Intelligent Energy

Would a biker ride an electric motorcycle?

Posting in Cities

Electric motorcycles run contrary to the chopper's outlaw image, but a new generation of buyers may be attracted to eco-friendly bikes.

Imagine credit: Orphino

Orphino is one of several start-ups that are attempting to popularize the electric powered motorcycle; its recently announced model resembles a roadster, and tops out at 75 miles per hour. The burning question is whether motorcycle enthusiasts would really buy it.

An electric chopper is hugely contradictory to the motorcycle’s classic outlaw image, but many of today’s riders care much less about appearances than pragmatism and price. An Orphino will take you 60 miles on a single charge, and breaks the oil habit.

I asked some of my friends who already own bikes whether they would consider riding the Orphino, and was surprised by their answers: a resounding yes, with the caveat that it would not be suitable for the occasional weekend long excursion.

An urban denizen in his early 40's responded that he would consider riding one around Philadelphia, while a baby boomer aged family friend from my hometown of Churchville, Pennsylvania, thought that the Orphino’s range was ideal for most riders.

“75 is pretty decent,” said the family friend. “The reality is that most guys who ride don’t ride a lot of miles at any given time. I ride 13 miles to work. Most ride normally 30-50 miles.”

Interestingly, my urban friend’s observations that the bike might be great for the streets of Philadelphia mirrors the findings of a recent Pike Research study that concluded electric motorcycles and scooters will bridge the gap between rapidly increasing density and inadequate transit infrastructure in growing cities.

Other bikes such as the Brammo Empulse electric motorcycle go even further on a single charge. The Empulse has an effective range of around 100 miles. Its cost ranges between US$10,000 and $14,000.

There will always be constituencies who resist change – no matter how practical an electric bike becomes. Baby boomers and hardcore bikers could not conceive being sighted on an import. It’s really a generational thing.

After War Two, clubs of thrill seeking veterans began modifying bikes to run as fast as possible, and their clubs gradually morphed into an underground culture that refused to conform to the humdrum of 1950’s America.

Films such as “Easy Rider,” and Hunter S. Thompson’s writings about infamous biker gangs enshrined the outlaw image into the minds of baby boomers. That nostalgia is what precipitated the weekend warriors’ motorcycle craze over the past two decades.

Today’s youth have gravitated toward trendier imports that eschew chrome for glossy paint finishes. Young riders and riders in the developing world have different transportation needs and tastes. They would probably be attracted to an Orphino.

I once wrote a market research report on the Harley-Davidson V-Rod, Harley’s attempt to attract the youth market by selling a sportier bike outfitted with a water-cooled engine. The V-Rod hit all of the checkmarks for what young people were buying.

It didn’t catch on, and I determined that its fatal flaw was its high price, which a young person couldn’t possibly afford. Knowing what I know, electric bikes could have a high probability for commercial success if the price is right. Just don't expect to see one on Sons of Anarchy.

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure