Riding the Moto-E: Can the electric racebike give a MotoGP thrill?
Alan Dowds is a freelance motorcycle photojournalist, based in London. He’s been writing about, riding, and taking pictures of motorbikes since 1994, working at magazines like SuperBike, RiDE, Fast Bikes, Motor Cycle News, Classic Motorcycle Mechanics, and many more.
I’m getting a bit old to appreciate much in the way of novel experiences these days. But I’m very much enjoying this one. I’m at Valencia’s awesome race track, on the morning after the final MotoGP round of 2019. The sun’s out, and I’m charging out of the final turn, twistgrip pinned to the stop, rear Michelin digging into the sun-kissed asphalt.
So far, so normal. I do this sort of thing fairly regularly, and was last at this track doing much the same on a Ducati Panigale V4S not long ago. But there’s a twist today: I’m being catapulted down the huge main straight in relative silence. Under me, there’s a high-tech whine, like an Alton Towers rollercoaster, rather than a barking 110 dB V-four roar. Because I’m riding a MotoE bike – one of the Ego Corsa racing machines used for MotoGP’s electric support series.
160hp and 258kg – two numbers that combine to make the Energica MotoE bike surprisingly un-intimidating to ride
The firm behind the bikes – Energica – and MotoGP owner Dorna have organised a journalist test session, which is quite unusual these days (the last full MotoGP journalist test rides were in 2007), and points to how important this series is for them. All the MotoE big bosses are here and the entire MotoGP circus is still parked up in the paddock, sleeping off last night’s end-of-season party. At least I’ll not be waking Valentino Rossi up with a raucous race exhaust…
The pre-ride briefing had ramped up the already-high tension, with dark warnings about cold tyres. I’m about to head out on a megabucks machine unlike anything I (or anyone else outside the tiny pool of MotoE riders) have ridden, with unique MotoGP-spec Michelin slicks, 160bhp and 258kg all-up mass. I’d watched several of the world’s best riders dump them in the gravel during the race yesterday. The track temperature is still pretty chilly at 10am. There’s no traction control or ABS. What, as they say, is the worst that could happen?
I needn’t have worried. The team techs unroll the tyre warmers then push me off the paddock stands, and everything feels pretty normal. The seat is high and firm, but being stumpy-of-limb, I’m used to being some way off the deck on a race bike. I’m prepared for the lack of a clutch and gear lever, but the dashboard catches me out – it’s got no tacho, or temperature gauge, or anything much really, apart from a lap timer and some arcane warning readouts. One thing less to worry about I guess, as I flick the starter button and a green ‘GO’ symbol lights up. I pull away from the garage with a high-tech whiny hum, trundle down the long pitlane, then bang the ‘gas’ wide open and out onto the track.
I’m super-sensitive to what’s going on below me, but it’s all much less weird than I’m expecting. The weight is the big story of course: nothing outside a Harley-Davidson one-make race series puts this much mass onto a race track in a serious competition. Around 260kg, plus 90-odd kilos of prime Scotsman on the back, is a serious amount of mass to be throwing around a track like Valencia, and I’m wondering how the brakes and tyres will cope.
But hammering down the short straight after turn one and braking into turn two, it all feels really sorted. The Öhlins suspension is super-firm of course, and there’s barely any dive on the brakes compared to a road-bike. But it tips in and turns with ease, and by the end of the first lap, I’m reassured that this isn’t going to end up in hot, fiery tears (probably).
In fact, the MotoE bike is really easy to get on with. Partly that’s down to the tyres – custom-made Michelin slicks, with a MotoGP-derived medium-compound front and a soft-compound rear, based on the firm’s superbike race rubber. The tyres are also tweaked for Valencia, so I couldn’t have a better-optimised set of hoops on here. They’re super-sticky, with oodles of grip, and a lovely direct feel from the front in particular. These are the tyres of the racing gods, and though they’re wasted on the likes of me, I’m very grateful that I’m getting the chance to thrash round on ‘em.
The rest of the chassis is similarly exotic. The Brembo brakes are close relations to the stoppers used on World Superbike racebikes, eschewing the carbon-carbon setup of MotoGP for steel discs, Z04 pads and nickel-plated billet monobloc calipers. They’re more than up to stopping the MotoE’s all-up mass, with all the finesse and feedback you could wish for. Finally, the suspension is by Öhlins, with a direct, linkage-free rear monoshock and fat, race-spec USD forks. It’s all held together with an imposing steel tube trellis frame and huge braced aluminium swingarm.
But we’re here for the powertrain, aren’t we? And it’s actually very impressive too. The top-end isn’t outrageous: 160bhp or 120kW is the claimed peak power, and for a 258kg bike, that’s not overwhelming, even with the monstrous 200Nm+ torque figure. The techs could easily get more power out of the motor, but the races would have to be even shorter: the battery capacity available in a sensible mass is the limit here.
Where the Ego lump wins out, though, is in the low-down urge, the rideability, and the ease-of-use from having no gearbox. Like Satan’s own super-scooter, the mighty 300v AC electric motor rolls on in monstrous style at any revs, lifting you up and firing you out of slow- and medium-speed corners with charming aggression. It’s power with control too – the fine throttle modulation is excellent, and you can feather the drive just how you like all through Valencia’s long final turn, with complete confidence in what the rear wheel will do next.
My seven laps (out-lap, five flyers and in-lap) are over all too quickly though, and my MotoE fun is done. And as I pack my Alpinestars away, I’m much more optimistic about the future of electric track riding. I’d gladly spend a day at Brands GP or Donington with one of these, plus a healthy fast-charging setup, if it came to pass. It’s fair to say that at the moment though, a lighter, more powerful petrol-powered machine will do a better job for almost everyone out there…