MIRAMAS, France—You’re probably getting tired of hearing about the upcoming electric revolution. Everyone from Aston Martin to Harley-Davidson seems to either be producing an electric vehicle or talking about producing one.
Like it or not, electric mobility is unavoidable. It’s making an ever bigger presence in the two-wheeled world, so you’ll be seeing more stories of gasoline-free riding here at Canada Moto Guide. Like this one about the BMW E-Roadster.
I’ve had an exclusive, albeit brief ride on the BMW E-Roadster here at the company’s Miramas Proving Grounds. Cars and motorcycles are tested vigorously here, sometimes well before they reach production, as is the case with the E-Roadster.
Proof of Concept
Don’t be too quick to jump in with comments of how this new electric bike from BMW resembles more an E-Toaster. Its hodgepodge appearance is because it is a “proof of concept.” A proof of concept precedes the prototype in the development process, and it is exactly what its name suggests: It is proof that an idea can be executed, and reveals just how close to — or far from — the targeted performance a manufacturer is on an initial try. It also begins the process of figuring out the software needed for its operation. At this early stage, probably none of the proof of concept’s bits will make it onto the production bike. Well, maybe the levers.
My first experience with a proof-of-concept vehicle took place two years ago, when I had a chance to drive the Aston Martine RapidE electric car. That vehicle, which was developed by Williams Advanced Engineering, was way off the final product. Engineers could only fit a 30 kWh battery into a production chassis, it had a single motor, and it had a range of about 120 km. Climate controls and infotainment didn’t function, and the wipers didn’t have a motor since the improvised power train took up all the space under the hood.
The production Rapide E (the name’s been revised), which was launched in April of this year, has a 65-kWh battery, two electric motors, and a claimed range of 500 km on a full charge — and everything works.
BMW’s forecast performance for the E-Roadster is at least 200 km of range, with a target weight of about 250 kg. This proof of concept has a 13 kWh battery that’s good for a bit more than 100 km, and the bike weighs a hefty 290 kg, so there’s room for improvement.
Raiding the parts bins
BMW raided both its motorcycle and automobile parts departments to put together the E-Roadster. Aside from the forks, which are non-standard, fully adjustable items, the wheels, brakes, swingarm and altered shock are from the R1250R. The headlight assembly comes from the S1000R, and the rest of the bodywork was moulded from scratch. Chassis geometry is not yet established at such an early stage, so the frame is a one-off custom fabrication that serves the sole purpose of holding everything together.
The electric motor was sourced from a BMW 2 Series plug-in hybrid car, and the battery from a 5 Series extended wheelbase plug-in car that’s sold in China. The motor produces 200 Nm (147 lb.-ft.) of torque, but that number is increased to 1,500 Nm (1,100 lb.-ft.) at the rear wheel through a gear reduction — I initially thought I’d misheard that final number, but it was confirmed. That’s good enough to propel the E-Roadster from zero to 100 km/h in 2.9 seconds.
Like the Harley Livewire, the power train and battery are liquid cooled. Also like the Livewire, BMW is developing Level 3 DC quick charging, as well as onboard Level 1 charging. Level 3 allows an acceptable charging time, which is a critical component if motorcyclists are to give up gasoline for electrons. It took 10 minutes to provide the E-Roadster with a 90 percent charge from 45 per cent.
Holy crap! That is the first thing that escaped my mouth — or actually, something less printable — after stepping off the E-Roadster, and I’d only ridden it in a straight line. I’ve ridden 200-plus horsepower superbikes and have never felt such ferocious acceleration. The ride was limited to two back-and-forth runs along a kilometre-long straight. The first run was to get familiar with a bike that develops more than 1,100 lb.-ft., and the second was to demonstrate that torque by drag racing an S1000R.
Like any electric bike I’ve ridden, the E-Roadster feels top heavy. This is the norm for e-bikes because unlike a conventional motorcycle, where the heavier bits — crankshaft, transmission, alternator — sit low in the chassis, an e-bike’s mass is spread equally throughout due to the density of its battery.
The E-roadster is equipped with traction and wheelie control, though you should still abstain from just whacking the throttle wide open from a stop. Doing so triggers the TC, which sends the front wheel into an awkward dance with the sky. By rolling on progressively the bike launches smoothly but violently, and builds speed seamlessly, yet with a distinctive gear whine. The first time I rolled the throttle to the max, the bike accelerated with such brute force that it made me lightheaded.
When drag-racing the S1000R, the E-Roadster immediately took the lead and pulled away by several bike lengths, until it topped out at its factory-limited top speed of 176 km, at which point the S1000R blew past and just kept going. On the road, a bike with this kind of power will win the stoplight drags every time.
So, when can I get one?
BMW is actively developing an electric motorcycle, so there’s no doubt the company has plans for a production model. However, there’s no set time frame as to when you’ll see one in the showroom. Progress will happen very fast, and the company’s performance targets will likely be reached or exceeded within the next couple of years.
However, the current limiting factor is the availability of Level 3 quick chargers. Using Germany as an example, most quick chargers are located near main highways. Motorcyclists, at least proper ones, avoid highways whenever possible, yet a network that can accommodate leisurely e-bike rides in the mountains does not yet exist. Other than Quebec and Portland, Oregon, this is even less likely in North America.
Despite this setback, you can bet that when BMW does launch an electric motorcycle, it will have a dedicated power train, exceptional power, and proper range. And it won’t look like an E-Toaster.
One thing to keep in mind is that road trips are the only time you need to visit a charging station. On a weekend ride you can charge while having lunch.
Unless your bike can plug into a Tesla charger, there is only 1 place in all of Muskoka/Haliburton with 1 single charger (outside Dwight). Electric is not an option yet for weekend rides either.
Electic street bikes, with much stricter battery size and weight limitations than cars, won’t be viable until a major change in battery technology comes about. I also suspect that with home charging the norm for cars, the public charging network needed for bikes will be slow to develop. Still, companies like BMW need to develop all the ancillary bits in order to take advantage of tech changes when they occur. Plus, being seen to be developing e-bikes now makes for good politics. Just don’t expect to buy one any time soon.
I agree with all of this. It’s good that manufacturers are developing electric bikes but it will be a long while before they become mainstream.