Sunday, November 13, 2011
Reading the 'E' leaves...
There was quite a buzz around the all-electric KTM Freeride trail bike launched at the recent EICMA show. I'm sure, given the high level of resolution displayed in most KTM products (and given KTM's long heritage in off-road motorcycling) that the Freeride will enter the market as the best thought-out and put-together entry in the nascent EV-dirtbike category. That said, in pursuit of light weight they've admitted that battery life could be as short as 20 minutes, under an expert rider. This puts the Freeride into the 'backyard use' category. There's not enough battery life to ride even a few miles to your off-road rec area, nor is there enough battery life to justify transporting the bike any distance.
By contrast, the 300cc ICE-powered Freeride will, I think, turn out to be a gangbusting success; I bet it will offer far superior off-road capability than competing bikes like the Yamaha 250, and it will really be that machine you can ride to the trails and back. It will be five or ten years before improvements in battery energy density give us a 200-pound motorcycle with that kind of range, so ICE it is. But surely taking the pickup truck out of the equation not only makes this a far more affordable solution, but a greener one, too?
EICMA's thunder (or should I write 'lightning'?) was stolen on the EV side though, by the release of pics of a Honda electric sport bike, the RC-E which will be unveiled to the public at the Tokyo show.
Months back, my friend James Parker, who designed the latest iteration of the Mission electric sport bike, told me that soon, a major OEM was going to enter the electric sphere, and when they did, it would be with amachine that no upstart company could compete with.
That was in a conversation in which I suggested that Mission really had backed away from its initial strategy to actually become a motorcycle manufacturer. At the time we talked, Mission had already done some work on a Honda-backed R&D project involving a hybrid race car. I interpreted James' comment as meaning that in his opinion, small companies like Mission, Brammo, or MotoCzysz were about to be steamrolled by Honda.
I wondered, "Does James know, or has he seen, a Honda project involving some of Mission's technology?" I didn't ask him, because I knew that if he had seen it, he'd have been sworn to secrecy, and I didn't want to put him on the spot. Anyway, we'll presumably learn more at the Tokyo show, about how close the RC-E is to turning a wheel.
Which brings me to my last point...
Another thing you read here first was that there would be no TT Zero race in 2012. Well, that was wrong. My friend Steve Hodgson recently cited (on his Facebook page) a Manx Radio report that there will be a race for EV bikes at the 2012 TT.
In my limited defense, I wrote that there would not be another TT Zero race unless and/or until a major OEM showed interest. Now, I wonder if Honda looked at last year's disappointing results and realized it has a chance to introduce the RC-E with a historic first, by lapping the TT course at over 100 miles an hour. Amateur Honda historians, like me, will already have noted that the 'RC' nomenclature assigned to this bike is what Honda gives to a 'homologation' bike -- a bike built for racing purposes, and then minimally adapted for road use.
Is this the first zero-emissions vehicle to lap the TT course at over 100 miles an hour? Uh-huh.