KTM Freeride E-SM (2015)

Author: Roland Brown. Photos by Francesc Montero & Sebas Romero Posted: 08 Jun 2015

Liquid-cooled electric motor is rated at 15bhp but can produce 22bhp in short bursts


It’s easy to understand why KTM created the Freeride E-SM, which has the distinction of being the first electric streetbike from a major manufacturer (unless you count BMW’s scooter, the C-evolution). Last year the Austrian firm extended its Freeride family of trials/enduro bikes to include the electric E-SX, for off-road use only. From that it was a short step to add lights, indicators and a few details to make a street-legal version, the E-XC.

And while KTM were developing that knobbly-tyred lightweight, it made perfect sense to whip off the E-XC’s skinny, wire-spoked wheels, bolt in a pair of wider, 17-inch rims wearing smooth street rubber, and create an electric supermoto streetbike called the Freeride E-SM to be launched alongside it.

The supermoto model also gets taller gearing but in most respects is identical to its siblings. It uses the same chassis layout, based on a frame that combines steel tubes and aluminium rear sections, with a lightweight plastic rear subframe. The shared, liquid-cooled electric motor is rated at 15bhp because that’s its maximum over a sustained period (which makes the E-SM legal for A1 licence holders), even though it can produce 22bhp in short bursts.

Weighs just 111kg with no clutch or gearbox

On a bike weighing just 111kg that’s enough for heaps of fun. With no clutch or gearbox to worry about, and a bicycle-style left-hand lever to operate the rear brake, the KTM is very rider-friendly, albeit slightly strange at first. Just turn the ignition key on the fork leg to light up the display on the steering head, which shows remaining charge via three green lights, plus yellow and red lights that come on with 40 and 20 per cent to go.

You can press that display’s 1, 2 and 3 figures to toggle between Economy, Standard and Advanced modes, the last of which was controllable enough that on dry roads I rarely bothered with the others. Eco is for limping home when low on juice but Standard would be handy in the wet. Throttle response in Advanced was very clean and not remotely snatchy, but immediate enough that accelerating on slippery roads would require a careful throttle hand, because there’s no traction control.

It traffic the light and slim Freeride was a blast. Short riders might struggle with the seat’s 880mm height, but it’s so narrow that if you’re average sized or above you’d probably be more worried about its lack of comfort. When sitting at the lights at the head of the queue, I enjoyed being able to chat to the other riders without needing to shout above the sound of engines. Conversely, when moving I was aware that pedestrians couldn’t hear me coming – though the whistling KTM made slightly more noise than a bicycle.

On the faster stretches the E-SM had enough power to keep up with the traffic. It was distinctly quicker off the mark than a normal A1 class bike, due to the curious anomaly in the legislation – that 22bhp maximum is almost 50 per cent up on the 15bhp that A1 compliant petrol-engined bikes can make.

There's no escaping its limited range. Hard use will get you around 25 miles.

More to the point the E-SM’s peak torque output of 31ft.lbs is three times the figure of a bike such as Yamaha’s MT-125, and is produced from zero rpm. Not surprisingly the KTM had rocket-like acceleration for an A1 machine, along with the ability to cruise effortlessly and totally smoothly with up to 60mph showing on its small digital speedo.

As normal on a KTM launch the lead rider’s pace was quick as I followed him and a couple of other journos round the succession of hairpins, grateful that the Austrian firm had fitted very well damped WP suspension at both ends, rather than following many electric-bike manufacturers by saving money with low-grade components. I was also impressed by the grip of the Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tyres, which are respectably wide at 100/80 front, 130/70 rear.

Most of the time I was also happy with the brakes, which are single wavy Formula discs at each end, with both levers on the bars in bicycle style. The rear was easily locked so I generally avoided it and relied on the four-pot front caliper, which wasn’t especially powerful but slowed the bike reasonably hard if I squeezed the lever firmly.

But doing that repeatedly into a series of downhill hairpins cooked the system, so the lever suddenly came right back to the bar, leaving me with no front brake heading into a tight bend – which thankfully I just about got round. You’ve got to brake hard and often to trigger the problem, but the brake is simply not up to that sort of use.

That moment apart, I had a great time on the Freeride E-SM, but there’s no escaping its limited range. KTM say a full battery is good for up to an hour’s riding, though it’s less than that with hard use, when you’d be lucky to get 25 miles. The lithium-ion battery pack sits under the uncomfortably narrow hinged seat, and is quickly removable for recharging after undoing four nuts. This takes only 80 minutes for a full recharge from flat, or 50 minutes for an 80 per cent charge, but the range is clearly not sufficient for most road riders.

The E-SM’s price is also high, at £10,599, although the fact that you can recharge it for well under £1.00 would become more relevant with enough use. (Ideally you’d add £1699 for a spare battery and £699 for a second charger.) So would the fact that the only engine servicing needed is a change of transmission oil after every 50 hours’ riding.

Even so, at that price and with its range limitation, the E-SM would be hard to recommend, even if the imminent government grant for electric bikes cuts its price by £1500. (There’s still some doubt about whether the Freeride will be eligible.) But it does show how light and fun electric bikes can be. And for anyone with somewhere to ride off-road the E-XC could make much more sense, especially if you can afford a spare battery to keep on charge while riding.

On a motocross track outside Barcelona the lightweight E-XC (which is slightly cheaper, at £10,299) had enough acceleration to be hugely entertaining. Its suspension, brakes and Maxxis off-road tyres worked superbly, and it was good for about half an hour’s riding, after which I was happy to come in to recharge body and batteries. As a way of having flat-out fun without annoying the neighbours, not much even comes close.

Engine mode and remaining battery display





22bhp max (rated at 15bhp), 31ft.lbs

Wet weight


Seat height





Ever tried an electric motorcycle? What do you think?