When you hear the words ‘electric dirt bike’, the image in your head is probably a kids toy. If you want power, if you want a serious grown-up bike you want a petrol engine right? That may have been true five years ago, but the explosive growth of electric motor and battery technology is radically reshaping the landscape of motorsports.
Electric bicycles and scooters have been around for a while and they just keep getting better. Electric skateboards have taken the world by storm. When Tesla introduced their high performance electric cars rev-heads really started paying attention.
In the last few years some very exciting new dirt bikes have appeared on the scene. They don’t have fuel tanks. They don’t have exhaust pipes. They are almost silent. But they are definitely not kids toys. The new generation of electric dirt bikes pack a punch and they’re starting to be taken seriously by weekend warriors and racers.
Let’s take a look at some of the power players in the electric dirt bike line-up.
KTM Freeride E-SX
Most of the leading bike brands have been developing electric off-roaders in recent years, but KTM have really pulled away from the pack.
The ‘KTM Freeride E-SX’ is based on the time-tested design formula of the petrol powered Freeride range. KTM have designed the E-SX electric off roader to be competitive with it’s petrol powered siblings.
The E-SX looks and feels like a real dirt bike. All the engineering and design excellence we’ve come to expect from KTM is packed into this bike, along with it’s futuristic electric power system.
In some respects, the Freerider E-SX is very different to it’s petrol driven brothers. Although the battery system on this bike is quite heavy, that is compensated for somewhat, because it doesn’t need a lot of the components traditional bikes have. The anatomy of an electric bike is quite simple. Battery, motor, drivetrain. That’s about it.
One feature of electric bikes that is often overlooked is how easy they are to maintain. No exhaust system. No spark plugs. No engine oil.
You know the old saying:
less parts means less things that can break.
KTM’s brushless electric motor provides aggressive acceleration and torque. The Freeride E-SX boasts a maximum power output of 16 kW (22 hp) @ 4500 rpm. The 260 volt powerpack charges up in about an hour and a half, and that can give you nearly 2 hours of ride time under normal conditions.
Ground clearance and suspension travel on the Freeride E-SX are outstanding, as you would expect from a KTM bike.
The characteristic of the E-SX that riders immediately comment on is it’s punchy take off. You won’t be sitting around waiting for this bike to get up to speed. As soon as you twist your wrist, the E-SX jumps forward. Wheelie-poppers and burn-out blazers will be thrilled. And because it’s an electric bike it’s super quiet – so your neighbours won’t go crook on you!
Zero is an upstart company from Silicon Valley—home of the iPhone, Google and countless other 21st century tech phenomenon. With 20 kW (27 hp) of power @ 4300 rpm the ‘Zero FX’ is built to ride fast on the street and kick up dust on the trail.
The batteries are fully charged in about 3 hours, which gives you almost 2 hours ride time. If you need to go a bit further, you can put the bike in eco mode, and almost double your ride time, while sacrificing acceleration and torque.
One downside of this bike is the drivetrain. Some riders report that the belt drive system which works fine under dry conditions can slip when the going gets muddy. The other concern that riders have about the Zero FX is that it is quite heavy compared to other bikes in it’s class.
Compared to KTM’s Freeride E-SX, the Zero FX is much less graceful. After all, KTM has been in the bike business a long time, and that really shows in the excellence of their design. Although the Zero FX feels a bit clunky compared to the competition, it still gets very positive feedback from riders who like it’s sleek look and road friendly design.
Alta Motors Redshift MX
One look at the Alta Redshift and you know it was designed by dirt bikers. It has a rugged sporty build and dynamic performance characteristics that really set it apart from the field.
Like ‘Zero’, the ‘Alta Motors’ company was born in Silicon Valley. California seems to have some magical nexus between tech innovation and awesome trail biking country. Alta started designing electric motorbikes back in the mid 2000’s, and although their early efforts were not that impressive, the company have won acclaim for their more recent offerings.
The Redshift MX runs on a 350 volt system. Alta claim that in high performance mode the brushless motor delivers 40 hp of raw grunt, which really makes it a bit of a beast!
This is a very fast bike. It has caused a stir by beating petrol powered 250s in drag races. One of the big plusses of an electric dirt bike is that there are no gear changes to slow down your acceleration, and that means no loss of power in tricky manoeuvres either.
The chassis build and suspension on The Redshift MX may not be quite up to KTM standards, but it is very robust and designed with durability in mind. The chassis, motor casing and cooling system are completely integrated to minimise weight and maximise strength.
This is a pure dirt basher. It doesn’t have headlights like the Zero FX, so it is not really set up for road use. Where this bike shines is on the trail.
The Redshift MX has been put through it’s paces by motocross riders; mudded, jumped, landed and dumped. The general verdict from riders is that the experience is closely comparable to riding a 250cc gas burner.
Riders rate the Redshift’s acceleration and torque, but those who like to spend their time flying instead of rolling may be a bit disappointed about it’s weight.
At 120 kg, the shortcoming of the Redshift is that it is a bit on the heavy side. Battery weight is the issue. On the upside, thanks to the Redshift’s chunky powerpack, two and a half hours of charge time gets you three hours in the saddle.
Watch this space.
It’s very early days for electric powered dirt bikes. Industry giants like Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha are yet to enter the market in any serious way.
Prices for electric bikes are still comparatively high, and availability is still limited in most markets. But judging by the growing interest in electric vehicles, and the rapid development of technology in the last few years, there is an exciting future ahead for electric trail bashers.
Batteries keep getting lighter and more powerful, so there is good reason to think that the next generation of electric dirt bikes will be even more powerful and lighter as well.
As more manufacturers enter the market competition will keep driving performance spec’s up and prices down.
Electric dirt bikes probably won’t make the beloved 2 stroke obsolete any time soon, but they are definitely going to give them a good run for their money.