Off-Road Electric Motorcycles Are Booming, and Only Getting Better


You’ve doubtless seen a lot of stories about how bicycle sales are booming. One of the only silver-lining side-effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns and social-distancing rules is surely that gym goers are now seeking two-wheeled cardio—and nobody who has a choice wants to commute on public transit. The latter concern clearly has fueled electric bicycle sales, too, up 137 percent through May (the latest month available) according to market analysts, the NPD Group.

A complementary trend is the boom in off-road motorcycle sales, which increased 50 percent so far in 2020, according to stats from the Motorcycle Industry Council of America.

But there’s a less-hyped trend, too, that you might call the Tesla-ization of motorcycles. Sure, you knew brands like Harley-Davidson have been in the mix, but the real boom is in startups in the e-moto space pushing bikes with knobby tires and long-travel full suspensions. These rides fuse some of R&D from the world of downhill mountain bikes with battery and motor tech already available thanks to tens of billions of dollars sunk into EV research by the car industry. The main improvement is lighter weight—batteries are heavy, but electric motors are much lighter than gas ones. Plus, there’s the elimination of carrying fuel so high in the chassis, which is precisely where you don’t want weight in a two-wheeled vehicle.

These bikes also don’t pollute, and they’re nearly silent. For lots of would-be buyers who might think a motorcycle adventure would be cool (especially when you really want to get away from crowds), the turnoffs from the past—noise, a hot exhaust pipe, and pollution—evaporate with this newfangled breed.

Fox Racing sees this trend as nothing but positive—they sell in both the mountain biking and moto markets, and Austin Hoover, in charge of marketing for the latter, says the off-road boom means the brand literally cannot keep enough body armor, clothing, and helmets in stock.

Hoover adds that the company is thrilled to see the rise of electric propulsion for both mountain bikes and motorcycles. “In the mountain bike world at first there were haters, but now there’s acceptance, because you’ve now got so many more riders, and that means we all get more trails, because the market got bigger.” Hoover says electrifying motorcycles for dirt makes a lot of sense, “Because suddenly you eliminate the complexity of using a clutch,” since most electric motorcycles are simpler, with twist throttle control but no gears, so the learning curve is exceedingly flat. “Now, because of the pandemic, there’s this guy who really wants to be outdoors, but to do it safely and get farther away from crowds, and this makes that possible.”

As for electric MX, and adventure bikes we’re excited about, here are four you can buy right now, and three more we’re dying to test when they’re available.

Michael Frank

Cake Kalk INK SL
When we tested the INK SL this summer, we got to experience the two key promises of electrification: nearly silent drive, so we could chat rather than shout to our fellow Cake riders; and exceptionally low, flickable weight. There’s also near-instantaneous torque on par with just about any bike in its class. Downsides? The $10,500 sticker shock.

 

Zero E-moto motorcyclesZero FX
With a lower starting price of $8,995, up to 91 miles of range, a smartphone app that lets you adjust tuning on the fly, and 78 lb-ft of torque, the FX is yet another reason Zero is the electric brand everyone else is chasing—at least at the higher end. Zero’s Dan Quick also points to this year’s launch of the Black Forest dual-sport as a hot seller. While Quick was coy on actual sales stats, he said the lockdown has especially increased already brisk sales of the company’s adventure-tilted motos.

 

KTM E-MCKTM Freeride E-XC
The $10,499 Freeride E-XC’s 10 inches of suspension travel (vs. closer to 8 inches for both the Cake and Zero FX) and more ground clearance make the Freeride E-XC the most gas-like MX bike here. It is, however, heavier than the Kalk INK SL, at 238 pounds. What really interests us, however, is that KTM has promised (cryptically) to offer many more models of electric motorcycle over the next few years. That’s largely driven by the brand’s strength in the European market and its more stringent emissions, but will also benefit in North America.

 

UBCO 2x2 e-moto
UBCO 2×2

For $6,999, UBCO’s selling something very different: a lightweight (144-pound) two-wheel-drive electric motorcycle designed to claw and scratch up just about any trail you might try. It’s not a motocross machine like the KTM, with a more modest, 5 inches of suspension travel and a 30 mph top speed, but 75 miles of range is pretty great, as is the option to use it as a battery base when you get to camp, with both 12-volt and USB output. Also exciting: The $8,999 FRX1 coming next summer. At only 132 pounds and with 10 inches of suspension travel, this is the Goldilocks spot between the muscular Zero FX and the super lightweight Cake.

 

SegwaySegway X260
Call us curious, but also slightly concerned about what this is really about. Yes, it is that Segway, as its owned by the same investor group that holds Sur Ron—so this is more of a branding exercise to harness Segway’s more widely known name, but with Sur Ron’s guts. And it boasts good specs: A 121-pound shredder with 10.6 inches of ground clearance at just $5,000 is compelling. Why the hedge, then? For starters, we’d want to be sure the 23.6 lb-ft of torque (about half the thrust of either the KTM and the Cake) is muscular enough. It could be: Don’t forget how light it is, and the wheelbase is barely longer than most freeride mountain bikes, so it’ll rip corners and should be insanely nimble. If it isn’t vaporware (Segway keeps listing the X260 as “out of stock”) this could be the most thrilling device ever to wear a Segway sticker.

 

 

COMING SOON

 

Black Tea Electric bikes motorcyclesBlack Tea
Viktor Sommer founded Black Tea as part of a student contest and the retro design was part of the premise: to make something instantly recognizable as a motorbike, but with just enough suspension travel to be fun on dirt roads. The fusion of retro looks with the SteamPunk fairing strikes us as pretty unique. And we also like the idea of a 180-pound bike that could carry a second, 22-pound battery as a range extender. When it’s on sale next year, Sommer says it’s targeting about $5,000, and he thinks it fits for someone who likes the idea of a 125cc moto for commuting, but one that’s also capable of double-track adventuring, thanks to a highly tunable suspension and the capability to carry two passengers.

 

Kuberg Ranger
It’s a motorcycle. Or is it a scooter? It’s sort of both, with a free-floating saddle that locks down and out of the way so you can ride the light, 110-pound Ranger in a standing position (think of the utility of a dropper-post on a mountain bike, that makes descending steep terrain a lot safer). And, yes, this is launching on Indiegogo, which always makes us a little concerned, save that Kuberg is a real brand with a range of models, so we feel less queasy about the Ranger. At $3,998 it’s in the range of mid- to high-end mountain bikes, and speaking of that, some parts, like the 180mm Manitou Dorado fork, come directly from that world, while the wheels are sized to let you swap to any motocross tire. Like the Segway, this might be the ultimate learning machine for off-road, and with up to 60 miles of range (limited to 15 mph to eke out that range), it’s also a relatively affordable EV-moto for backcountry escapes, too.

 


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6 Things You Need To Know If You’re Going On An Epic Off-Road Trip


6 Things You Need To Know If You’re Going On An Epic Off-Road Trip

Because there’s nothing better than heading for the road less travelled.



This post is sponsored by Toyota |


Off-road driving can seem daunting, but when done safely, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of conquering a technical and slightly scary obstacle. Of course, you don’t want to get stuck, slip down hills or do anything that may damage the vehicle (or its occupants), so here are some simple steps to follow so you can head for the hills with excitement and confidence.

Know your dirt

Off-roading doesn’t just involve a few gravel roads here and there. It can mean mud, rock, sand or water… And sometimes all four at once. Make sure you understand what is required of you and your vehicle for each of these terrains. It will be the difference between a fun day out and a day spent trying to rescue your vehicle.

Walk the walk

Before attempting any obstacle, get out of your vehicle and walk the entire route. If you’re on an unknown road, you need to know what’s coming up ahead beyond that hill or those rocks. Remember, if you’re unable to navigate the terrain, it’s unlikely that your vehicle will be able to either. Walking the route will allow you to get a good idea of where to place your tyres and all the differentials so you can make a plan of approach. In other words, always be prepared!

Take it slow

Speed is not your friend when off-roading. In fact, the slower the better, and when it comes to being off the beaten track, it’s best to remember, “as slow as possible, as fast as necessary.” So, if you’re descending a hill, do it as slowly as possible, and if you’re ascending a hill, you may need a little bit of speed for momentum. But going through an obstacle too quickly is a sure way to damage your vehicle.

READ MORE: 9 Things You Should Always Do Before Going On A Road Trip

Straight as an arrow

Rolling your vehicle on steep terrain is something you need to be aware of and do everything to avoid. Don’t drive diagonally down a hill, always keep your vehicle as straight as possible. And if you feel like the car is starting to slide sideways, slow down immediately.

Ease that grip

Most new off-roaders are so nervous that they grip the steering wheel like a vice, which can be dangerous for a few reasons. If your thumbs are folded around the inside of the steering wheel and one of your tyres hits something, the wheel may turn sharply, causing you to break, dislocate or strain your thumbs. Therefore, always keep them up along the face of the steering wheel. Also, never ever turn the wheel while gripping it from the inside. Another reason to loosen your grip is to allow the wheels to work with the vehicle. Best practice is to keep both your hands on opposite sides of the steering wheel in a firm yet gentle grip.

READ MORE: Team Up With Your Fitness Heroes And Take On The Ultimate Challenge

Know your limits

As much as off-roading can be relatively easy when you know how, it can also be quite tricky. It’s good to know your limits so that you don’t end up damaging your car or, even worse, injuring yourself and others. You also don’t want to spend a night out in the rough because your car is stuck in a ditch. Know your limits on different terrain – sand is very different to rock which is very different to mud. Take it slow no matter what. But most importantly, enjoy yourself! And always buddy-up, like any extreme sport, never go it alone.

Looking for the perfect family off-roader?

Look no further than the Toyota Fortuner Epic. Not only is it South Africa’s top-selling SUV, it’s also built on the more-than-capable Hilux bakkie, so you know it’s going to be able to take you anywhere. You can choose between two variants of the Epic, both based on the 2.8-litre GD-6 derivatives: the “standard” Fortuner Epic and Fortuner Epic Black (which features more black styling cues). Inside you have leather seats (no need to worry if the road gets bumpy while your kids are sipping their juices, you can just wipe it off) and a soft-touch dashboard trim. If you need it to be a practical seven-seater, never fear because the layout remains as per the current model with an elevated second row and a fold-up third row of seats. All Fortuner models are equipped with ABS, TRC, VSC, BAS, EBD and hill start assist (HAC). The four-wheel drive models additionally feature Toyota’s A-TRAC off-road traction control logic and downhill assist control (DAC), to make navigating obstacles a breeze. “On-the- fly” selectable 2WD/4WD/4WD Lo modes further add to overlanding convenience. The standard safety features are endless and for peace of mind, especially if you’re going to be driving this across mountains, the Epic comes standard with a nine services/90 000km service plan and three-year/100 000km warranty.

Want to stand a chance of winning a Toyota Fortuner?

Become a challenger to represent Media24 in this year’s epic Fortuner Challenge 2020. Visit toyota.m24lifestyle.co.za to enter.

READ MORE ON: Driving Life





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