Electric motorcycles make no sense to me whatsoever!
The world is going electric and there is just so much talk about electric that if you want to do a start-up right now, just make electric vehicles or import them from China (that’s what majority of 2-wheeler electric brands are doing anyways). My recent trip to China was an eye-opener, in the busy streets of Shanghai, I failed to spot a single motorcycle or hear a single scooter, the former because motorcycles seem to have vanished and the latter because only electric scooters are running on the streets.
The concept of electric scooters still makes sense as an electric vehicle for commuting seem like a great idea, low running cost and the scooter itself is quite a practical vehicle. But in India, the problem is completely different, acquisition cost is much more important than running costs, at least in the case of commuter 2-wheelers. I remember when I was in Pune during MBA days, people at the pump would fill Rs. 50/- worth of fuel. So an electric bike doesn’t solve the issue of mileage in any way.
However, one can still expect electric scooters to make sense once the price reduces and the range improves. The same can’t be said about motorcycles because if you are looking at buying a motorcycle for commuting, you are better off with a scooter. If you are buying a motorcycle to travel extensively, you don’t want to have range anxiety, and if you are touring than an electric motorcycle just doesn’t fulfil your needs.
But the problem is bigger which EV start-ups fail to understand. Only few countries (mainly those in Asia and Africa) actually use motorcycles for commuting, rest do it for leisure. Similarly, no one in India buys a 150cc plus motorcycle for commuting, well that could be a reason but primarily people buy a higher capacity motorcycle because they enjoy riding motorcycles. One of the crucial elements of a fun motorcycle is its sound which an electric motorcycle will never manage, no one wants an insect buzzing sound when they invest heavily to buy a motorcycle, after all, the large consensus in India is, you buy a motorcycle because you can’t afford a car which isn’t true and is changing slowly but surely.
I might be blowing the sound aspect out of proportion but the sound of a motorcycle is integral to the ride experience. It’s not how fast you go, it’s how you go fast. The Pulsar became an instant success not only because it was fast and feature loaded but also because it had a bassy sound which gave the rider the thrill. The Bullets are all about sound, so are Harleys and any sport bike or super bike for that matter. Now imagine a fast motorcycle which doesn’t sound the part, the experience of riding it would be so artificial, more so because brands will try to mimic super bike exhaust notes with fake sounds, one is better off playing videos games then! No tachometer to ogle at, no rev matching, no need for a slipper clutch, where is the world heading? To electric cruisers like the Live Wire?
Imagine the world becomes totally electric for vehicle, this is an impossible probability even after 100 years considering lithium is a natural resource and isn’t available in abundance and many countries don’t have enough power to charge all the vehicles on the road, the latter might change and the former might get addressed by a breakthrough in battery technology but nothing and I repeat nothing can replace the good old ICE in terms of how a motorcycle ought to behave. I say this because range is a crucial limiting factor for motorcycles too, how do you address range issues, with a bigger battery that in turn makes the motorcycle heavier and less fun around the corners.
Electric motors produce peak torque right from 0 RPM which means power delivery is linear and chances of a wheelie off the line on full twist is high, engineers at EV companies will work around this by altering the torque delivery or adding traction control, wheelie control and a slew of electronics which make the motorcycle less of a vehicle and more of a computer. If that wasn’t enough, the thrill of dropping a gear and disappearing would go down into history books because with electric motors, there are no gears (no hitting the redline and enjoying the top-end of the rev range), I am suddenly realising why bikes like the Energica Ego didn’t really turn the market upside down like Tesla managed with the Model S.
Let’s talk about the recently announced Ultraviolette F77, an electric motorcycle which has been long due (just like Tork which is taking ages with its electric motorcycle) and offers Dominar 400 levels of performance for twin-cylinder Kawasaki Ninja 300 money. When I don’t trust mainstream auto brands when they launch a new product and wait for sometime till there is some feedback available in the market, what makes you think I will invest considerable money in a new brand, making new technology which is yet to be proven?
A motorcycle is a canvas, every enthusiast who buys a motorcycle for commuting on weekdays and fun riding on weekends, has plans of improving the performance and sound of his machine with a better air filter and exhaust, none of that will be possible with electric motorcycles, sound will be completely out of the equation, what will performance exhaust brands like Akrapovič do?
If electric motorcycles were the future than a lot more brands would have put their heart and soul into making one but most aren’t even bothered. Big companies like Hero and TVS chose to safeguard themselves by simply investing in electric 2-wheeler brands, a backup plan is important for them as they are listed companies. However, if bigger bike brands don’t care two hoots about electric motorcycles, then why are start-ups being so bullish on something whose future seems quite uncertain at the moment?