Electric getting closer in development that masses would buy? Range appears to be getting better, style options too…curious to see where this technology really ends up in the motorcycle world…we will keep watching and reading.
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September 20, 2013
By Wes Siler
Following the release of the Mission RS, it is now possible for electric superbikes to outperform their gas-powered predecessors. Electric speed is no longer the sole preserve of American motorcycles. The 2015 Energica Ego is made in Italy and nearly as fast as the Mission. Earlier this week, we got the world exclusive first ride on this new electric superbike.
Energica is a sub brand of CRP, a specialty parts manufacturer that’s been supplying Formula One teams with rapid prototyping, advanced materials and insanely tight tolerances for over 40 years. It’s no coincidence that the company is based in Modena; chief client Ferrari is just down the road. While visiting the factory yesterday, we saw an order sheet with names like Red Bull and Renault on it, too. The parts on order? Everything from brake ducts made from CRP’s proprietary 3D printing material “Windform” to components for next year’s new KERS systems and their electric motors.
So, even though you probably haven’t heard of CRP, they’re no fly-by-night start-up. The company has strong expertise and experience producing parts for the highest performance vehicles in the world and even specifically with high performance electric motors.
Because Formula One has restricted testing, CRP has seen its rapid prototyping business decrease in volume. Their main specialty is delivering precision parts of the highest quality in a very short amount of time — mainly next day, all over the world — something that was in high demand in F1 while it was doing a lot of real world testing. A team would try a part on track, alter its specs minutely and then CRP would rush that part or parts back to them for the subsequent test day. With diminished F1 testing, CRP wanted to diversify its market, identifying electric propulsion as a growth area within its field of expertise — high performance. Energica is intended to establish its name in that field, employing it to create a new Italian motorcycle brand.
This new superbike isn’t just a collection of off-the-shelf parts, nearly everything on it has been designed specifically for the Ego and will be produced either by CRP or European suppliers with specific and established expertise in that area.
The PMAC motor and its controller? Designed and produced by CRP. The batteries? Like all other electric motorcycle makers, Energica sources its cells in the Far East, then designed its own pack and assembles them in-house. The battery casing is made from that Windform material, a plastic resin reinforced with carbon particles to give it extremely high tensile strength while maintaining a low weight. That material is also used to 3D print parts like the fairing, “tank,” front fender, hugger and chain guard. As a result, the entire exterior of the bike is basically one big frame slider. The full-color, TFT dash is produced by COBO, the same Italian company that produces that part for the Ducati 1199 Panigale.
Parts like the suspension and brakes are simply the highest quality items a manufacturer like CRP can buy — fully-adjustable Marzocchi forks fitted with Brembo Monobloc calipers and a twin-tube Ohlins TTX36 shock. Forged aluminum Marchesini wheels are the same as those used by the Panigale S and R. The steel trellis frame and aluminum swingarm were designed and produced in house, again by engineers, machines and materials more used to Formula One.
Energica is working with Portuguese electrical equipment specialist Efacec — a large manufacturer of charging stations — to ensure the Ego will be compatible with quick charging standards the world over and is working with them to develop an app for future owners, allowing them to find and plan journeys using those stations. Efacec has also contributed to the design of electric cars like the Nissan Leaf.
Where other electric motorcycles have come from new companies with big plans, Energica comes from an established industrial player. In addition to being Italian, that’s really what sets it apart from companies like Brammo, Zero, BRD or Mission.
As you can see in these photos, the bike we rode this week is very much a pre-production prototype. We’re the first people outside of Energica to ride it. You can see the seams where the various Windform parts were printed, then bonded together all over the fairing and “tank.” That material can be painted, but why bother on a test bike that there’s a good chance we might crash?
And that’s what we expected when we flew into Florence, then drove down to a tiny hilltop town that dates back to Roman times to test it. Volterra is home to Europe’s first arched city gate and was where the internal combustion engine was invented way back in 1853. We went to the museum, that first motor was a clay jar with a cork in the top. Things have come a long way.
Pre-production bikes are often rough around the edges in more than just visual ways. Intended to develop the various components in real world conditions, one or more major features are typically missing and everything is just sort of bodged on.
But, pulling away from Volterra’s town square, over its slick, steep cobblestone streets, there wasn’t any roughness, it wasn’t tempermental and it didn’t once try to spit us off. Instead, what we found was a shockingly (har) complete package. This prototype didn’t just feel like a production bike, but the kind of slickly executed, cohesive, user friendly package that we’d more typically associate with, say, a Honda production bike.
A lot of that comes from the throttle response. This is the real black magic that can make or break an electric vehicle. Know how your stock motorcycle hesitates and jumps when you roll the throttle gently from completely closed, to just trying to maintain speed at low revs? There’s none of that on the Energica. While the degree of twist isn’t totally linear — it ramps up more quickly through the last third of the movement — it is smooth and predictable and intuitive. There is zero hesitation between closed and maintenance throttle and, because there’s no explosions in its electric motor, things continue with no hesitation, in a completely smooth manner, all the way up to full throttle.
Get there and you’re rewarded with very strong acceleration. As tested here, the Ego makes 124 lb.-ft. of torque and 134 bhp. That’s less power than the 160 bhp Mission, but still an awful, awful lot of torque, all instantly available and, unlike a gas bike, unrelated to gear selection. That removes the need to chase revs and gears from the riding equation, leaving you free to exploit the maximum possible acceleration any time you’re ready. Corners become about lines and trail braking and acceleration points, only. That makes electric bikes like this absolutely superior performance motorcycles in the real world, leaving nothing in the way of you riding them faster.
The Energica is also a little heavier than the Mission. Here equipped with 12kWh of battery, it weighs 580 lbs, 40 lbs more than its made-in-San Francisco rival. We were unable to find an explanation for that disadvantage, but suspect it comes at least partially from the inclusion of a separate controller and onboard charger, equipment the Mission integrates into a single unit.
Where the Energica has the Mission beat, though, is in user friendliness. Where the American bike is essentially a road legal racer and has the limited steering lock and aggressive nature that suggests, the Energica has been developed as a road going superbike. It can perform a u-turn in the width of the road and is much easier to ride. Think back to that Honda-like execution of the control feedback and how every part on the Ego works together to work with you.
The most surprising aspect of the Ego’s performance? How well it tackles low-speed, hairpin corners. A bike this heavy has no right to steer this quickly or inspire so much confidence below 30 mph. Weight is centralized around an ideal center of gravity and, because there’s so much of it, moving it even a slight amount has a very large effect on handling. Energica can raise the batteries 10mm and experience an effect similar to raising the engine on a gas bike by 20mm.
Like the Mission, the Energica benefits from the electric powertrain’s complete lack of vibration and reciprocating inertia, factors that combine to elevate feel to hitherto unprecedented levels. You can push the Ego’s front end into a corner very, very hard largely because it communicates grip levels so directly. Energica has maximized this trait by giving this tester a very plush suspension setup, something that works with the very low unsprung weight to maximize ride quality and keep the tires planted on the road even over very large bumps.
Also like the Mission, steering is fast, but the bike is very stable. It turns with the speed of a 600, but rides over large bumps like an ADV bike. The high sprung to low unsprung weight ratio helps there, leaving the suspension free to move quickly without upsetting the bike it’s attached to.
The result of all that is a bike that flows down the road at a rapid pace, unfazed by imperfections and empowering its rider with instantaneous performance and greater feel than anything possible on a gas-powered motorcycle. The result is extreme confidence and a rider that only has to focus on one thing — the road ahead of him.
During this short test ride, we were unable to evaluate the Energica’s range — said to approach 150 miles in realistic speeds — and this prototype was not fitted with the ABS or traction control systems that will come standard on the production bike.
If they have so much torque, why don’t electric motorcycles accelerate much, much faster than their ICE counterparts?
An Energica engineer answered that question by explaining that Ego’s gearing is equivalent to 4th gear on an Internal Combustion Engine sport bike like the Ducati 1199 Panigale. Making much more torque and making it from 0 up to 5,000rpm enables them to push a higher gear while still delivering very strong acceleration and a 150 mph top speed.
Power increases in a linear manner as revs rise, but it’s torque that you feel, so as it tapers from 5,000rpm to the motor’s 10,500rpm redline, it feels as if the bike is accelerating less hard. This is a better illustration of torque vs horsepower than you’ll find onboard an ICE bike; power is a calculation, torque is motive energy.
Smooth, smooth throttle control. There’s zero hesitation and using that throttle is completely intuitive from the first second you hop on the bike.
The high sprung to low unsprung weight ratio combines with plush suspension settings to deliver an outstanding ride without making the suspension overly soft; it doesn’t dive unduly on the brakes or squat under acceleration.
The 580 lbs curb weight disappears once you pull away; the Ego changes direction like a 600.
Conventional, but good ergonomics facilitate good body position and man/machine interaction.
The TFT screen is bright, easy to read and immediate, conveying a lot of information with very little effort.
While not as outrageously aggressive as the Mission, the Ego still delivers a compelling, evocative, futuristic sound track. It sounds as fast as it is.
Making the fairing and “tank” out of a very strong, very rugged, easily produced material like Windform is genius; the bike should resist damage in a crash very well.
Overall execution is Honda-like in its completeness and user friendliness.
On this prototype, the bars were too low, leading to wrist pain in minutes.
The seat isn’t quite long enough, cramping the rider’s ability to scoot back and tuck in. Energica is aware of this and says it will fix it for production.
There’s no getting around it, 580 lbs is a ton of weight for a performance motorcycle. It blunts outright performance and makes the bike difficult to manage at very, very low speeds.
When it puts the bike on-sale in 2015, Energica is targeting a $25,000 price point. That’s $5,000 cheaper than the faster Mission. That bike is more complete from a consumer product perspective, benefiting not just from higher performance, but also from sleeker looks, slicker packaging from its James Parker-designed chassis and a more cleverly conceived charging system that should deliver faster charging times, despite its greater battery capacity. The Mission OS and its large display, onboard video camera and Internet connectivity also trumps Energica’s more conventional setup.
The handling of a CBR600RR with the torque of a Panigale in a package with greater feel and better ride quality than either. If you needed any more evidence that electric power is a game changer for performance motorcycles, the fact that Energica is delivering another unprecedentedly fast motorcycle using the technology should provide it. Range and recharge times are less completely resolved here than they are on the faster Mission, but the Energica is easier to ride and more road friendly regardless, while getting close in performance.
RideApart Rating: 9/10