There are almost 1.3million motorcycles on the UK’s roads and in 2018 they collectively covered more than 4.4billion miles. Currently the vast majority are powered with a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE).
Despite familiarity with e-bikes, cars and vans, the electric motorcycle (e-motorcycle) is lagging in its uptake. On an EU-wide basis, only 1.3% of all motorcycles registered in Europe in 2019 were electric – that’s just over 14,000 units in total.
As part of the UK government’s commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, petrol and diesel vehicles – including motorcycles - are being phased out by 2040, with 2035 or even 2032 being touted.
Of the UK’s 40 million road vehicles, just 3.3% are motorcycles and those motorcycles contribute less than 1% of the UK transport’s overall CO2 emissions.
Any switch from petrol and diesel to electric-powered vehicles will help improve air quality in towns and cities, reduce noise and lower CO2 emissions.
The switch to e-motorcycles will happen. So are consumers and the motorcycle industry dawdling in the zero-emissions slow lane?
Many manufacturers claim their e-motorcycle models can range up to 125 miles before they need a charge, which sounds impressive.
Ben Harrison is Assistant Account Manager at the Fleet Advice Team at Energy Saving Trust.
He said: “E-motorcycles are important because they will help decarbonise transport, getting people off of fossil fuel burning bikes and onto zero-emission bikes.
"Where journey distances are too long for an e-bike or pedal bike, or last-mile deliveries have to be made quickly (such as with food deliveries) e-motorcycles are the only current feasible option that could replace ICE motorcycles. "
The iconic Harley-Davidson has waded into the market with its Livewire model, with claims of up 120mph speeds and a 146-mile range, as well as a scooter mooted for release soon.
Smaller units with lighter lithium-ion batteries and battery capacity have a smaller range. The larger the battery, the further they can go on a full charge, albeit the vehicle weighs more.
Other examples trying to redefine the market include:
Cake Kalk INK: off-road e-motorcycle, capable of speeds of up to 50mph, riding time of 3 hours (6)
Čezeta 506/02 is a scooter, equivalent to a 125cc e-motorcycle, speeds up to 75mph and ranges of 75-125 miles, depending on battery size. (7)
Vespa Elettrica is the electric version of the classic Italian scooter, with up to 4 hours’ riding time, 100km range.
Ben thinks the range on a full charge is a barrier to enthusiasts making the switch to electric. He said: “Many biking enthusiasts head off at weekends and cover lots of miles in a day, many more than the current electric motorcycles can achieve.
We need technology to match the current reach of ICE motorcycles.
“Electric motorcycles can have faster acceleration and higher torque than ICE motorcycles and this performance may encourage their uptake once people actually ride them.”
The motorcycle racing industry is trying to break zero-emission motorcycles into the mainstream; the first electric e-motorcycle championship was held last year.
MotoE (also called FIM Enel MotoE™ World Cup) shows off high-octane zero-emission e-motorcycles over 10 laps with the focus on improving speed and power.
An advantage of an e-motorcycle is that it can be charged using a standard 3-pin plug. Some have removable battery cassettes so the batteries can be charged away from the vehicle, negating the need for charging bays.
Some e-motorcycles, but not all, can fast charge allowing you to add over 100 miles of range in as little as an hour.
Almost all e-motorcycles currently use 3-pin chargers. If more were made with a Type Two socket, more often found on e-cars, e-motorcycles could form part of the vehicle-to-grid (V2G) system. The V2G system allows a connected e-vehicle to charge when grid energy demands are low and electricity prices cheaper. The system can also push energy from the e-vehicles' battery back into the grid at times of high demand.
Hydrogen cell bikes were being developed but have since fallen down the pecking order.
Using a renewable source of electricity at your home or place of work would further help to reduce the impact of travel with an e-motorcycle.
Blood Bike Scotland uses a BMW CEvolution electric motorcycle - called Alice - to help in its charitable work delivering blood and other small parcels between NHS sites and to patients.
E-motorcycles can be used in the last mile delivery of small goods and takeaway food as well as for longer trips in cities that may be too far for people to cycle.
Ben said: “It’s preferable for people to use active travel, such as walking, cycling or wheeling or use public transport to get around cities, but where necessary an electric motorcycle is a very efficient and zero-emission mode of transport. The small size of the vehicles also reduces congestion.”
The UK could also follow the lead of European cities like Barcelona and Milan that have shared e-motorcycle schemes. An app allows users to hire, pick-up and drop-off bikes at per-minute prices within certain urban zones.
The government offers financial help to people looking to buy an electric motorcycle.
Grants for e-motorcycles and e-mopeds for up to 20% of the purchase price for these vehicles, up to a maximum of £1,500.
In Scotland, individuals and businesses can apply for a 6-year, interest-free loan of up to GBP 10,000 to put towards the cost of an e-motorcycle.