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HomeZA BikersBike ReviewsThe BMW CE 04 - Futuristic Electric Urban Mobility

The BMW CE 04 – Futuristic Electric Urban Mobility

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

Like or loathe the idea, electric motorcycles and cars are here to stay for the foreseeable future, even if their acceptance and availability here in SA might be difficult to ascertain, which is hardly surprising, given both the distances we travel and the irregular availability of electricity.

But that hasn’t stopped the manufacturers from importing electric vehicles and, judging by the availability of charging points – more than you would think – it’s a serious proposition in their eyes. Whether the buying public agrees is another matter.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

What can’t be argued is the impressive sensation of driving or, in this case, riding fully electric vehicles. Complete silence, an uncanny absence of vibration, lack of necessity to visit a petrol station ever again, ridiculously addictive acceleration and, as a counterpoint, extreme range anxiety.

The BMW CE 04 was introduced as a concept back in 2020 and was the latest step into e-mobility that had commenced in 2011 with the reveal of the BMW Concept E, continued through the C Evolution in 2014 and the Concept Link of 2017, which appeared fully-formed as the CE 04 in 2020. What was notable was that the concept styling remained virtually intact which was either a good thing or a not depending on your aesthetic viewpoint.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

In terms of the technicalities, the CE 04 features a permanent magnet electric motor, mounted towards the rear of the steel double loop frame. It is liquid-cooled, hence the presence of a small radiator at the front of the bike. Power output on the version tested is 11kW, giving a range of no more than 100km, a top speed of 129km/h and a re-charge time, using a normal household socket of around three hours, if starting from 0%, which can be reduced to 1 hour 10 minutes with a 30 Amp quick charger. As standard, the CE 04 comes with a 2.3kW charging cable.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

The battery is an in-house BMW Motorrad development; 40 lithium-ion cells mounted under the footboards – providing twin benefits of air cooling and a seriously low centre of gravity. The high-voltage battery sits on a cooling plate with cooling fins on the underside, said to keep the cells in a perfect state for optimum mileage. The final drive is by a low-maintenance belt.

Twist-and-go operation is nothing unique to the CE 04, as you’ll find that means of turning on the power common to all maxi-scooters. What that doesn’t explain is the wonderful feeling of effortless and unrelenting acceleration that is a characteristic of electric vehicles, with every ounce of torque available from a standstill. If a comparison needs to be made, the performance is probably equivalent to a Yamaha TMAX, with its 500cc parallel twin engine. That’s all well and good, but even the TMAX feels completely different to the CE 04 when pinning the throttle away from the lights. Maybe it has something to do with the complete lack of vibration; maybe it has something to do with the sound, which is akin to the spooling up of a helicopter’s gas turbine on start-up. Whatever your take, it’s different enough to be interesting, long after the novelty has worn off.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

Of course, one major draw of the CE 04, to the layman as much as experienced motorcyclists, is the way it looks. Outlandish, completely different, futuristic; like nothing else on the road. Personally, I love it not because it is so different but because it just works; long and low and distinctive. In fact, make that very long, with a wheelbase of 1.680 metres!

The suspension is set on the firm side, which has it crashing a bit over the bad roads of Johannesburg but it feels solid for all that, with no creaks or groans from the largely plastic bodywork. That long wheelbase takes a bit of getting used to when throwing it around corners but, once familiar, it corners well, with no vices. Similarly, the brakes – twin 265mm discs up front and a single 265mm disc at the rear – are well up to the task of hauling up the 231kg weight; a weight that never feels unwieldy simply because it is worn so low down. Feeding slowly through traffic is so easy because of this as you always have a feeling of security in the balance.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

There are four riding, or power, modes; Rain, Road, Dynamic and Eco. Eco mode maximises drag torque (effectively engine braking) when coasting to regenerate some battery percentage, and limits top-end acceleration, and has strong engine braking – it should maximise the range possible per charge. Rain mode reduces both coasting drag torque and acceleration.

Road mode provides full acceleration but somewhat reduces the force of engine braking. Dynamic mode provides full acceleration and full engine braking, so if you find yourself on twisty sections you can hammer down. All of these are displayed beautifully in real-time on the dash, with a nice sliding scale showing you what’s going on.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

The ‘engine’ braking Eco and Dynamic is very strong, so much so that at normal city speeds you don’t need to use the brakes! That’s all well and good but it does mean that following drivers have no idea you are slowing down so rapidly because there are no brake lights. It’s a strange omission from safety-conscious BMW and it would have made sense for the brake lights to at least flash when in regenerative slowing down mode.

So, it’s great to ride, with impressively smooth and seamless acceleration, great looks and reasonable comfort; the test bike was fitted with the flattest of six-seat options that offer little rearward support under heavy acceleration, even though it is comfortable enough. The tiny orange ‘screen’ is more decorative than functional – a larger one is available as an option – and highway work can be a bit tiring unless you lean forward into the wind blast.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

Practically, it is well-endowed, with a weather-proof cubby hole at the front, fitted with a USB-C slot and cooling fan, and a large compartment under the seat that can take a full-face helmet with ease. The huge 10.5-inch TFT screen is clear, customisable and smartphone-compatible with the BMW Motorrad app. A reverse gear takes care of manoeuvring out of parking spaces.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

So, overall, there is a lot to like about the CE 04. But is it all good news? Sadly – and it pains me to have to say this – it’s not. The negative points are concerned with price and range. Range, as mentioned, is around 95-100km, although that will be seriously eaten into if you ride in Dynamic or Road modes and also if you enjoy the turbine-like acceleration at any given opportunity, and that’s hard to resist.

That range is simply not enough for practical transport in and around Johannesburg unless you are simply using it to get to work and back, charging it up at both ends.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

But there’s a caveat; the price. At almost R300,000, it’s a very expensive means of commuting, especially when there are many petrol-driven alternatives – and many, many more if you take into account the used market – costing a fraction of that price and losing nothing in practicality and running costs.

Range anxiety is never far away on the CE 04. Riding from home near Rosebank to Midrand used half the available battery charge and, with no available charging opportunity, the ride home wasn’t the most relaxing, the dash showing a mere 5km of range in Eco mode by the time I pulled into the driveway after an ever-slower ride. This is the biggest problem facing the wide adoption of electric vehicles. Yes, I got home but what if I had to head out again almost immediately? I wouldn’t be doing it on the CE 04 unless I waited an hour and a half and, even then, it wouldn’t be fully charged unless a quick-charger was used.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

The CE 04 is a fascinating engineering and styling exercise that would find many homes, but only if the price was right. As it stands, the market for a high-priced, luxury, eco-friendly commuter with a limited range is necessarily narrow here in South Africa; it will be interesting to see if the drawbacks are outweighed by the positives in the minds of the buying public.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

BMW CE 04

For more information on the bike featured in this article, click on the link below…

2023

BMW CE 04

Pricing From R295,850 (RRP)


Brand: BMW Motorrad
Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
From an early age, Harry was obsessed with anything that moved under its own steam, particularly cars and motorcycles. For reasons of a financial nature, his stable of fine automobiles failed to materialise, at which point he realised that motorcycles were far more affordable and so he started his two wheel career, owning, riding, building and fixing many classic bikes. Then came the day when he converted his love of bikes into a living, writing, filming and talking about them endlessly. The passion for four wheels never left him, however, and he has now converted his writing skills into singing the praises of cars in all their infinite variety. Bikes are still his favourite means of getting around but the car in its modern form is reaching a level of perfection that is hard to resist. And they're warmer in winter....
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