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Electric motorcycles: Everything you need to know

·Senior Reporter
·4 min read

Take a look on any street these days and you’ll likely see a silent two-wheel bike of some sort driving by. Electric bikes, electric mopeds, electric scooters — even electric motorcycles — are everywhere.

It might be that the electric vehicle, or EV revolution, may be more about 2-wheel transportation than 4-wheel modes of transport. Here's what it takes to get on road with one of these two-wheel vehicles, and why you might prefer an electric two-wheeler or a traditional gas-powered one.

Licensing and certification

The question for most new riders is how to get into the electric bike, scooter, or motorcycle game. Requirements differ by city and state, but for the most part they follow some basic rules.

In many areas, licensing for traditional motorcycles and gas-powered mopeds or scooters has typically been based on the size of the engine. With electric bikes, the engine’s displacement is irrelevant when determining power. In the state of New York, where I live, any two-wheeler that can travel above 30 miles per hour requires an M-class — or motorcycle — license. Getting an M-class license typically requires completing a safety training course and demonstrating proficiency on a bike.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 10: Riders of the Shared electric moped system
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 10: Riders of the Shared electric moped system "REVEL" wear masks next to Prospect Park in Brooklyn on May 10, 2020 in New York City. COVID-19 has spread to most countries around the world, claiming over 283,000 lives with over 4.1 million infections reported. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

Slower two-wheelers, such as scooters or e-mopeds, don’t require a motorcycle license in New York. The manufacturer and retailer should know whether a motorcycle license is needed or not, based on location.

For most city driving, you might be able to get away with using a less powerful electric scooter or e-moped that don't require an M-class license (those Niu electric mopeds, that both Revel and Lime use are good examples). Anything else more powerful — and likely looking like a "real" motorcycle — requires the same M-class certification as more powerful gas-powered motorcycles.

Operation and maintenance - the electric motorcycle edge?

California-based Zero Motorcycles is one of the prominent makers of electric motorcycles that function and operate like your standard motorcycles.

The company has been making electric motorcycles for over 10 years, and just released its latest creation, the Zero SR. The SR is a "naked streetbike," with a powerful electric motor capable of taking the bike to 104 mph, with peak torque at a robust 122 ft-lbs, and a range of nearly 230 miles in extended form. And a curb weight of around 489 lbs. keeps it competitive with most sport bikes in its class.

2022 Zero SR (Courtesy: Zero Motorcycles)
2022 Zero SR (Courtesy: Zero Motorcycles)

So the capability is certainly there. But from an operation and maintenance standpoint, are electric motorcycles better than traditional gas powered bikes? Sam Paschel, CEO of Zero Motorcycles, not surprisingly believes that is the case — and not just because of "going green."

“For me, fundamentally, riding a motorcycle, any motorcycle, is an experience that engages all five senses. It's a complete experience,” he says. “Your sense of smell, your sense of hearing and your sense of touch are completely different on an electric motorcycle than a gas motorcycle. There are no fumes and no smells; there is no noise so you get a much more immersive experience riding around. But for me, the biggest transition and the thing that's a transformation is there's no vibration through the handlebars. It's the most pure connection from the rider and the road that I've ever experienced.”

One big change that is a huge difference from an operation point of view is shifting. With an electric motorcycle there’s no shifting, no clutch to engage, no stalling to be wary of. It’s just, twist the throttle and go.

For new motorcycle riders this is a huge benefit, though many experienced riders do enjoy the process of operating a regular motorcycle, smelling that exhaust, and of course hearing the roar of the engine.

Another benefit of electric motorcycles, and likely a big one for new riders, is the ease in maintaining and servicing the bikes. “From an ownership standpoint, the cost is significantly lower — there's no oil changes, air filter changes, no valve adjustments — you walk out into the garage, the motorcycle is charged and ready to go and you take it for a ride,” Zero's Paschel says.

As I noted earlier, it seems many different types of riders are taking advantage of these benefits, hopping on electric bikes, scooters, mopeds, and the bigger bikes that Zero makes, to get around town.

Big motorcycle makers like Harley-Davidson (HOG) (with the Livewire electric motorcycle) and Ducati (the sole provider of bikes for the all-electric MotoE World Cup) have finally noticed and are hoping their traditional motorcycle riders, and those new riders flocking to the likes of Zero and Niu (NIU), will follow suit.

Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.

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