Published: 26 May 2021
Updated: 13 November 2023
It’s getting hard to ignore the number of electric vehicles you see on the roads these days. What used to be a novel rarity is now commonplace with models from most major manufacturers and electric specialists like Tesla swooshing almost silently around the road network and filling motorway charge points.
It’s an especially charged topic in 2023, thanks to discussions surrounding the Government’s proposed ban on the sales of new petrol bikes in 2035 – the exact details of which are still to be ironed out.
And while many bikers still regard EVs as a threat to their way of life, one type of rider seems quite happy to adopt battery power: commuters.
Cities are filled with stand-up electric scooters (some legal, some not) and burgeoning low and ultra-low emissions zones are engulfing swathes of the commuter belt. Add to that the skyrocketing cost of petrol and diesel and it’s easy to see why those who commute by car might want to switch to something else.
And while a new Tesla will cost you north of £40k there are plenty of affordable small-capacity electric motorbikes that can be ridden on a CBT to get you to and from the office or railway station.
So what’s out there?
Comparing them in the car park at MCN’s offices, the BMW CE 04 maxi scooter, Super Soco TC Max 125-equivalent and Yadea G5S might look like awkward stablemates but there’s a reason we chose them for this test.
The BMW represents the luxurious, high-tech and expensive end of the market. The Super Soco is the people’s champ, a more affordable option that regularly appears in the sales charts. And the Yadea is the newcomer, a simple, cheap, knees-together scooter imported by Lexmoto.
The £12,270 (or £14,120 in the spec we are testing today) CE 04 would look right at home in the angular, whitewashed garage of a turtleneck-wearing architect. With styling that sits somewhere between a Tron Light Cycle and a Lego Technic build, the BMW will certainly turn heads. But there’s a hint of the kind of po-faced worthiness often associated with Tesla’s early adopters.
Fortunately, all that disappears the moment you twist the throttle. The BMW’s spaceship looks are backed up by spaceship performance from 0-30mph and the first wave of acceleration is more like engaging a warp drive than a throttle. I can’t think of anything else I’ve ridden that takes off from a standstill so quickly… including 200bhp superbikes.
It’s genuinely hilarious and it may explain why BMW saw fit to put the rear wheel quite so far away from the rest of the scooter. The CE 04’s wheelbase is a massive 1675mm, just 2mm shy of a Triumph Rocket 3, largely because the rear wheel is stretched out behind you like a drag bike.
I honestly think (and suspect BMW do too) that a shorter wheelbase and higher centre of gravity would result in riders “doing a Bautista” on their way out of a Starbucks car park. Performance plateaus from 30-50mph, but it still doesn’t take long to reach the limited top speed of 80mph – plenty for dual carriageway work.
Want to spend a bit less?
Super Soco’s £4399 TC Max (£4499 as tested) feels far more pedestrian than the BMW, but it’s still not what you would describe as slow. Again, performance off the line is impressive and it gets to its 60mph top speed faster than a petrol equivalent could.
The TC Max has a more motorcycle-esque layout than the BMW but it feels a little like one of those folding bicycles – some dimensions have been adapted specifically to create the impression of bigger bike ergonomics. The body is tall with low footpegs to compensate for the small wheels. But it works well and at 6ft, I can ride it comfortably.
Yadea’s G5S is a very small and lightweight option that would be best suited to a short dash across a city. The 55mph top speed limits the Yadea’s abilities in national speed limit sections, but it has just enough about it for a very short stretch if really needed. At £3699, the Yadea is the cheapest option here but it’s still not exactly peanuts.
Despite being a scooter, the BMW actually feels the most like a ‘proper’ motorcycle. Although this is mostly down to its 231kg heft – enough for BMW to feel the need for a reverse gear – you also sit with your feet either side of a central structure, which feels more bikey than the Yadea’s knees-together riding position.
The BMW’s weight means that the front suspension and tyre load up like a proper bike under braking, giving you feedback and stability. The way it responds to steering inputs mid corner feels very familiar too, and because of the battery regen system you even get engine braking. So much so, in fact, that you can almost abandon using the brakes around town.
Although the Super Soco is the most motorcycle-shaped model here, its small size and low weight mean that it has the feel of an incredibly fast bicycle rather than a motorbike. This does mean you sacrifice a bit of front-end feel, but that’s not really an issue on a bike of this type.
Packed with gizmos
As you’d expect, the BMW has the most gizmos. Features like heated grips, smartphone connectivity and a watertight, ventilated phone charging compartment are nice touches. Keyless tech is de rigueur in the electric bike world and all three of the bikes have it.
The BMW key fob is pretty big and cumbersome (it’s the size of a car fob) but you can stick it in a pocket and forget about it. The Super Soco’s is fairly big and circular and annoyingly you need to use its buttons for locking and unlocking the bike so the alarm deactivates. This means the fob has to live somewhere accessible, so its size is a bit annoying.
Both the Yadea and the Super Soco come equipped with alarms and systems that lock the rear wheel if you try to push them away without the key. This scuppers the preferred bike thief’s method of pushing a rider along with an outstretched leg and a TMAX, something that could still be done to the BMW.
The Super Soco also comes with a SIM card that’s preloaded with two years of data and allows you to track the bike in real time through an app. Impressive stuff for the cheaper end of the market!
The Yadea and the Super Soco both have removeable batteries, meaning you can whip them out at your home or office and stick them on charge at a three-pin power outlet. The BMW, meanwhile, has a built-in battery, so you need to be able to get the bike to the socket. It’s the only option here that can use a wall box or public charging station but it’s also the least convenient if you live in a flat and have no outdoor sockets.
The BMW CE 04 is an impressive bit of kit and gives me hope for an electrified biking future but I cannot justify the price. The version we tested had a few extras that took the price to £14,120, which isn’t a problem if you are the aforementioned architect but as an option for a normal person to get to a normal job, it’s flippin’ ridiculous.
So, with the BMW ruled out, it’s a straight fight between the Yadea and the Super Soco and my money would go with the latter. Sadly, because the Yadea’s volume is largely filled with batteries there’s no practical advantage to its scootery shape. It’s also let down by a pitiful ground clearance.
Meanwhile, the Super Soco is just bikey-enough to scratch the riding itch, fun to chuck around in a city centre and fast enough to tackle big roads if you need to. The price of electricity may be high right now, but even so a full charge will still only be around 95p. That means it’ll cost you around 1.6p per mile.
More electric commuter bikes to consider
What about electric leisure motorbikes?
Commuting is one thing, but it’s arguably the simplest use-case going as there’s no need to worry about where you are going to charge the bike. You either do it at the home or the work end of the journey.
But many bikers restrict their riding to their own time; from Sunday blasts or long weekends to full on bike tours, greenlaning or even trackdays. So what does the electric world have to offer for these kinds of riders?
Electric bikes may not be troubling their petrol equivalents for most riders in this sector just yet, but ranges well over 100 miles are already possible, making an EV bike a more viable proposition.
Recharge times are dropping too as technology improves. A full battery in 30 minutes isn’t an unrealistic ask these days as high quality, high speed chargers become more prevalent and easier to use.
Here is a list of what we consider the most relevant large-capacity electric motorcycles in 2023.
Power 100bhp | Weight 247kg | Range 115 miles | Charge time 1hr (with rapid charge module)
Along with the Energica Experia below, the Zero DSR/X is claimed to be a fully-fledged adventure bike powered by electricity.
We said: “Weight is comparable to a conventional adventure bike. Lean-sensitive rider aids, (including hill control) both on and off-road, are useful and effective. The bike is comfortable, smooth, vibration-free, silent, easy to ride both on tarmac and the dirt, and has that instant surge of torque that will make even petrol heads smile.”
Power 100.6bhp | Weight 260kg | Range 160 miles | Charge time 50 minutes (with fast charger)
The Energica Experia is claimed to be a ‘Green Tourer’ by the Italian firm and was launched at the end of 2022 as their new flagship model. Real world range figures fell well short of the claimed 160 miles combined range Energica claim but a 50 minute fast charge is still impressive.
We said: “If you could take price and range out of the equation, the Experia is a very impressive motorcycle. The electric motor is superb, the level of tech comparable to petrol-powered rivals (aside from a lack of semi-active suspension) and the handling and comfort levels certainly good enough to class it as a sports tourer.”
Read the full review
Power 115bhp | Weight 240kg | Range 270 miles | Charge time 40 minutes (with CCS Type 2 Rapid Charger)
Ok, so the Arc is unlikely to grace very many garages and carparks around the country. But the £90,000 brainchild of ex-Jaguar/Land Rover designer Mark Truman is important nonetheless. Right at the vanguard of new tech and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, the Arc represents the ghost of electric bikes future.
We said: “Throwing a leg over a motorcycle that costs the same as a Ducati Superleggera is always intimidating enough, but there’s a lot else going on to unnerve you at first. There’s a sequence of buttons to push on the Domino switchgear to make it live and after that the engine waits for you silently, which is always slightly sinister on an electric bike.”
Read the full review
Power 59bhp | Weight 190kg | Range 150+ miles | Charge time 10.5hrs
It’s not as wild as the SR series of bikes, but the S is a realistic electric commuter bike that’s also genuinely fun to ride.
We said: “A reasonably quick yet relaxed roadster – 59bhp peak power, 86mph top speed – which is incredibly simple to ride and costs peanuts to run. The range and recharge time realistically limit its role to the daily commute and short leisure rides, which is also where the relatively basic chassis parts feel most at home.”
Read the full review
Power 110bhp | Weight 235kg | Range 95 miles | Charge time 2.5hrs (Type 2 charger)
This faired option is one of the sportiest electrics on the market right now but is more akin to a petrol sports tourer than a superbike.
We said: “The Zero proves electric can be not only practical but also bloody enjoyable. Fast? Very. Engaging? Extremely. Practical and usable? Yes, all that. The SR/S is a great bike that I genuinely love riding and shows electric bikes now really are worthy of attention. Imagine a silent and refined (and faster) Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX, and you’re just about there.”
Read the full review
Energica Eva Ribelle
Power 144bhp | Weight 270kg | Range 143 miles | Charge time 42mins (to 80% on Fast Charger)
The Energica Eva Ribelle super naked is on borrowed time, with the whole Energica range expected to be replaced with bikes based on the Experia platform in 2023. It’s still a significant bike that put electric power on the map when it was first released in many ways.
We said: “The Eva Ribelle accelerates with the kind of ferocity a superbike would be proud of, is solid in the corners and has a riding position that mixes aggression with comfort. It’s smooth, quiet, easy to ride, well-built, lavishly equipped and its new battery promises to deliver a more usable range.”
Power 104bhp | Weight 249kg | Range 110 miles | Charge time 1hr (Fast Charger)
An OG of the electric bike scene, the Harley-Davidson Livewire was launched in 2019 and was the first serious motorbike to be brought to market by a mainstream manufacturer. It seemed unbelievable at the time that the quintessentially American brand famous for its petrol V-twins would turn to battery power.
Harley have spun the model off into its own marque – so it’s officially called the Livewire One now – but the branding exercise hasn’t reached the UK just yet.
We said: “On paper the LiveWire electric motorbike may appear heavy, lacking battery range and short on power and torque, but riding it tells a different story. It accelerates with the ferocity of a superbike, sounds like a fighter jet and even throbs like a pounding heartbeat at a standstill.”
Power 110bhp | Weight 220kg | Range 82 miles | Charge time 1hr (Fast Charger)
The Zero SR/F closed the style and performance gap between their previous electric offerings and modern internal combustion bikes – and took the award for MCN’s Best Electric Motorcycle in 2019.
We said: “The Zero SR/F is a huge leap forwards in speed, sophistication and recharge time over the firm’s previous generation of bikes. The result is easily the best road-going electric bike yet, offering truly comparable power, weight, handling and excitement to a regular roadster. But despite closing the gap on petrol bikes, for now the catches remain the same three issues: range; recharge time; and price.”
Power 136bhp | Weight 258kg | Range 90-120 miles | Charge time 30mins (85% using Fast Charger)
For 2017 we created an entire new category for the MCN Awards: Electric bike of the year. The Energica Ego took the first ever award after impressing us both on road and track, as well as around the TT course.
The Ego is also the basis for the racers that were used in the single-make MotoE series, from 2019 until Ducati took over from 2023.
We said: “Are electric bikes the future of motorcycling? Well, the Energica Ego has one of the most exciting power deliveries of any engine we’ve ever tried. It’s easy to ride and handles superbly, despite its weight.”
Read the full review
Electric motorbike FAQs
Q: Is an electric motorcycle worth it?
A: This depends heavily on how you use the bike, because electric bikes are very expensive relative to conventional motorcycles of similar performance. You’ll need to cover a lot of miles on electricity in order to pay back the premium in most cases.
However, with the introduction of finance deals specifically aimed at making these bikes more affordable by spreading the cost over long periods, it’s likely costs will drop at some point in the coming years.
Q: Are electric motorcycles good for beginners?
A: The lower-powered versions are great, because they’re twist-and-go bikes, which means they don’t require gear changes. You can also get some that are equivalent to a 125cc petrol bike, which means you don’t need to pass the full bike test in order to ride one. You’ll just need a provisional driving licence and a day-long CBT course. A good example of this is the Super Soco TC Max.
Of course, there are now several electric bikes available with far higher performance.
Q: Are electric motorbikes fun?
A: They’re different to a petrol-powered bike, but do have their advantages – primarily, that they usually have 100% of their torque available at 0rpm, which makes them feel properly rapid, even when they’re not. They’re also smoother.
Q: Is an electric motorbike harder to insure?
A: Our specialists at MCN Compare are on hand to answer this question. Head this way for their advice.
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