When I first saw the BMW CE 04, I honestly thought that this was some whacky concept bike that only shows up at the EICMA show in Milan to test the waters a bit. I was surprised to learn that this was the actual production bike. I knew that BMW already had one in the country for homologation purposes last year, so after a few e-mails and abject begging, I finally got my hands on one. I got to spend some time with it to gauge how far we have come in the move to electric transportation.
The CE 04 is by no means conventional. Maybe the front quarter of the bike can be mistaken for a normal scooter, apart from the covered front disks. The rear defies convention. The first thing that everyone notices is the ‘floating’ seat that looks like something you should be doing your ironing on. It is just a straight seat with a contrasting accent at the back. The middle part of the bike obviously holds the battery and drive motor, and there is ample storage space in the side-opening luggage compartment. The rear wheel is belt-driven with a bland, solid black rim. The CE 04 is a very long motorcycle, but I like the clean and simplistic design of the bike.
BMW has a wealth of knowledge about electric propulsion for their four–wheeled vehicles, so they just nicked one of those motors and adapted it for the CE 04. To run the motor, again BMW turned to their automotive branch and installed a Lithium Ion battery derived from one of their cars. Unlike a conventional scooter, the motor is mounted to the chassis and not the swingarm and power is fed to the rear wheel through a beefy-looking toothed belt. What baffled me was the choice of tyres. Here is a scooter, shod with Pirelli Rosso tyres. This is the stuff you get on sportbikes, not scooters. Maybe BMW had high aspirations for its maxi scooter.
When you get on the CE 04, you are not quite sure where to sit as there are no clear indications with an indentation in the seat or anything that will hint at where your derriere should be placed. Because of the uniformity of the seat, it does spread your legs a bit, and shorter riders might find it difficult to put their feet flat on the ground. Despite the fact that the CE 04 is surprisingly low.
If you currently ride a BMW, the controls will look familiar. It even has the BMW control wheel on the left handlebar. To get going, you first have to switch the bike on. This uses BMW’s keyless entry. Then, you put the side stand away. (This is probably the chunkiest side stand I have ever seen on a bike.) The next step is to engage either the front or rear brake and press the start button. In front of you, the massive 10.25” TFT screen will light up and simply display “Ready”. The display obviously does not have a rev counter, but rather a charge and power gauge. You can also connect your smartphone via the BMW Connect App, which opens up all the standard BMW features like navigation and helmet connectivity. Once you see the “Ready” sign, you can just twist the throttle and be amazed. The bike has four rider modes, Eco, Rain, Road and Dynamic. I chose Dynamic for most of my riding.
The CE 04 is no slouch off the line. In fact, it will bring a huge smile to your face. On one of my trips, I made someone on a BMW S 1000 R doubt his life choices. The bike pulls very strongly up to about 90 km/h and then tapers off to its maximum speed of around 127 km/h. At this speed, the battery takes a beating and range anxiety kicks in very quickly. To give you a real-world example, a friend of mine and I went for breakfast at a restaurant a mere 12 km from my house. Nine of those kilometres were on the highway, running the scooter at full tilt in Dynamic mode. From a full charge, it had used up 30% of the charge when we rolled in at our breakfast stop. From there, we rode through the suburbs to our next coffee stop, 11 km from where we had breakfast. With the bike set to ECO mode, and never going above 60 km/h, the bike is far more efficient.
As you throttle off, the regenerative braking is quite noticeable. I could actually bring the bike to a complete stop without touching the brakes. For this stint, I only used 3% of the available charge. This proves that the claimed 135 km range is totally within reach of the BMW, provided you don’t ride like a lunatic. It does, however, take an immense amount of willpower not to yank the throttle to its stops at every opportunity. The acceleration is just insane. I also found the bike to be surprisingly nimble. Cornering was something that surprised me the most. I thought that it would just wallow into a corner, but it stays true to your chosen line. Now I understand the choice of Pirelli rubber. As a maxi scooter, the BMW is much better than anything I have ridden before.
I had a solar solution installed at my house as I work from home, so for me, charging the bike cost me nothing. I charged it from my solar panels, and a full charge from almost empty takes around 4 hours, using the supplied cable. However, I had to explore the other charging options available to me, so I headed to the upmarket Menlyn Shopping Centre, which I understood has EV charging ports. The first problem was locating them, and when I did, I needed some anger management classes. As with disabled zones, people seem to be oblivious to the fact that they are not disabled, and still use the spots dedicated to people with disabilities. Same with the EV parking spots, taken up by a Polo and, ironically, two BMW cars. None of them were electric vehicles.
I tried making a scene, but soon realised I was shouting at the wrong people. The real idiots are the ignoramuses who are so lazy, they have to stop as close to the entrance of the store as possible. I left in a hurry though as I did not have the correct cable to charge the bike anyway! Lessons learnt. I then rode to another charging station at my local BMW dealer, only to hear that the machine was not working. And, again, even if it was, it used a cable that could not plug into my CE 04. And herein lies the answer to my opening question. No, we are not there yet. The bike itself is absolutely sublime, but the infrastructure to maintain this sort of transport is sadly lacking. And that is a real pity. Even the person picking up the bike after my test had to plan his route carefully as he had to top up somewhere halfway.
I really enjoyed my time with the CE 04. It drew a lot of attention and this is the future, whether we like it or not. Maybe not in this incarnation, but once we have a realistic range of 200+ km with a reliable source to top up, this would be a future that I would embrace. I honestly think that if the price was not the eye-watering R297,450, I would love to have one in my garage. I can do some emergency shopping with it, I can even meet someone for lunch and when I come home, let the sun top it up for me again. What more could you ask for?
BMW CE 04
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