Electric motorcycles and the Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt hang over the TCO of electric motorcyles. Let's look at the math.

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I like to ride, and with a helmet. I have two restored Hondas under my belt; another 1966 Yamaha sits in the driveway, dead. I'll get to it. I've also been lusting over electric motorcycles that I've seen reviewed. They're looking increasingly practical, fun, and perhaps cost-effective. They're so quiet that they're perhaps the antithesis of the Harley Davidson.

Imagine my surprise when my uncle — who restores a huge variety of motorcycles and has a mind-boggling 20+ of them in his stable — sends me an editorial drenched in lessons of how to push statistics to an edge so as to inject FUD rather than reality into a recommendation. It was to my practiced eye, the sort of thing that I had railed about in the 1980s regarding IBM's classic distortions.

Dave Searles, Editor of Motorcycle Consumer News took a Zero-DS electric motorcycle to task, giving it a fair-shake review. Then, surprisingly, he then did a mind-boggling editorial on its TCO over 36,000 miles comparing it to a current model Suzuki gas motorcycle.

Interesting, I thought, as I started to read the TCO editorial he wrote. I've seen Total Cost of Ownership/TCO articles done on hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, that gave interesting (if occasionally misleading) carbon footprint data on the lifecycle of ownership. Are electric bikes cheaper to operate than a comparable gas bike? What's the differential in TCO? As I read the editorial after reading the review, I noticed how strange it was.

First, I couldn't make Searles' math work. After six books on electronic spreadsheets, you'd think I'd be able to find the holes, but I couldn't. The data was a mess. The problems start with the base price, which is squishy because there are Federal rebates of 10%, and in some states, other rebates that reduce the base price. It's just over ten thou at retail, but in Colorado for example, it can be under six thou.

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