2017 KTM Freeride E-XC First Ride Review
Rail trails disturbing almost no one
If your idea of off-road riding is busting big air over triple jumps, the Freeride-E will disappoint. But KTM’s electric-powered off-roader broadens the scope of what’s possible in a dirtbike built to quietly conquer trails of fun.
2017 KTM Freeride E-XC
As a longtime devotee of performance, I was a rider who aspired to bad-ass motocross bikes and ripping up racetracks, that is until I shattered my ankle on a 450 at Glen Helen, suffering through four surgeries and threats of amputation. Since then I rarely ride off-road for fear of re-injury or developing new ones, and it’s a riding activity I dearly miss.
And that’s why I was grinning like a child in my helmet when riding the Freeride-E on the hilly trails around the Wildomar OHV area in southern California – and doing it in near silence. It rekindled the pure element of fun that is the whole reason most of us started riding motorbikes in the first place. It’s fast enough to thrill, capable enough to tackle gnarly terrain, and manageable enough to make even an old dude feel fully in control. Even a salty off-road veteran like our cohort at Dirtbikes.com, Scott Rousseau (pictured in the lead photo), had a blast riding it.
The E-XC is basically a Freeride 250R with its two-stroke engine replaced by an electric motor and swappable battery. It’s been available in Europe for a couple of years in three versions: motocross (E-SX), supermoto (E-SM) and enduro (E-XC), the latter two being street legal. North America is now getting the XC version, but it’s not officially legal for use on our roads.
All electric vehicles suffer potential penalties of weight, range and price. The E-XC balances the range/weight aspects by fitting a relatively low-capacity battery pack with just 2.6 kWh of capacity. For comparison, consider the smallest battery in a Zero motorcycle (FXS ZF3.3) has a 2.9 kWh nominal capacity and stretches up to as much as 14.3 kWh (DSR with Power Tank). The self-contained KTM pack is filled with 360 lithium-ion cells from Samsung, and it can easily be swapped in about a minute. The downside is that an extra batt pack, which weighs about 50 pounds, will cost an extra $3,600.
KTM says the Freeride’s battery can yield up to one hour of off-road riding time, depending on terrain and a rider’s exuberance. Holding it pinned across a prairie would quickly sap its juice, while picking your way through tight trails would enable much greater run time. KTM says it can reach an 80% charge from dead in 50 minutes; from drained to 100% requires 80 minutes. Complicating matters is that the charger requires a 220-volt power supply. This is easy enough to set up at your home, which an electrician will charge about $300, but it means that most petrol-powered generators won’t charge the battery, severely limiting riding options when out riding somewhere off the grid.
The Freeride-E loves unraveling twisty trails, using its steep 23-degree rake angle and moderate 238-lb weight to deftly navigate even ultra-tricky areas. It feels almost like a 125cc two-stroke and is nicely balanced like we expect from a KTM dirtbike. The seat is placed a not-inconsiderable 35.8 inches from the ground, but it’s a full 2 inches lower than a traditional enduro like KTM’s 250 EXC. The narrow seat and slim midsection helps disguise its tall nature.
“It’s basically a trials bike with a seat,” KTM’s Tom Moen succinctly stated at the launch.
Powering the Freeride-E is a brushless permanent-magnet motor that utilizes two tiny radiators to shed excessive heat. The motor is remarkably small, and it uses a geared primary drive to a countershaft sprocket, which KTM says its testing proved is a more durable arrangement when pounding over bumps than power taken directly from the motor.
Peak output is rated at 21.5 hp (16 kW). More impressive is the torque, which is said to be 31 lb-ft, a figure that dwarfs a 250cc four-stroke engine (less than 20 lb-ft at the tire). Three engine modes are available. The Economy setting is basically for beginners and for maximizing range. Full power is available in Enduro and Cross modes, with the latter coming on sooner and being especially snappy. Enduro mode was plenty on the tight and sandy Wildomar trails, with enough grunt to loft the front end over rocks and tree roots when desired, even without fanning the clutch, which there is none. And, surprisingly, I never missed having one.
Brakes and suspension components are borrowed from KTM’s 85 SX model, but don’t let that make you think they aren’t up to the task of supporting the Freeride-E. The suspension has beefier springs to support the full-size Freeride, with a 43mm WP fork that boasts compression- and rebound-damping adjustments, while the linkageless WP shock adds separate high- and low-speed compression-damping adjustability. They do a fine job of sucking up trail-size bumps but would be overwhelmed on a motocross track.
The front brake is a tidy little four-piston Formula caliper, radially mounted and biting on a 260mm wave rotor through a braided steel line. Its power and response were terrific for the trails on which we tested. The rear brake is one of the items I didn’t like, as it’s actuated by a hand control where a clutch lever normally would reside. KTM says the foot lever from a Freeride 250R can be retrofitted, and this is an option I’d be tempted pursue to make the bike feel more natural to someone like myself accustomed to regular motorcycle controls. It is, however, occasionally a benefit when braking in right-hand corners.
Mentioned above are the potential penalties of electric vehicles, and to address the third (aside from range and weight) – price – KTM has a fairly bold strategy with its importation of about 100 units.
“KTM has created this pilot program as a way to better understand the level of consumer interest in electric motorcycles, which will assist us in future planning when considering serial production of electric motorcycles in the coming years,” said Tom Etherington, VP of Sales, KTM North America, adding that the E-XC will be sold from just 11 of its qualified dealers. “The exciting part for consumers is that through this pilot program, the Freeride E-XC is available for a price that is substantially less than these models would sell for outside of this program.”
At just $8,299, the Freeride E-XC can seem like a real off-road bargain considering its origin, componentry and performance. And it very well could be for a rider in certain circumstances. For example, a KTM employee has turned many dozens of hours aboard the E-XC by riding from his home in Lake Elsinore, down the street and into the hills beyond. He tires himself out before the battery is drained and returns home for another battery pack or a rest.
But if you live less geographically desirable to off-road areas than the KTM guy, that means loading up and driving out to your favorite trails, places where 220-volt outlets are usually scarce. That means bringing along an extra battery, transforming your $8,299 bike into one costing $11,299. And even then you’d be limited to only two hours of ride time. To open up options for consumers, KTM would be wise to adapt its charger to work on a 110-volt outlet.
The brains behind the charging invention linked just above, the brilliant Brandon Noziaki Miller, says he and his company, digiNow, could build a charger that would work on a 110v system. It would be about the size of an extra-thick hamburger and be able to charge at a rate a bit slower than KTM’s 220v charger. I think I’ll put them in touch with each other.
As for competition, Alta Motors has its impressive Redshift we have yet to test, but it’s far more powerful (120 lb-ft) and expensive ($15k) to be an actual rival. A KTM rep likened that comparison to a YZ450 and TT-R125.
More appropriate would be the Zero FX 3.3. It has 27 hp (20kw) motor and has a 2.9 kWh battery, scaling in just 9 pounds more than the KTM’s weight claim. In its favor is the ability to be charged from a 110v outlet, its street legality and its top speed purported to be above 80 mph, but its use off-road would be compromised by its belt final drive and less suspension travel. At an MSRP of $8,495, they’re nearly equal in price.
Whaddaya say, Zero and KTM. Would you like to see your bikes in a head-to-head battle?
2017 KTM Freeride E-XC
- Almost no noise and zero exhaust emissions
- Ease of use and low maintenance
- Fun, fun, fun!
- Short range
- Where do I find a 220v generator?
- Where’s the brake pedal?
2017 KTM Freeride E-XC Specifications
|Permanent magnet synchronous motor
|11 kW (15 hp) @ 5,500 rpm
|16 kW (22 hp) @ 4,500 rpm
|42 Nm from 0 rpm
|Max. motor speed
|1 : 2.4
|Lithium-ion KTM Power Pack (easily removable)
|Charging time 100%
|Charging time 80%
|Charger line voltage
|230 V / 50 Hz
|Quick charging 13 A, normal charging 10 A
|Quick charging 3,000 W, normal charging 2,400 W
|Perimeter steel-aluminum composite frame
|High-strength polyamide/ABS plastic
|WP USD 43mm, 9.8 inches of travel
|WP PDS shock absorber, 10.2 inches of travel
|Formula disc brakes Ø 260 mm
|Formula disc brakes Ø 230 mm
|1.60 x 21″ Giant rims
|1.85 x 18″ Giant rims
|5/8 x 1/4″
|Steering head angle
|1418 ± 10 mm / 55.8 ± 0.4 in
|340 mm / 13.4 in
|910 mm / 35.8 in
|108 kg / 238.1 lb
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