Ride Review: Energica Ego

07/19/2014 @ 8:05 pm, by Jensen Beeler12 COMMENTS

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Born out of Italy’s automotive epicenter in Modena, CRP Racing is a well-regarded engineering firm, whose roots can be firmly found in car racing’s premier class, Formula One. This year marks 45 years of CRP Racing’s tradecraft, and it also marks the public launch of the company’s Energica Ego electric superbike.

A project we first saw first-hand at the 2011 EICMA show, and later in the FIM eRoadRacing electric series, the company’s Energica Ego electric motorcycle seemed like an over-reach. The design was…umm, different…the naming was tough for English-speakers who were familiar with the Austrian school of thought regarding psychoanalysis, and CRP Racing’s experience with electric drivetrains was a huge question mark.

Fast-forward to the 2013 EICMA show, where the Energica Ego project showed its resilience. The small Italian firm had found a drivetrain partner, its concept bike had been flushed out into a runner, and the folks from Modena were pushing forward with their plans to release a production model. However, we have seen plenty of electric motorcycle startups reach this point before, with the term “production” being used only by the loosest of definitions.

Arriving then at Alice’s Restaurant, a local motorcycle hangout near A&R HQ, I had plenty of skepticism packed with my leathers, helmet, boots, and gloves. However, the design of the Energica Ego had begun to grow on me — it wasn’t the same lustful wanting that I had with the lines of the Mission RS though, nor the racing-bred techno-orgasm that comes with the MotoCzysz E1pc — but it was a certain appreciation that the bird-like nose no longer rubbed me the wrong way.

Just as the Ego had evolved into something more refined and polished over time, so too had the company. After riding the Ego on a modest trip down one of the SF Bay Area’s favorite twisty roads, the impression was solidified —  if I arrived a cynic to the bike launch, I left Alice’s as a convert.

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Kicking the tires on the Energica Ego reveals familiar names. Fully adjustable Marzocchi forks do the suspension work up front, while a single Öhlins shock does the suspension work on the rear. I make the distinction of saying a single shock, because it would be easy to confuse from the photos that the Ego has a dual-shock rear setup, as the solo Öhlins unit is mounted almost completely on the right-hand side of the motorcycle.

A quick look at ground level reveals why, the massive 134hp permanent magnet AC (PMAC) electric motor protrudes rearward considerably, forcing Energica to mount the rear shock to the side, which in turn caused CRP to engineer a beefed up swingarm to account for the torsional stress of such an offset.

OZ Wheels were fitted to the bikes we rode, while braking duty was done by four-piston Brembo monoblocks and 330mm rotors at the front. Energica plans to release the Ego with Bosch’s renowned dual-channel ABS setup, but the German company was still calibrating the anti-locking brakes system for the Italian motorcycle at the time of this writing, and thus it was not engaged for our test.

For a select few owners, the Energica Ego 45 will be available to help celebrate CRP Racing’s 45-year anniversary, and it features Öhlins R/T suspension with World Supersport internals, upgraded Brembo brakes, Marchesini wheels, and carbon fiber bodywork. It will not be cheap.

Energica won’t say who is providing the electric drivetrain components, but the Ego is built around a 100kW / 143 lbs•ft PMAC motor, 11.7 kWh (nominal) battery pack with LiFePO4 cells. The company has developed its own Vehicle Control Unit (VCU) to interconnect the various components involved, thus allowing Energica to use different suppliers in the future without massively revamping its systems.

On the software end of things, the Energica Ego has four riding modes: Standard, Sport, Eco, and Wet, which adjust the power output and throttle response to suit those obvious conditions. There are also four settings for regenerative-braking: High, Medium, Low, and Off.For bonus points, Energica has also included a low-speed reverse mode, which comes in handy when trying to position the nearly 570 lbs machine on anything but pool table flat surfaces.

The differences between the riding modes is subtle until you get to the noticeably less powerful Wet mode. Similarly, the re-gen braking differences could also benefit from reworking, as “High” felt like your typical four-cylinder superbike, which means large displacement v-twin riders will be looking for more “engine braking” from this Italian machine. Reverse is as advertised, and spot-on in execution.

A rider can easily toggle between all these modes and features through the Ego’s 4.3″ TFT display, which was crisp and bright on our admittedly overcast Bay Area morning. Aprilia RSV & Tuono V4 owners will recognize the hand-switches, and the menus and dash will be intuitive for motorcyclists and non-motorcyclists alike.

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So how does it run? That’s the $34,000 question, right? The answer is surprisingly well. When it comes to electric motorcycles, there is a lot that current petrol-powered riders will need to adjust to when it comes to understanding these machines.

The metrics we use to tackle things like power, weight, and noise have to be recalibrated because there is not a direct apples-to-apples comparison that exists here. Just as a 250cc two-stroke sport bike is very different from its 250cc four-stroke counterpart, so too is the power delivery of an electric motorcycles, with its nearly flat torque curve.

On the Ego, the power comes on incredibly smooth. Building power progressively, instead of explosively as many modern superbikes do, makes the Ego feel a bit weak on the butt dyno, but the rapidly passing landscape tells a different story. The Ego lacks the punch found on the Mission and Lightning, and feels more like the MotoCzysz when you come out of a corner and get on the gas: firmly planted and deceptively quick.

Just as assessing the power can be difficult, so too is the Ego’s weight, as the absence of massive rotating engine parts creates a significantly more flickable machine, which can adjust its line through a turn — take that as being something that is both good and bad for experienced riders. Linear weight remains an issue with electrics though, and in the case of the Ego, stopping 570 lbs, even with 330mm discs and Brembo monoblock brakes, is a bit of an ask from Sir Issac Newton.

In the turns though is where CRP Racing’s 45 years of experience comes in and shines, as the geometry, chassis, and riding position provides for a very neutral and confidence inspiring ride. Working the Ego through the chicanes of Skyline is a fairly effortless endeavour, and certainly much easier than doing so on any gas-powered motorcycle in the Ego’s weight class.

This is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of electric motorcycles, when it comes to mass and how it relates to the ride — the Energica Ego is no different, in this regard, to its compatriots.

Sounds is also something we often hear die hard riders deride electrics for — there seems to be this myth that electrics are silent. And, I can tell you with great assurance that my neighbors enjoy my presence a great deal more when I have an electric press bike in the garage, as it means a welcomed reprieve from the wake-you-up-from-the-dead pounding that comes from my personal Italian v-twin people-mover.

To say these machines are silent though, is something quickly dispelled when the TIE Fighter-like sounds spool-up beneath your feet, as you twist the throttle for your Kessel run. As such, the Energica Ego is certainly quieter than anything but the most stock street bike, but there is a certain aural pleasure that comes while riding this Italian machine, and its counterparts.

Perhaps the biggest difference electrics have to offer is the overall connection between rider machine, which in the case of the Ego is simply superb.

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Devoid of reciprocating pistons, rotating cranks and cams, and clacking valves, electric motorcycles strip away many of the vibrations and noises that we unknowingly accept as part of riding a motorbike.

The result is perhaps a more pure ride, which I would summon the most ardent petrolhead to replicate on a gas-powered two-wheeler.

Putting asses in seats is what will convert the masses, but if words had to be used, I would have to look for an appropriately long-winded San Franciscan example.

For anyone who has sailed on open water, they will recognize the moment that a sailboat leaves the harbor under motor, and pushes into the channel with the low hum of the engine existing just under the line of recognition.

Then there’s that moment when the sails are set, the motor turns off, and suddenly you hear the lapping of the water against the hull, the power of the wind rocking the boat, and the relationship between the breeze and your locomotion.

It’s a romantic experience, and not at all dissimilar to what you feel on an electric motorcycle — I would challenge anyone to call this soulless. For the purists who lament the increasing complexity of riding a motorcycle, electrics provide perhaps the better answer to the “just enjoy the ride” experience.

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If there is perhaps one bellwether aspect of an electric motorcycle, which can asses the quality of the machine to the rider, it has to be the throttle response.

The throttle is the biggest input into riding a motorcycle that a motorcyclists can make, and on single-speed electric motorcycles that connection is like a direct line between the rider to the motor. If riding a motorcycle is supposed to be about man (or woman) and machine, then riding an electric is that idea distilled to its simplest form.

There are variations of success on this metric, however. It takes a great deal of software to connect together a motor, controller, and battery pack, and as with anything the devil is in the details.

For those who haven’t ridden a number of electrics, this can be a hard metric to understand, as the current crop of production machines have somewhat jerky response to the opening, closing, and fine-movement of the throttle assembly. It’s something that’s been prevalent on the Lightning and Zero motorcycles I’ve ridden, and has been exacerbated on the Brammo Empulse R because of its six-speed gearbox.

On the other side of the coin, companies like Mission and MotoCzysz have spent enormous amounts of resources to fine-tune throttle their systems, and it shows in the butter-smooth responses their bikes exhibit not only during low-speed maneuvers, but also in mid-corner line adjustments, where subtle throttle movements have the most impact on bike dynamics.

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In this regard, the Energica Ego joins the elite ranks. You don’t realize how important fine-throttle control is on a motorcycle until you have to move a heavy machine like the Ego around in tight spaces.

Remember, there is no clutch on this motorcycle to lessen the twist of your right wrist, so having a throttle that can make distinction between a 4mph input and a 5mph input is an integral, and extremely difficult thing to achieve.

Similarly, the Energica Ego shines while tilted over through a turn. Already providing good feedback through CRP Racing’ trellis frame and the Ego’s premium components, line adjustments can easily be handled with subtle hand movements.

The lack of rotating mass means that electrics are typically easier to move mid-corner than gas bikes, but its also means that the are more prone to unsettling the chassis with throttle inputs.

As such, Ego riders will enjoy the precision that Energica has employed here with their software and design, and be thankful not to have the more lightswitch-like attributes found on other machines.

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Don’t confuse my words to mean that it’s all roses with the Energica Ego, there certainly are some negatives about the machine, though many of them can be said about electrics in general. With 11.7 kWh of battery, range is of course going to be an issue for many riders, and the $34,000 price tag is a non-starter for all but the most well-off motorcyclists.

I have mentioned the weight on a several occasions in this review already, so I will say it one more final time, in the context that the mass of the Ego still outweighs (pun intended?) the bike’s braking ability, even with 330mm discs up-front. I was easily caught out with the lack of braking response on a several hard-braking opportunities.

At the $34k price point, one would expect higher-spec braking and suspension components than given by Energica, though without riding the Ego 45 I cannot say if that’s the silver bullet, in lieu of a simple diet for the machine.

Charging statistics are almost a red herring in this space, so I will mention briefly that a 3 kW on-board AC charger is standard, and Energica will support DC fast-charging on-board as well, by the time the Ego hits the streets next year for buyers (production starts in 6 months, with bikes expected in Summer 2015).

With those limitations in mind, it would be hard to recommend the Energica Ego as the only motorcycle for anything but the most casual of motorcyclists, but for those who are looking to increase their stable with an electric motorcycle, this one should surely be on the short-list, as it represents what a high-quality electric motorcycle looks like with the current state of technology.

Fortunately too, Energica is currently hosting riding opportunities in Southern California and New York, so we would recommend potential owners and just curious motorcyclists to swing a leg over the Ego at one of these locales. We think it will surprise you how much enjoyment this motorcycle brings, and what this boutique Italian brand has to offer. They certainly surprised us.

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Photos: © 2014 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

Gear Courtesy of Dainese & AGV: Helmet - AGV Corsa; Leathers - Dainese Custom Laguna Seca; Boots - Dainese Axial Pro In; Gloves - Dainese Pro Metal RS

Comment:

  1. L2C says:

    Great piece, JB. I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

  2. You bet dude. It’s literally my job here.

  3. Tifo says:

    If low speed manouverability can be an issue on electric motorcycles, why don’t tue manufacturers just fit a clutch? I’m not an engineer and have never ridden an electric anything but surely it is the epitome of the kiss principle.

  4. I have only the Brammo to compare to, but there’s no friction point with the clutch, so it doesn’t solve the issue like it does on a gas bike.

  5. JoeD says:

    Great review. I have ridden the Zero and my only quibbles are range and refueling time for electrics. Does the regenerative braking actually give useful power back to the batteries? One machine absent from the fray is Norton. Their take is a small rotary engine driving a motor. Range and economy.

  6. protomech says:

    Good to see CRP nearing delivery after their extended development period.

    I recall CRP hoping to hit a $25k price point – http://www.asphaltandrubber.com/bikes/energica-ego-electric-superbike-2015/. Bumping it to $34k is a pretty significant increase, and places it between the 12 kWh Mission R and the 12 kWh Lightning in price. Rarefied air indeed.

  7. mike says:

    OK, it’s cute. But how far can I ride before I have to push the lardy beast back home?
    I just fail to see the point of these things.

  8. Bill says:

    Someday these will be useful and not just a second or third bike for the really well off. The Zero costs more than the Triumph Scrambler I just got and can’t do 1/3rd of the type of riding, range, or curb appeal.

  9. protomech says:

    “The Zero costs more than the Triumph Scrambler I just got and can’t do 1/3rd of the type of riding, range, or curb appeal.”

    The largest Zero is rated at 88 miles highway, 170 city.

    The Scrambler will do about 200 miles, assuming it starts from a full tank. Full tank range is probably closer to 2x the Zero, but of course it will refuel much more quickly.

    In practice I spent far more time fueling mid-day in my commute with my similarly-rated 200 mile GS500 than my older 2012 Zero, rated at 43 miles highway 114 miles city.

    The commute: 25-60 miles/day, 40-55+ mph
    GS500: one to two fillups per week, ~10 minutes per due to riding out to the non-ethanol gas station
    Zero: overnight charge, 10 seconds to plug in

    Just my personal riding experience.

  10. paulus says:

    These are the future (or one of the possible futures).
    I quite look forward to an electric ride in the garage, but only after the early adopters have paid for all the bugs to be developed out :)
    Great article.. the electric motorcycle is developing fast.

  11. Chuck says:

    How many times did you try to pull the clutch lever in?

    When I drive an automatic car, I still sometimes mash the brake with my left foot.

  12. Woodlandrider says:

    Full credit to CRP for sticking their neck out and getting a great looking electric bike into production. Its such a massive technical minefield to navigate and their electric race experience seems to have resulted in some proven technology going into the bike. If I had $34k spare, I’d buy one. . . .or maybe I need to get friends and family to chip in and we can run it as a timeshare.