No Gas Tanks on These Rides

No Gas Tanks on These Rides

Posted by Ben Baker on Dec 12th 2016

Depending on what you call a motorcycle, the very first electric ride dates back to 1895, 1896 or 1911.

The 1895 model is a patent application by Ogden Bolton Jr. of Canton, OH. He filed for an “electric bicycle” in September. In November of the same year, Hosea W. Libbey of Boston also filed for another patent on an “electric bicycle.”

The first proof of concept was in 1896 in London. The English bicycle maker Humber debuted an electric tandem bike powered by batteries. The motor was on the front wheel. The bike was intended for racing.

Purists will say the first true motorcycle was introduced to the world in a Popular Mechanics article in 1911. This ride claimed a top speed of 35 miles an hour and a range of 75 to 100 miles per charge. A working electric ride was made in 1919 by Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies. It never made it past the prototype stage.

The first mass-produced electric motorcycle was made in Brussels in Europe starting in 1936. The Limelette Brothers continued production through 1948.

Innovations in batteries and improvements in electrical motors continued through the years. However, battery life and motors continued to limit the top speed and distance.

Distance got a major shot in the arm in 1967 when Karl Kordesch made a hybrid bike. This bike got an impressive 200 miles to the gallon with a fuel cell based partly on a rocket fuel component, but still had a wimpy top speed of 25 mph.

Mike Corbin was the next maker to advance electric rides. His street-legal ride was the Corbin Electric. Also in 1974, he made the Quick Sliver and set a new land speed record for an electric motorcycle at 165.237 mph. He used a 24-volt electric starter motor from a Douglas A-4B fighter plane, which explains how the bike managed that speed.

Electric rides got a step up again in the first annual Alternative Vehicle Regatta.

From the 80s to the turn of the century, most electric motorcycle work concentrated on speed. The unofficial world record is 217.712 miles an hour on the Bonneville Salt Flats, set in 2011 by Paul Ernst Thede.

The first modern company to commercially offer an electric motorcycle was Vectrix. It launched electric rides in 2006. When the company was bought out by Gold Peak battery, two new product lines came out, including a three-wheeled version. Neither company is in business anymore.

Electric motorcycle-type vehicles are a growing market today. While most of them are the scooter-type rides, big makers are showing an interest. Polaris took the lead offering the Empluse TT. Harley-Davidson now has one out as a prototype, but the reviews are all over the place. As the Motley Fool reports, a major reason people buy a Harley is the image. “Forget mystique of the leather-clad Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones: Harley-Davidson bikes have a reputation for not only being big, but loud..”

So far, Zero is the leading producer of traditional looking electric motorcycles in the US.