Harry Fryer

The Hack: 5 Ways to Transition to E-Bikes

"Hackers are the new Hot-Rodders"

'The Hack' opinion column is written by our newest contributor to The Current, Harry Fryer.  He's the founder/CEO of Blaise Electric, and an employee/investor in the Bike Sheds Motor Co. in London

From the experts in the field, here are the obstacles, challenges and solutions required to transition to electric motorcycles, beyond purely functional urban scooters.

The Sondors MetaCycle eschews gasoline styling cues, and literally pokes a hole in the gas tank. It's pressed-aluminum chassis looks like nothing else. Wanna see it? Catch out Electric Revolutionaries exhibit at the Petersen Museum! [Sondors]

1. Change The User Attitude

From a user perspective, changing attitudes isn’t straightforward, as the attributes of internal-combustion (IC) motorcycling have developed for over a century.  Today's motorcyclists are accustomed to the smell of gasoline, noise, and relative mechanical and riding complexity. Getting them to accept something with characteristics that are pretty much the opposite will take time. There’s a hesitancy among riders who think 'going electric' means giving something up. The biggest hurdle to E-Bike ownership is actually cultural, and largely due to age demographics, and riders have grown up with. This impression of IC motorcycling will exist until the last generation to use gasoline is gone. There’s already a generational gap between riders who started out on petrol powered machines and those who've witnessed electric bikes as a normal option, who approach E-Bikes with an un-biased user experience and not real attachment to internal-combustion motorcycles.

Radical new designs like Curtiss Motors' The One are changing how we experience the motorcycle industry. [Curtiss]

2. Re-invent the “Motorcycle”

Internal-combustion motorcycles and E-Bikes are completely different species. Trying to replicate the characteristics of a gasoline motorcycle  in an electric bike design does not work.  By designing two-wheeled motorised electric vehicles in harmony with their components, one creates a completely different riding experience, one that is true to their nature. As more people become familiar with the technology and the unique riding experience E-Bikes offer, we’ll see whole new audiences get on board, and from then the growth will explode. The responsibility for that change lies with the manufactures. They have to resist the habit to do what’s always been done [ie, 'gas tanks' on E-Bikes - ed.], and show customers what we have not even imagined. The motorcycle industry is entering one of the most consequential disruptions of transportation in history. While E-Bikes have been around for a very long time [Read our E-Bike History here], the latest batteries make possible the biggest change in  propulsion technology in 130 years.  We are witnessing a reinvention of the motorcycle, the engagement of new audiences, and a total industry refresh.

Laws and regulations will need to change with E-Bike adoption, including licensing protocols. [Wired/ACAB]

3. Society, Law and Regulation

Current regulations are far behind the rapid development of two-wheeled EVs, and in some regions, you can’t even register an electric motorcycle for the road. Electric bikes will become mainstream but that will be driven largely by governments and regulations.  In China, the adoption of E-Bikes (mostly E-Scooters) was essentially forced in the past 10 years, and thus China leads the world in E-Bike adoption.  Regardless, because of their simplicity, E-BIkes are already become one of the most frequently used vehicles for short-haul urban transportation.  And in the long view, If motorcycles continue to exist, they must abandon combustion engines [at least until hydrogen or hydro power becomes viable - ed].  In 2030 we’ll see the end of gasoline vehicle sales in Europe, and California will stop selling gas-powered vehicles even sooner.  Although we can’t categorically state that electric is the future of transport, we can definitely say that gasoline power isn’t.  We are likely only at the beginning of seeing motive power alternatives, and electric may end up being a 'bridge technology' as we transition to something even more efficient.

On the regulation front, it's often overlooked that the licensing process to ride a motorcycle. In Europe and especially the UK, is time consuming and complicated, which disincentivises new riders. We have an opportunity to re-write the licensing book today, tailored to electric motorcycles, as electric bikes don’t require the same testing methods. In short, we need a new category of motorcycle license.

A cute conceit: the 'bowser' is a thing of the past, so bring on the new fueling stations! [Zero]

4. Tech, Cost and Battery Advancement

The biggest hurdles in tech are cost, range and weight.

Range is often used as a shorthand to trash E-Bikes.  There's a sense of anxiety around where to get to your next charge,  if you're away from home. For the majority of riders who ride in urban areas, it’s a non-issue.  But for longer distances, only improvements in battery technology, charging technology, energy density and infrastructure will make range anxiety a non-issue.

Currently it costs manufactures two to three times the cost of an internal combustion motor to build an electric powertrain. That drives the price of the vehicle up, and it’s why so many companies struggle to turn a profit in this segment. Either they match prices for the category and sacrifice their profit margin, or build a super-expensive bike and only sell a few to those who can afford them. The cost comes down to volume, and electric bike companies aren’t producing high enough volumes to bring down unit part prices, making them more expensive than IC engines.

Another challenge is weight versus range; the bigger the battery, the farther you can go, but at the cost of weight. With current lithium-cell technology, the 'range per pound' just doesn’t match gasoline, but that could change with solid-state battery technology. It’s still in its infancy, but cells have been developed that are half the size of current lithium cells and store 10 times the capacity, delivering loads more range. This kind of advancement could lead to motorcycles that are lighter and more powerful than we’ve ever seen.

Until charging technology is as fast as filling up with gasoline, long-distance driving will need lounges like this.  From The Current News: a Stackcharge charging lounge. [Stackcharge]

5. Upgraded Infrastructure

In a late-Capitalist society, the government doesn't provide and enhance electrical infrastructure; it's the place of businesses, and major equity firms are currently investing in nationwide and international chains of EV charging stations. We’ve seen governments and transport lobbyists push EVs as greener transport, but as far as motorcycling goes the discussion on how people will recharge their machines is left out. A great advantage of petrol over electric is the refill time. Current level 1 and level 2 charging stations still take too long, and require trip planning and extra time. DC fast chargers are becoming increasingly more efficient and provide a much shorter charge time. However, there are not enough fast chargers available for the consequential demand, and until E-Bikes become more popular, they won't swing the needle on support for fast charging stations.

 

Harry Fryer is CEO of Blaise, selling custom parts for E-Bikes.  He's an early employee/ investor of the Bike Shed Moto Co in London, and his latest custom build was featured in Built Mag and Bike Exif.  His column 'The Hack' explores trends in two-wheeled EVolution.