I realize that soon as I post this, it'll probably be outdated because the electric dirt bike industry is moving ahead in leaps and bounds – but for what it's worth...
Like it or not, the environmental movement is impacting the dirt bike world. The biggest criticisms leveled at dirt bike riders (and, to a smaller extent, motocross enthusiasts) are... 1) we're burning fossil fuels and contributing to global warming that may or may not exist and may or may not be affected by humans... 2) we're apparently contributing to the destruction of forests by riding through them... and 3) we're creating a whole lot of noise pollution.
In my personal opinion, the alarmists have exaggerated the problems created by dirt bikes, but the media loves to latch onto worst-case scenarios.
The solution for dirt bike riders may very well be an electric one. An electric dirt bike immediately solves two of the problems mentioned above. They don't burn fuel, and they're almost completely silent (imagine riding and only hearing the chain going over the sprocket!).
Up until a few years ago, the only electric dirt bikes were home-built franken-bikes mashed up from whatever motor and batteries could be found. Today, things are a whole lot different.
I haven't had the opportunity of riding an electric dirt bike myself, but the stuff I'm seeing and reading about looks VERY promising. I'm not endorsing any particular electric dirt bike at this point, but if you want to see where one company is at already, check out Zero Motorcycles.
From what I understand, their current electric dirt bikes will run for about 2 hours on a charge but the batteries are easy to swap in and out – so I imagine most riders would want a second battery pack.
The two biggest obstacles to mainstreaming electric dirt bikes are cost and tradition. Cost is going to keep going down though. When you take operating costs into account, you could already argue that electric dirt bikes are comparable to their gas-drinking counterparts. I also have a prediction – once the independent developers start selling enough electric dirt bikes to prove there's a solid market for them – the big boys are going to step in and the price will drop even more due to their mass manufacturing abilities and competition.
Tradition and momentum will be a bigger challenge. Say what you want, but perception is reality – and a motor rumbling and roaring makes a dirt bike feel more powerful than a silent hum or whir. But put your emotions aside for a moment and consider this. Electric motors deliver smooth, predictable power and have huge torque available at ANY speed. Your biggest problem will probably be keeping that front wheel on the ground when you twist the throttle. In fact, some electric bikes automatically deliver less power when starting from a standstill to keep you from ending up on your back looking up at the clouds. Plus, imagine never having to clean a carb, rebuild an engine, or repair a transmission.
I'm not much of an “early adopter” (I still don't own a cell phone) and I'd prefer to buy a dirt bike that lets me buy readily-available parts at the shop down the road – so it may be awhile before I dish out cash for an electric dirt bike. But I think we're going to see a big surge in development and available product. And again – I think it's just a matter of time before I can pick up my first Honda, Kawasaki, or Suzuki 250-E, or whatever.
And just think of the possibilities when our dirt bikes are quiet enough to ride in a good-sized back yard without disturbing our neighbors! Count me in.
If you've had a chance to actually ride an electric dirt bike, I'd love to hear what you think.