Motorcycles: Electric vs Gas

Much has been made of the rise of the electric car, and comparisons are endlessly made between these new vehicles and the gas-powered cars that they are set to replace. In fact, the only reason that electric cars are finally becoming mass consumer products (besides the environmental pressure) is that the technology has been perfected to a point where they can now match the gas-powered vehicle across a range of performance metrics. And in some of those metrics, like acceleration from zero, they can even surpass them. 

But then again, electric cars are aimed at the broadest subsection of drivers – those who use their cars for everyday tasks such as commuting, travelling to holiday destinations, or carrying around cargo and passengers. Peak performance is perhaps not the most important thing here. For example, very few drivers will ever be racing in their vehicle, and most of the time there is simply no need to be driving at top speed. But there is another popular vehicle and subset of drivers who very certainly value this kind of thing. We are talking here about the motorcycle – and the speed heads who typically buy them. Will electric alternatives be as successful here? 

Electric Motorcycles and Marketing Challenges 

Perhaps the biggest marketing problem that faced the electric car was the perception of battery power as somehow less powerful than gas. Although lithium-ion batteries have been demonstrated by now to be incredibly versatile, making possible products from the smallest AAA rechargeable smart batteries, such as those produced by Utah company Pale Blue Earth, right up the massive many-celled behemoths inside an electric car, there is still this cultural sense that the roar of a gas-powered engine simply means power. Where motorcycles are concerned, this is perhaps even more of an issue. 

And when most people think of an electric motorcycle, they do not actually picture a large Harley Davidson running on a lithium-ion battery, they picture instead a Vespa, a Piaggio, or a Yamaha moped. Indeed, while mopeds are technically powered by gas engines, their small frame and soft buzzing sound gives a definite impression of an electric engine – and that’s very far from the power and speed typically valued by motorcycle enthusiasts. There is also the fact that electric mopeds and scooters have actually been around – unlike the electric car – for years. Accordingly, the development of a high-powered electric motorcycle will have to sharply distinguish itself from these small vehicles if they are to hope to compete with their gas-powered cousins.

This is certainly one of the several things that could hinder the success of the electric motorcycle, especially when we consider that unlike electric car drivers, anyone purchasing a motorcycle will always have speed and performance on the brain.  

The Face Off 

So, with all of that said, how do these two vehicles actually compare? Well, just as electric cars are now at the point of outperforming gas-powered vehicles, electric motorcycles are actually, in many ways, at that point too. This is just something that is not widely known. For example, when it comes to torque and power, electric motors have a clear advantage over ICE engines found in gas-powered motorcycles. Similarly, electric motorcycles are more comfortable to ride that gas powered vehicles – and this is on account of less vibration and the smoother operation offered by electric engines. 

It should, of course, be noted that at the absolute upper limit speed, gas-powered bikes still have a slight advantage. However, this particular supremacy is on borrowed time. The age of the electric motorcycle is finally here – but convincing those set in their ways might take a little more time.