BMW C Evoloution; Living with electric

Published: 05 February 2016

MCN finds out if bikes like BMW’s battery-powered scoot can be the ideal companion by living with one for a week

like the idea of electric bikes. I’ve been lucky to ride a few in the past couple of years, but I’ve never spent a week using one as my sole form of transport. Does the novelty wear off, and is charging it a hassle I could do without? To find out I spent a week with BMW’s £13,500 C Evolution scooter.

Day one: back to the future

Picking up the key and heading out to the lock-up, I’m excited. I’ve ridden some amazing bikes in my time at MCN but I’ve never been as fired-up as I am right now. About a scooter... that doesn’t even have an engine. Turning the C Evolution on, the suitably futuristic-looking colour display lights up and I’m instructed to pull a brake lever in order to start the machine. No sound, no drama, the only clue the bike is primed to ride is the word ‘ready’ on the screen.

My eye is then drawn to a switch on the left bar with a big ‘R’ on it. Surely it doesn’t have reverse? I hold the switch and twist the throttle, careering out of the lock-up backwards, barely in control, feet flailing off the footboards. I’m smiling already, but the real test comes on the first ride home.

I take it steady through the car park, to get used to it, then give it a good twist of throttle as I pull on to the main road. Instantly I’m propelled forward, head snapping back.

The immediate hit of torque from a complete standstill is addictive. I time all the traffic lights so I hit them on red just for another chance at catapulting away in utter, unnerving silence. I can’t stop giggling. Pulling onto my gravel driveway it becomes apparent the traction control isn’t quite sure how to deal with the loose stones. The rear tyre momentarily spins, then completely stops, before the ECU dials in just enough power to drive the bike forward incredibly slowly without any spinning of the rear tyre.

Day two: question time

Strolling out of my local Tesco I look towards the C Evolution to see it surrounded by youths, and they’re going to want to know all about it. “What cc is it, mate?” asks the eldest.
“It doesn’t have an engine, it’s electric,” comes my reply.
“You mean it’s not got a kickstarter?”
“No, it has an electric motor instead of a petrol engine.”
“Really?! So how big is the engine?”
This goes on a few more times until they kind of understand and I can’t be bothered repeating myself. I shove my bananas under the seat, don my helmet, and as I pull away in awkward silence I can still hear them asking questions.

Day three: home on the range

With the C Evolution in Sail mode (almost no engine braking, similar in feel to a two-stroke) the range is down to 11 miles by the time I get to the office on Wednesday morning and it’s seven miles back home. Do I plug the scoot in while at the office, or will the range countdown be more accurate than on traditional bikes? I decide to trust the bike and head off home with a steady throttle hand and Eco Pro mode activated, just to be safe. There’s a huge difference in Eco Pro mode - the urgency and instant throttle response is gone, replaced with a very steady build of power, which makes shooting for gaps in traffic more of a gamble, although it does allow me to pull up at home with four miles left. The range countdown was exactly right. Now all that’s needed is to plug the bike in and let it hum away - rather loudly - ready for use in the morning. Within four hours the bike was fully charged.

Day four: bypass the pump

With a battery full of juice and a range of 60 miles I opt to navigate the morning rush hour in Dynamic mode, which brings throttle response up to a grin-inducing level and adds in enough regenerative braking to make the lever almost redundant. Any time I have to slow down or come to a stop becomes a game of staying off the brakes; I haven’t had as much fun on the morning commute in a long time.

On the way home my housemate Andy has to stop for fuel on his old-fashioned, smelly, petrol burner. I almost follow him then realise at the last minute that I don’t need to. I sail past in smug silence, making sure to give him a nice big wave. By the time he gets home I’m out of my gear and relaxing on the sofa. If calling for petrol takes five minutes every week, that’s four hours saved in a year.

Day five: a quiet revolution

Having recharged the bike on Wednesday night, I’ve got over 40 miles left on the range countdown, and I need to do a spot of shopping. I’ve got a vague recollection of the local Asda having some electric vehicle charge points, which on arrival I realise I remembered correctly. Park the scoot up in one of the electric bays, then plug the bike into the outlet. Easy, right? Nope. The covers on the outlet remain locked until you scan an RFID card (see FAQs) on the pad at the top. Bugger.

While I’m at Asda I opt to do some shopping anyway. The C Evolution has a smaller underseat compartment compared to most scooters - presumably due to the batteries - and the charger takes up some of the space. One bulging bag of fruit can just fit under the seat.

Unfortunately this is the last day I have with the electric BMW - just as I was getting into the swing of things. I take the long way back to the office with the bike in Road mode, which offers less regenerative braking than Dynamic mode. Scything through traffic without making a sound I can’t help but have a grin on my face. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my week of living with an electric scooter - not words I thought I’d ever type. There wasn’t anything it couldn’t do that a conventional motorcycle would have done, and it made a nice change not having to stop at the petrol station.

Verdict

A week with the C Evolution is enough for me to see the future is bright. Yes it’s expensive, and the range isn’t that great, but that’s the price of being an early adopter of new technology. And, of course, there is the fuel saving that makes the asking price a bit more bearable. Give it a few years for batteries to get smaller, lighter and ranges to go up, and electric bikes could be serious competition for petrol bikes. And all you’ll have to do is plug it in every other night. If electric bikes are the future and they all look as good as the C Evolution, I’m definitely onboard. The only issue for me, since I don’t have a garage, is the local scallywags coming along and unplugging it for a laugh.

Tech Specs


BMW C Evolution, £13,500
Motor Electric drive via drivetrain swingarm, liquid-cooled permanent magnet synchronous motor, toothed belt and prismatic lithium-ion cells
Claimed power 47bhp
Claimed torque 53ftlb
Frame Hybrid chassis, load-bearing die-cast aluminium battery casing, steel-tubed rear
Weight 265kg
Range 62 miles
Seat height 780mm
Finance Deposit: £3490.72, 35 x £199 payments, £5239.36 final payment

FAQs

Are there many places to charge them in public?

According to www.zap-map.com there are 3745 charging locations in the UK, with 5671 devices. There are six in Peterborough city centre alone, with another four just outside. Most charging points have standard three-pin connectors and other, faster charging connectors. Payment is via an RFID card. 

Can you just plug it into a normal electric socket in the garage? Are there ways of charging it quicker?

Our test bike came with a standard household three-pin socket, which will charge the scoot from completely flat to fully charged in four hours. You can also use a Mode 3 charging cable, which is around 30 minutes quicker.

What’s an RFID card and how do I get one?

RFID stands for Radio-frequency identification and is basically used to transfer data. In the case of charging an electric bike that data is money from your bank account. http://chargeyourcar.org.uk/ev-driver/ seems to be the simplest way to get one. Download their app, register your bank card and then purchase an RFID card (£20 a year). Once it arrives you’re ready to go.

Can you buy spare batteries and charge one while using the other? Will a spare a battery fit under the seat?

Unfortunately not, the three battery cells are sealed in an aluminium case which form the chassis of the scooter.  

How long will the battery last?

The battery in the BMW is certified for five years or 30,000 miles. 

What’s the secondhand market like?

BMW say the electric scooter market is still small, but the C Evolution is performing well, both new and used. There are even examples for sale at mcnbikesforsale.com, all extremely low mileage and all under £10,000.


 

Photos: Chippy Wood