The Future of Motorcycling: ICE vs. EV

The Future of Motorcycling: ICE vs. EV

Does it really have to be a battle between these two bike powertrains?

There’s no denying there’s been a big push for electric vehicles (EVs) lately. Governments around the globe are calling for greener energy and lower emissions, and with the recent rise in gas prices, even everyday consumers are starting to wonder if EVs make more sense than they did a few years ago. Although the portion of EVs sold on the market remains small, their growth in just the last year is telling.

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, citing statistics from market-research firm Motor Intelligence, automakers sold 807,180 fully electric vehicles in the U.S. last year, or 5.8% of all vehicles sold, which is up from 3.2% a year earlier. That’s an 81% jump year-over-year, which is especially relevant, considering that from 2018 to 2020, EVs made up less than 2% of all auto sales.

What does this mean for motorcycles? While cars are considered more of a necessity (at least in American culture), motorcycles are not. It makes sense that the auto industry is a few years ahead of the motorcycle space in terms of introduction and reception, so can it really be used as an indicator of what’s going to happen in this industry? When you add the culture behind American motorcycling into the mix, it sets the bar for acceptance very high.

“For the foreseeable future, EV looks to remain a small percentage of new bike sales,” predicts David Zemla, vice president of marketing at S&S Cycle. “The more looming challenge to our space is more likely emissions enforcement taking out the performance aftermarket.”

New Bikes on the Block

Even so, that hasn’t stopped the industry from trying. You’ve likely seen a lot of new company names popping up in the news the last few years — Stark Future, Cake and Arc, to name a few. These companies, alongside older ones, such as Zero and Energica, are all solely dedicated to manufacturing electric motorcycles. Of course, the inception of any new industry always sees an influx of companies trying their hand at a product, but not everyone will make it in the long run. And they all face the same bias.

“I mean, it’s pretty tough to replace the feel and sound of a motorcycle underneath you,” admits Tom Motzko, vendor development with Drag Specialties.

But, perhaps the point isn’t to replicate that sound and feeling. Rather, it’s to provide an alternative experience. For instance, Harley-Davidson, one of the most iconic gas-powered, V-Twin manufacturers, shocked the world when it released its all-electric LiveWire in 2019. For a segment as steeply entrenched in tradition as the V-Twin market is, everyone thought electric motorcycles would be a hard sell. Yet, LiveWire became the first publicly traded electric motorcycle company and is projecting sales over 100,000 units by 2026, despite selling only 387 in 2021.

Other traditional manufacturers have also been dabbling in the electric space — BMW with its motorcycle/scooter-hybrid CE 04 and Indian with its eFTR youth bikes, for instance — though other than Harley-Davidson, none has yet released a full-sized electric motorcycle.

According to Brandon Kraemer, vice president, product and electrification at Indian Motorcycle, while manufacturers will continue to focus on developing technology that enhances the riding experience in their traditional, internal combustion engine (ICE) lineups, he notes that the next decade will also see a major shift in the market due to EVs.

“With so much of a motorcycle’s character coming from the internal combustion engine, the market acceptance of an electric powertrain will not be easy or quick,” Kraemer warns. “Manufacturers… have to think differently and experiment with different technology to see what unknown benefits a potential electric version could have. There will be a lot of innovation happening around EVs in the next 10 to 15 years, so hang on — it’s going to be interesting!”

Read the rest of the story on our sister publication, Motorcycle & Powersports News, by clicking here.

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