Best electric dirt bikes 2020
Electric motorcycles for the road may not convince everyone, but for off-road bikes, the case for battery power is even more compelling. Range isn't such an issue, because off-road bikes are rarely ridden for more than an hour at a time, and the torque characteristics of an electric motor – instant torque at any speed without the need for gears – are ideal for tricky going and surfaces.
Then there's the elephant in the room – noise. Off-road motorcycling, whether motocross, trials or just trail riding for fun, has been under attack from the anti-noise brigade since the beginning of time. This clearly isn't an issue with electric bikes.
Electric off-roaders are also more suitable for children than petrol machines – no clutch, no gears, no hot exhaust. And transport is easier, because there are no fluids to spill.
Battery-powered dirt bikes still cost more up-front than their petrol counterparts, and none of the bikes featured here qualify for the plug-in grant, but there's still a reasonable choice of machines, from the child-friendly Oset to the race-ready KTM.
Oset 24.0 Racing – £3,399
Oset has virtually cornered the market for kids' electric dirt bikes. Now based in the UK, it was started by American Ian Smith, who wanted a decent dirt bike for his three-year-old son to start out on, but was put off by the prospect of flammable fuel and hot exhausts.
The Oset trials bike was the result, and has been a huge success ever since. No clutch, no gears, no fluids to spill and no red-hot exhaust to burn small fingers. Oset now offers a big range of trials bikes to suit three to five-year-olds, five to seven-year-olds, eight-year-olds plus and most recently teens and adults as well.
Lead-acid batteries keep the cost down on the smaller bikes (from £889), while the 24.0 Racing is a full-size trials machine with 19-inch tyres, a lithium-ion battery and disc brakes. Trials is the low-speed arm of off-road biking; it’s more about learning delicate balance skills than leaping off big jumps.
Sur Ron Light Bee – from £3,995
In a world of lightweight dirt bikes, Sur Ron is the featherweight. At just 50kg, the Light Bee is almost light enough to qualify as an electric bicycle, but in looks, layout and chassis spec, it's halfway between a full-size dirt bike and a downhill mountain bike.
Purely designed for use off-road, the Light Bee has a small 1.2 or 1.9kWh battery and a motor peaking at 5kW, but the low weight means it’ll still top 45mph, which is fast enough for most dirt junkies. Sur Ron says it'll even run 60 miles on a charge… at a steady 12mph.
Otherwise, a short wheelbase, big ground clearance and strong frame promise fine off-road agility. There's also the full-sized Storm Bee, more of a 125cc-equivalent bike with more power, a bigger battery and 126kg weight.
CAKE Kalk – from £10,800
Imagine you're a DJ planning a rave in isolated woodland, or a carpenter needing access to power tools miles from anywhere – the CAKE could be the bike for you. Built in Sweden, it offers an off-grid power supply from the main battery, with an AC-DC inverter able to fuel tools, PA systems or lights.
Otherwise, the CAKE Kalk (the name probably works better in Swedish) is a bare-bones dirt bike that’s road-legal. The 7kW (10kW peak) motor is enough for a top speed of 63mph and a range of just over 60 miles of mixed riding, as long as you opt for the bigger 2.5kWh battery.
Weighing 77kg, the CAKE is another featherweight off-roader with very low maintenance, thanks to the electric motor and belt drive –chores are restricted to brakes, tyres and battery charging. As for the style, it's pure Swedish functionality – did anyone mention IKEA?
KTM Freeride E-XC – about £10,500
KTM is the Ducati of dirt bikes, with countless championships and race wins to its name. It's also a pioneer of full-size electric off-roaders, launching the Freeride back in 2014. Since then, it has become an established part of the range, with motocross, enduro and roadgoing supermoto versions, plus a small-wheeled minibike.
The 9kW (18kW peak) motor is water-cooled, as is the control unit, and the small 3.9kWh battery helps keep weight down to just 111kg. KTM claims the battery, which can be charged in situ or lifted out, gives 90 minutes of off-road riding and takes 75 minutes for an 80% recharge. It also reckons the Freeride is novice-friendly, with three riding modes from the mild Economy to full power Cross.
And if you get carried away, when the battery falls below 10% charge, the bike goes into power-saving limp-home mode. Otherwise, the Freeride is like any other KTM dirt bike, with high-spec WP suspension, decent brakes and a quality frame.
You can't walk into your local Yamaha dealer and buy a TY-E trials bike, because it's an “advanced development vehicle created as part of Yamaha Motor's Evolving R&D programme”. This scheme allows Yamaha boffins to spend 5% of their working hours on projects of their own choice, and the TY-E was the result in 2018.
It has been evolving ever since, and has been campaigned in Trial-E World Championships. Like any trials bike, the TY-E majors on light weight, manoeuvrability and low-speed control. A carbon-fibre monocoque frame holds the small battery and keeps weight down to 70kg, with a very compact motor and flywheel designed to give good low-speed traction.
Unusually for an electric bike, the TY-E has a mechanical clutch, the better to smoothly feed in power at sub-walking-pace speeds. Yamaha may not be selling TY-Es to the public just yet, but it's a sign that the company is pursuing electric, as well as petrol, R&D.