Friday, September 25, 2009

Dispelling four myths about electric motorcycles

(Photo: Vogelbilt Corp)

The following is a guest post by Seth Leitman, editor of the TAB Green Guru Guides

Electric motorcycles are a great form of eco-friendly travel, although there are a number of myths/rumors being circulated about them. So we turned to Carl Vogel, author of the new book Build Your Own Electric Motorcycle (part of the TAB Green Guru Guides series I edit), as well as builder of an electric cruiser with a biodiesel side car.

Here's what Carl has to say in answer of the biggest myths about electric motorcycles:

1. Electric motorcycles can't go fast enough

Many electric motorcycles on the market today have a top speed of 60 mph or more. The Electra Cruiser easily tops more than 80 mph. The beauty of building your own electric motorcycle is you determine how fast you want your vehicle to go.

2. Electric motorcycles have a puny range

Nothing could be further from the truth, but unfortunately, this myth has been widely accepted. The reality is that electric motorcycles can go as far as most people need. While lithium-ion batteries will expand the range dramatically, the technology is not yet ready for a massive road trip. But what is its range? The federal government reports that the average daily commuter distance for all modes of motor travel (i.e., cars, trucks and buses) is 10 miles, and this figure hasn't changed appreciably in 20 years of data gathering. An earlier study showed that 98% of all trips are less than 50 miles per day; most people do all their driving locally and take only a few long trips. One-hundred-mile and longer trips are only 17% of total miles driven.

build your own electric motorcycle book by carl vogel

Virtually any of today's 120-V electric motorcycle conversions will go 75 miles using readily available off-the-shelf components -- if you keep the weight under 1,000 pounds. This means that an electric motorcycle can meet more than 85% of the average person's needs. If you're commuting to work -- a place that presumably has an electric outlet available -- you can nearly double your range by recharging during your working hours. In addition, if range is really important, you can optimize your electric motorcycle for it. It's that simple.

3. Electric motorcycles aren't convenient

A popular question is, "Suppose that you're driving and you are not near your home to charge up or you run out of electricity. What do you do?" Well, my favorite answer is, "I would do the same thing I'd do if I ran out of gas: call AAA or a tow truck." The reality is that electric motorcycles are extremely convenient. Recharging is as convenient as your nearest electric outlet, especially for conversion motorcycles using 110-V charging outlets. Here are some other reasons:

  • You can get electricity anywhere you can get gas -- there are no gas stations without electricity.

  • You can get electricity from many places -- there are few homes and virtually no businesses in the United States without electricity.

  • Plug-in-anywhere recharging capability is an overwhelming electric motorcycle advantage. No question that it's an advantage when your electric motorcycle is parked in your own garage, carport or driveway. If you live in an apartment and can work out a charging arrangement, it's an even better idea. Moreover, a very simple device can be rigged to signal you if anyone ever tries to steal your motorcycle. [Oops, guess the Fuel and Veggie Van Organization team needed one of those!]

  • The widely available 110-V electric supply does the job quite nicely if your electric motorcycle has an onboard charger, extension cord and plug(s) available. In the future, you will be able to recharge quicker from multiple voltage and current options, have "quick charge" capability by dumping one battery stack into another, and maybe even have uniform battery packs that you swap and strap on at a local "battery station" in no more time than it takes you to get a fill-up at a gas station today. Just as it's used in your home today, electricity is clean, quiet, safe, and stays at the outlet until you need it.

4. Electric motorcycles are expensive

While this is perhaps true that electric motorcycles manufactured in low volume today are expensive -- and partially true of professionally done conversion units -- it's not true of the do-it-yourself advocates. The reality is that electric motorcycles cost the same to buy (you're not going to spend any more for one than you would have budgeted anyway for your second internal combustion engine motorcycle), the same to maintain, and far less per mile to operate. In the long term, future volume production and technology improvements will make the cost benefits favor electric motorcycles even more.

Check out the new book Build Your Own Electric Motorcycle. Seth Leitman blogs at Green Living Guy.

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