With zero emissions and kick-ass power, the KTM E-XC ($8,299) is a dirt bike that both Al Gore and Kid Rock could love. Available in Europe for the past few years, this first electric trail bike by a major motorcycle manufacturer to arrive on American soil, and we were lucky enough to try it out recently.
The verdict? While this may be the most fun we've had on an off-road motorcycle over the course of any given hour, that was all the time we got aboard the E-XC. Here are some of the reasons we might consider adding the KTM-XC to our quiver — and one big one that takes it out of contention.
1. Ninja-Like Stealth
There’s a reason police departments around the country include dirt-capable electric motorcycles in their fleets — they’re almost silent. And not being heard isn’t even the most of it — hearing what’s going around you makes it even more valuable as a law enforcement tool. We felt closer to nature than we'd ever felt on a motorcycle, in a mountain-biking sort of way. And thanks to zero emissions, we could smell our surroundings, which really immersed us in the environment.
2. Comfortable to Ride
“It’s basically a trials bike with a seat,” said KTM marketing manager Tom Moen. Which means it’s super-light and nimble. And the narrow seat height is about 2 inches lower than most enduro bikes.
Enough oomph for even the aggressive riders, the brushless permanent-magnet motor that powers E-XC produces 21.5 hp and a roost-loving 31 lb-ft of torque. Getting the front wheel off the ground is as easy as twisting the throttle.
4. Manageable Modes
Three motor modes: Economy, Enduro, and Cross, translate to three different personalities. Economy mode is great for beginners and maximizing range; Enduro delivers full power and less torque that’s plenty for most riders, especially on tight trails; Cross provides all the torque from the get-go. We spent most of our time in Enduro and didn’t even push that mode to its limits.
5. Insane Versatility
Without a clutch, there’s no need to worry about shifting. Like a scooter, you just twist and go. This is ideal for newer riders, and a revelation off the pavement.
6. No Risk In Being an Early Adopter
It’s always fun to be the first on the block to have a new vehicle. But there’s always a risk: How is this thing going to perform down the road? (We’re looking at you, Tesla Model 3.) But this isn’t an issue for the KTM E-XC since European riders have been pushing this bike and its components to the limit for several years.
7. High-End Suspension
The 250mm travel provided by the upside down fork up front and 260mm of travel in the rear is plush and more than enough for almost all trail rides. And it’s fully adjustable.
8. Minimal Motor Maintenance
Just an oil change every 50 hours. If there's an upside to the E-XC's limited battery range, it's that it will likely take years to put enough miles on this bike for it to need any maintenance at all.
9. And That Brings Us To:
Sigh. The battery. Built on 360 Samsung lithium-ion cells, the E-XC’s 2.6 kWh battery achieves an 80 percent charge in about 50 minutes and a 100 percent charge in 80 minutes. Impressive. Still, the biggest drawback with all electric vehicles remains their battery range, and motorcycles are no exception; the run time on the E-XC is only about an hour — just enough range to get you stranded in the wilderness with no way back.
Another huge drawback is that charging requires a 220-volt power supply, something most private homes aren't equipped with and the kind of upgrade an electrician would charge about $300 to install. Further, the bike's battery has certain sine wave requirements that portable gas-powered generators simply can't provide. So even if you purchased a portable, 220v generator and hauled it along with the bike out to your nearest OHV Recreation area, it wouldn't do any good. Even if KTM supplied a gas-powered, portable generator with every purchase, it wouldn't do any good.
So the E-XC will only run for about an hour, and cannot be charged without plugging into an approved, 220v outlet. Tell you what: If we did get one, we'd stick to climbing mountains — at least we could coast down if we had to. if we had to.