Electric vehicles are here to stay, it seems. I can launch into a rant about the fact that batteries really aren't green at all, how all we are doing is moving the emissions from the roadside to somewhere else, how we don't have an infrastructure to support mass adoption of battery powered EVs... but there's little point because the tide is most definitely flowing in the direction of electric vehicles right now. A bit like it did with Betamax for a while.
Now electric motorbikes aren't especially new. I've tested a couple in the past right here, with, um, variable results. Specifically one caught fire (down to being inexpertly rebuilt by another magazine) and one ran out of battery range in twelve miles. With no warning at all. Which all left me with rather less than positive expectations when I was offered the chance to test the BMW CE04 while my S1000RR was in for a service.
First impressions count. And my first impression was that the CE04 is immense. But that it looks kinda cool as well. It is an interesting mix of bulk and minimalism, of sharp creases and subtle curves. And the overall effect is quite pleasing.
Like a lot of scooters it has vast amounts of stowage space. Unlike most of them, I suspect, it has central locking. Which is keyless. Yes, the large box in the middle and the little glovebox in the fairing both lock when you take the key away with you, and unlock when you come close. Naturally there is no ignition slot for the local ne'erdowells to stick a screwdriver in either. Just approach and press the button for the whole thing to spring to life. As an aside, when the stand is down the rear wheel is locked as well. You can raise the stand without the key but it does stop it getting knocked forward and falling over in a public bike park.
Turn it on and you're greeted with the display at the top, showing battery state. To "start" the beast you need to pull in the rear brake lever (where the clutch would be on a normal bike) and then press "start" on the right bar. The display changes to show power and regeneration.
Regeneration, Yes, you read it right. It's not something from Dr Who (in this case) but instead a way of converting your kinetic energy (from movement) back into stored energy in the battery. Simply put, a motor and a generator are the same thing, it just depends on whether you put electricity in to make the motor spin or use the spinning motor to take electricity out. You can't, sadly, do both at once. Open the throttle and the CE04 accelerates. Roll off the throttle and the motor acts like a brake, recharging the battery at the same time. More on that later.
Riding the CE04 requires a certain degree of recalibration, particularly if you're used to a regular bike. It pulls away very smoothly, of course, and there is no perceptible throttle lag. It sounds like a tube train, which is a little strange, and the first junction you come to you will stop abruptly as you squeeze the clutch before remembering it's the back brake. It's effective, too. Good job it's got ABS, eh?
Get going properly and the CE04 goes indecently well. Take a big handful of throttle and it takes off fast. Pop it into Dynamic mode and it scares superbike riders - I had one ask me, somewhat aghast, "What the f*** is that?" after I'd stayed with him doing the traffic light grand prix. It's quick enough to make you chuckle and encourage somewhat childish behaviour. It's also got enough torque to overwhelm the back tyre if you're ham fisted. Apparently. Ahem. Handling is surprisingly good. It's long and there's a lot of weight to turn, but that weight is low down and the wide bars make it easy to get it turned. Lean angles didn't seem to be a problem either, and even taking some fairly serios liberties nothinh touched down that shouldn't have done. There was also none of the wallowing that I've encountered with scooters in the past. If I had to choose a descriptive cliche it would be "confidence inspiring."
The weirdest thing is starting off with only 60 odd miles range showing and watching that range go up as you ride more assertively. The more you need to brake, the more regenerative charge you get. Though obviously you can't ever get back the same amount you use, so range will go down eventually, but BMW's boffins have done a pretty good job of maximising what it can do.
A quirk of this sort of system is that riding at steady speed on open roads absolutely kills the battery. Riding in traffic on the other hand maximises range. So exactly the opposite of an internal combustion engine, and something that takes a bit of getting used to.
Which brings me on to the elephant in the room. Range. You know that feeling when you get on your bike and the fuel light is on already so you've only got, say, 60 miles left? Now imagine that it's like that all the time. The reality is that you can almost always improve the range you start with, but that doesn't make it any less stressful. Because if your normal bike is nearly out of fuel you can stop at any petrol station, fill it up and be on your way in ten minutes. With an electric vehicle you need to find somewhere you can plug it in, and even on a small EV like this with a fast charger you still need 40 minutes to give you another 40 miles. And that's less than ideal.
I got the CE04 home from the dealership and it was showing me nine miles range left. I'd left with it saying I had 43 miles range and it's a 37 mile trip, so I made distance up. Plugged in the charger and ran it for three hours before having to go to a meeting in London and that gave me, as you can see in the top picture, 56 miles range. My day's ride was Croydon to the City to Guildford, a journey of almost exactly 50 miles. That's a bit tight, particularly as time constraints meant I was going to have to use a chunk of dual carriageway.
Making suitable progress up to The City I extended my range so that I had 57 miles showing on an 82% charge when I got there. Which demonstrates how well that regenerative charging works.
Heading back to Guildford I arrived with 11 miles to spare. Because of that stretch of dual carriageway. Otherwise I'd have had a far bigger margin. So with some planning, some judicious use of the technology and some luck you can do a reasonable journey without a problem.
But if I wanted to go visit my mum in Oxford...I'd be in trouble. Not least because in her village there are exactly zero fast charge points, and she doesn't have off-road parking so I'd need to take a large extension lead with me to recharge before I could get home.
Now don't get me wrong. In many ways this is an extraordinarily good bike. It's much, much more fun that it has any right to be. It handles far better than it should and, up to the legal speed limit at least, it'll give just about anything a run for its money. It's comfortable, it's very easy to use and it looks good (though that's subjective I'll grant you). If I only ever needed to make journeys into town, or if I could afford the luxury of more than one bike then I would seriously consider it because as an urban vehicle, frankly, it's a no-brainer. Even if current electricity prices mean it's not much cheaper to run that a conventional bike (though of course with off-peak charging on a proper plan, rather than my max-rate morning charge on a kettle lead that would come down significantly). But with the limited range and the time it takes to recharge, at the moment for me the cigars remain firmly in the box.
Thanks to Vines of Guildford in general and Emily in particular for a brilliant level of service and for loaning me this bike to abuse at short notice. They're still lovely people to deal with. Give them a try if you're after something new.
This is a screenshot from the (free) BMW connected app, showing status in real time. It's impressive, and particularly useful to check whether you have the range to get home...