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Extinction protests maybe caused by lack of Chinese electric motorcycles!

Written by David McMullan in Chongqing

There’s been a lot spoken about the environment recently as the ‘extinction’ protests hit Britain’s cities bringing thousands of middle-class do-gooders with time on their hands down to London to get in everyone’s way as they demonstrate over pollution and then drive home in their Range Rovers.

As I look out of my window on a smoggy Chongqing day I can’t help but feel a bit of an affinity with the protesters as industry here (mainly the automotive/ motorcycle industry) piques pollution to a level where my daughter cannot go out and play football at the weekends. We seem to be lacking a solution (or even a desire to find one) but surely the world could benefit from the mass introduction of electric motorcycles and scooters!

The Chinese electric motorcycle and scooter industry is huge! Since the Chinese government’s strange decision to ban motorcycles in towns and cities electric 2-wheelers have begun to flood Chinese roads, and more annoyingly pavements, and this phenomenon is due to hit the western world too.

In the period from 2009 to 2018 sales of electric motorcycles in Europe rose from just over half a million each year to the 2.5 million mark with the Netherlands and Germany leading the way in EV consuming. The trend is growing in gas guzzling North America where sales have increased from a meager few hundred thousand to over a million each year as of 2018. It must be noted that the statistics above denote not just Chinese e-bikes, but Chinese made machines are the majority, especially of lower-powered scooters. As demand intensifies internationally and on the domestic scene more and more Chinese businesses are investing money into higher quality and more cost-effective electric motorcycles and scooters in the hope of claiming their share of a fast growing market.

At this time a large percentage of e-bikes and e-scooters made in China are based on a platform that is utilised for existing internal combustion engine motorcycles but without the constraint imposed by a hot, smoking engine there is so much room to play around with the layout of the e-bike and tweak aerodynamics, drive-train and other essentials that on a regular motorcycle were necessarily based around the engine. With internal hub motors, batteries within the frame and other nice techniques to improve e-bike design there are broad horizons and innovative design opportunities ahead for those in the business of electric personal transport. But what of the potential of electric 2-wheelers in the UK? Well it might shock you to know that in 1896 the British mechanical and engineering company Humber produced an electric powered tandem bicycle for track use. As the decades rolled by the limelight of the electric motorcycle was stolen by the petrol powered machines that became icons of rebellion and freedom. It was during this time that names like Harley Davidson, Ducati, Norton, Triumph and Honda were building the benchmark for two wheeled machine running on fossil fuels.

Electric vehicles sat on the back burner becoming a niche industry until relatively recently when people began to wake up to the environmental issues caused by combustion engines and the price of oil began to regularly fluctuate; cue the ban on ICE motorcycles in Chinese cities and the tables start to turn.

The 2 big electric scooter players Yadea and Xinri have both developed big ranges of EV all of them low power commuter scooters but there are also manufacturers like (foreign owned, Chinese manufactured) Evoke who produce a small range of beautifully designed electric bikes with top speeds of 130 kph and a range of up to 200 kilometres (depending on speed of travel).

In recent years we (my wife’s parts and consultancy company) have been visited by research and development managers from electric motorcycle start-up companies in the EU. Many of them are looking at developing their electric motorcycles based on currently existing Chinese models as there’s not a chance that a middle-sized Chinese factory would refuse to sell its models (minus the engines of course) to an EV developer. When you consider the amount of re-branding that goes on, even with some of the more serious of Chinese manufacturers, to swap out an internal combustion engine for an electric motor wouldn’t bother the OEM in the slightest. It would be strange to think of a European EV r and d person going to Yamaha to buy their bikes to convert!

A lot of the decent electric bikes on the market, made the likes of Zero and Super Soco, have been labelled as over-priced for a creation that is still a niche product but the arrival of European designed, Chinese manufactured electric motorcycles may well herald a new trend in the UK and the rest of Europe.

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