KTM Freeride E Review – Leading a scramble towards e-biking?
We have a few recurrent gripes here at the evRDR newsroom. You know the kind of thing. Who’s going to change the bottle in the watercooler? Why don’t we still get those nice free donuts? But the biggest office kvetch is: where are all the lightweight e-motorbikes?
Petrolheads can usually find interesting rides in the 250cc range — although, given the decline of utility biking, they’re less common than they used to be. But the nascent e-bike market is divided sharply between mopeds and superbikes. If you’re an adolescent, or a girl racer, or just happen to fancy something sportier than a Zippe but more manageable than a Brammo, you’ll find that your options are, well, limited.
So it’s a real pleasure to see an established European maker building a capable electric lightweight — especially one that’s presented as an integral part of the product lineup, and not a weird concept vehicle. While we’re not sure that the KTM Freeride E will meet huge demand, it’s certainly a brave attempt at shaking up existing paradigms. And, as some have suggested, it might help open up a new domain in urban sports.
All my trails
KTM is an Austrian engineering company that traces its roots back nearly a century. The first KTM motorbikes appeared sixty years ago, and the company’s fortunes then followed a familiar arc: steadily expanding sales driven by growing exports throughout the 60s and 70s, followed by an abrupt crash in the 80s. When the dust settled, the bankrupt firm’s creditors carved up its remaining assets to create a leaner, smaller bikeworks. Unlike the chosen specialities of other 80s reboots, the new company’s focus on offroad sports proved to be a winner. KTM’s fortunes have continued to improve, to the point where it is now taking its first tentative steps back into the roadbike market.
The Freeride E, however, is located firmly within the company’s core enduro/crosscountry lineup. In fact, it’s positioned right alongside the Freeride petrol trailbike, making head-to-head comparisons irresistible.
The Freeride concept originated at Kiska Design. Forget the e-bike for the moment: the petrol Freeride is in itself a departure for the Salzburg studio, combining the suspension and brakes of a modern trailbike with the light weight and 350cc four-stroke of an older machine. Plus it’s topped off with a tiny five-litre tank, good for maybe a few hours’ riding at best… and it’s expensive, at around US$9,000. Weird, or what?
Well, Kiska certainly know what they’re doing. During an unbroken 20-year run, they’ve created the entire KTM lineup from scratch, everything from little 50cc two-strokes to the hulking rally-proven Dual-Sport. Consensus among industry observers is that the Freeride is a savvy attempt to define a new trail/trial crossover characterized by short, intense rides in which the bike’s 100kg all-up weight and nifty handling justify its price. (The added life expectancy and longer service interval of that overspecced four-stroke might help, too.) And, as the guys will have worked out while sketching on a pair of back-to-back drawing boards, the idiosyncrasies of the petrol Freeride make those of the electric version that much easier to stomach.
We really are looking at a pair of fraternal twins here. The two bikes share wheelbase, geometry, many components, similar all-up weights, steel-alu chassis constructions and (as far as possible) weight distribution and power characteristics. The obvious differences are in range, and price. The Freeride E will cost around US$13000 despite limited battery capacity — but that hasn’t stopped people raving about it.
To find out what the reviewers liked so much, let’s take a more detailed look.
Motor and Drive
This is where the Freeride E scores. Rider after rider has mentioned the bike’s winning combination of extreme responsiveness with near silence. The Heinzmann/Perm P126 motor weighs just 10kg, but it’s rated for 7kW, with a peak output of 22kW. That’s modest by the standards of the superbikes we’ve been reviewing recently, but it’s still a lot of power for a light bike — 42Nm of torque, twice as much as you might expect from a 125cc two-stroke of comparable weight, and enough to render a gearbox unnecessary. Just twist the grip and go until the juice runs out. Given the likelihood that you’ll find yourself walking the bike, the addition of a freewheel is a nice detail…
Brakes and Suspension
Brakes and suspension are near-identical with the petrol version. There’s a WP 43mm fork with 250mm of travel on the front and WP shocks on the rear. Both brakes are Formula radial disk units, 260 and 210mm respectively. There’s an interesting twist in the setup, however — since there’s no need for a clutch, KTM have put the rear brake lever on the left handlebar. Are they hoping to attract crossover mountain bikers? Time will tell.
Batteries and Charging
KTM haven’t released mileage figures, but they reckon that the demountable 2.1kWh lithium ion battery pack is good for about a half-hour’s riding, depending on how hard you work the bike. It takes 45 minutes to reach 90% capacity and a full hour-and-a-half for a full charge, so the stock Freeride E isn’t especially commuter-friendly. On the other hand, the power pack and engine are fully waterproofed, so you can wash the bike down with a pressure hose at the end of each short ride just as you might a petrol version.
Interestingly, KTM COO Harald Ploeckinger describes the company’s battery technology as ‘scaleable’, that is, the same charger could power up a bigger pack for longer journeys. Ploeckinger has also mentioned plans for a ‘street’ version. Watch this space.
Gadgets and Options
Gadgets? You want gadgets? There’s a status display, and we’re promised a power management system with presets for modulating the motor response so that heavy-handed novices don’t dump themselves over the back when they twist the ‘throttle’. Otherwise, nada. What did you expect on a lightweight trail bike?
Pay no attention to our snotty comments about limited range. KTM have done something rather impressive with the Freeride E, riffing on their offroad pedigree to come up with a completely new motorsport category. If they have their way, we’ll soon see ‘crossers riding hard and silent in the heart of the city on zero-maintenance e-bikes. Even if they don’t, the Freeride is the sort of product that trails spinoffs in its wake — and gets e-biking a good name. More, please.