Electric cars have struggled due to battery power and weight, but electric dirt bikes have advanced due to their smaller size and reliance on bursts of power. Electric dirt bikes have a range of about 40 miles and are more expensive due to custom parts. Honda plans to release an electric motocross bike in two years.
The electric car has remained problematic for engineers over the years, largely due to its size. The battery power required for a vehicle weighing more than a ton (907 kilograms) is daunting to say the least, and there are serious problems with power and cruising range before recharging becomes necessary. The motorcycle, however, is a different and much smaller beast, and that’s where a lot of the advances in electric transportation have occurred in recent years.
Even within the motorcycle class, electricity has found a niche. Electric dirt bikes are typically ridden short distances, are lightweight, and rely more on bursts of power than long-term cruising speeds. Plus, using electric rather than gas motors eliminates all of the exhaust emissions and most of the noise that has ruffled the feathers of outdoor enthusiasts who view motocross bikes as cheeky intruders on their peace of mind.
Neal Saiki, one of the pioneers in manufacturing electric cross bikes, has invented a vehicle that weighs just 140 pounds (63.5 kilograms) with a two-battery power supply installed—about half the weight of a gas-powered cross bike. Creating him went on to capture a number of major races and earn instant respect in the motocross community. Part of the attraction for riders was the use of multiple power supplies to avoid having to wait for a recharge. However, an electric dirt bike can only go about 40 miles, or two hours of trail time, before recharging becomes necessary.
An interesting feature on some electric dirt bike models is a “half power switch” that cuts the power in half by simply flipping a switch. This is ideal for beginner cyclists or city trips. At full power, according to company literature, Saiki’s Model Zero can go from 0 to 30 mph in under two seconds and achieves a top speed comparable to petrol-powered bikes.
As with many innovations, the electric dirt bike is more expensive at this stage in its development. Part of that is because some parts have to be custom made – at this point, it’s expensive and difficult to simply convert a standard bike to electric. Also, most of the companies making the electric dirt bike have been entrepreneurial start-ups like Saiki.
In December of 2008, however, Honda announced plans to develop its own electric motorcycles, which would presumably include an electric motocross bike. The company said it hoped to have one available in two years. Another company, KTM, already has a prototype.