Eco-friendly electric motorbikes come of age

You’ve heard of electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf and the Toyota Prius Plug-In. But what about electric motorbikes? The LiveWire, perhaps, or the Zero SR?


No, me neither. But perhaps a government grant towards the cost of an e-bike will rev up our interest in green machines. For some, the notion of an eco-friendly motorbike is a contradiction in terms – you don’t mount a ‘stallion of the highway’ only to find it has the, er, horsepower of a Shetland pony. But maybe that attitude betrays an outdated awareness of how today’s green engines perform.

Taken for granted

The coalition government agreed at the end of March to extend the plug-in car grant to electric motorbikes – and the new Conservative administration is honouring the commitment. It has set aside £7.5 million for the scheme, which would offer a grant of up to £1,500 towards the purchase price of an electric motorbike or scooter. It might not sound much, but it equates to a 20% discount on the ticket price of some machines. The Office for Low Emission Vehicles is sorting out the technical details with the motorcycle industry, but everyone expects the grants to be available towards the end of the year and to run until 2020.

Emission control

Electric two-wheelers, like electric cars, are powered by batteries, so they reduce CO2 emissions. The range of e-bikes is limited but some models can travel up to 150 miles before they need to be recharged. Speeds are quite impressive, too. Most e-bikes can reach top speeds of about 100 mph. Steve Kenward, CEO of the Motorcycle Industry Association, welcomed the news of the grant: “This is significant development as it recognises the part motorcycles and scooters can play in a low carbon future. “The subsidy will encourage more people to opt for electric motorcycles and scooters, which will help solve the UK’s appalling congestion problem. “Economically, it will provide a much needed boost to this sector of the automotive industry. “We hope this will result in increased investment in UK research and development for electric powered two wheel vehicles.”

Green machines

There’s little doubt that the market for e-bikes in the UK needs a boost. In 2014, a mere 200 alternative powered two-wheelers were sold, up from a meagre 113 in 2013. Motorbike giant Harley-Davidson generated some much-needed excitement last year when it unveiled its LiveWire electric motorcycle with a successful tour of the US. 



The LiveWire is not for sale – and if you want to buy an electric motorcycle the choice is limited. Zero Motorcycles is probably the biggest name in the e-motorbike business. It started out in a garage in California in 2006 and now sells bikes around the world. If speed’s your thing, the Lightning LS-218 Superbike boasts the fastest top speed of any electric-powered motorcycle at 218 mph. It’s not cheap, though. The bikes are built to order and come with a pretty high price tag of $38,888. Italian company Energica offers the Ego electric motorcycle. Or there’s the Saietta Group, based in Oxfordshire, which produces a futuristic-looking bike that can go from 0 mph to 60 mph in three seconds.

Theory of Evolution

Riders who prefer a more familiar name, might be interested in BMW’s electric scooter. The C Evolution can reach speeds of 75mph and has a range of 60 mph. The retail price for the scooter starts at about £13,500. Standard motorbikes generate on average half the CO2 emissions of the average car, so motorcyclists are already more environmentally friendly than drivers of other vehicles. The e-motorbike takes it to another level, allowing you to swap a gas-guzzling model for a truly green machine. And with a government grant towards the cost, you could save money as well as the planet.

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