Electric Motorcycles in the UK

After my recent post on car ownership, I had a comment on LinkedIn suggesting I should do a comparison of my Yamaha Fazer (600cc petrol motorbike) against an e-scooter.

Upon investigating this topic, I quickly realised a major problem: e-scooters are mostly illegal.

Using a privately owned scooter is only allowed on private property - not on roads, cycle lanes, pavements, etc. Plus, you can’t carry them on public transport, so you can’t ride one to the bus or train. I’m sure people do both of these, but I’m not one to risk six points on my licence and big fines.

Well done England for being a leader in embracing new technologies, innovative regulation, and the move to Net Zero.

The only legal way to ride a scooter is to rent one from an approved provider (e.g. Lime). While I have discussed the pros of renting over ownership, in this case, I was more curious about the latter - especially as a year of e-scooter ownership would be cheaper than renting, even more so if you factor in resale value.

(Interestingly, Parisians have just voted to ban rentable e-scooters - although personal ones can still be used).

Regardless, even if they weren’t illegal, they’re legally limited to 12.5mph - so not great for long distances, and not the most fun. They’re definitely for a different use case. That said, if they were legal, for a few hundred quid, I’d strongly consider one.

Another option is the e-bicycle. They’re road legal, have a decent range, and can be pretty fast. I’d be keen to get one, but at ~£3000, they’re 4~8 times the price of an e-scooter, or the same price as my Fazer. Again, they’re for a different use case, and the Fazer still provides far more flexibility (and, again, fun) than an e-bike would.

So what if we combined the technologies - an electric motorcycle (EMC?)

First let’s look at electric mopeds, or electric step-over motor scooters. Think Vespas, usually 50 or 125cc.

There appear to be far more electric scooter models available than motorbikes. This is unsurprising - scooters are not designed for performance or long distances, so they’re easier to electrify (smaller batteries, weaker motors). Additionally, scooters are particularly popular in the Asian markets (outselling cars), and, similar to EVs, the largest players in the electric scooter space are Chinese - so they are developing for local markets.

Due to this, there are already a relatively large number on the market (especially from Chinese companies), at relatively affordable prices. Both petrol (e.g. Piaggio, Yamaha) and electric (e.g. NIU, Super Soco) scooters can be bought for as little as £2000-£3000 - so the same as my Fazer, or an e-bike. Overall, electric scooters are already good replacements for petrol scooters - especially as some have swappable batteries for an “instant” recharge.

However, I’m not going to look into electric scooters more for this article - and you can probably guess why. An electric scooter is closer to an e-scooter or e-bike than a motorbike - relatively slow (can’t reach motorway speeds), pretty short range (under 50 miles), and not cheap enough to be worth adding to my stable. And, well, they’re not fun.

Unlike scooters, motorbikes place a higher importance on performance - and performance is harder to achieve with the added weight of batteries. Because of this, most electric motorcycles currently available are 125cc equivalents. I did some research, focussing on the UK market, and this is what I found:

One of the best-known names in electric motorcycles. A California, USA company, founded in 2006. They have a range of models, including naked bikes, supersports, and ADV/dual sports.

Their top-of-the-range street bike, the SR/S, can hit 124mph, has a 0-60 of about 3 seconds, and looks like a proper sports bike. It can do 187 miles on a full battery (half this at motorway speeds), meaning it does up to 414MPGe (0.57l/100 km), and weighs a heavy-but-not-crazy 235kg, including a 15.2kWh(n) battery.

This comes at a cost - the base version is £24,000. The equivalent petrol-powered bike, for example, a brand new Yamaha R7 (689cc, ~3s, ~140mph, 188kg, 4.2l/100 km) is only ~£9,000. Alternately, £24,000 would buy you Ducati Panigale V4 or a BMW S1000RR - the best petrol-powered bikes on the market.

Zero’s cheapest bike is the 85mph 100-mile FXE, for just under £14,000. They’ve recently announced they will start assembly in the Philippines, but this seems to be purely for the Asian market, so won’t reduce costs in Europe. Once Zero find a way to bring the costs down, I’d think this will be a strong contender for the average motorcyclist.

Energica is an Italian company, founded in 2014. Similar to Zero, they focus on high-price, high-performance sports and ADV/tourers. Their bikes range from £25,000 to £30,000, with the top-of-the-range being Energica Ego+ RS having a 18.9kWh(n) battery, a weight of 260kg, up to 250 miles of range, and incredible performance figures: 0-60 in 2.6s, and a limited top speed of 150mph.

For the same price as a new Hyundai i20N or Audi A3.

The Livewire is a spin-off company from Harley-Davidson. The bike (called ONE), as featured in Ewan and Charley’s Long Way Up TV show (worth the watch), was first displayed in 2014. Unlike many H-Ds, it has naked/street styling, rather than being a chopper. 0-60 in 3.1s, top speed of 115mph, 250kg, 15.4kWh, 150 miles of range. However, in typical H-D (and premium EMC) fashion, this also isn’t cheap, coming in at £23,000.

Finally something a bit (lot!) cheaper. A Chinese company, they make both scooters and motorbikes. Their motorbike range consists of the TS and TC (with variants), and cost £3000-£4500 - yes, ~15% of those I’ve written about so far. That said, these are much closer to 125ccs - the £3k models have a max speed of only 28mph, and the “performance” TC Max model has a top speed of 60mph (although user reviews suggest nearer 50), with only 60 miles of range (30 at full throttle). Because of this, for licence reasons, you only need an CBT. So, while they look like sports bikes, they don’t act like them.

The equivalent 125cc petrol motorbike would cost a similar amount - for example, a Honda CB125R is £4600, and the Yamaha R125 is £5300, although for the money these petrol models can go a tad faster, approaching motorway speeds, and of course have a much greater range, over 300 miles on a tank.

Another Chinese company, Horwin, like Super Soco, mostly build scooters, but also make (one) naked-style EMC, the CR-6. Limited to 60mph, it has a 75 mile range, a weight of 134kg, a ~4kWh battery. Priced at £5,000, it’s similar to the TC Max. Also similar to the TC Max, owner reviews suggest the top speed and range are both closer to 50.

I can’t find much info on this bike, but the Artisan ev0 is a £3500, 50mph, ~50 mile, 120kg, ~3kWh naked bike.

Something a little different. A British company, their 2022-launched RM1 looks like something from the first third of the 20th century. Similar to the Super Socos, it’s CBT friendly - which means it lacks performance (in this case, a 44mph top speed). There are 1- and 2-battery models available, with 40 miles of range per battery (each is ~2kWh). It’s pretty light, at only 111kg for the single-battery model (125kg for double). The main downside is the price - at £7000, it’s double the cost of a Super Soco. For that you do get more style and likely a better build quality.

Triumph, the largest UK-owned motorcycle company, are working on the TE-1, although it’s still in the testing/concept stage.

Savic, an Australian brand, sell their C-Series for ~£10,000 (Delta version) and ~£15,000 (Alpha version). These are roughly equivalent to 300-400cc bikes: 0-60 in 3~4s, and decent horsepower, torque, and range figures. Sadly it’s not available in the UK.

Lightning’s electric LS-218 can do an insane 218mph, and only costs about £40,000.

And there’s Arc, a British company, with their Vector… At £90,000+.

None of the big Japanese players - Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki - have an electric bike. A few of these brands announced they were working on EMCs several years back, but so far, nothing. In some ways, it’s not surprising - Japan has been slow to move to electric vehicles as a whole, with none of the large marques having much share in the EV market. Toyota, the largest auto company in the world, is ranked 23rd by sales for EVs, with 20,000 in 2022. In comparison, Tesla had approximately 1,320,000.

As is probably clear by now, currently there isn’t a good replacement for my Fazer, especially given the value of the old F. Of course, one reason is I’m comparing a used bike to a new one, but there are currently few used EMCs available - and used Zeros/Energicas are still £20k+.

That said, an electric motorbike would let me park for free in Westminster, saving up to £1 (!) a day. So over the long term…

Personally, rather than a 1000cc(ish)-equivalent Energica or a 125cc-equivalent Maeving, I’d love a Ninja 400 equivalent. Something that can cruise on the motorway and provide some fun, without breaking the bank. The closest is the Zero FXE, although still a bit pricey for now. This seems like a gap in the market to me - the Tesla Model 3 of motorbikes. Then again, even Tesla started with the Roadster and the Model S before moving onto the 3 - I’m sure some of the companies discussed in this article have this in mind!

Similar to cars, I can’t foresee a future without electric motorbikes. So what’s holding them back?

Zero and Energica have proven it is possible to create fast, sexy bikes - but at a high cost. The Chinese brands have proven it’s possible to create cheap EMCs, although they lack performance. Of course, the holy grail is to combine the two - reasonable performance at an affordable price.

Manufacturing in Asia is cheaper than the USA or Europe, for a number of reasons - supply chains, labour laws and costs, government support, etc. For decades the bulk of, well, everything, has been made in China or B&R countries in South/South East Asia. This has been advantageous for the Chinese scooter companies, who first focussed on local demand. For the Western companies focussing on performance bikes, local manufacturing costs are higher. Once scale is achieved and Western companies can offshore or benefit from local economics of scale, or the Chinese companies diversify into performance, manufacturing costs should fall.

It’s also easier to design a low-performance EMB. Performance requires heavy investment in research and development, for example in advanced battery management, rider aids, and high-speed characteristics. The Asian companies, primarily catering to a market wanting small city bikes, has not needed to do so - these are not required if the bike never goes about 40mph. However, as with all technological innovation, these will filter down over time - look how the costs of EVs has dropped over the last decade.

Batteries are heavy, and increased weight decreases performance and range. As energy storage technologies keep developing, and specific energy and energy density improve, performance figures will naturally increase. Lithium-air and aluminium-ion batteries in particular are chemistries to keep an eye on.

Additionally, many motorcycles are made with steel frames. Steel is cheap and strong, but heavy. Replacing these with aluminium or carbon fibre, or another lighter (but equally strong material), could reduce weight - although this would also make the bike more expensive. I’m not sure what else takes up the weight - I’d be curious to see a full tear-down.

Moving away from weight, aerodynamics play a part - less drag means less wasted energy. Motorbikes have terrible aerodynamics; the coefficient of drag for the Suzuki Hayabusa, a famously aerodynamic (and fast!) motorbike, is 0.55~0.6. Yet this is the same as a Land Rover, or Hummer. In comparison, a Tesla Model S - a whole car - is only 0.2. A big part of the drag on a bike is caused by the rider, which isn’t really something you can remove.

There is less demand for motorcycles that cars overall, which is no doubt another contributing factor to why there has been less innovation in the EMC space than the EV space. Annual car sales in the UK are measured in the millions, whereas motorbikes in the tens of thousands. Of these, the top-selling motorbikes are a) 125cc scooters, and b) adventure bikes - so less love for sports and nakeds. Additionally, there is less rush to electrify, as petrol motorbikes are already more efficiency and “greener” than cars. Considering all these factors, there’s less profit to be made from EMCs (especially in the short term), so it’s more of a market for enthusiasts.