About 10 months ago I purchased my first electric motorcycle while living abroad in China. I got my motorcycle license back in the US about 7 years ago, and while there are some obvious similarities—such as appearance–this bike is definitely a bit different than its gas-powered big brother.
So what’s an electric motorcycle like? There are several key differences between an electric and a gas-powered motorcycle:
- Primary, Required Power Source
- Type of motor
- Maintenance & General Care
- Speed and Quickness
If you are considering getting an electric motorbike and you either currently have or have had a gas-powered bike before, then you’ll have to realize that with an electric, it’s kind of a “lose something, gain something” situation. Some of things changes will be drastic and you’ll definitely notice immediately upon sitting on the bike, as I did.
Other things are less obvious and you may not notice them for a few hours, weeks, or even months after using the bike. For me, some of this is good, and some, well, not so good. You can read on to see what I mean.
If you haven’t any strong experience or background in motorcycling nor even an avid dirt bike hobbyist, then most all of these differences, if not all, will be negligible to you. I, however, am somewhat in the middle of these two types of people, having a small degree of on-bike experience but a heckuva lot more than most people.
Now I will share with you the main differences I’ve noticed between the budding electric motorcycles of today and the very old gas-powered motorcycles we’ve come to know and love.
Electric motorcycles require a different primary power source
While it may seem obvious to some of you, there are those of us who either don’t know that e-motos use only electricity, as well as those who think that perhaps they are some sort of hybrid system. So for the sake of clarity:
Electric motorcycles use electricity as their power source, from an onboard, rechargeable battery.
While a gas-powered motorcycle relies on a small battery for cranking it up, the battery pack of the electric motorcycle is much, much larger and is the sole, primary source of power for the bike. So, essentially, when it goes out, you are more or less stuck.
These batteries can be of the lithium-ion variety but need not be. They are also available in other types. I’m not a battery expert but if you are interested in the differences between having this battery type over that for your new e-moto, then you can quickly educate yourself at battery university’s website (https://batteryuniversity.com/learn/).
The main thing about this that’s super convenient is that while you’re asleep, your bike can be plugged-in and charging up so that it’s ready for you at 100% when you whip it out in the morning. The charger I have plugs right into the side of the bike (there’s a covered outlet near the passenger’s right foot peg) and then into the charger/converter, which I can then plug into the outlet in my storage shed.
The charger is engineered to shut off automatically after the battery chargers so there’s no need to worry about overcharging. Depending on which battery type you have, you will have to treat the charging and usage process a bit differently, so be sure to check out some basic differences between battery types before you pick one or start using it.
Because the electric motorcycle relies completely on the power from the battery, then you have to think a bit more about how far you’re going to go over the next few days because you can’t simply stop at your local gas station to “top’r up.” I have a general idea of how far I can go, but it also has a power gauge beside the speedometer so I can rely on that as well.
As I’m using mine in China, it’s not hard to find some charging stations, but honestly—who wants to wait around for a charge? It’s best to just have it charged for the necessary task ahead of time, unless you’re planning a long trip. If that’s the case, then you’ll just have to bring your charger and make arrangements for where/when you can recharge it.
Electric motorcycles use a different type of motor
One of the first things you’ll notice with an electric bike is the absence of a muffler or exhaust system. The reason for this is simple: it isn’t needed!
As this isn’t running on any type of gas and therefore isn’t utilizing the louder combustion process, the motor requires only a moderate amount of space to remain moisture-free and cool.
The type of motor you can get with the electric moto also varies, just as they do with other machines, tools, or devices with electric motors. The one I have in my motorcycle is what I would consider a midrange motor, capable of up to about 90 KPH, or 55 MPH.
There was another one available which was capable of clearing 110 KPH or 68 MPH, but where I live that’s completely unnecessary and, to be honest, a big dangerous (people in China are notoriously famous for their strict non-adherence to road rules). Drive fast at your own risk!
Still, if your area allows you to ride a motorcycle on the highway or interstate, then I’m sure there are some available electric motorcycles which are stronger and more capable than the one I currently have.
What type of motor is better for an electric motorcycle: brush or brushless?
The brushless motor offers some specific differences and benefits that make it a better choice for electric motorcycles.
Based on my own research into understanding the differences between the brush and brushless type motors, I believe that because of its capacity to respond in a “smart” way to the stress it is under at the exact moment of engagement, the brushless motor is definitely better for a motorcycle.
I think that it’s no problem to use either type of electric motor, but I would bring up two points to consider:
First, I was told that if I want to replace my battery or get any work done to the motor, it would take quite the labor effort to take it all apart. This alone isn’t too big of a deal for me in China as labor cost is low and it’s nice as a theft deterrent—battery thieves are rampant nationwide.
But… if you are going to buy and use your electric motorcycle in, let’s say, Japan or especially the US, then labor alone will zap the pocket book a bit and, depending where you are, getting a replacement may not be as quick or easy.
Second, there is definitely a benefit in having the electric motor over the gas-powered one, and that is ongoing maintenance, fuel, and other necessary liquids.
My electric moto doesn’t thirst for anything, at least as far as the motor itself is concerned. I don’t need to check or change any oil, watch the temp, or even add fuel—despite the fact that the manufacturer included a working fuel cap (cosmetic purposes only—sadly, I can’t put anything in there!).
How does an electric motorcycle handle?
An electric motorcycle handles and drives very similar to a standard, gas-engine motorcycle but is generally smaller, lighter, and has a less unwieldy feeling.
The electric motorbike I purchased is actually a good bit larger than most—and larger than any I’ve ever seen in person. The company who manufactured it said that while it was designed based on a Japanese bike, the overall size is actually larger than the original.
Whether this is true or not, I have no idea because I haven’t a comparison model nearby nor have I looked it up online. I will try to measure the dimensions and add them to this article later so you can get a better idea. I’ll also post a picture below so you can see a few different angles.
Because electrics aren’t typically as heavy—and some not as large–as the gas bikes, they definitely handle differently. Even the tire sizes can and usually are drastically different. Overall, I wouldn’t say that it’s a good thing per-se, but the truth is that it really just depends on what you prefer in a bike.
Due to the sizing and weight factors I’ve mentioned, here are the key differences which I’ve noticed in the handling between electric and gas motorcycles:
- Bounciness – my bike, while full-size, is definitely a bit bouncier than what I’ve ever experienced on a fueled motorbike. Most of my riding time before was on a Honda cruiser with low-power CCs, but I could still gas it, lean hard, and really dig into the turns. With my electric motorbike, I would say that it definitely doesn’t feel as safe.
The main reason is this bounciness issue, where if I encounter some bumps along the road, the bike is prone to responding to them in a harder, stronger way than its gas counterpart would. I can say for sure that I just don’t feel as safe taking the turns at high speed on my electric as I do on a gas due to this jumpiness issue. Sometimes, it has even moved a little bit from side-to-side, and this is completely unacceptable for a powered bike, especially going around a curve at high speeds!
However, if you are scared of higher-speed turns or won’t be pushing it quite as much as I prefer to, then you can safely and easily take the turn and enjoy the ride. I haven’t had any accidents on my bike while turning, if that makes you feel better!
- Suspension – I do feel like the suspension could be a LOT better but I wonder just how much of its performance has to do with the overall weight and how much has to do with the quality of the components and build. There is a noticeable difference when I take off the too-heavy saddle bags, and an even more obvious difference when I have a passenger.
Still, the suspension isn’t what I would call “bad,” especially for the price I paid (under $2,000), but it’s definitely not what I would call highway quality, either. If you ask my girlfriend, she’ll say that her butt hurts after just riding on it across town. For me, I can ride to another city no problem, so I suppose the back seat isn’t as comfortable? Haha.
Either way, the suspension and weight combine to create the bounciness issue in my mind, which is actually much better after two people are on the bike. However, the speeds just don’t feel as safe with a second person on so I don’t take any higher-speed turns on this bike—although my girlfriend and friends say that I do. They have no idea!
- Maneuverability – This is actually an area where an electric motorcycle can beat a gas bike in a few ways. First off, due to weight, it is soooo much easier to handle a bike, especially for people who aren’t as big or strong, or perhaps don’t care for such a heavy machine.
I am six feet, two inches tall (185 cm) so handling any bike isn’t really an issue for me, but a full-sized electric bike is like cake for the most part. This may seem like a small thing for some—especially those who are used to motorcycles—but once you get used to being able to practically move your e-bike into and out of a variety of places, you get a bit spoiled on it.
My bike even has a reverse button! That’s right: too lazy to back up or is there a small hill behind you? No problem: just hold in the “R” button and turn the throttle. This has actually improved my ability to ride backwards, believe it or not.
The added benefit is that the bike is actually more portable in a “grab it and move it” sort of sense. If you have a problem or simply want to move it out of the way in your garage, then if you aren’t small and/or weak, then you can feasibly grab it and scoot it over relatively easily. I’ve picked mine up and placed it onto a curb in order to get a good parking spot. I would never even think about trying that with the Honda!
- Braking – My electric is like most of the less-costly ones, which includes front and rear disc brakes which are, well, so-so. I’ve had to do some maintenance on them to keep them from squeaking loudly—especially after any amount of rain, and my rear disc break is in need of a couple repairs.
Additionally, my bike doesn’t offer any brake-assisted deceleration such as some bikes do—in other words, when you let off the accelerator, you are coasting 100%. I realize that this isn’t the case in all bikes but that’s the way mine is.
There are some higher-end bikes with some tech built-in similar to that which you’d find in many cars, where they effectively recharge the battery a bit upon easing off the accelerator, which also causes the bike to slow down faster than a free-coaster like mine. Depending on which type you have, this will cause the handling to be a bit different when you aren’t actively accelerating, especially if you are trying to turn at lower speeds.
What is the response like on an electric motorcycle?
The response time of an electric motorcycle from throttle to movement is considerably less than a gas bike but can also vary a bit, given the type of sensors installed by the manufacturer.
Back before I bought my e-moto, I test-drove a few different ones, plus I had some experience on an electric-powered bicycle, as well as a few straight-up e-bikes (the not-cool ones that you’ll find in every single Chinese city, loaded with practically the entire family on one bike!).
Until my arrival in China, I’d never ridden anything similar with 100% battery power on two wheels. The very first thing I learned is this: electric-powered devices are generally “touch=instant go.” My friend in Guangzhou—a large southern city in China, close to Hong Kong (and my first hometown abroad)—let me ride his small, battery-powered bicycle one day and instructed me: “Be careful.”
Having been a guy with years of car, motorcycle, ATV, and bicycle experiences of all sorts—not to mention even CDL training and many hours of bus driving—I felt like this was a silly and unnecessary warning, and so I smiled a snooty, smug sort of smile. I would love to tell you that I twisted the accelerator, promptly crashed, and learned my lesson but, alas, I was able to handle it.
I did, however, learn that there was a definite sensitivity and response difference between these little devils and the gassers that I’d been using my entire life. It took some getting used to but I managed and then all was good for a while.
When I graduated up to my electric motorcycle last year, it was clear that going from a 15 to 35 MPH electric bike to 50 MPH and up electric motorcycle—in traffic—was a different animal. If the feeling had been the same as a gas bike then I wouldn’t have felt so strange, but due to the facts of the size mentioned above (and the resulting bounciness) and the almost complete lack of sound emanating from the engine, it created a somewhat odd experience that took me some getting used to.
However, punching the “gas,” so to speak, can vary depending on a couple of factors, the main one being what type of sensors they use in order to add some “cushion” to your throttling of the bike. The first one I test drove had little cushioning in place so it took off quite abruptly—too abruptly in my opinion, especially if I were to have a passenger—causing an instant “Whoa!” reaction on my part.
If you read anything about electric cars then you probably know that they typically have a great ability to take off instantly. If you like a fast start then this can be beneficial. However, on an e-bike I think that a super-fast start should be something that I can determine by how I turn the accelerator, not by the 100% all-or-nothing concept! (For some reason, I am reminded of the “Go Baby Go” nitrous button from Gone in Sixty Seconds).
To my low-level of knowledge, there are two primary things to consider which can help you acquire a more “natural,” cushioned feel to the accelerator:
- A brushless motor
According to the manufacturer of my electric motorcycle, they said that the “go go go” feel that I had on their demo bike wasn’t necessarily what I had to have on MY bike—which had yet to be manufactured. They said that they would add some sensors in order to keep it from being quite so aggressive from the start.
I will say that if I’m riding my bike solo, the fast start is cool, but for passengers it is quite disconcerting. So, I would like the ability to flip a switch and bypass these controls in order to allow the brushless motor’s “smart” mechanism to fully control the power output. However, I’m unsure if this is possible.
What is the weight of an electric motorcycle?
The weight of an electric motorcycle is generally much lighter than a standard, gas-powered bike, but its actual overall weight can vary.
My bike, as I mentioned before, is actually bigger in scale than the model it’s based on, and definitely larger-than-the-average-size bear—I mean e-bike or e-motorcycle.
I haven’t actually taken the time to measure—as I’ve also mentioned already—but assuming the manufacturer is telling the truth (which is actually doubtful, given all of the other nonsense they say), then this bike is a bit larger than the combustion version. However, it is definitely lighter and I can vouch for that personally. Furthermore, it is much lighter than any motorcycle I’ve ever sat on—even a full-sized dirt bike!
I’m not quite sure how I will get an accurate weight estimate but I will now try to figure out a way to do that for the sake of this article, which I should be able to look into a the same time I take some measurements.
What is maintenance and care like for an electric motorcycle?
An electric motorcycle requires little to no maintenance in general, apart from general cleaning for the body and lubrication for moving parts.
This is one of the things that I briefly mentioned above but as the e-moto doesn’t require fuel and has no combustion motor, you won’t have to worry about refueling here and there at gas stations, nor is there oil to check or change, and often there is no radiator or cooling system to worry about.
The electric motor and battery supply are—or at least should be—housed in a protective surround which keeps it both secure and safe from the elements. Assuming this is true for both of these as well as the wires which stem from it, then general cleaning, waxing, and mechanical part lubrication is all that’s needed.
Of course you’ll have to recharge the battery as needed but I don’t consider this part of maintenance. :p
I did find that the bike I bought came with a larger-than-acceptable amount of quality control issues so I do recommend that you do your research about the actual company you’re buying from and try to get some real users’ feedback about their products before you commit to buying. My bike currently has a variety of electrical issues caused from either shi**y, sloppy installation or inferior parts.
Currently, I have a list of over 20 things that I either need to replace or repair. That really sucks for any bike, but especially one that is only around 10 months old. I will add that this isn’t because it’s an electric motorcycle but rather because they just used some cheap processes to save money and didn’t pay attention to a decent-quality build.
With all of this said, I will add one more thing:
There are some really nice, high-end electric motorcycles on the market which require a bit more care and maintenance so these things can be less or more, depending on what you get. Some bikes, for example, have a liquid-cooling system, so you should definitely be aware of this (and probably will be when you check the bike out).
What is the cost of an electric motorcycle?
The cost of an electric motorcycle is generally more variable and offers a range of prices from very affordable to more expensive, depending on a variety of factors.
There is no way to answer the question directly due to so many different possibilities. It’s like asking “How much does a car cost?” Well, that depends! Assuming you mean new, there are still way too many options to give a blanket answer.
With this is mind, there are quite a few factors which can cause you to pay as low as $800 or more than $10,000, depending on what you want. Here are some factors which will cause the prices to vary:
- Manufacturer’s location
- Build quality
- Selected components
- Additional options
The brand of an electric motorcycle matters a lot in price simply because if it’s an already-established brand with a good reputation, then they’ll most likely be producing better-quality, better-performing bikes. This will undoubtedly cause the price to be higher than if you pick it up at a budding, and possibly corner-cutting, manufacturer like the one I bought from in Wuxi.
The manufacturer’s location could matter simply because if it needs to be shipped to you then there will be extra costs involved. While this still may not be an issue for a cheaper bike shipped from, let’s say, China, you still need to consider what kind of quality you want and how long you want/need/expect the bike to last—and how easy it would be to get it repaired/replaced/modified/admired.
The features will vary from bike to bike so you’ll just have to do your homework here. Generally, however, adding-on newer or fancy features will cost more.
The build quality will definitely affect the selling price and even the potential repair or replacement costs of an electric motorcycle, so if you’re a kind of do-it-yourselfer then perhaps you can feasibly order a cheaper bike and then modify or repair it yourself. However, if you don’t want to spend time repairing or value something that’s going to last ,then consider forking over a bit more dough for higher-rated, established company.
The selected components and additional options will undoubtedly affect the price of your e-bike. These could include brushless vs. brush motor, battery type, battery size, motor size/power, premium component upgrades, body style modifications, and more.
If you decide to tack-on some more extended options such as saddle bags (as I did), then of course it will run the price up. My saddle bags were a hard-plastic shell with a semi-permanent install method (tooled in-house and shi**y as expected from those guys) and cost me an extra $80, which was factory-direct.
I have since removed my saddle bags and am in the market for something that allows me to keep my passenger foot pegs AND is more easily removable so I can take them off as I wish.
What is the range of an electric motorcycle?
The range of an electric motorcycle depends on the combination of its motor and battery type, rider driving style and weight, and terrain.
One of the first things I noticed with my electric motorcycle is that I could go for quite a while longer if I didn’t “gun” the accelerator. By taking it easy on acceleration and top speed, I can enjoy riding for much longer without the need for a recharge or battery cap-off.
My bike, from what I’m told, is capable of over 70 kilometers, or about 44 miles. This is definitely not very useful for going very far outside the city but in some cities (like where I am for instance) it is more than enough. After checking out a few different companies, I realized that there is indeed quite the difference in range available, and everything from below 40 miles up to around 300 miles!
There is a nice electric bike range comparison list available at Love Electric Motorcycles (https://www.loveelectricmotorcycles.com/sort-by/longest-range/).
What does an electric motorcycle sound like?
An electric motorcycle is much quieter than a conventional motorcycle but does have its own unique, electric “buzzing” sound.
The first time I hopped on my electric motomobili and took off, it sounded like the Delorean from Back to the Future. Seriously!
I still think it sounds pretty cool, especially when it I get to higher speeds and the torque responds a bit quicker than it does from a standstill. However, if you’re in the city and around traffic, then it will actually be hard to hear any sound at all because the surrounding noise will drown-out its low-decibel output.
The sound it emits starts off lower in pitch at lower speeds and increases in both volume and pitch as speed increases. My bike starts giving off a more noticeable, high-pitched whine when I accelerate at higher speeds, which I think sounds cool.
On a gas bike you’re probably used to hearing noise as you are decelerating or slowing down, but with an electric, no “gas” means no sound. So, when you aren’t actually turning the accelerator, then your bike won’t be making any noise at all apart from the rubber on the road. This took me some getting used to but it’s good for sneaking up on your friends!
What is the speed of an electric motorcycle?
The speeds capable for an electric motorcycle are dependent upon its particular build but can range from as low as 35 KPH (22 MPH) and as high as 350 KPH (218 MPH).
My electric moto-buddy isn’t the slowest bike in the garage but definitely not the fastest. Still, it can exceed the maximum speed limit allowed on any legal roads I can ride on around here so it’s more than enough for my needs.
I opted for something with a slightly-higher-than-allowed top speed setup, which allows me to top-out around 85 to 90 KPH (53-56 MPH) if I’m riding alone on a full charge and a warm day. I do notice a real performance difference from the weather, as well as how much juice I have left in the battery.
There are, however, electric bikes capable of much, much more, even speeds faster than a Lamborghini! Seriously – the current motorcycle land speed record is held by—drum roll, please—an electric motorcycle! From what I read, the gas-powered big-boys can’t even compete with it.
To see the Lightning electric motorcycle in action, check out this awesome video from GizMag:
As far as quickness, even the reviewer in the video above talks about how limiters can be removed from an electric setup in order for us to access the full torque available. As he says, it’s not “twist and go” like a regular electric e-bike, it’s “twist and gone.”
Electric motorcycles are definitely amazing and I’m starting to like them more and more. Perhaps you will too!
Hope this is helpful!