BMW’s Motorrad’s first electric bike offering has stunning looks, plenty of options and all the bells and whistles.
For $11,795 USD you get a massive TFT display, regenerative braking, full phone connectivity, belt drive, a reverse gear, 42 hp and 45.7 lb-ft.
It’s longer and heavier than it looks in photos, and at 130km (80 mi) its range isn’t amazing. But it’s also super slick, quick and it’s as well made as you’d expect coming from the German moto powerhouse.
As the 21st Century cliche goes, “We were promised flying cars!” “They’re just around the corner,” they shouted, with a wide-eyed but ultimately naive enthusiasm. And with 20/20 hindsight, many of the cheques that the futurists wrote in the 1950s and 1960s were never realistically going to be cashed. Who the hell wants to eat their meals in pill form anyway? But what’s clear in 2023 is that electric vehicles are offering manufacturers an incredible amount of freedom to throw out rule books and rethink many of the norms that traditional internal combustion thinking had set in stone.
But the rubber hits the road when you have to make dreams a reality. How hard do manufacturers push to be cutting edge, or do they hold back and let others make the mistakes? Where do you draw the line between innovation and foolishness? Do you play it safe or risk your competition releasing the electric motorcycle version of the Apple iPhone and displacing you in the market? Just ask a Nokia executive from 2007 how playing it safe turned out for them.
Most readers would have heard of Harley’s Livewire, but how many have you actually seen on your local roads? You can’t fault the company’s boldness in making and selling something so ahead of the curve, but as Harley is finding out with a lot of its business decisions of late, if you don’t sell motorcycles to customers, you face extinction. Just like fossil fuels.
Make no mistake. Electric vehicles are probably the biggest challenge global manufacturers have ever faced and how they deal with them now will define if they are still around in a decade from now. You can bet your bottom dollar that much money has and will be spent on making sure the big boys stay big and that no upstarts cut their lunch.
For us consumers, this is a real win/win. With an impending flood of electric vehicles, their amazingly small running costs and local government incentives to own them, it’s looking increasingly likely that the classic fossil fuel-loving bike you have in your garage right now could soon be joined by an electric stablemate. And all you have to do is make sure you spend your hard-earned space paseos wisely.
So does the CE-04 make sense? Does it ride as well as it looks and like so many e-bikes before it, is it a trendy gimmick or will it really prove practical and useful in the long run? I spent two weeks silently tearing around a very Summery Sydney on one so you, dear reader, will know your arse from grass. So let’s pull out the fast charging plug, connect our smart phones and get into it.
Features of the 2023 BMW CE-04 Electric Scooter
Needless to say, there’s a certain amount of technical throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to electric vehicles; what you expect on a “normal” bike may or may not be there, and a whole bunch of “I didn’t expect that to be included” is often par for the course. Electric seat warmers, anyone? So with open minds and a blank piece of paper as your must-have list, let’s see what you get with the CE-04.
BMW’s ultimate decision here was to install what they call a “EMP156 permanent-magnet liquid-cooled synchronous motor” into the role of propelling the CE-04. Derived from their four-wheeled electric offerings, the electric traction motor is essentially a shortened version of the powerplant used in their electric SUVs like the X3 xDrive 30e and 225xe plug-in hybrid models. The motor is mounted to the chassis, not the swingarm, to reduce unsprung weight and a toothed belt drive is used to transmit the go to the rear wheel through a single speed box. Top speed is limited to 121 km/h (75 mph), assumedly to conserve battery life and to make you think twice about taking it on das Autobahn.
Unlike the motor (and unlike Teslas) the CE-04 has an air-cooled battery. Again derived from BMW’s SUVs, it’s a Lithium Ion-based unit. The upshot is you’ll get about 130 kms/80mi out of a full charge under “normal” riding conditions, which essentially means you don’t ride like a lunatic, you ride in the city, and make the most of the regenerative braking by not slamming on the stoppers at every set of lights. Charging it at home with the non-fast-charging power supply that comes with the bike meant that from an almost “empty tank”, the battery took about 9 hours or so to fully charge. Note that your mileage may vary depending on what voltages your house is running.
Straight out of the box, the CE-04 will give you a 260mm (10.25 in) TFT colour screen with integrated navigation and connectivity, including comms and music integration depending on what audio gear your helmet is running. All lights are LED. USB connectivity means you can charge your phone in the waterproof dash storage box while it’s connected to the bike and there’s two more storage areas available; one in the bike’s belly and the other one – which I will say is probably optional – is a cool-looking “saddle bag” of sorts that mounts to the bike’s rear and will allow you to carry smaller items such as groceries and other knick knacks. Then there’s the regenerative braking and a reverse gear, along with a centre stand.
Purchasing additional packages will add a heated seat, tyre pressure control, a centre stand, sexier auto headlights, riding modes (Road, Rain, Dynamic and Eco), ABS with lean sensitivity (aka ABS Pro) and some advanced DTC over the standard ASC functionality. Accessory seat options that include two “backrest comfort seat” options with heating, heated grips, a higher windscreen and a built-in quick charger that will speed up things if you happen to have access to a “Mode 3” charging cable, allowing empty-to-full charging to happen in 50 minutes.
We all know that electric vehicles are quick. So what specs does the CE-04 deliver? Its donk generates a peak of 42 hp (31 kW) when asked, but under normal throttle conditions it will give you 20 hp (15 kW) continuously with 46 lb⋅ft (62 N⋅m) of torque. And while that may seem a little underwhelming, the scooter can accelerate from 0–30 mph (0–48 km/h) in 2.6 seconds; trust me when I say it’s no slouch. The 147.6 volt lithium ion power unit pumps out 60.6 A-hrs (8.9 kW-hrs) with 8.5 of them “usable”. No, I’m not sure what that means, either. And while I know the bike was long in real life (actually 2,285 mm or 90″), it backs up that impressive stat with a kerb weight of 231 kg (509 lbs). No, it’s no waif. The seat height on the standard unit is 780 mm (30 .7″). My bike was running Maxxis Supermaxx rubber with a 120/70 R15 at the front and a 160/60 R15 out back.
Initial Impressions of the 2023 BMW CE-04 Electric Scooter
“Wow,” was my first impression. Being a bit of a design nerd, I have to say that if you think it looks good in photos, it looks just as sci-fi and futuristic in the flesh, or plastic and metal as the case may be. But it’s also a big bike. Somehow, I thought it was going to be smaller than it was. And BOY is it long. I had to repark the bike in my garage more than once as I left the tail sticking out, rendering the CE-O4’s very cool rear wheel a prime candidate for guillotining by my automatic garage door.
Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft
I’ll wear my heart on my sleeve here and tell you all ahead of time that I love the bike’s looks. Yes, I get that they might be a little crowd splitting; especially if you like your scooters (and other forms of transportation) retro in their looks. The CE is the opposite of retro but calling it modern would be a mistake. Yamaha’s TMAX Tech Max is a modern scooter. The CE was clearly designed twenty years in the future and teleported back in time to 2023. As to how its looks will date over time is anyone’s guess, but as I see it it’s a stunning piece of design and by the way it turns heads on the street, I reckon I have a few other peeps who’d back me up on that front.
As I just touched on, the bike’s size is probably the next thing that strikes you. And that’s coming from someone who mainly rides motorcycles. I get that this isn’t some Vespa from the 1960s and that maxi scooters are now a well-defined category segment, but this is a long and heavy bike in almost anyone’s books. Unless your daily rider is a Harley Road Glide, you’re probably going to see the CE-04 as being larger and heavier than you imagined.
But that’s par for the (electric) course, isn’t it? Tesla’s smallest car – the Model 3 – weighs in at 1.8 tonnes (3968 lbs). The silver lining here is that it’s also a very low bike with a low seat, too. The upshot is that while it’s heavier and longer than is ideal, it wears its weight very low to the ground meaning that it’s easier to move around while stationary and once you get up to speed there’s not many telltale signs to give the game away to the rider.
Backwards to the Future
A closer inspection of the bike reveals a reverse gear; operated by depressing a rocking switch on the left-hand side of the ’bars while operating the throttle as usual it’s not only a super handy feature to have, it’s also a concession as to how BMW’s designers felt about the CE’s weight. The only other bikes I know of that have reverse gears are Honda Goldwings and BMW’s own K1200LT. And while the CE definitely isn’t in the same heavyweight division as those two, it’s a testament to just how concerned the Bavarians were in regards to potential buyers baulking at a purchase once they realised that the scooter felt more like a jet ski during driveway and parking manoeuvres.
Now for some always enjoyable gadget fiddling. The bike’s TFT is probably the biggest I’ve ever had the pleasure to stare at, and it was perfectly visible in Sydney’s bright summer sunshine. It’s controlled by BMW’s usual rotary thumbwheel system. It has a fob ignition like Harley’s so any button pushing or charging of batteries can only take place with it in your pocket. There’s a storage area under the seat that is designed to fit a helmet, but only just. My large Arai Profile-V was a touch too big to go into the space; I guess scooter owners may be more used to this but I couldn’t help but think how much this would suck if you’d just splashed the cash on a new CE only to find out that your beloved and expensive lid was now redundant.
There’s two waterproof hatches just beneath the ’bars; one is for the charging port (on the right) and the left one is a USB-fitted cubby hole for your mobile phone. Thankfully the USB is mainly for charging and unlike my family car, you can access music and maps from your phone through Bluetooth and without having to tether it. Both of these hatches are locked once the bike is turned off, but I’d suggest that their lightweight plastic construction would offer very little resistance to a determined thief.
The last port of call before trying the thing out on the road was to delve into the electronics package on the bike. With auto headlights, pro ABS, auto tyre pressure sensors, music, maps, riding modes; all of these were up to the standards you’d expect for BMW, but I still have a small issue with manufacturers making you download their own apps to get the most out of their bike’s displays. Apple and Google just do the whole mapping thing so much better than them; BMW making (or more likely commissioning) map software for a bike would be like Google making a motorcycle just so you could run their software on it. Probably best to leave it to the experts in both instances, yeah?
Riding the 2023 BMW CE-04 Electric Scooter
Riding in the City
Getting the CE out of the garage and facing the right way was a bit of a chore, but this was mostly offset by the novelty and (dare I say it) fun of having a reverse gear on the thing. Simple things amuse simple minds, but I can’t deny I was smiling as I chugged back and forth doing my three-point turn with the little electric powerstation helping me out in both directions. But with that said, the bike’s length becomes even more apparent here; all the electric gears in the world won’t move the bushes, pot plants and fences in your front yard or the neighbour’s car in your apartment’s underground parking to accommodate the bike’s large turning circle.
Enough talking. Let’s ride. I zoom quietly off into the Sydney summer to see what the bleeding edge of two-wheel electric transport feels like on the go. And the news is good; unsurprisingly, the CE-04 is hella fun. And zippy. And fuss-free too. Weight and length mean a whole lot less now that we’re underway as the weight is worn low. And not just a little bit; thanks to the absence of a sump, the bike’s motor and batteries are just far enough off the ground to avoid speed humps and not a micron more. The result is a bike that’s much more nimble and turnable than its curb weight may suggest. Sure, a shorter wheelbase would make it a better turner and easier to park, but somehow I’m not so fussed now that I’m out on the road and revelling in the wonder of fully electric, two-wheeled transport.
With no clutch or gears, the CE makes riding an old-fashioned motorcycle seem like wanton complexity or needless flapping about. Apply the throttle, indicate when you are turning and that’s about it. It’s almost too little to keep you busy. “But what about the brakes!?” I hear you mutter. Well, the bike’s regenerative braking is set up to produce a sort of comfortable braking effect if you close the throttle completely. The net result is that in normal traffic and under normal conditions, most of your braking situations are replaced with you simply closing the throttle and letting the bike stop itself. Unless some douchebag cuts you off, you’re on the open road or you’re riding downhill, neither of the bike’s brake levers will get all that much use. And with a bit of practice you’ll be able to gauge the distance you have to stop in and feather the throttle to make sure you’re both recharging the battery and hitting the perfect point on the road to put your foot down.
Of course, the dash is designed to show you what’s happening at any given time and as with other electric and hybrid vehicles, you’ll have to get used to the idea of negative energy as well as the usual positive kind. What the hell am I talking about? Well unlike internal combustion motos, electric bikes can both expend and generate power – hence the regenerative (try saying that word three times fast) braking thing. So standing still will show the bike’s energy usage at zero. Accelerate away and you are using energy. Stop accelerating and roll to a gradual stop and you’ll be recouping some of the energy you just spent getting up to speed. Of course, the laws of physics mean that you can only get back a portion of what you just put out; none-the-less, it’s more than a little engaging to see the bike doing its thing and tailoring your riding style to see what happens.
Of course, that all assumes that you are paying attention to the bike’s display. In my particular case, I spent a good chunk of time on my first few rides trying to catch glimpses of the bike in profile as I rode past the glass shop fronts around Sydney. Did I mention how much I like the bike’s looks? Yeah, I think I did. And I’ll now do it again. It looks great. And when I got tired of looking at myself, I began to notice the other road users and pedestrians looking too. It’s just so different to anything else out there that it kind of invites eyeballs and – if it’s at all possible – random conversations with strangers.
Toll booth attendants. People next to me at the lights. Pedestrians crossing at traffic lights. People at shopping centre car parks. Everyone was on for a yarn and of course, I was happy to oblige. Hell, I could talk the leg off an automotive design table if need be. In other words, if you want to keep yourself to yourself and ride incognito, this isn’t the bike for you. Hell, even my wife and kids wanted to know more; I bring home loaner bikes all the time and this is the first time that’s ever happened.
While I wouldn’t call the CE-04 fast – especially when you’re judging against fully fledged motorcycles, it’s more than capable of getting the hell out of Dodge if it wants to. Thanks to the wonder that is electric motors, it’s able to dynamically assign the horses on tap so that a full throttle dash sees the CE up its max power to more than double its peak power. The little red devil on my shoulder is now whispering in my ear and asking something along the lines of, “Just how much horsepower could the thing deliver if you changed its software and/or circuitry to max things out?” But that’s the boy racer in me talking.
And what about range? From a full charge, the bike displays about 130-ish kms (80 mil) of available travel distance on its display. Riding in “road” mode for most of my time on it, I found it pretty accurately estimated these distances and therefore provided some reassurance that you weren’t going to be joyfully rolling around the city one second and then knocking on a stranger’s door with tears in your eyes and a recharging cable in your hand the next. Riding the bike from the BMW dealership back to my place over a distance of about 25 kms saw a 25% decrease in range showing on the dash. Next, I rode it from home to a mate’s place on the other side of town and back over a total distance of around 68 kms. The charge was at 55% once the CE was back in my garage and the displayed recharge time to 100% was four hours and ten minutes. So that’s all good and well, but what about a trip that really pushes the limits?
Riding in the Curves
I really ummed and ahhed about riding the CE-04 through my usual testing loop. After all, was riding a city bike in the bush going to prove anything apart from the fact that it’s best ridden in the city? But the shitstirrer in me ruled the day and I decided that pushing it out of its comfort zone just might reveal something about the bike that sensible city trips may not. Pulling out the virtual rulers, I figured out that the return Royal National Park trip I usually make would cover a distance of 110 kms. That’d leave me with less than 20 kms to spare and there were a good few hills along the route, too.
Prematurely suggesting to my wife that she might like to tag along on the back, I lost my nerve on the day after concerns that the extra weight might throw out the range calculations and leave us stranded. I still took the charger along and somewhat optimistically imagined that if I did run out of volts, I could just stop at a service station and ask nicely to recharge the CE in exchange for me purchasing some horribly overpriced bottled water, energy drink or carton of chocolate milk. I also set the ride mode to “Eco”– somewhat of an irony on an electric bike if you think about it…
Yes, range anxiety is a real thing; but in my case at least, I can mostly blame the fact that I was unfamiliar with the bike’s dietry habits. Once you have done the trip and got back home safely, the next time it’ll be a doddle. I’d also guess that the bike wouldn’t grind to a halt when the battery gets low and would hopefully allow for a little extra “emergency” distance to compensate for range daredevils and those in possession of substandard short term memories.
After the fear subsided, watching the bike’s range change after long ascents and descents became quite intriguing. Adding five kilometres after a few minutes of downhill riding was impressive, but somehow I knew that it would all be taken back once I’d scaled the large hill on the other side of the river valley. Sure, this novelty would wear off soon enough, but for now the idea of the bike magically refilling its battery tank just using gravity was way cool.
Time to focus, Andrew. What about its handling and performance? Despite the CE being well outside of its cappuccino-sipping comfort zone, it was all over this like cockroaches in an after-hours McDonald’s. I really got the impression that the CE was way more capable than its spec sheet might otherwise imply. Sure, it wasn’t cornering like a Tron bike and pushing hard through tree-lined corners quickly reminded me of the bike’s substantial heft. But did it ever lose its composure or feel lacking? No.
On we pushed, with the CE pivoting like a pendulum beneath me in that very particular way only scooters can. Once you leave the traffic behind and speeds rise, it is interesting to note that the usual feedback a regular, geared bike gives you is absent on the BMW. I’m not sure if you do this yourself, but I know that on my regular ride, 3rd gear equals somewhere in the vicinity of a comfortable 70 or 80 km/h. Should I get carried away with myself and start attacking a set of corners, I know that once the revs come up I’m well into the “angry police officer” zone. But the CE has a one speed ’box and it’s all but silent – especially once the wind gets in your ears. The upshot is that it’s oh so easy to go with the flow and suddenly be substantially over the speed limit with the only real feedback as to your impending speeding fine being that very silent little number that’s busily ticking over on the CE’s TFT display.
Arriving at the halfway point on the test loop and dismounting this Deutsch battery-on-wheels to gather my thoughts, the crowds started gathering before I managed to take my first sip of coffee. Such was the impact the bike made. Take into consideration that this was the very same location that a borrowed Yamaha MT-10 SP barely made a splash at a few short months ago. “It’s a belt drive!” noted the local Kawasaki rider. “Can I get one back home?” questioned the American holiday maker fresh off the tourist coach. “How fast is it?” queried the Power Ranger on the Japanese crotch rocket. And for those that didn’t speak up, I saw more than a few longing glances in the CE’s direction. And that was from proper, leather-clad motorcyclists. I can only assume that doing the same thing at a scooter hangout would have left quite a few riders convulsing and/or frothing at the mouth. It was that well received.
Still conscious of the remaining range, I excused myself from answering questions and took a look at the dash. Here at the halfway point I had 55% charge remaining with 65kms available. Confident that I wouldn’t be spending the rest of the day looking for a power socket at the local public tennis courts, I decided to head back home. More relaxed now, I cranked up some tunes in my helmet and relaxed into what I was increasingly certain was the future of two-wheeled riding. Gliding into the garage at the end of the electrical odyssey, I still had 22 km and 17% battery to spare. Now I was thinking about all the throttle I’d not applied in an effort not to get stuck somewhere with an empty battery. Damn you, sensible brain. Damn you to hell.
Walking away from the now-charging bike at the end of this ride, I was left with two distinct and very positive impressions. The first was that unlike some previous generation electric bikes that I had ridden, the CE was totally unphased by everything that I threw at it. City traffic? Check. Suburban cruising? Done. Arterial freeways with increased speeds? Easy. Forrest twisties with fast corners? No problems. High speed toll roads? Zero sweat. In a way the bike feels somewhat “restricted” in a sense; the 120 km/h top speed seems super low for a bike that can cruise easily at 110 amongst traffic and smash out forest corners with very little effort.
The other thought that was in my head was just how fun it was. Easy to ride and a real attention-grabber, belting around on this thing in a Sydney summer was a real pleasure. With almost zero riding effort involved to get it from A to B, you’re left to watch the smiles on the faces of the people in traffic around you, chat to the amazed bystanders and explain to them that it really was all-electric and that they could indeed buy one right now if they really wanted to. I found myself making excuses to take it for a spin. Wife at the train station after work? I’ll handle it. One of the kids finishing their shift at the local cafe? I’ll be there soon. Mate has a new space on the other side of town for his custom car business? Let’s have a coffee.
What Could Be Better on the 2023 BMW CE-04 Electric Scooter
Das Kleine Niggles
I’m somewhat scraping the bottom of the barrel here, but I did add a few things to my list that ended up bugging me a little. The fact that you have to use BMW’s phone app to access some of the CE’s features feels to me a little limiting. But on its own, it’s no real biggie. What was a little more annoying for me was the fact that while using my Bluetooth headphones in my helmet to listen to music while also running BMW’s phone app, I found that the BMW app and/or the bike would stop the music playing under certain circumstances as it tried to “take over” the bluetooth audio connection.
Most frustrating was that this would happen when I touched the left-hand ’bar jog wheel which also happens to be placed right next to the bike’s indicator switch. Trying to indicate to turn left while using both the BMW app and spotify, accidently bumping the jog wheel and I’d be greeted with…silence. I’d then pull over, remove my phone from the storage compartment, get the music playing again and resume the journey only to have it happen all over again 5 minutes later. You’d eventually figure out how to stop it happening permanently or develop the muscle memory not to touch the jog wheel, but it was a sigh-inducing way to interrupt a perfectly good ride.
The only other qualm I had was the flimsiness of the storage compartment under the bike’s bars. I previously mentioned concerns about the security of your valuables, but I guess even the most expensive bikes don’t offer this. Alas, I also got the impression of a certain “plastic-y cheapness” in the way it opened and closed that seemed to jar with the rest of the bike’s quality build. Yes, weight saving is of paramount importance on all bikes and scooters, but for a bike that weighs 230 kgs, surely a bit more of that German quality could have be added to these commonly used features to give you that impression of smooth, slickness that you’d find in a BMW car instead of a wobbly cheapness that will instead make you wonder if it will break off completely one day.
Final Thoughts on the 2023 BMW CE-04 Electric Scooter
It only takes a few “Dad, can we go for a ride on the electric scooter again?” queries from your kids and partner to figure out just how much fun the CE-04 is. Where was all that blithe disregard for the 47 other bikes I brought home to review previously? It was washed away by the bike’s fun, amazing looks, ease of use and ample seating space, that’s where. I was swayed by the bike’s nifty charms, too. A weaponised conversation starter, the bike took to a Sydney summer like a drunk German to a late night bratwurst. It filled a real need in my suburban family, too. The wanton use of a two tonne SUV to grab a bottle of milk or take one of the kids to their part time job was made redundant by hopping onto a scooter that cost mere cents to run and was infinitely more fun to use.
Sure, it’s horses for courses here; scooters’ natural habitat are big cities where parking is tightly controlled and/or patrolled, winter isn’t too brutal and cars are actively discouraged in the inner suburbs thanks to traffic chaos. In other words, Southern European cities and southern Japan. For any Muscovites reading this, why? It’d be torture. And while Sydney’s traffic hasn’t quite reached the levels of Rome or Athens, I think I’ve proven that it would work bloody well here, too.
In an unusual move for me, I took a look at some public comments under a few Moto Influencer posts on YouTube about the CE. There was a theme running through these armchair expert comments that went something like this. “The bike is too expensive and its range isn’t far enough. Get back to me when it’s 25% cheaper and has double the distance.” For someone who has actually ridden the thing, I’d like to counter that viewpoint with two very important points that I think makes them more or less moot.
Firstly, all electric vehicles are currently more expensive than their petroleum brethren. But they are WAY more cheap to own and run. I have friends with Teslas that tell me they pay a few dollars to charge them and that the service intervals are so far apart, they are measured in light years. In other words, you pay a little more up front but boy, do you save in the long run.
And for those banging on about range, then I’m pretty sure you are looking at the wrong tool for the job. Sure, 125 km isn’t enough range to spend all Sunday touring around the countryside outside the city; this isn’t the bike for that ride. It’s for cafes, beaches and movies. Extended trips on it would be like choosing a MotoGP bike to ride across the country on. It’s not the bike’s fault that you’ll die from leg cramps on day three. Similarly, if you are looking to do a ride that would see you needing multiple recharges on the CE, then I’d politely suggest that you’d be better off on an internal combustion bike…at least for the time being.
In the meantime, the CE-04 is a great option for the electro-curious, two-wheeled enthusiast that wants to stand out without taking one for the team on a bleeding-edge gamble that will probably be superseded in a few year’s time. It has a real “way of the future” vibe that many if not all of the previous electric bikes I’ve ridden just cannot manage. It’s fun, cool and super capable. If you’re even a little bit interested in plugging one into your life, I’d strongly suggest you take it for a test ride on a sunny Saturday and see if it doesn’t put a big smile on your face.
2023 BMW CE-04 Electric Scooter at a Glance
Price: starting at $11,795 USD/€12,950
10.25” TFT display
Great storage options
Permanent-magnet liquid-cooled synchronous motor
Horsepower: 20 HP with 42 HP bursts under acceleration