Every year, sheep farmer Ian Kelly worries about his lambs dying to miscarriage and mismothering. Checking the flock every day on a loud petrol motorcycle was not helping.
So this year he bought an electric motorcycle for his farm in Kendenup, near Western Australia’s south coast.
Compared to a four-stroke petrol engine its engine is practically silent.
“It’s important not to frighten the sheep while they’re lambing,” he said.
“Without the petrol bike buzzing away the sheep react very differently.
“There’s no gears or chains or sprockets [on the electric bike] so I can ride it one-handed. It’s quiet and it’s light. “
Record petrol prices did not even cross Mr Kelly’s mind when he chose to pay a 30-per-cent premium for the electric bike.
Prime 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 the petrol.
Range anxiety on the range
Like electric cars, the first question most people ask about electric motorcycles is about the range of the batteries.
“Virtually every customer will ask me how long the battery is going to last,” Perth farm machinery dealer Gary Johnson said.
It has been a major obstacle to the uptake of electric motorcycles for road use.
While electric cars can carry enormous 100kWh batteries, the size and weight of a motorcycle makes long-distance riding at highway speed impractical.
But for day-to-day jobs on the farm it is not a problem.
Mr Kelly opted for a relatively small 2.1kWh battery for his bike, giving him about 40 kilometers of range at low speed.
“The battery technology has reached the point where it’s quite workable for a motorbike,” he said.
“I do maybe 15 kilometers on it a day.”
In June 2020, Justin Hoad of Uralla Veterinary Clinic wrote a report for Meat and Livestock Australia on electric motorcycles’ viability for livestock farmers and graziers.
Since then, Mr Hoad said electric motorcycle batteries had improved significantly.
‘It’s like power tools’
Mr Hoad said the key question for many farmers was whether electric motorcycles could replace quad bikes.
“There have been over 240 quad bike-related deaths in Australia and over 600 hospitalized injuries on average per year.
The cost of quad bike and side-by-side vehicles in terms of deaths and injuries in Australia is estimated to be $ 200 million annually, “the report said.
In October last year, major manufacturers including Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha stopped selling quad bikes in Australia after rollover protection was made mandatory.
“Farmers are really looking for alternatives to replace quad bikes, which are no longer being brought into the country,” farm machinery dealer Gary Johnson said.
“The interest in [electric] bikes seems to be growing massively in the last few months. “
“It’s like power tools. You hardly ever see a corded power tool anymore,” Mr Kelly said.