Photos By Scott Hoffman
A Serious Shock To Off-Road Motorcycling
Things are changing. Quickly. And if Alta Motors has anything to say about it, they see a very electric future for motorcycles and they seem to want it now. I remember the first glimpses I saw of this bike, the Redshift MX with claims of 250F-like or better performance. I dismissed it based on some other electric motorcycle manufacturer’s claims that were as lofty in the areas of performance and battery life, all met with about 50% of expectations. Vapor ware until proven otherwise. In those times, just a few years ago, this Redshift was still concept and clay modeling, computer modeled expectations.
Yet Alta did a few things right on the marketing side. They picked showcase events like Endurocross and Red Bull Straight Rhythm to compete with the bike against gas burning machines, head-to-head with pretty astonishing results. Maybe that 250F-like performance could be a reality? It was going to take a riding impression to really figure it out and Alta was not afraid, even insisting we take the Redshift MX off-road, away from plugs and generators to see what ti is really all about. So we did.
The bike has the power of a 250F but it is different. More sudden if you ask us and very quick feeling in a very quiet way. The throttle response varies depending on the different (of four) maps you are in with traction control-like features programmed into the power controller needed to make the bike rideable. Most of the time it is saving you from a sudden burst of torque that will surprise (or scare) the rider. A rider will learn to use the throttle differently and we will explain that in more detail later.
It’s 264 pound weight is heavier than it looks but it rides much lighter than that. The chassis does nothing funny and in fact acts more like a well designed off-road bike than we ever expected. Alta makes good use of the WP suspension components and even has the 4CS forks working as good as they could. With a weight that is more attune to a 450cc machine you have to realize that there is very little of that mass spinning, likely 20-30 pounds of spinning things like flywheels, clutches, gears and shafts. The Redshift has a few spinning items but they are small in comparison. The battery is a claimed 70-pounds of the overall weight and it is very stationary.
The handling is very light and not indicative of what the scale tells us. In fact we rode 450cc bikes on the same trail the following day and both riders felt the Redshift MX felt easily 30 pounds lighter on the trail. Its suspension settings are plush and planted with a lot of stroke movement to absorb the little stuff. In the bumps there is enough hold up so the bike does not wallow too much but it does rebound too fast, and our adjusters were maxed out. Bottoming resistance was great and we were told a high oil level in the fork really helped this. The front fork also topped out easily rebounding from big bumps.
The chassis character is is balanced and one sensation that is worth noting is that as you start spinning up the motor, the chassis stays light. That’s a characteristic of a very expensive works motocross bike. If the Redshift weighed 220 pounds there would be nothing like it. The front is planted in turns but with the power you can lighten it up easily if you want. Going hard on the rear we felt some chassis flex that might be from the centrally attached swingarm pivot but hard riding on a motocross track or more pounding whoops is needed to see if there are downsides to this. Side-to-side control through the footpegs is excellent and since the chassis is pretty roomy you can get all over the bike.
So here is where the skeptics, haters and typical motorcycle dinosaurs will rejoice as they slip on a second jacket and shiver. There are disadvantages to this electric motorcycle and we won’t polish over them. But remember these were considered and understood when designing the bike and in reality are the facts of life that any electric motorcycle will face. There is the battery life. We rode a very tough 24-mile ride with over 4000 feet of climbing lasting well over 2 hours of riding time. At that point the battery was near drained and just starting to go into a “safety” power saving mode to get back in. We would have rode around a little longer to see the very end of power, yet that is hard on the battery if it is not charged up at least half way quickly after the ride, our test bikes had to get loaded up right after for the trip home.
Charging is as simple as plugging it into to a power source, but to what? At a track or out in the field, 220V power is not so easy to come by. A generator is the solution but in the minds of many defeated the purpose of electric bikes, right? Where did you think “your” electricity comes from again? You can charge (with the same charger) from 110V power but at half the rate. And for those wanting to venture off the grid and use solar or some sort of inverter off a battery, forget it, this thing takes a lot of juice. We watched a power meter and calculated the cost of a recharge at about $1.50-$2.00 at our rates. With the 220V connection the charging time was about equal to the riding time in a trail riding use. We did a 1.5 hour ride and it took 1.5 hours to fully top the battery.
There is really no current solution to the charging issue and Alta has even designed the bike so that changing the battery was not the fist priority, they went for handling first. A couple of mechanics could swap a battery in 10-15 minutes but again, not easy for a regular consumer. And when you think of power, it’s just like gasoline yet you have to fill it through a pinhole, not a hose. If we were to estimate the “size” of the tank we’d call the Redshift’s capacity a gallon in gasoline.
So above that here are some very interesting and often overlooked advantages. The Redshift MX is basically silent. You hear the whine of the engine’s gears and a lot of chain slap. But the thing that really stuck out was the tire’s noise–slipping, slapping and really giving the rider something else to think about, it soft of sounds like a flat tire all the time even at proper pressure. It is refreshing and kind of freaky, especially with how fast the bike is. Since there is no “rev-up” the quickness of the power can catch a rider out if you wait for the noise to tell you you are going to go! In areas under sound pressure or areas you never considered that you could ride, this could open possibilities.
The durability claims from Alta are pretty impressive for the Redshift MX. Basically 10-years is the claim for the powerplant. The battery’s charge cycles are in the thousands of charges and aside from the switches on the handlebar, the bike is basically waterproof. The chassis is a futuristic blend of castings and forgings that use the engine as a stressed member integrated into the design. The battery is carried on the front of the main frame and the front frame rails basically protect it. The subframe is a Makroblend composite resin design, basic ally a honeycomb plastic and claimed to be very strong. Suspension components are proven WP parts and with proper service are up to living a long time. Brembo brakes and some very robust plastic (we tested it) round out the package.
The bike is very simple to ride. Yes, very simple. No clutch, no shifting, the throttle grip is everything. If you want to go, just twist it–the farther you twist, the more power you get, to a point. In some ways it was just like a Rekluse clutch equipped bike but there was still no need to make a shift. Now there are four maps programs programmed into the controller which we will get to. But the strangest and most valuable lesson was that you could just hold the throttle steady on a steep hill and the bike will come to a stop, with the throttle held open. Then if you want to continue, you just turn the throttle a little farther. Backing off then getting back on it would just result in spinning. So in technical trails this provided excellent control and a very safe feeling in tough places. For the more aggressive times, on jumps and through whoops the throttle control is very similar to a gas burning bike but like a 500cc right when you get on it. Redshift’s motor weighs a claimed 15 pounds and puts out 40 horsepower at the countershaft sprocket with 36 ft-lbs of torque, but way more than that torque at low, low RPM, the nature of the electric motor. When you get on the throttle the bike has a sudden and deliberate pull that will surprise almost anyone. there is no noise associated with it and it does not have to “rev up.” Then the bike pulls very hard for a few seconds as the motor spins more and more RPM up to its 14,000 RPM limit. As it spins it feels like it loses power compared to a gas motor that builds power but trust us you are already going fast and with this “less power” at RPM the bike gets really good traction and remains very quick. And fast. There is some claimed regenerative braking programmed into the controller but we were told it really does not recharge the battery that much. It was more for “engine braking” feel and especially when you get the motor RPM up you can feel it when letting off. The bike rarely coasts freely-when pushing it around you can feel a little magnet drag.
The maps have distinct jobs and provide a different feeling to the rider. The first was for an average rider and has some power limiting and traction control features built in. It protects the rider from whiskey throttle and in reality was way better than our ego would allow us to explain. The only disadvantage to this map was the lack of instant response for picking up or correcting the bike with a snap of throttle. Map one was not slow by any means, just very little spinning of the rear tire. Map 2 was the “250F motocross” setting. It was claimed to provide the best setting for an average rider to go around a motocross track and set better than 250F lap times. We believe it. Plenty of power, a little spinning but not much so you can get hard on the throttle without consequences. For most this is the best one. Map 3 was for trail riding with a more advanced rider and it gave a sudden power delivery for a good rider to snap the throttle and have the front wheel come right up when needed, but you have to be careful, it will spin up quite easily. Map 4 is a demonstration of the power and really a bit “overclocked” to use a computer term. It spins and hauls ass. It might be good for hill climbing or looping out but it will put to rest any fears this bike is slow. We used it for getting roost in photos and then turned it off when it almost looped us out on whoops.
Some other things to bring up. We rode through tall dry grass that has us fearful when four-stroke headers might light it on fire. The battery can heat up but never got too hot to touch. The motor and controller are liquid cooled and use the frame spars as a heat sink. They never really got hot either, that we could notice. The bike stretched the chain and Alta’s tech was very careful with making sure the spokes were tight. The footpegs are a little small and have poor grip. But if there was one thing that sticks out for off-road riding, it’s the design of the underside of the frame. It has attachments for the footpegs and motor/chassis that hang down way too low and will require the use of a skid plate (Alta has one they are testing) to prevent hanging up or damaging the hardware. Long time riders will have to get over the “air” clutching and to an even larger extent the “air” upshift and downshift.
At $14,995 the Redshift MX is not cheap and will have a lot of riders curious about what it can do and what it’s for. We hope to get a bike for a full test in the near future to see where it would fit into our off-road lifestyle.
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