These images appeared on British motorcycle news websites early yesterday and have caused much buzz and speculation. They show an old-style KTM 390 Duke running a fully electric powertrain and that's very interesting. Given the focus on the future of vehicle powertrains, almost every manufacturer is working on electric vehicles, this is beyond doubt. But is this really a KTM prototype? Let's dig deeper. We present arguments both for and against that conclusion. Let us know what you think.
If you believe that the motorcycle in the pics is a genuine KTM electric motorcycle caught testing, then let's see what we can glean from the images.
First, the rider is uncharacteristically clad for KTM testers, to the extent that the helmet strap itself is not done. Chances are it was snapped inside a compound and the bike wasn't being taken out for a test on the day. More importantly, apart from a small additional instrument on the handlebar, this '390' has no test equipment. I would imagine that it runs a standard 390 dash and the additional display shows battery state and range information. It is a prototype, which means if it makes to production, the battery indications will get integrated into the final instrument cluster neatly.
Image source: MotorcycleNews
At the bottom, the running gear looks standard and that's strange as well as expected.
First, the standard bits. The 390 Duke runs what looks like standard wheels, brakes and suspension, and that should mean that the electric powertrain on test is not too different in the power limits from the production 390. It might be making more torque or power overall but not significantly more than the standard KTM. It might also, of course, be significantly less.
In pure electric bike terms, the e-390 will definitely be more torquey throughout than the production motorcycle because all things remaining equal, electric motors always make their peak torque while internal combustion engines ramp up to it as revs build.
The strange bit is the presence of a gear lever. The steady torque characteristic usually means it removes the need for an actual gearbox and a BMS or battery management system handles the power output level mapping as you open the throttle to indicate torque demand.
Could KTM be working out a way for a two- or three-speed gearbox to allow them to extend range or performance? I would say it's more likely that for the purpose of whatever test the prototype is running, it was simpler to leave the standard bike in a chosen gear and retain the gearbox as is. It would probably be easier to do than to rebuild a full new final drive arrangement.
The next strange bit is that the trellis frame seems to have disappeared. An additional subframe member is visible at the rear which suggests the cantilevered load is heavier than usual - batteries are the usual culprit. At the front, it looks like the battery 'box' the featureless aluminium box placed diagonally from the headstock to the swingarm pivot might be a structural container that provides rigidity to the motorcycle while storing batteries inside it.
Apart from this, a radiator is visible which means KTM is likely to be liquid cooling the batteries and/or motor, which is not unheard of. Indeed, the jet engine sounds the Harley-Davidson LiveWire makes come from the cooling system.
What the prototype suggests is that KTM is working on an electric motorcycle that will be intended for street use and priced at the A2 licence level or below where the majority of Duke sales (and KTM's recent European market successes) come from.
That's actually true. And it segues nicely into the next topic. But let's quickly look at KTM's electric history. The concept bike was the KTM scooter, the e-Speed Concept from the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show. This project was reportedly shelved last year. But it wasn't clear whether the scooter was shelved, the electric powertrain was cancelled or the electric scooter project as a whole was put away.
KTM e-Speed concept scooter from 2013 Tokyo Motor Show
For what's it worth, the 80kmph-capable e-Speed was said to make 15PS and 36Nm, had belt drive and used 4.36kWh batteries that charged in two hours off a regular power socket. 64km on a full charge was the claim.
But KTM does actually sell a rather more interesting electric motorcycle called the Freeride-E. The bike is sold as a motocrosser (SX), a 'crosser with lights (EX) and a supermotard (SM). This motorcycle, interestingly, is all electric and doesn't have a clutch or gears. And hence our surprise at the existence of a gear lever and 'box on the prototype.
The Freeride-E makes 22PS and 42Nm, has a removable 2.6KWh Li-ion battery that can be charged to 80 per cent in 50 minutes and 100 per cent in 80 minutes. KTM says power sockets can be used and a 13A socket can fast charge the battery. The rest of the spec in this 110kg (kerb weight) is regular specification for an off-road style motorbike - 21"/18" rims and so forth.
Here's a video featuring the KTM Freeride-E and bicycle freestyle god Danny MacAskill
So, if KTM already has a production electric powertrain like this, what is this prototype up to?
This argument is actually the simplest of all. Is that really a KTM prototype we see in the pictures? Why would a savvy manufacturer like KTM SportMotorcycles allows a prototype to wear branding so obviously when armies of spy photographers make it their livelihoods to expose future models?
And conversely, why wouldn't any other manufacturer calmly pick up a 390 Duke, which is reasonably inexpensive but has outsize chassis performance, to run tests and validation regimes on their upcoming electric powertrains? What would their incentive be to cover the motorcycle up and hide the branding as long the power units themselves are anonymous?
So, is that a KTM electric motorcycle testing or not? Let us know what you think!