Could the future of biking be electrifying?
We recently had the opportunity to take two electric-powered sports motorcycles built by Energica in Modena, Italy, for a ride. Like most things Italian, the Ego and Eva, are visually beautiful. The Ego is fully-faired, whilst the Eva is a “naked”. For some reason, the bikes reminded me a bit of Aprilia’s RSV4 and Tuono, suave and sexy. I’ll let the photos do the talking, but I’m sure most of you will agree that they are a handsome couple of scooters. Strangely enough, you don’t miss an exhaust exiting the side of the bike, they just seem well proportioned and “right”.
The bikes bristle with electronic trickery. Multi-level traction control, ABS, adjustable “engine braking”, [with a regenerative effect] and power modes for Sport, Urban, Rain and Eco. To get going you simply switch the key on and jab the “starter” button on the right-hand switchgear, pretty much as we are accustomed. Nothing seems to happen apart from a green GO light which appears on the TFT dash. Instinctively you tend to yank the throttle to elicit some response. It’s a boy thing. You don’t read the instructions you just egotistically believe you’ll suss it out.
Well, sports lovers, yank this throttle wide open and you’ll instantly unleash [on the Ego] 215 Nm of angry torques and the Lord alone knows how many of the bikes 107 kW of power. On taking delivery I had been warned of this and Donovan Fourie told me that Rob Portman had had a “whisky throttle” moment with hilarious consequences. Luckily Rob was not aimed at anything solid at the time! Fact is, the bike is totally inert until you open the throttle.
Energica has not done a half baked job on these bikes. They have an options catalogue which really allows you to order your bike spec’d to the nines. Tank bags, panniers, screens, fancy suspension, you name it and it’s available. At a price, of course. Quoted in Euro’s, the current conversion to Rands makes your eyes water! These bikes are only an option for the seriously well-heeled.
Opening the throttle is quite an experience as the aforementioned torque becomes instantly available. Electric bikes are heavy thanks to the batteries, however, the designers try to keep that weight low. This allows you to whack the throttle open without the tendency to hoick the front wheel in the air and simply rocket forward. This wild acceleration is accompanied by a spooling up shriek from the drive, or gearbox, [with only one gear] which builds in intensity until around 80 kph whereupon it is drowned out by wind roar and the ride becomes eerily silent. Conspicuous by their absence are gear shift and clutch levers. You simply watch the rev counter numbers increase as you whoosh off down the road. Overtaking is a cinch. The torque and power just punts you past slower traffic with no effort at all and super smooth from idle to top end.
Riding through the suburbs with the low speed turns that that entails makes you immediately aware of the bikes weight. More so on the Ego, with its clip on’s, than with the wide barred Eva, where the additional leverage negates the feeling of weight to a degree. High-speed sweeps are where these bikes shine. The test bikes were equipped with the optional Ohlins suspension which is excellent. The weight of the bike now plays in its favour, with the suspension soaking up bumps and the bike tracking perfectly, even through bumpy sweeps.
These bikes will love the “22” between Sabie and Hazyview. The stability inspires massive confidence. I ran the Ego to an indicated 235 kph on a gradual downhill and it was pretty much flat out, running straight as a die. I noticed that that one run from 120 to top end and back to 120 again, shed 10% of the battery charge. What also became apparent was as the batteries level of charge dropped, so did the performance. At 50% charge, the bikes were no match for Bjorn’s Yamaha MT-09.
Donovan and Rob dragged the Ego, fully charged, against a BMW S 1000 RR and stayed ahead of the Bee Emm for the first three hundred-odd metres. I would hazard a guess and suggest that this is for two reasons. Firstly, because the instant torque of the electric bike is a big advantage in a drag race, and secondly because keeping the front wheel of the S 1000 RR on the ground when coming off the line is an issue. As soon as you can give the Beemer the beans it will drop the Ego for dead. Fact is, the Ego, with a fully charged battery is a strong motorcycle.
In Sport mode, the Energicas use battery power at an alarming rate. We barely made it home after a spirited thirty kay ride and then the next 40 kays at commuting type speeds. You will definitely go much further in Eco mode at a sedate pace, but that really isn’t why you buy a sports bike is it? The test bikes are fitted with 13.4kWh batteries, whereas all customer bikes will have 21.5 kWh batteries. This will significantly improve range with 62% more capacity. In Sport mode that would equate to around 115 kilometres of range.
So here is where a conversation around electric bikes always seem to end. How far can I ride and how long does it take to charge? No matter how you try to cut it, your route is not, at this point in time anyway, going to be of your ideal choosing, but rather determined by the availability of “quick chargers”. Jaguar and BMW have succeeded in installing chargers at the major Ultra Cities, but they are still way too few and far between.
As e-vehicles grow in popularity you can end up with charging “log jams” which makes travel time frustrating and unpredictable. In Europe, with its first-world infrastructure, 200 kay’s of range is perhaps adequate, but in Africa, it will leave you stranded. On that note, even if you carry your charge cable with you, bulky as it is, it will take at least 5 hours to charge a 21.5kWh battery fully from a wall plug.
The bikes were impressive to ride and hint at better things when the technology evolves. Weight and range is the big negative of electric vehicles at this point in time. James May, of Topgear fame, owns both an electric BMW as well as a “long-range” Tesla. Asked about his view of the future of electric vehicles, he echoes these sentiments. As soon as you go out of a predictable urban commuting environment these problems become a stark reality. If you run out of petrol your problem is easily solved. If you run out of charge, you have a major problem.
The cost of these performance e-bikes negates any fuel-saving benefit. They will cost you at least a 50% premium over an equivalent fossil fuel bike. At our expensive electricity cost, the three charges it will take to charge your bike for range equivalent to a full tank of fuel will not save you much money either.
To sum up. If battery technology evolves to lightweight, long-range and quick charge times, then e-bikes are in business. Until then, the advantages of fuel-driven vehicles are simply overwhelming. Many of us ride bikes for the impromptu freedom to hop on and head for the hills or some far-flung horizon. The current crop of electric motorcycles just doesn’t tick that box. A final consideration is the way in which we ride and “connect” with our bikes.
Some Harley riders feel that the new Harleys’ are too “nice”. They love the mechanical thrash, feel and level of vibes of the older bikes. Strange but true. Listening to Bjorn’s MT-09 fire up, the bark from the Arrow pipe rising to a crescendo through the gears and the blip of the throttle on gearing down, made me appreciate the sensory side of bikes. Electric bikes are really sterile by comparison. Now I know that they can build in a soundtrack of your choice with current technology, but for old school me that is just wrong! Let’s have your thoughts on the electric versus fuel debate. We are so spoiled for choice in the world in which we live.
All of us at ZA Bikers, like many of our readers, no doubt, ride bicycles for fun and fitness. What this review did do, is pique our interest in the e-bicycle revolution that is sweeping the planet at the moment. A bicycle with a range of 100 kay’s is more than adequate. Being able to ride up hills like a Tour de France pro without breaking a sweat is just uber cool! Do you know that some e-bikes come with an app that monitors your heart rate and keeps it in the happy zone of your choice uphill and down dale. Amazing.
The UK, as a byproduct of planning a post COVID-19 world, have committed millions of pounds to promote the development of e-bikes/scooters on the basis that surveys have shown that 80% of car trips in the UK are less than 3.8 miles. A little over 6 k’s. An absolute doddle on a bike, or for the unfit, an e-bicycle. The spinoff in fuel saving, mental and general health is phenomenal. On the back of that thinking, we have decided to keep you guys up to speed on what is available and how it all works. Watch this space.