Conclusions

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John Chivers and his Zero DSR electric motorcycle arriving at Skaw Beach, Unst, Shetland.

With the benefit of a few months having elapsed since I undertook the trip, I can look back and honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed many aspects of the journey from the outset.

I quite enjoy planning trips, so that aspect was fun; travelling the length of the country in one trip – not something I thought I’d ever do; meeting the people I met along the way; riding the motorbike in and of itself; the challenge of power management; the chance to raise some money for a couple of good causes; and of course, being the first to undertake the trip on an electric motorbike.

Mass adoption of electric vehicles is still in its early stages, with EVs comprising around 2% of new registrations in UK at the moment, contrasted with Norway, where they recently surpassed 50% of all new vehicle sales.

Electric motorcycles are a fraction of EV sales for a few reasons, partly due to rider choices and partly determined by technological realities.

Many bikers ride for the sense of freedom, the joy of riding, the closeness of senses to the surrounding environment, including the sense of smell when riding through a wooded area, or indeed through areas of less nasal appeal.

Others ride for the image of bikes; for the association with their youth; for how it might make them appear to others.

There are those who ride for purely practical reasons, as a means of getting from A to B on a vehicle which is relatively cheap to run and allows rapid progress through traffic.

Across all types of riders, there are those, as there are with cars, who like the mechanics of riding a bike and who endow the art of changing gear as some kind of superhuman skill. These types will be familiar to most of us. They recoil in horror at automatic gearboxes. To them, there is no automatic system which can change gear as well as they can and any suggestion that this might not be the case is taken as a personal affront.

I find this quite a funny trait, but I kind of understand it, especially when it comes to automatic gearboxes in traditional ICE vehicles. It is undoubtedly a pleasant sensation to blip the revs when changing down a gear on a bike, for instance.

But electric vehicles are quite different. An electric motor, unlike a geared ICE, offers full torque all the way through its range, making a gearbox wholly unnecessary, certainly for road vehicles.

True, in the electric car racing series, Formula E, some teams opt to gear their cars, but they are racing at the top end of performance, and even then, other teams have decided against gears, as they add extra complexity, weight, more failure points, and potential for human error.

They are certainly just unnecessary on consumer electric motorbikes or cars in any case, and naturally, some people are put off by this. In the case of bikers, the very notion of a bike which doesn’t make a loud noise and doesn’t have gears or a clutch lever is anathema to very many bikers

For me, I ride bikes because I enjoy the riding experience. I’m very much not a typical biker, not recognising many models of bike, and I have basic maintenance skills, with oil changes and other such standard maintenance tasks being about my limit. Of course, these don’t even exist on electric bikes and there is no chain oil flung up against the wheels or other parts of the bike.

So, while electric bikes are less likely to appeal to grease monkeys, their very simplicity, efficiency, and performance appeal to me.

I fall into the category of a biker who likes the experience of riding and have often employed the phrase uttered by the character Oddball from the film Kelly’s Heroes, who, when queried as to why he is not helping to fix his broken-down tank responds with.

“Hey, I only ride ‘em. I don’t know what makes ‘em work.”

But I do understand. I’m not in the least anti-petrol bike: I still own and enjoy riding one, and yes, I do enjoy changing the gear, but does having no noisy exhaust or gearbox detract from the riding experience for me? Not at all.

With regard specifically to the Zero, it is a great bike, a joy to ride, and served me well on this journey. It didn’t let me down in any way once, and thanks to some careful planning at the outset, I was never stranded at the side of the road.

The one area which will need to be resolved for electric motorbikes to gain mass market appeal, however, is for them to reach a stage where we can tour on them; where I can load up with luggage and ride down to the Alps, stopping only for around 20-30 minutes every 200 miles or so to rapid charge.

Without true rapid charging, and indeed that built into the bike at no extra cost, as is the case with electric cars, my feeling is that their appeal will be limited to those who want to commute or stick to short distances.

And perhaps that is enough for many manufacturers, but one thing’s for certain: the company which does make the first electric long-range sports-tourer will do very well out of them. They’ve certainly got a sale from me, so long as it looks like a tasteful, conventional bike and not like a hideous design experiment.

And what of the wider area of electric cars?

For my part, as far as cars go, my four-year old Nissan LEAF BEV already meets our family’s needs perfectly well with its range, even if it requires rapid charging stops on longer journeys. And at the time of writing, Nissan have recently brought to market the second iteration of the LEAF, whose battery capacity has almost doubled that of my car, but at the same cost to the consumer.

I actually appreciate not having to go to a dedicated filling station to regularly fill up the car or electric motorbike, because it’s simple routine to get them home and plug them in. It sounds trivial, but as I still ride a petrol motorbike, I can honestly say that having to go to a special place to fuel up does become an inconvenience once you’ve adjusted your behaviour to charge at home most of the time.

The biggest inconvenience from my perspective with electric cars is a still insufficient number of rapid chargers spread across the country to facilitate longer journeys.

To reiterate, electric vehicles are already suitable for almost everyone. The issue is not the technology in the vehicles, which will continue to improve, but the charging infrastructure. What’s encouraging in this respect is that even Shell and BP have realised the direction of travel and are starting to install rapid chargers on their forecourts.

In the early 20th century, the transition from horse to motor car happened over a short space of time and snowballed. Electric vehicles are likely to reach a tipping point in the very near future. The government has already declared that new wholly internal combustion engine vehicles will no longer be permitted to be sold from 2040 and recently declared that it would like to see a transition to electric by 2030.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition will happen before then.