ECONOMY

These Electric Motorcycles Are Set to Take Charge in 2021

The Volcon Grunt isn’t your typical motorcycle. It has cartoonishly blown-up rubber tires and a single cyclops-like LED headlight. It’s not a cruiser or street racer. In fact, it’s not even legal for street riding.

But with a top speed of 60 mph, and an electric motor that its maker says can go 100 miles on a charge, what it can do is take you deep into nature and back, almost silently. The target market for the $5,995 Grunt is less easy riders than it is hunters, hikers, anglers, birdwatchers, and other adventure seekers.

Says Andrew Leisner, the chief executive officer of Austin, Texas-based Volcon: “This is a motorcycle not designed for motorcyclists.” 

The same, it seems, can be said of many of its competitors. After almost two decades of electric cars, there’s a boom in electric motorcycles of all shapes and sizes. There are neighborhood commuter bikes, backwoods bikes, and even some of the most elite sport bikes costing more than $100,000. 

Some, like the Harley-Davidson Livewire, have been heavily hyped and tested, it seems, by every journalist with a motorcycle license. Others, like the Zero SR/S, are trusted standbys in EV circles that are largely unknown by the greater riding population. Still others, like the Tarform Luna, have yet to make their debut—that one is scheduled to begin deliveries later this year. Each, of course, promises elegant and emission-free alternatives to internal combustion. 

The electric motorcycle segment has been constricted by the high initial cost of batteries, but it’s gaining ground. In 2019 the global market for electric motorcycles and scooters reached $30 billion, according to the research firm Global Market Insights. It is projected to grow by 4% annually for the foreseeable future and will hit $40 billion by 2026, GMI reports. The market for conventional motorcycles, meanwhile, has plateaued.  

Electric motorcycles foster such growth because they offer a lower barrier of entry to beginning riders and weekend hobbyists. They can also reach peripheral pockets of riders that most traditional motorcycles can’t hit, Leisner says, such as people who like to ride off-road in remote and pristine places unfriendly to loud engines and vehicular pollution.

“We think this enthusiasm for the outdoors in general camping and fishing and vanlife are growing, even after the pandemic,” Leisner says. “We are in a great space.”

Better yet, recent electric offerings such as those from California-based Zero Motorcycles are now able to compete successfully with conventional motorcycles when it comes to build quality and performance. 

It won’t be long before there’s stiff competition for gasoline versions, according to the head of BMW’s motorcycle unit. “Electric mobility will be important for motorcycles in urban areas within five years,” BMW Motorrad CEO Markus Schramm told CycleWorld. Although he concedes that BMW’s own concept—which promised a futuristic cylindrical electric motor located under the battery, and power sent to the rear wheel via universal shaft—won’t become reality.

Even so, there are plenty of standouts available now or soon, for whatever you need (except, maybe, the loud tailpipe thing). We rode some and flagged others that are still on their way to market. Caveat emptor: While some of these come from established companies, many are from startups with little track record. Read on for the full list, arranged by category:

The Sporty Sophisticates 

With looks as cool as a Ducati and a solid build, the California-made Zero SR/S sport bike gets thumbs-up wherever it goes.

Who Would Ride It: Hollywood executives and Silicon Valley habitués whose other car is a Tesla.

Strengths: The SR/S is well-built, fast, and practical, with storage where a gas tank would’ve been, plus extensive on-board tech and app support, with Bluetooth connectivity. Of all the (gas and electric) motorcycles we road tested in 2020, this was the best.

Weaknesses: It’s pricey compared with most similarly performing conventional motorcycles, but still less than several others on this list.

The Arc Vector was developed by a group of engineers led by founder and former Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations engineer Mark Truman. They’re hand-built in England and personalized for each owner.

Who Would Ride It:  Design-driven riders with edgy haircuts, slim-fitting leather jackets … and cash. 

Strengths: The Vector is powerful and fast with a long battery life. We’re eager to try out its special additional helmet with a pilot system that integrates a heads-up display, camera, and Wi-Fi inside to allow for fewer distractions while riding. 

Weaknesses: It is the most expensive motorcycle on this list. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2019, but Truman bought back the assets in 2020 and now says it’s all systems go. 

The Lightning Strike Carbon is the latest from Lightning, a California-based company whose founder converted his Porsche 914 to run on battery power in the 1990s and has been experimenting with electric technology in motorcycles since the early 2000s. In 2013, an earlier Lightning beat gas-powered motorcycles to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado’s long-standing annual race.

Who Would Ride It: Speed lovers and daredevils.

Strengths: With a rocketship design, it includes elite components including Öhlins front and rear suspension, Brembo Monoblock brakes, and an AIM Strada racing dash with lap timer and GPS-based data logging. It offers multiple choices for battery size and charging. The top level will do a fast charge good for 100 miles of riding range in just 20 minutes.

Weaknesses: Patience is required if you order one. “We do not guarantee when your motorcycle will actually be delivered,” according to the company’s website.

Made by Modena, Italy-based CRP Group, the Energica Eva EsseEsse9+ is a classically styled motorbike that’s powerful enough to ride on the highway—with creature comforts like heated handlebars, cruise control, and remote start, and a bench seat for two-person riding.

Who Would Ride It: Experienced riders looking to cover some real miles.

Strengths: The Eva EsseEsse9+ has has one of the higher range limits of the class. It has four ride modes (Urban, Eco, Rain, Sport), four regenerative braking modes, and advanced dashboard settings. Parent company CRP Group has offered sustainable mobility options for more than four decades.

Weaknesses: Beyond the tongue-twister name? It’s heavy compared with similar electric motorbikes.

Made by a Canadian company founded in 2017, the Damon Hypersport Premier combines extensive engineering from industry leaders with aggressive, swoopy sport-bike looks.

Who Would Ride It: Video gamers and Miami/Los Angeles urbanites.

Strengths: The Hypersport is among the most powerful and quick electric motorcycles available today. And it’s made by a company with healthy business prospects: On March 11, Damon announced it has more than $30 million in funding on top of $20 million in preorders for its all-electric motorcycle

Weaknesses: Limited quantities are available—we haven’t gotten our hands on a test model yet—and the ones that are for sale cost the same as an Audi sedan.

Harley-Davidson Livewire, the first electric motorbike produced by the 118-year-old industry giant, looks like a hog but sounds like a Prius.

Who Would Ride It: Those nostalgic for Harleys but not leather—or first adopters looking for a second bike.

Strengths: It’s comfortable for long rides—and it was solid even around the racetrack where we first tested it in 2019. Seven selectable ride modes (including Sport, Road, Range, and Rain). A reliable and extensive dealership network.

Weakness: It’s heavy and among the higher-priced entrants in the market. You’ll need a spare 12 hours for a full charge without a quick charger, among the longest of the group. 

Hadin Panther is the first electric cruiser from a company that its (somewhat haphazard) website says was founded in 2017—or was it 2016?—in California.

Who Would Ride It: Those willing to brave the first product from a new brand.

Strengths: Although we didn’t test this one, it has what looks like a comfortable riding position; fast-charging can bring it to 80% of full in roughly 30 minutes, Hadin says.

Weaknesses: It’s on the heavier end of the scale for electric motorcycles, and a full charge is billed as taking eight hours. 

The 74-year-old Italian company’s trademark scooter, the Vespa Elettrica 70km/h offers iconic Florentine curves, without the fumes.

Who Would Ride It: Anyone chasing la dolce vita in 62-mile bursts.

Strengths: With an easy ride and ample under-seat storage, we found it thrillingly usable when we tested it for some weeks recently in Los Angeles. It’s easy to use and maintain, is affordable compared with more powerful electric motorcycles, and has all the performance that riders in urban environments will ever really need. The battery fully recharges in four hours after a simple plug-in.

Weaknesses: For anything but casual neighborhood riding and the light sundry chore, the Vespa is underpowered.

The Tarform Luna is an industrial-looking cafe racer—with sustainable components made from flax fibers, recycled aluminum, and biodegradable leather—from a Brooklyn startup doing a limited run. 

Who Would Ride It: All you Brooklyn hipsters, need we say more?

Strengths: It reportedly has a singular sound developed specially for the motorcycle, plus three riding modes (Eco, City, Sport). Advanced tech includes a rear-facing camera and a radar that acts as blind-spot detection: Vibration through the seat alerts the rider to any vehicles in the blind spot. Plus, it goes from empty to 80% of battery capacity in less than an hour.

Weaknesses: Although we didn’t ride it, judging by the specs, the Luna is slower and less powerful than other electric motorcycles of the same price range.

The silent Horwin CR6 Pro is developed by a China-based company that makes brightly colored electric scooters with the curves of retro toasters.

Who Would Ride It: Workaday commuters, delivery people in Bonn and Antwerp. 

Strengths: You can obtain enough charge after 20 minutes to cover 20 or 30 kilometers (up to about 20 miles). It takes three hours to fully charge the batteries, at a cost of less than €1 (about a dollar). 

Weaknesses: Available only in Europe.

A futuristic superbike with a filled-in, blacked-out rear wheel, neon graphics, and a fully connected dashboard, the Fuell Fllow is a result of what the company calls a “Franco-American convergence” between its founders. 

Who Would Ride It: Fans of French hip-hop—and maybe Daft Punk.

Strengths: Roomy storage will accommodate a helmet and backpack inside. The Fllow comes in two frame sizes that accommodate taller riders and charges in 30 minutes when using a fast charger.

Weaknesses: Available in Europe and the U.S., it lacks an extensive dealer network, and it’s unclear when deliveries will begin. 

The Volcon Grunt is an off-roader with bulbous tires, a rear rack for gear, and an upright riding position.

Who Would Ride It: Back-country types who don’t want to scare the wildlife.

Strengths: Ideal for off-road terrain, mud, sand, rocks, dirt, and it doesn’t require a motorcycle license to ride off-road. A swappable battery pack is chargeable in the wilderness via solar cells.

Weaknesses: The Volcon Grunt lacks some of the components (rear mirrors, for instance) that would make it legal for riding on public streets.

Sondors Metacycle is a bare-bones bike made by a Malibu-based company that has been producing folding and electric bicycles since 2015. Its skeleton-like frame has an integrated phone compartment … and not much else.

Who Would Ride It: Dudes waiting for sneaker drops on Melrose Avenue.

Strengths: Lightweight and zippy, the Metacycle is an easy commuter for those in cosmopolitan environs. The 4 kW-hour battery can be swapped out for quick charging.

Weaknesses: It offers no storage space and is underpowered for highway riding.

A Shanghai-based maker of electric scooters makes the beefy-looking  Super Soco TC motorbike, which is virtually indistinguishable from its gasoline-powered counterparts.

Who Would Ride It: Economy-minded commuters in dense neighborhoods.

Strengths: The Soco TC is more affordable and lighter than the others on this list; the low-placed battery makes for a lower center of gravity than some, which facilitates control and maneuverability around curves. Commuters may love the wide handlebar placement and triple-padded seat.

Weakness: Underpowered for decent highway riding.

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