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You’ve considered an electric bike, but what about an electric motorbike?

The exciting BMW CE02 proves two wheels really are better

Neil Briscoe testing the BMW CE02 electric motorbike

I am not a biker. In fact I am really, really not a biker. My dad was – he rode around in his miss-spent youth on an AJS Matchless, a bike he described as being made out of the leftover bits of the Forth Bridge.

Me? I thought about getting a proper motorbike once, back when I used to have to commute through city-centre traffic, but I went for a trial session. A nice, friendly man introduced me to a bike, one which seemed to be 88 per cent heavy chrome, with handlebars up near my eyebrows.

Patiently, the nice man explained to me which was the throttle, the brakes, the clutch, the gear selector. “Now, just select first, ease out the clutch, give it a little bit of throttle, and you’ll be off ...” I did as I was bid, failed to add enough throttle, popped the clutch, stalled, and at precisely 0km/h fell over gracelessly, pinning my left leg to the ground with 100-weight of chrome. Never since have I tried to get back up on two wheels.

Until now. BMW asked me to take its new CE02 for a spin. Now, the CE02 is not a motorbike in the traditional sense. For a start, it’s entirely electric. Second, it can be bought as a down-tuned, speed-restricted version that’s limited to 4kW of power and a 45km/h top speed.


In Europe, this means it can be ridden by people as young as 15, and without the need for a full motorbike licence. No such luck in Ireland, where anything faster than 25km/h means you need tax, insurance, and a full licence. Thankfully, for those prepared to go the whole licensing hog, there’s a de-restricted version of the CE02, with 11kW and a top speed of 95km/h.

Neil Briscoe testing the BMW CE02 electric motorbike

Not that I was riding that one. With my lowly Category-B licence, BMW – quite sensibly – directed me to the kids’ version of the CE02, once I had been carefully fitted out with an armour-plated jacket, jeans, gloves, and a crash helmet. Taking no chances.

The CE02 has a deliciously retro design. While most e-mopeds (which is what the CE02 effectively is, despite BMW’s cringing attempts to call it an “e-parkourer”) look the same as the geeky urban runabouts that usually buzz past you in a whirr of chainsaw two-stroke noise, the CE02 looks more like a proper motorbike. In fact, with that exposed front end, the flat saddle, and the chunky anodised suspension, it looks almost like a military dispatch rider’s bike that has been shrunk down ever so slightly.

It’s incredibly simple to use. The handlebars are festooned with glove-friendly buttons, and they’re easily explicable – one switches the bike on and off; one selects the driving mode; another toggles the various displays on the dinky 3.5in digital instrument screen; another controls the indicators. A few minutes’ instruction is all you need.

And then you’re off. Just flick the brake and press a small red button to open up the battery’s circuit, twist the throttle and away you go on a gentle whoosh of electric motor noise. For me, it was scary as hell for the first few metres, while I waited anxiously for gravity to notice what I was up to and clatter me around the back of the head for such impudence.

BMW CE02 electric motorbike

But, no. The CE02 is incredibly sure-footed. Those anodised front suspension forks easily soak up even cobbled streets and allow you to thump into speed bumps and drain covers with impunity. There are ABS brakes on the front, and regenerative braking on the rear, so even just easing off the throttle means that you slow down a little, perfect for a confidence-lift when entering a corner.

The big wheels and tyres mean that – unlike the tiny-wheeled e-scooters that are starting to infest our streets – you’re much more gyroscopically stable, so as long as you have a little forward momentum there’s no danger of wobbling unstably to a toppling, crunchy end.

It’s not fast, but it feels like it might be. Even with my top speed capped at 45km/h, I started to feel like Joey Dunlop on a hot lap of the TT, attempting to crouch forward a little to present a vaguely more aerodynamic shape to the onrushing wind. Well, as aerodynamic as what must have appeared to bystanders as a strategically shaved orangutan clad in ill-fitting motorcycle leathers could be.

However daft I looked, I was having an utter ball. For decades now, my biker friends have been telling me all about the sheer glories and freedom of getting up on two powered wheels. That nervousness about falling (or having a careless driver open a door into my path, or dicing with trucks and buses on narrow roads) kept me away. Well, the CE02 has reconfirmed my faith in motorcycles, at least electric ones. Something that looks this cool, is this easy and sure-footed to ride and which is just so much damned fun, has to be a good thing.

An expensive thing, though. The cheapest CE02 in Europe is €7,500 and to that you’ll not only have to add Irish VRT, you’ll also have to do your compulsory basic training, get your ‘bike licence, and then lash the cash on some proper safety clothing and helmet.

BMW CE02 electric motorbike

It’s really, really not worth scrimping on this stuff. Do that, and even without thinking about the de-limited version, or getting an extra battery to stretch the range to 90km, or any of the lengthy options list (which include custom colours for the saddle, or smartphone integration) and you’re probably looking at the thick end of €10,000. A lot of money for a small, electric motorcycle.

Yet, I reckon I would. In fact, I actually might. Remember the feeling when you woke up on Christmas morning, and under the tree was a distinctive, wrapped shape that could only be the bicycle for which you’d asked, nay, begged? That’s the feeling the CE02 gives you. Whatever about the arguments over range, price, safety, and whether you should just get a pedal-bike, that’s a feeling that’s tough to beat. Better luck next time, gravity.

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Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring