The Future of Gas Powered Motorcycles

First, let’s be clear. Gas powered motorcycles are not going away anytime soon. The thrilling, chest-thumping roar when you wind up your motorcycle is here to stay, but there are some things you should know about that impact the motorcycle industry. 

It’s no secret that U.S. automotive companies are driving hard towards reducing the carbon footprint of their gas vehicles and increasing the manufacturing of hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs). In fact, the goal (for now) is that 50% of all vehicles sold by 2030 will be E’s. And while hybrid EV sales increased 37.4% from January 2021 to January 2022, hybrid and EV’s represent only 2.1% of all vehicles sold. This is for cars, of course. For motorcycles the percentages are lower, but the market crossed the $1 billion threshold in sales in 2019 and is projected to grow about 10% year over year.

Globally, the move to reduce carbon emissions far surpasses the efforts here in the U.S. Euro 5 is the latest standard of emissions for motorcycles in Europe. As far as emissions standards go, Euro 5 exceeds the standards in the U.S. by a huge margin. For instance, in the U. S. the carbon monoxide limit is 12.0 g/km compared to only 1.0 g/km under the Euro 5 standard.

While the Euro 5 will be the global standard, its impact on U.S. motorcycles is irrelevant. Motorcycles in the U.S. only need to meet the standards of the EPA (or the California Air Resources Board if you live there).

This doesn’t mean that emissions standards mean the imminent doom of gas-powered motorcycles. It just means motorcycle manufacturers need to up their game when it comes to green initiatives, such as reducing emissions on gas-powered bikes and increasing the development of electric motorcycles.

What are motorcycle companies doing about electric motorcycles?

Developments and improvements in EV technology are steadily increasing range and performance, as well as reducing the cost of ownership and long-term carbon footprint. This has an impact on motorcycles, as you might expect. Virtually every major manufacturer of gas-powered bikes has a green initiative geared toward electric motorcycles and producing standard-exceeding models of gas-powered motorcycles for years. Several companies here in the U.S. are focused entirely on developing electric motorcycles.

It makes sense. As the automotive industry moves toward net zero emissions standard, so must the motorcycle industry, albeit with a little more latitude. And why not? A 2018 survey by the Motorcycle Industry Council indicates that 7 out of 10 Millennials were interested in electric motorcycles. People have long recognized the benefits of motorcycles as low-impact, eco-friendlier transportation compared to traditional vehicles like cars. They consume fewer resources and take up less space. However, it takes bold commitments from the motorcycle industry to take a deep, self-reflective and look at their sustainability as an entire organization.

What motorcycle company leads the way here in the U.S.?

Harley-Davidson is one of the first and leading brands to push the biking industry to reduce its carbon footprint. Harley-Davidson has a longstanding social responsibility mission involving business practices, manufacturing, and social responsibility. Within the environmental mission of the company's sustainability policy, Harley’s green initiative is working toward several major goals: reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, achieve zero waste and improve fuel economy. In fact, Harley has pledged to achieve an average of 50mpg across its entire fleet by 2027.

Harley’s commitment to the development of electric motorcycles is alive and well with LiveWire (recently spun off as its own publicly traded company), which is the best selling electric motorcycle in the U.S. While its $30,000 price tag is a bit out of reach for most Americans looking for an affordable ride, they are releasing less expensive models, like the S2 Del Mar. However, it may be a while before it's widely available (it sold out its first run of 100 bikes in 18 minutes).

Will gas-powered motorcycles soon be a thing of the past?

It’s too soon to tell, but electric vehicles are hugely popular, getting less expensive, and easier to own, maintain and charge batteries. To make electric vehicles even more enticing, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act has several green initiatives targeting the impact of carbon fuels on the environment, including tax credits for purchases of both new and used electric vehicles, with potentially more incentives in the future. 

If performance is an issue for you,  electric motorcycles continue to improve in that category as well. Models now reach 0-60 in 3 seconds and top out at 150+ MPH. Not bad. But are they poised to replace gas-powered bikes?

Not by a long shot. Despite being the “best-selling electric motorcycle” in the U.S., LiveWire has sold less than 2,000 units as of February 2022, which represents less than 2% of their U.S. sales. But what’s interesting about LiveWire is its business model. Over 50% of their revenue comes from the sales of kids’ e-bikes, not motorcycles. This is encouraging. Getting a younger generation weaned on electric bikes will lead to more demand and sales of electric motorcycles down the road.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. We also recognize the allure of the awe-inspiring roar of the Milwaukee Eight, as it rattles the neighbors’ windows. Fear not, our fossil-fuel fanatics, gas-powered bikes will continue to dominate motorcycle sales over the next decade or more, albeit with better mileage and emissions standards. Just keep an open mind. Electric motorcycles are on the horizon and closing fast.