I got to Ride an Electric Trials Bike!
The following is an email I sent to friends in the spring of 2021 describing my first ride on an electric trials bike (not counting the Oset 24.0R).
I now know three guys who own 2021 Electric Motion trials bikes (the one with the hydraulic clutch, which is the only way any of us would consider purchasing an electric).
The first guy, Mike, I know because we both own EFI OSSAs. He lives 1300 miles away and I did not think I'd be mooching a ride anytime soon. The second guy, Bobby, is the president of our local trials club and rides at a very high level. I saw a video of him hopping around on the back wheel in his garage last winter. But his bike quickly developed a problem (motor bearing noise) and he was no longer able to ride it while waiting for parts to arrive from France.
It was the third guy, Chris (new to our club, maybe mid-30s, a controls engineer who rides enduros and wanted an electric for cross-training on his family property), whose bike I got to ride after a club event last Saturday.
The bike has three power settings (indicated by a colored LED) Green (likened to a 200cc 2-stroke), Blue (a 250), and Red (a 300). I'd say those are reasonable approximations. I rode it in Green mode at first, then in Blue, and finally Red. Green is surprisingly powerful.
Riding it was initially sensory overload for me – so much to take in at once, and there are a lot of differences from my other bikes. Worst of all, the clutch lever was adjusted completely wrong for me. All the engagement was at the end of the lever travel, and it was “binary” with seemingly zero modulation capability. This is probably preferable for a very high-level rider who is doing big obstacles with little to no run-up. But it's unfortunate that it comes that way from the factory as Chris did not care for it either and apparently did not realize it could be adjusted.
Something Chris warned me about was that the motor can “spin up” quickly. Being a controls engineer, he realized that the controller is operating in torque mode (as opposed to velocity mode). This means that if you lose traction, the rear wheel will quickly accelerate (especially if you get any air). I definitely noticed this in a challenge I do frequently when practicing. Basically, it's a fairly steep loose climb with a log 3/4 of the way up (where you get airborne) prior to cresting the top.
But now for some good stuff...
The bike is claimed to weigh 165.3 pounds. For reference, my OSSA TR280i weighs 151 pounds and my Montesa 4-stroke weighs 168 (both with full tanks of gas). Weight is everything to me on a trials bike - especially when I have to extricate it from the bottom of a ravine where I've just crashed. The EM does not feel heavy at all while riding. It's well-balanced. However, the ground clearance is about 1" less than a typical trials bike. And the “seat” (the lowest point in the rear fender dip) is definitely higher than typical. But with my limited time on the bike, I did not notice either as a problem.
Being a 2021 model, the forks and front brake use the latest technology. The fork is soft and very compliant - definitely to my liking. And the front brake is awesomely powerful! The rear brake, however, is another matter. Possibly because there is no “engine braking” the rear brake feels pretty weak. Chris installed a push button on the left handlebar to actuate regenerative braking which was pretty minimal too. This is a feature offered on other EM models (which lack the clutch) so it was a simple matter to wire. But I kept instinctively pressing the button harder - stupidly expecting more regenerative braking. This was a very fatiguing thumb exercise.
I have to say that Red mode completely took the challenge out of a long sand-hill climb I enjoy. On my other trials bikes, I need a couple of hundred feet of run-up and full throttle in a tall gear to have enough momentum to get to the top. The EM just tractored its way up - no effort, no drama, no challenge. Probably really sucked the battery down though.
Chris says he is getting about 4 hours of free riding between charges. The hour-meter on my OSSA said 1.7 hours of engine time for the day's event. At that point, the EM's battery monitor said 55% (but it is not linear and Chris says it depletes pretty quickly near the end). Regardless, that's plenty of battery to do an event (although the loop trail was short for this event).
Speaking of the loop trail, this thing rips! Specifications say it can do 43.5 mph and go 26.5 miles on a charge. When I first started riding trials bikes I wasted a lot of effort shifting on the loop trail - trying to ride like a normal motorcycle. Trials bikes are not really intended to be convenient to shift. The shift lever is a loooong way from the footpeg and having no seat makes a weight shift necessary for every gear change. Only later did I learn to keep trials bikes in a fairly tall gear and just slip the clutch on the loop trail. The EM makes that even easier, just twist and go. Oh, and did I mention that it rips!?
The complete lack of vibration probably makes it pleasant to ride for long periods. It did not seem at all fatiguing. Although, personally, I don't care for the whizzing sound it makes. But again it's not a fatiguing (or loud) sound, and that can be worth a lot. Generally, I liked it (so did Cindy who also got some time on it). Did I like it $11,700 (out the door) worth? I was not sure.
I have left its most endearing characteristic for last - the fact that you don't have to kick-start it! Kick-starting is generally no big deal when you are out play-riding, but in a trials competition, it's a significant energy drain for me. This is due to the nature of the competition where you usually have to start the bike twice for each of the 24 sections. A competition can require 60 - 70 starts, factoring in some practice time, section clean-up, breaks for lunch and between loops, etc.
This is the main reason Cindy has an interest in electrics as starting the bike in competition is a major effort for her. I see dispensing with starting as being a significant competitive advantage for myself. Unfortunately, I don't really see being able to share a single bike with Cindy as we both would want it for competitions.
After the event, I poked around on the Electric Motion USA website. They've added significant content in the last two weeks, including how-to videos and online parts diagrams/ordering. Lots of the parts are common to other trials bike manufacturers, so you are not stuck there. Some unique parts pricing examples: $2000 for the motor, $325 for a clutch pack, $1300 for a controller, and$180 for the unusual 57-tooth rear sprocket.
The maintenance videos were really valuable to me - especially the one on replacing the clutch pack. I was not expecting that the electric motor would have to be removed from the chassis for that job. But the clutch is buried in a gear case. The clutch itself looks to be designed by the same guy who designed clutches for GasGas and OSSA. It includes a means to compensate for pack wear (something I have to do every approximately 25 hours on the OSSA) but you still have to remove everything to access the clutch pack. Although the EM design uses 4 friction plates versus 3 in the OSSA, so it should last longer between maintenance.
The video on setting the “Gear Gap” was enlightening. Basically, the motor shaft moves on an eccentric to change the engagement with the clutch primary gear. I wonder if that's what went wrong with Bobby's bike. Maybe improper adjustment making a noise, or improper adjustment causing a bearing failure? I don't think Bobby really knows as it was covered under warranty.
Finally, the video on “How to change the controller” was the last nail in the coffin. It was pretty much what I thought from seeing photos of Mike's bike with the rear fender removed. There are lots of complications/compromises due to EM being a small manufacturer that must source off-the-shelf parts. It's even worse than how an individual would go about building such a thing (i.e. the level of integration is low). The cables are usually too long and there are far too many connectors (and zip ties too)! Yamaha's solution (should it ever come to market) will have half the number of interconnections and therefore be easier to maintain and lighter.
I don't mean to sound too negative. I think the world is lucky to have this option. Every other full-size electric trials bike is just hype and/or vaporware at this point.
Addendum: Although the rear brake seemed weak at the time, I no longer feel that it is. I think the sensation stemmed from two factors. 1. The bike was very new and possibly the pads were not fully bedded in. 2. The brake pedal was too high and tucked too far inboard for my liking. I have also engineered-in a small amount of automatic regen braking on closed throttle.