Welcome to the Club!

I think it is now safe to welcome electric motorcycles as part of the motelorcycling community. The advances and successes of two motorcycling companies in particular have shown their worthiness to join the club. And where innovators lead, we can expect others to follow.

Sure, electric motorcycles may not be there yet in terms of adventure riding around the world. Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman just completed The Long Way Up, riding a pair of Harley-Davidson LiveWire™ motorcycles from the southern tip of Argentina to Los Angeles. In a recent interview on The Tonight Show, Ewan described the challenges with keeping the motorcycles charged. But most motelorcyclists aren’t riding through the most remote regions of Latin America. 

Zero SR/S model

Just this month Zero Motorcycles unveiled their new SR/S model specifically designed for the sport-touring rider. Despite looking eerily similar to my BMW F800ST, Zero appears to realize that there is an electric motorcycle segment that goes beyond just city commuting. The new bike features an extended wheelbase, comfortable pillion seating and space to add panniers for overnight adventures. It is the advances that Damon Motorcycles is making, however, that should get us most excited! They have created two elements that I think will change motorcycling forever – the first is safety and second is ergonomics for distance riding.

What would it take to drastically reduce the risk for motorcyclists?

Jay Giraud, founder and CEO Damon Motorcycles

If you aren’t familiar with Damon Motorcycles, they are a Vancouver based manufacturer that I first discovered last year while reading a Globe and Mail article on how they are integrating innovative safety features into their motorcycles. But they really caught my attention by winning the prestigious Best in Innovation Award at the Consumer Electronics Show this year in Las Vegas.

Pictured left to right Damon Motorcycles Founder and CEO Jay Giraud and Founder and CTO Dom Kwong at CES Las Vegas

They say that necessity is the mother of all invention and Jay Giraud, Damon Motorcycles founder and CEO, proves just that. He set out to find a solution to a serious concern that all motorcyclists are familiar with: ‘Why is it we get in a car without fearing for our safety and yet we mount a motorcycle and accept the significant risk involved. What would it take to drastically reduce the risk for motorcyclists?’ So Jay came up with the answer, drawing from his experience as an executive in the automotive sector. I spoke with Jay earlier this week to ask about these innovations.

You see Jay knows the statistics. A long-time motorcyclist himself, Jay knows that motorcyclists are 27 times more likely to get into an accident than motorists. But he also knows that if he can improve reaction time for riders by as little as 0.25 of a second a full 40 percent of motorcycle accidents can be avoided. And so, he developed a safety system called CoPilot™ that is standard on all Damon Motorcycles. 

What CoPilot™ does is provide the rider with pivotal information that can alert him or her to potential dangers. Using a series of sensors CoPilot™ detects vehicles around you and alerts the pilot to those encroaching in your blind spot. Similar to many high-end cars, an LED light on the right or left side of your windscreen comes on in the event another vehicle is in your blind spot.  But perhaps more significant is the haptic feedback in the handlebars that alerts you to danger. If the vehicle in front of you slows down suddenly, the handlebars will vibrate so you can quickly apply the brakes.

We have all experienced this before. I can’t count the number of times I have been riding on a highway at 60 mph and then had to quickly slow to a stop for no reason whatsoever. As Jay reminds me that with a full-face mask helmet our field of vision is cut from 180° to 140° hampering our peripheral vision. When we shoulder check, we lose sight for a split second of the vehicle in front, and that can have grave consequences. I’m not suggesting that even with this technology I won’t do multiple shoulder checks when changing lanes, but I do honestly believe that by giving me a fraction of a second more notice this can and will reduce my risk of having a serious accident.

But that isn’t all. Jay also wanted to create one motorcycle that can accommodate riders of different heights (without having to have a lowered seat) and, maybe more importantly, different riding environments by adjusting a riders positioning. With what Damon Motorcycles calls SHIFT™, the rider can – at the touch of a button – move from a sport position where the handle bars and windscreen are lower, the seat higher and the foot pegs back, to a cruising position where the windscreen and handlebars raise, the seat drops and pegs move forward and lower to a more comfortable ergonomic distance riding position.  And the motorcycle does this smoothly while you are riding!  

Think how much fun it would be. You are cruising down a secondary highway and you see that favourite sign: curves ahead. Without stopping, you can drop the bike into sport mode to carve those turns with precision. I feel it is this ability to change ergonomic positioning that makes the Damon Motorcycle perfect for distance touring.

Like other leaders in the electric motorcycle market, Damon Motorcycles can go up to 200 miles on a single charge – though not too many can output 200hp like Damon can.  And with all the quick charging stations now around, you can recharge to 80 percent capacity in as little as 30 minutes.  Not sure about you, but I am more than willing to take a half-hour break after riding for two hours.  

While Damon Motorcycles aren’t configured for touring like Zero’s new SR/S is, Jay did say they are about to unveil a new version that can better accommodate a pillion and panniers too. Get ready to get your orders in!

Perhaps what is most interesting is the statistics coming from Damon’s pre-orders. It may be that Damon Motorcycles may have found the secret recipe to finally encourage new riders to enter the market – a struggle that the entire industry is dealing with. The Motorcycle Industry Council’s most recent report shows that the median age of motorcyclists is getting older and is now 50 years old. During my conversation with Jay, he eluded that a great many of the pre-orders are from new riders aged 25-34 years old. Jay suspects it is the increased safety elements that are giving new riders the confidence to come into the sport.

The other big motorcycle brands are all working on their own versions of electric motorcycles too. The Harley-DavidsonLiveWire is already on the market. BMW last year showed off their new electric concept roadster and the Japanese big four (Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki) have formed a consortium to develop a single battery and charging standard.So I don’t expect it to be long before the big brands recognize the significant advances that Zero and Damon have demonstrated.    

What does this have to with motelorcycling and why should we invite them into the community?  Well, on my Sleeping Around in America tour, the average travel distance between motels was a little over 200 miles and these new electric motorcycles definitely have that kind of range. Add the drastic improvements in design, ergonomics and industry leading safety features being incorporated and it’s hard not to take a serious look. But perhaps most significantly, if these innovations stand to attract a new generation of millennial motorcyclists wanting to get into the market for the first time, this could be the biggest plus they bring. We know that millennials love experiential travel and retro motels fit that bill. Destination motels like the Madonna Inn have already installed quick charging stations making it perfect for electric motorcycles. So, I say ‘Welcome to the Club’ because after all – it’s all relative!

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