Tag Archives: traction control

BMW F750GS in Morocco • 1200-km review

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After ten successful years, in 2018 BMW Motorrad replaced the 700 and 800GS parallel twins with all-new ‘750’ and 850 versions. As before, the two models share an identical 853-cc engine but, along with other aspects, are significantly different. According to this detailed BMW press release (click and it downloads; worth reading if this bike interests you) the 750 makes 20% less power (77 / 95hp) but only 10% less torque (83 / 92Nm; see graph, right). It also has a lower seat, a little less weight and suspension travel, better fuel consumption as well as cast tubeless wheels with a smaller 19-er on the front. The 750 will also run stock on 91 RON fuel (unlike the 850 unless modified) and is significantly cheaper: in the UK it currently goes from £8225 vs £9875 for the 850 which makes it cheaper than an XT700.
I’ve ridden the old 700 and 650 twins in Morocco and for me, these lower, mildly less revvy, 19-inch and tubeless shod bikes have always been a better, real-world travel bike option to the flashier, taller 800 and now 850, even if the ‘bigger’ bikes probably outsell them.

Like many P-twins these days, the new engine uses a 270-degree crank to give an impression of more torque – or maybe just because it’s fashionable. They are no longer (or cannot be) engineered to sound like a 1200GS, but even at basic levels, both models come with an array of electronic rider aids and position the fuel tank back up on top, so lifting the centre of gravity.
I rode a bottom of the range 750 (LED dash; no quickshifter, connectivity, ESA and so on) for a week, on winding Moroccan mountain backroads and easy desert trails, covering some 1200kms or 750 miles. The bike had 6300km on the clock (114 hours running time) and was fitted with a thick Givi bashplate, crash bars, handguards and rear racks.
In Adventure Moto World you might say it’s competitors include the KTM 790, Guzzi V85TT, XT700 or just updated Tracer 700, the V-Strom 650 (£6500 discounted new) or a 1000cc Africa Twin. The BMW is cheaper than all of them except the ageing Suzuki and the Tracer, new or old.

What they say

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It keeps your engine running, every day. Your heart beats to the rhythm of the BMW F 750 GS. It’s your ticket to the adventure. Because with the balanced Enduro all-rounder, you will master all paths, regardless of the road surface, and expand your horizons – because you want more. The F 750 GS gives you more power, more comfort, more spirit of GS. Feel the strong-charactered engine and enjoy the ease of handling of the F 750 GS. While you’re off discovering the world, you have the bike with the automatic stability control (ASC) and the ABS safely under control. And with the ex-factory option Connectivity, the 6.5-inch TFT-display shows you among other things which junction you have to turn off at or who is calling you. Clear and concise – without distracting you from the road. The entry into your next experience is – also thanks to the low seat height – easier than ever before.

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  • Compared to the 850, at just £8225 it’s a very good deal
  • Enough real-world power to get the job donef75spex
  • Great brakes with ABS 
  • Great suspension too. HPA shock with rebound damping
  • Stable in corners. Long and low, just like the old 700/650.
  • Turns better than old 700 – must be down to the higher CoG plus rake and trail changes.
  • Tubeless tyres with easy-access side valves
  • Traction control (‘ASC’) plus a rain mode
  • LHS scrollable menu with all the essential metrics
  • Seat – no complaints this time.
  • BMW-style 12-v power outlet on the dash
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  • Heavy With the added metalwork mine probably came in at 230kg wet, but only felt it when pushing around or trying to pick up.
  • Windscreen? More a small transparent plate which does nothing much.
  • Engine lacks character compared to a Yamaha CP2 or even an NC750.
  • Fuel consumption worse than the 700 – averaged 70mpg (but only measured twice).
  • The thin digits on the LCD dash were hard to read easily or if not in direct sun.
  • Remaining range (400km when full) proved a little optimistic when pushed to the limit.

Review

As do-it-all gravel travel bikes, the old 650 and 700 twins were both better than most people thought. With some K60s, I took a 650 quite a way out of its (and my) comfort zone back in 2012. So I expected to like the new 750, even if I’d be held back by stock road Anakees.
The 750 retains what looks like a long wheelbase; there’s a cubic foot of collector box packed in behind the engine and in front of the back wheel. Initially, I found the cable-less, electronic throttle lacked damping and the steering had that sports-tourer ‘self-leaning’ thing (like my old TDM). It must be a calculated consequence of weight, rake and trail but as the miles passed by I soon didn’t notice either, instead revelling in the bike’s more positive attributes.


The gearbox has an uncharacteristic slickness for a BMW, easily tapped without the clutch, and I sure appreciated the correctly positioned foot controls after the well-used Sertao I rode the week before which needed foot lifts to brake or change gear. With a few accessories my bike probably weighed not much less than a GS12, but like the 12, it sure feels less once on the move.
A big difference between the 700 was locating the slightly bigger 15-litre tank back up front. This raises the mass of the bike, but as mentioned in the 700 review, too low a CoG can make a bike hard to turn easily. and on the dirt, including loose hairpins, the 750 didn’t exhibit the resistance I felt in the 700.

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The 750 and 850 are oddly fitted with a, to me, anachronistic telescopic steering dampers which I’ve not seen since the 70s and which to me signifies a way of disguising a bike’s instability due to poor frame design. It’s not mentioned under that name as in the long press release pdf. A few years ago there was a new version of the 1200GS which was soon recalled or somehow hampered with an unpredictable steering shimmy fixed by retrofitting a steering damper, iirc. Perhaps the 853-cc twins are set up with the same angles and weight distribution. I couldn’t see any way of adjusting the damper and it didn’t have any electronics attached to it.
Road or trail, out of the crate the 750 retains the same excellent suspension without masses of baffling adjustments. For the first few days I left the rear preload as it was, then gave the HPA (left) several cranks (maybe 5 full turns) which stopped my boots dragging (and even being dragged off) on some bends. (I had the same problem with the Sertao the previous week; I’ve never had feet dragged off the pegs before, but they did point down at 45°). Once firmer up and raised a bit, much less boot dragging though I felt I should have increased the rebound damping a tad, but could not be bothered to meddle as it worked fine.

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One sad day I’ll count them up, but the circuit I use in southern Morocco must have over a thousand bends. By the end of it I was confidently swinging through the less gravelly curves, never needing to rev over 5000 rpm (about 120kph) to make progress at a location-related pace (ie: not going berzerk).
On start-up it produces a cleverly engineered bark, but like the weight, that soon dissipates on the move and there’s little impression of the off-beat crank’s charismatic throb, even if the torque is all there. For a 270°, the motor lack the character of Yamaha’s CP2 700s (which make 10% less power) and even the NC750 I briefly owned.
On one very steep, rough and loose switchback climb I made the conscious effort not to slip the clutch (done to minimise the risk of stalling and then falling over) and the 750 managed to chug its way at walking pace round most bends until I lost my nerve or ran out of space. You’d not manage that on a big thumper, though next week I’ll try the same test on a 310. I only got to log two tanks to accurately estimate the fuel consumption which averaged 70mpg (58.2 US; 25kpl). One reading was 10% higher, the other 10% lower and pretty similar to the 2012 650 (68.2) but much lower than the 700 (81mpg) with 100,000 on the clock. This reading closely matched the displayed average of 4L/100km (25kpl).

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This was my second chance to get to grips with traction control (or Automatic Stability Control: ‘ASC’). On gravelly tarmac the TC light fluttered briefly on the dash, and trying to activate it on the dirt, occasionally the power was notably constrained to hold the back-end in line. But this was me throttling on like an idiot; normally I’d exercise my own traction control to keep wheelspin as I want it. On the dirt letting the back-end step out is usually intentional, either because it’s fun or to rear-wheel steer and square off a tight corner. This is as opposed to the front, which once slipping usually ends in a fall. That’s what you’re really trying to avoid, especially on road tyres but there’s no way electronics can manage that; it takes better tyres or less speed.
It’s likely that on a long, steep and loose climb the TC would beneficially constrain wheelspin, but only up to a point. On low-traction slopes of sand, mud or wet grass I bet it would soon tie itself in knots. Only momentum and knobbly tyres work here but would take quite a nerve piloting nearly a quarter on a ton of 750GS.

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It seems to me that TC and modes are nifty but non-essential riding aids which – at negligible weight penalty (unlike ABS) – have become inexpensive enough to throw on to bikes which don’t really need either but which help give the impression of added safety getting more for your money. If they’re serious about safety, I’d sooner see TPMS included as stock, but you can buy a kit for 30 quid. TC and modes might suit riders without decades of pre-electronic riding experience under their belts. As with GPS or smartphones, you either merely find them handy; or you don’t know how or can’t see the point of managing without them.

They say the cast tubeless wheels have been strengthened. Good to know and I like the easy-access valves (left) which eliminate grovelling about with an inflation hose. Fitting a TPMS cap might make it a bit vulnerable to flying rocks, but the valves at least can be easily replaced. On a long trip I’d carry spares.
The ABS was never an issue on the dirt (though I didn’t do any emergency braking). I did find the brakes – or associated fork dive – a bit grabby, but better too much than not enough and the ABS safety net is always here. On the Sertao the previous week, the ill-positioned brake pedal saw me lose the back brake on long descents. No such problems on the twin.

Some LED dash figures like the clock were too thin and therefore hard to read at a glance, but once I got my head around it, the menu on the left bar displayed some useful data including 3 trip meters (including daily), average and live L/100km (hopefully changeable to another metric), ambient and water temperatures and remaining range. I can confirm that the bike I was riding had logged 114 riding hours in 6300kms.
I didn’t cover huge distances in one sitting but the seat on the 750 felt a whole lot better than previous iterations (not hard to do). I think it may even have been height adjustable, but though I took it off a couple of times for other reasons, this was not obvious.

I can’t say the same for the near-useless piece of clear plastic screen (left) which just gives the mounting bolts something to do until you fit something actually useful. I did notice the slimness in the bike’s waistline did make standing up much more comfortable than on the older underseat-tank models. The bars were the usual 2 inches too low for me (6′ 1″). Under the seat there’s some useful stash space, partly because of the skimpy, three-piece toolkit (right).

Summary
On the road and easy trails there really is very little to dislike about the 750GS. I know everyone will ignore me but it’s got enough of everything you need in a travel bike with maybe a little too much weight and electronics. The looks are subjective but I’d say are an improvement and in line with the current humpbacked GS look, all the way down to the 310GS. It’s got a potential 400km range, plus the brakes, torque and stock suspension to do it all. Essential additions would include an actual screen, a centre stand plus pannier racks for your luggage and probably a bashplate and other protection. Having tried it, I could live without TC and a rain engine mode (which I forgot to try) and settle for a similar bike like a mechanically proven Tracer (old model from £6700; 2020 model £7400 claimed) or 19-inch V-Strom for less weight and a lot less money.

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Honda NC750X DCT – 1100-mile review

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See also:
NC750
Africa Twin 800

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I tried an NC a few weeks back, liked it as I knew I would, so bought a low-mileage current XA/XD model with an idea of converting it into a budget but high-economy ‘Africa Twain’. Plus I wanted to properly get to grips with this DCT malarkey. Judging by Google search results (right), I’m not the only one.
I picked it up near Leamington, rode straight down to Cornwall, then over a couple of days headed back to London via the Dorset Coast. Here’s what I found.

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  • High 80s/low 90s mpg without really trying. Back off a bit – say 60mph – and it will register a live 26.4mpl or 100mpg. With the 14.1-litre tank, at 88mpg/31.1kpl that would give a range of  438km or 272 miles.
  • Plenty of real-world power to get the job done. Fifty-four hp really is all you need
  • Thumb/finger manual changes slicker than my MTB 
  • I like the manual override on auto
  • And the auto downshift override when in manual. They thought it through
  • Suspension – what a surprise! I assumed it would be poor, like a CB-X or XSR7. Far from it. I rode an RE Interceptor recently; it’s better than that, too
  • Corners really well. Not had such a planted road bike for years
  • Right-engle tyre valves. No more struggles with inflation nozzles
  • Tubeless tyres
  • TFT dash – also new on me and the way to go
  • Despite low-speed lugging, day to day preferred the smoother D mode. Settled OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAoccasionally on S1. Higher S levels felt more jerky.
  • Tank box (but even open-face lids can be a squeeze; right)
  • Seat was actually pretty good; sore over 4 slow hours, but not in outright agony
  • For a modern bike, the slabby space ship look is less bad than some
  • Nice crobba-crobba thudding noise as the 270° mill pulls away.
  • Average mpl display was pretty accurate – 5% under at fill up
  • You pull in, flick down the sidestand and it switches off. Remove the key and walk away.
  • It’s a Honda; peace of mind on a long trip
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  • Heavy – on the home scales it came very close to the claimed 232kg wet. Holds you back on some rough bends.
  • Lumpy pulling away at town speeds. That was my impression hopping back on the bike after a couple of weeks. A bit more lumpy than you’d assume is good for the engine, but it’s only a 750, not a huge Harley. It may well smooth out when warm.
  • Harshness – noticed this as soon as I pulled away from the seller’s place. Could be part engine, part transmission (on the move). The test bike I rode a month earlier felt notably smoother, but this wouldn’t be the first time a Honda-sourced (not dealer) test bike felt better than what you buy. It mostly cleared after 1000 miles – maybe old fuel stood for months and needed a good blast? But it’s not as smooth as modern injected twins can be, cf: Interceptor.
  • The engine on my XSR700 was much nicer – and it was 47hp restricted, not the full 72hp. But the XSR only averaged 74mpg over 4000 miles. Can’t see an NC ever dropping below 80. I do wonder if extreme leanness – either to gain economy or pass emissions regs – can spoil an engine’s feel.
  • Still a bit auto-clunky at low speeds, not seamless like an auto car despite the so-called Adaptive Clutch Capability Control.
  • Rode mostly in D but felt like it lugged at times, especially up steep hills and despite ‘a control system in AT mode for gauging the angle of ascent or descent and adapting shift pattern accordingly’. Got into manual downshifting. Auto downshifted better on downhills. Maybe it would have adapted for uphills in time?
  • Maxed it out but the TFT dash was still a bit dim in daylight. Plus would have liked engine/ambient temp info on there, too
  • No 12-v power outlet. I thought there was one in the tank box?
  • I know it’s how we fill up in the UK, but would have preferred other metrics besides Miles per Litre – a new one on me but you’d learn soon enough. (I assume it shows kpl or L/100km if you flip the speedo to kph). Older models had mpg – maybe I didn’t RTFM enough.
  • Like other bikes I’ve had lately, trip distance total (for true mpg calcs) is annoyingly lost when it resets to reserve towards E (or I didn’t work out how to dig it out)
  • Screen is of course too small
  • No centre stand. I bought one before I even picked it up
  • Traction control was a new game for me. I played with it on mid-road gravel patches and the steep track down to my Cornish mate’s house. But unlike ABS, I can’t really see a real-world use for it on a fat-tyred, 54-hp bike like this, assuming you ride alert and sensibly. Corner too fast in the wet or hit oil and the front might go just as fast. TC just seems to be a brake on applying so much power you lose traction. How often do you do that on the road ?
  • The TC switch on the left bars is a clumsy afterthought. Same could be said for the parking brake, tbh.

At the Overland show, organiser Paddy Tyson told me he’d covered 38,000 miles on a manual NC and wondered ‘why isn’t everyone using these for overlanding?’ It was a good question. Manual or auto, an NC is a practical and exceedingly economical machine which carries it’s weight low while easily keeping up on fast highways. I’m pretty sure even in stock form it could cover the tracks on my Morocco tours, and with tyres to suit would have easily managed what I rode on the Himalayan in spring, but without the need to be truck to Malaga. And it would have used 15% less fuel too. CRF250-like mpg but with the grunt to tackle headwinds and hills and the power to sit comfortably at 70+ is not something you get on most bikes. That makes the NC sound like a pretty versatile machine but as is often the case, some bikes fail to catch the buying public’s imagination. The NC is a big seller among commuters, but I’ve barely heard of travellers using them. If DCT is so fabulous, it seems the much flashier Africa Twin is the bike of choice from what I’ve seen at shows lately. Just like BMW’s F800GS trounced the 650/700 version, despite my avowed pronouncements to the latter two’s superiority!

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To me an AT (left) was going a bit far. Yes, it may have eaten all the dirt I was able to feed it but is even heavier an NC with a higher CoG, costs more and had much inferior economy. I’d like to see DCT in a lighter bike like the CB500X, but maybe that just cannot be achieved, yet. Or a sub 200-kg 750 Africa Twin as has been mooted now the 1000L is becoming an 1100.
Low-speed clunks apart, it’s great not have to concentrate on stalling or heavy clutches or agricultural gearboxes or miss-shifts while still having manual control for slowing down into fast bends or steep hills. It allows you to concentrate on other things, and that includes gnarly climbs with steep, clutch-stressing hairpins which in auto or manual 1st would be easy work on the DCT.

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Behind a plastic cowling the electro-hydraulic gear shifters look a bit vulnerable. Get a crash bar.

I’d bought an unusually nice (for me) late model which would be easy to shift – at ~£5k the most I’ve ever spent on a bike. In the end, I decided the 750X was too nice a road machine to meddle with weight-adding protection, longer travel suspension, higher-profile tyres and maybe a 19er front (I suspect the front wheel from a 2019 CB500X would fit). At over 230kg it was too heavy for my sort of gravel roading and the lack of smoothness compared to similar motors was surprisingly off-putting. How spoiled we’ve become!
I lost 100 quid selling it back on ebay; a reasonable sum for a fortnight’s rental. While selling the NC I took Enfield’s 650 Interceptor out for a quickie. Read what I thought about that one here.

Electric, 2×2 and riding UBCO’s utility bike

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Are we ready for electric motos? Probably not, but I did a twitterpoll  and it looks like we certainly want them.

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I’ve always liked utility bikes (‘ag bikes’, ‘farm bikes’) where functionality is measured in terms of load carrying and off-road agility, rather than tarmac-creasing acceleration or foot-long suspension travel. They even get their own section in AMH8, left. For the right sort of gnarly adventure, or with a recalibrated attitude towards pace, bikes like Honda’s AG190 (left) could make a tough little travel bike.
Ag bikes possess that do-anything, go-anywhere appeal, which must also be behind the adventure motorcycling phenomenon. Yamaha’s TW-inspired Ryoku concept of a few years ago (below right) seemed to bridge both segments.

Whether intended or not, UBCO’s 2×2 electric utility ‘moped’ may also benefit from this ‘I-could-if-I-wanted-to’ conceit. People need personal mobility, sure, but many like to be feel cool while doing so, be it in a RAV 4 or on a GS12 or Raleigh Chopper.
While staying in an affluent suburb of Sydney recently, along with skimpy urban scoots like the Sachs (above left), Chinese urban retros similar to the Mash Roadster as well as a few XSR7s outnumbered anything else I saw on two wheels there. In fact it’s said bikes like these are now beginning to outsell adventure-styled bikes. Expect Bike Shed franchises to start popping up like Pizza Huts.

The Ryoku never got off the drawing board, but Honda’s recent X-ADV adventure scooter sought to capitalise on that urban adventure cachet. But after riding one – and even though I now have DCT out of my system – I felt something more akin to the current Ruckus moped (left; not sold in the UK) would have been more fun.
In Australasia and South Africa, ag bikes have been on the scene for ever, but have changed little since the 1980s. What you want is an ag bike’s utility with scooter-like ease of getting on and off – a mini X-ADV. But do you also need 2WD and would you choose electric?

2WD motorcycles

2wdsYou can be sure that one long winter some obscure engineer-farmer has experimented with front-wheel drive long before most of us were born. The vid below is one of many crazy-arsed compilations on youtube. And a couple of years ago Visordown dedicated one of their Top Tens to 2×2 motos, some pictured right.

At that time Visordown said: ... a modern generation of batteries.[…] and hub-mounted electric motors mean that … this must surely be the future of two-wheel drive – allowing almost any bike to be adapted to drive both wheels.

Such predictions proved to be on the money. If AWD is seen to be as desirable as it was when Audi introduced the Quattro road car in the 1980s, then the advent of hub-mounted electric motors is by far the least complicated and most elegant way of doing it. Ask Nasa (above) or even Ferdinand Porsche.
The mechanical or hydraulic solutions powered by an ICE (internal combustion engine), as in the vid above, are mostly just too clumsy, expensive, complex or otherwise lacking in real-world commercial potential.

Off-road the benefits of AWD traction is obvious. I can think of many sandy pistes in the Sahara (above; Algeria) which would have been a whole lot easier and therefore safer to ride with the addition of front-wheel drive. Just like in a 4×4, AWD means you can tackle loose terrain like sandy ruts or dunes without resorting to momentum (aka; speed) which will catch you out (right). And in my experience in the desert, a 4×4 with an automatic gearbox is an unbeatable combination, especially on slow rocky climbs or in soft sand. Just the right amount of torque is fed to all the wheels to give traction, and on rocky trails there is no risk of stalling, again allowing you to concentrate on precise wheel positioning and clearance issues.

Automatic scooters are common, proper motorbikes less so, but do you even need 2×2 on a road bike? The answer is: not really. While road tests affirm that Yamaha’s recent ‘2FW’ Niken (above) delivers eye-opening improvements in front-end grip, on the road 2×2 would only benefit acceleration, by spreading the torque to both wheels and so  limiting wheel spin (just as front and rear brakes improve braking all round).
But advances in electronic traction control and tyres to match have proved just as able in optionally eliminating wheel spin. Combined as it is with ABS sensors, TA probably adds just a few ounces to a bike’s weight. Any front-wheel drive system would add several kilos while drawing overall power.
All up, the US-built 200-cc Rokon below is the only successful production 2WD motorcycle – a two-wheeled tractor that looks even less comfortable to drive on anything easier than a wooded hillside and for most people has has probably been superseded by AWD ATVs, even if the latest model features the miracle of front suspension.

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UBCO: Electro Glide in White

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UBCO stands for Utility Bike Company, founded in 2015 when the work of a couple of creative Kiwi engineers got picked up by entrepreneur, Tim Allan (riding, below).
In 2018, after the original off-road only model had spent a couple of years in development with Kiwi farmers, a fully road-legal, version was released for global export. It’s the world’s first production 2×2 electric motorcycle aimed at farmers, rangers and forestry, while also being bought for urban deliveries and just plain off-road fun. Being restricted to 50kph, it’s classified as a moped which in many territories means it can be ridden on just a provisional licence.
You can add luggage or wider racks and run power tools off it. To recharge the 16-kilo battery takes 6-8 hours. The bike is made in China and in NZ and Australia costs $8000, (about £4200) in the US it’s more. That’s about the same price as a KTM full-suspension e-bike (above right) I saw in an NZ shop window.

Wisely, UBCO dodges competing with the likes of recently folded Alta or Zero who produce(d) full-sized electric road-legal motorcycles. Instead, it’s aiming squarely at the utility market where the benefits of a light, rugged, easy-to-ride and near-silent all-terrain bike outdo its limitations in range and performance.

Weight is 65kg and with 2.4kw (3.2hp) via the 48-Ah, 50-V Lithium-ion battery, power is less than an ICE moped. But 90Nm or 66 ft lbs of torque across two wheel is a figure equivalent an 800cc bike, and all that torque is delivered instantly to each wheel so both will spin as you pull away on loose dirt. Electrotoque is not really comparable with ICE torque: old but interesting article.
Very few electric motorcycles have motors in the wheel hubs. Once you get beyond a moped power level, they become too heavy and bulky so need to return to the typically central ICE location. Above (the two sides of a hub motor), the number and size of copper windings correlate to the power, and these motors are designed to spin fast, hence the three reduction gears on the left. The UBCO’s motors are about as small and low powered as they get on an e-moto, so hub fitting is not a problem. There’s just the low, centrally positioned battery with a power cable reaching out to each hub. Simple.


Tim, myself and his mate JB set off along an overgrown MTB trail at the TECT Trail Park close to Tauranga where UBCO are based. No clutch or gears, no heat, drive chains or belts and virtually noise, plus hydraulic MTB brakes, speed-calibrated regenerative braking and low CoG and seat all make the UBCO effortless to ride. Along with the cleated footrests, it all means you can concentrate on fern-dodging and where to put the front wheel.

Unlike an ICE moto, terrain permitting an electic bike is most efficient with the throttle at the stop and hard acceleration doesn’t consume power like it does on an ICE. Despite its optimal traction and light weight, the low power rating means it’ll only climb 1:4 at which point the short-action throttle is pinned. If you run out of go it’s dead easy to hop off and push. Even with my weight, I found what looks like basic suspension well suited to the bike’s speed potential and the terrain we rode. It’s operation never intruded on my ride and it never bottomed out.


I can’t say I noticed the 2WD, apart from wheel-spinning when pulling away on loose dirt, but it rode as on rails despite the Kenda trials-pattern tyres being at road pressures. The 2×2 has no negative effect on the steering, probably quite the opposite, but you barely notice it. Just like I found myself pressing air for the foot brake, it probably takes a while to believe and then fully exploit the front end’s drive. And no, it won’t be more efficient in one-wheel drive (like old-school 4x4s could be) – the small motors are designed to work most efficiently together. As you can see below, the air-cooled hub motors (the only part of the bike which gets hot) aren’t fazed by shallow water crossings either.

Sure, the MTB handlebars were way too low when standing up, and there was nothing to brace the legs against. But the UBCO is so light and power levels so manageable it didn’t really matter. When sitting down I found my knees banged against the frame, but some trousers or pipe lagging would fix that.
Just like a DCT Honda, the lack of gear changing or fear of stalling really frees the mind to deal with other things, meaning you can ride more smoothly and have more fun doing so. Before I got my current Himalayan I considered adapting a DCT NC750X into something akin to the Rally Raid CB500X. To me this is one of the greatest benefits of electric bikes. Doing the same ninety minutes riding on any sort of ICE dirt bike would have left me comparatively worn out.
The fast-paced off-roading we did would give you about 40 miles range – you’ll get nearly twice that on a flat road at 20mph. And the regen braking means coming down a long pass actually adds a bit of charge. The dash info is basic and includes the temperature of each motor, but you can change or monitor various functions with the bike bluetoothed (or some such) to a smartphone app. Lights are LEDs up to a very bright 2200 lumens.

At the end of the ride I was able to nose the front wheel against the back of the trailer, turn the handle and let it climb up. But even without the 2×2 or even the utility element, like the Sachs moped above, the UBCO can also pass as a cool-looking urban runabout. In the right setting it would be a great way of nipping around without frightening the horses.

milkfloatIn 1967 the Electric Vehicle Association claimed that Britain had more battery-electric vehicles on its roads than the rest of the world put together. Almost all were milk floats (right) rated at around 8-10Kw and with a range of 50-60 miles.
Even then, the first Golden Age of electric vehicles can be dated back to the start of the 20th century when, in the US for example, 40% of cars were steam-powered, 38% were electric (about 34,000 in total), and just 22% were dirty, smelly, noisy, rough-running ICEs. Then major oil fields were discovered around the world and before domestic air travel became the norm, the interstate road network went on to outstrip the railroads
. Now there are well over a billion ICE road vehicles in the world, about 20% of which are bikes. The total number of EVs surpassed 3 million in 2018, a 50% increase over 2016.

Electric Bikes

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kashpush

The future will be electric, again. That may well be the case in urban settings or for other short-range applications. In 2008, alongside the more common pushbikes I was amazed to see electric scooters (right) whooshing around the streets of Kashgar, western China. And in Auckland last week I was equally intrigued to see dock-free e-scooters (left) either left on the pavement or whizzing about between pedestrians.

But any form of trans-continental overlanding in the less-rich AMZone will probably be the last place to see e-motos. The world is just too divided between rich and poor, urban or rural. Just as with fast internet or mobile phone masts, the cost of installing the necessary infrastructure everywhere is too great. It’s an overlanding quandary which has become analogous with diesel cars. Low-emission engines designed to run the low-sulphur fuel sold in rich countries will play up on the old, high-sulphur stuff sold in some parts of South America, Africa and Asia where emission regs are less strict and ‘Euro 5’ is a football tournament. So while in the next decade you might be able to ride your e-moto across Europe or North America, as things stand Cairo to Cape or Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia will be a challenge for a long while.

Visualising a sunshine-powered, off-road coast-to-coast traverse of Australia, similar to their World Solar Challenge race, I asked the UBCO tech guy would the necessary 400-w solar trailer (about two panels on the left) do the job? No. A battery can’t be charged and discharged at the same time, but a spare battery could be charged. Broome to Adelaide at 30mph max would sure give you plenty of time to get a nice sun tan.
Some say the specific problem with electric motorcycles (as opposed to e-bikes, cars or trams) is that, price apart, with the available technology the weight vs power or range doesn’t add up with current perceived expectations of what a motorcycle can do. It ends up either too heavy, too slow or runs out of charge too soon. But even Harley’s turbine-smooth Livewire (above) only weighs 210kg, does 0-60 like a 701 and might last 100 miles. We’ll know more (or not) when the Long Way Up comes out this autumn. Other electric bikes will do better. As we approach the fabled Tipping Point you’d hope things can only get better.

Interesting discussion

ubcoe