Fossil Fuels

Electrification in the motorcycle industry. Are we there yet?

By September 4, 2019 No Comments

Electrification of the automotive world is advancing. From the humble beginnings of hybridisation; the fully electric automotive revolution has most definitely arrived.

Despite there being some misgivings about the lithium mining & the harvesting of natural minerals damaging the Earth & environment; the seeming purity of the electric automobile has got all of the major manufacturers searching for the design boards & becoming part of the electric movement.

Global governments have created low & zero emissions zones in their cities, with the UK following suit with the ULEZ (Ultra Low Emissions Zones) spreading across the UK capital, London. Despite the push for the EV market, with hybrid buses now the norm in London & the spread of the EV Taxi; cost and charging infrastructure are still prohibitive for widespread adoption.

However, despite the corporate giants of the automotive industry jumping on the electrification band wagon, there is still a long way to go to replace the ease with which the combustion engine has enabled drivers & riders to travel.

One of the biggest concerns some drivers/ riders have is distance anxiety. With the electric charging infrastructure in the UK & Europe not able to keep up with the demand for the electric movement; there are still concerns that many car & motorcycle users might ‘run out of fuel’ & unlike the traditional ‘jerry can’ of fuel getting some out of a tight spot, especially in very rural areas; the electric vehicle doesn’t have that option & is one of the many causes for concern for transition.

One other concern regarding the electrification movement in the automotive sector, is where will all of the additional energy be sourced from to keep the global electric vehicle market on the roads? We have already researched many different ways in which companies are generating renewable energies for the future of planet Earth, from wind turbines & solar panels in our oceans to cryogenics; the surge in alternative energy producers is evident as there is an ever higher demand for emissions from traditional fossil fuels to be driven down to where ‘Net Zero’ is the norm.

However, we all still need to travel & whether that be by train, plane or automobile/motorcycle; how we get there will be determined by the automotive manufacturers ever changing portfolio landscape.

One recent move by the EU though, highlighted one of the inherent issues with electric vehicles on our roads, the lack of sound.  With concerns about partially sighted & or blind pedestrians being put at a complete disadvantage by the distinct lack of sound an EV makes, the EU have now made a ruling that all new EV’s will have to have a sound emitter fitted, to alert pedestrians & other road users of an approaching vehicle.

With this in mind there is of course one thing missing from the EV revolution which is the roar of a traditional internal combustion engine, which for petrol heads is what drives their passion. One particular sector which is struggling to engage it’s audience to move toward an EV future, is in the motorcycle industry.

Traditionally bikers enjoy heightened performance, coupled with the roar of an engine. Despite the technologies being developed to make traditional internal combustion engines as environmentally sensitive as they can be, the motorcycle industry are as the car industry, bowing to pressure & are evolving a series of EV motorcycles.

One of the first examples of an EV motorcycle proving it’s worth, was at the Isle of Mann TT Zero series. Introduced in 2010, the TT Zero race, a one lap race, was designed for non fossil fuel motorcycles, with zero emissions.  John McGuiness, with 23 TT wins to his name, took his 21st TT win on the Mugen Shinden Hachi electric bike.

The Mugen Shinden Hachi weighs in at not-quite 547lbs, houses a 370-volt lithium ion battery which powers a 3-phase oil-cooled brushless electric motor. The motor puts out 120 kilowatts, which is roughly equivalent to 160hp, and 210nm of torque (just shy of 155 ft-lb of torque). (1)

Having held the track record on the Mugen in the 2014 TT (117.36mph) and 2015 TT (119.27mph), John McGuiness’ team mate for 2019 Michael Rutter, not only beat McGuiness to the No 1 podium, but superseded his lap record with a 121.909mph

This therefore goes to prove that electrification in the motorcycle world has begun to have credibility, however, the reason why the TT Zero race is still only one lap, is back to the distance issue. With the shear energy & speed these electric vehicles produce during the one lap, the current battery technology could not see them continue at a competitive racing speed beyond one lap.

So what is happening beyond the track? What other motorcycle manufacturers are moving with the times & producing a road legal electric motorcycle?

Harley Davidson’s ‘Livewire’ is the American dream EV motorcycle which can go from 0 – 60mph in 3 seconds. The charging system sports a high voltage battery composed of lithium-ion cells surrounded by a cast-aluminium housing.

The distance range promoted by Harley Davidson for the ‘Livewire’ is 146 miles of city range or 95 miles of combined stop-and-go & highway range. The ‘Livewire’ charging cycle sees an 80% speed charge in 40 minutes & a 100% charge in an hour. Of course, one of the distinctive Harley Davidson traits, is that deep rumble from the V twin internal combustion engine. The Harley Davidson ‘Livewire’ certainly lacks any kind of rumble, in fact the electric whistle produced by the lithium powered new generation Harley Davidson, may not have traditionalists running to trade their traditional V twin models in any time soon.

Another company making significant waves in the EV motorcycle industry, is Santa Cruz based start up ‘Zero’

‘Using state-of-the-art lithium-ion cell chemistry and advanced battery management systems, each motorcycle is able to travel farther, faster and last longer. A typical Zero S or Zero DS can travel over 300.000 km with the batteries retaining 80% of their original maximum capacity. To meet the demands of Zero’s most advanced platform, the Zero SR/F Power Pack features an aluminium heat-sink housing and thermal transfer interface which ensures consistent cell cooling and maximum long-term powertrain performance’ (2)

With a city range of 223 miles & combined range of between 111 miles & 149 miles & a charge rate of up to 95% charge within an hour, the Harley & the Zero still seem to have a comparable charge time, something which of course still raises eyebrows in motorcycling circles.

Although the future needs to be net zero & Co2 emissions being chugged out of internal combustion engines must cease, the combustion engine is still the most efficient & long lasting engine which has been designed to date. As a learned Professor once said “the combustion engine has a future, we just need to get the science behind it”

As the freedom of ‘motorcycle riding’ has traditionally been the ability to fill up & head out on the open road, with no clear destination but for the shear enjoyment of the ride; can the EV motorcycle still offer that freedom? Can the distance anxiety & lack of charging points keep the swathes of purchasers at bay & still make the EV motorcycle a curio, rather than a replacement for the roar of the internal combustion engine?

We are all mindful of our responsibilities to lower emissions & drive down our man made Co2 production & the EV motorcycle market is responding to this.

Written by Katy Jane Mason on behalf of Dolphin N2