If you were back in the motorcycling past and told the people with an electric motorcycle that the future might be electric, it would probably have been laughed at.
However, among the Big Four in Japan (MotoGP), they are making a historic battery-swapping agreement to share battery technology across their brands.
While this is mostly for scooters which are more prevalent in dense cities such as Tokyo in Japan, technology has only recently been unveiled for electric motorcycles.
This poses some interesting questions since most electric motorcycles have their batteries built in. There are various levels of charging from normal to supercharging on these bikes.
With companies such as Livewire, Zero, and Energica all having their bikes with the option for multiple battery packs to charge, is there actually space in the market for a motorcycle that requires an additional battery? Or is it better to have a big built-in battery and charge it up when you need to?
In this article, we will explore how both systems can work and whether each approach is gaining traction or not. We’ll look at the costs of these two approaches and investigate why these approaches have pros and cons.
Why Both Systems Are Viable
To answer the first question of there being room on the market, we first need to explore the viability of both systems.
With built-in batteries, the big draw is that they can hold a larger charge than size-limited swappable batteries.
This is seen in most bikes where there are multiple “range” batteries, for example normal range, extended range, and extended range plus. Many of them simply involve a bigger battery situated within the bike.
The counter-effect of putting a bigger battery in a bike is that the bike will feel heavier, and shifting the center of gravity will make it unstable.
Learn about the batteries that keep the Livewire One up and running
The battery inside the Livewire One is mounted in a black box located near the bottom of the frame.
For built-ins, their other major benefit is that since they are a permanent part of the motorcycle, heavy-duty charging cables can be routed to them.
This is why some electric bikes have heavy-duty charging cables, because they use them to charge and rebuild their batteries, or to charge on 240 volts via a home charger.
That’s because these batteries take up less room and charge quicker than what most electric cars carry. Typically, this means a 20 to 40-minute wait at the charger when you need it.
The slow charging times are why the Big Four have come together to create Gachaco batteries, which swap out of each other as they charge.
Like with a lot of people in the US who have batteries like rechargeable AAA’s and AA’s for things like wireless mice, TV remotes, console game controllers, and the like, it is just a larger scale version of the same idea.
This technology allows you to visit a service station at the nearest stop and swap out your battery pack when it gets low.
You can easily scoot around with one fully-charged battery instead of waiting for that morning recharge call from the mechanic or searching for public charging during your commute.
The Gachaco battery swap system, with this one branded as Honda.
Gachaco allows you to live an all-electric lifestyle without having to suffer low battery life. Simply change battery racks at the gas station, or at the charge stations and ride back home with a charged battery for your Gachaco.
With the smart technology and machine learning, you can charge your batteries on-the-fly, so you never run out of power throughout the day.
If there are three batteries, they’ll charge in parallel, providing you with up to eight hours of light riding per cell.
Which Is the More Affordable Solution: Investigating the Actual Costs
A common dilemma when choosing a motorcycle is finding one that suits your needs while incorporating all of the features you desire and fits within your budget.
Some people have decided to avoid purchasing a Harley Davidson bike because of the cost, which then led them to choose an electric bike or swap their existing gas-powered vehicle for an alternative motorcycle that can run on gas. Which option has the better cost?
This is actually a bit more complicated than it seems on the surface. While there is a fixed rate at most charge stations per kWh recharged on each level of charging (fast, normal, super), do those values also apply to an alternative battery that can be swapped in?
In other words, while the entire reason that the Gachaco alliance was made was for easy swapping, who is paying for the electricity for an empty battery pack?
The 2022 Gogoro eScooter lineup, with two Gogoro swappable batteries up front
Gogoro will debut a new battery-swapping eScooter in 2022, with two batteries as standard – one in the front and another that can be swapped onto either pedal.
As far as we know, there are two ways to implement swappable batteries to e-scooters. One is used in Taiwan with their very similar Gogoro scooters.
You can either buy or rent them from an e-scooter company such as Car2Go or Lime and pay a subscription fee per month or year.
There are multiple tiers of subscription, from low-cost flexible plans perfect for someone doing only a few swaps a month, to high-usage tiers for someone that is swapping every day.
Using an app on a smartphone and NFC, or a Gogoro prepaid card, you slot your depleted battery into the charging wall, tap when the system prompts you, and if it sees you have a valid subscription and enough money on the card, it will pop out a fully charged battery for you.
A promotional picture showing a geek-looking Gogoro battery rack for doing an exchange of the battery without cash. The NFC tap screen at the top of the rack is for paying for the exchange.
A promotional picture of a Gogoro battery rack with the NFC tap screen at the top.
According to Gogoro’s company website, their “high usage” flex plan costs just about $42.70 USD for 600 kilometers, which is 7 cents per kilometer used.
This provides them with an affordable price, as the “mighty affordable”.
Every month, on average, you’ll only spend around $2-$5 extra to charge your eScooter. Plus the battery pack is swappable and lasts 1.3 kWh.
Although more than half the models in Harley’s Livewire line-up have a battery built into them, the biggest draw of these bikes is that they each have a 15.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack with an average range of 80 miles.
These are capable of charging completely in just 11 hours on 120V by plugging into a wall socket or fast-charging 400V DC charging station.
For those looking to charge at home, pricing is important when deciding which blog hosting to use. There are different types of live publishing sites to choose from, and each comes with its own perks and negative points.
Livewire One, for example, is a well-established site that hosts publications on the Interwebs. With an average monthly bill per month of 49.19 USD according to Business Insider, it would be a $46.20 investment for someone who rides their bike daily as a commute versus someone who drives 20 business days per month on the road for 22 total days.
400 Volt fast charge port on Harley-Davidson Livewire One
Harley-Davidson is releasing their new 1200W 1 HP electric bike which charges in minutes and has the CCS1 port for 400 volt fast charging. With a range of 100 miles, this motorcycle could be an alternative to your gas powered bike.
The cost is higher when you have to use a DC fast-charge station. They are anywhere from 25 cents to 30 cents per kWh, depending on the traffic in the surrounding area.
The reason there would be an added cost is that the the charge stations themselves are not cheap and had to be built first before they could be put into place.
If you charge your Livewire One for a total of 15.4 kWh for 8 hours per day, which is the length of the peak-hours schedule in the manual, that’s $4.21 per full charge.
If you set your home charging levels to that same 22-days-a-month model, that’s $92.62 to add up to one tank.
Potential Issues with Both Systems
The focus of the investigation is that convenience drives the price you are willing to pay for charging versus swapping. The elephant in the room has to do with the type of motorcycle actually being used.
The biggest known issue with the swappable battery packs is that they carry only 1.3 kWh of charge. For a small Yamaha or Honda eScooter, a 2 to 4 HP DC motor, that’s enough. For LiveWire One, a 100 HP DC motor bike, this is enough.
If you were to buy a lighter motorcycle such as a Zero FXS, the base campaign includes a 3.6 kWh battery and has a 36 mile combined range city/highway.
2022 Zero FXS, with its tiny 3.6 kWh battery under where the fuel tank would be
There is a new bike engine on the horizon. The Zero Motorcycles 2020 FXS uses a tiny 3.6 kWh battery under where the fuel tank would be, cutting out weight and adding potential range. Image via Zero Motorcycles
The Swappable battery pack on the FXS would offer more range than an eScooter, but it’s difficult to get more power out of a bike without adding more weight and increasing the chances of decreasing range.
One side could have benefits and the other could bring up issues.
The biggest issue with a built-in battery is that charging times are not as instantaneous, meaning you’ll need to plan ahead because recharging divisions within the Livewire One takes at least 30 minutes or even more at 400 Volts.
Although the Livewire One’s battery pack plugs into the Tesla connector and supports faster charging, it’s still not enough for on-the-fly restocking without planning ahead.
Bank of 900 Volt Tesla Superchargers
Tesla unveiled its newest piece of infrastructure – 900 Tesla Superchargers – on the Lyon Airport.
There are only a few other licensees that can use Tesla’s Superchargers, which will have a charging speed two to three times faster than other stations.
Even though the batteries are heavier and have a longer range, scooters are cheaper for cities with dense populations such as New York City in the US, Toronto or Vancouver in Canada.
You can also subscribe to use their service or pay per swap. They carry more charge than built-in batteries but still won’t always match eScooters.
There is going to be a lot of progress making cars more energy efficient in the future. Battery materials are improving too. There are things such as graphene, lithium-tungsten, and sodium-based batteries that hold more charge out of the standard lithium-ion batteries today.
Then there is the whole hydrogen discussion to be had. Even small sustainable brands of ethanol fuel are becoming an option.