KTM have made a serious push forward into the world of electric driven sports motorcycles by launching the KTM Freeride E. The first bike of it’s kind to hit the market by the Austrian firm, the Freeride E is a fully-fledged electric off-road machine… and it means business.

Available in two models E-XC (homologated) and E-SX (closed course competition) Enduro21.com put them to the test…

What KTM says? 

KTM don’t believe that E-bikes will replace combustion engines. Certainly not any time soon. Instead they’ve seen a gap in the market that they believe is well worth exploring. They’ve set out to ensure that electric driven sports motorcycles needn’t be boring.

Does it feel like a ‘real’ motorcycle? 

Err… yes! It’s got the feel of quite a simple motorcycle. KTM have used the Freeride as the basis for Freeride E. Smaller than a normal EXC (or SX) model with a seat height of 910mm it definitely feels slim when you throw a leg over it. Since it’s ‘automatic’ there is no gear shifter down by your left foot and it features a bicycle-style handlebar mounted front and rear brake lever set-up. There’s no rear brake pedal. Where the fuel cap would normally sit is an electronic LCD display, which indicates battery levels and mode.

The bike has three power modes: 1-2-3. Mode 1 is ‘Economy’ and gives the softest power output and the largest battery range while Mode 3 ‘Advanced’ is full gas. A button allows you to select each of the three modes while lights along the side of the LCD indicate battery levels. A key on the headstock is used to engage the battery while a throttle side button ‘starts’ the engine. Because it’s electric there’s no engine idle – it’s just twist the throttle and go.

What’s a silent bike like to ride? 

Surprisingly it feels pretty much the same as a ‘regular’ combustion engine motorcycle, only quieter. That’s mainly because the engine has been housed in the already proven Freeride chassis. Once you’re moving it is a little strange having no engine noise or bark from an exhaust. Understandably there isn’t an exhaust pipe. Riding along it makes a ‘whirring’ noise and at speed – it’ll do at least 80kmph on gravel roads – you do notice wind noise. Because it offers a somewhat unique riding experience, riding the bike definitely delivers plenty of enjoyment. Riding in groups you can easily enter into conservation/name calling/bench racing with your mates. But you need to be mindful – if close enough riders behind you will also hear you fart!

Anything surprising about the riding experience?

We never noticed the lack of a gear shifter, and didn’t find ourselves accidently looking to hook gears when getting on a gas. Immediately we felt comfortable on the bike. Only a couple of times when we accidently over cooked a corner on the test track did we instinctively search for it. We adapted quickly to having both the front and rear brake levers mounted on the handlebars but at times we did find the lack of a clutch an issue.

Normally, when you want to pop the front wheel over a log or rock you dab the clutch lever, blip the throttle, and up the front wheel pops. To tackle similar obstacles on the Freeride E you need to adapt your technique. What worked best for us was to use the brakes to compress the suspension before controlling both the throttle and rear brake simultaneously to get that front wheel to lift.

The test loop had two parts to it – a trail ride across the Austrian mountains and a grassy special test. The special test offered the chance to push on a bit harder. Across the fast choppy sections of the track the suspension was wanting a little. It was prone to bottoming out on the heavy hits but given that this isn’t a thoroughbred race chassis, and we’d not spent any time fettling the dampers, it was probably to be expected. However, cornering was a breeze and the bike easily changed direction without objection. Switching to Mode 3, the bike offered considerable more grunt, but to get the most from the bike we found that line choice was definitely important.

How free are you on the bike? 

Like any motorcycle you can only ride it as long as there’s fuel in the tank. In the case of the Freeride E – that means charge in the battery. The power setting you choose ultimately determines how long you can ride. Mode 1 will give you the longest range, while Mode 3 is the shortest. Mode 2 slots somewhere in between. Keep hard on the gas in Mode 3 and you’ll flatten the battery in about 30 minutes but for enduro riding in Mode 2 you should easily double that, providing you’re not a gravel road hero. From empty it takes 80 minutes for the battery to charge back up to 100 per cent. For a hardened enduro rider many would want more, but for ‘social riding’ battery life may not be a huge issue.

Is no noise, good noise?

We don’t think no noise is always good, but in certain circumstances it is a definite help. Like it or not, noise pollution is having a hugely negative impact on enduro sport. Everyone knows of tracks and trails that have been closed because of excessive noise. If we as off-road bikers can be seen and not heard then that has to be a good thing, right? Oddly, being surrounded by electric bikes for the day grew on us. Riding in a group of six we regularly passed by hikers, mountain bikers, and livestock, none of which were offended or startled by our presence. It was strange to be greeted with a smile from hikers, and not a deadly stare!

Should we all rush out and buy one? 

The KTM Freeride E isn’t for everyone. Something that’s worth considering before going to town on the perceived ‘issues’ with the bike. It has its limitations – range and cost being the two most obvious limitations for many. At approximately £10,299 (we’ll let you do the GBP conversion) for the E-XC model and £9,999 for the E-SX model it’s a lot of cash to drop on a bike that will only run for one-hour before needing a recharge. But KTM aren’t foolish – they’re not trying to replace the combustion engine, merely provide an alternative.

E-mobility and battery power is gaining momentum and by dropping a serious piece of kit like the Freeride E means it means they’re already one step ahead of their competitors. Enduro riders with cash to spare, and those interested in venturing into off-road for the first time, may find the Freeride E intriguing. More and more E-Parks are being established to provide places to ride electric bikes, some in the heart of cities, which is bound to attract new interest in off-road motorcycle sport. And with the E-XC falling within the A1 driving licence requirements it’s a viable option for those wanting to ride a motorbike on-road for the first time too.

Anything else that’s good to know?

The Freeride E is fully waterproof. The motor and battery are fully sealed and because there is no air filter or exhaust to worry about it can be ridden at a depth of 1m of water. It’s submersible.

The external charger can be connected to any 230-volt socket with a minimum of 10 or 13 amp and can be easily plugged into the Power Pack (battery) when flipping up the seat. A battery will last for 700 cycles when charging from 0 per cent to fully charged. So if you were to enjoy two full rides once a week, you shouldn’t have to buy a new batter
y for just under seven years.