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Paying for the Privilege: The Rise of the Riders’ Paywall

A Beemer dismounted from his BMW and standing in front of a wall of green foliage. Media sourced from Beach Moto.
A Beemer dismounted from his BMW and standing in front of a wall of green foliage. Media sourced from Beach Moto.

A recent report from Rideapart has covered BMW’s forage into the paywall market for their cars’ heated seats, and the move has some of us wondering what the motorcycle industry will look like in the near future. 

Will back-end bucks soon govern the comforts of our cabooses? 

Will our ponies, torquedos, and the wind in our hair eventually be charged by the hour, or will the future of motorcycle riding stay free and easy? 

A member of the BMW Performance Riding School. Media courtesy of the BMW Performance Riding School
A member of the BMW Performance Riding School. Media courtesy of the BMW Performance Riding School

It’s a weird question to tackle, but given that the fast-approaching zero-emission market looks to be nicely compatible with regulated power levels (and that we just came out of uncertain times), you can’t necessarily fault brands for wanting a slightly more regular paycheck…or can you?

Take Zero Motorcycles, for example.

A Zero Motorcycle. Media sourced from The Pack.
A Zero Motorcycle. Media sourced from The Pack.

The well-loved, very electric SR/S model flaunts a passive air-cooled permanent magnet AC motor that puts out the equivalent of 110 HP and 140 lb-ft of torque (via our own lineup specs). 

That power, however, now has increased potential, thanks to paid performance upgrades that go live this year (via NewAtlas). 

Upgrades for the SR/S (and the rest of her siblings) can be purchased either through the – extremely handy – synced phone app, or through the connected Cypher III+ dash OS software, with the following prices logged:

  • Upgrade charging speed (by 17%) for US$295
  • Double your charging speed for US$1,495
  • Unlock 10% more battery capacity, with a further 10% available when you tell the bike to do an “extended range charge” for US$2,195
  • Unlock on-dash navigation for US$195
  • Unlock “parking mode” complete with reverse crawl for US$195
  • Unlock heated grips for US$195
A phone held in front of a motorcycle screen. Media sourced from MotorBiscuit.
A phone held in front of a motorcycle screen. Media sourced from MotorBiscuit.

While paying extra for bits and bobs is familiar to the motorcycle community, paying for access to faster charging, new bike modes, and things like heated grips and/or seats feels….novel. At least, for this niche of the road. 

Of course, a zero-emission future comes with its own challenges, one of which has always been the creation of electric motorcycles; batteries aren’t cheap. Today’s spark-centered marques are left to decide for themselves if the price of a bike is good enough to cover the cost of the build, or if their own economic environs demand other paths of payment.

And truly – what better way to make money than to have multiple performance levels chilling in a single chassis? 

A view of Zero's phone app. Media sourced from NewAtlas.
A view of Zero’s phone app. Media sourced from NewAtlas.

No, we wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing more brands build more bikes with more stuff that can be accessed with upgrade bucks, especially as the years go by…but we know for a fact that there will always be a demand for the bare-bones, basic Jane that guarantees bang for buck and gets you out and across the county lines on any given weekend. 

A member of the BMW Performance Riding School. Media courtesy of the BMW Performance Riding School
A member of the BMW Performance Riding School. Media courtesy of the BMW Performance Riding School

What do you think? Drop a comment down below – we love hearing from you. 

Be sure to also subscribe to our newsletter, where our main man Cameron Martel hand-curates the best of the latest to be hand-delivered twice a week to your inbox. 

Hope the weather behaves on your next ride, and as ever – stay safe on the twisties. 

*Media sourced from RideAaprt, NewAtlas, Zero Motorcycles, MotorBiscuit, The Pack, Beach Moto, and the BMW Performance Riding School*
  1. The article talks about subscriptions, then jumps off the track to explain how you can buy options from Zero for a one time fee. Buying options for a one time payment has, in one way or another, been something we have done with vehicles for decades, which is not the same as a subscription service

    1. Hello Greg,

      You are indeed correct – paywalls are not necessarily subscriptions, though paying to unlock access to extra features on a bike can involve either, or both.

      I’ve made remedies to the verbiage for accuracy’s sake, thanks for dropping by!

      Cheers and hope you get out this weekend,

    2. I will NEVER buy a battery powered motorcycle! Bikes are already quite fuel efficient. Not to mention fast! Plus, a silent motorcycle is an absolutely terrible idea. Then we add in the outrageous original cost and the fact that the bike comes with the capability to be better by simply unlocking features that are already on the machine, this is criminal! Bring on the hackers, I hope people figure out how to take the bikes offline and unlock these features themselves. It also comes down to who actually owns the bike and has the right to do their own repairs.

      This paywall nonsense stinks to high heaven!

  2. I’m looking at new cars in the next few month and BMW is off my list when I heard about the subscription for heated seats. Learning about the upgrades from Zero will make my chance of owning one Zero. I’m buying a top of the line premium product and already paying for the privilege of top shelf transportation and this subscription rubs me the wrong way. Might be the future but I’m old and grumpy. I’m leaning toward the Volvo and a Kawasaki Versys right now.

    1. Couple things.
      1. BMW does not offer subscription heated seats in the USA.
      2. BMW is OFFERING customers in some markets the OPTION to lease heated seats. You can either pay $400 up front OR lease them 1 month, 1 year, or 3 years at a time.
      4. By making heated seats standard BMW is lowering the price of the seats for everyone.
      3. As someone that buys used vehicles I welcome this change. No more searching for the vehicle that happens to have been purchased with the options I want. Instead, if the 1st owner didn’t spring for the option I can add it as a 2nd owner.

    2. Hello Steve,

      You have the right to be grumpy, this is a free country.

      I myself would be open to the possibility of regulated machines that unlock access via payment IF it also contributes to a safer community and doesn’t mean hooners start hacking their own software for premium ponies sans payment…but that’s my opinion without experienced knowledge of the other side of the proverbial fence.


  3. Many of us already pay to unlock the performance potential or utility features of our motorcycles.
    For example Exhaust Systems that weigh less and unleash a little extra power when jetted/tuned correctly, Suspension Tuning or Upgrades to suit weight and riding style, and of course things like aftermarket Heated Grips, Luggage, Custom Saddles & Windsheilds just to name a few…
    The only novelty is that Bike Manufacturer have started building some of these features into their lineup, it will save them from having to make multiple versions of the same model (for different markets, regulations and price points), with the added bonus a deferred payment feature for upgrades on their base and mid tier models, this in theory should increase the revenue stream instead of losing it to 3rd party vendors, a business model very familiar to Tesla drivers, After all what manufacturer wants competition when you can get All of a customers money.

    1. An even better example of manufacturers doing this already is engines. Plenty of companies have a common base engine and then turn it to different performance levels based on nothing but electronic tuning. They then charge different amounts for these different “engines”. This has been happening for decades and nobody is up in arms about it.

      What Zero is doing with their motor is no different.

    2. Hello Craig,

      Certainly a smart opinion.

      Yes, it will definitely save manufacturers money, and yes, we do pay extra to have things tuned for those few extra ponies; I suppose for some riders it just rubs the wrong way for that $ sign to be the single element in the way of said ponies.

      I for one am becoming more open to the concept, though it feels easier to handle if you just go into the payment thinking about the total sum for the complete package.

      Looking forward to digging into the company side of things and see how paywalls change the streams of income – perhaps this is the best way to get back for buck on the electric side of business.

      Cheers and thanks for stopping by,

  4. The manufacturer benefits of a single model that covers all “trims” and bring able to offer easy upgrades is clear enough. What didn’t get mentioned is we will all be paying for the top trim. No company is going to make bikes at a loss and hope for subscriptions. We’ll be paying for all the heated seats and bigger batteries whether or not we use them. It’s cool being able to add heated grips to a second-hand bike with an app, but this will make all bikes way more expensive, meaning higher entry bar, meaning fewer riders.

  5. This new paywall structure for Zero is exactly what will kill the brand. I own a Zero and love it. However, I’ll look at other electric brands in the future that don’t push this scam.

  6. I’m not buying it. No way! not ever!

    If you have to pay extra for a facility that is already “installed” on a product
    I’m not buying the product… no way! not ever!

    It’s extortion imho.

  7. I will never pay to unlock something which is already on the bike.
    If its on the bike, that cost is absolutely factored into the retail price.
    You end up paying twice.
    Ktm can stuff it.
    As can triumph when they pull the same BS

    1. Hello Darren,

      Curious to see sources regarding the Triumph….though I think you’re right; looking at the prototype and how it’s currently regulated (and assuming a single chassis broken up into multiple genres will be a thing for them), this could be a very easy way for Triumph to make money…

      Hoping that this also means the cost for electric machines won’t be too exorbitant.

      Fingers crossed?

      Cheers and thanks for stopping by,

  8. Who the hell is going to pay extra (ridiculous $) for options that already exist on the bike? This is the biggest bullshit ripoff I’ve ever seen in the motorcycle industry.

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