Riding the Pack of Production Electric Motorcycles

When Victory Motorcycles released its new, all-electric model the Empulse TT late last year, the Polaris subsidiary rode into a not-so crowded pack.

If this latest motorcycle release has you considering ditching the fossil fuels for an all-electric ride, the decision process should start right here. Clutch and Chrome takes a look at the choices available to riders interested in the electric road, the growing number of motorcycles available, what they can and can’t do and most importantly, how much will it cost to ride free of fossil fuels?

Excuse the pun, but electric motorcycles are a moving target right now with many manufacturers testing prototypes, some of which have plans to move into production. This article will focus on motorcycles that are available now and roll off a production line, regardless of how small it may be.

For those surprised at the release of Victory’s production electric motorcycle, they really shouldn’t be. The electric motorcycle is like a classic Rocky movie, an underdog in the two-wheeled world, working hard behind the scenes to get better and stronger. Just as with the fighter from the streets Stallone portrayed, there has been the metaphoric efforts of punching away in the meat plant, overcoming all the challenges faced by this choice of power for everyone’s favorite two-wheeled past time.

And like the famous Rocky movie, electric motorcycles have come out swinging, grabbing some well-deserved limelight, accolades and awards.

Aside from the usual questions any rider should ask about a potential two-wheeled purchase, electric motorcycles have the additional standards of range, weight as well as recharging methods and time. More than any other type of motorcycle, considerations should fall heavily on these factors as they’ll pretty much define whether an electric ride fits into your needs or style of riding.

It should be noted, this article is not a ranking of the featured motorcycles, mostly due to the simple fact each one of the bikes addresses a different riding style or niche.

A brief history of electric motorcycles
It’s not clear when the electric motor was first attached to a frame and two-wheels. The earliest patent filings date back to 1895 when two very similar applications were filed, one for an ‘electrical bicycle’ and the other for an ‘electric bicycle’. According to Wikipedia, the first electric motorcycle made an appearance in a 1911 issue of Popular Mechanics which mentioned the introduction of an electric motorcycle.

'It claimed to be have a range of 75 miles (121 km) to 100 miles (160 km) per charge. The motorcycle had a three-speed controller, with speeds of 4 miles (6.4 km), 15 miles (24 km) and 35 miles (56 km) per hour,' Wikipedia states.

However, competitive racing was the electric motorcycle kick-start from something of fancy to not only a viable riding alternative but also incomparable power houses.

It was an event in 2009 called ‘24 Hours of Electricross’ held in San Jose that brought Zero Motorcycles to the attention of the riding public. It is considered the first all-electric off-road endurance race and certainly set Zero on the road to commercial motorcycle production.

Currently, Zero Motorcycles has four models available, three street bikes and one dual purpose. The Zero SR takes us to Zero’s top of the line street motorcycle. With a starting price of $15,995 the basic ride offers up 106 ft-lb of torque from a 67hp engine and has a maximum range of 151 miles. While a rider can only peek at 102 mph, a cruising speed of 85mph can be maintained.

Zero SR

The engine is air-cooled, achieving 60mph in 3.3 seconds and when a rider needs to stop, ABS brakes are standard.

When looking at the batteries which powers the Zero SR, some of the challenges faced by electric motorcycles come into focus. As with any fuel efficiency standard, the maximum range comes about when planets align perfectly so any estimations considered before ownership should be looked at closely and compared to riding habits and needs. The lower end of the Zero SR’s estimated range comes in at 77 miles and is classified as highway riding.

While there are several technologies used to recharge batteries, Zero uses a scalable "quick charge" system which allows owners to add-on standalone chargers for different segments of the battery, or in this case batteries. With just one charger, the Zero SR will recharge to 100% in five hours and uses standard household juice of 110 V or 220 V. Obviously, if charging up from a fuller battery, less time is needed.

Adding on stand-alone chargers does require separate 110V/15A circuits and if that thought is even slightly confusing, then get ready to be bewildered. Manufacturers use several techniques or ‘science-trick’s' to shorten charging time, so before any purchase is made riders should ensure their home has the required wiring to enjoy the available methods to shorten charging time.

At 414 lbs, Zero’s SR is certainly the lightest of the different motorcycles mentioned in this article which surely helps with the motorcycle’s efficiency but also makes handling easier, especially for the smaller riders out there.

An electric motorcycle that is slightly heavier but has the power to quickly make a rider forget about that weight is Lightning Motorcycles LS-218, suitably called ‘the world’s fastest production electric motorcycle.’ It claims several land speed records and won the motorcycle field at Pikes Peak in 2013, making it the first electric bike to beat out all its gas-powered counterparts.

Lightning’s LS-218

For pure performance, there really doesn’t seem to a rival to Lightning’s LS-218 but it will cost you. Priced at $38,888 the base model is the most expensive ride in our short list of electric motorcycles. Aside from bragging rights at the local bike night, the LS-218 will deliver a top speed of 218 mph from its 200hp engine.

The only model from Lightning Motorcycles, the Electric SuperBike has a usable freeway speed range of over 100 miles and a combined city and highway EPA range of over 150 miles. One of the reasons the batteries can offer such great range while delivering the immense amount of power it does comes from the motorcycle’s regenerative mode, which essentially uses the motion of the bike to create energy. Recharging this sleek ride takes from 30 minutes to two hours depending on the charging solution a rider uses.

The LS-218 is not only named after its top speed but also built to order, which can fudge the definition of a production motorcycle, but it’s a technicality which doesn’t really matter when screaming down the road in all your electric madness. With its rich record-breaking and race-winning heritage, this is a performance motorcycle and comes with the mechanics you would expect. Brembo brakes, Marchesini forged magnesium wheels and upgradable Öhlins FGRT inverted fork gives a good idea of what type of rider Lightning has in mind.

There is competition for that same type of rider from Energica, an Italian Motorcycle manufacturer with their two electric superbike models, the Ego and Eva. Calling their bikes ‘the world’s first Italian racing-bred electric motorcycle’, the Ego brings 136 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque giving the rider a top speed of 150mph. According to Energica, that speed is factory ‘limited’, so read that how you will.

The parent company is CRP called ‘a pioneer in the world of international motorsports and a hub of excellence for its state- of-the-art technologies’ on the Energica’s website.

Energica Ego

Range of the Ego runs from 60 to 100 miles depending on what type of riding a biker does. Battery charge times range from 3.5 hours to as little as 30 minutes depending on what recharging road you ride. At 568 lbs, this is the heaviest of motorcycles featured in this electric roundup but it’s also the most luxurious. The Ego includes four riding modes, a 4.3" TFT color display dashboard, complete with integrated GPS and Bluetooth as well as a gear for reverse.

The green heart of Energica Ego is a synchronous oil-cooled motor with permanent magnets. As mentioned above, the motorcycle is geared towards riders looking for that performance edge, consequently the Ego enjoys latest generation ABS BOSCH brakes, Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires and rear wheel lift control.

The Energica Ego is priced at $34,000 with the Italian motorcycle manufacturer promising it will be a production motorcycle.

The only other production electric motorcycle possibility is the latest belle to the ball, Victory’s Empluse TT. The electric motorcycle borrows heavily from Brammo, an electric motorcycle manufacturing company acquired by Polaris in January 2015.

The motorcycle is capable of top speeds over 100 mph, an upper range of 100 miles and an average range of 65 miles. The battery is of the high-capacity 10.4kWh variety featuring a built-in battery charger. The engine enjoys 54 hp which delivers a peak torque of 61 ft-lbs which as mentioned earlier, delivers a top speed only given as ‘over 100 mph’.

Victory’s Empluse TT has a dry weight of 460 lbs and goes on sale in the US ‘late 2015’ for $19,999.

With the electric motorcycle market as it is now, riders have distinct and obvious choices based on what’s wanted in a bike or how they like to ride. Those who are more into cruising than speed or may use their ride for commuting should consider Zero’s RS. Riders who are all about the lean and speak of torque as if it were a beautiful woman would want to look at Lightning’s LS-218 or Energica’s Ego. At a glance, whether a rider values electronic accessories or raw power may separate those two types of buyers.

It will be interesting to see where Victory’s entry to this electric world performs and consequently what type of buyer it will attract.

Regardless, motorcycle enthusiasts are facing what automobile owners have long debated; measuring lifestyle and needs against range, recharging ability against the electrical system at home. Regardless, at the end of any debate, discussion or determination about an all-electric purchase, the one truth at the end of a yes is incredible performance and undisputed bragging rights.

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