You don’t realise just how much rear brake is used when off-roading, until there isn’t one. That’s what was going through my mind as I hurtled towards a fence out of control on the KTM Freeride E-SX, legs flailing, right foot reaching for the absent lever, with a little nugget of poo threatening to escape.
You see, being a clutchless electric bike bereft of a gearbox, the rear brake is situated on the left ‘bar, a la mountain bike. In fact, the whole Freeride E-SX is akin to a mountain bike, albeit a very naughty, slightly heavier one.
Being leaders in the off-road market, KTM had to act and lead the way with electric power. The technology is nothing new to motocross or enduro (neither is the Freeride ethos) but the other bikes available are sparrow-limbed budget stuff that’s either built in China or looks like it’s been built in China by blind lepers.
While Baron was lording it up in the Spanish sunshine, I trekked up north to E-Scape in sunny Cheshire – the UK’s first dedicated ‘E park’ – to sample the already-available Freeride E-SX and E-XC: the SX being the slightly more focused closed-circuit tool, and the XC is more of an enduro steed. Bar a few trivialities, the two are identical.
Jumping on the Freeride Es doesn’t throw the world out of sync. There are no electronic nasties or idiosyncrasies that jump out. Hit the red power button, thumb the starter and a simple beep and light illumination lets you know she’s live and primed for action.
Joining the rear brake’s location in the list of bizarre riding sensations is the obvious lack of engine noise. Only an electric whine and chain clatter, along with panting and farmyard animal noises from the rider, are aurally fathomable.
A claimed 22bhp (and 42Nm of torque) from the brushless permanent magnet, synchronous electric motor equates to a 125cc MX bike in real, fossil fuel-burning terms, and is certainly lively yet very linear after full power is radiated. Being electric, every single ounce of grunt is available on tap straight away. Misconceptions surrounding electric bikes involve toy-like similarities but the Es have more than enough in the locker to cause pain.
There are three preset riding modes: 1, 2 and 3. 1 is very soft, power culled for beginners. 2 is softened initially but heats up towards the top-end, like an enduro map. 3 is the full-fat MX-style brutal power delivery and highly entertaining. There’s a lovely elastic resistance in the throttle as the rear fights traction, like a mystic type of traction control. That early shove on throttle application is proportional to a 250 four-stoke hitting hard from a berm/rut, and both models are plenty fast enough to compete – assuming the battery will last.
From fully-charged (which should take around 80 minutes), KTM reckons you can expect around an hour of riding from a battery, which packs 360 lithium ion cells into its package. Changing the battery itself takes 30 seconds, lifting the seat and exposing four easily accessible bolts. The track at E-scape meanders across a small hill with a blend of tighter, technical sections and faster, sweeping stuff. With full power unleashed and the ham-fisted throttle action of an angry person, I managed around 30 minutes before the orange light shone, indicating less than 5% juice.
And what of water? Electric power and H2O has death all over it, so KTM placed moisture sensors inside the motor to shutdown power when there’s a hint of dampness. Riding in deep water still isn’t recommended.
Aligned with a 250EXC, the Freeride Es are 10% lower and 5% shorter, weighing 97kg: 27kg of which is the battery. KTM pinched components such as forks and swingarm from the 85SX and saved a few quid in doing so. Experts might find the suspension a little crude and the WP kit doesn’t like flat, heavy landings. To a revving Rodney like myself, it felt fine.
I wasn’t joking or being facetious when drawing comparisons with a mountain bike. The Freeride E handles far nicer and feels lighter on the hoof than my 1999 CR125. It turns on impulse, tracks ruts with ease, is super-easy to boss and is incredibly well balanced: it does everything a sorted enduro bike should do, just peacefully. And having that rear brake on the handlebar provokes wonderful corner setup to remedy the lack of engine braking. Skids ahoy.
Being road legal and available to 17-year-olds with A1 licences, it was only prudent to see how the E-XC played on the highways of Cheshire. Needless to say, the sense of speed was deadened and its 60mph-ish top speed was soon broached, although it’ll happily cruise at 50mph.
Overall? Other than the relative silence, the riding sensation isn’t numbed or dulled own in the slightest. I’m no David Knight, more of a fat knight, but the Freeride Es flattered my riding and I was soon highly addicted. Sure, there’s an element of novelty that has yet to vanish but there’s also an intrinsic fun factor to the Freerides. Barring National Trust property, where you’re likely to get stiffed hard in the botty, electric bikes have free rein to wander without pissing off neighbours, horsey types or ski-pole baring ramblers, and skateparks have just got a lot more interesting.
As we discussed in the last electric-powered ramblings, while road-going E bikes have yet to prove their worth, there’s a quantifiable place for the technology in the off-road segment where mile-munching isn’t vital and charge points are easily accessible. Until regenerative energy technology – like KERS from Lewis Hamilton’s motor – filter down into bikes like the Freeride E, battery life will remain diminutive and open to criticism. And as a mate of mine pointed out, who studies motorcycle engineering at university and is far too intelligent, lithium levels are running dangerously low.
At £10,000 a piece (including a battery and charger), the Freeride Es are currently rich boys’ toys but still, bloody good, highly entertaining toys that truly deserve existence. When you consider a comparative top-shelf enduro bike will set you back around £7k, it’s also a viable eco option when saving fuel and the planet. Although supermoto is currently as trendy as syphilis, electric power also has a place in the dirt/tarmac hybrid sport and the world press launch of the Freeride E-SM is coming soon. @F4G4N
Specs and sexy shit here
Onboard lappery here
Photography: Chippy Wood