The Energica Ego – Ride, Bike Review

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As per usual, this review is probably going to be unlike most that you’ll read about this bike.  I really have to leave the details of the ride performance to far more capable (and experienced in what is current technology) writers (and riders), and I’m certainly not going to fixate on the differences between the electric ride and “a real motorcycle”.  There are plenty of places you can read about that, but for this site, it was covered, oh, maybe 5 years ago.

Possibly the single most interesting conversations I had, besides those with the Energica CEO Livia Cevolini (you can see much of that here, in the interview videos) were the chance to talk to “Giampi” (I thought they were saying “Jumpy”), who is Giampiero Testoni, and not only the architect for the Energica Ego, but he was also the main design and build force behind the eCRP race bike with it’s dual Agni motors and winning TTXGP career.  Unlike any other person I’ve had the chance to meet in a position like his, talking to Giampi is much like talking to any guy working out in his garage – except he’s got an entire manufacturing and fabricating company behind him, and he’s really, really smart.  I already liked him, but liked him a little more when he told me he had a ’70s vintage Ducati 250 scrambler back home in the garage.  From Giampi I got all the technical and build details I asked for, and also got some great stories about working on the first TTXGP, Cedric Lynch, Agni motors and like that.

As soon as they got out of the TTXGP, about three years ago, they started work on the Ego concept.  It was Giampi’s baby from the start, and an entirely new build, from start to finish.  From the dual “Indian smoke machines” (not his words, mine, or mine stolen from someone who’s raced them) they went to a tube steel trellis frame purpose built, 300V, liquid-cooled AC – basically the state of the (proven) art.

The brains of the bike is a fairly independent Vehicle Control Unit (VCU).  That takes input from basically whatever you can get input from, (suspension, load sensors, g-sensors and even GPS), integrates it, and uses the information to control everything from the dash lights to the ABS and the basic motor controller.  I say “independent” because it’s not integrated with those systems.  In theory, you could swap out different components, like a controller or battery or BMS system and keep the same VCU.  As to how user-serviceable/modifiable this will be, at this point not at all.  I got a bit of a mixed message, but until the bike starts hitting the market, any open-source, user configurable or user modifiable stuff will be totally at the risk of the user.  (Keep this in the context of dealers like Hollywood Electrics making mods on Zero bikes that Zero, within months, starts incorporating into the production bikes…  it’s an interesting conundrum for an emerging-market manufacturer.)

Giampi’s answer to “can I see the controller and the batteries?” was a simple “No”, and a polite smile.

Let’s go to some photos.  Here are some shots of the venue, and some of the unsung heros who make this all possible, hard at work prepping the bikes.

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The last shot is Giampi getting us ready for our ride.

Most of the production bike will be using conventional parts, made with standard manufacturing processes, but the Limited Edition Energica 45 bike will have a few parts printed with the Windform process – those are the parts in red, here:

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These are the bolts you need to remove to get a look at the controller and VCU and such.  The charger is under the tail section.  Who else is going to point out the bolts you need to take out to get to the controller?

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I tried to get some sort of idea of what motor they’re running and where the pack is, and how big it is.  Here are some shots of that.  The motor is high up, with a reduction gear housing (cooled, or at least pumped lubrication) on the other (non-output sprocket) side.  The pack is a large, cast aluminum enclosure in the center core of the bike.  You can barely see it here, as small fins, extending from up inside the tank to just even with the bottom of the motor by what I could see.  You also get a little peak at that side-mounted shock, which I’m fairly curious about – kluge?  …or brilliant engineering?

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Giampi said the cost of the “complete drivetrain” amounted to about half of the entire cost of the bike.  Educated guesses are that it’s either a Parker system, or a Remy.  The 300V decision was the same tradeoff we all make – go for the RPMs, and deal with the cost of making the higher voltage safe?  Safe, for a consumer bike, is an even tougher issue than what I’d settle for on a personal build, of course.

This, by the way, is a Domino throttle, the very same that I have on my bike.  It’s got some neat features though.  Between the acceleration position and the regen braking position you get a very small freewheeling space – no matter where you are on the throttle.  It’s a very natural feel, and though it took a lot of explanation to communicate the function, it seemed simply normal and natural.  If you listen to the descent portion of my Bear Mountain Climb video and watch my throttle, you can see exactly what’s going on and how it works.  All that is controlled by the VCU – not the throttle, and not the controller, because keep in mind, for one thing you need to integrate that with the ABS system as well – among a bunch of other stuff.

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Here’s that video, keyed, I think, to the right spots to see the descent and the throttle action:

Listen for a distinct set of three sounds – the sound when pulling, coasting, and regen-braking.  You can click through and watch the entire ride video there, too.

The sound?  Screaming.  Fierce screaming.  Fierce, evil, screaming from the Depths of Hell and the Valkyries and shit.  It’s an outrageously lovely multi-pitched series of intertwined whines, depending on the RPM and load, presumably coming from the reduction gearing.  The GoPro actually caught it pretty well.  …and Harley can go screw themselves.

Conclusions?  I have a lot of them.

This bike is a complete blast to ride.  I’m coming into it from riding a gas bike that’s a 350lb, single cylinder 600 with nothing but low-end torque, but the sweetest bike I’ve ever ridden (bought new in 1986 and never lusted after another bike since).  I’ve always stayed away from pipey 4-cylinder sport bikes because, basically, I like light, nimble, clean bikes with torque and I hate the feeling that you have to be riding 80mph to be having any fun.  I had fierce concerns going into this ride.

I also went into this ride with the latest obsession to build a 600cc-class electric sportbike with high voltage and an AC motor.  This bike didn’t help me out at all on that score.  I want to do that build now more than ever.

Yes, it’s heavy.  It feels a little tippy standing still.  Once you’re rolling, all of that goes away almost immediately.  Within a mile, me and my 350lb bike attitude felt like I’d ridden this thing for a few decades.  To say it fit like a glove doesn’t even come close.

For me, the riding position was perfect, and it really makes me wonder about bikes like the Zero SR I rode, and felt so awkward on, and what several people told me at the time about the state of the rider-position art. (I call BS on that, now.)  This simply felt like I was, and everything else was, right where it should be.  For instance, on the Zero and the Harley I had to look down to find the pegs.  Not so on the Energica.

Price?  Range?  Availability?  Dealer support?  Who gives a crap?  First, you’ve got to believe they’ll work that out, but more importantly it’s a bike that I have no doubt will actually be available in 2015, based on my conversations with Cevolini.  You simply can’t say that about anything that’s in this class.  (Brammo, Zero, -cough- Harley?  Not anywhere near being in the class, sorry.) So if you actually want one, and can afford it you can buy one and probably, realistically, nothing else.  Maybe next year I’ll be more concerned with realistic comparisons of price and those issues if Lightning and Mission actually start getting serious about producing bikes.  For now, you’re on the bleeding edge, and if you can afford it, bless you, but if you can you can actually own one.

What would I like to see?  For one, a parking brake, and Giampi told me that’s in the works – a simple small disk on the rear with a mechanical, hydraulic control for safety and simplicity.  When you have a 500+lb motorcycle on a slight incline, yeah, you don’t want to be looking around the parking lot for little rocks to chock the wheel.  The only other thing would be a dial-type display for speed.  Speed, as is time, (to me anyway) is a spacial concept, and showing numbers doesn’t cut it.  I simply want to see a dial-gauge display, and it’s not a tough stretch to add it as an option on any digital graphic display, I figure.

I want to play with the curves.  At the very least I’d want to be able to load several throttle curves beyond the four basic modes, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to be able to build my own – think, like, how you can do an aftermarket “power chip” on virtually every performance car on the street.  Why?  I’m convinced the throttle is soft on the very start of the curve, even in Sport mode.  So let me mess with the curves, OK?  That’s not much to ask for.

People like to throw this comment around – the “Tesla of Motorcycles”.  I really think that if you look hard, and consider Tesla as a company that put out a no-compromise product that met it’s own standards and not the “general public’s” notion of what an EV was or should be, and look at the fact they’re delivering product and not simply fishing for investors and government grants like so many other companies are, then you’ve got an obvious, and compelling conclusion.

You could honestly say this company, and no other, is “the Tesla of Motorcycles”.

 

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OOO!  This just in!  Got these shots from Energica of my rides through the twisties:

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(©Mark Jenkinson, all rights reserved)

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One response to “The Energica Ego – Ride, Bike Review

  1. I share your desire for an analogue speedometer. I’m not even averse to a cable driven one, but GPS driven would be OK too. Good on them, and I hope we can see more of these machines very soon.

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