BMW are already well into the electric game on four wheels but where are they on two? We drag race the E Power Roadster against an S 1000 R and find out the future is not so dull... Test: Adam 'Chad' Child . Photography: BMW Motorrad
As I’m handed the key to the prototype, I’m already grinning in expectation and excitement like a child on Christmas Eve. Throwing a leg over the E Power Roadster I immediately notice those 290kg – and of course that weight never changes as it would on a fully-fuelled petrol drinking touring bike. It’s also a bit of a stretch to the ‘bars and to reach the floor: I’m only 170cm and feel a bit like a boy on a futuristic bike at the fair.
Turn the key and the dash, which is almost identical to BMW’s C Evolution one, comes alive. And that’s it: no noise, nothing. Then to start it’s in with the front brake, press the conventional starter button on the right ‘bar and we’re ‘active’ or ‘alive’. Again, there is no noise, but now the throttle is live and will react accordingly. If you’re not used to electric bikes then the strangeness continues. There are no gears and therefore no clutch. BMW has chosen to put the back brake where you’d normally find the clutch, on the left ‘bar like a scooter. This may not remain the same on production models, but for test purposes it was the easiest option.
I’ve been invited to not only test ride BMW’s highly valuable ‘one-off’ prototype, but also been asked if I’d like to drag race against a BMW S 1000 R ridden by one of their experienced development staff.
Luckily this isn’t the first time I’ve ridden or raced an electric bike and I have a few secrets up my sleeve to ensure victory will be mine. I’ve twice raced in the demanding TT Zero race at the Isle of Man TT, with the best result of 5th in 2018. On a conventional bike accelerating rapidly from a standstill takes skill: you have to balance and moderate the power with the clutch and attempt to launch the bike in the midst of the torque. It’s daunting, noisy and takes an experienced hand.
On an electric bike, it’s much easier as there isn’t a clutch or gears. However, if you’re too aggressive with the throttle it will either spin the rear tyre or lift the front wheel. There is so much direct torque from nothing it’s easily done. The E Power Roadster is fitted with traction control, so there’s no reason to worry about being spat off, but when the traction kicks in, I’ll lose a fraction of a second and may lose the drag race. The key is to leave the line on 25 to 50 per cent throttle, get the wheels turning, up to speed a little, then push my weight forward and dial in the power to the stop and let the electric motor and battery to do the rest.
As we line up for the start, I can hear the BMW S 1000 R in the next lane, revving impatiently for the flag drop. I’ve no idea what to expect. Will I be able to keep with the 162hp naked? Or will this be embarrassing? As the flag drops I make the perfect launch, no wheelspin or wheelies, and we’re away.
I can hear screaming revs in the next lane, but he’s not in front or even in my peripheral vision. The E Power Roadster’s acceleration is rapid, fierce enough to push me back in the single race seat. I can feel the rear shock squat and the forks extend, but there’s no traction control intervention, just one effortless tsunami wave of uninterrupted torque. Now we’re away, throttle back to the full stop, 100 per cent wide open, tucked in and weight forward. We’ve reached 100km/h in what feels like two seconds, and I have a sneaky look to my left but the S 1000 R is still nowhere to be seen.
The speedo climbs and the torque isn’t tailing off while the E Power Roadster is still pulling hard, wind pressure straining my upper body. We are quickly running out of runway and I know from previous experience that stopping a 290kg electric bike, plus rider with no engine braking or gears, can be a daunting task. As soon as I pop up from behind the small headlight cowl and apply the Brembo radial stoppers, the S 1000 R appears and does the same. Thankfully, the Brembo brakes are more than up for the challenge and bring the speed down to walking pace with ease, just the slightly odd sound of pads gripping discs is a little disconcerting.
It’s an easy win (to 160km/h). The eRoadster has beaten the 90kg-lighter S 1000 R – a small but significant victory for the electric bike.
BMW E Power Roadster v S 1000 R action
Can you tell what it is yet?
The E Power Roadster is powered by a battery from a BMW 5 Series car – a long-wheelbase hybrid version only sold in China – while the powertrain is from a BMW 2 Series plugin hybrid. The end product makes 100kW of power, which translates to 136hp. Torque is an immense 200Nm, or 147.5ft-lbs, all of it pretty much instant.
The dash is stolen from the C Evolution Maxi-Scooter the forks are from an S 1000 RR, with modified internals to take the extra weight; the rear wheel and Paralever/swing-arm are R 1250 R items… It’s fair to say the prototype, attractive as it is, is a bit of a mongrel, built up from a collection of BMW bike and car parts. Everywhere you look, you see bits you recognise from other BMW products. Only the frame and a few key parts are unique and bespoke to this prototype.
“One for the hardest parts of this project was getting all the relevant parts together,” explains Florian Traub, Pre-development E-Mobility. “BMW is such a large company, and everyone had input, whether that be just a cable or a screw. Then it was down to just a small team here. Communication across BMW is good, we can talk freely to the car department, that is evident in the bike today. We can use their knowledge, skill and vast data.”
From the outside looking in BMW appear to have an advantage over the competition, as they can tap into their four-wheel department, which has already built up a vast amount of knowledge of electric power generation. The BMW i3, a fully electric production car, was launched as far back as back in 2013. The German manufacturer is already in the game.
A small but dedicated team has been developing the E Power Roadster for two years. It’s still very much a prototype, weighing a hefty 290kg. “We are aiming to have the weight down to 250-260kg,” says Florian. “And range should be 200 to 300km depending on the riding. First, we will look at urban solutions, the C Evolution for example, then move onto larger bikes.”
The fast-charge time is impressive: 6km range per minute of re-charge or, put another way, it only takes 30 minutes for an 80 per cent re-charge. Roughly, the prototype is capable of 180km after a 30-minute fast charge. By the time you’ve removed your bike kit and drunk your espresso, your E Power Roadster will be back to 80 per cent charge…
I know die-hard petrol heads will be shaking their heads in disgust, but, make no mistake, electric bikes are coming, and the E Power Roadster suggests they’re going to be fast, thrilling and equally as exciting as their petrol engine counterparts. 200km/h is just as thrilling on a motorbike whether it be electric or petrol, and the E Power Roadster’s acceleration time should have the petrol heads worried. And this is only the start, we are only scratching the surface, there is so much more to come. Where are we going to be in another 5-10 years? Think where the petrol bike industry was 75-100 years ago, and how much they have move on…
2020 BMW E Power Roadster Specifications
Claimed Power: 100kW [136hp] Claimed Torque: 200Nm [147.5ft-lb] Weight: 290kg
Engine: BMW Series 5 electric car engine.
Chassis: Tubular steel trellis frame
Suspension: S 1000 RR USD 46mm telescopic forks, (electronic compression and rebound adjustable, R 1250 R Paralever rear end.
Brakes: S 1000 RR (2018) Brembo front, R 1250 R rear.
Wheels & Tyres: S 1000 RR front, R 1250 R rear.
Instruments: C Evolution Maxi TFT