Is this the next big phase of electric transport?
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about electric vehicles. I have an affinity for the technology for sure. I drove past the Telsa dealership in northern Sydney recently, and couldn’t help but grin at the future I see for personal vehicles. One thing made me wonder, however, was if we’re still wasting energy on personal transportation using cars anyway?
When we think of electric bikes, we often think of electric pushbikes. It seems every other month there’s a new electric bike sharing startup, or an electric scooter startup being shut down by the local council. And while there’s debate about the good these startups are doing for the communities that aren’t quite ready for them, they’re still pushing in the right direction.
While we are beginning to embrace electric power as a solid option for 4-wheeled vehicles, with most major manufacturers having at least one electric option on offer, two-wheeled vehicles still lag behind. Perhaps it’s the average customer’s preference for that purr of a petrol-powered motorbike, or perhaps there are some technical hurdles still to address. I suspect it’s likely a little of both. However, perhaps the world’s most iconic brand for motorcycles (even non-bike lovers recognise this one) can convince us that electric is indeed the answer?
IT’S NOT A NEW CONCEPT
Electric motorbikes aren’t a new concept. There are various efforts being made to bring these two-wheeled electric rockets to market. A good number of small companies are working at creating new electric motorbikes, and converting traditional motorbikes to electric. However, it usually needs a broader industry shift to make a significant dent in the habits of buyers. “Build it and they will come” doesn’t often work for a niche player.
Interestingly, Harley Davidson unveiled their electric motorbike concept a few years ago. It was seen as something of a marketing or PR stunt, but it has actually been introduced for their 2019 production lineup. This move represents a significant progression in how vehicle manufacturers are seeing future opportunities. Can you imagine how many conversations, board meetings, strategic planning sessions, and sheer gusto to bring this to market? For decades, a Harley has represented the loud and proud brand renowned worldwide. Its two-wheeled machines which have disrupted neighbourhoods and given the average person the feeling of an outlaw, without the risks associated with actually being an outlaw, of course.
That feeling of cruising the highway on two wheels with the rumble of a twin-cylinder petrol engine is something that struggles to be matched, especially with an almost-silent electric option in its place? Sure, you have the wind in your hair, but for some of us, that lack of audible note makes the experience feel like something’s lacking. Then again, the same was probably said decades ago moving from an “Iron Horse” steam engine to diesel or electric powered trains. Is it just nostalgia and human emotion that’s holding back these advances? After all, the throttle response, acceleration, and top speeds, probably outmatch anything we’ve been enjoying from all but the most race-bred motorcycles anyway.
A CULTURAL SHIFT?
Let’s face it, there’s a certain level of cultural shift that needs to take place. We the buyers are the ones that need to vote with our cash. We can drive these industries (no pun intended) and guide them to the solutions that make a difference. There is an element of culture-shift required, but it’s not as large a leap as calling a tofu burger a steak. The motorcycle is still a motor-powered two-wheeled vehicle, with aggressive performance if we want it.
I can hear some of you out there reading this thinking “but there’s no noise, that reduces safety”, and you’ve probably got a point. I’ve been a motorcycle fanatic since I was a kid, and have put hundreds of thousands of kilometres on bikes, many of those in city traffic as part of a longer commute. I understand the concern over a lack of noise, as we have seen that issue with hybrid and electric cars too. But that’s not a huge technological leap. The technology exists to put a large speaker with a throaty sound of a v-twin engine (or the sporty hum of a 4-cylinder if you prefer), to make you feel at home, and maintain your road presence. Perhaps that’s part of the answer.
WHY THEY MAKE SENSE
Naturally, with small children or larger groups, the idea of a motorbike quickly becomes impractical in many ways. But the reality is that so many of our trips taken have only one occupant.
While motorbikes draw fear into the heart of a good number of road users, there are many of us who would happily jump on board an electric motorbike, knowing that our emission-free trip (assuming renewable recharging) was doing its part. It’s not even a question of climate change. Imagine smog free cities! That alone is worth the effort.