Record Fuel Prices Didn’t Incentivize This Farmer To Switch To An Electric Motorcycle, But His Lambs Did

Every year, sheep farmer Ian Kelly worries about his lambs dying from miscarriage and bad mothering. Checking the herd every day on a noisy gas motorbike didn’t help.

So this year he bought an electric motorbike for his farm in Kendenup, near the south coast of Western Australia.

Compared to a four-stroke gasoline engine, its engine is virtually silent.

“It’s important not to startle the sheep while they are lambing,” he said.

“Without the buzzing petrol bike, the sheep react very differently.

“There are no gears or chains or sprockets [on the electric bike] so that I can mount it with one hand. It’s calm and it’s light.”

Record petrol prices didn’t even cross Mr Kelly’s mind when he opted to pay a 30% premium for the e-bike.

The best lambs raised on his farm sell for hundreds of dollars, so the value of saving even one of them from miscarriage each year was worth far more to him than gasoline.

Range anxiety over range

As with electric cars, the first question most people have about electric motorcycles is about battery range.

“Virtually every customer will ask me how long the battery will last,” said Perth farm machinery dealer Gary Johnson.

This has been a major barrier to the adoption of electric motorcycles for road use.

While electric cars can carry massive 100kWh battery packs, the size and weight of a motorcycle makes it impossible to drive long distances at highway speeds.

“Once in a while my left hand will always reach for a clutch that doesn’t exist,” said Ian Kelly.(ABC Great Southern: Angus Mackintosh)

But for everyday tasks on the farm, this is not a problem.

Mr Kelly opted for a relatively small 2.1 kWh battery for his bike, giving him around 40 kilometers of range at low speeds.

“Battery technology has reached the point where it is quite usable for a motorcycle,” he said.

“I do maybe 15 kilometers on it a day.”

In June 2020, Justin Hoad of the Uralla Veterinary Clinic wrote a report for Meat and Livestock Australia on the viability of electric motorcycles for farmers and ranchers.

Since then, Mr Hoad said electric motorcycle batteries have improved dramatically.

“It’s like power tools”

Mr Hoad said the key question for many farmers was whether electric motorcycles could replace quads.

“There have been over 240 quad-related fatalities in Australia and over 600 hospitalized injuries on average per year.

The cost of quads and side-by-side vehicles in terms of death and injury in Australia is estimated at $200 million per year”, The report noted.

In October last year, major manufacturers including Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha stopped selling quads in Australia after rollover protection was made mandatory.

“Farmers are really looking for alternatives to replace quads, which are no longer introduced in the country,” said farm machinery dealer Gary Johnson.

“The interest in [electric] bikes seem to be growing massively over the last few months.”

“It’s like power tools. You hardly see a corded power tool anymore,” Kelly said.

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