The 2030 problem and electric motorcycle
In the last months of 2020, registered motorcycles in Germany boomed 309.1% and reached the fourth highest sales level in Europe. Reason behind that? The new Euro 5 is approaching on January 1, 2021 and a lot of people (especially in Europe) made their purchase for those non-Euro 5-compliant bikes before the doomsday to come. The Euro 5 standard has put not only put even harsher restrictions on the amount of carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons (HC), and nitrogen oxides (NOx), but also introduced a new standard to eliminate non-methane hydrocarbons in the exhaust on top of that. It might sound a little vague to most motorcyclists, “what does that mean?”, they ask. Well, to put it simple, the long beloved Yamaha R6 is discontinued in 2021. Now how serious is that?
Some country in Europe, UK for example, has announced their plan of eliminating the sales of fossil fuel driven vehicles by 2030. Will the policy affect motorcycles? We don’t know at this stage, but it is very likely. In January, 2021, Japan did the same thing, announcing that 2030 will be the last year to sell ICE cars (2035 for motorcycles). The chairman of Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Akio Toyoda (Yeah this man runs TOYOTA too), is pissed off by such a decision:
It’s just impossible to sharply change the direction (for all the car makers in Japan), the government should consider building up the infrastructure like charging stations first before they use EV as a political promotion.
People may argue that their country doesn’t adopt European Emission Standards, it’s true. However, it will affect how motorcycle manufacturers to design their engines, emission system, and many more. It’s a global thing, so admit it and read thru.
What is European Emission Standards?
Wikipedia will tell you: “European emission standards define the acceptable limits for exhaust emissions of new vehicles sold in the European Union and EEA member states. The emission standards are defined in a series of European Union directives staging the progressive introduction of increasingly stringent standards. The final standard is Euro 7, which will be followed by phase-out of fossil fuel vehicles”. However, unlike cars and other vehicles, the Euro standard has another schedule for motorcycles:
You can tell that as the standard evolves each time, the regulation is pushed very aggressively. However, motorcycle manufacturers somehow were able to breakthrough many technical hardships to make bikes compliant to the respective Euro standards while maintaining the performance. Remember the very first Honda Fireblade 30 years ago? That one only had 120ps comparing to the newest Fireblade, the CBR1000RR-R’s 218ps. Kudos to motorcycle manufacturers!
But it won’t last too long because Euro 6 will put the strictest ever emission regulation on motorcycles. What are we gonna do?
Ain’t motorcycles run cleaner because the displacement is smaller? Why does it have to be motorcycles? Isn’t motorcycle just the victim of cars destroying the planet?
Well, the answer is yes or no. According to Los Angeles Times, even though motorcycles do produce 30% less carbon dioxide (CO2, which is the primary gas that cause greenhouse effect), they emit much more CO, HC, and NOx by 8,065%, 4,16%, and 3,220%. Mythbusters claims that a bike from ’00 produces much more pollution than a car from the same era, but in the video the bike they chose was arguably a Yamaha TW200 or similar trail bike, most likely carbureted without a catalytic converter. Despite the way of conducting the experiment being somehow suspicious, I agree that motorcycles are not much greener than cars – plus, when was the last time you ride a motorcycle with a stock exhaust and cat box? You have to admit that we love to modify our bikes, especially the exhaust.
A new era
The electric motorcycle has been a hot topic recently, some big names like Harley-Davidson see the electric motorcycle as another way around to attract new customers. Electric motorcycle manufacturers claim that their products produce zero emissions hence better to the environment, make almost no noises, most likely maintenance-free, and riders can access to the peak torque from dead 0 RPM. That might sound too good to be true and in fact, the electric alternative does have many flaws accompanying with the pros. But undeniably, electric motorcycles are getting popular and are most likely gonna be what motorcycle manufacturers after soon enough. Before I jump into my thoughts about the electric motorcycles, let’s review the pros and cons of these shiny new toys.
Green on the road
This is dead give away. EV bikes make almost no noise and no emission at all when running on the road. From this standpoint, the EV bikes win, no doubt. Your neighbor will not be bothered when you ride around your house anymore.
Powerful and fast
True compare to ICE bikes. EV bikes have access to the peak torque from zero RPM and even most superbikes cannot beat them in a 0-100kph drag race or quarter mile.
Not exactly. EV bikes have a lot less engines parts. They don’t have exhaust, intake, oil, transmission, or pistons, they don’t need valve adjustment or oil change, but the suspension and brakes are often still conventional so those parts need care just like their ancestors.
The Price tag
Almost all EV bike manufacturers charge a premium on their products. For instance, Harley-Davison’s Livewire, the very first EV bike that Harley ever produced, has a price tag starting from $29,799 pre-tax. It’s much more expensive than most of motorcycles (even some cars). This is going to be the first entry barrier for riders that want to give EV bikes a try, and it is a high one.
Come again the Livewire, Harley claims that it offers 146 miles (235 km) of city range. That’s the number coming from the factory and we can expect a lower result depending where these bikes are gonna be ridden. If you are in somewhere cold like Alaska, EV might just not be so appropriate. It takes 40 minutes to charge the 80% of battery if you are lucky enough to find a level 3 DC fast charge station available. For conventional motorcycles? 1 minute without the “s”.
Despite missing the transmission and the engine, these EV bikes are usually much heavier compare to conventional bikes. The electric supersport bike, Energica Ego, is so heavy that Energica wouldn’t even list the weight on their spec sheet. The truth is even the most sporty EV bike weights an embarrassingly 280 kg (617 lbs), mainly because of the battery.
Opinion about EV bikes
The first concern to most riders is “is that all we have to ride in the future?”. To answer that question is kind of complicated. EV bikes sound promising, but can it completely replace current ICE motorcycles? Energica CEO, Livia Cevolini, seems very optimistic: “Finding new riders is possible for us, but we want to get customers that are already riding other petrol motorcycles who want something newer and innovative… (Engerica’s potential customer) is a rider that is not satisfied with engines from last century…who wants new technology and performance that is not the future, but the present.” I must point out that while internal combustion engine is truly from last century (19th century, to be exact), the electric powered vehicle isn’t rocket science to humanity either. The very first practical electric car was born in 1881 by Gustave Trouvé. Electric driven vehicles became unpopular as the ICE improves. The evolve of battery technology in 21th century made it possible for EVs to re-enter the market. Back to the topic, I think the conventional bikes and EV bikes will still be co-existing for quite a long time. Every rider uses motorcycle in different ways. For daily commuters, EV bikes might just be great. In China, a country that banned motorcycles in most urban areas, people rely on EV scooters to commute and delivery food. For more leisure oriented riders, while EV bikes are surly not ideal for doing long distance trips, they can be decent track day or moto-cross weapon (despite the weight). Plus, the above mentioned high price is still problematic for most riders, that’s why the Chinese affordable EV scooter manufacturer, Niu Tech, had their sales boomed 190% in 2020. Some market, especially South East Asia, still living on two wheels, that’s why scooters go along with EV so well: it makes a good commuter.
So, are motorcycle manufacturers eventually going to become battery companies? It may sounds funny but it’s not hard to imagine big names like Honda making battery technology advancement. Considering all the hybrid cars that Honda made, it is not surprising to me when they announced the first hybrid scooter – the PCX 150 hybrid back in 2018. Being hybrid might help some motorcycles to survive under the gas vehicle ban, and that’s an awesome middle ground answer from Honda.
The bright side of EV bikes is, it’s much easier for new riders to get into this hobby. I know numerous friends who want to start riding, but were just too terrified by the whole clutch and shift thing. Often we say “oh if you know how to drive stick shift cars…” or “you know, if you know how to ride bicycle…”, but the truth is, not everyone is mechanically inclined and born to be a motorcyclist. But for EV bikes? “Oh it’s easy, you just have to twist this thing…”, then you just have to teach them how to ride without all the mumble jumbles. Not to mention most, if not all, EV bikes offer advanced ABS and traction control system that will stop new riders from going nuts.
Who is greener?
However, I cannot disagree more about the whole zero emission propaganda. Simply because it is still not a truth like most EV bikes manufacturers promote. It’s true when EVs are running on the street, but the building and charging pollution isn’t too much of a difference compare to a conventional vehicle simply because the energy used to build and charge these so-called “zero emission vehicles” came from burning fossil fuels, too. According to this article:
This means that if you’re driving an electric car in the US, where fossil fuels accounted 62,7% of the country’s energy production in 2017, you’ll probably release more CO2 into the atmosphere than if you’re driving it in Iceland, that runs almost entirely on hydro, geothermal and solar energy.
Thus, we cannot say that EVs are 100% absolutely zero emission unless we have them run on 100% renewable energy source. Furthermore, UCSUSA’s research found that the manufacturing process of building EVs actually creates even more carbon emissions than building conventional vehicles. Why? Because the high-powered lithium battery comes with a high environmental cost: the need of rare earth elements (REE) like lithium, nickel, cobalt or graphite, and mining these REE’s is a very polluting activity. Even though an EV could offset the pollution within 6-16 months of average driving (2 years in EU), just like your smartphone or Macbook, the battery’s charging cycle is limited so EV owners would either buy another EV, or have the battery replaced. Either way, building those batteries do come with a high environmental cost, again. Think about how soon your smartphone battery goes bad.
So where did those dried-up batteries go? According to a study from the international council of clean transportation (ICCT), “99% of lead-acid batteries (the ones running in fossil fuel powered cars) are recycled in the US”, but only 5% of the lithium was recycled in the EU market in 2011. The rest of them were either incarnated (burned) or dumped in landfills (extremely polluting). So nevertheless, we cannot say that EVs, at this stage, can be justified by producing zero running emission.
What can we do
Despite of the EV bikes, Euro 5 is here and the ultimate ICE killer Euro 6 is only another 3 year away. Considering all the R&D cost, it is unrealistic that motorcycle manufacturers will come up with some brand new models that out play current ones. Simply to put my conclusion here: if you had a plan to buy a performance motorcycle, you should buy it now.
Nationality is unknown, Ryan is an experienced rider and custom bike builder, spending most of his time in garage trying to make things work. He rides, he writes, and he misses In-n-Out.