I have many regrets in life, but one that at times stings the most is that I didn’t ride trials bikes as a kid. Growing up I was so obsessed with MX that I think I might have turned a little bit gay, such was my man crush on Jeremy McGrath. Since the good old Nac Nac days I’ve seen so many jumps, backflips, nearly-all-the-around whips and gnarly tricks on dirt bikes that I’ve become immune to the skills required to pull off crowd pleasing stunts and the whole spectacle leaves me cold. Axel Hodges aside perhaps – Google him. I have though always been impressed by Dougie Lampkin, Adam Raga, Fukigas and their contemporaries and these days I’m completely in awe of people like Toni Bou and Graham Jarvis. What these guys do on bikes makes my brain hurt.
But it’s not necessarily the biggest and baddest moves that impress me the most, it’s the riders’ slow speed control and deft touch that make the most impossible obstacles and savage terrain seem like a trip to the shops. And it’s not just the pros either. My flat track buddy Scott is built like a shire horse but somehow traverses slippery, rock strewn riverbeds like one of those mountain goats you see glued to the side of dams. We’ve been out enduro riding on the latest KTMs and Yamahas, thinking we’re doing OK only for Scotty to calmly sail passed on his air-cooled Honda XR250 like we’ve stopped to read a map. How? Because he grew up trials riding.
Recently I decided to do something about my shortcomings in the skill department – I got drunk. While stupefied the evil temptress that is The eBay lured me in with promises of good times and instagram glory shots. Before the subsequent hangover had passed a cheap (is there such a thing?) Beta Rev 3 250 had been ordered. After a couple of hours training with Sussex outfit Tricks In The Sticks I was ready for a shot at the world title and headed to a mate’s field for some practice. We were shit. And the bike was a bit shit too. Buy cheap, buy twice. Or maybe buy sober, buy well.
Now all this seems like the longest intro ever, even by my standards, but the bike I’m about to talk about needs a gentle introduction to the masses. Presuming masses of people will actually read this. It is, as the title suggests – powered by electricity. I’m not about to stoke the debate about petrol vs electric here, that’s coming soon in another feature.
Electric motorcycles are nothing new and the trials sector is the one area of the market to have embraced the technology, thanks largely to the Oset kids bikes. Small people up and down the land have been sent off across parks, football pitches and gardens with only a faint Zzzzz for a soundtrack while they master bike control. But for adults these and other machines, although very capable, were often seen as a bit of a novelty. Were being the operative word.
During the summer I rode a few e-bikes from the Electric Motion range and was more than impressed by their performance. The instant torque and linear power delivery flattered my less than smooth throttle control and I couldn’t believe how long the batteries lasted. The one thing I couldn’t get used to though was the ‘clutch’. The 2019 Electric Motion Epure had a microswitch on the end of the left hand lever instead of a hydraulic fluid reservoir which worked to cut power to the back wheel. Useful as a get out of jail but mastering power launches up obstacles or slow speed feathering just didn’t feel intuitive. I spat my Epure off the side of a really steep climb and smashed the lever housing to pieces just to be sure.
Step forward the 2020 Epure Race, the only electric trials bike (and maybe e-bike, to my knowledge at least) with an actual mechanical clutch. It’s a diaphragm type, like you’d find in nearly every manual car from the last hundred years, except this one is tiny and lightweight. It’s hydraulically operated giving a feel similar to regular petrol powered trials machinery. As far as I could tell before even riding the thing, this is a game changer and allows for direct comparison with the top-of-the-range gas guzzlers from Beta, Gas Gas, Montessa, Sherco and newcomers, Vertigo.
There are headline stats that’ll impress trials people and EV buffs but I’m not going to go into that, there’ll be a link at the bottom. Like max speed and BHP, battery outputs and run times aren’t the basis for deciding if the Epure Race is any good or not. I needed to spend a day riding one.
As it just so happens I’ve been meaning to book a day’s training with Inch Perfect Trials so when the opportunity arose to tick two boxes I jumped at the chance. Inch Perfect is the UK’s premiere trials facility. And I’m not just saying that because they lent me a bike and bought me dinner – the place is awesome. There’s a modern showroom packed with new and used bikes, a well stocked parts department, a multi-bench workshop and 100 acres of private land nestled in the beautiful Ribble Valley, reet ooop north in Lancashire. If like me you fantasise about moto-playgrounds, this one is the real deal.
The whole thing is run by Matt Alpe, a young (by my standards) guy who’s competed in trials at a national level for years and stunted at shows, races and exhibitions in-between. But it was Matt’s urge to share his love of trials riding that became the foundation for Inch Perfect. I used to order parts from their webstore long before I knew anything about Matt or his setup. There’s a pictorial timeline on the canteen wall showing how in a just a few years the company has gone from a mail order business and tiny workshop to a 7-day-a-week training centre and bustling motorcycle dealership.
In the busy showroom you’ll find the latest bikes, gear and accessories, and the concept of try before you buy is welcomed. And now the Electric Motions jostle for floor space alongside Dougie Lampkin’s 2020 range of Vertigos as well as the latest from Beta, Montesa Honda, Sherco, Scorpa, Gas Gas and Oset. But perhaps the best thing about Inch Perfect though, is the changing area. On one side there’s a full size range of boots to borrow, and on the other, helmets – in heated cabinets. Massive ducting blow-drys damp kit at lunch time and pre-warms it before a chilly ride. It was 3˚ celsius on the morning of our session and slipping my noggin into a warm lid set me up for the day.
The Electric Motion bikes themselves look pretty damn trick and in some cases appear better put together than some of the more established benzine burning rivals. Electric Motion has been in the game for a decade now and they’re clearly not here to be also-rans. The M4 fork and TRS R16V shock is apparently the suspension to have, I won’t argue as I’ve heard of neither. What I do know is that the quick release battery fitment is an improvement on last year’s model. It slides onto the motor and is fastened by just three bolts. I’d wager that with a rattle gun you could swap the battery on the Epure in the same time it’d take to unscrew the cap on a jerry can, same again on a regular bike’s fuel tank, stick the funnel in, refuel and re-screw the caps.
Prior to setting off all you need do is pick a mode. Green is smooth and leisurely, equivalent to a 200cc two stroke. Blue is full beans but a spoonful at a time, feeling like a 250. And red is for Toni, Dougie and Matt type of people – full 300cc pro spec. And that’s it. No kick-starting, gear selecting or feeding the clutch – just twist and go. This sounds obvious but 20 minutes into the day one of our group wanted to run a back-to-back comparison with brand new Beta 2-stroke. Which was frankly quite irritating. Trials bikes aren’t exactly loud but the peace and quiet of being at one with nature was shattered each time the Beta was kicked into life, and those strokers sound like they’re labouring over the most simple tasks and gentle terrain. I caught myself looking down my nose at the thing like it was some ancient relic spoiling our day.
Brakes are in the usual places and are single-digit-sharp. On a dryer day I’d have had a try at more convincing endos. All-in the Epure weighs 71kg and felt light and svelte as a whippet. Packaging an engine, radiator, pipework and an exhaust wasn’t an issue for the Electric Motion design engineers so they’ve been able to make the thing really thin waisted, yet pegs and bars are in the regular positions.
I was riding with an experienced gang. Marc Potter, ex-Editor of MCN, Michael Guy, current Road Tester and off-road specialist with MCN and Adam Childs, ex-MCN Road Tester and IOM TT racer. However, we started with the basics, as if we were newbies on an Inch Perfect stag do. Riding between cones at slow speed so that Matt could make sure we weren’t a bunch of chumps, or worse, over confident know-it-alls.
The initial feedback on the Epure was more than slightly positive. Chad (Adam) has an Oset and rides with his son, and Michael is an ex-schoolboy trials hotshot. Both were impressed, so much so that it was Michael who requested we had a brand new Beta petrol bike to try for direct comparison to make sure he’d calibrated his muscle memory correctly. Meanwhile I discovered that I use a clutch an awful lot. An index or middle finger is all that’s needed on the Epure’s lever but it can actually be ridden like a scooter. The motor’s output is exemplary with zero jerkiness or feeling of not being in control. The engine braking is pre-programmed by the rider modes and can be set to regenerate the battery. This is barely detectable and there’s no sensation of running on, which isn’t what I’d anticipated. It did feel alien to ride at half a mile an hour without at least covering the clutch lever but Matt encouraged us to try. Surely though we’d need to be slipping the thing once we got to the rough stuff.
Nope, barely needed it there either thanks to the engine modes. Matt has retuned the three modes on his demo bikes to suit the local terrain and to enable folk to try the things without firing one off a hillside. With a laptop he can program a pro mode more suited to competition use.
With a camera pointing down a steep (steeper than it looks here) and slippery stream, and goading mates at the top I attacked a tricky looking climb. The pressure caused me to make a pig’s ear of it. My eyes weren’t focussed far enough ahead and my lack of faith in the throttle response meant I my index finger was working the clutch like the fader on a Hip Hop DJ’s mixer. I just jerked from slimy rock to slick boulder and made poor progress. Dropping back down from blue to the green mode I tried again and listened intently to Matt’s coaching. With the throttle response numbed slightly and right twist-grip held nearly all the way to the stop the Epure’s motor delivered the perfect amount of silky smooth drive. When traction broke the rear wheel didn’t spin-up in a frenzy and nor did it bite too hard once over the worst of the boulders.
I made it to the top with ease which instilled confidence to have a few more goes while the others attacked more gnarly obstacles. Like the one below. Nothing by pro standards but an off-camber, slimy wet log which needed to be approached from on the other side of the stream provided the opportunity for Michael to give the clutch a proper test. As with a petrol the Epure requires the same process. Pull the lever in, build a load of revs and then dump the clutch for a satisfying launch. Zzzuzz-zzzuuzz, pop.
I know my limits and have enough broken teeth already so I just watched and applauded. Chad would have had a go but none of us had packed any plasters or Savlon and he was due to ride in California the next day so thought better of it. Matt then demonstrated the Epure’s potential, firing himself up steep gullies and onto 4ft tree stumps with consummate ease.
Stunting aside it’s worth reiterating what an enjoyable time we were having being at one with nature but without the ring-ting-tinging soundtrack of the Beta. We’d all had a go on that before leaving propped against a tree. When quizzed, the most experienced in the group – MCN Michael, reckoned if he had to enter a competition that afternoon he’d pick the Beta but it wouldn’t take many hours of practice before that decision would be reversed.
This is supposed to be my review of the Epure, rather than MCN’s, but I’m not an experienced enough trials rider to make a particularly in-depth comparison between regular and e-powered machinery. What I do know is that the Epure gave me stacks of confidence and once the day was over I’d wished I’d have attacked some of the more challenging sections. On my own, away from the cameras I would have done more. And played until the battery went flat. So I’m planning on going back in the new year to have another go, I’ve properly caught the trials bug and want to make up for lost time.
Riding bikes off-road in the UK is becoming harder and harder thanks to NIMBY types, and also the often irresponsible users of green lanes, so I can’t imagine it’ll be too long before the fun police ban it altogether. Electric dirt bikes are certainly the answer in these green and pleasant lands and as soon as I can justify buying a new bike I’ll have an electric one in the stable. I’ll be able to ride around the garden, other people’s gardens, yards and car parks (private ones of course) and practice my skills while emitting no more noise than a cordless screwdriver.
If you fancy joining me we’re organising a Bike Shed trials day at Inch Perfect next spring and everyone is welcome. You don’t even need your own kit, just turn up in your pants and the team will literally sort the rest out. And there’s a hearty lunch provided too, with options for fussy veganists, like me.
The Electric Motion Epure Race costs the same as the petrol equivalent and there are practically zero servicing costs – just lube the chain and off you go. The battery will last 4 hrs on a charge but none of us managed to get one to drop below 75% before the lunchtime boost and mine was still reading 92% when we called it a day due to poor light. I challenge even the most petrol headed folk to go and try all of Inch Perfect’s demo fleet and not at least give the Epure some serious consideration.
Matt will be competing at the National Championships on a bone-stock Epure Race, against rivals on full factory spec petrol bikes and I’m looking forward to hearing how he gets on.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m saving my petrol tokens for the road. When it comes to trial and trail riding Zzzuuzz, zzzzuzz is the new ring-ding ting.
Click here for the Epure spec sheet
Images Zoie Carter-Ingham