While riding a classic motorcycle can certainly be fun, it requires some additional upkeep compared to a modern one. Classic bikes have carburetors, for one, as well as older ignition systems and brake designs. Admittedly, you can upgrade or swap out these vintage components for modern parts that require less maintenance. But what about ditching the entire powertrain and turning your motorcycle into an electric one?
Is converting a classic bike to electric power like converting a classic car?
On the face of it, turning a vintage internal-combustion vehicle into an EV seems straightforward. Remove the old engine and fuel tank, put in an electric motor and a battery pack, and set off. And while that’s a drastic simplification, it’s becoming increasingly common in the classic car world. But would that work on a classic bike?
Although cars and motorcycles aren’t identical, on a basic level they’re very similar. They both have transmissions that send power from their engines to the driven wheel(s). And those engines are controlled by a manual or electronic throttle. So, theoretically, turning a classic motorcycle into an electric one would be roughly similar to the car-conversion process.
Naturally, an electric motorcycle can’t carry as large a pack as an electric car. And the bike’s frame limits where and how big of an electric motor you could mount. However, modern battery technology means the latest electric motorcycles far out-strip their 1970s predecessors, Iron & Air reports.
Also, it’s possible to retain the original manual transmission in the electric conversion, Road & Track reports. After all, Kawasaki is working on a modern electric motorcycle with a manual. And your classic bike would likely keep its original final-drive mechanism.
Are there conversion kits or companies that perform classic bike conversions?
As electric conversions grow in popularity, more specialty shops are getting in on the action. Some are even working on electric crate motors to simplify the process. But does the same exist for classic bikes?
A handful of motorcycles have used car engines in the past. The Munch Mammut, for example, and the Dodge Viper V10-powered Tomahawk concept. So, theoretically, you could adapt electric car components to your motorcycle. RideApart reports that one DIYer adapted Nissan Leaf batteries to fit on their Royal Enfield 500 Classic. Another did the same to an old Suzuki bike, Vintagent reports.
To save time, you can install an existing electric motorcycle powertrain on your bike. That’s essentially what happened with the Ural electric concept, Cycle World reports. The company that built it, ICG Design, adapted off-the-shelf Zero Motorcycle components to fit the existing Ural.
This is all assuming you want to convert your classic bike yourself. Again, that’s certainly possible. Essentially all the necessary parts can be bought off the shelf, The Mechanic Doctor reports. And the parts list is virtually identical to what’s needed to turn a classic car into an EV, Roadshow reports. However, there are also a handful of shops that have worked on electric conversions in the past.
UK-based Electric Classic Cars, for example, converted a Royal Enfield Bullet into an electric bike, Motor1 reports. And Shanghai Customs has a full kit for turning old Honda Super Cubs into EVs, Silodrome reports. Plus, you could always turn to established conversion shops like EV West and Shift EV.
Should you do it?
Although classic vehicle conversions are becoming more popular now, they’re not exactly new. Back in 1978, industrial designer Brooks Stevens helped convert a 1971 Harley-Davidson XLH Sportster into an electric bike, Cycle World reports. And as electric motorcycle pioneer Mike Corbin has noted, modern batteries and motors are significantly more efficient and powerful, Vintagent reports.
Still, should you convert a classic bike to run on electricity? Paying a shop to do it won’t necessarily be cheap. True, a turn-key Shanghai Customs ‘eCub’ only costs $3999, but it tops out at 28 mph with a 28-mile range. But while the upcoming Sondors Metacycle costs $5000, it goes up to 80 mph and has an 80-mile range. And once you factor in the cost of the classic bike itself, you’re likely approaching the price of a Cake or a Zero bike.
That being said, if you genuinely want the look of a classic bike with fewer emissions and less maintenance, going electric is an option. But if what you want is a vintage motorcycle that’s easier to live with, there are cheaper alternatives.
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