KTM Electric Bike Freeride E-XC Test

How good are electric dirt bikes?

KTM Freeride
"The KTM Freeride line is kind of in a class of its own—big enough for adults but downsized just enough to be a perfect playbike." —Allan BrownBrown Dog Wilson

The North American electric bike market got a new player this year when KTM introduced its new pilot program to bring the 2017 Freeride E-XC motorcycle over from Europe. This is not a whole new model; it’s an electric version of the already US-available Freeride 250R model.

The KTM Freeride line is kind of in a class of its own—big enough for adults but downsized just enough to be a perfect playbike. The 21-inch and 18-inch wheels make it look like a full-size bike at first glance, but once you climb aboard you notice it's just slightly downsized, maybe by about 10 percent. Another way to describe it would be as a trials bike with a seat. The seat height is 36 inches, and the wheelbase is 55.8 inches. The only thing that is not downsized is the weight. At 238 pounds, it's not as light as it looks, but keep in mind you don't have the mass of a crankshaft and flywheel spinning between your legs.

The bike’s WP 43mm cartridge fork with 250mm of travel, its PDS shock with 260mm of travel, and the front brake all come from the KTM 85 SX. The swingarm is the same design as the 85 SX’s, but it’s lighter. The handlebar is slightly narrower than a full-size bike’s, and the machine is very narrow overall. One nice touch is that the footpeg mounts are reversible rearward 8mm to accommodate different riders and riding styles.

The approximately 50-pound lithium-ion battery sits where a gas bike’s tank would sit, and the clutch lever and master cylinder are replaced with a handlebar-mounted rear brake. There is of course no exhaust system, but there is a cooling system—radiators remain as electric motors get hot too and require cooling. The coolant is pumped through the radiators via an electric pump as soon as the motor is turned on. The bike has no gears and therefore no shifter.

KTM Electric Bike Freeride E-XC
"Being able to keep both feet on the pegs at all times can be a huge advantage in some off-road situations." —Allan BrownBrown Dog Wilson

The first question most people are going to ask is, “How long does it take to charge?” One answer is, “Two minutes.” You can swap out the power unit faster than your buddies can gas up their motorcycle, but there is a catch. A spare power unit is going to run you $3,600. That is not cheap, but keep in mind with this motorcycle you will never need to spend any money on pistons, rings, clutch plates, air filters, a trick exhaust system, or a drop of gas. So take your annual cost of gas and maintenance for the gas engine, multiply that by three (since the power pack has a three-year warranty), and I am sure you would spend more than $3,600.

The die-cast aluminum power pack holds 360 lithium-ion cells (made by Samsung) as well as the BMS (Battery Management System). You can think of the BMS like an ECU on a gas engine. The voltage of the battery is 260 volts with a 2.6 kWh capacity, enough for up to one hour of riding fun. It can be charged in the motorcycle via the connector located below the seat in a claimed 80 minutes (or 50 minutes for an 80 percent charge). In terms of aging—even after 700 discharge and charge cycles—the power pack still provides 80 percent of its initial capacity.

The KTM-supplied battery charger will require a 230-volt/50-Hertz outlet. This is something you will most likely have to either have installed in your home or possibly research it and make it a DIY project. If you choose to have a professional come to your home, expect to pay $200 to $300. Also, the charger will not work on most generators, and if you want a spare charger, one is available from KTM for $850.

A multi-functional instrument display offers the selection of three modes: Economy, Enduro, and Cross. Each mode provides a different power delivery from soft to more aggressive. The display also shows the battery’s remaining charge.

Riding this bike was certainly fun. The weight is not felt like you would expect. If you didn’t know the number, you’d guess much lower after a ride. During our first ride we rode for well over an hour, but we were stopping and starting for photos. Under heavy load and constant riding we are told about one hour is the battery’s limit. The three power modes are quite noticeable, and especially noticeable is the gap between mode 1 and mode 2 (modes 2 and 3 are closer in delivery). In mode 1, this bike would be the best possible motorcycle for a rider to learn on. Modes 2 and 3 are much more aggressive and fun for even the most advanced rider. I spent most of my test day in the Cross, or most aggressive, mode.

KTM Electric Bike Freeride E-XC
"Suspension on the Free­ride is quite soft and bouncy, but that is expected from this type of motorcycle." —Allan BrownBrown Dog Wilson

In the first 15 minutes or so I completely blew over several berms while trying to hit the rear brake with my foot. Once my brain began to remember the rear brake was where the clutch is supposed to be, I began to push the bike much harder. If you can’t completely get used to the rear brake on the handlebar, you can put the rear brake system from a gas Freeride 250R on there, as the frame still has the mount for the pedal. The brakes are one area where I would say you notice the weight of the motorcycle. These are not the Brembo units you might be familiar with on the full-size KTMs. They are the Formula brakes from the 85 SX (a much lighter bike, usually carrying a much lighter rider).

After a battery swap I was getting more and more comfortable with the power delivery and overall handling of the bike. Its slightly shorter-than-normal wheelbase lets you turn in areas tighter than you would expect to be able to. Also, being able to keep both feet on the pegs at all times can be a huge advantage in some off-road situations. The acceleration of an electric motor is deceiving, and that might also help explain my feeling that the brakes were a little weak. When chopping the throttle coming into corners or just over an obstacle, the weight transfer from engine-braking was just about perfect. Suspension on the Free­ride is quite soft and bouncy, but that is expected from this type of motorcycle. This machine is designed for play, trail, trials riding, and being an all-around fun bike; for that, the suspension works well.

Power modes
"The three power modes are quite noticeable, and especially noticeable is the gap between mode 1 and mode 2" —Allan BrownBrown Dog Wilson

The sizing and placement of everything on the Freeride is good. The seating position is comfortable and easy to ride from whether sitting or standing. And unlike some playbikes, I never got the feeling I was leaning too far over the handlebar or too far off the back. The bike feel is downsized but not small. Traction was good with the Maxxis TrialMaxx 2.75-21 front and MaxxEnduro 120/90-18 rear tires.

Overall, I would say for its designed purpose, the KTM Freeride E-XC hits the target right in the bull’s-eye. While an MSRP of $8,299 might seem a little higher than some other motorcycles in the “playbike” category, it’s also almost half the cost of other electric-type dirt bikes. You can’t compare this bike to a Yamaha TT-R or Honda CRF-F, as there is a reason those bikes are closer to the $5,000 range. A novice rider could buy this KTM and right from day one begin to build confidence, enjoy riding it, and likely never outgrow it. An advanced rider could enjoy every riding minute also while continuing to learn new techniques and explore new areas not possible on a gas bike. The MSRP is a perfect reflection of the technology, performance, and range of use.

For this pilot program, KTM has certified 11 dealers in the US to sell and service these motorcycles. They are available in limited quantities at: Moto City KTM in Avondale, Arizona; 3 Brothers Racing of Orange County in Costa Mesa, California; CJ KTM of Murrieta in Murrieta, California; Malcolm Smith Motorsports in Riverside, California; KTM of Roseville in Roseville, California; Elite Motorsports KTM in Loveland, Colorado; Larson’s Cycle Inc. in Cambridge, Minnesota; Edelmann Sales KTM in Troy, New York; Solid Performance KTM in Downingtown, Pennsylvania; KTM of North Texas in Arlington, Texas; and Adventure Moto KTM in McKinney, Texas.

2017 KTM Freeride E-XC

What’s Hot

  • Very fun to ride
  • No noise, no point-of-use emissions
  • Little to no maintenance required

What’s Not

  • Most homes will need to have an outlet installed for the charger
  • Charger does not work on most common generators
  • Brakes are a little weak for the more aggressive rider