Electric Reality? (Part Two)

Electric Reality? (Part One)
March 19, 2018
TRF Welcome NERC Act Review
April 3, 2018

Part two of the past, present & future of electric motorcycling by TRF life member and international journalist Paul Blezard.

Part one can be found here.

In 2016 I made the acquaintance of two people who further widened my electric horizons, both using Zero Dual Sport machines. Andy Marsh is an Australia-based Irishman who contacted me via our mutual friend and ePTW guru Steve Labib. To cut a long story short, Andy borrowed a Zero DS from Streetbike of Halesowen and rode it to the Isle of Man for the electric TT, but went via his home town of Dublin both ways! We met up at the TT and Andy had so much fun with the Zero that he bought his own as soon as he got back to Oz. He’s since set up an owner’s group and done some pioneering long group rides.

Andy Marsh with the Streetbike Zero DS on Douglas Promenade during the 2016 IOM TT.

Trui Hanoulle is a tri-lingual and very bold Belgian woman who rode a 2015 Zero DS all the way from Ghent to Istanbul and back – 4,700 miles in all – completely on her own, including 50 miles of dirt tracks in northern Albania! The furthest she managed on a single charge was 273kms – that’s 170 miles – without running out! ‘Elektrogirl’ as Trui is also known, helped to organise the first Electric Night Ride, in Antwerp, in 2016, at which no fewer than 55 electric motorcycles of all kinds gathered together for a quiet ride.
In September 2016 I helped Carla McKenzie to borrow the same Zero DS from Streetbike that Andy Marsh had previously used, to ride to a conference in Dublin, and then rashly agreed to join her as far as Holyhead on a borrowed Energica Eva electric superbike.
It turned into one hell of an adventure which there isn’t room to describe here. Let’s just say we both learned a lot from the experience and it’s worth mentioning that while we had some charging ‘issues’ in some places, we also confirmed that it’s possible to re-charge an Energica from ‘empty’ to ‘full’ in only one hour. In any case, Carla’s enthusiasm for electric bikes grew rather than diminished as a result of the whole adventure.

Carla on the Streetbike Zero DS and the Energica Eva fast-charging in under an hour from ‘empty’.

Thus it was that last May she persuaded Jason at Streetbike to lend her his demo SR to ride to Manchester and back, via the Peak District, for a trade conference at which the bike was on display for two days. Carla mentioned our adventure briefly, in her report in the last issue of Trail, along with our visit to the inquiry at the Peak District National Park offices, but there are a few further things about our jaunt worth mentioning.

On the plus side, it was pleasing to discover that the road-tyre-shod SR was perfectly capable of coping with an easy green lane.

Blez and Steve Neville riding an easy Peak District trail on a pair of Zeroes.

On the down side, it was annoying for Steve Neville when his more trail-friendly Zero DS suddenly stopped charging half way through the first day of what was planned to be three days of electric riding. Apparently it’s a common problem with the built-in charger on the 2015 models and it was later cured with a straightforward replacement. Poor Steve’s problems multiplied after he trailered his DS back to Streetbike in Halesowen. He naturally accepted the offer of a test ride on their FX model, only to clip an oncoming car in the heavy rush-hour traffic, which resulted in a broken elbow! Carla deserves a medal for driving Steve’s car all the way back to Kent with her R1200GSA on Steve’s trailer, when she’d never towed anything in her life before.

In the meeting at the Peak District National Park Authority Offices it was depressing to hear so many locals complaining about the vehicular use of Peak District green lanes, and about the National Park’s inability to get them all TRO’d fast enough! Most of the problems seem to stem from irresponsible 4x4 use, but there certainly wasn’t much sympathy for trail riders, so it was good to be able to point out that there are such things as electric trailbikes which not only do minimal damage but are also virtually silent! The only small consolation was that even if the planned TROs go ahead, the lanes containing the most famous climbs, such as Bamford Clough and Litton Slack, that I’ve ridden in both the Edinburgh and White Peak long distance trials, will be exempted from TROs for just two days per year in order for those events to continue.

Another plus point about our electric trip, thanks to Carla’s research, was charging the Zero (for free!) at some interesting and unusual places – at the Crich electric Tram village on the way up, and at the UK’s only cable car ride, at the Heights of Abraham, near Matlock Bath, on the way back.

Electric vehicles a gogo at Crich Tram Museum.

However, it was notable that even riding the SR in Economy mode for most of the way back to Halesowen from Matlock, it still used 80% of its ‘juice’ in not much more than sixty miles. That did include riding at 70mph down the A38 for about twenty miles, but it also included a lot of crawling through Friday afternoon rush hour traffic right across the West Midlands – we deliberately avoided using the M6 and M5 motorways.

Nevertheless, I know that Steve Neville and others have already enjoyed the best part of a day’s gentle trail riding on their Zeroes, and that the key to good distance on an electric bike is gentle use of the throttle and low speed – both of which are eminently compatible with green-laning. I also know that plenty of improvements are on the way – along with lots of new rivals.

In addition to the other marques already mentioned there is also Alta in California, whose full-on MXers have already beaten a lot of petrol motocross bikes in head-to-head competition. At the end of 2017 Alta announced their first road-legal electric trail bike and a couple of months later Harley-Davidson announced that they had invested in the company.

This was not Harley’s first foray into electric motorcycles either, far from it. Back in 2014 ‘The Motor Company’ built 30 electric prototypes and took them on a tour of the USA, gathering rider responses from no fewer than 7,000 test rides. The feedback was 84% positive and in 2015 H-D took half a dozen LiveWires on a world tour which started at the Millbrook test centre, where I was fortunate enough to ride one.
H-D were strongly rumoured to have used technology and expertise from the Mission company of San Francisco who took part in the first electric TT in 2009 (where they finished a disappointing fourth) but two years later won first time out on their ‘Mk2’ Mission R machine at Laguna Seca.

The Mission racer that won first time out in 2011.

Prior to the announcement about the link-up with Alta, Harley had already confirmed that they would be selling electric machines by August 2019 and that at least one more model would follow soon after. I think it’s a good bet that at least one of those electric H-Ds will be a trail-capable, Alta-inspired machine!
At the other end of the electric trailbike scale, there is the range of Brincos being made by the revered and revived Spanish marque, Bultaco. The Brinco is a sort of ‘mountain bike on steroids’ which was first launched in a ‘private land only’ R version, capable of 60kph (37mph) and then, in 2016, in fully homologated moped-class 28mph version.

Amps in his pants: Blez tests the moped-class version of the Bultaco Brinco at a London BMX track in 2016.

It’s great fun, and, at barely 40kgs, super-light by motorcycle standards, but personally, I am much more likely to buy a pedelec-class Haibike or Wisper full suspension electric mountain bike.

I think the restriction to 250 watts of continuous power and 15mph of assisted speed is worth it for the lighter weight, the lack of licensing and above all, the right to use any bridleway just like a pushbike, not to mention all the old RUPPs that were wrongly re-classified as Restricted Byways, after the passing of the despised NERC Act. Electric mountain bikes provide old trail riders like me with our revenge for NERC, but they deserve an entire article of their own!

Blez on £4K’s worth of electric Diamondback Ranger on the outdoor test track at the NEC Cycle Show.

Bringing things right up to date, Kuberg have a full-sized adult trials bike in development, which will be designed to have the option of a proper seat and road legality. E-scape are the UK Kuberg importers and the first prototype was shown on the E-scape stand at Motorcycle Live 2017 alongside the little electric motocrosser which young Logan Bennett rode to third overall in the Auto 50 championship this year against all comers, and he won one race.

The Cross X-Force Pro 50, as ridden by Logan Bennett.

Talking of Kubergs, the Czech company’s Freerider, (not to be confused with the KTM FreerideE!) although aimed at young teenagers, is capable of supporting the weight of a fifteen stone adult, as I discovered when I had a quick spin on one at the extraordinary Hyper-Trax indoor electric riding area earlier this year, before switching to a KTM FreerideE.

Three types of electric bike on charge at Hyper-Trax.

You may not be aware that the junior classes of schoolboy trials have been dominated by electric machines, mainly OSETs, for several years now and if you think an electric trials bike, aimed at young teenagers, with mere lead acid batteries, would not be able to do anything impressive then you obviously haven’t seen Chris Northover’s death-defying feats on the roof of the old Russian embassy in Kensington.

Just Google “Storm the Embassy” and be amazed, like the 12 million people who have watched the video since 2013. OSET also now have a mini-motocrosser ‘play bike’ to rival the smallest Kubergs. And the British company has some exciting new machines in the offing, about which we hope to be able to reveal more, soon.

Chris Northover pulls a wheelie on an OSET at the Top Gear test track.

Oliver Smith riding an OSET, after whom the OSET Company is named. He is now a championship trials rider.

Girls can start young on electrics too! This young lady was six.

OSET co-founders, Ian & Louise Smith, with a selection of their electric products, at Goodwood in 2014.

In October 2017 KTM announced that the 2018 version of their Freeride E-XC battery pack would provide much improved range – up by 50% – yet still fit into the same space. This means that the new pack would be interchangeable with an old one, so Mk1 FreerideEs could be upgraded. Furthermore, the new battery pack would be leased rather than bought outright with the rest of the bike, lowering the initial purchase price significantly. (Renault do this with their Zoë electric car).

However, in March 2018 KTM UK revealed that none of the ‘New Generation’ electric Freerides would be sold in the UK before July 2018 and that in the UK the battery would probably be sold with the bike after all, as before. So it’s unlikely the new machine will be any cheaper than the £10,299 charged for the 2017 model with the Mk1 battery (the new, improved battery package alone is valued at £3,600!).

The new model 2018 KTM Freeride E-XC, price TBA.

Of course, if KTM were prepared to offer more than the paltry 28 days ‘competition use’ warranty, the bike might be eligible for the government’s £1500 Plug-in Motorcycle grant (PiMG), which all the Zeroes and Energicas (and several other makes), get already.

Describing the KTM FreerideE as ‘ready to race’ does not make it comparable to a full-on enduro machine and in my opinion the 28 day warranty is tantamount to saying to your customers ‘we don’t have much faith in the robustness of our new electric bike’. Mind you, several UK KTM dealers are currently advertising brand new examples of the 2017 FreerideEs for less than £6,000! That’s a £4,300 discount on a brand new machine – which makes the government's £1500 PiMC grant look almost trifling by comparison!

A customer riding a Mk1 KTM Freeride E-XC at Hyper-Trax

NB: when your fuel is electricity, the weight stays at 111kgs whether your battery is 'full' or 'empty'!

Blez giving a KTM Freeride E-XC some amps at the E-scape all-electric facility in Cheshire.

I’ll end with a little electric wish-list which I’d like to achieve before I’m too old and decrepit, starting with the easiest:

To do a day’s trail riding, in company with fellow TRF members on petrol bikes, without holding them up unduly except for spending enough time to have a decent pub lunch while recharging.

To complete one of the MCC’s classic long distance trials, keeping to the standard time schedule, with charging rather than battery-swapping within that schedule.

To complete the Dawn to Dusk enduro event on a Zero or KTM making good use of their quick-swap battery facility.

If I don’t achieve all three, I’m sure someone else will soon. Meanwhile, Carla McKenzie has some bold electric trail riding plans of her own for 2018, having finally taken the plunge and bought herself a Zero DSR in September 2017.

One thing you can be sure of: there’ll be a an awful lot of electric motorcycles coming out of the woods over the next few years, from almost all the major motorcycle companies, and some you haven’t heard of yet. There’s already an adult electric trials championship for which Yamaha have just built a machine to compete against EM and GasGas and there’ll be a whole bunch of Energicas in a new one-make electric class at every MotoGP next year.

In the meantime, if you get the chance to ride anything electric, don’t snort derisively – seize it with both hands!
Motorcycling, adventure and fraternity.

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