A Look Into the Rise of the Electric Motorcycle

harly davidson electirc bike
Courtesy Harley-Davidson

In 1894, the Germans pushed the realm of possibility with the first series production motorcycle, the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller. Shortly after, Indian Motorcycle and Harley-Davidson became the first major brands to produce combustible engine motorcycles (in 1901 and 1903 respectively).

Today, more than a century later, we are at a tipping point with electric vehicle (EV) motorcycle technology. Modern sustainable efforts by companies like Tesla have paved the way for motorcycle brands to follow suit. But why now? Simple: practical technology, as well as network.

We are finally at a stage in motorcycle EV technology where range and charging are becoming a viable option for the daily commuter. A decade ago, when boutique companies like Zero Motorcycles began building electric motorcycles, we didn’t have a supported network of DC Fast Charge (DCFC) stations like we do today, easy to locate with mobile Apps like Plugshare. Today, riding an electric motorcycle to a DCFC station and charging up while having a cup of coffee is a breeze.

That’ss why major motorcycle manufacturers, like Harley-Davidson, are now gearing up to release a broad spectrum of EV motorcycles for all ages and at all price ranges. H-D’s inaugural motorcycle, the LiveWire is the first EV motorcycle from a major OEM brand and a home-run in terms of form, function and the potential to bring in new customers.

“EV motorcycles lower the barrier of entry to riding motorcycles, since without a traditional transmission and clutch, these bikes literally make riding as simple as twist and go,” explains Harley-Davidson’s CEO and President Matthew Levatich. “We can get people on an EV motorcycle and move them up the learning curve to full enjoyment much quicker,” says Levatich. “In our minds, there is nothing more spectacular than two-wheeled freedom, in all the ways you can enjoy it.”

So, we did some research on currently offered electric motorcycles (and a few popular E-bikes), taking a few of the latest products out for a spin. Here is a cross-section of EV motorcycles that might just become your perfect future daily commuter.

Harley-Davidson LiveWire

Harley-Davidson electric motorcycle
Courtesy Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson, known since 1903 for its muscle-bound two-wheelers with combustible motors, just launched something completely new and, in my opinion, pretty mind-blowing: the Harley-Davidson LiveWire. It is the major motorcycle brand’s inaugural EV motorcycle of a broad portfolio of EV motorcycles to come.

We flew to Portland, Oregon for the press launch of the LiveWire held at the Juniper Hotel, where Levatich explained the significance of EV and the brand’s forward thinking initiatives.

“As a company, we are shifting our mindset, where our first thought once was to build great motorcycles, we are now focused on building riders,” says Levatich. “Because when you think about building riders, you think about the offering of products in a different way and how we connect with people that are pulled in a thousand different directions. Our EV technology plays an important role in that.”

The LiveWire is extremely fun to ride, nimble and fast, powerful and well-balanced. Navigating through miles of twisted roads beneath canopies of trees, came with an altruistic feeling that I was not only riding future technology, but also playing a role in sustainability while having fun.

Offered at $27,799, Harley-Davidson’s first EV motorcycle is not for everyone. It is the brands halo product designed to show what is possible with EV. Fully charged, LiveWire has a top speed of 110 mph and 146 miles of range. Riders using both city and highway roads will experience closer to 95 miles of range.

Zero SR/F

zero motorcycle
Courtesy of Frank Armstrong Photography

In just a decade, Zero Motorcycles has grown from a Santa Cruz garage startup company into an internationally respected brand and a leader in electric motorcycle technology. Zero offers a handful of EV off-highway and road-legal electric motorcycles.

The model I test road, the Zero SR/F, starts at $18,995 (a solid ten thousand bucks cheaper than the H-D LiveWire) and boasts a top speed of 124 mph (I can confirm this speed) and a range of 160 city miles or around 80 highway miles on a full charge at reasonable speeds. And while the range wasn’t quite enough to sell me on the Zero SR/F as a daily commuter, the brand has announced a new Power Tank accessory to be released this fall that is said to improve the bike’s range to over 200 city miles (100 highway).

Technical aspects and range aside, the Zero SR/F is quick, sprightly and everything I’d hoped for in a well-balanced electric sport bike. The bike is super fast and one of few EV motorcycles that can keep up with traditional gas powered motorcycles (The Zero SR/F ran in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb this year). And with Zero Motorcycles only being around for the past decade, and putting forth a beautiful and cutting-edge bike like the Zero SR/F, it will be super exciting to see what they do over the next decade in EV.

Energica Ego

energica ego
Courtesy of Energica

Born out of Italy, the Energica Ego was engineered, designed and produced to navigate some of the world’s best riding roads and also hold its own on the racetrack. It’s faster than the rest of the bikes here, topping out around 149 mph, but it shares in range (around 96 miles when pushed).

This two-wheeled electric rocket also comes with the lofty price tag of $34,000. But those interested in an EV superbike will likely pony up for the culture.

CAKE Kalk&

cake motorcycle
Courtesy of CAKE

Swedish brand CAKE has just introduced their street-legal bike: the Kalk&. The Scandinavian company has focused its efforts on sustainability, design and simplicity with the Kalk& (Sure, they could have figured a better name, but maybe “Kalk&” translates better in Swedish).

This innovative bike was engineered for the outdoors and trails, but it’s also allowed on the streets for the daily commute. It’s quiet and is offered as part of the brand’s mission to support a zero emission society. The CAKE Kalk& are built to order at $14,000 and have a top speed of 56 mph and range of 51 miles with a full charge.

Super73

Super73 bikes
Courtesy of Super73

The Super73 bikes fall into Class 2 and 3 (Whereas a Class 4 is a Motorcycle or Moped), so logistically they are E-bikes, but they are super fun and affordable nonetheless (And it’s basically the same: twist and go). The brand offers four different models (Z1, S1, OG, and SG1), each varying in focused attributes like torque, range and power.

Super73 bikes range in price from $1,400 up to $3,200 (a sold-out metallic series were priced at $4,500). I rode these bikes around Long Beach, CA with a fellow motorcyclist and we found them to be super fun, easy to learn, and reminded us of a modern and bigger minibike. Super73 were also used in the first-ever national electric motorbike racing series put on by Roland Sands Designs.

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