Electric Motorcycles in China – Nathan Siy Interview, Founder Evoke Motorcycles

nathan siy

Electric Motorcycles are a niche market here in United States and other countries.  We recently wrote about a company called Evoke Motorcycles that is wants put more electric motorcycles on the roads in China. The country already has booming sales of electric scooters and other types of electric vehicles so we imagine buying an electric motorcycle isn’t too far of a leap.

Anyway Nathan Siy, the founder of Evoke, was kind enough to do an interview with us. He shares some insights into what it’s like building a vehicle company from the ground-up, what it’s like living in China, and were the technology for electric vehicles currently is.

Electric Motorcycle Club – So Nathan, tell us a little bit about yourself? You are Chinese Canadian correct? How long have you been living in China?

Nathan Siy – That’s right, I’d consider myself more Canadian, but with Chinese heritage. I was raised pretty westernized in Vancouver, Canada, but have enjoyed my time here in Beijing reconnecting with China. I’ve been living here in Beijing on and off since ’03. A short term work contract turned into a whole new chapter of my life.

EMC – What’s been the most interesting cultural differences or shock you’ve experienced as a Canadian?

NS – There are so many, it’s hard to pinpoint the most interesting one. Coming here in the beginning, I was actually pretty shocked that more people didn’t speak English. I tried to get by my first year without learning the local language, which made it insanely difficult living and working here. I actually sort of gave up and went back after my first contract, but came again in ’06 to give it another shot, and have been here ever since.

EMC – About Evoke Motorcycles, how did the company get started and why did you start an electric motorcycle company?

NS – It actually started with a completely different team and evolved into what we have today. It got started with the idea of developing something that we would want to ride ourselves. Throw a stick in Beijing and you’ll probably end up hitting an electric bike, but those bikes that so many people ride here today didn’t have enough power, or safety, or comfort. We begin with the idea of taking what was here, working so well, with electric scooters, and scaling it up to a point that we would be happy with, without breaking the bank. It took quite a few iterations, but I believe we got it right with the Urban S.

EMC – Does anyone think you are crazy for wanting to start Evoke?

NS – My wife thinks I’m a bit nuts. She’s really supportive of developing the business, but automotive companies, and by extent, motorcycle companies are inherently challenging. They take time and a great deal of resource to scale properly. We’ve done a great job so far finding ways to fast prototype and R&D cost-effectively up to this point, and being in China helps to manage logistics and H&R costs. Honestly, if we were elsewhere in the world, we wouldn’t have been able to progress as quick and far as where we are at now.

EMC – Has running tours in Beijing given you an good perspective of what works and doesn’t for travel in an urban environment? Are electric vehicles an adequate replacement for gas powered vehicles?

NS – Running tours here have definitely given me good perspective on what people’s 2 wheeled expectations are, but what has been most useful is renting out our e-scooters. We started doing that in 2012, and I believe that people drive a lot more “true to life” when renting. They usually don’t have a concept of electric power, how to conserve it, etc. They ride it like a gas scooter and from their data, I was able to quantify daily range and “true to life” expectations.

Electric vehicles can be an adequate replacement for urban dwellers providing the vehicle has at least a 60km range. From many of our renters’ experiences, they would empty the battery almost 1.5 times in the course of a day in Beijing. They would charge up at least an hour or 2 during lunch or coffee mid-day, and then be off again in the afternoon. Our average range for our small e-scooters is about 30km, which means someone with no concept of electric vehicles and basically ultimate freedom in the city would travel a daily average of about 45km, which matches a lot of commuter data in other big cities. Buffer in 20% and I believe that with a vehicle range of 60km, it would suit majority of the urbanites transportation requirements.

EMC – What are the advantage to use electric scooters over gas powered scooters? I assume you have lower maintenance costs, right?

NS – There are quite a few “hard advantages” to electric scooters and electric motorcycles over their gas counter parts, such as reduced maintenance, lower operating costs, low noise, but what brought me over to the “dark side” of electric vehicles is hard to verbalize; it’s the fun factor. It’s the sensation of being launched from a slingshot while you accelerate, where the bike snaps you back and continuously pulls for what seems like ages. It’s also the simplicity of just twisting to get you going without all the clunky clutch and shifting and what not. It’s also the peacefulness of the surroundings hugging you and making you one with the city; the unity that feel with your bike, hearing the tires on the ground, the slight hum of the motor, knowing you and your machine are one symbiotic unit.

I’ve been riding motorcycles since I first got my driver’s license, and while they’re fun, there’s also lots to keep you busy with; now that i’m on electric motorcycles, I just realize all that stuff detracted from my 2 wheeled experience.

EMC – What does it cost to charge the scooters?

NS – In China, we’re paying about 0.48 RMB for kWh, so to fill up the Urban S from dead to full would be about 4 RMB ($0.66 USD).

EMC – Currently there are about 12 million electric scooters sold each year and about 9+ million of those are sold in China. It seems the Chinese are more willing to accept electric vehicles from what I’ve read. Why is this? Does it have to do with the air pollution?

NS – The statistics seems about right. The automotive culture, and by extension, motorcycle culture is still relatively new to them. Cars and motorcycles have only been around, at most, 30 years. I believe the country is still in it’s infancy, which makes it easier to “change over” to new technologies quicker.

Another issue would probably be the government’s backing on EVs. Gas motorcycles are slowly being eliminated in the bigger cities, perhaps due to the pollution issue, or licensing. People still need to get around, so that gap is being replaced with electric.

EMC – It seems like the Chinese already are ahead in terms of battery technology and other electric vehicle related tech. I assume you are planning on utilizing this to your advantage. Do you plan to pool local talent and knowledge?

NS – China is surprising ahead of the curve when it comes to battery assembly and we’re fortunate enough to be working with some of the best in China. In basic EV related tech (controllers, DC-DC, etc) China’s on par. What I miss from local companies is electronics and diagnostics. Surprisingly, we haven’t found what we’re looking for yet and have ventured off developing our own.

The local talent pool is somewhat divided and where we lie is somewhere in the middle. On the one end, there are a lot of guys with hands on building experience, which is great for execution and going from concept to prototype, then there are the high end theoretical minds, working for Tesla or Byd. We’re kind of stuck in the middle. As a startup, it’s difficult to attract the high end guys, but we also need several steps up from the hands-on guys as well. We’re continuously looking for local talent to join the team and I’m sure as time goes on, we’ll see more and more mid-level guys coming from different industries into EVs.

EMC – How hard is it to charge an electric vehicle in China? Could I find a place to charge-up if I needed it?

NS – It’s fairly easy. People in China are quite used to the electric scooter industry, and since we utilize a 10A on board charger with a standard plug, it allows us to make use of the “regular” infrastructure. This infrastructure isn’t a traditional one, per say, but it’s the mom and pop shops, restaurants and storefronts, with extension cords charging their own e-bikes that are happy to let someone piggyback on it as they dine in their establishment.

Car charging stations are growing in Beijing, but I’ve only ran into a few. It would require an adapter, but we’ll consider selling one if the demand gets there.

evoke motorcycles

EMC – What electric motorcycles does Evoke Motorcycles currently sell?

NS – We’re currently selling our first model, the Evoke Urban S. We’re planning to develop a series of electric motorcycles utilizing the same power train in a sport body, cafe racer body and finally a relaxed cruiser. It’s still a while away, but we’re hoping to make use of more fast-prototyping methods to get new bikes launched.

EMC – Does Evoke build motorcycles from the ground-up or are you retrofitting motorcycles with a motor, controller, and batteries?

NS – We’re probably closer to retrofitting motorcycles at the moment, but I’d say a few steps up from that. There’s quite a few parts that are designed by us to bring it all together, so it isn’t retrofitting in the traditional sense, but using some motorcycle parts, some ev parts and custom design parts to make the Urban S.

EMC – When do you plan on selling your Urban S? Is the 150cc engine equivalent adequate for Beijing and roads in China?

NS – We’re currently in small production for the China market. Our biggest challenge stateside isn’t the manufacturing, but the DOT process. The 150cc equivalent engine is a bit misleading. We rate it at that due to the output power that a 150cc typically produces and what the Urban S produces, but “seat of the pants” testing leaves the 150cc in the dust, and getting up to speed in traffic is no comparison.

EMC – Any plans to scale production in a factory? Seems like jumping from scooters to motorcycles would not be too hard. Are you looking for investors?

NS – That’s a great question and, honestly, we’re still in figuring things out. Scaling production in a Chinese factory means that we have to have all our ducks in a row to protect ourselves and the brand in the future from possible IP issues. Scaling production in our own facility means lots of capital. Both are difficult choices.

A short term goal that all of us had in mind was exactly that, but with everyone so busy on production and R&D, no one’s had the time to pursue things on the investor front as much as we’d like. I am starting to leave R&D a bit more to the other guys and learn about the business side of things to balance the team out as well.

EMC – Why is your website in English if you are currently only planning on selling in China? Are you planning on importing Evoke motorcycles to the United States and North America at some point?

NS – Haha, it’s was a pretty big pivot we all decided on early in 2015 for the China market. The plan was always to develop and manufacture in China, but where we pivoted was, we wanted to start sales and marketing in Canada and the US, but were faced with quite a lot of challenges that we weren’t ready for yet, such as DOT approval and Transport Canada, so in Jan. 2015, we decided to continue researching the North American market for now until we can find the right people to execute the legalities, marketing and sales there.

EMC – Do you have a Chinese language site?

NS – 正在做。(It means “we’re working on it as we speak) :p

EMC – The first time I heard about electric motorcycles, I thought it sounded lame. What were your thoughts and reaction?

NS – First reactions to EVs in Beijing were electric scooters, and for me, they were life-changing. It wasn’t necessarily the “cool factor” that got me on one; it was more the mobility and freedom in Beijing. But like anything I buy, I simply can’t be happy with stock, so begins the journey. But before coming to Beijing, I actually had no concept of what an electric motorcycle or electric scooter even was.

EMC – What’s been the most challenging aspect of trying to get a vehicle company off-the-ground?

NS – It’s all challenging, equally challenging, but I enjoy the challenge and the process. At the end of the day, getting any company off the ground takes time, but you got to find ways to make it fun while you’re taking the time to get things going.

EMC – What’s a book that’s had a profound affect on you, helped your, or changed your outlook on life?

NS – Hmmm, I haven’t read a book in quite a long time. I like chatting with people or doing stuff with my hands to keep busy, so I haven’t found the time to section off to read a book.

EMC – Do you have any advice, personal of professional, that you’d like to share? It could be something you’ve learned or something that someone taught or told you that helped your in your life.

NS – Something that comes up around the shop a lot is “You don’t know what you don’t know”. I think it has come in handy for several situations when prototyping stuff, testing circuits, or designing the UI. It’s building in redundancies for things that may happen, or preparing for something that could happen that you don’t even know about yet.

END OF INTERVIEW

We’d like to thank Nathan for taking the time to do this interview and answer our questions about Evoke Motorcycles and the market in China for electric motorcycles, well mainly electric scooters.  Do you have any questions for Nathan about Evoke, future plans for the company, the tour business, or anything else? Please leave a comment below and we will try to get him to answer any questions or concerns as soon as possible.

You can learn more about the motorcycles and company here – http://www.evokemotorcycles.com/

Victory will race Electric Motorcycle at Isle of Man

 

victory electric motorcycle

Victory Motorcycles announced today that they will be entering the Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) Zero race with a prototype electric motorcycle.  Victory will be utilizing the technology when they purchased the electric motorcycle company Brammo in the TT Zero race.  The TT Zero race is a class that features only electric motorcycles.

The race bikes will be Brammo’s rebadged with the Victory logo.  Specifically reworked Brammo Empulse RRs but I’m sure the Victory engineers have made some improvements to the bikes for this year’s TT Zero.

Riding the Victory electric motorcycles on the Isle of Man will be Lee Johnston and William Dunlop.  Victory released this video of Johnston talking about his racing background, what it’s like to ride an electric motorcycle, and preparing for the Isle of Man TT.

Victory Motorcycles – Isle of Man

Victory trademarked the name “Victory Charger” and it is likely the company will introduce this electric motorcycle in the summer, after the electric motorcycle race.  We imagine they will use any success at the Isle of Man to help the marketing for the Victory Charger. Of course now this makes people wonder, is the Charger going to be a cruiser motorcycle or a sportbike? Polaris, Victory’s parent company, hasn’t given out too many details yet about what they are doing with electric motorcycles beside the fact they will be definitely be building a model.  We also know that the Victory Charger will be built at the Polaris factory in Spirit Lake, Iowa.  As for other details everyone is going to need to wait until June it seems.

It should be noted this is the first foray Victory and Polaris are making into the world of electric motorcycle racing.  This should be a good test for the company as the 37-miles Isle of Man course is widely considered one of the most intense and grueling race course’s in the world.  Technically the circuit is not a “race track” as it takes place public roads on the tiny island of the Isle of Man, which is off the coast of the United Kingdom. They are closed off for a week of intense racing fun.

With the resources and commitment of Polaris and the talent of riders like Dunlop and Johnston we imagine Victory should be successful at the TT Zero. Good luck to the Victory team at the Isle of Man.

You can read the full Victory Motorcycles press release below.

Press Release

VICTORY MOTORCYCLES TO RACE PROTOTYPE ELECTRIC MOTORCYCLE AT THE LEGENDARY INTERNATIONAL ISLE OF MAN TOURIST TROPHY

MEDINA, MN – Victory Motorcycles is announcing their intention to race at the iconic International Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) event on a prototype Victory electric race motorcycle.

The prototype electric race bikes will be piloted by William Dunlop of the legendary Dunlop dynasty and by Lee Johnston known in the racing world as “General Lee”.

Victory Racing will compete in the Isle of Man TT electric class, marking the first time that Victory Motorcycles has entered a professional motorcycle-racing event in Europe and raced an electric motorcycle. Parker, the world’s leading diversified manufacturer of motion and control technologies and systems, is providing the race-proven, high performance GVM PMAC motors for both machines.

“The entire Victory team is excited to make history with this effort,” said Rod Krois, Victory General Manager. “We know that William Dunlop’s experience and the continued Victory Motorcycles development of this electric race bike through work with Parker will propel us into a strong future with electric motorcycles.”

With more than a hundred years of history, the annual International Isle of Man TT, raced on the Irish Sea Island, is one of the most demanding and exciting races in the world. The SES TT Zero Challenge class event for electric motorcycles is a one-lap race round the island’s 37.73 mile Mountain Course scheduled for Wednesday, June 10, 2015.

“I’m more than excited to race this prototype at the Isle of Man,” said professional rider William Dunlop. “Electric powertrains have many advantages, and the Isle of Man is one of the greatest tests in motorcycle racing.”

Professional Rider Lee Johnston will be riding the second entry for Victory Racing at the Isle of Man TT and said, “I’m excited to make history by racing the new Victory electric race prototype. It’s thrilling to be part of the emerging electric motorcycle movement.”
Ben Furnish, Marketing Manager for Parker Hannifin said, “Parker is thrilled to be involved with Victory Motorcycles in this historic event with these talented riders. We look forward to working with Victory to develop high performance powertrains for electric motorcycles. “

The Victory Racing prototype electric race bike features a dedicated electric racing motor and power cells as well as highly sophisticated electric controls to maximize peak power, power delivery, and durability under racing conditions. Victory engineers have further refined the electronics and chassis for the upcoming race with private test sessions in North America.

Motorcycles will host a continuous news feed of updates and photos from the Isle of Man TT and will have more information available on the Victory electric prototype race bike at www.VictoryMotorcycles.com. Be sure to follow Victory on Twitter @VictoryBikes and on Facebook at facebook.com/VictoryMotorcycles for additional updates. To learn more about Parker and their production version of the GVM traction motors visit http://www.parker.com/hev.

About Victory Motorcycles
Victory Motorcycles designs, engineers, manufactures and markets a full line of cruisers, baggers and touring motorcycles. Every Victory model delivers industry-leading performance, comfort, style, storage and reliability. The first Victory was produced on the Fourth of July, 1998, in Spirit Lake, Iowa, where every Victory motorcycle continues to be produced today. Information about Victory motorcycles, apparel and accessories is available at www.VictoryMotorcycles.com

About Parker
With annual sales exceeding $13 billion in fiscal year 2014, Parker Hannifin is the world’s leading diversified manufacturer of motion and control technologies and systems, providing precision-engineered solutions for a wide variety of mobile, industrial and aerospace markets. The company employs approximately 57,500 people in 50 countries around the world. Parker has increased its annual dividends paid to shareholders for 58 consecutive fiscal years, among the top five longest-running dividend-increase records in the S&P 500 index. For more information, visit the company’s website at http://www.parker.com, or its investor information website at http://www.phstock.com.

Preston Petty races on a Zero MX [VIDEO]

The Life Electric: Preston Petty is a cool video that Motorcycle.com has released about motorcycling legend about Preston Petty.  The 74 year old still races on dirt flat tracks but these days he is using his Zero MX made by Zero Motorcycles. Petty is clearly nostalgic for what he’s done for the industry but he is able to embrace electric motorcycles.

Preston Petty is one of those rare souls that is capable of embracing his own motorcycling heritage while also being a cutting-edge thinker who maintains a fascination with the latest and greatest technology, and that includes Zero electric motorcycles. That’s why, at 74 years old, Petty races flat track with his Zero MX.

“It’s got excellent torque and zero RPM and plenty of power and it’s neighbor friendly.” said Petty about his Zero MX electric motorcycle. “You don’t have to set valves and that sort of thing. The only maintenance are the tires and the chain but otherwise not much.”

When he talked about racing the Zero MX, “When you hit the throttle on it, it’s gone and you better make sure you have enough traction… it’s got regenerative braking.” He seems to be competing well with his Zero Motorcycle against gas powered counterparts at the dirt track. The video is about 8 minutes and is worth a watch.

Evoke Motorcycles, a Chinese Electric Motorcycle Company

evoke motorcycles

I ran across a company called Evoke Motorcycles recently, which is a Chinese electric motorcycle company.  Evoke claims to be “Asia’s First Electric Motorcycle Company.”  While this might be a lofty claim, and it’s always hard to tell what company’s are vaporware, the guy behind the company has an interesting background.

Nathan Siy, the founder of Evoke, runs tours of Beijing on electric scooters with his company Beijing Electric Bike Tours for those that want to explore the city with a guide. The tours get good reviews on TripAdvisor and the concept is smart.  The cost to run electric scooters is low as they don’t require much maintenance and charging costs are minimal I imagine in Beijing. (At least I assume electric production and therefore rates are low.)  More importantly they don’t produce much noise and are easy to ride which is a plus for talking to people while riding around Beijing and explaining landmarks and attractions.  (Again, this is what I assume.)  Scooters can also go where cars can’t and there are lots of electric scooters around Beijing.

The experience Siy has gained from running tours and fixing the electric scooters he’s translated that knowledge into starting Evoke Motorcycles it seems.

Urban S100 – Electric Motorcycle

Currently the company only has one model that hasn’t gone on sale, the Urban S100.  Here are some specs;

  • Top Speed – 74 mph
  • 10 kw Direct Drive – Hub Motor
  • 150cc gas engine equivalent
  • Battery – Lithium Cobalt
  • Estimated Range – 93 miles City, 55 miles highway
  • Regenerative Braking
  • Charge Time – 8 Hours
  • Starting Price – $6,500

The Urban S 100 looks like a fairly well put together motorcycle. Of courses it’s hard to tell from pictures.  From what I can tell the bikes are retrofitted with an electric motor, battery, and motor controller.  Still the expertise and manufacturing capabilities are already there.  China’s electric scooter industry accounts for the majority of sales around the world, and builds millions of electric mopeds a year, so it makes sense to build electric motorcycles in China.  Unsure where I remember hearing this but there were 9+ million electric scooters sold in China last year.

On the website there is a “In the Works” page.  They have a model called the Kruzer which will be a cruiser motorcycle. In addition they have a second model the SuperSport V2, which will be a larger and more powerful sportbike compared to the Urban S100.  There are no specifications given for the Kruzer of SupserSport V2, price range, or estimated dates of availability.

North America?

Siy is a Chinese Canadian (there is a large Chinese population in Canada), so this begs the question, will he import these to North America? Currently the Evoke Motorcycles website has no information about it and it doesn’t even look like you can purchase an Urban S100.  There would be a lot of regulatory hurdles in terms of safety standards they would have to meet for the motorcycles to be licensed for US roads though.

If Evoke was able to import electric motorcycles and sell slightly more powerful models it would likely be an attractive option for American and Canadian buyers.  Even with import duties and shipping costs they could be sold for less than what is available right now.  Zero Motorcycles, arguably the leader in the market right now, has said the most common complaint they hear is their motorcycles are too expensive.  The base price for the Zero S is $13,345 and that does not include any taxes, shipping fees, or registration fees. If you want extra mileage range expect to shell out $2,500 for the PowerTank and $600 for the quick charger.  You might be able to find a good Zero S, Zero SR, or Zero DS that someone wants to sell used but the savings are not that great. The market is small so electric motorcycles hold their value as far as I can tell. That’s why having an attractive lower cost new bike option would be ideal.

Electric Motorcycle Club’s Take

I haven’t come across any other company like Evoke Motorcycles. Although, there could certainly be other companies like Evoke that are building electric motorcycles in China.  That would be logical.  I don’t speak or read Chinese.  That means I’m not doing searches in Chinese for “electric motorcycles” or “电动摩托车” according to Google Translate.  That’s electric motorcycles in Simplified Chinese if it was not clear. 🙂

I hope Evoke is successful and it sounds like Nathan Siy has the expertise and background to build these bikes. However, it’s always hard getting a vehicle company started and operational and I’m not sure if they’ve even sold too many of these yet.

UPDATE – After a little more digging I learned that Evoke Motorcycles evolved out of another company called ElectroForce Motors. Same idea as Evoke, build inexpensive but quality electric motorcycles. ElectroForce is defunct due to a difference of opinion among management I was told but this actually a good thing.  According to this article in the South China Morning Post the development and research sounds like it was far along with ElectroForce and they had lined up distributors in other countries.

For more information – http://www.evokemotorcycles.com/