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Archive for May, 2011

Electric motorcycles are on the rise. Every month a new one springs up, either from an existing manufacturer, or from a brand new one. With exorbitant fuel prices and with rising CO2 levels, more and more people feel strongly that electric motorcycles will eventually overtake the gas-powered ones. It’s almost written in concrete. It’s just a matter of time and technology advances.

Currently, most electric motorcycles are very limited in their range. It’s changing, but it’s not sufficient. Add to the equation the fact that when you run “dry” you can not refuel at a gas station; you’ll need to recharge the batteries, and that takes a lot of time. Talks are underway in many countries around the globe to make batteries standardized, and therefore easier to swap when you arrive at a refueling station, most probably a gas station. You’d ride in, and in a few minutes the attendants will swap your battery for a fresh one, and off you go. But so far, it’s not happening. Getting different companies with different agendas to agree on a common format is not easy.

But let’s look at the manufacturers. There are two kinds of manufacturers; the existing motorcycle manufacturer, and the new one.

Existing manufacturers, like Honda, Yamaha or Suzuki, make small displacement-style motorcycles and scooters that are electrical. They don’t really have anything revolutionary, they are just small 50cc equivalent bikes, with a very limited range, but great for getting around town. Or look at KTM, who have recently announced an electric motocross, the Freeride. Off-road electric motorcycles are a perfect match, quite and maneuverable.

Brammo-Enertia

Brammo-Enertia

But new manufacturers may have the edge. The likes of US-based BrammoZero and Vectrix, or Quantya  and the modern Agility Saietta in Europe have an advantage over existing manufacturers; they have no legacy! Their designs are truly greenfield exercises, from the bottom up. Just look at the Brammo Enertia, it’s an electric motorcycle that doesn’t look like any motorcycle you can buy from any existing manufacturer. But it works very well, it’s reasonably fast and has a reasonable range.

Agility-Saietta

Agility-Saietta

This is an advantage. The new electric motorcycles have a design made for transporting batteries, not an existing motorcycle frame changed from a small fuel tank and bigger engine to carry big batteries and a smaller engine.

But on the downside, new manufacturers do not have the infrastructure needed to attack a global market. Virtually no money, no dealers and very small manufacturing facilities. Therefore, new manufacturers will not be selling many electric motorcycles, therefore the price will remain high, despite many government subsidies. Many face financial difficulties, and some have to close down. Just looking at their counter part in the automobile industry, you can see Teslar is facing problems selling an electric car. They do not sell many, and those that are sold are expensive.

So what will happen to the electric motorcycle? Will the new manufacturers disappear despite have better products, or will the existing manufacturers come out with proper designs?

The answer is probably in between. Existing manufacturers will acquire the new ones, injecting much-needed capital, and put in place a complete global infrastructure with dealers and sales & marketing. A Brammo with its novel designs could be purchased by a Ducati, Zero by KTM and Vectrix by Kawasaki.

That would bring stability to the market, proper designs at a more reasonable price and global availability.

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Many bikers love riding a motorcycle for the reason that they are alone, not bothered by any noise other than the rumbling of their motorcycle engine, and the sound of rushing winds. Riding the twisting roads, unencumbered by your normal day-to-day life, is a bliss for many.

But on the other hand there are also many bikers who ride with their pillion passenger, and who want to be able to communicate with each other. Particularly on long trips, talking to your pillion can have enormous advantages. No longer are you expected to make all the decisions on you own. “Do we stop here for a bite to eat”, or “shall we go there?” can be asked and answered while riding.

For many years, bikers who wanted to talk with their pillion had either very expensive electronic communication gadgets installed on their motorcycle, usually wired to their helmet, or used simple air tube systems that worked fine until you reached a particular speed that stopped all communication.

BluetoothBut things have changed over the recent years. Wireless technology, particularly Bluetooth, made it more interesting for bikers to use communication facilities on their motorcycles. The equipment is sufficiently small to be installed on your helmet, not on your bike, meaning that you can take the equipment with you no matter which motorcycle you ride. It also means you are not attached to your ride.

But these wireless communication gizmos also offer added advantages over talking with your pillion, like the ability to receive navigation instructions from a GPS equipped with Bluetooth, or to listen to music. Some units even connect with Bluetooth equipped walkie-talkies, allowing you to talk to your riding buddies. The latest wireless communication devices now offer the ability to talk to another biker, also equipped with the same gizmo. It doesn’t really replace a walkie-talkie since the range is very limited, and only allows you to talk to one other rider, but for those that ride in pairs, it is a good and cheap alternative.

Another advantage, or for many a disadvantage, is the ability to use the mobile phone while riding. We all know about the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving a car, and the same danger exists on a motorcycle. Even if you are not taking your hands of the handlebar to talk to someone over the mobile phone, your attention is greatly diminished. But it does give you the opportunity to remain in contact. You can answer a call, and then pull over and talk to the other person.

But one of the biggest advantages of the new generation of wireless equipment is cost. Miniaturization and greatly reduced prices make these gadgets less of a gadget and more a useful add-on for any biker. Take for example one of the most popular brands in wireless communication devices, Scala. The Scala Rider Q2 allows you to communicate for 8 hours non-stop, has a built-in FM radio and a communication range of some 1600 ft (but the other device must be the same brand).

You don’t need to talk to a pillion, and you don’t need to enable the mobile phone, but all the features are there, and it’s up to you to decide which ones you want to use. It beats using hand signals. Bluetooth technology has greatly simplified our lives on the motorcycle.

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