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Olaf Biethan: ‘I ride an electric motorcycle to work every day’

Olaf Biethan from the German city of Cologne is the vice president of BVDM, a German member organization of FEMA. He is what you call ‘the definition of a passionate motorcyclist’.

Olaf goes on long motorcycle vacations, hits the mud pits on weekends and takes part in off-road rallies. And since October 2014 he rides an electric bike to work every day. We asked him a couple of questions regarding his experience.

What was the reason for you to switch to an electric motorcycle?
Olaf answers: “For 35 years I have been riding a motorcycle in urban areas. Nowadays I ride to work and before that I rode a bike to university. The 30 kilometres I have to commute daily are ideal for an electric vehicle. Since I am able to charge my bike overnight in my garage, I just wanted to gain experience and try it.”

Which brand and model electric bike do you ride?
“I ride a Brammo Empulse R. In 2015 Brammo was bought by Polaris and the motorcycle is sold in the United States by the name Victory Empulse.”

So you have been commuting with your Brammo for almost two years now – summer and winter. Have you experienced any technical problems that slowed down the electric fun?
Olaf: “Yes, but they were not caused by the electric propulsion, they were more likely caused by the development of the bike in a warm and sunny country. It is not made for German weather, with rain and temperatures below 0°C. Also, some of the mechanical components such as the kickstand mount and the air circulation to the transmission seem to have gotten to little attention during the bike’s engineering phase.”

Olaf also owns a 250cc enduro bike and a BMW R1100RT. How about a car?
“I do not own a car. I haven’t owned a car since 1999. I only ride my motorcycles.”

Olaf at a charging station with his Brammo.
Olaf at a charging station with his Brammo.

Olaf is a true motorcycle enthusiast indeed, who wants to use his bikes in all possible ways. Consequently, the battery capacity of the electric bike is very important to him, especially when mild weather calls for voluntary detours on the way home from work.
Olaf: “During mixed usage – in city traffic and on highways – in summer the battery lasts for about 100 kilometres. With temperatures below 10°C is lasts about 80 kilometres. During only inner city traffic with a lot of ‘stop and go’s’ much more, of course. At 130 km/h on the Autobahn much less.”

That brings Olaf to a couple of disadvantages of riding electric motorcycles.
“The long charging periods and the – at least in Germany – still very bad charging infrastructure with only very few filling stations and confusing payment systems are not helpful. In fact, planning longer routes is often almost impossible, because it is difficult to assess where the next possibility to recharge will be.”

But of course there must also be advantages, especially compared to petrol bikes, otherwise you would not be so loyal to your electric bike. What are they?
Olaf explains: “The advantages are the much more relaxed daily ride because you don’t have to shift gears all the time, the lower energy cost of about 2.50 Euro for 100 kilometres and especially the unique constant acceleration that feels like you are being catapulted.”

Are there any financial advantages?
“In 2014, when I bought the Brammo, all newly registered electric vehicles were exempted from tax for ten years. Since 2015 this exemption from tax lasts for only five years. It was recently announced that the government will introduce a premium for buying electric cars in Germany, but (so far) not for motorcycles.”

Olaf knows how to have fun on an electric bike!
Olaf knows how to have fun on an electric bike!

Did you ever get into dangerous situations because your electric bike is so quiet?
Olaf: “I didn’t get into really dangerous situations, but in residential areas and 30km-zones you have to be a bit more alert. Some people do not look for vehicles, they only listen if there is something coming.”

Will you go back to a ‘normal’ bike?
“I wouldn’t want to use anything else than an electric bike for daily urban riding and I have never missed the exhaust sound. The riding experience itself is way too exciting to think about the sound.”

Written by Marco Zwillich