Bad news for Zero? KTM becomes the first major factory to release an electric motorcycle
By Loz Blain
November 13, 2011
For the last few years, electric motorcycles have been talked about everywhere but rarely seen. If you wanted to go electric, your options were limited to a few boutique manufacturers like Zero Motorcycles, Brammo and Mission One - and customers have been wary after watching the demise of Vectrix.
Just about every major manufacturer has released an electric concept or five, but until now, none have put their money where their mouths are. So congratulations KTM, on being the first major manufacturer to bring an electric motorcycle to market.
Battery technology being what it is at the moment, it's not surprising that the dirt bike specialists at KTM were the first to feel they could put together a decent offering. My last ride on a 2010 Zero S supermotard taught me that while the riding experience is excellent, range is still very much an issue beyond a short commute, at least when you're going faster than 70 km/h.
So KTM isn't pitching the Freeride E as anything but a fun machine, similar to the venerable Zero X. And that's an awesome idea - anyone who lives close to a trail or two, or has a big back yard with a few jumps in it, will find these sorts of bikes just the ticket. There's virtually no noise to annoy the neighbors, no greasy engine maintenance to take care of, you can get out and have a good half hour blast after dinner much easier on an electric bike than on a petrol powered dirt squirter. And afterwards, you can just hose it of with a pressure washer, because it's fully waterproofed.
Here's what we know so far: The Freeride E uses a swappable 2.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack mated to an electric motor capable of producing 22 kilowatts (30 horsepower) and 42Nm of torque. It's built super light, just 95kg (209 lbs) ready to roll, and since it's a clutchless single-speed transmission, the left handlebar holds the rear brake lever, which will make things easier in the tight, tricky stuff.
While KTM hasn't released a range estimate in kilometers, the company says it should be good for "20 minutes professional, 45 minutes amateur" of fun riding before it needs to be plugged in for a 90 minute full charge.
For that window between charges, it'll behave much like a 125cc 2-stroker, but with considerably more torque. In fact, such a light bike almost falls into the trials category - a fact KTM have chosen to exploit in this fun promo video, featuring urban trials maniac Julien Dupont and enduro monster Lars Enöckl:
The video reminds me of a particularly mad, 50-plus year old dirt bike riding friend of mine, who invented for himself the highly illegal midnight sport of "suburbocross" - in which he'd take his KTM LC4 out late at night and treat the world as his personal motocross track, hooning around construction sites and jumping piles of dirt left by roadworks crews... You'd have to say that the Freeride E would add an element of stealth to such proceedings.
So it's a baby step for KTM into the electric motorcycle market - but a very significant one. After all, Zero Motorcycles started out a few short years ago with a pretty similar sort of model, and now the Californian company has a worldwide distribution network and five rapidly evolving models covering the gamut from fun bikes to serious street commuting options. The Freeride E is doubtless just about to go through a grueling battery of compare tests against the Zero MX upon its release - tests that the Zero may well ace in this early stage - but however this initial effort fares, it shows KTM is getting on board with the electric phenomenon, and no doubt the other major factories are watching closely.