Electric Motocross buzzes into life

Less than a fortnight ago the Zolder circuit in Belgium hosted the first high-profile electric motocross race where the Freeride E held star billing just as much as Red Bull KTM staff like Stefan Everts, Ken De Dycker and British MX2 star Jake Nicholls. Everts would run out as winner in the five-lapper across a small and specially constructed track at the former F1 venue but we grabbed a few moments with Nicholls at the recent Grand Prix of Portugal to asked what he thought of swapping gas for wattage…

So how on earth did you end up at an e-bike race two days before a Grand Prix?
It was organised by KTM in Belgium and they contacted Jacky [Martens, Team Owner and Manager] and he asked what I was doing on Thursday evening. I thought ‘I can’t really miss this opportunity’. I have never ridden an electric bike and Stefan [Everts] and a few others were there so I thought ‘why not?’. Zolder is only twenty minutes drive.

Was it a bit like going Karting?
Yeah! It was that kind of feeling. It was fun but there was also a race involved. I think the karting comparison is a good example of what it is going to be like for a while, until perhaps electric motocross develops to the stage where it can be a viable and proper championship. It was so much fun and the same atmosphere as going karting, we were shouting at each other going into corners rather than revving the bike! With Stefan and Ken there was a competitive side and at the same time we were learning how to ride these bikes fast.

What was your first impression of the electric bike?
I was surprised how nice it looked. The majority of it is a battery and there is only so much you are going to be able to do with that but it is based on the Freeride 350. When I climbed on it just felt like a normal bike. The only strange thing when I set off was not having any controls by my feet. Normally when I riding sometimes without realising I tuck my foot under the gear level so if I’m going through whoops then your foot isn’t wobbling around. So that was weird. Otherwise it was normal and well built, identical to a normal bike to be honest. The biggest thing to get used to was braking with the clutch fingers and not changing gear!

What about that freewheel sensation…?
There is no engine braking of course. I noticed it on one big jump. I went around the outside of a corner to get some speed but the bikes are set at a certain speed level. You cannot over-rev! The pick-up is unbelievable and I realised it didn’t really matter whether I was inside or outside I’d be hitting the same speed. It just shoots out of the corners and the fun came because you still had to control it. It is not just a twist-and-go like some people think. They can be really quick…but I guess it comes down to battery life then.

So in some ways like a fast bicycle…
Yeah! It is! I am big into my bicycles and I jump mountain bikes quite a lot. I reckon you could hone bits of your technique on these things. The best part is that if you have a garden then you can just motor around. If you played around on one of these things a couple of hours a week it would be just like practicing. They have the same shape and dynamics. It is a toy I would love myself…so if KTM would like to give me one….

Anything that you didn’t particularly like?
Riding it I would say the way the power stops at a certain level. It climbs so nicely but then hits a ceiling and stops. I guess combustion engines would be the same if they were automatic but that’s where the gear changes can make the difference. Watching the race, I’d say just how much the noise is part of motorsport and makes it so nice. I love noise and watching bikes and cars it is such an element of the sport you perhaps take a bit for granted. The bikes were a lot louder a few years ago and the future of the sport means they will get quieter.

There’s the irony; the noise is a big part of motorsport but also something that threatens it…
That’s right but if losing some of the noise protects the sport then so be it. It is not like we’ll be doing GPs on electric bikes next year and it feels like we are getting lower with the limits all the time. If I’m practicing in Holland or Belgium noise and I come across a hobby rider with a really loud silencer I get annoyed. It bugs me. We are riding around 20-30 seconds faster than them yet they have this horribly loud bike that is not going any quicker. The people in the village hear them, not us and it is ruining it. When the sport gradually goes down to hardly any noise then I’m sure we’ll be used to it by that stage. I can remember those air-cooled four-strokes a few years ago…there must have been some hearing damage through those!

Final thoughts?
You know…the way it is designed though it feels very much like a proper bike. It is very elegant and a nice looking. I’m excited to see how the development will go because it my eyes it is a really good play bike.