The latest in the world of electric motorcycles

Published on 2 May 2018 by Robert Drane

A quiet revolution is coming. Electric motorbikes are increasingly staking a claim in the market and with big name brands committed to the technology, it’s only a matter of time before they go seriously mainstream.

But it’s been a long time coming. Electric motorbikes have been around far longer than you might think, mentioned as far back as the late 19th century in patent paperwork.

In the 1930s, the technology produced an early success story when the Limelette brothers founded motorcycle company Socovel in Brussels, producing an electric bike as a solution to Second World War petrol rationing. They reportedly sold 400 motorbikes, with a range of around 30 miles, in 1942 but switched back to petrol when hostilities ended.

Fast forward via various prototypes to 1974, and Mike Corbin, godfather of motorcycle seats, was breaking the electric land speed record with 165.387mph at Bonneville, Utah. US-based Lightning now claims the record for its LS-218, which achieved a top speed of 218mph, also at Bonneville, in 2011. The bike is said to be the fastest production petrol-driven or electric motorcycle in the world.

Other milestones on the way to where we are now include the Peugeot Scoot’elec electric scooter, produced from 1996-2006, which had a 40km range and is regarded as the first mass-produced motorbike, although its total sales were apparently less than 4,000.

But rapidly advancing technology in the decade or so since the Scoot’elec bit the dust, plus an ever-increasing awareness of the environmental impact of fossil fuels, means that the electric market’s time has well and truly come.

Existing and new fans of two wheels are recognising the advantages of electric motorbikes from an energy efficiency, environmental and road congestion perspective, driving rapid growth in the global electric scooter and motorcycle market. According to market research specialists Research and Markets, it was worth just under $13 billion in 2016 but will almost double to $22 billion by 2025.


Current developments

Harley-Davidson unveiled its all-electric Project LiveWire back in 2014 but now it is moving up a gear. Speaking in January this year, president and CEO Matthew Levatich described the prototype as “an exhilarating, no excuses, electric Harley-Davidson”, which the company plans to bring to market within 18 months.

He also confirmed plans to step up investment in electric technology, adding: “The more we grow our experience and capability with EV, the more excited we become about the role it will play in growing business.”

Yamaha announced in March that its new TY-E electric trial bike will compete in the 2018 FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) Trial E-Cup in France and Belgium in July. Yamaha says the project has helped “to overcome typical EV development issues, such as the high output from small sized and lightweight components”…which sounds like a case of watching this space for the lessons learned to find their way into Yamaha’s future electric output.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley-based electric motorbike specialists Zero Motorcycles is offering a fast new on-board charging option, compatible with the worldwide network of Level 2 EV charge stations, that enables charging at speeds of up to 103mph.

Chief technology officer Abe Askenazi says: “This means riders can add 50km [31 miles] of ‘fuel’ in the time it takes to stop for a cup of coffee or fully recharge over lunch. This completely changes the utility of electric motorcycles by eliminating long recharging times.”

It’s all very 21st century. But if you have a hankering for a classic model, the electric market has that covered too.

Alternet Systems in the US has just announced that its new subsidiary ReVolt Electric Motorbikes has teamed up with a manufacturing partner to produce a bike straight out of the 1930s but this time featuring lithium battery-powered electric engine, with a limited number produced by the end of the year.

The ReVolt bike is modelled on something of an icon – the German Army’s Second World War BMW R71 motorcycle with sidecar, as ridden by screen icon Steve McQueen in classic film The Great Escape.

McQueen’s character in the film was known as the Cooler King. So this latest incarnation of the technology could be the bike that officially makes it cool to go electric.