Electrics Scooting Closer | Drawing the Line

By James Parker, Photography by BMW

It’s hard to know just where electric-vehicle technology fits best in the motorcycle world. Start-up manufacturers like Brammo and Zero have competent small motorcycles in production, and there have been lots of electric scooters from a range of companies like Optibike, Vectrix and others.

There have also been high-performance electric bikes from MotoCzysz, Lightning, Mission, Chip Yates, etc, but these are largely racing prototypes. They’ve shown that you definitely can make big power with an electric drivetrain, but you have to do some real detective work to know what range these bikes might have.

Scooter, small bike or performance machine: Where does electric technology fit best in the two-wheeled world? BMW has a potential answer, its recently announced E-Scooter concept straddling the line between scooters and motorcycles. There are not yet many specs available on the proposed BMW, but we can use the few we have to compare it to an internal-combustion counterpart, and to get a sense of how it would fit in the market.

The best-known maxi-scooter in the USA is certainly the Suzuki Burgman, and the E-Scooter is in this mold. The BMW’s wheelbase looks to be about an inch shorter than the Suzuki’s 62.8 inches, and it has 15-inch wheels front and rear compared to the Suzuki’s 15/14-inchers. The Suzuki weighs in at just under 600 lbs., and I’d imagine the BMW will be close to that.

BMW claims range will be about 100 kilometers (62 miles) while providing performance in the 600cc scooter class. The Burgman 650 makes about 55 horsepower, so if its weight is similar, the BMW is going to need about 35-40 KW.

BMW’s press department has shown lots of action shots of a camouflaged prototype, but they’ve also released shots of the bike without bodywork, and we can see plenty of interesting details. The battery box is a fully load-bearing structure, with the tubular-steel steering head bolted to it at the front, and the motor, single-sided swingarm and seat frame bolted to the rear. The E-Scooter’s box is constructed of finned aluminum panels to provide stiffness and help deal with battery heat.

There is a belt drive from the motor shaft to a jackshaft that’s concentric with the swingarm pivot, and then chain drive to the rear wheel, running enclosed in the single-sided arm where it stays clean, lubricated and at constant tension.

The motor drives the rear wheel through two reduction ratios, one from the motor shaft to the jackshaft, and the other from the jackshaft to the rear wheel.

The controller electronics and the motor share a cooling system, with conventional anti-freeze circulated by an electric pump through a small, curved radiator behind the front wheel. The high- and low-voltage electrical components and the battery charger stack above the battery in what looks to be a really accessible and serviceable assembly. For battery charging there’s a built-in power cord coiled over the rear frame.

BMW’s marketing strategy here is smart. They’ve targeted the high-end scooter market, in which expected power and speed are considerably below the expectations of more sporting motorcyclists, but still significant in comparison to those of small scooter buyers. That way they’ve avoided confusion: The vehicle is clearly not a full motorcycle, but at the same time BMW can approach the challenge of producing a fully credible electric motorcycle without disappointing serious motorcyclists.

You can bet that BMW is looking beyond this scooter, using this platform to move up to the next step. They seem to be saying that a fully competitive electric maxi-scooter is possible. At the same time, they are still asking the question, “Is a high-performance electric motorcycle possible?” The response to and the data gathered from this vehicle may tell the answer.

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