Want the excitement of riding a motorcycle while enjoying a super economy and not worrying that you're polluting the air? An electric motorcycle just might be a good fit for you, especially if you primarily make short-distance trips.Electric motorcycles have been on the market for a few years now, but they got off to a slow start and didn't seem to attract a lot of interest in the mainstream marketplace. However, recent tax incentives, coupled with the introduction of new faster and sexier-looking models, have given the electric bike market a jumpstart.
Imagine driving from New York to Pittsburgh on $2.63 worth of fuel. It's possible on some of the new electric motorcycles coming onto the market.
Electric advantagesJust as with electric/hybrid cars, the upside of electric bikes is that they are better for the environment and more cost efficient (on a per-mile basis) than their gas-guzzling counterparts. They also tend to be much lighter than traditional motorcycles. As anyone who has ever had to lift or support a heavy bike knows, this is an important consideration. The bikes have also gotten more affordable, with many models now in the $10,000 price range. A big factor in the bikes' price is the cost of the lithium battery packs most of them use. These packs tend to be pricey, but several manufacturers are working on developing new versions of the battery packs, which should help bring bike prices down in the near future.
DrawbacksA major downside? Electric vehicles of any kind tend to be slower than fuel-powered vehicles. This is especially undesirable to serious bikers, many of whom really feel the need for speed. Until recently, most electric bikes available to consumers had a top speed of around 50 miles per hour. In fact, many of the early models -- and some of the slower models currently for sale -- bill themselves as an "electric scooter," perhaps to avoid any unrealistic expectations on the part of would-be buyers. Another problem: Some electric bikes -- especially the ones capable of reaching higher speeds -- are designed for off-road use and aren't street-legal.
But bikers no longer need to stick to off-road areas or the slow lane if they want to be earth-friendly. For example, the new Zero S bike can travel 60 miles on a four-hour charge. "The Zero S is a revolutionary motorcycle that is designed to tackle any city street, hill or obstacle," said Neal Saiki, inventor and founder of Zero Motorcycles, based in Murrieta, Calif. "The Zero S is a high-performance motorcycle that also happens to be fully electric and green."
Zero claims this bike -- which sells for under $10,000 -- is the fastest production electric street bike, able to reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.
However, Xtreme Green Products, a Las Vegas-based eco-vehicle company, says its X Rider bike can reach speeds of 65 mph and travel more than 100 miles on a single charge. The X Rider requires two to three hours to recharge and can plug directly into a power outlet.
Another manufacturer, Mission Motors, has announced plans to release an electric bike in 2010 that the company claims can reach speeds of up to 150 miles per hour. The bike will cost around $68,000.
Still, even the newer models on the market don't go as fast as traditional gas-powered motorcycles. That, combined with the need to recharge periodically, is why they are touted mainly as a good choice for commuters or casual drivers, as opposed to riders who plan to hit the highways and make long-distance trips.
Financial factorsHow much can you save on a daily or yearly basis by riding an electric bike? Here are some figures provided by David M. Isserman of Xtreme Green Products: "If you commute to work 6,000 miles per year in a car, it will cost you approximately $3,300 based on the government's 2009 reimbursement rate of $0.55/mile. If you do the same commute on an X Rider electric motorcycle, it would cost approximately $200 -- including the cost to replace brake pads during the year."