Has Land Moto’s ‘District’ Found The Electric Motorcycle Market’s Sweet Spot?

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The electric motorcycle industry has a problem. Make no mistake, the machines from Zero, Energica, LiveWire, Lightning and some other small-batch makers are very impressive, and typically have a performance edge over their gas-powered progenitors in most ways – except for one vitally important one: Riding range.

The “problem” is both that simple, and that complicated. With many electric cars (and some of the new pickup trucks) now handily exceeding 300 or even 350 miles on a charge, “range anxiety” is now much less of an issue for most four-wheeled EV owners since very few people drive that far every day – or most any day. In the evening, plug it in and it’s topped up by morning.

But for motorcyclists, going electric means planning ahead on rides of even moderate length in order to connect with chargers along the way (above). While many electric motorcycle makers claim ranges of over 100 miles on a charge for top models, that’s usually for in-town riding in low-power or “ECO” modes.

It’s been my experience that actually riding an electric motorcycle 100 miles between charges is rare and typically not reliable because along with most motorcycle riders, I don’t have the self-discipline to stay in low power mode for very long. Pop that electric steed into Sport mode and get happy with the throttle, and fun things happen right away, but that range number begins to tick south. Quickly. Adding more batteries to a car or truck for more range is a fairly simple solution. For motorcycles, the added weight and cost typically make that unworkable – for now.

In Europe, where there are more chargers and fewer wide open spaces between them, “big bore” electric motorcycles are more viable (and much more popular). In the U.S., especially out West, leaving town on an electric moto can be a real adventure – and not in the best way.

I gave it a go a few years back, retracing a rural ride that takes about six hours and two refuelling stops on a gas-powered bike. On the beautiful and hugely quick electric Zero SR/S, the same trip took 15 hours, and at times had the range meter showing zero or just a few miles remaining with a charger still a fair ways in the distance. Once connected, it was often a two-plus hour wait to juice back up for the next leg. Fortunately, I did not get stranded, but the skin-of-my-teeth struggles to make it to the next charger and the amount of time it took to recharge compared to gassing up were… instructive.

ForbesThe Perils and Pleasures Of Riding Long Distance On The Zero SR/S Electric Motorcycle

Bottom line: Electric motorcycles are a total blast to ride, but I find that I stick pretty close to town when I review them these days. Yes, people have crossed countries and continents on them, but for the vast majority of electric riders in North America, electric motorcycles are often relegated to in-town sorties rather than horizon chasing – no matter how big, fast, and expensive they are. For those with horizon-seeking wanderlust, that’s a problem, and it’s a very tough problem for electric motorcycle makers. At least for most of them, so far.

A new electric motorcycle company, Land Moto out of Cleveland, Ohio, has embraced this perceived shortcoming and built two fun, useful and innovative bikes around it. They are not exactly the first to do so, but are certainly early to the idea. Land was just in town to show off a custom District bike at the annual One Motorcycle Show, and I got a chance to buzz around Portland on it and a production bike, the Land District Scrambler. Riding it was… instructive.

Land Moto Scrambler and Street Tech

The Land Moto District Street and Scrambler, both $6,995, are based around a common platform that uses a technology growing in popularity in Asia: Quick-swap batteries. This is not to say that battery swap kiosks are going to be popping up in U.S. cities like they are in Taiwan, Japan, China and southeast Asia. It does not appear that strategy has traction in North America – at least for now.

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Instead, the Land District’s quick-swap batteries allows U.S. riders to easily tailor the bike to their needs at purchase, and also remove the batteries for security and easier charging indoors in their homes, an especially useful feature if an owner has no garage. And to an extent, if future-proofs the bikes when better batteries arrive in the future, and also allows Land to extend the functionality of the battery packs.

Buyers can choose from a single “Core” 2.1kWh battery that can give up to 40 miles of range, two of the batteries for 80 miles of range, or the 5.5kWh monobloc Core option that is the same physical size as two of the 2.1 units but has more capacity for 110 miles of range. All are removable. Battery choice affects weight, range and price of course, but it’s nice to have options, and performance is not affected.

Riders can start with the single small battery and if they find they need more range, can then add another pack to the bike later on, and so on. Of note, in the two-battery configuration, only one battery can be used at a time. When the first battery is depleted, a quick plug swap under the “gas tank” cover powers the bike back up. Think of it as having two gas tanks, but I’d like to see a physical switch of some sort for a less hands-on battery switch system, although the current system of moving a plug from one battery to another is safe and relatively simple.

Land also plans to offer energy storage products built around the “Core” batteries (below) that include built-in power inverters for 120-volt power if the grid power goes out.

I was told there would likely be add-on tech for the motorcycle batteries that would allow them to work as 120-Volt, 12-Volt and USB-level power sources, much like the ebike battery-based storage and power systems I have tried by ASYNC and Aniioki that connect to external inverters.

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Land is very clear about its philosophy, goals and vision around supporting and expanding the idea of a widespread EV-battery-as-flexible-power-storage concept. Battery swapping as a business phenomena may still be a new idea to the U.S., but having a big box of electrons on hand to power almost anything is an idea whose time has definitely arrived. Land has also partnered with Bloom to guide growth and also crowdfunding veterans Peak Design for phone mounting accessories and a bike giveaway.

Ride Time

I met up with Land EVP of Sales Shane Seymour while he was in town to show a customized District at the motorcycle show, and he also had a stock production example with him as well. What struck me most clearly while riding the Land Moto District Scrambler was how the motorcycle wasn’t designed in the typical “Bigger/Faster Is Better” line of thinking around performance. Rather, a weight of about 200 pounds, an entertaining riding experience and an intriguing electrical industrial design infused with cutting-edge tech reflect a clear recognition of the fun riding motorcycles can bring.

In my opinion, the District is a closer cousin to e-bikes than full-size electric motorcycles. But to be clear: These are street-legal motorcycles and they do not have pedals, and you’ll need a driver’s license and endorsement to ride one in most places, as speeds can top 70 mph in the top performance mode.

But again, the e-bike influence is apparent when riding, even though it is far more powerful than any (EU or U.S.) regulated e-bike via the 11.5 kW/15.5 hp frame-mounted motor, which can pop to a peak output of 17 kW/23 hp. It also outputs a maximum of 206 pound feet of torque via a step gear, which is more than my car. For clarity, there are no gears or clutch, it’s twist and go, like a scooter. The District offers four power settings, somewhat similar to how an e-bike operates, but re-jiggered for an electric motorcycle.

“Each ride mode offers incrementally more torque and top speed,” EVP of Sales Shane Seymour of Land Moto explained. “Mode One is akin to the top speed and torque of an e-bike, making the motorcycle very easy for first-time riders to manage. Mode Two increases both to levels more equivalent to a moped, and Mode Three allows top speed but with reduced torque. Mode 4 offers maximum torque and top speeds of 70+ mph making the ride a thrill for even the most experienced motorcyclist.”

Indeed, while I only had the District Scrambler for a brief sortie into Portland’s West Hills area (360 video above), I decided to start out in Mode One just to see how it felt and as Shane advised, it was very e-bike like, with gentle acceleration and a neighborhood-friendly top speed. Mode Two and Three ramped up the power and response as expected, while full-power Mode Four was where I eventually just left it as it was the most similar to riding a small displacement motorbike, yet one with fairly roomy ergonomics. Also, the District’s motorcycle-style twist throttle allows for precise enough control in Mode Four that experienced riders can pretty much leave it there all the time.

For beginners, having the lower-output options allows them to get their sea legs as it were, then up performance as their skills develop. Most electric motorcycles have this type of feature but with different labels, such as Eco, Tour and Sport modes, but they are usually tailored to much higher speeds than what is available on the District. The smaller overall size and much lower weight of the District makes the modes more relevant and meaningful, especially for beginning riders.

Unlike most gas-powered motorcycles, most every electric motorcycle I’ve ever ridden has far more torque output than horsepower, and for urban riding, big torque is the most useful as it allows quick acceleration from a standstill (or any speed, really), and with the District’s electric powertrain, there’s no waiting for it to come to bear since it does not rely on reciprocating bits, just energy delivery from the batteries.

As such, the District Scrambler shoots away from stoplights and buries pretty much any mass-market car, truck and most two-wheelers as well as it quickly spools up, a subdued whir coming from the motor as speed quickly builds. It’s great fun and addictive, and that means the battery drains a bit more quickly, but if you have the two batteries on board, it gives some breathing room to ride more aggressively on Battery 1 while keeping Battery 2 in reserve for more… economical throttle control. It also allows running the first battery all the way out to “dead” (internal power output controls in the battery don’t let you run it so low as to damage it), which goes a long way to reducing range anxiety knowing you have a fully charged second pack ready to go. Again, switching the batteries over is done manually while stopped, but is very fast, easy and safe.

I also had the chance to ride Land’s customized District entry to the One Motorcycle Show, and it has the same bones as the production District except for a very cleanly integrated progressive rear shock linkage, a few other deletes (mirrors, signals) for even more minimalism, and hand-decorated bodywork that has a faint Keith Haring vibe to it and plenty of It Came From Cleveland easter eggs.

Otherwise it functioned the same as the regular District and could point toward some future chassis upgrades (here’s hoping, but nothing is confirmed).

One thing stood out on both bikes, however: The excellent attention to detail, fit and finish, craftsmanship and design choices that often straddled the line between functionality and artistry in industrial design. For a gearhead (or anyone, really), there’s a lot to love in the way the Land District goes together and the parts involved.

Why It May Be More Viable

After my time aboard the Land District Scrambler, I thought about how it contrasted with the Zero FXE, an electric motorcycle that confounded me with its perceived shortcomings due to what I initially regarded as a bone-headed and marketability killing equipement choice: half the battery capacity of Zero’s bigger bikes.

The forced “shorter range capacity” decision relegated the FXE mainly to city riding, even though it is plenty fast enough for highway riding. But as I buzzed around Portland on it for several weeks, I had moments of enlightenment: Urban riding was the FXE’s designed forté, and the lighter weight, slim profile and smaller battery were well-suited to it. Really, urban riding is where all electric motorcycles thrive.

ForbesRide Review: Zero’s New FXE Electric Motorcycle Didn’t Make Sense To Me Until It Totally Did

What Land has done with the District is focused even more precisely on that idea, with a low price, approachable performance and a keen eye for detail in the build process. The battery swap tech makes it more viable, flexible and workable for urban riders who may not have a garage to charge up in, or the financial means to get a full-size electric. Take the battery out, and the pedal-less District is essentially unrideable (still, lock it up) and the battery can also do double-duty as a portable power source as needed.

The three lower-power ride modes let beginners ease into motorcycle riding, making the transition even easier if they are coming from e-bikes or sub-200cc scooters. In a pinch, the District can still keep up with highway traffic if need be, especially on highways that move through cities, where speeds are typically closer to 55 mph or less during periods of heavy traffic. That is certainly the case in Portland and most major cities, and it’s also why I often ride one of my two scooters (each of which make right about 25 hp) to get around town instead of riding my larger, heavier, higher-powered open road bikes.

And apparently, Land is not the only company to do the electric motorcycle math around this concept. Other “lighter” electric motorcycles from DAB, Solar and other startups are pushing into this space as well, but Land may have a leg up as they are in production now, and have strong financial support from a recent Series A funding round.

Still, electric motorcycles in the U.S. and North America in general have proven to be a tough sell. Our default mentalities demand that “motorcycles” be capable open-road machines while city riding is best left to scooters and e-bikes. Land’s capable and cool District Scrambler and Street models are arguably better choices, with more power (especially in terms of torque), more comfort, affordability, more capabilities for owners when the bike is parked, and a sharp modern look. For many urban riders, it’s exactly what they need, even if they don’t know they need it. For this experienced rider, it was a glimpse into a possible and probable future of fun, useful, affordable and capable city riding with a welcome side of new-era battery-based energy storage capabilities included.

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