Bad news for Zero? KTM becomes the first major factory to release an electric motorcycle


November 13, 2011

KTM's Freeride E (Photo: Schedl R.)

KTM's Freeride E (Photo: Schedl R.)

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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.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade. All articles by Loz Blain

In just a few years the people who buy this will have a chose between buying a new battery, or a new ICE bike for about the same amount of money.


We can\'t forget about the Brammo Engage, also around $10K. I have ridden the Brammo Impulse street model and was very impressed by the quality and attention to detail. For an American-made machine, it rivaled my BMW R1200S with it\'s \"carved-from-a-billet\" feel. Can\'t wait to see a head-to-head comparison in one of the cycle mags with this KTM, the Swiss-made Quantya and Americans Zero and Brammo!


In a few years batteries will be cheaper, lighter and more powerful than they are now. That\'s how they\'ve been going and will continue. I bet before this decade ends ICE motocross bikes will be obsolite.

The Flying Crowbar

The first question that popped into my mind is.. how many charges were used in the making of this film? I mean, seriously, who rides for less than an hour? I want to go all day with a few short breaks.. not ride for 30 mins then take an hour and a half break.


Agreed. With battery \'technology\' being where it is at the moment this is all still pretty lame. Toyota has the upcoming iQ with a hopeless 65 mile range and the Nissan Leaf isn\'t much better. \" In a few years\"? They\'ve been saying that for decades.


Build some thing practical. a vehicle that can be recharged at a shopping centre, or at work. That fits the traffic law (there is nowhere you can do 100mph) and has enough power to over take. Then glam it up.


What would make this a win would be easily swappable battery packs, with at least two extras coming with each bike, and a separate charging system for them. As it\'s designed for use in relatively small areas (e.g. trails, jumps, mtx courses), being able to swap packs when they get low would be the (slightly more frequent) equivalent to refueling ICE fuel tanks. I make an odd comparison in my mind to the Makita (and possibly others I haven\'t tried out) 18v cordless drill/impact driver, whose battery fully charges from empty in 45 minutes, and comes with an extra battery, effectively making it impossible to not have power even when using the tool constantly so long as you plug in the dead one when swapping. I once used them for an Ipe deck, former for predrilling, the latter for driving the SS screws, swapping packs almost every hour on the hour for a full 10 hours, and not once did I have to wait. This is the sort of usability I would like to see in this type of bike.

David Gardner II

To David DGII, You can do exactly that with the Zero MX and XU. I rode the prototype (years ago) without the Lion batteries. We would have batteries on the charger. Drain one and in less time then it takes to fill a tank with gas(petrol), we would have a new battery in. I got it down to about 30 secs for a battery swap and 45 seconds back on the bike and riding. I don\'t think I could go 10 hours non-stop but the bike can. I saw on the Zero website that they ran a 24 hour race with the MX, swapping batteries as they went. I loved this thing. Looking to get an XU and 2 batteries when I can afford it.

BTW I don\'t work for the company or get (or got) paid by the company - just got to ride it for a while.

Love it.

I also ride a GSXR1000 a DL1000 V-Strom and XL600R -

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