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ADV BikesIs an Electric Motorcycle for Adventure Riders on the Horizon?

Is an Electric Motorcycle for Adventure Riders on the Horizon?

 What’s out there and coming for long-range electric dual sport motorcycles.

Published on 02.12.2016

The electric motorcycle is getting better every year. Improvements to suspensions, brakes, charge times and range are bringing them closer to parity with internal combustion models.

Look closely at the market, however, and you’ll notice that most of the improvements benefit street or track bikes, those destined for use as commuters or in closed-course competition. That’s because range remains a sticking point. And it still isn’t anywhere near as quick or convenient to top off your battery as it is to fill your gas tank.

That isn’t an issue if you are riding back and forth to work and can plug in overnight, or you are racing up Pikes Peak and know exactly where the finish line is. But if you are an Adventure Rider that wants to venture off the beaten track on an electron-powered motorcycle, you’ll need planning and patience because the technology just isn’t there yet.


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Below we look at what’s out there now, and what’s coming in the near future for long-range electric dual sport motorcycles.

Zero DS

Zero DS Electric Motorcycle

Zero Motorcycles, based out of Santa Barbara, Calif., is the industry leader in off-road capable electric motorcycles. They have three models for dual-sport riders: the DS, DSR and FX.

The DS, which stands for “dual sport,” comes with adjustable Showa suspension, ABS brakes, 19/17-inch front/rear wheels, has 54 horsepower and weighs 381 pounds, about 15 pounds heavier than a Suzuki DR 650. The DSR packs a 67-horsepower motor and comes in at 419 pounds. A new cooler-running motor design and increased battery density are new for 2016, as is an optional charging port that enables the motorcycle to use public charging stations. Range is up by a claimed 10-20 percent.

On paper, the DS and DSR are competitive with traditional dual sport motorcycles in both power and range. With the smaller battery option, the DS goes a claimed 110 miles in the city, and up to 179 miles outfitted with the optional “Power Tank” battery. The standard DSR, with its bigger battery, does a little better at a claimed 147 miles, or 179 miles with the Power Tank. Charge times are as low as two hours and as high as nine hours, depending on how the motorcycle is configured and optional charging accessories.

Those are respectable figures, and a giant leap compared to only a few years ago. But “your mileage may vary” definitely applies. In a recent review of a 2016 DSR, Motorcycle.com did 45 miles of “spirited” riding, all pavement and no freeway, and used 60 percent of a full charge, meaning they’d be walking in less than 100 miles.

Zero FX

Zero FX Electric Motorcycle

If you live for dirt, the FX is the exciting news in Zero’s lineup. This street-legal hooligan bike packs up to 44 horsepower and a whopping 70 pound feet of torque into a sub-300 pound electric motorcycle. Like the DS, it has Showa suspension components and ABS brakes. It also sports a dirt-worthy 21″/18″ front/rear wheel size combo. (There is also the FXS, Zero’s Supermoto electric motorcycle.)

Unlike the DS, it has swappable batteries. You can ride with one or two onboard, or charge one while riding with the other. That’s a good thing because because the range is as low as 17 miles or as high as 41 running one power pack, depending on where and how you ride. Range is about double that running two. Charge time is 4.7 hours from empty to full, double that if you are running both batteries. Zero sells accessories that can cut the charge time by up to 75 percent.

KTM Freeride E-XC

KTM Freeride E-XC Electric Motorcycle

The electric versions of KTM’s Freeride are the Austrian company’s only street-legal electric motorcycle offerings. They are water cooled, weigh under 250 pounds, and have swappable battery packs that produce 22 horsepower and 31 pound feet of torque. Street-legal Freeride E models come in an enduro form (E-XC) and a newer, dedicated supermoto offering (E-SM). The E-XC version comes with 18″/21″ wheel size combo and offers 9.8 inches (250mm) of suspension travel in front and 10.2 inches (260mm) in the rear.

But don’t get too excited. The bikes only run for an hour before they need recharging, and they are pricey. The newer E-XC model would cost the equivalent of around $15,000 USD if it were available in the U.S., which it isn’t yet.

Alta Redshift

Alta Redshift MX and SM Electric Motorcycles

The Alta Redshift isn’t widely available as of this writing, though the company is promising delivery in California in the first half of 2016 and the rest of the country in the second half of the year. And it isn’t technically a dual sport motorcycle; it comes in motocross and supermoto versions. So once again we have something for the other riders but not much for the dual-sport/adventure crowd.

Still, based on performance, it’s an interesting electric motorcycle option. At 265 pounds in street trim, and with between 25 and 40 horsepower, it is going to be fast. Alta rider Kevin Butler proved that at a sloppy, rain-soaked SupermotoUSA race in November by taking first place in the 250cc class, and second in the 450cc class. Thanks to the bike’s on-the-fly power mapping, Butler was able to compensate for changing track conditions and get by some seasoned veterans on traditional motorcycles.

The bad news is range. The Redshift SM will only go about 50 miles between plug-in sessions. Alta doesn’t list recharge time, but you’re going to be doing a lot of it. The company has speed, lightness and tunability down. Let’s hope they turn their attention to the dual sport/adventure market at some point.

Yamaha PED2

Yamaha PED2 Electric Motorcycle

Yamaha’s on to something interesting with their PED2 concept: a dual sport electric motorcycle for getting out into nature, quietly. The concept bike has been in development for a couple years, and there is some talk of it actually appearing in dealerships in 2016. We’ll see.

The PED2’s experimental status frees Yamaha from having to publish any specs on range, charging time, weight, price, etc. How practical it will be is anybody’s guess at the moment. Marketing materials emphasize how easy it is to ride for beginners, its green cred, and how useful it will be for exploring and “bird watching.” If that doesn’t exactly scream adventure, at least it’s a major manufacturer addressing the idea of a dirt-oriented electric motorcycle.

Electric Motorcycle Technology on the Horizon

Yamaha PED2 Electric Motorcycle

The big breakthrough that will finally allow electric motorcycles to go 200-plus miles and charge quickly always seems to be right around the corner. Researchers at Cambridge University are working on a new lithium-air battery that would be the size of a traditional motorcycle’s fuel tank and be as energy dense as the gas it holds. And students in the Netherlands have built an electric motorcycle they call the STORM Pulse they say has a range of 240 miles and takes only 38 minutes of charging to achieve 80 percent battery capacity.

Neither is available now and probably won’t be for years, if ever.

The reality today is that incremental advances have brought us street and competition electric motorcycles that are on par with gasoline right now. But if you want to venture past the safety of reliable plug ins and long recharging times, gasoline is still the answer.

Unless, that is, you really want an adventure. Thomas Tomczyk recently broke a world record for distance riding on an electric motorcycle: 27,882 kilometers, or 17,325 miles, from Philadelphia to the southern tip of South America in about nine months on his Zero S. He did it all in 90-mile increments.

Thomas Tomczyk Long Distance Record on an Electric Motorcycle
Courtesy Thomas Tomscyk

Author: Bob Whitby

Bob has been riding motorcycles since age 19 and working as a journalist since he was 24, which was a long time ago, let’s put it that way. He quit for the better part of a decade to raise a family, then rediscovered adventure, dual sport and enduro riding in the early 2000s. He lives in Arkansas, America’s best-kept secret when it comes to riding destinations, and travels far and wide in search of dirt roads and trails.

Author: Bob Whitby
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7 thoughts on “Is an Electric Motorcycle for Adventure Riders on the Horizon?

  1. The Yamaha PED2 looks cool. Any specs on it? I looked it up and found the road-oriented version PES2… wow cool technology prototype with helmet integration and such. Thanks for the article ADVPulse! cheers

  2. I can tell you that there are not too many electric outlets in the Swedish woods, mainly if you get further north. And in the time you wait for charging, the bugs will get a good part of you blood. So sadly enough: I will need to run on fossil fuel for quite a few more years. 🙁

  3. Sure, it’s on the horizon… but it’s still a long way off. In ten to twenty years it should be totally possible, if not the standard. But the issue right now is range and recharge ability. It’s still a lot easier to carry extra gas than it is to carry extra batteries. 🙂

  4. Remember the negativity when the first electric cars broke cover? Look at how the technology has improved since. What we’re seeing now are the ADV pioneers that are paving the way for the real deal(s).

    • The first electrical cars entered the roads in the first half of the 19th century. Its peak was around 1900 when approx. 40% of the cars in the U.S. were electrical powered. Electrical cars got succeeded by gas-powered cars for some good reasons. I cannot believe that we would be able to overcome the physical and chemistry rules 100 years later.

  5. I would be interested in that record Thomas set, but maybe something a little more off road haha.
    I am particularly interested in doing some ground breaking or innovative experimentation with electric engines, before I became an adventure rider I was a high voltage electrician in West Australia. I would be thrilled to see more electric motors being used and especially in adventure motorbikes, I think the potential in my riding lifetime is there, I noticed nobody speaking about recharging batteries via solar though? There is some brilliant advancements being made in solar technology these days and isnt far off being far more effecient.