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The Electric Revolution is Not as Thrilling as I’d Hoped

Yamaha, Ducati and Indian Motorcycle have all released electric two-wheelers in recent weeks but they're perhaps not as exciting as you might think

I would have thought we’d be further along by now. Seven years ago, I was writing articles claiming that electric motorcycles had “arrived” and the only hindrance was the need to get our tiny minds around the idea of riding something that doesn’t consume Russia’s No. 1 export (petroleum).

On some level, I’d say that remains true but it’s worth noting that two of the manufacturers I referenced back in 2016 – Mission Motors and Victory Motorcycles – no longer exist. Nonetheless, I still would have thought that in 2022 there would be electric Hondas, Kawasakis, Yamahas and BMWs – with other manufacturers scrambling to produce even sexier, faster, longer-range machines.

RELATED: BMW is working on an electric motorcycle but it looks pretty unpleasant to ride

Not so much. At present, there is really only one major manufacturer producing electric motorcycles: Harley-Davidson*. Which is not really the situation any of us would have imagined a decade ago. Yes, Zero Motorcycles is still with us – and now styling bikes that you’d actually be happy to be seen riding – but its reach remains small.

If you’re a fan of electric motorcycles you probably can’t help but be disappointed with the current state of things, but the first week of March may have provided some sense of hope. In that week Ducati, Indian Motorcycle and Yamaha all introduced electric two wheelers.

The problem is: they aren’t really the two-wheelers that we want. Or, at least, they aren’t the two-wheelers that I want. It’s probably important at this point to acknowledge that I have a somewhat narrow internal definition of what’s relevant/good when it comes to electrically powered two-wheeled vehicles. 

Triumph’s Project TE-1 is the sort of electric bike I want to see more of

What I want are fully fledged motorcycles like the genuinely excellent LiveWire: electric motorcycles that look more or less like internal-combustion-engined motorcycles and which deliver similar performance in terms of power and handling.

So, yeah, BMW has had its awkward-looking CE 04 scooter out for a while now, and Vespa its mildly disappointing Elettrica scooter, but that’s not what I want, man. I want a motorcycle that looks like a motorcycle, sounds like a Landspeeder and delivers arm-ripping torque. I want something like the Triumph Project TE-1 that was unveiled last month.

Unfortunately, that still appears to be a number of years away. In the present we have a bunch of electric bicycles and a 50cc-equivalent scooter.

HISTORY REPEATING

A number of motorcycle companies started out making bicycles in the 19th century, so I suppose there’s a kind of poetic synergy in the fact that companies are choosing to return to pedal power as they explore the use and viability of electric technologies.

Ducati’s range of electric bicycles is one of the most fully fledged. Last week, the Italian brand introduced its new Futa road bike – a carbon-fiber-framed beauty that comes with a £7,690 starting price (some £1,000 more than a new Suzuki SV650). It joins Ducati’s existing range, which includes the TK-01RR, the MIG-S and e-Scrambler.

Ducati’s new Futa claims a relatively low (for an e-bike) weight of 12.5 kilograms and a top speed in excess of 15 mph

The TK-01RR and MIG-S are all-terrain and off-road-focused machines of the sort you’ll see people pedaling across the South Downs Way these days. Whereas the eScrambler – the most affordable of Ducati’s offerings at only £3,600 – is something more akin to the kind of urban bicycle one might use to get around in a city. Though, side note: I’m not sure the eScrambler is available for sale in the UK.

At the same time, Indian announced the launch of its Hooligan eFTR 1.2 electric bike, which looks pretty dinky if I’m honest. I mean, I get that Indian kind of wants to tap into the spirit of making things that your weird uncle would like – you know, the one who’s built a beer bottle greenhouse or sewn together a jacket made of Crown Royal bags – but this thing looks pretty thrown-together. 

Apparently it has a top speed of 28 mph, though, which is impressive and likely to be the cause of many an uncle’s road rash and probably the reason it’s not for sale in Europe, where such things are usually limited to ~15 mph. 

The Indian eFTR Hooligan 1.2 leaves a little to be desired in terms of looks

More aesthetically pleasing (to me, anyway) are the electric bicycles that Yamaha partially unveiled last week, promising to deliver a full line in time for summer riding. According to Yamaha, it “created the first Power Assist System which formed the basis of the world’s first production eBike” back in the 1990s. This is a dubious claim, since people have been building electric bicycles since the 1890s but, sure, whatever.

The Japanese manufacturer is working on three proprietary-technology e-bikes more or less targeting the same segments that Ducati is focused on. 

Meanwhile, you’ll probably know that Triumph already has its Trekker (currently the most affordable of the motorcycle brand e-bikes, at £2,950) and Harley-Davidson launched its Serial 1 line back in 2020. If you’re really interested in electric bicycles, check out my friend Chris Phin’s new YouTube channel, eBike Nuggs, which offers the chance to see a slightly out-of-breath Scottish man navigate Dundee as he pontificates on the virtues of e-cycling.

YAMAHA’S ELECTRIC NEO’s SCOOTER

Jumping forward to last week, Yamaha has offered more details of its 50cc-equivalent electric scooter, the NEO’s. That is not a typo, that’s how Yamaha writes the name of this thing: NEO’s. As someone who writes for a living, trying to make sense of that name is a mindfuck. The NEO’s. I… I just can’t…

Looking just a little like a B-Bot, Yamaha’s badly named electric scooter is driven by “a newly developed air-cooled brushless electric motor that delivers high levels of torque for smooth running, strong acceleration and extremely quiet operation.”

The new Yamaha Neo’s lacks even the range to follow a marathon

As standard, the NEO’s range (or, actually, that should be “NEO’s’s range”) is a disappointing 22 miles, which is infuriatingly impractical. But it has space for a second, removable battery, that can extend range to 42 miles. No prices have been unveiled, so it’s difficult to know exactly how disappointing this thing is.

If not going very far is your thing, however (perhaps you live on an aircraft carrier and just want to zip from one end of the deck to the other), the NEO’s offers two riding modes, keyless start, a strangely old-school LCD display, a face-melting top speed of 24 mph and – of course – smart phone connectivity. 

Yamaha is also developing a 125cc-equivalent version that, at present, has no set production date.

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* Even there, things are confusing. I still don’t really understand why H-D chose last year to distance itself from LiveWire, turning it into a stand-alone brand.