The Roehr eSuperbike | First Ride

Walter Roehr electrifies his American motorcycle dream

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Jim Moy

Talk about a flip-flop: Roehr Motorcycle's flagship 1250SC Superbike, powered by a supercharged Harley-Davidson V-Rod engine, is a two-wheeled ego trip that shouts for attention in more ways than one. Walter Roehr's latest creation, the silent, zero-emissions eSuperbike, seems on the surface to be everything the 1250SC is not. Both share the same purpose, however: to realize Roehr's dream of building and selling handcrafted, thoroughbred American sportbikes.

Roehr released the $39,995 1250SC (which remains in production) in July 2008, at the height of the U.S. economic meltdown. After seeing 11 of 12 deposits canceled in just two weeks, Roehr read the writing on the wall. "The exotic sportbike market died like that," Roehr says. "It was either close the company or develop a different product in a growing market."

This led Roehr to e-bikes, the only segment of the motorcycle industry showing any promise for growth. "I was always intrigued by the idea of an electric bike," Roehr says, "and I saw a great opportunity for a small-volume manufacturer like us to compete. There are no big players here yet."

Rather than build his own frame, Roehr buys a rolling chassis from Hyosung and extensively modifies it to accept his electric powertrain. "From a technical standpoint it would be preferable to build my own," Roehr says, "but using the existing Hyosung chassis literally saves me $15,000. Add up labor, plus the cost to buy every nut, bolt, clamp and axle spacer, and building my own chassis is prohibitively expensive."

Roehr considered an aluminum-framed Japanese supersport donor, but chose the Hyosung GT250R because its thinner steel beams leave more room to locate large battery packs. Roehr modifies the frame extensively, removing unnecessary tabs, welding in motor mounts and battery trays, and reinforcing the headstock to increase rigidity. The subframe is also abbreviated to a solo configuration.

Two basic models, the $16,965 eSupersport and the $27,595 eSuperbike, are offered. The eSupersport features a single, 48-horsepower motor and 5.8kWh battery pack. The 96-bhp eSuperbike, which we tested, uses two motors and a larger, 7.7kWh battery pack. The air-cooled, brushless AC motors are custom-built by Hi Performance Electric Vehicle Systems in Ontario, California, and weigh just 35 pounds each. Roehr builds the battery packs in-house, using Headway-brand large-format Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) cells. The eSuperbike battery consists of 240 individual cells; the eSupersport pack is made of 180 cells.

We rode the eSuperbike in Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine State Forest, an hour north of Roehr's Gurnee, Illinois, headquarters. Even with a 500-plus-pound curb weight, acceleration is surprisingly strong-not far behind a modern 600cc supersport. Careful programming makes the claimed 200 lb.-ft. of torque useable, not overwhelming. Roehr painstakingly adjusts 90 parameters in the Curtis controller to tweak the relationship between throttle opening and power delivery. Calibration is flawless. Power arrives the instant the throttle is cracked, then surges uninterrupted toward the claimed 135-mph top speed with the uniquely smooth, addictive forward thrust that only a direct-drive electric motor provides.

Claimed range is 70-100 miles, depending on your wrist. Our brief, 15-mile test ride in mixed conditions-including a few full-throttle blasts to an indicated 120 mph-consumed 18 percent of available energy, lending credibility to this claim. Space constraints leave room for just two small, 5-amp chargers beneath the eSuperbike's "fuel tank," so anticipate 8 hours to achieve a full charge. The eSupersport's smaller battery pack allows a larger, 15-amp charger for a 4-hour recharge interval.

Upgraded with a fully adjustable Öhlins shock, re-sprung and re-valved Hyosung fork and Brembo four-piston brakes, the GT250R donor chassis is transformed. Copycat geometry means it steers like a conventional supersport, and the stiffer suspension handles the extra mass even over washboard pavement and rippled corner entries. The Brembo brakes are non-radial but provide adequate stopping power for even aggressive braking maneuvers. Roehr also offers an eSuperbike RR version with an Öhlins inverted fork, Brembo radial-mount brakes and Marchesini forged wheels for $34,495.

With the Mission 1 and MotoCzysz e1pc still in prototype form, and the Brammo Empulse not available until next year, Roehr-who is already delivering bikes to dealers-has the first eSuperbike on the U.S. market. "Last time, talking to dealers was like banging my head against a wall," he says. "Now I've got dealers coming to me, and they've got customers lined up and waiting to see bikes. EV (electric vehicle) dealers are dying for real product they can actually sell."

Potential e-bike buyers have remained cautiously optimistic, holding out for speeds and range more compatible with their needs and desires. Roehr's eSuperbike is the closest we've ridden yet, with credible performance, reasonable range and realistic pricing, given the current state of electric motorcycle technology. It's still not equivalent to an internal-combustion sportbike, but it is undeniably entertaining, and a giant step closer to the promise of a true eSuperbike.

Tech Spec

An electrically driven Hyosung GT250R with upgraded suspension and brakes and custom bodywork.

Nothing until the Brammo Empulse appears sometime in 2011.

Price $27,595
Motor type Twin AC induction motors
Battery Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4), 240
large-format cylindrical cells
Battery capacity 7.7kWh, 96 volts peak
Clutch Direct drive
Transmission na
Claimed horsepower 96.0 bhp @ 4500 rpm
Claimed torque 200 lb.-ft. @ 1000 rpm
Frame Steel twin-spar
Front suspension 41mm inverted fork with adjustable
spring preload
Rear suspension Single Öhlins shock with adjustable
spring preload, compression and
rebound damping
Front brake Dual Brembo four-piston calipers,
300mm discs
Rear brake Single-piston caliper, 230mm disc
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT-016
Rear tire 170/60ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT-016
Rake/trail 24.0°/3.5 in.
Seat height 30.0 in.
Wheelbase 56.0 in.
Claimed range 75-100 mi.
Claimed curb weight 505 lbs.
Color Red
Available Now
Warranty 1 yr., unlimited mi.

Contact: Roehr Motorcycles
172 Knobb Hill Lane
Gurnee, IL 60031

Verdict 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extremely promising performance, but it still needs a 25 percent increase in power and range-and a 50 percent decrease in price-to achieve true parity.

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