KTM’s E-Powered Mini: 10 Thought-Provoking Facts
It’s easy to write off a dirt bike that doesn’t make any noise – until you consider the inevitability of the more stringent regulations in store for internal combustion engines, that is. And what a lot of people still tend to overlook is that a quieter, more environmentally friendly ride isn’t the only thing electric-powered bikes bring to the table. What about the savings they offer on running and maintenance costs? Increased tunability? Added safety features? And, most importantly, what about the extra operational control they put back into young riders’ hands?
A few weeks back, KTM Australia’s official launch of their SX-E 5 electric-powered minicross model sure prompted some internal buzz here at Transmoto. So much so that we figured we ought to capture the 10 most intriguing talking points this pioneering little machine gave rise to…
1. E-LORD AT THE SKATE PARK?
Rad! Finally, a silent little e-powered rig you can take down to the local bush or skate park without upsetting anyone, right? Well, no. In Australia, we have a design rule that throws cold water on that idea. Pedal-assisted bikes that travel up to 25km/h are legal to take into public spaces without any registration or licencing. However, when a bike is electrically driven and has a throttle, and can go more than 25km/h, it’s not legal to ride in public spaces. In other words, sadly, the SX-E 5 is only legal for closed-circuit riding.
2. STICKER SHOCK
When KTM announced that the SX-E 5 would retail for $8395 in Australian dealers, there wasn’t exactly a chorus of claims that it was too cheap – especially when they realised that RRP doesn’t include the battery charger (which is expected to cost around $650). But once people came to understand this machine is genuinely designed to adapt and grow with their kids, social media commentary on our channels simmered down. In fact, people seemed to get their heads around the fact that this bike effectively covers three existing models (KTM’s 50 Adventure, 50SX and 65SX) in one machine, and could save them a lot of money in parts and maintenance. Who doesn’t like the idea of not having to spend a brass razoo on fuel, oil, pistons, clutch and transmission parts, radiators, air filters, exhaust repacking, spark plugs, top- and bottom-end rebuilds? And when you do the math on those savings over the life of the bike, its upfront cost suddenly sounds a whole lot less offensive.
3. ADAPTABILITY EXEMPLIFIED
Arguably, the most ingenious feature of the SX-E 5 is its ability to grow – in both physical size and performance – to suit the rider’s size and ability. Believe it or not, KTM claim it’ll suit a three-year-old’s first two-wheeled experience, right through to a competent 10-year-old racer. This adaptability is made possibly by a six-setting power mode switch (Mode 1 is walking pace, after which the torque and/or throttle response increases with each mode) and by adjustments to bodywork and suspension (mounting points and internal spacers) that allow the seat height to be changed by a whopping 105mm (from 560 to 665mm). KTM’s marketing people also make the valid point that, power unit and frame aside, the SX-E 5 shares a greater majority of its componentry with the 50SX – meaning good parts availability and easy interchangeability.
4. SAFETY FIRST
For adult bikes, safety features generally don’t rate a mention. But for power tools or two-wheeled machinery you put your kids in control of, safety features make a whole lot of sense. Which is why the SX-E 5 has a bunch of them. There’s a built-in roll-over sensor, an emergency off-switch wrist lanyard the bars (which uses a magnetic key), and a dongle under the seat which, once removed, locks the bike into the selected power mode (this is designed to prevent little Johnny ramping up the e-juice when he’s ridden off out of sight). Also, to prevent someone accidentally grabbing the throttle and looping the bike out in the pits, you need to consciously shut the throttle (as in, hold it against the zero-throttle stops for a few seconds) before the motor comes alive. All practical, sensible and functional measures.
5. BATTERY CHARGE VS EXCHANGE
It takes 45 minutes to charge the battery to 80% capacity, or 70 minutes to charge it completely. And KTM reckons that, even after 500 charge cycles, the battery pack retains at least 70% of its charge. That means most people will be able to trickle-charge the battery pack between rides, rather than carrying a spare in the toolbox – especially when they realise the battery pack is not easily swapped and is expected to cost a cool $2300. Ouch! The 6.7kg battery is claimed to have a robust housing (an aluminium die-cast unit, rather than the plastic or steel units used by most other mini motorcycle manufacturers) and very effective cooling system, so it sounds like there’s no need for a back-up.
6. WHAT MAINTENANCE?
If you’re a mini bike parent who’s used to dealing with fouled plugs, air filter servicing, premix ratios and high-maintenance clutches, this stat is going to grab your attention: the only maintenance required for the SX-E 5’s brushless, low-voltage DC motor is replacing the bearings either side of the countershaft sprocket every 40 hours. Yep, you heard that right: two bearings after 40 glorious hours! Sure, the bike will still consume sprockets, chains, brake pads/discs and tyres, just like a 50SX. But consider the savings – in parts and workshop or DIY labour – when you remove the costs of pistons, clutch parts, radiators, air filters, exhaust repairs and repacking, spark plugs, and costly top- and/or bottom-end rebuilds. Your local dealer is also going to warm to this little e-machine because it’s low-voltage (fully charged, it’s about 52 Volts). That means workshops don’t need the special high-voltage qualifications required to work on and sell bikes over 60V (such as KTM’s Freeride-E).
7. COMPARE THE WEIGHT
So, how does KTM’s SX-E 5 and 50SX compare on the scales? They’re almost identical. The e-bike weighs 40.5kg (including its 6.7kg battery) while a 50SX tips the scales 41.5kg (with fluids, but no fuel). Admittedly, weight isn’t a huge factor for kids when it comes to performance, but it’s good to know that young riders won’t find it any tougher to pick the SX-E 5 up after an off.
8. MINI-E vs 50SX – PERFORMANCE PARITY?
KTM went to some pains to explain that the SX-E 5 is a purpose-made, ready to race sports minicycle, not a fun bike. It’s powered by a 5KW electric motor and designed to compete against the 50SX. There’s no doubt that the e-bike is much easier to ride. The power is more direct and controllable, especially for less experiences riders. That’s mainly due to the fact its power and torque are instantaneous, and because there’s no lag for the clutch to take up and drive, as is the case with the 50SX. KTM concedes that the e-bike drives out of turns quicker, but isn’t as fast as a 50SX at the end of a straight. According to KTM, lap times of these two very different machines are the same, but we reckon that’s being overly kind to the 50SX. Every time we’ve observed the two machines back to back – or heard anecdotes from others who’d done the same – both rider feedback and the stopwatch showed the SX-E 5 to have a clear advantage.
9. WHY TIE IT DOWN?
With no fuel, oil, water or scungy exhaust, what’s to say you have to even tie the SX-E 5 down in the back of your van or ute? That’s right; you don’t. Lie it down next to your surfboard. Let your mattress keep it comfortable. Stick it in the boot. Small point, but worthy of mention for cash-strapped parents whose old hatchbacks don’t have any tie-down points.
10. ‘E-MACHINES’ ARE COMING
It’s absolutely no coincidence that KTM Industries AG recently underwent a name change to Pierer Mobility AG! That officially recognised Pierer Mobility Group’s intentions to not only be Europe’s leading manufacturer of “powered two-wheelers” (PTW); it was also aimed at reinforcing the company’s reputation as an innovator that embraces all drive technologies – from combustion engines to electric motors – and has big plans for urban mobility vehicle production. What that says to us is that KTM’s SX-E 5 “minicross” machine is merely the first of what’s likely to be many two-wheeled models that are driven by low-voltage (4-18KW peak power) electric motors. So it comes as no surprise that KTM now has a dedicated team within its R&D department in Austria, working solely on e-mobility concepts and platforms that will be utilised in future models over the next decade. “For now,” reads KTM’s PR about their new “minicross” machine, “the KTM SX-E 5 marks the next chapter in KTM’s e-mobility story and is an important point in the history of junior motorcycling.”