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The Future of Motorcycling: ICE vs. EV

But does it really have to be a battle between these two types?

There’s no denying there’s been a big push for electric vehicles (EVs) lately. Governments around the globe are calling for greener energy and lower emissions, and with the recent rise in gas prices, even everyday consumers are starting to wonder if EVs make more sense than they did a few years ago. Although the portion of EVs sold on the market remains small, their growth in just the last year is telling.

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, citing statistics from market-research firm Motor Intelligence, automakers sold 807,180 fully electric vehicles in the U.S. last year, or 5.8% of all vehicles sold, which is up from 3.2% a year earlier. That’s an 81% jump year-over-year, which is especially relevant, considering that from 2018 to 2020, EVs made up less than 2% of all auto sales.

What does this mean for motorcycles? While cars are considered more of a necessity (at least in American culture), motorcycles are not. It makes sense that the auto industry is a few years ahead of the motorcycle space in terms of introduction and reception, so can it really be used as an indicator of what’s going to happen in this industry? When you add the culture behind American motorcycling into the mix, it sets the bar for acceptance very high.

“For the foreseeable future, EV looks to remain a small percentage of new bike sales,” predicts David Zemla, vice president of marketing at S&S Cycle. “The more looming challenge to our space is more likely emissions enforcement taking out the performance aftermarket.”

New Bikes on the Block

Even so, that hasn’t stopped the industry from trying. You’ve likely seen a lot of new company names popping up in the news the last few years — Stark Future, Cake and Arc, to name a few. These companies, alongside older ones, such as Zero and Energica, are all solely dedicated to manufacturing electric motorcycles. Of course, the inception of any new industry always sees an influx of companies trying their hand at a product, but not everyone will make it in the long run. And they all face the same bias.

“I mean, it’s pretty tough to replace the feel and sound of a motorcycle underneath you,” admits Tom Motzko, vendor development with Drag Specialties.

But perhaps the point isn’t to replicate that sound and feeling. Rather, it’s to provide an alternative experience. For instance, Harley-Davidson, one of the most iconic gas-powered, V-Twin manufacturers, shocked the world when it released its all-electric LiveWire in 2019. For a segment as steeply entrenched in tradition as the V-Twin market is, everyone thought electric motorcycles would be a hard sell. Yet, LiveWire became the first publicly traded electric motorcycle company and is projecting sales over 100,000 units by 2026, despite selling only 387 in 2021.

Other traditional manufacturers have also been dabbling in the electric space — BMW with its motorcycle/scooter-hybrid CE 04 and Indian with its eFTR youth bikes, for instance — though other than Harley-Davidson, none has yet released a full-sized electric motorcycle. 

According to Brandon Kraemer, vice president, product and electrification at Indian Motorcycle, while manufacturers will continue to focus on developing technology that enhances the riding experience in their traditional, internal combustion engine (ICE) lineups, he notes that the next decade will also see a major shift in the market due to EVs.

“With so much of a motorcycle’s character coming from the internal combustion engine, the market acceptance of an electric powertrain will not be easy or quick,” Kraemer warns. “Manufacturers… have to think differently and experiment with different technology to see what unknown benefits a potential electric version could have. There will be a lot of innovation happening around EVs in the next 10 to 15 years, so hang on — it’s going to be interesting!”

Breaking Into the Market

John Strangfeld, national sales manager for Drag Specialties, agrees that the motorcycle industry will be a tough market to crack, since the V-Twin market especially has always embraced the sensational experience — the sounds, sights, smells and feel — of riding a motorcycle. However, he believes EVs are definitely going to be part of the motorcycle industry’s future, though how exactly they will fit in remains uncertain.

“I believe that companies will continue to develop and evolve motorcycles based on the needs and desires of the younger market coming up, and I don’t think we really know what that’s going to truly look like,” Strangfeld predicts. “I personally feel that there is always going to be space for gas-powered engines, and there’ll always be that desire for even young people to experience what that is and what that feels like. We’ll probably see many present and future customers owning both gas-powered and electric.”

Aaron Whitney, director of owned brands for Tucker Powersports, doesn’t believe EVs will overtake the gas market. Rather, he forecasts them becoming an extension of it. He also sees a critical opportunity in a growing EV segment.

“The other thing I think electric’s going to help us do is bring more new riders, more young people, just more folks into what we’ve all put our life in,” Whitney says. “That’s probably the biggest opportunity we have with electric.”

In fact, all the experts here agree that instead of seeing EVs as an intruder, we should look at them as yet another segment of the motorcycle market. Just as there are V-Twins, cruisers, sport bikes, adventure bikes and more, so too will there be EVs. Of course, people will always have their preferences, but some enthusiasts will always want to own multiple bikes of various types — ICE and EV.

Whitney encourages everyone to try out as many motorcycle segments as possible. “Go ride a dirt bike, go ride a Harley, go ride something old, ride something new, ride something electric,” he says. “You never know what you’re going to like until you try it, right? There are plenty of them to go around, and everybody should have at least two in their garage.”

Spoken like a true enthusiast! No matter how you slice it, the EV debate is going to remain heated for the next few years. There will continue to be media hype because it’s the “new, shiny thing,” and that might make it feel like EVs are taking over the industry. But, don’t fret and try to look at the positives. EVs can’t replace ICE motorcycles, but they sure can add another fun facet to an already exciting industry.

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