Electric vs. Gas Motorcycle

AMA champion makes his case for the future of motorcycling

eric bostrom sitting next to motorcycles


Eric BostromCycle World

Will electric motorcycles replace gas motorcycles? Can you ride your bike in the rain? Is an electric motor all torque? Is there a sudden surge of power? Is your bike heavy? Don’t you miss the noise from your gas motorcycle?

I hear those questions all the time when competing at club and national roadracing events on my Brammo Empulse R. They are valid, so let me begin with the easy ones. As a passionate motorcyclist with two decades of professional racing as my life's work, I enjoy the sound of a revving ICE (internal combustion engine). Like the whirling and gurgling of a dishwasher, it's confirmation of work in progress. Over time, however, that sound can become annoying.

When I’m riding an electric motorcycle, the droning sound of an engine and its related vibration through the controls are eliminated, and I constantly pick up new sensations, such as increased road feel and heightened spatial awareness. EVs are also extremely easy to ride (you don’t have to rely on a manual clutch to get moving), freeing up concentration so I can work more on my technique and less on controlling the mechanics inherent to the machine. As a result, I feel less rushed on the track, which, if I’m honest, has made competing against ICE bikes annoying and distracting.

VIDEO: Brammo Empulse RR- Eboz THill

Batteries are heavy, but electric vehicles are not handicapped by heavy flywheels and other rotating masses, which is a major reason motorcycles are stubborn to change direction. Couple that with the ease of locating the center of gravity in an ideal position and you can see why an electric bike feels much lighter than it actually is. Despite those heavy batteries, a street-legal Empulse R weighs less than a Honda NC700X, a Triumph Speed Triple, or a BMW F800GS.

Torque is so impressive that you might think it is an EV’s greatest strength. In fact, tunability is an EV’s greatest strength. Having raced Superbikes for many years, I am well versed in the persistent problem of applying throttle while riding on the edges of the tires where traction is so critical. Unlike ICE engines that suffer from abrupt power delivery and require roundabout solutions to control these surges, with an EV, you can go straight to the source of the problem and simply reduce torque command to the rear wheel. If you are looking for either softer or more aggressive acceleration, you can have it—just copy and paste. Identical parameters apply to traction control. Controlling power delivery is the true strength of an EV.

Yes, you can ride an electric bike in the rain, heat or cold—if you dare to brave those conditions. Batteries react to temperature changes much like we do. In extreme cold or heat, I move more slowly than I would like. When pushed out of their comfort zones, batteries act like this, too, resulting in thermal cutbacks. Like the rest of the package, technology and ingenuity are advancing to keep batteries operating within their optimal-performance temperature range.

eric bostrom on-track action

Bostrom shows the same form that won 45 AMA nationals

Bostrom shows the same form that won 45 AMA nationalsCycle World

Now for the big question: Will EVs replace ICEs? I’ve pondered this for quite some time. What I can say for certain is today, at the retail level, electric bikes are the real thing. I challenge anyone to find a faster, more efficient way to navigate a morning commute. Acceleration up to 100 mph is effortless. At the racetrack, I’ve started 20th against 600cc sportbikes and been in the lead by the first corner.

Putting aside an EV’s advantages, such as eliminating oil changes and other maintenance, range remains the biggest concern and most challenging aspect of EVs competing on the road with fossil fuel. Most rides are less than 100 miles, and my Empulse R is capable of going that distance. But what if I want to go farther? To bridge that gap, we will need not only higher-capacity batteries but also quicker-charging batteries.

This is a big hurdle because it will require a quick-charging-station infrastructure. Tesla is expanding its automotive line, BMW, Porsche, and VW are releasing EVs this year, and many hybrids and less-trendy EVs are already on the road. These are clear signs that both technology and infrastructure are being pushed here and abroad.

Shelina Moreda race action shot


Bostrom's Parker Racing Brammo teammate Shelina MoredaCycle World

If I allow my mind to wander, I can’t help but get excited and begin asking my own questions. After being closed for 30 years, could Southern California’s Saddleback Park re-open to EV MXers? Would Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca no longer be under threat of shutting down due to noise restrictions? Could currently unused OHV trails re-open due to less impact on the environment?

Okay, some of those ideas are a stretch but by how much? With KTM and Yamaha releasing EVs this coming year, the push has begun. Remember, it didn't take long for Doug Henry to get his first win on a Yamaha YZ400F, and look how modern four-strokes have reshaped motocross. MotoGP crossed over to pneumatic valve control even faster. Once again, we are peeling back another layer reaching for tomorrow. If you look deep enough, circling electrons are everywhere.

eric bostrom track day action

Bostrom's Brammo Empulse R-based racer is equipped with Brembo brakes and Ohlins suspension

Bostrom's Brammo Empulse R-based racer is equipped with Brembo brakes and Öhlins suspensionCycle World
racebike motorcycles nose to nose


Icon Brammo Spec 32 nose-to-nose with Eric Bostrom's Empulse R racerCycle World