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Guest column: What is the Freeride E really like?

Clemens Gleich, a freelance writer and KTM Duke 690 rider in his spare time, describes his first experiences in ‘going electric’ with the Freeride E…

“And, and, and? What do you think?” I’ve been asked this by several people now, most probably because they have already ridden one of the pre-production bikes themselves; the models that KTM use to gather feedback in the final phase of testing its electric alternative machine.

I love riding bikes and I ride a lot but I do it almost exclusively on the road. People keep saying “come and have a play in the dirt” but somehow it just never works out. I’ve managed one cross bike experience and also a run on an Enduro motorcycle; that’s it. However, the Freeride E’s is a great opportunity and the importance of it lies in the fact that it will attract a whole new audience to the dirt; an audience (while receptive to new types of recreational sport and motorcycling) didn’t care two hoots about it before.

What will appeal to most newbies is that this is a bike without a clutch, no gear shifter and, instead of the brake pedal, a lever on the left of the handlebar, just like a mountain bike. The kill-switch is actually the on-switch; a small instrument indicator behind the steering head flashes when ready. There’s a button for selecting one of the four different very propulsive riding modes. A push of this button and the power electronics leap into action, as confirmed by the slight humming noise.

From then on, all you have to do is open up the throttle and use the brakes. It’s fantastic.

Those who have never been on a dirt track, or only very seldom, will be completely overwhelmed by the assault of information on the senses. Oh my God! The hill! The puddle! Oh no, a curve! Damn, much too slow! Damn again, much too fast! Oh no, it was too slow and CRASH! No one needs brake and gear foot levers on top of that, which are only going to be the first things to break off anyway. The less to worry about the more you can concentrate: Jumping, catapulting the motorcycle out of corners and not coming a cropper. Even skilled riders would appreciation the ‘liberation’ of the E.

One better rider than me is my colleague Volker, who had ridden the Freeride E before (and in much drier weather it has to be said). He has already tried other electric bikes, so he arrived at the test track not far from the KTM factory with low expectations. He was pleasantly surprised that the pre-production model looked so complete.

“I’m pleased to see that someone has has the courage to do it right,” says Volker. Small example: The Freeride E has a freewheel, which is not normally found on electric vehicles, but is important for a motorcycle, so that it can be pushed. The battery can be replaced in two minutes. Throttle control is so fine that you can walk alongside it up a hill or a loading ramp. These are details that the engineer really needs to know about when it comes to motorcycling and off-road especially.

Volker is what you might call an ambitious part-time rider and an honest one at that: “Most of the time, I’m knackered after 30 minutes on an MX track and need to take a break for 20 to 30 minutes. So the 20 to 60 minutes of battery life would be perfectly OK for me.” And: “The E would also have been just fine for everything I’ve done with my 450 crosser over the year.” But most important of all: “I think I’d like one.”

What? Even though it doesn’t growl when you open up the throttle? To better comprehend Volker’s emotions, I would like to refer to another occasional rider, who was also there at the test. In his report my colleague Phil praised the merits of the motor at great length: “The best offroad ‘engine’ that I’ve ever ridden.” With a combustion unit, the path from the throttle to the torque at the rear wheel is much less direct. In contrast, the electric motor always propels you with extremely precise, linear application, and such virtues cannot be substituted off-road. Phil would willingly start regular offroad training again with a bike like this.

The Freeride E should be available for less than 10,000 euros according to KTM’s plans. That’s a lot of money for a piece of leisure equipment. However, a battery-leasing programme is also being considered, which would move the bike a lot closer to the Freeride 350 in terms of price. In addition, plans are afoot for motocross and enduro parks, where a Freeride E can be hired. Since the machine is so quiet, such parks can be sited close to urban areas at last and not in the ‘sticks’ or former landfill sites. The E can, and should, take the sport into the metropolis.

Another facet of the E’s appeal and versatility was touched upon by an American, who I met by chance in the bar at San Francisco airport, when he suggested it would be ideal for riding in the ‘back garden’. There’s loads more space in the USA than in Europe, which is one of the reasons why ‘dirt bikes’ are so popular there. My chance acquaintance’s house backs onto the Mojave Desert, which he heads into for pleasure rides of various distances. “When will we finally be able to get our hands on this electric KTM?” he asked. “I’d buy one straight away. My neighbour would probably help me out financially, seeing as I get on his nerves with all the noise I make.” He is already a KTM customer, since the orientation of the vehicles from Mattighofen coincides with his basic attitude to life: “I’ll race anything.”

So there is demand, a right to exist extending beyond combustion and its disadvantages. Some people in the forums, however, doubt how serious this project is for KTM and whether the E will ever be available from dealers. This can be easily clarified: For KTM CEO Stefan Pierer the project has personal interest and he is not someone who reconsiders things purely because they prove more difficult to implement than initially thought. The E is coming. However, it will not arrive in the form of a stuttering beta version; we’ve seen enough such electric vehicles already. The Freeride E needs to be launched as a tried and tested, finished product. That’s why you had the opportunity to register here in the KTM blog for a test ride on the E in 2012 and be a volunteer beta-tester. The intention is to repeat this offer in 2013. So we will let you know here in good time how your opinion as riders can help in making the Freeride E available from dealers in a form as good as it can possibly be.

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