The Four Killer Apps of the Electric Motorcycle

07/03/2012 @ 1:32 pm, by Jensen Beeler26 COMMENTS

Electric motorcycles: love them or hate them, our two-wheeled future is here my riding brethren. I can hear the collective groan of petrol-heads as this subject is broached though. Yes, it is hard to get excited about electric motorcycles in their current state, and why should you be excited about them? I may not blindly gush about electrics as much as the Kool-aid drinking EV crowd does, but I’m decisively on the pro-electric side of the debate. Yet, even I have a hard time looking at what is available on the market, and imagining a scenario where my hard-earned blogging dollars would grab an electric motorcycle over its internal combustion counterpart.

Part of the reason is that there is no real appealing reason to go electric at this point in time. Oh sure, you can do your part to save the environment, though the net-effect with our coal-dependent energy infrastructure will still play a tremendous detriment on the reality of one-less petrol-burning motorcycle on the road. That being said, electricity out of a home outlet is super-cheap, out of someone else’s outlet it is even cheaper, and the “where our power comes from” debate really should be looked at as separate from the green-vehicle debate. Of course, the break-even analysis on the total cost of owning a 250cc motorcycle compared to even the most robust electric motorcycle is still fairly dubious — and let’s be honest, grouping the current offering of electric motorcycles in with a 250cc commuter bike is probably a disservice to the Honda CBR250R and Kawasaki Ninja 250R’s of the world.

So with all the Negative Nancy about electrics, why am I still talking about them? Because there is tremendous potential with a fully digital powertrain, that’s why. Forget the CD vs. tape cassette analogy, this is a Pandora vs. LP shift in technology — but we just don’t have a killer app yet for electric motorcycles. Defined as “the concept that a singular feature is so prolific that its proves the core value of a larger technological system, often driving consumers to make a purchasing decision on the product or system that highlights the feature,” it is clear that electric motorcycles have yet to define the advantage they represent to motorcyclists — not because there is no value in the system, but because electric motorcycle manufacturers have failed to provide the killer app to their core technology.

As it stands now, electric motorcycles are basically conventional motorcycles with batteries and motors that replace fuel tanks and engines. It is the same basic offering that we have had since the turn of the century, except with three times the cost, forty times the refuel time, and a quarter of the range. While the big hold-up for electrics, battery technology, is still advancing rapidly, at the end of the day consumers are still be making apples-to-apples comparisons between internal combustion and electric motorcycles because only the most basic elements of this new technology is being offered by electric OEMs (i.e. getting you from Point A to Point B).

There is a tremendous amount at stake for electric motorcycle OEMs beyond just the basics of the market status quo, as the first electric motorcycle OEM that figures out how to deliver a killer app to the electric motorcycle space, is going to be the first electric motorcycle company to find real traction with the born-on-gasoline motorcycle riding masses. Progressing from immediate needs to long-term goals, I have compiled a roadmap of four killer apps that the electric motorcycle space needs to bring to market. Each killer app builds off the next, and the whole exercise concludes on what I believe is the most important idea in motorcycling. Now, who is going to be the first to make these ideas a reality?

1. Destination Awareness

Range anxiety is a huge issue for electric motorcycles. How far can you ride before you re pushing 300+ lbs of motorcycle, and forced to ask complete strangers about using their electrical outlet…for the next several hours? With the highway and city mileage on electrics being so vastly different, range anxiety not only includes how far a destination is from you, but also how you will get there, both in terms of route-planning and riding style.

While larger battery capacities and quicker recharge times are the ultimate answer to this pressing issue, one interim work-around for OEMs is to integrate destination awareness into their electric motorcycle platforms (note the use of this word).

My car has a GPS, my camera has a GPS, and even my phone has a GPS, so why is that not the case with electric motorcycles? Imagine this scenario: you have half a charge on your battery-powered motorcycle, and you need to go 30 miles down the road to your next destination. Not only should you be able to plot the route to where you are going right into your electric motorcycle’s dash (hello useable turn-by-turn directions), but the motorcycle should be able to plot the directions based on the energy still available from its battery pack — in real-time. This means that as you consume more energy, say at a rate higher than anticipated by the vehicle, the computer adapts your directions to include more energy efficient sections to your route.

Working hand-in-hand with this navigation system should be the ability to tailor the bike’s performance for the plotted destination and rate of energy consumption. For bonus points, the ability to plan out a whole day’s worth of usage should be a standard feature, thus allowing multiple trips to be rationed and accounted for in the consumption of a single or multiple charges. Current electric motorcycle owners already have to juggle this kind of mental math in their heads, with regular and proscribed riding regiments being the only real sure-fire method of ensuring an electric motorcycle isn’t stranded on the side of the road, with the rider crying like a little schoolboy with a skinned knee.

Giving electric motorcycles the ability to be on the same page as the rider, and managing the expectations of that rider, go towards a massively better interaction between motorcyclist and machine, which also conveniently lays the groundwork for the second killer app for electric motorcycles.

2. User-Feedback Systems

For some time now, certain MotoGP factory teams have been running haptic technology to convey information to riders. The most obvious application of this technology was during the 800cc-era of the sport, where teams were limited to 21 liters of fuel, a huge technical issue at the time. Managing fuel consumption became a huge part of MotoGP racing, and played a vital role in race bike development and race-day strategy. While the technical performance of the machines was ever increasing, some teams noticed that they could make gains on the other side of the equation: the rider.

Adding haptic feedback to the seat of the motorcycle, MotoGP teams were able to alert riders via vibration when they were riding in a manner that was consuming too much fuel. The system not only created a conditioned response over the long-term, but in the short-term it allowed riders to gain valuable information in a manner that allowed them to maintain their concentration on what was before them on the race track.

Haptic technology is nothing new, as it has found its way into video game controllers, cellphones, and substitute-husband devices. The technology does have some novelty in the motorcycle industry though, as very little work has been done in the user-experience interaction & design space — a budding industry in its own right. Building off the ideas set forth in the first step on this roadmap, there are some obvious applications for haptic technology on electrics, and motorcycles in general.

Taking a cue from MotoGP, electric motorcycles for instance could provide a feedback loop to riders when they were riding too aggressively for their proscribed route. Other obvious use-cases include notifying a rider when he or she is over a proscribed speed or RPM, just to name a few more. The takeaway from this idea is that motorcyclists are already distracted individuals, and as motorcycles become more connected to the rider, we need to reevaluate and improve how information is passed from machine to rider, so the inverse becomes a richer and easier action.

3. Motorcycle API

One of the real secret sauces of electric vehicles in general is this idea of a digital drivetrain. Controlled and operated by pieces of software, electric motorcycles offer a level of tuning potential that is unparalleled in the internal-combustion world. Virtually tunable to an infinite level, electric drivetrains can be made to do just about anything possible on two-wheels (or even just one wheel, as the case may be) — and the real kicker is that anyone with a programming background can manipulate these systems.

While it is a tall-order to expect consumers to sit down with their laptops, and hack into the code of electric vehicles, it is not a big leap of reason to believe that approachable and customizable interfaces can be engineered to make an electric motorcycle’s systems more approachable to a layman. It surprises me that there isn’t an electric motorcycle on the market right now that readily allows you the consumer to tune its power delivery, re-gen application, traction control, etc.

All these features and processes have been hard-coded by EV OEMs into the machines, so it stands to reason that it is only a small step in making those systems open enough to allow users to tune these variables further to their preferences. There has been a lot of talk in this space – it has been one of the big promises of electric motorcycles, but to-date, it is still vaporware.

Adding user-customization to a motorcycle’s drivetrain is just the first obvious step in the API process, however. For the first time on a digitally accessible level, motorcycles are coming to have an understanding of what each of the bike’s systems are doing in real-time. I look at a bike like the Ducati 1199 Panigale S as one of the biggest missed opportunities in this space.

Electronically controlled suspension (sadly, rebound and compression damping only) and Ducati Data-Acquisition+ with GPS: two very technologically advanced systems in their own right, but even more powerful if they could only talk to each other. Ducati built these features on the Panigale to exist in silos (actually, they’re silos because two different third-part suppliers built these systems for Ducati, but I digress), but if the suspension could break through the air gap between it and the DDA+, then it would only be a matter of some lines of code to have an active-suspension system on the world’s “most advanced” super bike.

Imagine being able to adjust your suspension to suit each corner of your favorite track, or have your bike immediately soften your suspension the second you get on a highway on-ramp. It could — all the basic mechanical systems needed for this operation are already in-place on the Ducati 1199 Panigale S, but sadly they are “dumb” in the munitions sense of the word, and are not connected to each other. Even worse, you as a motorcyclist or third-party developer, can do nothing to change this reality.

There is nothing stopping internal-combustion motorcycles from having this level of sophistication, but electric motorcycles in the way they operate already have these channels of communication open between the various components. The ability to interconnect each system on a motorcycle, and then make those systems available to end-users and third parties is a huge revolution for the motorcycle industry.

This idea of a motorcycle having an API takes the power of innovation out of the exclusive hands of the OEMs, and puts it in the hands of everyone involved on the motorcycle support chain: OEMs, dealers, owners, & aftermarket developers. This not only creates a new marketplace of ideas (and dollars), but draws on the experience and needs of each party – something that can only lead to a better all-around experience.

4. The Motorcycle as a Platform

What this is all leading up to is the idea that motorcycles need to become platforms. The company that realizes how to leverage this concept the most effectively, is the company that finds a foothold so strong in the motorcycle industry, that its position will be completely defensible. Not convinced? Consider a platform from a different industry, like Facebook.

Regardless of what you think about the social network’s IPO, Facebook as a company is one of the safest investments on the NASDAQ right now. While analysts mull over privacy concerns, an ever-changing newsfeed design, and whether Mark Zuckerberg will ever be able to channel his inner-Steve Jobs, the real issue comes down to the site’s users. The issue for Facebook isn’t whether you will stop using its service (presuming that you have already found usefulness in the site’s basic services), it is whether you will leave Facebook for a competitor’s social network.

Think about that for a second though, would you join a different social network if none of your friends were on it. By its very definition a social network cannot exist if you can’t socialize with your peers on it. In essence, services like Facebook reach a critical mass where the volume of users and interactions make it impossible for a user to switch to competitor on their own. In reality, if you want to leave Facebook for greener pastures, you are going to have to convince a hundred or more of your closest friends to do so as well.

Facebook isn’t alone in this space. Apple does it with its iPhones, iPads, and Mac hardware pieces, which all leverage some form of its iOS/OS X software systems (for further contemplation, think about what the Apple App Store does to mobile phone ownership). Google does it with its ad-based revenue model through its search engine, cloud-based apps, and Android mobile operating system. Your credit card company does this with its points-based rewards program, and so on. Now, imagine this idea taken forward into the motorcycle industry. Boom goes the dynamite.

We do have our own watered down version of this idea in motorcycling though, and it is often masqueraded around as the concept of brand value. Ducati and Harley-Davidson are perhaps two of the most potent examples of strong branding in the motorcycle space, though those exercises are often viewed upon as a way to sell a $30 t-shirt, not as a way to create a platform for the brand.

Think about it this way though. If you buy a Ducati or Harley-Davidson…who are you then likely to meet and ride with over the course of owning that particular brand of motorcycle? Why, other Ducati or Harley-Davidson owners, of course. So now as a motorcycle owner, you are creating a peer-group of fellow riders, a social network if you will, who have the same two-wheeled tastes are you do.

Now if that peer-circle is as brand-exclusive as stereotypes lead us to believe, let’s think for a moment about what sort of purchasing decision is likely to occur the next time around you want a motorcycle. Sure you could buy a metric cruiser or another premium European brand of motorcycle, but Yoda would bet lightsabers to Deathstars that once you have been indoctrinated into the brand, a lifetime owner you will become. This is the value of viewing motorcycles as a platform.

Branding is just the tip of the iceberg though. This concept extends to modular designs, aftermarket sales, market penetration, customer relationship management, etc.

With electric motorcycles, the possibilities in these realms are even more endless and infinitely variable than with internal-combustion engines. With fully digital machines at our disposal, there is a plethora of opportunities to improve and redefine how motorcycles interact with the rider, both on and off the bike. Additionally, for the first time there is a possibility to innovate on how motorcycles as machines interact with each other.

There is a brave new world of innovation here, and the company that capitalizes upon it, and realizes that once motorcyclists and dialed into their brand, the platform will retain them throughout their two-wheeled life. The added benefit of EV OEMs is that they are still on the outskirts of the industry enough not to be drawn into the pervasive and painful conservatism that exists in the motorcycling.

Get to work guys, the clock is now ticking.

Title Photo: Mission Motors

  • Geoff

    I disagree on the solution to the range issue. If motorcycle manufacturers STANDARDISE the size and connector for the power cell, it can become removable. If it’s quickly removable, it can be changed for a freshly charged one and the range issue goes away.

    Changing the cell is also a service that a gas station can offer, giving them an alternate revenue stream as we move towards electric vehicles and is a more sound business plan than all of these charge points that are being installed for cars in shopping mall park parks etc.

    By keeping the form factor and connector of the power cell standard, battery technology can continue improving without obsoleting the bikes already sold.

    This is such a no brainer for the development of the electric motorcycle.

  • John O

    You only hinted at big one:

    Traction control. It’s far easier to modulate the power output from an electric motor (or the braking effect of a regenerative braking system) than it is to do the same with an IC engine.

    Imagine being able to tune the power to the rear wheel to be more like a big bang motor when you’re coming out of a corner, switching to a steady output when you’re straight up and down.

    The right software would also give you front and rear wheel traction control with incredibly fast response times.

    Throw in the right sensors and it could even modulate the power sufficiently to decrease tire wear.

  • Jonathan

    Yay, save the planet! Who doesn’t want to do that?

    No amount of gizmos can get around the physical limitations of the electric motorcycle in it’s present state. The most glaring issue is that it still overwhelmingly relies on hydrocarbons to provide the motive power. It also bears stating that a battery pack that costs maybe $3k is likely to be creating a lot of stinky pollution in it’s manufacture.

    No amount of technology will allow you to push your “empty” e-bike to the nearest gas station and let you fill it up and get home without a fair amount of waiting around. Limited endurance is fine for the urban commute (or for trucking an e-dirtbike to the track, riding it around for 45 minutes, then trucking it home again), but for travelling proper distances?

    It could also be argued that urban travelling could best be served with a proper public transport infrastructure, but that’s another argument.

    Geoff makes a really good point about standardisation of power storage and connectors so that an “exchange” system could be used, but let’s face it, it’s a really long way off.

    Having watched motorcycles drift from a method of personal expression / mode of cheap mass transportation to being a weekend toy for middle-aged men over the last thirty years I’m not expecting a practical solution any time soon. It’s not the future, it’s a bunch of interested parties trying to sell us immature, poorly though out garbage.

  • “It’s not the future, it’s a bunch of interested parties trying to sell us immature, poorly though out garbage.”

    I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it ‘garbage’, but I sure do agree that it’s immature and definitely not the future. The current cream of the crop of technology surely has got to be fuel cells. Right now, our reliance on rare-earth metals in electric and hybrid vehicles is simply not sustainable. We need better, sustainable energy systems that what these bikes offer. That makes them an almost-ran in my book.

    It’s all well and good to cell currently available technology, but I think it really misses the mark if one touts these as the way of the future.

  • The idea of interchangeable battery packs sounds alluring, until the reality of the process sets in. The problem is that we think of batteries as the interchangeable AA-variety that go in our flashlights and TV remotes, but the at the automotive level, they are far more complex entities that cannot be mixed and matched.

    With battery technology changing on a yearly basis, right now the different battery technologies/chemistries are part of the secret sauce each OEM is bringing to the table. You cannot put a Brammo battery in a Zero motorcycle and expect a plug-and-play effect. With each new battery chemistry, controller, and motor, a company needs to write new software to get the most out of the combination of components. There are just too many variables at play here to consider homogenization.

    It won’t be until battery development slows down and the units become commoditized that we can begin thinking about swappable battery packs, and right now the opposite is the case – the real growth in the EV sector are the battery packs themselves.

    Once that settles down, then we can begin to start thinking about whether or not its a good idea to have 150+ lbs of removable mass on something like a motorcycle. I’ve played around with the swappable batteries on the MotoCzysz E1pc v1.0, and while it’s a very elegant solution, I can’t imagine consumers or gas station attendants removing those packs and replacing them at a fueling station.

  • I obviously have a biased opinion but your 4 e-bike killer apps are anything but killer.

    KA1 is not a KA but a way to try to overcome a technology shortcoming: limited range. The idea that there is some magic route that will dramatically reduce energy use is largely a fallacy. If you use a GPS to give you directions why wouldn’t it initially give you the most direct route? When you consider start/stop, acceleration, traffic, etc, it will be hard for an intelligent GPS to calculate a true lowest energy route. And when its wrong? You’re stuck.

    >>For bonus points, the ability to plan out a whole day’s worth of usage should be a standard feature, thus allowing multiple trips to be rationed and accounted for in the consumption of a single or multiple charges. ‘

    So much for just following to the call of the open road or unplanned needs. I guess the open road needs to book an appointment well in advance.

    KA2: a buzzing on a seat is not haptic feedback, its an alert just like a light on the dashboard. Haptic feedback is force-based feedback, used a lot in remote/virtual applications like flight, surgery, virtual carving, etc. A buzzer on the seat or a low fuel gauge, there’s not much of a difference except with an ICE there is no need for concern when you see the low fuel light.

    KA3 will lead to incidences of batteries combusting, motor windings melting, etc. I’d like to see any OEM legal dept’s response to a ‘hey, let’s open up our e-bike’s programming parameters to allow end users to tweak them’ request. Its also a good reason why GPS isn’t standard on motorcycles: legal issues relating to rider distraction. ‘Virtually tunable to an infinite level’ really smacks of know-nothing journalism, not what I expect to see at A&R. E-bikes have hard performance limits just like ICE bikes. Battery discharge rates and drive system thermal dissipation are 2 hard limits that any amount of virtual tweaking cannot overcome. And its not as if the OEMs are not trying to eek out every bit of performance they can as it is.

    KA4: ‘Regardless of what you think about the social network’s IPO, Facebook as a company is one of the safest investments on the NASDAQ right now.’ Tell that to the people who bought it at the IPO price, which it is still below. Let’s be real. Motorcycles are real objects purchased mostly by people who could care less about FB. Don’t try to get all social networking with my motorcycle!

    When batteries or fuel cells become acceptable solutions for transportation I’ll be the first (or maybe second) to get one. The problem I have is that the tech is not ready for mainstream deployment yet it is being pushed as if it is. Battery tech is being advanced as fast as it can by the phone and mobile computer industry. Transportation use of electric vehicles is only a result of huge gov’t subsidies that are neither sustainable nor helping develop battery technology. All e-vehicle makers purchase their batteries from battery manufacturers who do the hard work because they have big customers in the electronics industry. Once they come up with a battery chemistry that is suitable for transportation uses then let’s push it. Until then let them stay with early adopters and R&D facilities.

  • AndrewF

    The problem with your thinking is that while you are dreaming up the ways for the bike to ‘become a platform’, it is in fact the last thing on my wish list. I’ve already got a smart phone, desktop computer, home entertainment system etc etc. I don’t want anther bloody platform – I want a motorcycle to hop on and ride. Without having to plan my trips, map out the most efficient routes or battling nanny safety systems.
    And by the way… I don’t care about sharing my location with my ‘friends’ on Facebook, either!

  • Chris & Andrew, you’re sort of proving my point.

    You’ve been so conditioned by the social media marketing of EV OEMs that my mere mentioning of Facebook has leads you down thought patterns of sharing your trips on a social network. Did I ever even suggest that anywhere in this article?

    I’m talking about business models, not web 2.0 services. I’m talking about making motorcycle brands that once you buy their bikes, you never buy another company’s motorcycle ever again.

  • I never said anything about sharing trips on FB, just pointed out that so far it has been a horrible investment for anyone not an insider.

    I like riding with any other motorcyclists and don’t have any particular care as to what brand they ride. If your ‘platform’ idea serves to segregate riders into brand groups than I have even less interest in it than before I replied to your post. Variety is the spice of life. You make it seem as if FB was the first company to have the concept of ‘brand.’ As you say HD and Ducati both have strong brands yet every Duc owner and most HD owners I know have more than one brand motorcycle. Go figure. The thing that annoys me about internet companies is that they think they invented every business concept. Brand loyalty has been around for a while and the fact that I am on FB will serve as no barrier to me joining another social network (although I can’t imagine wanting to) just like if I want a 2nd or 3rd bike I will usually look to a different manufacturer to get some of that spice of life.

    >Think about that for a second though, would you join a different social network if none of your friends were on it?

    No, but if I showed up at the local riding scene as the only person with an unusual and/or uncommon bike I would be the center of attention. Yet another distinction between a social network and a motorcycle.

    >With fully digital machines at our disposal

    What does that mean? It looks like a great FB line but has very little actual meaning. A dash with a GPS? Surely not exclusive to an e-bike. All adventure riders I know have GPS mounts.

    >>there is a plethora of opportunities to improve and redefine how motorcycles interact with the rider, both on and off the bike

    Anything you can do with an e-bike you can do with an ICE bike. I don’t see the distinction between them apart from one is overpriced and limited. For a rider when riding there is really very little difference between the two. How does having a battery instead of a gas tank make an e-bike so dramatically different to an ICE bike that now digital age techniques apply?

    >>I’m talking about making motorcycle brands that once you buy their bikes, you never buy another company’s motorcycle ever again.

    Every motorcycle OEM has been trying for that since long before the web existed. Some achieve it better than others (HD) but its not my cup of tea.

  • AndrewF

    I know you didn’t suggest sharing trips on Facebook as such but others have in other instances, so I brought it up as an example of ‘progress’ that I don’t want.
    You are talking about, I quote directly, ‘opportunities to improve and redefine how motorcycles interact with the rider, both on and off the bike. Additionally, for the first time there is a possibility to innovate on how motorcycles as machines interact with each other’. While my point is that I don’t want any of that – I am perfectly happy with the ways I interract with the bike now.

    In fact that direct, simple relationship is exactly what I value about my bike (well… that, and the ease of getting through the traffic). I am not against e-bikes as such and I know they might have to be the future, but I am not interested in reinventing the wheel. I (and it looks like I’m speaking for a large part of the market here) just want machines that will give me speed and range of conventional bike at comparable cost, and that is all I want. I know, this is terribly inconvinient for the proponents of e-bikes because that is precisely the one thing they are not capable of delivering and they won’t be for a while yet… sorry about that :)

  • I think Andrew was referring to one of the companies idea to have the bike send a facebook or twitter message everytime you stopped or started at a destination, not anything you mentioned. @Andrew, I got it, and I chuckled.

    KA1 exists in gas cars already. The Garmin in my buddies Suzuki SUV has a fuel efficient route calculator. I can’t remember which one it is but one of the EVs or hybrids does or will do exactly what you are talking about. Just have to have more emotos on the road for there to be enough data to make such a system actually effective, I would think.

    KA2 Why not have an actual Bluetooth transmitter in the bike that pairs to your phone and works through your app. Doesn’t everyone have a Bluetooth headset in their helmet now? That pairs to your phone and you use and receive voice commands. Using my GPS was WAY easier when I got one I could tie into my intercom system (before Bluetooth). Oh wait, eCRP is working on that. Well, OK, maybe was. Who knows, they’re Italian and don’t send me newsletters in English anymore.

    KA3: Aftermarket companies. New tech battery packs and BMS and controller software to accompany them. Power commander type plug in boxes for these knuckle dragging ICE types, etc, etc.

    KA4. ? Ahh, Ill take your word for it. You’re the one with degrees in that stuff.

    @Trane, you do realize that fuel cells only replace the battery packs and use electric motors just the same? Also, the 2 fastest and most powerful emoto race bikes use induction motors that don’t require rare earth magnets. And, Fuel cell technology for cars is far enough off. I can’t imagine how much longer it would take to shrink it to a size small enough for a motorcycle chassis. It seems to me that Battery tech will be viable about 10 years before fuel cell. Also, I am not a fan of continuing to truck a gas around to stations around the country or world, when we can just shoot energy down a wire we were already using anyway, or could even be producing ourselves at our homes or business. But that is me.

    I think the killer app that will become apparent is the low maintenance and mechanical simplicity. I have recently been thinking about getting a used motorcycle just for transportation around town. Mind you I know I can’t afford even a used one at the moment. But all the same, I think we all do it. All the used bikes are expensive around here, more than cars for some reason, so a use Brammo Enertia of $4-$5k would be in the same price range. Would I be able to do weekend rides? No, but if I go anywhere on the weekends, it’s on a bicycle. Can I go to Nashville? No, well, maybe. But really, I make so little money I can’t afford the gas to run around all weekend anyway. I just want something to help me get to the schools I am subbing at. In the town I live in, for what I want to use it for an Enertia or Zero is a FAR more appealing prospect than dealing with the ailments of a used gas motorcycle. My two previous bikes, a VFR and 500 Interceptor were reliable bikes, but still labor intensive. An emoto you just unplug it and go. I still have insurance and registration, and a slightly higher power bill, but no gas, valve adjustments, fuel injection clogging, carb syncing, rusting exhaust, massive heat from the motor while sitting in traffic (VFRism), pissing the neighbors of when I leave in the morning, noise or fume emissions to deal with, oil changes, any kind of engine work, air filters, fuel filters, oil filters, and that’s all I can think of at the moment. Clearly I came from a different angle than everyone. And, if I was making a decent amount that used Buell XB-12R would be a whole lot more appealing. But, in the spot I am in now, an emoto seems like, maybe not a killer app, but the best app.

  • @ttxgpfan: Thanks for the info about the non-rare-earth magnets. I was unaware of that element in emotos, but it’s great to see. So far, most of the hybrid autos in production are still heavily reliant on the technology. The reason I tout fuel cells as being the hot ticket is mostly because as long as an replace the hydrogen (assuming hydrogen fuel cells, of course), refilling keeps you going without any wasted recharge cycle. This is the principle difference between battery tech and fuel cells.

    Of course, without refueling infrastructure, fuel cells are doomed to fail, and so far I don’t think any fuel cell-related companies are actually turning profits. So, there’s much to be done.


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  • Paul McM

    It’s all about the price. Sell a decent eBike for four grand and I’ll buy. I think others will too. Particularly those who already own good long-distance mounts.

    I’ve got a proper, comfortable touring bike to go long distances — up to 600 miles a day. I’ve also got a sport bike to do twisty stuff and spike my adrenaline. What I’m looking for now is a light-weight standard that covers most of my Mon-Fri riding — short hops in the city with less than 30 miles/day total (and typically about 10 miles/day).

    I like the idea of no gearbox, and 100% torque on demand. I can live with an honest 45 mile range, so long as the batteries don’t lose their capacity over time, which is true of every cell phone, power drill, and radio battery I’ve had, including the Lithium Ion ones. I’m VERY skeptical of the claims about long-term battery life.

    But for my urban biking needs I’d switch to an e-Bike in a heartbeat if a good one was offered for under $4500.00. I pick that number because at that price I can purchase a near perfect condition used bike from 400-1000 cc. I got my 2001 VFR for $3600.00 in mint condition with 20k miles. Spending more than $4500.00 on a single-purpose City-Bike just seems nuts — considering what that money will buy in the used bike market these days.

    With eBikes now costing about $12K, I think the only “takers” are rich Silicon Valley jr. VPs looking for a new toy. Costs have to come down — way down — before there will be any kind of large-scale adoption of electric bikes.

    As for the Four Killer Apps. GPS with real-time range projections should, indeed, be offered. KAs number 2,3,4 would not impact my buying decision AT ALL.

    As for the general motorcycle audience. The squids will continue to buy uncomfortable, narrow-focus sportbikes (for irrational reasons), the middle-aged adventure wannabees will continue to buy porky BMW GSs (for irrational reasons), and the Harley folk will continue to putt around with shiny chrome and loud pipes (for irrational reasons). American motorcyclists’ buying decisions are typically so irrational, and so divorced from common sense, that I don’t think you could ever sell electric bikes in great numbers in the USA based on eBikes’ practical advantages. Now in Europe, things might be different.

  • Eduardo L. V. Tafner

    I’m not following the comments’ thread but this article is, hands down, the best article I’ve read.

    I’m following what I can about e-bikes and Asphalt & Rubber, all of this translates to what I’ve

    The first item of the four wasn’t (entirely) on the list of my killer apps, but the rest are the way.

    Great idea. Great post.

  • Eduardo L. V. Tafner

    My second phrase is wrong:

    I’m following what I can about e-bikes on Asphalt & Rubber and elsewhere, all this translates to what I want about e-bikes. And I never realised that.

    Again, great post.

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  • Stuart

    Basically, I disagree with this entire article. Based on the definition of a “Killer App”, not a single one of the “apps” propsed qualify as “Killer Apps”. I.e. even if e-bikes had all 4 things listed, I would still not buy one – and I think nearly all of my riding friends would feel the same way.

    Killer Apps for an e-bike have to start, first, with the e-bike meeting the basic functional requirements of the rider. Once they can do that (and, for some riders, they may already), the Killer Apps will be one or more of the following:

    – significantly cheaper than an IC motorcycle. Whether you’re talking upfront cost, maintenance, or day-to-day operating costs. If it is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper, that would be a killer app.

    – better performance than an IC motorcycle. Whether you’re talking about faster lap times, quicker drag strip times, better range on a tank/charge, significantly better performance in some way would be a killer app.

    Annnd…. really, that’s about it. If an e-bike is not significantly cheaper, in some way, than an IC bike, and it doesn’t do ANYTHING significantly better than an IC bike, it’s not going to have success in the way of a product with a Killer App.

  • protomech

    None but the first of these have anything to do with the electric powertrain component of an electric motorcycle. The rest are byproducts of the bikes being fresh-start designs, but let’s be honest – if it came down to a $10k web-enabled, haptic-feedback, extendable-platform Brammo/Zero vs a $8k plain ol’ Honda with otherwise similar specs.. what are people going to buy?

    IMO the killer apps for electric motorcycles are obvious wins in total cost of ownership (if not outright lower cost for similar performance), increased reliability, and increased convenience.

    KA1 here is a swift break-even point (2-3 years / 20k miles). Until level 3 fast DC charging is standardized and widely available, this pretty much restricts the bikes to every-day or most-days commuters. Riders that primarily use their bikes for touring or for bi-yearly rides will continue to be poorly served.

    KA2 will take years to become visible.

    KA3 is partly based on KA2 (a motorcycle that’s in the shop is a motorcycle you’re not having fun on) .. but also on the elimination of fueling and some maintenance activities. Commuting on a gas bike for me meant stopping by the gas station 1-2 times per week – don’t miss that at all.

  • jzj

    Very thoughtful article. Here’s an interesting point to consider: think about how you ride. How much motorcycle range do you need? It could be that the ebike you need already exists.
    Pretty much by definition of reading this website, I suspect the readership are committed riders, but nonetheless I offer the following observation: I have an electric bike and an ICE bike, and I find I almost never ride the ICE. My ebike is home-built (converted FZR600), a little sporty, but with modest range — it goes about 20 miles. I live in San Francisco, and I use the ebike all the time and find that it perfectly suits my needs (it also takes passengers). Now, there are real ebikes (Zero, Brammo), that have higher performance than mine and are good for a minimum of 50 and more like 100 miles. I would ask you to honestly answer the question of how often you ride further than that (or, if you’re a commuter, whether you couldn’t charge at work, or where ever it is you’re going).
    I happen to have a place to regularly plug in (the garage of my home, which has solar, and therefore I charge my Leaf and ebike for free (please review my blog for an explanation of how this truly is completely free). I think having a place to regularly plug in is a legitimate concern, and perhaps a deal-breaker. But if you consider your riding patterns, you may be amazed at how well an ebike might suit your needs.
    BTW: I have been riding for over 30 years, and I like both of my bikes (my ICE is a SV650), and I’m glad I have the SV around for the rare adventure, but the practical reality is, it’s harder for me to build a case for the ICE than it is for the ebike.
    (If I ran Zero or Brammo, I’d give out a voucher book good for a no-questions-ask ten-days-a-year free loaner ICE bike, to give customers comfort against range-anxiety: I bet after a year, riders will find they rarely used a voucher.)

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  • Stuart

    @jzj: Your usage is a good basis for comparing an e-bike to a scooter, not a motorcycle. And, for your described usage, I think a scooter (e.g. a Burgman, which will also carry a passenger) would probably fill your needs just as well and cost a lot less.

    I don’t have any actual stats, but my suspicion is that the number of people using motorcycles in the way that you’re using your e-bike is a pretty darn small fraction of the motorcyclist community at large. Especially if you factor out the ones who use their bike like you use your e-bike but ALSO use that same bike for actual riding (not just short commutes) and can’t afford to own both an ICE motorcycle and an e-bike.

  • jzj

    @ Stuart: Not a bad point. For myself, I have long ridden motorcycles and I’ve ridden several scooters and I find that I don’t like scooters, so an ebike is preferable. My EFZR handles like a really good FZR — given the batteries, the center of gravity is carried lower (albeit I have the weight too far forward and therefore the front tire wants to push: I should have anticipated this) — but more importantly for me the riding position is that of an FZR, and very much unlike a scooter, and when I need it to the bike goes quicker and faster than a scooter. For those who like scooters, an escooter might be perfect. Also a good around-town choice that costs about as much as a scooter and with removable batteries is the Zero urban bike.
    As for the motorcycle community at large, well, that’s the question. I bet that if people were honest (not something you can count on), a significant percentage would have to admit that they go more than 100 miles a day only on a few times a year. It would be an interesting survey question — again, this readership is probably atypical, but perhaps Jensen might to put together a survey monkey on this.
    Lastly, I agree not everyone can have 2 bikes. This is why I suggest the voucher idea, for those rare events when you want to go outside the range of an ebike. This requires no new technology, just the right piece of paper, and it’s easy to invent a piece of paper.

  • Stuart

    @jzj: for purposes of this discussion, I think the MCaL can be considered as 2 groups: The Harley/cruiser crowd, and the rest. This is leaving out the crowd for which the scooter usage model applies.

    IME, the Harley/cruiser crowd probably MOSTLY never rides more than 100 miles a day. But, there is no way you are going to sell that crowd an e-bike to replace their V-Twins. They didn’t buy on cost or functionality in the first place.

    And, for the rest, I think most of them do, often, ride more than 100 miles per day. That is certainly the case for every group of riders I’ve ever been involved with. Usually, weekend rides are 150 – 300 miles. And, for myself and the people I ride with most, our normal weekend rides are 300 – 400 miles a day (on our R1,s GSX-Rs, etc.).

  • Simon

    We have bikes mainly for pleasure. To go where we wish and perhaps change our mind along the way.
    Talk of GPS picking the most energy efficient route…Sorry, power consumption!
    Then suspension adjusting continually…There, two more devices to drain the battery quicker!
    I like the haptic feedback to notify you if travelling (unwittingly) above the posted speed, but sooner have it on my present bikes.
    Truth is with present technology, electric bikes like their four wheeled relatives are short range vehicles…period.
    For the more adventurous amongst us, be it two or four wheel we carry an emegency fuel supply…can of petrol. Where can you carry a box of electricity?