No longer an intriguing toy or a curiosity for the environmentally concerned, electric motorcycles have gone mainstream in Southern California. “They’re being taken seriously as motorcycles,” says Harlan Flagg, owner of Hollywood Electrics. “They’re fun and fast, and it’s not a political or climate thing anymore. They’re just great bikes and really exciting.”
Southern California is particularly suited to electric motorcycles. The weather allows for year-round riding, the car culture is highly pervasive, and it is the only state that has legalized lane splitting, meaning that a two-wheeled vehicle may move between slow or stopped vehicles traveling in the same direction.
Also, the charging infrastructure is already in place. An electric motorcycle can be fully charged from any household electric outlet in about eight hours, or it could be fully charged, which takes about 45 minutes, at one of the many CHAdeMo stations around LA—and it’s a great value. “Ten-thousand miles for $100 worth of electricity?” Flagg says. “That’s a lot further than $100 in gas will get you in a regular car or motorcycle.”
When Flagg opened the first electric motorcycle dealership in Los Angeles in 2009, his first customers were early adopters. “They were excited about the technology, and often motivated by strong feelings and concerns about climate change,” he says. “But now we’re truly competitive with the gas bikes. People understand that these are real motorcycles that you can ride on the highway or off-road or even in competition.”
Purchase price, which is somewhat high compared to traditional motorcycles, remains a barrier but is arguably offset by low ownership costs. Other than basic maintenance, such as tires and brakes, the engines don’t need a lot of attention. “I also think that people are just committed to the internal combustion engine,” Flagg says. “That’s all we’ve known, and we see gasoline as a necessary evil. We’re resistant to change.”
Electric bikes have caught up with gas-powered bikes in terms of size, speed, and power. Hollywood Electrics sponsored a team at the 91st Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in June 2013 where an electric motorcycle set the fastest overall time in the motorcycle division. One of the riders, on a 2013 Zero FX, set a new record for production-based electrics and ended up in the top half of all the motorcycles—gas and electric—entered in the event. “Here we are, this technology that’s not even six years old, and we’re already competitive against the gas bikes.” Flagg says.
Sales have doubled at Hollywood Electrics every year since Flagg opened the dealership, and they’re expected to do so again in 2014. “Our customers are our best salespeople,” Flagg says. “That’s what I love most about my job—getting people on two wheels.”