Electric motorcycles are the next frontier in EV technology –
and NOCO is prime territory
by J. Ken Conte
The iconic Harley-Davidson traces its roots to the late 19th century, when 21-year-old William S. Harley drew a schematic for an internal-combustion engine that could fit inside a bicycle frame. Today, electric motorcycles seem to be following a similar trajectory, as a step up from electric bicycles. An estimated 210 million e-bicycles are now used daily throughout the world, revealing the heavy demand for low-impact two-wheeled transportation. Dozens of manufacturers have started producing electric motorcycles, creating the type of buzz that e-bicycles and electric cars had when they first hit the market.
Coloradans are primed to be early adopters. The state ranks 6th in electric automobile ownership, with 2.33 EV autos per 1,000 residents, and 18th in motorcycle ownership, with more than 185,000 vehicles registered. Northern Colorado seems to have embraced the electric vehicle (EV) movement fully, with more charging stations and vehicles emerging every day. As more electric motorcycle options become available and the barriers to entry become lower, we should see a lot more EV motorcycles on local roads over the next five years.
Electric motorcycles are a good fit for NOCO’s sensibilities and culture. They burn no fossil fuels, which enhances their appeal in a region where two cities (Fort Collins and Loveland) have pledged to offer carbon-free power by 2030. They also make economic sense, costing a fraction to operate compared to gasoline-powered models. And electric motorcycles are a lot more accessible for new riders than internal-combustion models because they don’t have a clutch. You just twist and go.
Of course, the ease of use can also create some issues, with inexperienced riders grabbing a handful of throttle and unleashing more power than they’re ready for. This isn’t a Lime electric scooter or a Vespa. It’s a real motorcycle, with the same sense of speed, power and liberation that comes with a gasoline-burning bike.
In the battle for market share, manufacturers are focused on two technological questions: How far can you travel on a fully charged battery? And how long does the battery take to charge? Shoppers should consider both factors. Depending on which model you buy, the range on a full charge varies from 50 to 140 miles. Charging times vary even more widely, from 8 hours to 40 minutes, depending not only on make and model but also on the type of charger you use. The shorter the charge time and the longer the range, the more expensive the bike.
Although they’re still a novelty, electric motorcycles are gaining momentum. There are dozens of electric motorcycle manufacturers all over the world, producing bikes in many different shapes and sizes. If you’re in the market, here’s a starter list of some of the best models.
Harley-Davidson enters the e-motorcycle market with the LiveWire. | Photo courtesy Harley-Davidson
The KALK& pairs off-road architecture with on-road durability. | Photo courtesy CAKE
Zero stands at the forefront of EV motorcycle technology, with more than 13 years of production and testing. The Santa Cruz–based company started as a motocross-based manufacturer, but in 2009 it launched its first street-legal motorcycle. Today, Zero ranks as the industry standard by which all other electric motorcycles are judged. More than 80 law-enforcement agencies across the country use Zeros, and it has been reported that there is a secret military version.
“Zero are the Tesla of motorcycles,” says Randy Fritch. He and his wife,
Tammy, have sold Zeros for more than five years at Unique Rides in Loveland, and they’re convinced electric motorcycles are here to stay. “There is less maintenance on an electric motorcycle,” Randy says. “I just change tires and brakes – that’s about it. So we don’t get a lot of back end on them in terms of service.”
The new Zero SR/F, introduced earlier this year, offers 110 HP of immediately available power and 140 foot-pounds of torque that will leave even an experienced rider hanging on for dear life. It retails for about $20,000.
“We want people to come in and try them out,” Randy says. “We can order it and get them the color and options they want, usually in about a week.”
Some electric motorcycle manufacturers, like the Swedish company CAKE, began in the off-road market. The company’s KALK costs about twice as much as a standard off-road motorcycle, but it allows for a much quieter ride and requires much less maintenance.
Late this summer, the company is expected to come out with a roadworthy version of their KALK, called the KALK&. With a range of 50 miles and a top speed of 56 miles per hour, it has a very specific market in mind. You can commute to work on the KALK& during the week, then take it out for trail riding on the weekend. Given Northern Colorado’s hundreds of miles of off-road opportunities, it’s a good fit for the local market.
The model was very well received at the Outdoor Retailer expo in Denver earlier this year. The CAKE design appeals to a more modern rider.
The Lightning Strike has a top speed of 135 mph. | Photo courtesy Lightning Motorcycles
With almost 10 years in the electric motorcycle game, Lightning Motorcycles made its mark by racing electric motorcycles for land-speed records. Its LS-218 ended up winning the second-oldest motorsport event, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, in 2013. That victory proved the LS-218 could not only withstand one of the most grueling hill climbs, but excel doing it.
The following year, Lightning launched a street-legal version of the LS-218, but the price tag ($38,888) and power were more than most consumers could handle. More to the point, it offered more than most consumers needed, with 200 HP of almost immediately available power, 168 foot-pounds of torque, and a top speed of – you guessed it – 218 mph. Its range was listed at about 100 miles, but that assumed reasonable speeds.
This year Lightning announced a tamer version, called the Strike, aimed at a broader audience. With prices starting at $12,995, the Strike features 90 HP with 180 foot-pounds of torque, a top speed of 135 mph, and a range of 70 to 100 miles. It recharges overnight on a typical 110-volt outlet, and you can reduce the charging time to below three hours by upgrading (for $1,500) to a 6.6-kilowatt charger.
“We are working on battery technology that could potentially reduce charging time to five minutes,” says company CEO Robert Hatfield. “At that point, we are on the same timetable as filling up an internal-combustion motorcycle with gasoline. That would be a game changer.”
You can’t Google image-search “electric motorcycle” without Harley-Davidson LiveWire images being at the top. Initially announced to the public in 2014, the bike has taken over five years to get to market. The current configuration does not have one single part in common with the initial prototypes that many riders in the United States and abroad got to test ride years ago.
At $29,995, the LiveWire is a premium motorcycle with an in-town range of 140 miles and a zero-to-60 time of three seconds, as well as ABS and traction control. The standard charging option runs off a household 110-volt outlet and provides a full charge overnight, but the Level 3 charging option brings the full-charge time below an hour.
“LiveWire is a whole new motorcycle that boasts quick acceleration, quiet comfort, low operating cost and reduced emissions,” says Jill Almirall of Thunder Mountain Harley-Davidson in Loveland. “We are thrilled to bring electric vehicle innovation to Northern Colorado.”
Electric motorcycles are a good fit for NOCO’s sensibilities and culture.
Where to Ride in NOCO
Because electric motorcycles have fairly limited range, mileage has to be a consideration any time you hit the road. There are two great loops in NOCO that allow for the full experience. In addition to falling within the range of most EV bikes, both offer great scenery and enough open road to provide a sense of true liberation.
The first ride begins in Loveland and follows U.S. 34 to Estes Park through the Big Thompson Canyon. Stop at the Notchtop Cafe for an elk cheeseburger, then head back down the hill on U.S. 36 to Lyons. Continue east on 66 and wind your way north along backroads, passing through the farmlands of Berthoud and Longmont. You should have just enough charge to loop around Carter Lake and make it back to Loveland.
The second loop is easier and more accessible. Ride up the Poudre Canyon on Highway 14 to The Mishawaka. Stop in for lunch, then continue to Stove Prairie Road, hang a left, and head up and over the plateau to Masonville. Then either take a right and end up in Loveland, or go left toward Horsetooth and Fort Collins. Either way will get you back to Fort Collins with plenty of charge left in the tank.
Speaking of charge, that’s one of the biggest variables related to electric motorcycles, and one of the best ways you can optimize your experience. Most models come standard with Level 1 chargers, which work with the standard household plug in your garage. They’re cheap but slow, often requiring an overnight charge to restore the battery to full power. Level 2 charging (also known as the J-1772) offers 240V. It’s similar to what electric dryers and ovens use and offers a faster charge time, if your vehicle is 240V capable. Federal grants have been used to construct Level 2 stations for public use. You can find them in parking garages around Fort Collins and on campus at CSU.
Level 3 chargers are expensive to install and typically are not available for free, but they’re handy if you’re in a hurry. They can charge a typical motorcycle in less than an hour. If you’re an active rider and want a portable guide to charging stations wherever your travels may take you, apps such as Plugshare and Chargepoint display the locations and types of charging stations in your vicinity.
The only way to find out if an electric motorcycle is for you is to get geared up and take a test ride. These bikes provide the same feeling of owning the open road as any gasoline-powered motorcycle, but with less noise and pollution. Happy riding!