BY GABRIELLA LINFORD Electric off-road bikes? I have fantasized about riding the electric-powered KTM enduro bike, the Freeride-E, for some time now.
During a recent poke around the internet on the subject, I discovered something quite exciting. 1.5hrs down the road from me in rural Dorset, (UK), is Rogers Hill motocross track, set on a farm of rolling hills, cows and cornfields. The same site hosts E-NDURO which offers dirt skills training on Freeride-Es. Bingo.
I check the weather and manage to book an afternoon of one to one coaching on the only day not forecast to rain. Surely enough it is sunny and gorgeous when I arrive at the farm and I am met by smiley, former MX Champ and owner of E-NDURO, Neil Berry. He sees me into one of the barns which house his office and workshop and gets me signed in as we chat about the bikes and the riding ahead.
On your first visit there you must complete a short intro course which involves some basic training, much like is done in your CBT. This is mainly so he can assess your skill level and also to satisfy insurance requirements. Then you hit the small MX track, perform some basic obstacles (a small hill ascent and descent, plus a pole and some small tyres to roll over) and if you’re comfortable there then you’re on to the full size MX and enduro tracks. All in all you get about a battery’s worth, 2 hrs.
So there are a few reasons why I’ve been drawn to the electric KTMs which often get pfffft’d at by ‘purists’. One obvious reason is the silence. Whilst I take no offense in the sounds of people having the time of their lives on their little 2 strokes hooning through the forest, there are many out there who do, and they’re often the same ones who like to lodge complaints to local councils. This ain’t great for the future of trail riding in places like the UK and even Australia, and I’m pretty sure electric bikes are being pushed in the USA for that exact reason. In Germany and Austria there is NO offroad riding permitted at all! I say get people out there on the silent bikes before they close all the trails for good!
The second reason is environmental. Whilst there is controversy over how eco the production of batteries is, there’s no denying that electric vehicles are so much cleaner to run. No exhaust, no fumes, no oil, no fuel. Not to mention the maintenance, or lack of it thereof!
“In terms of maintenance we’ve got no engine rebuilds to worry about”, explains Neil, “There’s gearbox oil to do and coolant because the motors are water-cooled. The batteries are sealed so there’s no maintenance to be done there, we’ve just got to make sure we are doing the charging sequence correctly. Other than that, electric off-road bikes just need normal bike maintenance such as fork seals, brake pads, chain, and sprockets, just like you have on any normal bike, but the actual cost of running an electric bike is a lot less than a petrol bike because you’re not buying gas, you’re not buying 2 stroke oil and you’re not doing engine rebuilds.”
When you consider the maintenance schedule of some of the MX and enduro bikes – piston ring every 12 hours, full rebuild every 30 hours – the appeal of owning an Ebike becomes obvious.
On Roger’s Hill Farm, the power used to charge the bike batteries is generated from a wind turbine on site, so that’s a big plus for the environmentally conscious! Funnily enough the turbine also generates more noise than the Freeride-Es hooning around the MX track…
The third reason is that they look so bloody fun to ride! It’s the same chassis and build as the 250 Freeride, and at 111kg it ain’t far off the same weight. (The KTM 350 Freeride comes in at 99.5kg dry). I’ve ridden my mate’s 350 Freeride before and to me it feels more like a mountain bike than a motorbike. Being so light and agile it really invites playfulness into your riding. The Freeride E goes another step towards MTB qualities because all of the controls come to your hands. The back brake comes to where the clutch lever would normally be at the left grip, and on the right is the throttle and front brake. Your feet are completely available for balancing. This set up makes motorcycle riding totally accessible to novice riders, if you can ride a bicycle, you can ride one of these. The low seat hight But don’t be fooled, their ease of riding does not mean a disappointment in performance. There is plenty of torque, and because your speed isn’t restricted by gearing, mastering throttle control somewhat replaces clutch control. All of its power is available at the twist of your right wrist. So yeah like I said, they looked fun.
As I throw my leg over for the first time, I’m instantly amused by the cockpit which looks so bare and spacious due to the lack of controls and fuel tank, yet a little roboty due to the LED panel which shows battery life and allows you to select between 3 different modes of power delivery, eco (battery preservation and coasting), enduro (serious off-roading), and cross (full race mode). Another novelty for me being 5”7, is the ability to almost flat foot the ground. I’m used to tiptoeing for balance on taller dirt bikes, and it’s amazing the confidence it gives you in tight or tricky sections when you can actually reach the ground.
A flick of a switch, the display lights up, press the ignition button, you can vaguely here the water pump, and you’re good to go… silence. So strange. I tentatively start to roll on the throttle and find the biting point. Big grin, little chuckle, and we’re off.
I start off in mode 1 for the CBT section and a few laps of the smaller MX track to get used to the bike. The novelty was great fun but as I gain the confidence I notice the power is lacking. Mode 2 however, is a different story. There is definitely enough power there, and so very quickly available. “Respect the throttle”, Neil advised me, “or it’ll get you!”. Fortunately, I only had a couple of moments the whole day where it kind of ‘got away’ from me. All-round it was easy to control, which was due to a combination of the simplicity of the bike itself, the fact that it’s lightweight, and some very perceptive corrections to my riding from Neil. For a while I’ve been trying to mimic mx rider cornering, sitting down and sticking my leg out, not really knowing exactly why, or precisely where my weight should be. Neil sorted this confusion out straight away, fine tuning my body positioning and weight distribution and not surprisingly, the difference was huge. I got to pay 100% attention to my speed, braking and riding technique without having to even think about changing gears and clutch control. I’m not saying that these things aren’t important to master, they play a huge part in controlling a brraaaping bike, but in the case of a vvvvVVVVVvvving bike, you can forget completely about all that and bring all of your awareness into your actual riding – getting your lines right, smoothly transitioning your weight, keeping your elbows up, clearing that tabletop, getting up slippy hills, etc.
So with this in mind could E-bikes be an ideal solution for people who want to have a taste of offroad but lack the confidence? You can test your fitness, balance, and confidence without ever having to learn the basic controls of a normal moto. If the thought of learning to ride a motorbike, off or on road, freaks you out, have a little go on one of those, I’m fairly sure that the bug will have bitten in the first 10 minutes, and any tentativeness you may have had will be surpassed by a strong urge to get back behind those bars ASAP! And let’s be honest, more people on bikes means more happy people which means a happier world! So everyone wins.
The final hour of riding consisted of some speedier motocross laps, a bunch of obstacles, bumps, tyres, pipes, a bridge, gullies, woods slaloms, open fields, forest single track and some mellow rock beds. It was all attemptable at my level, and I only dropped the bike once by doing the classic ‘look where u don’t want to go’, which in this case was a small log at the exit of a dip under a bridge. Well I went down, the bike kind of vvvVVVVvvv’d off without me then face planted in the soft dirt.
“Respect the throttle” Gabs. I get it now. Didn’t mean I shied away from it though! On the wider sections I opened it up (to my standards) and each time it had me whooping and giggling to myself in joy. It’s so quick! It does feel futuristic. “But it’s not the future! It’s now!” (Neil’s words). And he’s right. Why aren’t these taking off with more of a bang? The asking price is still unrealistic for potential purchasers, at £10,299 for the 2018 model (with battery) it’s a case of waiting until the price drops before many would consider owning one. Then there’s the range. For closed-circuit or short distance riding where you can return to swap out a battery then no problem. For longer distances, you’re looking at being limited to 2 hrs of low-intensity riding time, 20 minutes full throttle. Again this all varies according to how you ride, what mode you’re in, your weight, etc.
Has the development of electric off-road bikes fallen by the wayside due to the massive amount of attention the ADV scene is receiving at the moment? Or are they just a little ahead of the time, and currently they’re just there for the more inquisitive, progressive rider to prod at. Maybe it’s the younger generation they’re looking to entice into this new clean and silent technology.
I’m sold. I want one. They’re stealthier, cleaner, and less maintenance without any compromise to the fun factor. The pleasure of the silence is evident when you realise you’ve been able to hear each other talking as you ride. I imagine for the instructor especially this must be so helpful. You can even hear birds in the trees as you whizz past them, you can hear other vehicles (except e-motos), you can hear the bike moving beneath you more.
At the end of the 2 hours I was still hungry for more so I booked in another session 4 days later. 3 hours this time, and because I’d already done the initial session, it was straight out on to the trails for some fun fun ride time, along with more training for progression. And yes how I progressed! Obstacles I had fumbled over on day one I was now hitting with confidence and even at times a little agility. The trails were very slippery due to several previous days of constant rain, but I loved it. Neil and his nephew who kept having to recover my bike from some rather creative positions halfway up several steep slippy muddy banks, maybe not so much. We did have some laughs.. or was it just me laughing? Anyway, I figure the more mud covered you are the more fun you’ve been having! I grew up riding in dry Australian summers so mud is still somewhat a novelty for me and yet another terrain to discover figure out how to ride.
If you’re curious, I’d encourage you to give this a go. £100 for a quick blast into the future seems reasonable to me. If you’re nervous about beginning your journey into motorbike riding, or if you’re experienced and want to fine tune technique, or just fancy riding hard without feeling guilty about your ringing ears, then maybe E-NDURO could be your E-ntry point into the E-xciting E-powered future or riding!