KTM Freeride E | Dirt

Twist and Fly!

By Alan Cathcart, Photography by Heiko Mandl

As sound and exhaust emissions concerns relegate internal-combustion off-road machines to smaller swaths of land farther from residential areas, KTM is hoping its nearly silent, zero-emissions Freeride E electric enduro will allow joy rides closer to home. With performance on par with that of a 125cc two-stroke and an accessible 85cc minicrosser-sized package, the Freeride E is perfect for enjoying an after-school or Sunday-morning moto in the backyard without upsetting the neighbors.

Nearly every major motorcycle manufacturer has come out with an e-bike concept or three in the past several years, but KTM is the first to produce one for the public. The Freeride E project began in 2008, and was introduced as a 2012 model at the EICMA show in Milan last November.

Propelled by a 300-volt brushless Perm motor and powered by a 2.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack, the Freeride E produces the equivalent of 30 bhp at 6000 rpm and 31 lb.-ft. of torque at a mere 500 rpm. Horsepower is right in line with a 125, as is the e-bike’s 209-lb. weight, but that torque figure is about twice as high! The battery is designed to provide approximately 40 minutes of hard use—right in line with the length of a long moto. Obtaining a full charge requires about 90 minutes, but KTM claims an 80 percent charge can be achieved in half that time. That makes it feasible to run two batteries in tandem if stamina and inclination coincide: one in the bike powering it, the other charging up, ready for a swap every 45 minutes. There’s no word yet on how much a spare battery will cost, but the price will surely be steep.

Alongside a high-performance motor and energy-dense battery, an efficient electronic controller is key. There weren’t any acceptable modules readily available, so KTM partnered with a British electronics firm to develop its own. The battery pack, motor and controller module are all weatherproof, which means you can ride the Freeride E through a water crossing and wash it down with a hose, just like a regular dirtbike.

As with anything carrying the KTM logo, the engineers knew it had to handle. The stiff chromoly and aluminum chassis supports the same WP fork, shock and wheels used on the 85 SX, yielding a well-equipped package ready for some serious off-road riding.

I had the chance to sample a Freeride E shortly after the EICMA show, riding a pre-production prototype on KTM’s test track outside its engine factory near Mattighofen, Austria, close to the German border. As a part-time off-roader who considers his best dirtbike days behind him, I was surprised at how readily I took to the Freeride E and its twist-and-go operation.

Its 36-inch-high seat is relatively accessible, lending a sense of confidence to beginner riders—or, in my case, comeback kings. The only major difference from an ordinary dirtbike is the lack of a shift lever or brake pedal. The e-bike is single-speed, hence no shift lever, and the rear brake is operated by what would normally be the clutch lever. This setup will make it easy for novices familiar with bicycle brakes to adapt to the Freeride, and there’s a rear brake pedal kit for those who prefer the traditional layout.

Booting up the bike entails flipping the switch next to the throttle and then thumbing the “starter” button below it. This brings the info screen behind the steering head to life, and you’re ready to go! The production bike will have three power modes to choose from, but the pre-production model I rode was only loaded with the maximum-power map. With flip-you-on-your-butt torque available right off “idle,” KTM has programmed the controller to deliver power in a progressive manner.

Riding the Freeride E is extremely simple and totally addictive. Besides being incredibly quick, the e-bike is amusingly light and extremely agile—perfect for picking your way along technical trails or even trials riding. In fact, technical riding proved easy thanks to the e-bike’s extra torque and unstallable motor. A skilled rider could do incredible things with this machine, but even a born-again novice like me felt in charge at all times, and that’s one of the things that makes riding it so satisfying and fun.

KTM expects to have the Freeride E in European dealerships by the end of 2012, with a €10,000 price tag (approximately $13,000) on par with comparable internal-combustion off-road bikes sold there. From then it will be another year before the Freeride E—along with a street-legal dual-sport version and a supermoto-style E-Duke—comes stateside. That’s a long wait, but at least it gives future buyers plenty of time to get their backyard motocross tracks ready!

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