It might not look like it, but I’m a very lucky man. I get to ride loads of bikes, all over the world – some of them pretty mundane, some of them very fancy indeed.
But today, I’m riding perhaps the weirdest, most exclusive machine I’ve ever slung a leg over – the Energica Ego Corsa MotoE race bike. As rare as a factory MotoGP machine, ridden by even fewer riders, yet with a frankly bizarre set of vital statistics.
The weight of a fully-laden R1250 GS Adventure – and the chassis kit of the race gods. Just over 160bhp – yet running on bespoke Michelin MotoGP slicks. It’s a strange melange of alien-spec running gear, trying to make up for the elephant in the room – a battery pack the size and weight of a newborn pachyderm…
The reasons are clear, and a combination of laws-of-physics and modern politics. The planet’s getting kicked in the face regularly by our presence, and stuff like internal combustion engines are a fair chunk of the problem. So we all need to get onto electric power – firstly for daily transport, and eventually for motorsport entertainment too.
That’s coming, whether you like it or not. And so Dorna has hatched the MotoE series to fill the coming gap. It’s nowhere near MotoGP as a racing spectacle at the moment – but it will be, in less time than old fools like you and I think.
So here we are at Valencia, the day after the last race of the 2019 MotoGP calendar, about to jump on a bike like nothing else around. The last time I rode a GP-class bike was at Sepang in 2005, when I got five laps on Nicky Hayden’s RC211V V5 and three laps on Dani Pedrosa’s RSW250 two-stroke. There haven’t been any journalist rides on the GP bikes for more than a decade, so this is a pretty unusual event all round.
We’ve had a quick hour’s ride round the roads outside on some Energica road bikes, to get in the mood. But it’s not much of a preparation for this mean, black, slightly evil-looking racer in front of me. It’s got the lot: Michelin ‘MotoE’ slicks, unique Brembo racing calipers with steel discs, forged aluminium Marchesini rims, Öhlins shock and forks, slick fairing, a collection of colourful Skittle-style buttons on the handlebars…but no clutch lever, gear lever or exhaust.
We get a quick track ride briefing. The major initial concern is that because the ‘engine’ is silent, if you touch the throttle when it’s live, the bike will obviously shoot forward. Apparently they’ve had some casualties from this already… So there’s a stern chat about that, even before we get onto the general track briefing.
Obviously they’re concerned that one of us mugs will throw their priceless electro-gubbins up the road, setting it, the track, and the outer suburbs of Valencia on fire. So we get several warnings about cold tyres, how the designed-for-racing-aliens Michelin slicks will get too cold if you slow down, plus dark instructions to watch for the early right turns (most of Valencia’s corners are lefts, of course). Suitably cowed, we’re sent out, for our seven laps (five flyers, one out, one in).
Not much makes me too nervous nowadays – but I’ll confess to feeling pretty pensive waiting for my turn. The tyre temperature tightrope is troubling me – you need to go quick to keep ‘em warm, but not too soon, or you’ll fall off on a right hander, probably turn four.
There’s obviously no traction control or ABS on this pure race bike; no safety net, except my trusty Arai and Alpinestars airbag suit. I’d watched eight marshals struggle to lift one of these 258kg buggers out of the gravel (at turn four!) during the race the day before, so was under no illusions about what would happen even after a minor run-on and lie-down. I get the nod from the techs, jump on the (very tall) race seat, just about manage to get a tiptoe down, then head off down the long, empty pit lane.
First impressions as I peel onto the track are fairly comforting. It might weigh a bit more than a MotoGP bike with a Moto3 bike strapped onto the tail unit, but everything is working like a dream so far. The suspension is race-bike firm, but the handling is easy and unintimidating, and the brakes and front tyre feel more than up to stopping all that mass. Potter round the Valencia circuit for a lap to bed in, then we’re onto the main straight, and it’s time to see what this big buzzy motor can do.
Quite a lot is the answer. It feels (and sounds) a bit like a two-wheeled rollercoaster: relentless, linear, turbine-smooth shove that feels like it’ll never end. Not having the hassle of gearchanges is refreshing (though I do still go for an autopilot downshift once or twice…), and the fine-control of the ‘gas’ through a bend is excellent.
Any worries about the electronic throttle response without traction control disappeared at once – you really are in total control here. It’s not insanely fast up top – 160bhp is what you’d expect from a decade-old 1,000cc roadbike – but the delivery is instant, with masses of grunt at the twist of a wrist.
I was last at the Cheste track nearly two years ago, on the Ducati Panigale V4S launch, so I have the layout in mind, and settle in nicely after a couple of laps. And this MotoE machine just gets better and better. The tyres are immense, as you’d expect.
Michelin has built a custom set of slicks for the MotoE bikes, which they further tweak for each track’s individual characteristics. There are a couple of factors to consider here: since the races are so short they can be quite soft and short-lived, but on the other hand, they have to manage all that weight, plus the unusual torque profile. The front is modelled on the MotoGP slick, while the rear is based around a Superbike slick, designed for the extra mass, and they’re lovely, lovely things.
Those Brembos have storming power, and are able to haul down my total flying mass of around a third of a tonne with no dramas at all (though I do nearly run onto the exit road at turn eight at one point). My legs aren’t getting any longer as the years pass, and the Energica bike is quite tall, so I feel like I’m over quite a way before I get a slider down.
But there’s none of the top-heavy, ponderous feel you might expect considering the mass. The front end is super-stable, even hard on the gas, and it’s easy to muscle round Valencia‘s technical, twisting infield sections.
If it sounds like I’m having a good time now, then you’re spot-on. But I’ve flown past the start-finish line four times now, and only have a lap left, which is properly gutting. I’ve overcome my caution, have bedded back into the Valencia track, and am loving the MotoE machine far more than I ever expected.
The ease-of-use from the twist-and-go throttle, the strong, grunty (but not insane) powerplant, and the extremely high-end chassis gear cancels out the high all-up weight to give a hugely satisfying, fun ride. One weird thing is the dash: with no tacho to monitor, all that’s really of interest to a rider is the lap timer, and some warning lights. I’ve no idea how any of it works anyway, so promptly ignore it altogether – one less thing to be concerned about.
I could spend all day bombing about here in whizzy silence – but sadly, that’s not an option. The chequered flag is out, and my leathers are back in my Ogio bag before I know it. I’ve had a short – but sweet – taste of the future, and I have to say, it’s been pretty impressive. For a racebike series only a year old, the MotoE bike is massively capable, and if you offered me something like this, plus a fast charger, for a day’s trackday riding at Brands GP or the like, I’d snap it up, no question.
And considering the noise regs at so many tracks these days, don’t rule that out as a Black Mirror-style vision of the future…
A very beefy-looking steel tube trellis design, that links the swingarm pivot to the steering head. The main motor casting also supports the swingarm area as a stressed member affair.
Öhlins forks and rear monoshock, with no linkage due to space limits (the motor and battery pack take up all the room), and a Forth Rail Bridge-spec aluminium swingarm.
Seven-spoke forged aluminium Marchesinis rather than magnesium, presumably down to the extra weight going through them.
The Michelin MotoE slicks are custom-made for the series, and tweaked for each track on the calendar. There’s just one fitment supplied for each round, a medium front and a soft rear – and if it’s wet, they use Michelin Power Rain wets, the same as the MotoGP bikes.
The front has been developed with similar characteristics as the MotoGP slick, but with a stronger construction for stability on braking. The rear is ‘derived’ from the firm’s superbike slick tyre, presumably because of the extra weight of the production series. Michelin claims it’s designed to warm up quickly and give maximum grip from the start.
Brembo calipers are custom-made for MotoE, and feature titanium pistons with Z04 pads and radial master cylinder.
The motor puts out around 120kW, or 161bhp, the battery pack holds 20kW/h, and the supply voltage is 300 volts. That means a hefty amount of current coursing through the supply electronics – hence the super-thick orange VFD (variable frequency drive) wires running from controller box to motor.