If you think electric cars have bust a Tesla-sized hole in the motor industry, that’s nothing compared with electric two wheelers. Battery power has not just changed the machines, it has changed the types of machines; battery bicycles, e-scooters, small scooters and maxi scooters have flooded in from the far east taking the existing motorcycle makers by surprise.
You can bet your bottom dollar that they are looking at the market, but price, weight and range are critical factors, and while the industry newcomers don’t really care, it’s hard for the existing bike makers to offer a battery-electric alternative in a given market segment, which offers so much less for so very much more.
Last year Honda committed to produce a range of electric machines by 2024, Kawasaki has said it aims to offer a pure battery or hybrid alternative in each market segment and Yamaha is working on a range of pure electric machines, but they’re all a way off.
What’s more the existing industry is pushing for environmentally friendly e-fuels to be sold to allow the continuation of internal combustion machines in certain markets such as adventure and touring categories, where luggage capacity and range requirement preclude current battery technology.
BMW’s Motorrad motorcycle division has been working at e-bikes rather longer than most. The C1.E electric scooter concept was shown in 2009 with the next Concept E shown in 2011. Then in 2014, Motorrad launched the CE Evolution, a futuristic battery machine, which was loved by its owners, but cost an exorbitant £13,500 and at 275kg all up, was the same weight at a BMW GS Adventure machine.
Its replacement is this, the CE 04, a complete restyle on the CE Evo, which goes on sale in the UK this March. The good news is that it is capable of travelling 80 miles between charges (we saw an indicated 70-mile range whizzing around Barcelona), with a top speed of 75mph and 0-31mph in a scorching 2.6sec thanks to its lithium-ion battery pack and 41.4bhp (peak) and 45.7lb ft motor.
At 231kg it’s lighter than its predecessor, but the price isn’t quite such good news. At £11,700 in basic form, it’s not only expensive, it’s also £1,700 above the qualifying rate for a UK plug-in grant.
If they’re coming from four wheels, new riders will be familiar with the technology at least, for CE 04 borrows heavily from the Samsung battery-cell packs and BMW’s electric motors from vehicles like the 2-series and X1 SUV hybrids.
The air-cooled, lithium-ion battery pack is one of the 11 packs which go in the hybrid cars, the liquid-cooled motor, is a down-powered and smaller and lighter version of that in the hybrid cars. With the battery mounted in the floor between the 1,675mm wheelbase, the motor sits right at the rear of the tubular-steel frame loops, alongside the inverter/charger, and drives the rear wheel via a toothed-belt and a single sided swinging arm.
With the £850 rapid-charge option, recharging on a 7.4kW wall box will take 45 minutes for a 20 to 80 per cent state of charge. On a standard three-pin plug and a 2.3kW supply it’ll take 4hrs 20mins for a 100 per cent charge. The machine will also charge on an 11kW street charger, but only at 6.9kW.
Edgar Heinrich, head of Motorrad design explains that internal combustion motorcycle design has reached its end game. “The [market] segment defines the mission,” he says, “which defines the proportions, which defines the architecture and the machine”.
But electric machines with their low-slung batteries free up the moribund design limits. Heinrich calls the CE 04’s style “sausage dog”.
“We wanted to do something different,” he says. “Critics say that electric bikes are all about the battery and a washing-machine motor, but that’s wrong, they can be extremely emotional. For design it is back to zero – like paradise.”
It’s slightly less than paradise and more science fiction to look at. There’s a lot of bodywork at the front and very little at the back. The riding position is feet forward and the bars are wide, so you tend to hang off your arms against the wind blast at speed. The seat is low, (780mm), but plank like.
And while the bike’s shape tapers off pleasingly, given the startling off-the-line performance, pillions will have to hold on tight when moving off. At 2,285mm it’s a long machine, which can make parking quite tricky, but there’s a reverse gear to aid manoeuvring.
Instrumentation consists of BMW’s scroll-wheel-controlled 10.25in TFT screen, which requires you to scroll through all the functions to get the screen you’re after, but once learned it’s at least logical. There are still a lot of handle-bar switches, though, and while BMW has mercifully dispensed with its old indicator on each side system, the single indicator switch still clicks when you press it whether the indicators were on or not.
The mirrors are large and easy to adjust and the twin brake levers work conventionally; right for front, left for rear. Roll off the throttle and the motor turns into a generator to recharge the battery. Maximum deceleration regen is 1.8 metres per second squared or less depending on which riding mode is selected: Eco, Rain, Road, or (optionally), Dynamic.
There’s a standard ABS system, but you can buy a more sophisticated ABS Pro along with a traction control circuitry with the Dynamic pack. Similarly, heated grips and a heated seat come with a Comfort pack, but the latter isn’t available with some of the seat options.
It isn’t just the shape which points to the future, there’s clever stuff on the CE 04. If you deploy the side stand, it activates the brakes, which helps with stability. There’s a sizeable locker under the seat with its own internal lamp, which is large enough to store most full-face helmets, though the optional quick charge cable will take up all that space. There’s a water-proof phone cubby which sits under the bars with a USB C charge port and the machine’s systems will Bluetooth link to the phone for communications, music and navigation.
If the silence and performance feel uncanny, the acceleration is startling. Hang it on the cable in the traffic light grand prix and you’ll squirt to 30mph before you’ve even thought about it. While this is somewhat juvenile fun, it also eats into the battery range and you’d probably want to specify the more sophisticated traction control of the Dynamic Pack if you plan on doing it too often.
Despite the weight and prodigious acceleration, the CE 04 is relatively easy to control. The throttle response is beautifully refined so you can twist in just exactly how much acceleration you want. It’s heavy, but the weight sits low in the frame, which helps with stability.
Motorrad has worked hard on the single-side swing arm rear and the single-pivot twin damper front, the rake isn’t too severe and tight turns don’t give you the feeling the front wheel is about to fold underneath you. It’s not a sporting machine and there’s a reluctance to turn in and you have to pick it up out of the turns, but once in a corner, it’s stable even over bumps. The 15-inch Pirelli tyres felt sure footed over the twisting roads of Mount Tibidabo behind the Catalan capital and it was simple and fun to ride.
The all-round disc brakes (twin discs at the front) are nicely refined and the progressive levers makes it easy to stop quite hard with the long wheelbase limiting suspension dive.
Ride comfort isn’t bad, although the rear wheel shudders over poor road surfaces. After a morning on the rather thin saddle whizzing round the Catalan capital, I had no complaints.
Expensive and heavy, but terrific to look at and good fun, the CE 04 is only going to appeal to a certain sort of wealthy customer, preferably with off-street charging at home and work and living somewhere like Barcelona where it only rains for 55 days per year against London’s distinctly damp 164 days.
We’d wish they’d included a bit more in the standard specification, such as the rapid-charge option and the Dynamic Pack, but at least the battery is fully guaranteed for five years and 25,000 miles during which, if its capacity falls below 80 per cent, it will be replaced. Mind you, with just six bolts holding the pack into place, that won’t be such an onerous job for BMW service points.
As it stands, CE 04 is the kind-of desirable machine which a lot of people would like to own, but not at that price…