This story was originally published in the print version of the Toronto Star Wheels way back in 2012. This is the first time it has appeared online.
LONDON, ENGLAND—The official slogan for the Olympic Games in London is “Inspire a Generation,” which is just what BMW intends to do with its involvement as a sponsor.
As the official automotive supplier to the Olympics, there are more than 4,000 BMW and MINI cars in London for the Games, a large portion of which are diesel- or electric-powered.
BMW Motorrad has supplied 25 motorcycles for sports that occur out on the road. The automaker was chosen for the role largely because of its commitment to being the most sustainable company, and the ability of this massive fleet to meet the emissions target of 120 grams of C02 per kilometre.
Tying in with the sustainable transportation theme, BMW Motorrad recently launched a pair of maxi-scooters leading up to a new, all-electric scooter.
To give the world a taste of what an electric scooter might be like, BMW brought a small group of journalists to London to be the first on the C evolution e-scooter.
Not scheduled to hit markets until early 2014, production versions of the C evolution don’t exist yet, so Motorrad provided five prototypes for us to ride.
Most reviews of two-wheeled vehicles are written by grizzled motorcycling riders and this was true at my first bike-related event, as I (in my 40s) was one of the youngest on hand.
But I am also a new rider, without any predisposed opinions of what a motorcycle is versus a scooter.
In reality, I suspect most buyers of BMW’s Urban Mobility offerings will be closer to my level of experience than that of a lifetime biker.
Our day began at London’s newly rejuvenated Canary Wharf, where we had our choice between the C600 Sport and the C650 GT.
This would be my first time driving or riding on the wrong side of the road, not to mention the promise of dense Olympic traffic, so I chose the smaller 600 cc machine.
It was still the biggest bike I’ve ridden. Pulling out onto the road, I was surprised to find that without a clutch and shifter, the C600 Sport is as simple as riding a bicycle.
That simplicity allowed me to concentrate on the road ahead. As we rode out towards the countryside, I was excited to notice that we crossed the Tower Bridge. Several asked if I had noticed the Olympic rings hanging overhead. Not a chance, as I was focused on the traffic on either side of me! Outside of London, I began to notice the biggest difference between our roads and theirs: the width.
In Canada, our two-lane roads are usually a car-and-a-half wide in each direction, with copious shoulder areas. In the British countryside, a two-lane road is often so narrow that two passing cars have just inches between them, while their outside mirrors are brushing the bushes. Drivers in the U.K. appear to be very aware of where their corners are and have few qualms about the tight space.
Our destination atop the petrol- powered scooter was the Aperfield Inn, a pub that sits on land that was a manor estate dating back to 1066, owned by William the Conqueror.It was a fitting setting to learn about the future of sustainable mobility.
BMW engineer, Dr. Ebner Christian, walked us around the C evolution, reminding us that these were prototype units and some features might not be quite what we could expect from a production model.
In particular, the throttle could be a bit sensitive, so cracking the throttle open from a standstill was unwise. There are only five of these and they’re worth 420,000 euros ($515,000) each.
The futuristic-looking C evolution sits lower to the ground than the combustion engine-powered maxi-scooters, making it easier for one’s feet to touch the ground while stopped.
This might seem like a little thing, but it inspires confidence.
Being gentle with the throttle at first, I found that the e-scooter was even easier to ride than the gasoline scooters. The battery (the same one used in the upcoming BMW i3 car) is down low, which makes the bike incredibly manoeuvreable at low speeds.
The peak power output of 35 kW works out to about 47 horsepower, which may not seem like a lot. But the incredible torque of the electric motor translates into a machine that goes like a scared cat, without the noise or vibration of an internal combustion engine. The manoeuvreability, coupled with instant power on tap, makes for one incredibly fun ride.
With the distances that most of us commute in North American cities such as Toronto, I am not a big fan of the limited range offered by the electric cars we have seen so far.
A drive from my home in Whitby to downtown Toronto and back would leave me stranded somewhere in Pickering.
However, most folks who get to work on two wheels are urban dwellers who don’t travel so far each day. The C evolution is able to travel about 100 km on a charge, which might be a week’s worth of travel for many potential buyers.
After being electrified, we went on a scenic ride that took us to a wonderful spot called Hever Castle. Originally built in 1270, Tudor dwellings were added in the 1500s, when the castle was the childhood home of the infamous Anne Boleyn. In more recent years, the castle was owned by William Waldorf Astor, who lavished time and money restoring the historic place to its former glory while adding grand gardens and a Tudor inspired village. Sadly, I did not meet up with the ghosts of Boleyn and King Henry VIII who are said to walk the halls.
For the ride back to London, I mounted the C650 GT, which looks more imposing than the smaller C600.
Like so many other things, size can be deceiving, as the GT is even easier to ride than the smaller Sport. That is a good thing, because I was about to experience a test of my riding like I had never imagined.
As a group of 20 or more bikes made their way toward London’s core, the traffic became denser with each block passed. As we approached the park where the Olympic equestrian competitors were assembled, the roads were well and truly blocked.
Our group threaded its way through the parked traffic. The fact that I made it through with no damage to myself or the GT is more a testament to how easy this Urban Mobility tool is to use than to my riding ability.
Automakers are struggling to find a way to connect with today’s young urban generation, many of whom have no interest in cars, nor an inclination to even get a driver’s licence.
The need to be mobile is obviously still real, and this generation puts more weight into the green factor when they finally do purchase their own method of transport.
With an easy and fun riding experience and practical storage options, BMW Motorrad’s Urban Mobility trio might just be the game-changers needed to “Inspire a Generation.”
After a very full day of riding, our group hopped on a bus and were delivered to the Olympic site. It was opening night of the Summer games and we had the opportunity to watch two women’s basketball games. While I usually would have little interest in the sport, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Team GB in action on their home turf! It was a very late night, but was also an unforgettable experience!