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Easy (and Green) Rider
Jamais Cascio, 18 Mar 04

Drivers of hybrid cars aren't the first people to regularly get 45+ miles per gallon on their daily commutes. Motorcycles can do even better than hybrid cars when it comes to sipping fuel, and are usually less expensive. Where they don't measure up is with emissions; the EPA limits on hydrocarbon emissions from motorcycles, for example, is 1.4 grams per kilometer, while the HC limit for cars is 0.25 g/km. Although motorcycles make up a relatively minor portion of the vehicles in use, what's a responsible green biker to do?

Traditionally, what you have to do is refit a motorcycle yourself, or pay someone to do it for you. Carl Vogel, for example, hand-builds fully-electric motorcycles with Harleyesque styling. Numerous other individuals and small companies can refit or rebuild two-wheel vehicles of all sorts with electric motors; the always-interesting site Neobike ("Motorcycle News From The Day After Tomorrow") keeps track of electric bike news on a subpage.

But if a hand rebuilt motorcycle just isn't in the plans, you may soon be in luck. Two different companies appear to be on the verge of releasing alternate-energy vehicles, each of very different design, from energy source to intended use. Both look very cool, at least to a poseur like me.

First up is eCycle's hybrid motorcycle, pictured above. It went into what the company called "beta testing" last year; the site doesn't yet have updated information. The performance tests at 180 miles per gallon -- from SF to LA and back on 4 gallons of gas -- and 0-60mph in about 6 seconds. eCycle is a manufacturer of various electric power components, so I wouldn't expect wide distribution for this model whenever it comes out. But if demand is there, don't be surprised to see a real bike maker buy up the design.

If a sport bike isn't your preference, how about a fuel cell scooter? Parker, a maker of fuel cell components, has teamed up with Vectrix to build just that; the website for the model is another "check back in April" tease, but in the meantime there are two different PDFs to download from Parker extolling the (future) virtues of the vehicle: the brochure (PDF) and a reprint of an August 2003 article (PDF) from Design News about the creation of the scooter.

I know that there are motorcycle riders who are regular readers of WorldChanging -- what do you think of these developments? Would you go green, if you could?

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Comments

I would totally buy an electric or hybrid bike.


Posted by: Howard on 18 Mar 04

Though I gotta say that 0-60 in 6 secs is S L O W.


Posted by: Howard on 18 Mar 04

Not to mention an 80 MPH top speed. yuck.

Still: I want one bad.


Posted by: Howard on 18 Mar 04

Not to mention it burns anything: kerosene, Jet-A, Diesel, biodiesel...


Posted by: Howard on 18 Mar 04

Forward the green revolution, as long as it doesn't slow me down... Errr...


Posted by: Gyrus on 18 Mar 04

Hey, man. We're talking about a sportbike here. A man has to have priorities.

And even though the emission standards are higher for motorcycles than hybrid autos, I'd bet my gas-guzzling 45-mpg 150+ mph 0-60 in <3 sec current sportbike would fare pretty well in comparison to one.

With a hybrid M/C, we have a serious chance to put the superior torque of a big electric motor to real use. I'm just saying that it is sad that they didn't.

Yanmar makes excellent diesel engines, good to see they use one. For some reason the idea of a biodiesel/electric sportbike really appeals to me.


Posted by: Howard on 18 Mar 04

This is a great development; too bad the performance isn't as exciting as gas powered bikes.

But, I'd seriously consider buying one. Wonder how much they'll sell for?


Posted by: Miguel on 18 Mar 04

Exactly. I'd be willing to pay a premium for such a bike.

Consider that the low end of sportbikes (Kawasaki Ninja 250/EX500/etc) start at about $3-4k. They outperform this bike by a large amount. Their emisions are negligible.

Bearing that in mind, I'd be willing to pay $5-7k for this hybrid bike.

Something tells me that it will be more than that, unfortunately. Give me a hybrid bike with comparable performance to current sportbikes, prices 10-20% more than them, and I would be all over it. The technology is there. It is just waiting on execution.

One thing that greens need to realize is that current motorcycles (including sportbikes) are already relatively "green", as Jamais points out in the opening sentences of this article.

Electric motors of an adequate size could vastly outperform current generation superbikes with respect to acceleration. Now bring THAT on.


Posted by: Howard on 18 Mar 04

Have you read about Europe's desire to start fighting noise pollution? Motorbikes are very anti-social vehicles: the noise they produce is an irritant to everybody else. Why don't you mention the decibels this new pseudo green motor bike produces when the typical moron revs it up?


Posted by: Andrea Casalotti on 19 Mar 04

Good one ! Caused quite a stir ! We need some GReenSPeed!


Posted by: Stefan Thomas on 19 Mar 04

Please excuse the rant, but as cool as the hybrid motorcycle is, imagine a vehicle that's more energy efficient even than walking and emits no greenhouse gases. Well, maybe a little CO2. The bicycle remains the most elegant, efficient mechanical transportation ever invented, has been essentially perfect for over a century, and is so cheap as to be nearly free. But it remains maddeningly outside most people's world-changing consciousness. As a culture, are we so besotted by motorized transport, or do we just have a pathelogical aversion to getting a little exercize? As a bicycle commuter I see cycling as taking personal responsibility for lugging my own ass around, rather than outsourcing it in the form of greenhouse gases and heavy metals.


Posted by: John Baxter on 19 Mar 04

I hear you, John. Fortunately bicycles are not outside everyone's world-changing consciousness--I wrote up my friend Lenny's Auckland, NZ Bicycle Commuter Challenge a couple weeks ago ere in Worldchanging. The permalink is http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/000451.html

Still, some people are simply not going to bicycle for whatever reason. I myself was a dedicated bike (ok, and bus) commuter in Portland, OR, but I'm afraid of the crazy drivers here in NYC! I think the viridian idea is: given that people are going to want cool toys, like motorbikes, let's make them as cool--and green--as possible.


Posted by: Emily Gertz on 19 Mar 04

I agree, Emily. But sometimes I just gotta rant. The bike geek in me thinks a Dursley-Pedersen from the 1890s (still being manufactured) is every bit as cool as a hybrid motorcycle. And pleeaase forgive my pathological aversion to spelling...


Posted by: John Baxter on 19 Mar 04

The barrier to entry for serious consideration as a primary vehicle facing the bicycle is threefold: distance, safety and weather.

Due to the decentralization of urban areas in the US, leading to vast suburban sprawl and greatly inflated housing costs near places of employment, many people are commuting 20+ miles each way every day. Now, 20 miles is not a particularely long bike ride to a seasoned bicyclist, but it is totally out of the question for the majority of people. This can be somewhat mitigated by public transportation, but most metropolitan areas in America have embarassingly bad public transport options.

The second issue is of course safety. Our road system is designed for motorized vehicles, and is already clogged with them. As an avid motorcyclist I can assure you that even with the bulk of a motorcycle, visibility is a serious problem, leading to motorcycles being roughly twice as dangerous per capita as cars are. Bicycles suffer from this problem even more than motorcycles; bicyclists are at a high risk on crowded city streets.

Weather is also an obvious factor. I'm lucky to live in the SF bay area, where it is nice all the time, really. I grew up in Portland, where I think reliance on a bicycle would be problematic at best, due to rain, but still doable. However, imagine sepending on a bike as your primary transportation in cities like Chicago, where the winters are much more intense.


Posted by: Howard on 19 Mar 04

SF to LA and back on 4 gallons on Biodesiel is much more effecient than a bicycle. Consider all the food needed for energy not to mention other support systems along the way, it does not compare to the environmental cost of 4 gallons. Bicycles are great for around town but long distance env impact can be beat with an efficient mechanical horse.


Posted by: Stephen Balbach on 19 Mar 04

You might want to take the E-Cycle announcement with a grain of salt. TheyŽve been almost-ready for about five years now, and still donŽt have product. IŽm not saying itŽs vaporware, IŽve talked to the guy and he seems legit, but donŽt hold your breath.
A much-less-exciting but actualy-manufactured-and-available alternative is ZapŽs Lepton: http://www.zapworld.com/lepton.htm


Posted by: Jer on 19 Mar 04

I agree with the above posts that weather, distance and safety are all valid concerns regarding cycling. For most people, however, a 1-3 mile ride is eminently doable on a bike, even if the rider is "unseasoned." Think of the impact if most people used bikes instead of autos for sub 3 mile rides. Urbanscapes are indeed designed for the car, but many communities are beginning to better design for cycling and walking, thanks to the tireless efforts of grassroots advocates. Clearly much more needs to be done, and there are many urban environments where cycling is indeed dangerous. Weather? Well, I ride in all conditions and, like motorcyclists, just use rain gear.

I must respectfully disagree with Stephen's assertion that a biodiesel-powered car is more efficient than a bicycle. See the exploratorium's "Science of Cycling" website at
http://www.exploratorium.edu/cycling/ for more on this. It's certainly faster (and therefore more time-efficient) to travel from L.A. to S.F. in a biodiesel powered Jetta, but not necessarily more fuel-efficient. And if you want to consider the entire energy cycle, what about the vast energy difference that went into producing the car over that needed to build a bike?

But I concede the point about long distances. Again, I am mostly encouraging people to think of the bicycle as the perfect vehicle for shorter distances. As I've heard said in Europe, "Americans will burn a gallon of gas to buy a quart of milk."


Posted by: John Baxter on 19 Mar 04

come on do we have a hybryid bike or not cos my harley loves gas


Posted by: iker on 21 Mar 04

I'd like to be excited about this idea, but it seems to miss the point. People buy bikes because they're fun and because they're cheap: more the former in the U.S., more the latter elsewhere, as far as I can tell. A hybrid bike is a less fun, less cheap fuel-efficient alternative to a (relatively) fuel-efficient alternative transportation choice. It has the hybrid-geek-chic, but that's not enough to make it a good idea. The Prius and Insight have hybrid chic too, but they are also practical, sensible cars: just as fun and comfortable as any other compact economy car, plus better gas mileage.

I can't see hybrid technology being cheaper than conventional gas motor technology anytime soon, which means that any hybrid bike manufacturer is going to have to compete on the other variable: fun. I agree with Howard: they need to take advantage of electric motor torque and make this thing fly off the starting line. They could even make it optional, in order not to sacrifice normal gas mileage: give the bike a "rocket button" that overrides the usual performance profile and just gives it everything the machine has. Most of the time, you could start up normally and save fuel; but when you really wanted to GO, the power would be there.

Along the same lines, I don't understand why no one has come out with a hybrid jeep yet. When you're out in the wilderness banging along some half-abandoned trail, "high speed" is about fifteen miles an hour. It's not uncommon to crawl across obstacles at a mile per hour or so: slower is generally better. The problem is that gas engines lose efficiency at such low speeds; people buy custom gear reduction sets so they can keep their engine revs up high enough to make it over boulders and whatnot without stalling. You could do the same thing with a hybrid setup. Back when I had a Suzuki Samurai, I wanted to mount a bunch of batteries in the back and install an electric motor in front of the transfer case. I could use the motor as a brake when descending hills, to charge the battery and keep my speed down, then use the power to boost torque when going through rough sections. So a hybrid jeep would actually perform *better* in rough country than a standard gas-powered jeep. The hybrid system probably wouldn't improve the gas mileage much, but I really don't think that's too important right now. The critical thing is to get people used to buying battery-powered cars, get them used to thinking about alternatives to the traditional gasoline engine, and to encourage a manufacture and maintenance infrastructure to develop, start competing, and bring the costs down.


Posted by: Mars Saxman on 22 Mar 04

What about existing technology folks?? Why arent manufacturers producing more direct-injection 2 cycle motors? excellent power to weight/displacement ratios, and with a catalyst they can meet the most stringent emissions regs. Of course in the good 'ol USA no vehicle manufacturer will make a car/truck/bike that is cleaner than it *has to be*.....

Also, why do hybrids have such great aclaim? when you take the manufacture process (batteries??) into acount they *can't* be greener than a truly efficient single propulsion system. (and pure electrics are powered by the dirty old power grid)

The real bottom line is that we all have to do with less horsepower, and pay extra for the manufacture of vehicles that are purpose-built to be truly fuel efficient, look at European, and Japanese cars...The only thing that is likely to make this happen in the US is paying as much for fuel as the rest of the world ($5 or more a gallon in many places).

Sorry for the rant, but it has to be said.....

Can we all say "low sulphur diesel"? I hope so!

p.s. I still love my scooter despite it's filthy tail-pipe!


Posted by: David Wimmer on 25 Mar 04



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