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Leon Kaye headshot

Will Electric Motorcycles Finally Take Off?

By Leon Kaye

Harley-Davidson recently made waves with its announcement that the company will roll out an all-electric motorcycle next year. The iconic motorcycle manufacturer's sales have been declining here in the U.S., but the company said last week that the upcoming LiveWire would “broaden the portfolio with lighter, smaller and even more accessible product options to inspire new riders with new ways to ride.”

So, will bikers trade in loud vroom for no fumes?

One research firm, Technavio, believes such a shift is happening now, as it has suggested the electric motorcycle market will increase 41 percent from 2017 levels by 2021. That figure sounds impressive, until one accounts for the relatively tiny size of the sector. Changing consumer behavior is also an ongoing challenge when making the case to go all-electric; earlier this decade, Best Buy joined a previous electric motorcycle bandwagon, only to abruptly cease the sale of all such motorcycles back in 2011. Currently, the retailer is pitching a solid lineup of electric bicycles, buoyed by evidence suggesting more commuters are ready for a zero-carbon alternative to current modes of transportation.

After all, electric cars are becoming mainstream, as seen by the latest dodge from Tesla with its Model 3 that occurred not long after the company’s critics assumed Elon Musk’s dream had finally run its course. Furthermore, it is important to remember the commitment Nissan and GM have made to producing the Leaf and Bolt, as both models keep improving in design, performance and range.

The jury is out on other electric vehicles. You may be seeing more of those Lime Scooters coast-to-coast and everywhere in between, though electric scooters are getting banned in more cities just as quickly as other towns latch onto this latest trend. Electric bicycles are scoring plenty of props at cycling festivals such as the recent Pedalfest in Oakland, while new e-bike startups keep emerging from places like Israel, and Europeans can’t seem to get enough of them (though some within the European Union have complained the Chinese have been dumping them across the continent).

Zero Motorcycles, which has been designing and manufacturing electric motorcycles for a decade, is certainly bullish on their bikes, which the company says are improving due to faster charging and improved range. And CNBC recently suggested that Harley-Davidson’s plan to enter this market means the profile of Zero Motors and other small manufacturers could rise, offering the fledgling industry more awareness and a boost in sales. Add the lower operating costs, sleek designs and younger consumers’ quest to own the next best unique item, and the popularity of electric motorcycles could spike very soon. Harley-Davidson's interest in this market segment shows that these vehicles are not merely trendy toys for early adopters, but are seen by commuters as a viable option to get around town.

But not everyone is enthusiastic about Harley-Davidson’s entry into the electric motorcycle market. According to Michael Bernard of CleanTechnica:

“Electric motorcycles . . . are completely off-brand for their current demographic. They aren’t going to sell a lot of electric bikes to their current owners, most of whom ride perhaps a thousand miles a year as it is and have aged out of motorcycle trips. Electric motorcycles are completely appropriate for millennials, however. But that’s where 40 years of turning your brand into one that celebrates toxic masculinity and global warming denial fails. The Harley-Davidson brand is toxic to most millennials.”

Nevertheless, considering their decreasing cost and younger consumers’ aversion to car ownership, electric motorcycle manufacturers now have an opening, especially when considering how quiet these bikes are, not to mention their impressive torque – which is what supporters of electric vehicles have been touting all along for years.

Image credit: Harley-Davidson

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye