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New Trends in Motorcycling – Automatics!

It’s time for a major change in motorcycling.  

Really?  How many times have you heard that one. It’s interesting – over the years, motorcycles have experienced some amazing technological advances – ABS, Traction Control, Ride-by-Wire, Active Suspensions…even specialized protective gear. All of these technologies are aimed at providing extra safety for our riding pleasure. They’re all good.

Ridley Auto-Glide

But what technologies and inventions have you seen that make biking easier? Well, you might say, today’s advanced bikes are better balanced than yesteryear’s – and you’d be right. But I really mean ‘easier’.

- Easier to learn to ride, easier to ride, easier to cruise.
- Easier for novices and aged drivers alike.
- Easier for those who have never used a clutch.
- Easier for those who’ve never been exposed to the bare-bones riding elements, as we have.

Ergonomically? With changes in hand controls, brakes, electronic ride controls? Nothing.  
Oh, wait a minute!  Everything!!

Some manufacturers have made shiftless bikes – automatic or shift-free bikes using CVT transmissions. Great news!

And how have Canadians fared in this area?  Horribly. 

I wonder why. To start with, Canadians are getting older… here are some facts: 1 in 5 Canadians are now aged 65+, and by 2013, that will be 1 in 4*1. In fact, back in 2012, 21 per cent of Canadians were over the age of 60. By 2030, that proportion is projected to rise to about 28.5 per cent, and by 2050, 31 per cent — nearly a third of all Canadians*2. When these seniors want to continue motorcycling (with arthritis), it’s only a matter of time until their hands and feet find shifting tougher and tougher. Here’s another example, having nothing to do with age - You want to ride with your friend or spouse or mistress (good for you!), but he or she doesn’t want to learn how to use a clutch. Do you just give up, or get your friend or partner a scooter?

Well, you’ve seen my articles on next-gen scooters and how great they are, that’s one way to go.  But, some bikers only want motorcycles – and who can blame them for all they offer?  So, if you chose motorcycles, you now have 2 choices - ‘automatic’ (gas) motorcycles, or electric ones.

Automatic motorcycles aren’t new. Honda had introduced them some years ago, but because the bike was expensive and improperly weighted, it wasn’t a runaway success.  Either was the Aprilia Mana, or the Ridley Auto-Glide.  That’s too bad, as that early lack of success ruined the path for Honda’s revolutionary CTX-700N DCT model in Canada. Automatic motorcycles look, handle, and are as powerful as the motorcycles we’ve been used to. But when it comes to shifting, they use a CVT-like transmission, allowing the rider to concentrate on other biking essentials, such as balance, monitoring traffic and road conditions. Only upon very close inspection would anyone realize your motorcycle is shift-less.

Aprilia 850 Mana

Honda’s CTX-700N DCT

So, what choices do you have if you want an ‘automatic’ motorcycle in Canada?  Well, this is where the short-sightedness of various manufacturers has let us down.  It’s not news that Canada poses an issue to vehicle manufacturers – because of our unique vehicle regulations and inordinate taxes, we often get the dregs of their vehicles.  For instance, I had a MazdaSpeed 3 (great car!) and I didn’t get anywhere close to the interior goodies that Americans got - for a far higher price. The same principle applies to motorcycles. So, that’s one reason why we don’t get the same varied bike selection as our fellow Americans. The other reason is Canadian marketers – far fewer vehicles are sold in Canada, so analytically obsessed marketers must be sure those sales will occur. As a result, while American Honda dealers are seeing resurgence in DCT automatic motorcycle sales, we don’t even get the choice of being able to buy one. You can always buy one in the U.S. (this is OK with Transport Canada’s rulings), but you’d need to check with Honda Canada if you can transfer warranty. Regardless, you’ll pay a fortune in extra taxes & transportation.

Back to Honda – they’re way ahead of the crowd with the CTX-700N DCT. The ½ Honda Fit power-plant’s low-slung’s centre of gravity makes riding and balancing this bike easy, especially for beginners. All controls are within easy reach and quite ergonomic – sit on one and you’ll know what I mean. Its suspension is competent; its street manners are near-perfect. By no stretch of the imagination is this a street rocket, but it’s not meant to be. Pricing is within just about every biker’s reach. This is a thoroughly modern bike line, so kudos goes out to Honda for their foresight. But… we Canadians don’t get to celebrate. And Honda wonders why the standard (ie shift) models in Canada are selling fine, but not wildly! Honda – you came so close – but no cigar for your Canadian market managers.
Suzuki used to have an automatic model, the 1982 model 450, but discontinued that a long time ago, and Honda had a 2-speed model also – they were way too early for the world to embrace them.  The other well-known Japanese manufacturers (Kawasaki, Yamaha) have shown little interest in getting to this market area, but if they watch the world markets, they should.  


Zero S

Now, onto electric bikes. Yup, you’re going to pay a premium for ‘going green’, but you have a few choices – Brammo or Zero. These belong more to the crotch-rockets than cruiser type, but they can still do the job.  Watch out for any range-anxiety long-distance trips, but for cruising around your neighborhoods, they’re quick, effortlessly powerful, and…wait for it… ridiculously quiet. In a way, they’re safer than any other type of bike, as you can literally hear all the traffic around you.  The problem is – they can’t hear you. So, now you have a dilemma, in deciding if you want a Harley-type noise-maker rattling your brain, or a quiet-as-a-green-forest glider that those 4-wheeler drivers can’t hear. The unfortunate part of this decision is that you’re not looking at any high-volume motorcycle manufacturer, nor are you looking at any firm with head offices in Canada – so getting parts will probably be lengthier and pricier than normal. But, they’re electric, clean, reliable, and … so cool!  These 2-wheeled versions of Teslas will attract any crowd – they may be the ultimate ‘pick-up’ bikes!
Again, Canadians lose out, unless you find that the ‘electrics’ are becoming more prevalent and well-supported closer to home.  When was the last time you saw one on the streets?

Regardless of your choice, every motorcycle maker should be trying to increase their market breadth and reach, and realizing world demographics and aging and those growing wants and needs, going automatic is the fastest way. Hopefully, they’re listening, for both their financial rewards, and our biking enjoyment into our golden years. In Canada.

*1: Canada GDP Growth, Standard Of Living Could Take A 20 Per Cent Hit From Aging, Says BoC; Posted: 04/ 4/2012 6:01 pm Updated: 04/ 5/2012 8:42 am

*2: CBC - How Well Is Canada Dealing With Its Aging Population?  October 1, 2013

Test Ride: 2011 Zero S (electric)

When a local dealership (Freedom Cycle) decided to become the exclusive Nova Scotia dealer for Zero electric motorcycles I was lucky enough to be offered a demo ride to see what I thought of it.

Having been a follower of the Zero brand for a number of years and a guy who likes gadgets Zero motorcycles have appealed to me on many levels from the very first time I heard about them. My early feelings about electric bikes were that electric motorcycle technology needed a little time to advance before it became mainstream but that the technology makes a lot of sense. Frankly though - the early efforts seemed a little too expensive given the range, quality, and thrill factor.

 Plus there was the risk that you'd buy this new technology and the next year some technology leap would occur and you'd be stuck with a serious case of buyer's remorse. Could 2012 be the tipping point for electric motorcycles?

There's no way I'd be willing to give up my internal combustion engine sport touring 800cc VFR could I? The thought wouldn't have crossed my mind - not until now at least. For 2012 Zero have made some huge improvements that will certainly attract plenty of NEW riders to the fold - the big question is; will it be enough to make some existing riders ditch their gasoline powered motorcycles and go electric?

The Zero S that I rode was actually a 2011 model; the ride approximately 23 kilometers of city and highway with lots of elevation changes and corners. The bike was new and the battery still being broken in. "Make sure you only take the battery down to half." - No problem!

 A limited distance test ride to be sure but long enough for some initial impressions.

It was a bright and sunny Friday in Halifax - but the weather was very cool. The gauge on my motorcycle was telling me it was ranging between 0 - 5° Celsius out. I wasn't sure how that might affect range but experience would be the the only way to judge that. 

The first thing that strikes you when you sit on the Zero is that it "feels" like a motorcycle. You can't compare the Zero to an electric pass through seating scooter you see struggling to keep forward momentum at the slightest incline. No, this is altogether different - it's a serious machine. If you ride a motorcycle or have ridden a bicycle this is the position you're accustomed to. Seating is upright and the bars are wide, putting you in what I'd consider a very "open" body position. If it's windy out and you don't have an optional windscreen it's getting you in the chest. Personal preference would dictate whether you'll enjoy that or not. I thought it was great. 

I got the feeling I was sitting on top of the motorcycle more than "in it" and that's a sensation enhanced by the flat motocross like seat. There's no indentation in the seat so you and have nothing to feel how far back you are when you push back from seat. There's also no gas tank hump because it's all electric of course!

Another thing you can't help but notice is the silence. Complete and total silence! When it's running and you're stationary the Zero makes no noise whatsoever. The only indication you have that it's on and ready to roll is a big green light on the dash. No rumbling vibration, no blipping the throttle in neutral to hear the raucous exhaust note. Nothing! That will take some getting used to but it's nice too. Electric bikes are fun too - they're just different.

Top speed that I attained was 71 MPH (110 km/h) uphill and a little faster downhill. It's claimed the 2012 model is a bit faster and can reach a top speed of 88 mph (140 km/h) or 75 mph (120 km/h) sustained speed.

 The Zero feels lightweight and nimble - definitely a fine tool for an urban environment. I almost felt like I was riding a bicycle, albeit a very speedy one that I didn't have to pedal. I had to consciously remind myself on several occasions that shouldn't act like I might on a bicycle.

The fact that the 2011 model has no clutch and no engine braking is a bit of a different feeling but one you quickly adjust to. You need to use the brakes a little more than you might on an internal combustion engine machine because of the lack of engine braking. In 2012 the bikes will include regenerative braking which will help deliver a little power back to the battery and provide a bit of engine braking feel.

2012 has brought forth significant enhancements that may very well prove to be a tipping point in the popularity of electric motorcycles. The improvements are so significant that Freedom Cycles ordered a single 2011 model to be used as a demo and will begin stocking the dealership with 2012's. 

The S and DS models have a new brushless PMAC (permanent magnet alternating current) motor which replaces the brushed motors of previous years. The battery packs have dramatically increased capacity - moving from a 4.2 kWh cell pack to the standard 6 kWh or optional 9 kWh. New controllers more effectively manage the engine and regenerative braking has increased range to a very respectable 114 miles (183 km's). Performance is significantly better too; max torque is WAY up and that translates to quicker acceleration and more entertaining riding - and more of it per charge. 

There's a quick charge optional feature too for the S and DS. For the Zero S and Zero DS, the first "2x" quick-charge accessory adds a charger that plugs into its second charge circuit (the onboard charger is plugged into the first). It's a $595 option but takes the charge time for the 6 kWh and 9kWh models from 6 and 9 hours to 3 and 4.9 hours respectively.

So getting back to my question - Could 2012 be the tipping point for electric motorcycles? I think it may be. There's definitely some exciting things happening in the electric motorcycle world and 2012 could very well be the year that people really start to see electric bikes become more accepted and mainstream.


S ZF6 (6 kWh battery)

MSRP $11,495
City range: 122 km
highway range: 69 km
Charge time: 6 hours
Weight: 297 lbs

S ZF9 (9 kWh battery)

MSRP $13,995
City range: 183 km
highway range: 101 km
Charge time: 9 hoursWeight: 341 lbs


- No gas to buy - ever!

- No chain to oil
- Limited maintenance required

- Sufficient range for commuters and casual riders

- Incredible equivalent fuel economy:  
 -- 2012 model is rated for 487 MPGe (0.48 liters/100km) city and 273 MPGe (0.86 liters/100km) highway. Cost to charge the battery is less than a dollar.
- Should be classed as a 200 cc motorcycle for insurance purposes (cheap!)


- Upfront investment
- Range
- Dealer coverage and options for servicing

Starts at $11,495 CAD for the S ZF6
+ $2,500 for the S ZF9

+ $595 Quick Charge device
+ $347.37 Side Bags
+ $99.99 Windscreen

Additional Links:

Zero Motorcycles
Freedom Cycles (Halifax, NS)

ZeroS photo slidshow (Note to mobile users - sorry if you can't see these. Picasa uses flash):

Your Future Might Be Electric!

With the rising price of oil and pressure to make vehicles easier on the environment many companies are looking at ways to make low or even zero emission vehicles. Look at the money being spent in the auto industry. It seems almost every manufacturer is looking very closely at ways of reducing emissions. A few leading edge motorcycle companies are doing the same and they're coming up with motorcycles that can serve a variety of purposes. We're going to take a closer look at three different companies with three very different takes on electric transportation.


Quantya, operating out of the city of Lugano Switzerland, are one such company. The company started in 2005 and they're producing an electric motocross bike they call the Quantya FMX. It's the first competition ready electric motocross. The company was started by motorcycle enthusiast Max Modena who sought to build an environmentally friendly machine. Not just that though, tigtening regulations regarding noise and emissions mean that opportunities and places to ride were becoming more limited in Switzerland.

The Swiss government even banned 2-stroke motors. An electric motocross opens new possibilities. Riders can access trails without disturbing or polluting the environment.

The bike weighs 195 lbs (no dry and wet weights here!) and will quickly rip up to a governed 40 mph. The suspension is premium long-travel Sachs & Marzocchi. The bikes roll along on 18 inch trials tires which reduce the environmental impact and provide better grip. The 14kKW motor is powered by a 47 volt or 74 volt lithium-polymer battery pack that's good for 30 and up to 180 minutes of run time. The engine produces an output equivalent to about 20 hp which may sound un-inspiring but the torque numbers are fairly impressive coming in at 23 foot pounds which is available immediately. 23 ft lbs of torque puts it close to a Honda CRF250X. All Quantya motorcycles will come with a 2 year warranty.

Thirty minutues to an hour and a half is a pretty wide range in running time; that'll certainly be seen as a disadvantage by some. Here's hoping technology improves to boost that running time. Dario Trentini, CEO Quantya USA, has been quoted in a November 2007 PRWeb article saying "We are seeing many new exciting technologies emerging and we will continue to utilize only the latest such technologies to deliver the absolute best quality and efficiency to our customers." From these comments it would appear they're keen to improve as technology allows it.

Quantya SA has already achieved some level of success in Europe where riders can go to "Quantya Parks" and experience the excitment of these electric motorcycles on a rental basis. Quantya USA is the exclusive importer and distributor for the USA and Canada and are located in Syosset, NY. For more information visit the company website here.


Another company with a really interesting take electric transportation is Brammo in what could be considered something like a typical standard style motorcycle.

Just so you know the pedigree of the crew at Brammo. These are the same group that bring the Ariel Atom 2 to the US. Never heard of it? Well it is a car, but not your everyday grocery getter. The Ariel Atom 2 is the US version of the Ariel Atom from England. Atom 2's are street legal, track-day sports cars produced by Brammo, Inc. of Ashland, Oregon, an official Ariel Atom licensee. This is a motorcycle magazine so we'll keep the description short. This thing is amazing! The Atom 2 comes with a an Eaton blown 300-horsepower Ecotec engine (Jay Leno even helped convince GM to let Brammo use the Ecotec engine). KTM makes something similar to it called the X-Bow.

Alright, enough about cars, but you needed to know that the people at Brammo like fast things that are cool! They've directed some of this desire towards green technology and a making a motorcycle that runs on electricity. Enter the Enertia!

The Enertia is nearly silent and has no clutch or gearbox. It is also very light at 280 lbs and narrow (12.5 inches between the knees). According to Brammo it's also practically maintenance-free. The frame is a carbon fiber monoqoque and does duty as both the motorcyle's chasis and its battery tray; this machine uses six of them. Machined 6061-T6 aluminum bits are bonded to the carbon fiber structure wherever the need for threaded hard-points (footpegs, swingarm, etc.) exists. This is a building technique common on the race track. The resulting frame is very stiff and weighs a mere 16 pounds.

Six 12-volt lithium-phosphate battery packs are used to power the Enertia. The batteries are about half the size of a traditional car battery and are are mounted inside the upper and lower channels of the H-shaped carbon fiber chassis—three on top, three below. Brammo worked closely with the battery maker on the application of the lithium-phosphate cells, which unlike lithium-ion or lithium-cobalt, are exceptionally resistant to combusting, even if the batteries are impacted or punctured. Good to know!

Beneath a small lid where the gas tank is on many bikes is a connection to recharge the bike from any regular 110-volt electrical outlet. The Enertia will reach an 80-percent charge in two hours, and be fully recharged in three. The battery pack is 86 lb's which is a substantial portion of the 280 lbs that the Enertia weighs. The bike apparently feels even lighter than it is because the weight of the batteries is concentrated on the center line of the motorcycle.

You start the bike with a push of a button and about two seconds later its ready to go. Now just press the bar mounted switch to "on" and twist the throttle. The bike is reportedly whisper quiet. There is a "power" setting that ranges from 40-100 that the rider can select. It allows you to trade power for range. More power gives you less range. The engine is an alternator-sized electric motor mounted at the bottom of the chassis just ahead of the rear wheel. The motor is directly coupled to the rear tire via a chain and sprocket. It is rated as having 12-25 horsepower, with 17-34 lb-ft of torque. Those horsepower numbers put it on par with say a Kawasaki Ninja 250 but the torque numbers are about double. At the 100 percent power setting, Brammo claims a 0 to 30 mph (which is a pretty close to 50 km/hr) in 3.8 seconds and 0 to 40 mph (right around 64 km/hr) in 5.88. Top speed is 50-mph (about 80 km/hr).

Brammo claims a realistic range of 40 to 50 miles (or 65 to 80 kilometers) between charges at the 40% minimum power setting. A small Enertia logo in the gauge cluster glows red, yellow or green depending on the power draw, to help maximize efficiency. It's not designed for a passenger, but Brammo plans both a larger, two-up machine, and an even more slimmed down single-seat version for the inner-city or campus crawler.

Brammo has begun taking online orders in the U.S. for a limited edition "Carbon" model (US$14,995), set for delivery in the third quarter of 2008. You can also reserve the standard model (US$11,995) due some time in the second half of 2008.

Vectrix Scooter

Vectrix started up in 1996 to develop and commercialize zero emission vehicle platforms with an emphasis on the two wheeled variety. As of June 2007, a little more than 10 years later, you've got the Vectrix electric scooter. As of the writing of this article they're available in several US states; Rhode Island, California, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Washington. They fall into the maxi-scooter class. This scooter weighs 500 lbs (227 kg) and has a top speed of 100 km/hr. It can accelerate from 0-50 km/hr in 3.6 seconds or 0-80 km/hr in 6.8 seconds. This machine is comparable in specifications to a 400cc scooter in terms of weight, peak power, torque, acceleration, seat height, and price. According to the Vectrix website it makes 20 kW peak power at 3000 rpm which is about 27 hp by google's calculations.

The Vectrix scooter was designed to outperform an equivalent gas scooter (e.g. 250 cc – 400 cc) in many ways. It features a number of advantages over their gas powered competition such as a lower cost of ownership, cheaper to run, no need to visit the gas station, low center of gravity, quicker acceleration (faster than a 250cc gas scooter according the manufacturer), no gears to shift, charge anywhere there's a regular 110-volt electrical outlet, whisper quiet, and zero emmissions of course.

At a base price of US$11,000, it's expensive to take home the zero emissions scooter. The maintenance and fuel costs will quickly help compensate for the higher up front costs. Electricity to power the scooter is a fraction of the cost of gas. It also requires much less maintenance with far fewer parts than a gas scooter. Vectrix claims maintenance costs savings in the neighborhood of 70%.

The Vectrix features a fast charging time, 2-3 hours for full charge, with a range of approximately 65 km to 100 km on a single charge. The Nickel Metal Hydride battery is designed with long life in mind too, with an expected life of up to 10 years or 50,000 miles / 80,000 km based on 1,700 (80% charge) battery discharging cycles.

A patented regenerative braking system redirects energy back into the Vectrix battery pack, helping to extend its range by up to 12 percent. The regenerative braking system is really interesting feature; if you twist the throttle forward you slow without touching the brakes and this regenerates the battery. You can also use it as a slow speed reverse gear too; something usually only found on much larger machines.

You can even take along a friend on this machine. The Vectrix has a 30-inch seat height that will comfortably accomodate two people and has room to store both their helmets on-board. It's not too hard to look at either; you'd be hard pressed to distinguish it from a gas scooter at a glance. In the way of instrumentation its got LCD’s which display speed, odometer, battery state of charge, fuel gauge, estimated range, and system status.

The scooter comes with high quality parts from respected manufacturers such as Brembo, Pirelli, and Sachs. It features a stiff aluminum frame to help keep weight down.

Vectrix have come up with a new model in their line up. The new electric scooter has three wheels, two up front and one in the back. It's expected to arrive the fourth quarter of 2008, and come with a US$15,990 price tag. Both models feature a two year warranty.

Final Thoughts

The electric motorcycle has arrived! They may not be perfect but they certainly have improved to a point where they represent realistic transportation for a large percentage of people. Battery technology is rapidly improving and right now it's the only thing holding back sales. Batteries are expensive and the range is really dependent on the driving style of the rider. It takes a far-sighted rider to examine their needs and see the longer term benefits of an electric. If you are a city communter then an electric bike may be what you'll want to look for in the really near future. However, if you want to hit the higway and do some touring, you're not going to be able to do that on an electric. Better keep your gas powered bike for that task for now.