Back to the future – the electric Saietta R

AC/DC

For a few years now we have been promised all electric cars and they are slowly but surely becoming a reality on our roads. However, for many buyers, the purchase of an electric car is the result of a calculated, rational choice based on economy and environmental considerations. Most electric cars aren’t marketed for their driving experience. Except for Tesla that is; the company, led by CEO Elon Musk (founder of Paypal and CEO of the private space transport company SpaceX) has managed to design and produce exciting electric cars.

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They are using innovation and high tech to push the envelope and serve as a catalyst and positive example to other automakers. Musk’s vision and determination is paying off and I for one am very impressed by the cars they are producing as well as the fact that they’ve managed to create a new car brand from scratch. This is the result of a bold vision, ground-breaking innovation and sound industrial manufacture strategy. But what is really selling Tesla cars is the fact that they are desirable and exciting; they are the car of the future, today; a real disruptor of people’s idea of cars.

But on 2 wheels?

So where does this leave motorbikes? Would an electric motorcycle be appealing to bikers? On the face of it, it doesn’t look promising. After all, what most bike enthusiasts like about their machines is that they have a soul, which manifests itself through the concert of moving parts, smells and noises which their engine makes when revved. A lot of us have an image of motorbikes shaped by our teenage years spent fine-tuning two-stroke engines to make them go faster. So what chance would an electric bike have? A hair-dryer instead of an engine? No chance, right? Wrong.

Allow me to continue the teenage/childhood analogy. Before playing with mopeds I played with remote controlled cars. I was always impressed at how quick they were and as I terrified the local cats with the remote in my hands, I had absolutely no problem imagining myself in the driver seat. It is with this frame of mind that I happily accepted the invitation to test-ride the new Saietta R, a british designed electric sports bike.

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First of all, I need to set the scene with a little background into the company. Agility, the company behind Saietta R, is the brainchild of CEO Lawrence Marazzi. The chief exec. has a background in Formula 1 as well as aerospace engineering. He is also, and most of all, a very keen biker who has dabbled in racing as a young(er) man. He has a real passion for bikes and wants to revolutionize the bike industry by applying the technology he’s seen in F1 and aerospace to motorcycle engineering and design. According to Marazzi, Agility is re-inventing bikes from the ground up; he says “you don’t use Victorian architectural concepts to build a computer” – new technology calls for new frame architecture.

That is a radical way of thinking that deserves attention. And Agility is already attracting a lot of attention; in November 2013 they were selected by the Government as one of 16 of the UK’s most promising clean technology companies and were invited to take part in the “Clean and Cool” trade mission to Colorado where they demonstrated the Saietta R.

I won’t go into too much technical details about the Saietta R; others will have covered this more competently than me. However, I’ll highlight the radical bits; First of all, it is the first bike to be built as a monocoque structure. It also sports a double wishbone front suspension; two elements borrowed directly from Formula 1. It has a range of about 120 miles in city use and can be charged up in only 3 hours. It has a top speed of 105 miles per hour and will reach 60mph in 3 seconds (!!). You won’t need to worry about replacing the battery because it has an estimated lifetime of 80.000 miles.These are impressive stats which, in my mind, already make it a contender to some of the best sports bikes on the market.

These are all numbers though and only a test-ride can reveal if they are any good on the road. After a long, friendly chat with Marazzi, we both geared up and went to the back of the office where two Saietta Rs were waiting for us in what turned out to be a lovely sunny afternoon. I was shown how to “start” the bike (turn key, push a button) and given some last directions on how to operate it, and off we were. We filtered through London traffic and straight away I was surprised at how much I was enjoying city-riding on a virtually silent bike. I reflected on how this bike would make a great commuter; not having to worry about the clutch, revs, gears etc, allows you to concentrate on the traffic and provides you with a feeling of calm and efficiency which enables you to focus on the road. You also feel like a friendly road user; there’s no scaring of the pedestrians and no bullying cars to the side by revving a loud engine.

 Polarity

We then hit the open road and Marazzi gave me a quick glance in his mirror and then disapeared into the distance in a second; ssssssshhh!! No loud noise, just a discreet yet present turbine sound coming out of the electric engine’s inbuilt air cooler. I crouched forward and opened up the throttle; Woooosh! Wow! The Saietta R immediately catapulted me forward, making use of the 100% of torque available from the get go. I scared myself but I always felt incredibly in control of the bike; its dynamic characteristics make for an impressively composed ride and the throttle response is addictive. The Saietta R is very quick and very well balanced; the engineering team even considered the rider’s inner ear when they tuned the double wishbone front suspension in order to ensure that the very small amount of dive would provide enough information to the rider’s brain, yet keep the bike stable and composed.

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The single seat gives surprisingly good support, which is needed to keep the rider in place under acceleration. The rider’s position is very reminiscent to that of a Ducati Monster. Other than that, the controls are very straight forward, the only exception is that, there being no clutch, both levers actuate the brakes. The display is very simple and packs together an analog speedo and a digital display which gives you some information about the bike. All very clean and tidy and another aspect which adds to the bikes tidyness.

I didn’t know what to expect before the test ride but those few moments on the open road opened my mind to a different way of biking; I have seen what the future of motorcycles looks like and I’m very excited about it! I shared the preconcieved idea held by a lot of petrolheads that a bike needs noise, vibrations and smells to be fun. Yet I found that it is precisely the lack of those that made the ride on the Saietta R so special and fun. This bike gives the rider an impression of clean, uncluttered efficency which allows them to focus only on the riding pleasure. It also demonstrates that actually, the feeling of power does not come from a roaring engine between your legs. The dynamic characteristics of the Saietta R do that for you without the noise and vibrations. Once you have given it a bit of throttle you instantly understand its power and learn to respect it. As far as I’m concerned, the silence of the bike is one of its coolest features.

After the test ride I had the opportunity to take a closer look at the Saietta’s design. It is obviously a radical design, quite futuristic. Marazzi explains that it wouldn’t have made sense to build such an innovative bike and make it look like any other bike. He has a point. Having no conventional engine or gearbox, Agility was able to use space as efficiently as they could and having the freedom to shape the battery pack like they wanted also enabled them to distribute its weight efficaciously.

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The Saietta R looks futuristic and it certainly stands out from the crowd. On my test-ride two cab drivers struck up a conversation in the traffic, asked questions, gave us the thumbs up and took pictures. Many heads turned as we rode by and we were followed by biker cops whom I know were just curious. When we arrived back to the Agility office, a homeless man, and American with a big camera and a bunch of students all rushed to take a close look and ask questions about the bike. I hadn’t experienced this level of attention since, as a teenager, my dad and I restored and drove around in a 1930 Citroen. It certainly makes you feel special and that’s another feather in Saietta R’s cap.

Agility can be extremely proud of what they have achieved so far; A british company (call it a startup if you wish) led by a super talented, super enthusiastic engineer has managed to rewrite the script about motorcycles. Sure, they are not the only company which produces electric motorcycles, but these guys are aiming very high and their end product is premium. You won’t find the technology they’ve put in the Saietta R in other electric bikes. They’ve also managed to create a very credible brand which is backed up by big names in the industry.

 The future is here, embrace it!

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So would I buy one? The answer is yes. If I was on the market for a naked bike I’d definitely consider it seriously. Just because it’s a lot of fun, it’s different, very well built and quite frankly, my R1150GS now just feels like a big heavy lump of steam-era machinery (I still like it though!).

What I take out most from this test-ride is that we are at a crossroad for motorcycling. Petrol-engined bikes still have bright days ahead of them but they will have to compete with the likes of the Saietta R and will have to start innovating a lot more to stay relevant; the industry is being disrupted. Also, I am now convinced that electric bikes are becoming a real alternative to conventional bikes. And I’m excited about this; we are going to see a lot of cool things happening in the world of motorcycles in the coming years. Watch this space!

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Africa or bust!

Today we booked our one way ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Santander! Departure date 31 October; destination: Banjul, the Gambia!

It feels like a milestone in the preparation for our 5 weeks trip down to the Gambia through Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal. Committing to a departure date really brings home the reality of it all. However, it’s not our first step. In the last couple of months we’ve been budgeting for the trip, we met with expert Morocco adventure biker Tim Cullis for tips, sold our beloved chrome-laden bikes and bought two dual sports.

It was a sad day when my Nomad 1600 was picked up by a lucky eBayer; Chris showed up with his brother in law and quite frankly, the happiness and enthusiasm that radiated through his smile when he saw his new acquisition made my heartbreak much more bearable. The Nomad was going to a good home. Same for the W650; it sold in a matter of hours and it went to a great home too. Mark and his dad, a retired lorry engineer, picked it up during the Jubilee weekend and from our discussions I knew the bike would be well cared for.

So that left us bike-less. Or should I say we were now on the market for new toys. As I explained in the previous post we were looking for two F650 Funduros. From my research I knew that it was a very competent bike which should be ideal for the trip we had planned. It is also a model that can be snatched up quite cheap second-hand if you shop around cleverly. My requirements, to avoid any nasty surprise, was that the bikes should have no more than 25k miles on them, have a full service history and preferably recent tyres.

Our new mounts

Our first acquisition was my bike. I found a nice silver F650 from 2000 with full service history, new bearings, recent tyres and only 20K on the clock. It also had a new Hagon rear shock and was located about 3 miles away from home. The second was a red, 1996 model with full service history, Givi high screen, lower suspension, 26k miles and brand new Metzeler Tourance tyres. Having shopped cleverly (read “stealth ebay bidding”) we managed to get both bikes for roughly the price we sold the W650 for. Not a bad deal.

First impressions

The only problem with Louise’s bike (other than having “PEE” in its registration) was that is was situated in the Peak District, some 170 miles from home. That didn’t discourage us though, the effort required to pick it up would be offset by the reassuring knowledge that we had bought a good bike. The trek back to London was indeed a real effort though. We rode 2 up for about 5 hours, most of it on the boring M1, with showers and a very strong side wind; Horrible riding conditions but it gave us the opportunity to get some good first impressions of the bike.

First off, the F650 is not comfortable for pillions. Not at all. It was no surprise that I was cramped with my long legs but Louise, who has spent quite a few miles on the back seat of bikes (albeit big cruisers), was quickly in pain, her knees seized and she suffered cramps in her legs and a stiff back.

On the other hand, the rider’s position is great! The “sit-up-and-pray” type of position, with the wide handlebars makes for a very natural and comfortable set up. We also noticed that the bike, despite its diminutive 48bhp, is great on highways. First of all the riding position gives the rider a lot of control and great field of vision; the bike is very stable at 70mph and the engine loves being in the 3500-4000rpm range, where it is at 70mph in 5th gear. I was also impressed by the lack of vibrations at highway speeds; I didn’t expect such comfort from a 650cc single cylinder.

Another thing I noticed was how much more stable Louise’s bike was compared to mine; it was so much more composed in corners and in the rain that I thought maybe there was something wrong with mine. I quickly pinned it down to the difference in tyres. My bike was equipped with Bridgestone Trail-Wings which some have coined the “Death-Wings”, while Louise had the much acclaimed Metzeler Tourance tyres. Wow, what a difference! So much so that I quickly ditched my Death-Wings and replaced them with Tourances.

So far we are both very happy to have chosen the F650 Funduro. We still have to take them on long distance trips but our first impressions are really good. We have managed to find a bike that is comfortable for both of us, is well built and promises to be more than adequate on gravel roads in addition to being a good solo touring machine.

Bits, Bobs and Gadgets

Naturally we couldn’t keep the bikes as they were. We had to add some bits necessary for a long touring trip but also some gadgets to make the bikes more practical.

The first additions were panniers. There are endless discussions on the web about the best type of panniers for an overland trip. Basically the discussion revolves around the following questions; which is the most robust in case of a crash and which is the safest against theft? The options are aluminium, plastic or soft textile panniers. We decided to go for second hand Givi Monokey plastic ones. The reasons behind our choice were that we didn’t want to spend more than £1000 per set on aluminium panniers and we felt that textiles panniers might be too vulnerable to the occasional thief walking around with a pair of scissors in his hands. We chose to go with Givi plastic panniers because they have a proven reputation for toughness and longevity and in case they cracked in a fall we could always repair them with some gaffer tape or super glue. The price with mounting hardware was also about 8 times cheaper than aluminium panniers so the decision was pretty simple. Time will tell if it was a good decision but I am pretty confident that they will be more than adequate for the mild off-roading we will do on this trip.

Second were heated grips for Louise. My bike came with factory installed heated grips which I am very happy about. It’s my first bike with them and I will definitely have them on all my future bikes. As I explained in a previous post, heated grips are a godsend in cold weather. The heat keeps your hands cold and radiate through your arms… I even suspect that if you have good blood circulation the heat can reach all the way up to your shoulders and prevent them from seizing. We bought the same Roxter heated grips which we had installed on the W650. They are a bit longer than the stock grips which means that I’ll have to do a bit of DIY in order to fit the bar end weights back on.

Any serious touring bike must have some gadgets on it. One that I am particularly fond of, eventhough I hardly every use, is a power supply. I’ve installed a fused all-weather USB plug on my bike. The USB is actually a very versatile plug as it seems that all our electronic devices (intercom, camera, iPhone etc) can be charged with a USB cable. On Louise’s bike I installed a 12V waterproof cigarette lighter power socket. With this we’ll be able run any device which can be plugged into a car’s power socket. I’m thinking in particular of a 12V tyre inflator pump which will come handy to keep the right pressure in our tyres but also when we have a puncture.

We are taking the bike to the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Ripley next week and that will give us a good first run with the bike laden with our camping equipment. We’ll also have 3 days to meet as many adventure riders as possible and get all the tips and recommendations we can hope for for our trip.

BMW F650GS

The reason
So, we are planning a bike trip from London to Senegal on 2 bikes… Yep, finally decided to go ahead and plan something really big. The preparations and details of the trip will be discussed in another post but here I will report on a bike we tested while exploring which bike to use on the 3000 miles trip.

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(photo courtesy of Chris Scott,Sahara Overland)

To tell you the truth my mind is set on buying 2 used BMW F650 Funduro. A great, overlooked, dual sport bike which Chris Scott took to the Lybian desert a few years back. If it was good enough for him…It has a very convincing comfort to budget to reliability to ruggedness ratio. We asked BMW Motorrad to test ride the newer model in order to get a sense of the riding position and ergos before buying the Funduros. This is important for both Louise and me; She wants a bike that’s well balanced, not too heavy and easy to manoeuvre. My requirements are comfort, legroom and a bit of wind protection.

We tested the new F650GS which is not exactly the newer version of the Funduro; it has a higher seat and one additional cylinder… And 21 more horses. In a few weeks we’ll test ride the G650GS which is a more direct descendant of the Funduro.

F650GS
Saturday 24 March was a fantastic day in London; one of those that lures you into a false belief that summer is here and that it’ll be nothing but sun, barbecues and happiness until September. We rode pillion to BMW motorrad in Battersea where Matthew was waiting for us with a beautiful F650GS in black and yellow. After a quick look around the bike and some instruction on how to use all the buttons we were on our way for 2 hours riding around town. Louise was the first to go, with me following on the W650.

Louise’s impressions
The first thing Louise said when we met at a traffic light was “this thing is powerful!”. Indeed, the 650 develops 71Bhp which are all accessible at low speeds. In actual fact the F650GS, despite it’s name is actually a 800cc… It’s basically the engine found in the F800GS which has been toned down for whatever reason.

Being 172cm, Louise did find the 82cm seat height a bit high for her. This being a tall bike with a high Center of gravity, it’s important to be able to put both feet flat on the ground.

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David’s thoughts
After an hours ride it was my turn to have fun on the BMW, and, well, in three words, I was impressed! Very impressed actually. I found the tall riding position extremely comfortable, giving me a sense of total control over the bike and a great view of what was around me… it allowed me to see past the car in front of me which is great. Though the saddle is a little hard, I think I could last a couple of hours on it before needing to dismount.

The feel of the bike under me reminded me strongly of the R1200GS which I rode in South Africa. One immediately recognises the built quality which characterises the German make.

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The engine of the F650GS is pure pleasure and I can only imagine how good the F800GS must be. It has plenty of torque and there’s plenty of power from about 2500rpm. I also love the sound of the parallel twin; they certainly got that one right. Added to this great engine is a beautifully smooth 6 speed gearbox. I think that the gear ratio is great; a lot of use of the first 3 gears for town, and good, long 4th, 5th and 6th for out of town and longer journeys on the highway. Louise did find the first gear too short though…

In a few words
We were both impressed by the F650GS. I think that it would make a great everyday bike that can be taken on a long tour around Europe (in the summer) and could certainly tackle many African gravel tracks.

We’ll be back at BMW Motorrad in a few weeks to try out the G650GS. It’s the single cylinder “baby” BMW. It has a seat height of 78cm which will be great for Louise. I will be testing the G650GS Dakar which is taller. They both do 70mpg, compared with 55mpg for their twin cylinder sister which would be a great advantage in far away places like the western Sahara where petrol stations are few and far between.

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Canyon carving on a Ducati 750 Monster

There is definitely something to be said about sports bikes…! I’ve never been a fan of them, I guess it’s because they are scary, usually painted in fluorescent colours and look terribly uncomfortable. This does not mean that I would say no to a ride on a pocket rocket (or whatever they call them).

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This is exactly what happened. I didn't say no to our friend Scott's offer to take his Ducati 750 Monster for a spin along the northern shores of San Francisco. To be fair, I have always liked the looks and sound of the Monster; aggressive look yet very minimal, with it's exposed frame, and a fantastic throaty Vtwin engine noise that should be trademarked! (the Ducati 90 degree engine makes the best noise in my opinion).

First impression when I lifted the cover was that this bike is made with cheap fittings (look at the console; The 80s called and want it back!) and mid-range finish. It also looked like it was going to be an uncomfortable ride, with that small saddle and a position that put my knees right up by my chin. However, as soon as I fired the engine up all this was put aside. The double Remus exhaust Scott had fitted on his bike brought it to life with an epic sound of thunder that the gentrified neighbourhood of Mill Valley might not have appreciated. But I did!

Leg over the saddle, revs up, first gear engaged and here we go. On the road the Monster lets me know instantly that this is no cruiser. Anything under 3000rpm or below 25mph necessitates clutch action in order to keep the engine ticking. My habit of cruising along lazily at near idle will not work with this bike. Instead what the Ducati wants is to be revved; give it some go and it will reward you with incredible torque fast acceleration and precise handling. This bike really comes to life when pushed hard. Hardcore. Exactly the kind of qualities you're looking for when carving through the amazing CA 1, also known as the Shoreline Highway. Past Muir beach, Reyes Point Station was the best road possible for this bike.

I spent 100 miles on this superb bike and loved nearly every minute of it. It's such a fun toy to have and blasting through the Golden Gate bridge on this Italian naked bike is quite memorable. I would definitely add one to my dream garage if I lived somewhere where I could put it to good use.

In the meantime, I'll be nursing my knees and wrists…this bike certainly gives you loads but you have to suffer to get it.

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1990’s Harley softail

Take a look at this bike. Pure American iron shake and bake!This bike belongs to a distant uncle in Curacao. He told me it’s 15 years old and he spends thousands in replacing chrome bits that get bitten by the salty air. You have to love the fin-tail exhausts and tassles!

I took the bike for a ride and it really feels like a 1990s Harley… Old school chassis which is less than confidence inspiring. That being said it was a blast to take it on the coastal road and scare all the local dogs.