The word “motorcycle” is an abbreviated way of saying “motorized bicycle”, which is to say that motorcycles are an evolution of the humble pedal bike. From a genialogy perspective, somewhere around 1894, motorized bicycles went into production and a new industry was born. Look around today: the age of electric, ecological, battery-powered-everything and you may wonder what the future has in store for both the motorcycle and bicycle industries. Is it possible that these once-separated 2-wheeled sports are on a path to re-unite?
On the Motorcycle Side
If you’ve been following industry news for the last decade, then you’re aware that the motorcycle industry (as we know it today anyway), has been relatively flat, with bike manufacturers scratching their heads to come up with new products and strategies to spur growth or at least, prevent erosion (in many cases).
Many brands have focused their R&D efforts on developing smaller displacement bikes (<500cc), combined with a more global view of their businesses and a focus on emerging markets. Lowering both displacement and production costs has allowed manufacturers such as KTM and BMW (of late) to gain share in previously untapped markets such as India, China, etc.
The other major anticipated growth (or preservation?) strategy is the gradual introduction of electric motorcycles into a given manufacturer’s range. As we are seeing in the auto industry, the winning mix will need to combine the right timing, cost and “performance” in order to attract newcomers to the sport while not alienating its aging core customers
For a plethora of financial, technological and psychographic reasons, delivering a competitive and appealing electric motorcycle to today’s consumer has been no easy task, as evidenced by failed e-motorcycle ventures such as Alta Motors (2007-2018) and Mission Motors (2007-2017). What remains to be seen is how existing EOMs will fare as they begin launching products in this category.
One thing everyone agrees on however is that electric motorcycles are an inevitable part of our 2-wheeled future. It’s no coincidence that Dorna (commercial entity behind Moto GP, World Superbike, etc) will be launching the first major all-electric racing series in the 2019 FIM MotoE World Cup. Electric is indeed here to stay.
On the Bicycle Side
Cycling, in many ways is the antithesis of motorcycling. The industry is growing at a phenomenal rate, fueled by municipal green space / bike lane initiatives, urban decongestion projects and our ever-growing environmental conscience. Not to mention the global obesity epidemic which clearly benefits from the “exercise-as-transportation” movement that bicycles enable.
What’s changed in the cycling world of late however is the arrival of electric bicycles. This new category of bikes is attracting new buyers, but also new manufacturers into the market and presents a landgrab opportunity for whoever manages to get “electric” right. As a matter of fact, the electric bicycle market is forecasted to be nearly $24B USD by 2025 (source: Allied Market Research).
For the uninitiated, electric-assisted bicycles (or “pedelecs”) have been around since th 1990’s (more so in Europe than North America). First generation machines were predominantly “conventional” bicycles, retrofitted with a motor in the rear wheel hub and a battery mounted to the frame. Some of these e-bicycles could be operated by a conventional twist grip throttle (similar to a motorcycle) whereas others used a “pedal assist” sensor where the motor was only used to supplement pedaling effort and could be electronically tuned to the desired level of assistance.
The latest generation of electric bicycles are engineered a lot more like, well, motorcycles. Premium models feature a motor located at the crank (where pedals meet the chainring), the main benefits of which are mass centralization as well as a more natural feel at the pedal.
Batteries are now incorporated into the frame (typically the downtube) and the combined systems are managed by increasingly sophisticated electronic systems, with 3 to 5 ride modes that vary power delivery, can be switched on-the-fly and can often be customized to the user’s preferences.
Interestingly, walking around a major bike shop today, you’ll see a multitude of familiar brands from the motorcycle industry, such as Yamaha, Ohlins, Bosch and Michelin, to name a few. If you followed the coverage at EICMA 2018, you may have noticed an interesting new “bike” from none other than Ducati, with the announcement of their electric Mig RR e-bicycle.
Case and point: the bicycle industry may well be leading the charge when it comes to electric technology and many of the motorcycle industry’s players are quietly developing new products (and revenue streams) there. How long will it be before you can buy an electric bicycle at your local motorcycle shop, or vice-versa?
Let’s be clear: someone will have to pry gasoline-powered motorcycles from our cold dead hands but the reality is that if you are reading this, you will likely live to see a day where you can’t legally purchase a new gasoline powered motorcycle. The future, by all accounts seems to be going the way of the electric and if that coffin needed any more nails in it, consider the ever-more-stringent emissions regulations, which are causing OEMs to reach the limits of what internal combustion technology is capable of. We believe that this move towards an all-electric motorcycle future is destined to reunite the bicycle and motorcycle industries in the next decade.
Imagine for a second, a motorcycle dealership of the future where you can buy anything from an e-bicycle to an e-Superbike. As a combined industry, we will likely classify electric 2 wheeled vehicles on a continuum, divided into classes (not unlike motorcycles in many EU countries).
1. The bicycle industry is very much the silver bullet that motorcycle manufacturers need to regain their momentum and remain economically viable.
2. Most of the major players from gasoline-powered motorcycle industry are already experimenting there, from motors to suspension, electronics, tires, etc. All that’s missing is the R&D effort from major OEMs to push this into the mainstream.
3. Tomorrow’s 2-wheeled motorized vehicle buyer looks very different than yesterday’s. Less power-hungry, more practical, cost and environmentally conscious. Electric bicycles are a better entry point for these customers. Furthermore, manufacturers such as Harley Davidson (who’s sales are down double digit % year over year) have already proven that what once worked for the masses is no longer working.
4. Although both motorcycles and e-bicycles are helping with urban decongestion (vs cars), electric bicycles offer several advantages to end users, the most significant of which are lower cost of ownership and dedicated lanes. Yes, lane splitting should be explored for motorcycles, but it’s a stop-gap vs a long term solution.
5. We are in the midst of a global obesity epidemic (with the US leading the charge). Initiatives that get people more active are likely to receive municipal and federal support which makes their success all the more likely.
The convergence of bicycles and motorcycles under the guise of “electric 2-wheeled vehicles” leaves us with many questions:
- To produce eletric bicycles today, traditional (pedal bike) OEMs rely heavily on support from non-OEM components and often use parts from another OEM (outsourced motors, electronics, software, etc). Will this be sustainable in the long run or will major component manufacturing (such as motors) need to be brought in-house? In the motorcycle world, it would be inconceivable for a modern Ducati to be running a Yamaha motor. How will this translate to electric bicycles?
- Fast forward 10 years to year 2030 (keeping in mind factors such as globalization): which end of the electric market will be more lucrative for a major motorcycle manufacturer? Smaller electric bicycles or larger electric motorcycles? How will this affect their product offering and R&D priorities?
- With the current political climate in the US and Europe, which way are emissions regulations going to go, and how quickly? Stricter regulations may be the “coup de grace” that puts an end to our beloved gasoline-powered bikes and tips the scale in favor of electic.