The field of electric motorcycles is emerging nicely. One key milestone, in particular, was crossed recently. An electric motorcycle not only broke "the ton" (100 mph course average speed) at the Isle of Man this year, but three did. Two riders from the MotoCzysz team, and one from Mugen (a racing-specialty house, closely associated with Honda):
This is significant for many reasons.
Psychological. The fact that electric sportbikes exist, and not merely pizza-delivery scoots, is a clear demonstration... the fact that these bikes are faster than anything you can legally do on a public road, yet still on a road course, is an undeniable demonstration. E-cycles are not bicycles with trolling motors, nor are they half a golf cart. Meanwhile, the Isle of Man has neither gorgeous weather, nor desert road routings. The island has ancient, twisty roads, and it rained before the race, in fact. If a bike will blast through the IOM in the wet, it will handle your suburban boulevard just fine.
Fiscal. IOM is kind of a big deal. Both MotoCzysz and Mugen had major sponsors, and drew significant publicity for this industry. Electric-racing series have been going for a few years now, and will clearly continue.
Technological. Of course, the IOM achievement stands on engineering merit as well. Simply breaking an arbitrary numerical figure is one thing. For two separate entities to do it, with different designs, and multiple individual machines, means it wasn't a fluke. The field as a whole can do it, with technical diligence and due care with the components. This was not some Bonneville tinkerer getting lucky, after dozens of run attempts.
Of course, there's one huge downside: these were not motorcycles for public sale. Heck, the two racing organizations don't even sell bikes, period.
MotoCzysz (motoczysz.com) is best described as an engineering firm. They contain engineers, mechanics, and managers with both official and unofficial expertise. But how do these experts pay the rent? Either they intend to rent themselves as technical consultants, to companies that actually sell vehicles publicly. That, or they intend to grow the company to the point that they sell it whole to a vehicle company. In either case, winning races (not cheap) builds up the "MotoCzysz" name, which is supposed to lead to future money. The sponsor logos on the bike and rider also help keep the company afloat, until that future arrives.
Mugen (www.mugen-power.com) is a bit closer to the consumer. You can actually buy Mugen stuff today. However, they're in the form of hop-up parts for that Honda project you've got in the garage, not an actual, roadworthy Honda. That, and shirts, hats, etc. What testosterone-filled moto brand doesn't boost its own name with T-shirts, fashion accessories, stickers, assorted gougeables?
The upshot is that IOM technologies still have to filter through a layer or two before we can actually buy them. In terms of components, vendors which sold to MotoCzysz or Mugen might sell these same, race-tested parts to other makers, which might sell us complete bikes. In terms of systems and subsystems, the two groups must be contracted to assist some other manufacturer- one which actually knows how to build and move bikes in volume, as well as handle dealership and support networks.
(Another such intermediary is Lightning Motorcycles (www.lightningmotorcycle.com). Technically, Lightning sells rideable bikes to the public. However, at $40,000, delivered quantities are miniscule and are not taken seriously in the business. They are no more relevant than Aston-Martin or Maserati in the 4-wheel universe; I wouldn't be surprised to see them swallowed up by Yamaha or BMW or whoever. Of course, the company is claiming to be preparing cheaper models for the future. If this actually happens, volumes will increase and I might have to eat those words.)
Like I said, there'll be a better one in two to three years, as race technology filters out. Who will it turn out to be? And will it be that much better enough for one to justify that 2-3 year holdout? Other good ones disagree- but that's a later post.