How Does The Domestic Electric Motorcycle Field Stack Up?
Will Harley-Davidson Be A Contender in the Zero Market?by TJ Hinton, on
No doubt about it, EV technology is coming on in leaps and bounds across the board, and the motorcycle field is no exception. There are a few domestic marques working on electric bikes at the moment such as the electro-centric Zero Motorcycles and the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, the former of which makes nothing but EV bikes and the latter offers only a single entry with its new LiveWire. There’s a third option in the lees with the Brammo-based Empulse model that was just starting to make a name for itself when its carrier, Victory Motorcycles, went tits up. That machine still falls under the Polaris umbrella along with Indian Motorcycle and we expect to see it again sooner rather than later, but we aren’t there just yet so let’s focus on what is actually ready to hit the road as of this writing.
Point Goes To Zero Motorcycles For A Diverse Lineup
First, let’s take a look at Zero. Founded in Santa Cruz, California as Electricross by NASA engineer Neal Saiki back in ’06, the marque changed its name to Zero and moved to Scotts Valley, California where it has dominated the nation, and indeed the world, in EV bike development. Zero focuses all its energies and R&D dollars on the electric sector, thus putting it in an advantageous position. I could argue that since Zero’s body of work is all recent and all centered around electrics, its experience is too limited to produce an overall superior motorcycle compared to, say, the MoCo. The flipside to that, of course, is that while H-D has decades of experience building smoker bikes, it’s only just now trying to apply its knowledge to the EV bike sector thus ceding the edge to Zero.
An all-electric lineup fills Zero’s range, and the factory covers most of the major bases to include naked, superbikes, MotoGP, dirtbikes, and full-on adventure bikes to place it in a unique position to compete within the EV bike world. Fit and finish is considered to be acceptable for Zero’s products, and there’s no doubt that the marque offers the largest selection of models along with a well-rounded accessory catalog that lets you mix and match power storage and charging components so you can tailor the specifics to suit your style of riding.
Super-fast charges (around 1 hour) are possible with a proper, high-voltage charging facility, but if you have access to household voltage, you can still manage a full charge overnight to the tune of around $2.02 for a full “tank” to deliver close to 200 miles of city riding at the top of the power-storage range. To be fair, Zero is rumored to be a bit optimistic with its figures, from ranges to charge times, so you may look at the specs list with a bit of skepticism in those areas but they’re generally accepted as the absolute max under perfect conditions – a situation that rarely materializes in real-life applications – so keep that in mind.
Point Goes To Harley-Davidson For Deep Pockets and A Robust Network
Next up is America’s longest-running motorcycle manufacturer, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Harley brings oodles of bike experience to the table, and it shows in the fit and finish and well-put-together look of its single electric sportbike. Sure, the MoCo is just starting to dabble in electric propulsion (if we ignore all those old battery-powered H-D golf carts out there), but the factory has lots of mileage on its chassis and suspension systems and the LiveWire reflects that.
Like Zero, H-D diversifies its electric lineup, but instead of a selection of big-boy toys, the MoCo is putting out what it calls “Balance Bikes” that are geared toward the kids. They say that indoctrination is best when started young, and that may be true, but what remains to be seen is whether the would-be biker larvae will actually make the jump to grown-up Harleys when the time comes.
In full disclosure, H-D didn’t invent these new kids’ bikes, but instead inherited them as part of the package when it acquired the StaCyc eDrive marque. That said; the LiveWire is the only unit so far from Harley that is actually meant for the open road. Toward that end, the LiveWire boasts a 146-mile range in the city, and like the Zero products, can charge at a high-capacity station in about an hour, or over several hours on house voltage.
Will Deep Pockets and A Robust Network Beat A Diverse Lineup?
What’s the difference then? Well, it comes down to the same old equation; H-D enjoys deep research pockets, a robust dealership network, and perhaps most importantly, instant name recognition. The trade off is found at the checkout counter as H-D looks to get $30k for its LiveWire while Zero’s flagship SR/F can be had for a hair under $20k. Unsurprising, given that the MoCo has never been one to use price as a selling point, but still a factor, especially when we consider the intended market. Both companies are looking to grab a new breed of rider – one that’s down with progressive transportation methods and less likely to follow in the well-worn track of ages of smoker bikes. In other words, H-D is trying to gain favor with a couple of generations that don’t bow to the Altar of Harley out of habit and culture.
Frugality is also one of the general attributes associated with the generations in question, so the $30,000 sticker is effectively shooting the MoCo in its foot, and the general consensus holds that the price is going to have to come down to be competitive, ’cause the kids aren’t like the Boomers or even the Xers in their spending habits.
Meanwhile, Zero is steadily advancing its efforts with bigger/better/faster machines every year, and these are machines that are specialized to cover bases that no other manufacturer can even come close. Sure, there are companies that make some EV dirt bikes, even EV scooters, but none that are dedicated strictly to the electrification of motorcyclification to the degree that Zero brings to the table.
Will Harley-Davidson’s Brand Power Be Enough?
So, the race is on; will Harley-Davidson’s brand power carry the day, or will less-expensive but lesser-known tech do the trick? Or perhaps, will some third party come out of nowhere to capture the market? Methinks it will be interesting to see how it turns out, and of course, the real winners are the customers and the environment.
See our review of the Harley-Davidson LiveWire.
See our review of the Zero SR/F.
Read more Zero Motorcycles news.
Read more Harley-Davidson news.