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18 February 2022
Earlier this month the Motorcycle Industry Association unveiled its ‘Action Plan‘ for zero emission motorbikes, scooters, mopeds, trikes and other Powered Light Vehicles (PLVs).
Developed in support of the Government’s wider Transport Decarbonisation plan, its aim is to help deliver cleaner air through clean travel.
Fundamentally this means putting in place the regulatory, financial and physical infrastructures necessary to realise the potential of zero emission PLVs.
Produced for both government and the industry, the Action Plan makes a wide range of recommendations.
These include reviewing regulation for L-Category vehicles.
These are currently split into seven different groups based upon number of wheels, power, seating and weight.
Motorbikes and scooters account for the largest slice of L Category vehicles.
The plan asserts, for example, that amending regulation of L1 vehicles to embrace lower-powered light electric mopeds with a top speed of 21.75 mph could boost their manufacture, increase consumer choice and lower prices.
It makes a similar argument for L3 vehicles, higher powered motorcycles. Here it points to the relatively high cost of motorcycle batteries, motors and controllers, many of which are not purpose-built for bikes.
This disincentivises motorcycle manufacturers from entering or developing their electric ranges whilst the knock-on effect to retail prices can deter consumers.
The plan calls for both government and industry to provide support funding for the development of a “low cost, optimised powertrain unit specifically designed for L3 applications.”
It’s an idea the merits of which Harley-Davidson would recognise.
Having already made inroads into the electric motorbike market with its widely acclaimed LiveWire, the iconic US manufacturer has forged a join venture with Taiwanese outfit Kymco.
With LiveWire now spun out as a dedicated brand, a second generation machine, the LiveWire S2 Del Mar, (pictured left) is poised for launch.
The new bike will be built around LiveWire’s ARROW platform, a powertrain which incorporates a battery pack, electronics and motor.
Being both scalable and modular, ARROW provides both flexibility and cost efficiency.
As a result the S2 – and subsequent models built around the platform – will be cheaper to produce.
Zero, another US manufacturer, specialises exclusively in electric motorcycles and its impressive range of machines have also wowed those riders lucky enough to swing a leg over them.
Whilst we still seem to be behind the curve here in the UK, there’s discernible movement.
Norton boss Sudarshan Venu has signalled the manufacturer’s intent to embrace electric and is supporting University of Warwick students’ research in building a battery-powered ‘TT-capable’ superbike .
Meanwhile, another iconic British motorcycle brand, BSA, has been reborn with an electric bike – to be produced at its Banbury factory – high on the agenda.
Whilst these are welcome developments, the electric motorcycle industry still needs a major jumpstart. This will require the government to look at how it can encourage manufacturers to invest in technological development and, more widely, deliver a more bike-friendly environment.
Seeing the worth of promoting L1 and L3-A1 vehicles, Steve Sargent, Chief Product Officer at Triumph Motorcycles notes in the plan that “Incentives for UK firms to invest in R&D and manufacturing to create products would accelerate the growth potential and infrastructure around secure parking and charging will be required.”
Infrastructural weakness has long been a bug bear for bikers.
We have long called for more and better secure parking.
Why are motorcyclists less well catered for on our highways than space-hungry, congestion causing four wheelers?
Introducing the Action Plan, Transport Minister Trudy Harrison commented:
“Zero emission PVs can be far less impactful than larger vehicles and there is no reason we should assume a ‘one size fits all’ approach to personal mobility. They offer a range of benefits such as reducing congestion, as well as helping remove air and noise pollution from our roads. Their smaller size also makes them complementary to increased public transport use and the growth of cycling and walking infrastructure.”
This rhetoric suggests that motorbikes may become more integral, rather than peripheral to transport planning.
This would be welcome and mean, for example, local authorities considering whether its appropriate to include motorbikes, mopeds and scooters within access restrictions which are designed to improve air quality, reduce congestion and decarbonise.
Given that, even in fossil-fuel powered form, bikes already offer significantly smaller physical and carbon footprints, it’s a question that’s more than ready to be asked.
Should a new L category emerge, the argument for light electric mopeds to be exempt from such restrictions may be particularly strong.
Whilst its welcome that motorcycles are universally – and understandably – exempt from CAZ charges, it would make sense to also focus wider attention on the needs of bikes and bikers.
For example, much energy is focused upon transitioning four-wheeled drivers to lower emission vehicles, with the stick of ANPR-enabled charging complemented by the carrot of limited grants to assist the purchase of greener options.
Grants for electric motorcycles – which as well as being environmentally friendly offer congestion-busting benefits – are much less freely available, if at all. This seems counter-productive.
More also needs to be done to make bikes and bikers safer.
It’s a topic Harrison alludes to, pointing to a forthcoming Road Safety Strategic Framework and pledging that the government “will continue our work to reduce the safety risk to [PLV] users by raising awareness between drivers and riders and promoting post-test training to ensure users have the skills they need to stay safe and avoid collisions.”
We will be interested to see just whether that road safety framework puts rather more meat on those bones.
Meanwhile the MCIA and Zemo are to be applauded for putting motorcycling front and centre of the decarbonisation debate.
Let’s hope now that we some real action to support growth of our electric motorcycle industry and some real energy go into promoting biking’s many environmental and economic benefits.
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