experience and proficiencies that will pay dividends later (I think, but WTH do I know!).

  • Ser Samsquamsh

    Brammo makes a nicer looking bike at the moment but “Zero” is a better trademark for techie, “eco friendly” bikes. Consider how much about those trends is marketing :)

  • Steve

    It’s too early for the electrics just yet. You asked about the cafe racer movement. It was dead before it started. Who wants a old bike with crap brakes and carbs that refuse to run on ethanol and need constant attention as a result!

  • Send Margaritas

    Range is the issue to me, and recharging on the road.I doubt an electric motorcycle will be of interest to me, in my lifetime.

  • Michael

    My bet is on Zero motorcycles over Brammo. Their bikes look more traditional.

  • Brian Cordell

    The biggest problem with electric motorcycles is the sound. Too many bikers make the first change to the exhaust so that “it sounds right!” But in other countries where motorcycles are transportation, instead of recreation, they will have a market when the cost is right.

  • Shawn Poorman

    http://news.illinois.edu/news/13/0416microbatteries_WilliamKing.html

    ^New battery technology. Better energy and power density than current tech, and can be tweaked to favor more power or more energy by adjusting the build. Also recharges 1000 times faster. Once it becomes affordable, you’ll see electric bikes really take off.

    30 times the power density of current tech means much smaller and lighter batteries. And recharge time will be cut down to minutes. These batteries could conceivably make electric bikes lighter, faster, and more convenient than gas powered bikes. Electric bikes like the Empulse RR will keep up with a 650cc bike. With a same size-and-weight as the current RR, a battery made from this technology they could be putting out multiple times that power(think liter-bike) with a greater range and will take less time to recharge than it takes you to fill the tank on your S1000RR.

    As I said before, there’s one key factor here: cost. The article (and others I’ve read) was not very forthcoming about what the cost will be, but before too long here I’d assume the cost will shrink pretty quickly.

    You are correct, Tom, electric bikes (and cars!) are the next big wave, much to my combustion-biased chagrin. I will miss a howling gas motor as much as the next guy. Until I crack the throttle on a 350-pound, 150lb-ft electric motorcycle, that is.

    As to which company will win, my guess is once the market takes off both companies will stick around, until the big motorcycle companies slap them down. In fact I would bet that there are plenty of skunkwork outfits within the established companies that are working on this sort of thing right now. Zero and Brammo will make it acceptable and fashionable, but the big boys will make it affordable. They may be the pioneers, but they just don’t have the customer base and brand loyalty. 20 years from now you’ll be able to get an electric Ducati, Honda, Triumph, etc.

    Hopefully by then we’ll have radar- and laser-absorbing paint and body panels to go with them

  • Rick Vera

    Keep an eye on carbon nanotube technology. Once someone finds a way to cost-effectively mass produce this stuff, we’ll finally have the means of storing and charging electricity to really bring “the car of the future…or bike” into mainstream reality.