KTM is planting seeds for an electric motocross future via the launch of the SX-E 5, which is a 50cc sized electric motocross bike. These new machines are heading to dealers soon and the AMA plans to offer electric kids bike classes in 2020.
The advantages of electric bikes for kids are fairly obvious—the low noise/low vibration design is less intimidating for new riders, and engine mapping allows for massive adjustments in power output. Plus, instead of chasing jetting and carburetor setup, all mom and dad have to do with this bike is charge it.
Still, though, there’s a lot of skepticism over this new machine. KTM’s MSRP is $5,049—$700 more than the existing 50SX. We've posted some specs and info on the bike. Can it win over parents and new riders? We talked to Ryan Sarancha, a KTM product management specialist, about the machine during Saturday’s media launch.
Racer X: Personally, I’m totally sold on electric bikes for kids, I even have one from a different brand for my daughter. I was surprised, when KTM said this bike was coming, that I saw something like a 70/30 approval rate from fans, just judging by what I’ve heard and read. Some people are excited about these bikes, some people are saying these bikes are not going to be reliable, and things like that. So the very first thing I want to go into, I know it’s new technology and maybe that scares people, but actually one of the biggest advantages of an electric bike is reliability.
Ryan Sarancha: Absolutely. The reliability is going to be a huge advantage because you have so many less opportunities for a failure like you would with a gas-powered engine. This is a complex system for sure with the control units and the boards and everything, but it’s more or less a simple design from the battery to the motor in terms of delivering power, the control units that we have, the rider control in terms of setting the power delivery and all that. Again, there are always opportunities for failures with anything, but there’s very few as opposed to a more complex machine like a gas-powered motorcycle.
Talk about the effort and the R&D and all the work I’m sure you put in to try to, on a first-generation product, make sure it’s fairly foolproof.
Absolutely. For our R&D department we’ve been working on e-mobility concepts for the last ten years. We already brought to market the Freeride E-XC. That was introduced in 2014. So we have a long history already in this segment. Any motorcycle that we bring to market is going to have a tremendous amount of durability testing behind it. Our R&D teams are typically going to work on something for four years before we even bring it out to the public. So we’ve got a lot of testing on all of the components and a lot of history with developing and designing these new technologies.
I’m sure it’s been ridden in rain, and mud, and all these things.
Of course. You’ve got that die-cast battery, so you’ve got a system there that’s pretty resilient in terms of the environment. We have a completely sealed motor. So again, you don’t have any issues there with contaminants getting into the motor. So it’s basically a maintenance-free item. You’re really not going to worry too much about what you’re riding through. Again, just like with any motorcycle you probably don’t want to put a pressure washer underneath the seat and pull the trigger. You want to be careful about that for seals and everything.
But gas bikes in a mud race or with a pressure washer, they have their weaknesses too. I guess because it’s new, people can be skeptical at times. But you’ve kind of gone through all of those stages and reliability tests already.
Yeah. That’s actually one of the reasons that we brought out a mini motorcycle, is because there’s a lot of skepticism and a lot of bias out there for new technology, but not with a new rider. This is someone who isn’t used to already a gas-powered engine. I’ve talked to riders of gas-powered bikes and they love the noise. The love the feel, the smell of the smoke, the smell of race gas. It’s part of their experience in riding a motorcycle. So it’s harder to kind of introduce new technology to them and pry them away from their gas-powered motorcycles. But with a four or five-year-old rider with no experience, they’re going to take to that electric motorcycle very quickly. It’s confidence-inspiring. It’s less intimidating. So they’re going to like it. We’ve actually find during testing it’s harder to then introduce them to a gas-powered bike because they’re like, what’s this thing all about? With all the vibration and the noise and the smoke.
Ryan Morais told me one of the first times his kid rode this bike as one of a testers, he said, "Dad, I don’t tingle. I’m not tingling when I’m done riding it anymore, like a gas bike."
Yeah, which is also fatiguing. So you can ride for longer more comfortably. All of those things are huge benefits. These are the early stages of the technology. We are looking at this segment, e-mobility, very carefully. We have a plan for the future. So definitely there’s going to be more models.
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Talk about the key things, for example the adjustability. Just explain that a little bit, both power-wise and body size.
So two main areas there you mentioned, power and the seat height and ergonomics, we have six different levels of seat height that you can choose from. You can get to those by lowering the bodywork, changing the suspension position, and then lowering the suspension internally with our lowering kit. So you make those changes there and then you can pick the power mode that suits the seat height. You’ve got six difficult levels of power mode to select through. So you can really set the bike up perfectly for any rider.
You’re looking at them over there and it looks like it’s two different motorcycles, but it’s actually the same bike.
Yeah. I actually heard that from a few different people who saw the bikes side-by-side. We had one SX-E 5 at its lowest setting, one in the middle, and then one at its highest setting and they actually thought that they were looking at different models, but no. It’s the one bike that has that much adaptability in terms of seat height.
It is more expensive than the existing gas ones, about $700 more than the 50SX. With the reduced maintenance and the adjustability, do you feel you’ve offset that?
We definitely brought it out at a great price for the technology. But you make a great point. You’re going to be cost-neutral on that difference. As soon as you factor in the gas that you save, the replacement parts that you save, it’s going to be a savings in your pocketbook very quickly when you buy the electric version. The size range of the bike covers two existing bikes in our lineup. The SX-E 5 at its lowest setting is about the seat height of the 50SX Mini, and then at its highest setting it’s about the seat height of the 50 SX. So it’s covering those two bikes in our range, but also because of the power levels that you can select, you can take the power all the way down to the point where it’s just going a little faster than walking pace.
Which is slower than your existing mini 50?
Oh, absolutely. Much slower. You could look at this as a replacement for a Strider at that point. If you can meet that seat height, which it’s a very low seat height as it starts out. So it’s really replacing multiple bikes. Considering we’re looking at an age range of three to four years old up to about ten years old, you’ve got one bike that’s going to take your child all the way through six years roughly of ownership. Not only that, because it has adjustable seat height, you can have one bike around for multiple kids to ride.
It’s very quick to do those changes?
Yeah. It’s quick to do those changes. You lower the seat height, reduce the power, if you’ve got a younger kid out there riding, having fun. Bring that seat height up, increase the power, and now you’ve got an older sibling out there doing the same thing.
As far as riding it, I noticed that you haven’t gone out of your way to say it’s faster or the lap times are better than a gas 50. Just the equivalent is what you’re saying at this point?
Well because it is different. It’s not something where we just want to come out and say it’s faster or it’s slower, or whatever it might be. What we’ve seen in testing is that in a drag race the 50 SX was faster in a drag race, but looking at lap times actually the SX-E 5 is faster. So it depends on the track and all the conditions. Power delivery is different. So what we also want to really make clear is we’re not trying to replace the 50 SX. The SX-E 5 is a model that’s just really friendly to new riders, and with a lot of adaptability. So we really look at it as something different, a different option for parents.
So if you still, for example, if you’re seven or eight, and your kid has already been riding a gas 50 for five years, and that’s what he’s dialed in on, keep going. You’re not discontinuing the gas 50. You can still do that.
Absolutely. The one thing I would say is that perhaps you want to take advantage of the fact that it’s silent or has no maintenance. So that could come into play. Also, if you have some property you can run that bike in your backyard, something you can’t do with your existing 50 SX. So maybe as a parent you buy the 50 SX-E for training at home, and then you go out and race your 50 SX.
Is there any comment regaring mom or dad doing a little backyard mini-bike bashing themselves? Or are you not officially able to endorse that behavior?
[Laughs] I think that we built a great motorcycle for young riders and that’s what it’s designed for, but I can tell you we all have time on that bike.
Honestly, if you ride one of the existing gas KTM 50s as an adult, the bike is not going to like it, I don’t think. They’re not really designed to be pit bikes. But the reliability factor of this probably could handle that a little bit better.
It certainly has seemed fine with me on it!
Really? You’ve ridden it?
I’ve ridden it. I’m about 180 pounds.
It’s got to be fun.
Of course it’s fun. The power delivery is so constant. The first thing that I noticed, and I don’t know if I should talk too much about my experience riding the bike, the first thing that I noticed is that it doesn’t really sign off. It just keeps building power. When you’re in that mode six, it’s amazing.
Actually, going back to the suitability for kids, when you look at the power delivery of any two-stroke and then especially the one-speed with automatic clutch two-stroke, the delivery is a little odd. So that has to be an advantage, especially if you’re just starting. Nothing has linear power delivery like an electric motor.
Not at all. The throttle is not a light switch, either. With an electric motor you can have instant torque. We’ve done a really good job making sure that power comes on in a controllable and confidence-inspiring way.
KTM always says ready to race. Is there room if people want to make theirs better or faster? Do you have any idea how that would work? You would imagine once they’re on the racetrack, people modify their bikes. How does that part work?
Absolutely. There’s nothing but endless opportunities for modifications with electric motors. I think our R&D guys would have to answer exactly what they’ve got in the works, but I can tell you just coming off of electric radio controlled cars, there are thousands of modifications on the market for electric motors and battery options and controller options. So I would be prepared for all of that. What we bring to market is entirely going to depend on what we see consumers doing with the bike and what the demand is for the bike. We’re going to respond to that.
But the basic racing model, where companies and people are trying to build a better bike than the other guy on the starting gate, that idea has been around forever. With this bike, motocross doesn’t instantly become spec-class racing, necessarily?
We’ll have to see as it develops, absolutely. We announced that there’s going to be a class for the bike, which is super exciting. Once we have some seasons under our belt and we’ve seen how people are using the bike, we can then develop it from there.
Main Image: Spencer Owens