As the world gets ready to ditch petrol power and switch to electric, we take a quick look at some of the best electric motorcycles on the planet
It’s inevitable, irreversible. There’s no going back. The move from internal combustion to full electric is well on its way, and the pace of development in batteries and electric motors has picked up in the last few years. Electric motorcycles are now getting to the point where they will soon be a viable mass-market alternatives to conventional machines. Up until now, small, independent companies have led development in the electric two- wheelers space, but they haven’t been able to scale up in a big way because of their limited resources. That’s all set to change, however.
According to a detailed market research study published recently by P&S Intelligence, the global market for electric motorcycles is expected to go up in value from around US$5.9 billion in 2019 to US$10.53 billion by 2025. With increasing concerns about protecting the environment and governments worldwide pushing for electric mobility, the bigger manufacturers have, at long last, accepted the need to move to electric and have started preparing themselves for the sea change that’s coming. In March this year, Honda, Yamaha, Piaggio, and KTM announced joining hands to set up a consortium for swappable batteries. The stated aim is to standardise technical specifications for swappable battery systems for electric two-wheelers, which will hopefully bring down the costs of development, address the issue of range and charging times and, ultimately, encourage more widespread adoption of electric bikes.
Over the last 10 years, the move towards electric scooters and motorcycles has developed in different ways in different regions, keeping with local norms and requirements. In India, for example, things started more than a decade ago with cheap, Chinese-sourced, low-quality electric scooters with minimal range and poor performance. Things have improved now, with some indigenous OEMs offering better build quality, bigger batteries, and more powerful electric motors. These machines are still relatively expensive for the range and performance they offer (as compared to conventional motorcycles) and are not entirely practical for everyone, given the challenges of a very limited charging infrastructure here. But, well, you’ve got to start somewhere, and companies like Tata Power, EESL, Magenta, Fortum, TecSo, Volttic, NTPC, and Ather are working on setting up and expanding EV charging infrastructure in India.
In Western markets, many of which already have a strong charging network in place, motorcycles are more of leisure pursuit and not so much a mode of transport to commute. Hence, the focus has always been on styling, power, and performance. Some American and European electric bikes are getting pretty good now, with specs comparable to conventional machines, especially when the price is also factored into the equation. For now, a petrol-engined GSX-R1000, ZX-10R, or Fireblade remains unbeatable for the perfect blend of range, power, performance, price, and practicality, but things are expected to change over the next three to five years, with electric bikes overtaking their IC- engined forebears in terms of overall performance. Meanwhile, we take a quick look at some of the best electric motorcycles currently available in global markets.
Unveiled at the CES in Las Vegas last year, the Damon Hypersport electric sports bike range starts from $16,995 (Rs 12.36 lakh) for the entry-level variant, all the way up to $39,995 (Rs 29.10 lakh) for the top-end model. The top-spec Hypersport Premier’s ‘HyperDrive’ electric powertrain features a 20kWh battery and a liquid-cooled motor that produces 150kW (200bhp) and 235Nm of torque. The bike can accelerate from zero to 100kph in less than three seconds, and has a claimed top speed of 320kph, which is astounding if true. With a DC fast charger, the Hypersport’s batteries can take a 90 percent charge in just 2.5 hours, and with a fully charged battery, the range is 320km with mixed city and highway use.
While some electric bikes tend to look a bit awkward and ungainly, the Damon Hypersport gets nicely sculpted bodywork and a single-side swingarm, which are somewhat reminiscent of the Ducati Panigale V4. As with the Panigale, the Hypersport features monocoque construction, Ohlins suspension, and Brembo brakes. Also, the electric powerplant is an integrated, load-bearing part of the frame, helping with rigidity and optimal weight distribution. Unlike conventional bikes, the Damon machine gets electrically adjustable ergonomics (different footpeg and handlebar positions for city and highway use), a 360-degree predictive awareness system that uses front and rear cameras, and long-range cameras radar to warn the rider of potentially dangerous traffic situations. In fact, with camera and radar tech, Damon — based in Vancouver — aims to achieve full collision avoidance by 2030, which is commendable.
ENERGICA EGO+ RS
Honda, a company that has big plans for e-cars in China, revealed Energica is based in Modena, Italy, and in various guises and iterations, the Ego electric bike has been around for the last seven or eight years, with ongoing improvement in terms of specs and performance. The 2021-spec Ego+ RS features a 21.5kWh lithium- polymer battery, which can be fully charged in just one hour when using a DC fast charger. The battery feeds the bike’s oil-cooled, permanent magnet AC electric motor, which produces 107kW (145bhp) and 215Nm of torque, which lets the Ego+ accelerate from zero to 100kph in 2.6 seconds, and hit a top speed of 240kph. Range, in city traffic, is 400km and 180km on the highway.
The Ego+ RS gets a tubular steel trellis frame, a fully adjustable Marzocchi fork at the front, Bitubo monoshock at the back, and Brembo brakes with switchable ABS sourced from Bosch. Plus, there’s 6-level traction control, a cruise control system, Bluetooth and smartphone connectivity, and a colour TFT instrument panel with an integrated GPS receiver. Energica is a true blue Italian company, and the Ego+ is a proper high- performance motorcycle, just one that happens to be powered by an electric motor rather than a high-revving V4. Priced at 25,894 euros (Rs 22.91 lakh), it is also pretty expensive and, unlike the Harley LiveWire, isn’t backed by an extensive dealer network for aftersales and service. Still, the Energica Ego+RS is undoubtedly the one for pure electric performance and uncompromised Italian sports bike panache.
Based in California, Zero was founded back in 2006 and has been producing electric motorcycles for the last ten years. For 2021, the company has introduced its top-of-the-range SR/S powered by Zero’s proprietary ‘Z-Force’ electric powertrain and features a light, stiff chassis made of aircraft-grade aluminum for reduced weight. Zero’s first fully-faired electric motorcycle, the SR/S, also gets the company’s Cypher III operating system, which lets the rider configure the system and power delivery as per his preferences, thereby helping him or her control the bike better. According to Zero, the SR/S, which weighs 234kg, is inspired by aerospace design and boasts advanced aerodynamics, improving the bike’s range. Priced at around $22,000 (Rs 16 lakh), the SR/S is powered by a permanent-magnet AC motor that produces 82kW (110bhp) and 190Nm of torque, allowing the bike to go from zero to 100kph in just around 3.3 seconds, and on to a top speed of 200ph. You get a range of up to 260km in the city and 160km on the highway; as with all-electric bikes, a heavy hand on the throttle will reduce the range, so the speed is a factor in deciding how far you can go on the Zero.
Zero is one of those few companies that produce a wide range of all-electric motorcycles, providing different levels of power and performance, with prices starting at as low as $9,200 (Rs 6.69 lakh) for the entry-level bikes, which still boast high levels of build quality. If there is one electric bike manufacturer that can realistically be expected to enter the Indian market in the foreseeable future, it may well be Zero.
If the Harley LiveWire aims to be the mainstream electric motorcycle that a lot of people can afford to buy, the Arc Vector lives at the other end of the spectrum. With a price tag of £90,000 (Rs 92.73 lakh), the Vector costs more than four times as much as the LiveWire and its production, for now, is limited to 399 units. The UK-based Arc had unveiled the Vector at the EICMA show in Milan in 2018, but the company then ran into some financial trouble. However, the company’s founder and CEO, Mark Truman (who earlier headed Jaguar Land Rover’s ‘skunk works’ team, responsible for creating advanced concepts for future cars), managed to save Arc, and things are now back on track.
The Arc Vector, as befits a mega-expensive electric bike, features carbon fibre monocoque construction, which keeps the machine’s weight down to a reasonable 220kg. At the front, conventional forks have been ditched in favour of hub-centre steering and a front swingarm, which improves ride and handling. This, along with the bike’s radical styling and use of expensive metals (aircraft-grade aluminium and copper detailing), makes the Vector look quite stunning. Also, chain-drive has made way for a sophisticated belt-drive system for smoother operation and reduced maintenance chores.
In terms of performance, the Vector is powered by a 399V electric motor that produces 99kW (133bhp) and 148Nm of torque. With this, the bike can accelerate from zero to 100kph in 3.2 seconds, and hit an electronically limited top speed of 200kph. The Vector’s 16.8kWh Samsung battery pack can attain full charge with a DC fast charger in just 40 minutes, providing a range of around 430km. As with any modern, high-performance petrol-powered motorcycle, the all-electric Vector also gets ABS, adjustable traction control, and riding modes, along with a heads-up display (for easier access to vehicle information) and a smartphone-like haptic alert system for a new-age riding experience. I don’t expect to see the Arc Vector in India anytime soon, but the bike does provide a glimpse of what we can expect in perhaps another five or six years down the line.
ELECTRIC MOTORCYCLES IN INDIA
The electric motorcycles scene in India is not very inspiring, currently. The lack of awareness about electric bikes’ performance potential, paucity of charging infrastructure, and range anxiety are some of the reasons for low demand. And because of low demand, fewer companies are willing to take significant risks towards making large investments for the development, production, and marketing of electric motorcycles. According to a study undertaken by ResearchandMarkets.com, the Indian electric two-wheelers market was at around 150,000 units last year, and is expected to grow at 25 percent year-on- year for the next five years. Currently, the market is dominated by lower-cost scooters and bikes fitted with relatively cheaper lead-acid batteries. However, more expensive bikes with more powerful lithium-ion batteries (which provide more range) are expected in the next few years.
The more prominent players in India’s electric bikes/scooters segment include Bajaj, Hero Electric, TVS, Revolt, Tork Motors, Ather, and Ultraviolette. These companies produce a range of electric scooters and motorcycles priced between Rs 50,000 to Rs 3.0 lakh, and offer low- to mid-range performance, which, in some cases, can be compared to performance levels provided by conventional 250-300cc bikes. Meanwhile, sensing the future potential that electric two-wheelers might offer in India in the mid-term future, some other companies are also looking to get in on the act. Hero MotoCorp is expected to start making electric bikes from 2022, Mahindra’s Classic Legends might do a Jawa-, Yezdi- or BSA-branded electric bike, and Honda, KTM, and Husqvarna might be other contenders looking to get into the electric bikes space in India, though there is no official announcement from them on this front.
While the Ultraviolette F77 (priced at Rs 3.0 lakh) looks modern and snazzy, and offers reasonably sporty performance, other electric two-wheelers currently available in India are based on utility alone, and do not have any high-performance aspirations. This will probably change over the next few years, but who leads the way and how the electric bikes market shapes up in India remains to be seen.