At the recent BMW Media Launch for both the all-new F 900 GS and CE 02 in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to put the CE 02, BMW Motorrad’s latest electric scooter, through its paces for a day of grooving and shimmying around various landmarks, avoiding unceasing roadwork and traffic jams and mobile ads for zombie burlesque shows (don’t ask), all while exploring the limits of BMW’s latest 2-wheeled runabout.  I wouldn’t be needing my customary ear plugs for this test.

Testing BMW’s Latest Electric Marvel in Las Vegas

I live in the dense urban core of a large Midwestern city, and of late, my most common street sighting has been that of traffic cones and construction equipment.  Thus, for those of us with, you know, cars, access has been pinched and restricted and limited (the “road diet” of which urban planners are so fond), even making quick errands require advanced planning and blood pressure medicine.  What’s a driver (or motorcyclist) to do?

Enter BMW’s solution to this increasingly common urban challenge, both in the US and abroad:  The CE 02.

The Rise of the CE 02

BMW describes the CE 02 as an “eParkourer” Urban Mobility Vehicle, and while I’m perhaps not hip enough to fully grasp that concept, what I can say is, the CE 02 is a veritable grin factory.  As an alternative to a Vespa Elettrica or Honda Grom, the CE 02 is an adorable and lively little jackrabbit.  BMW’s market brief positions the CE 02 as a competitor to all manner of smaller scooters and bikes, both conventional and electric, and even smaller-displacement motorcycles like the KTM Duke 125.  But its real achievement is just banishing urban commuting malaise.

The Design Language of the CE 02

Design wise, the CE 02 is cute as a box of kittens.  You know those impossible Hot Wheels concepts first-year design students dream up every year at the ArtCenter College of Design?  The CE 02 is like that, only doodled on an iPad by a bored high-school kid serving detention.  The look is accentuated by single-sided swingarm and 14” wheels, which lend decidedly playful elements.

Prior to the CE 02, BMW previously released the CE 04, an altogether more sober and sophisticated electric machine.  More substantial in every dimension, the CE 04 can hit 75-mph and carries 509-lbs of bulk, more closely resembling the hypergliding scooter Jeff Bridges sluiced around in “Tron” than a simple runabout.  Its design is altogether more geometric and imperious.  To mix fantasy movie metaphors, think of the CE 04 as the bike ridden by Storm Troopers chasing those pesky rebels on their CE 02 bikes.

Power and Performance: The Heart of the CE 02

The CE 02’s 48-volt electric motor, with output comparable to a 200-cc dino juice burner, is borrowed from BMW’s automobile side of the house, a nifty bit of repurposing.  It’s more than up to the task.  As Oleg Satanovsky, with BMW’s Motorcycle & Motorsport Communications Group, remarked, “If that motor is strong enough to move a 5000-pound SUV off the line, it’s certainly up to the task of powering a 291-pound bike around.”  And how.

Peak motor output is 11kW/15 hp with an optimal battery range of ~55-miles.  Top speed is 59mph, and I can validate that figure.  The motor delivers 15-hp at 5000-rpm and, significantly, 40.5-lb-ft of torque from 0-1000-rpm.  It’s connected to the rear wheel via a double belt drive with a 1:7.8 fixed ratio.

Charging is designed for standard household outlets, though the lack of support for Type 1 or 2 charging stations, and thus access to the growing urban charging infrastructure, might prove to be a limiting choice for some.  The CE 02 has 2 air-cooled batteries for drive, as well as another 12-volt battery used by the bike’s electrical system, and an LED on the traction batteries themselves always shows the charge level. An external 900-watt charger is standard, with a 1200-watt charger optional.

Technology and Simplicity: User-Friendly Features of the CE 02

The CE 02 has three drives modes: Flow, Surf, and Flash.  Flow and Flash both enable regenerative charging, with the friction resistance in Flash being significantly greater in addition to enhanced throttle response.  Think of Surf as “coast” mode.  As with most EVs, regeneration also occurs under braking, and the modes and activity of the battery and motor are displayed in the bike’s micro-TFT display.  For most of my ride, I left the bike in Flow mode to conserve energy, and while I didn’t find the snappier throttle response in Flash to be as pronounced as I’d hoped, the increased regeneration lets you essentially ride with just the throttle; it was my favorite mode of the three.

As is typical of electric vehicles, the CE 02 moves off the line with torquey verve.  0-30mph arrives in 3 seconds, which for an urban machine is more than quick enough to hit holes in traffic or even settle juvenile scores.  On our way to the National Atomic Testing Museum, a local on a Suzuki GSX-R pulled up to admire our little herd.  “Is that thing fast?” he shouted over the din at a traffic light.  When the light turned, we pinned our throttles and left him in the dust.  Yes sir, that will do. (He passed again soon after, howling with laughter, which was a relief since he was brandishing a visible handgun on his hip.  Ah, Vegas.)

The technology in the CE 02 is purposely opaque (“discreet” in BMW parlance), and the simple controls invite riders to try out the bike immediately.  At the media launch, this point was punctuated by presenting the assembled journalists with a line of shiny new scooters and the instruction of, “There they are folks, and the proximity keys are on the seats.  Have at ‘em.”  The controls are simple in the extreme, and we all figured them out within a few moments. The little bike also has the smartphone connectivity expected in a consumer product like this and works with BMW Motorrad’s Connected app to display info such as charge level, charging duration, and last trip info.

All electric vehicles of any sort carry a weight penalty due to the bulk and density of their batteries, and the CE 02 is no exception.  Tipping the scales at 291-pounds, the CE 02 outweighs a fully fueled Honda Grom by 68-pounds, but in practice, that added weight is a nonissue.  Between the CE 02’s low center of gravity and cartoonish tires, you never feel like the weight is doing anything but keeping you planted to the road.  BMW includes a handy Reverse function to mitigate any concerns about pushing the little bike around, but the added weight actually gives the little scooter vastly more substance and presence.

A Day on the CE 02

The CE 02 has a nominal range of ~55 miles, and our day’s route should have gobbled up all that juice.  But after eight hours of hooning around the urban jungle, I returned my bike with 30% of the charge remaining, all down to the magical properties of regenerative charging. (Lesson: I should have used Flash mode more liberally.) So, your mileage may vary, literally.  My takeaway with pretty much all quoted EV ranges isn’t much different from ICE vehicles.

Range is almost entirely dependent on how you use the thing, and thus I tend to intuitively know after a short time how many miles I can go without refueling in a given situation (driving around town in an SUV nets way fewer miles than driving the same vehicle on a long highway journey; duh).  The CE 02 and its ilk are no different.  In practice, that ~55 miles of range is likely more than ample for the intended usage of the little thing; no one is doing highway commuting on a CE 02 or Vespa (and if you are, thank you, hero).

Unlike it’s big brother CE 04, the 02 has zero storage space or cubbies (though an optional phone mount is included with the “Highline” trim).  There are several voids that seemingly could have been morphed into some useful storage spots, but that would have inevitably compromised the minimalist design, so it was clearly an intentional omission.  BMW Motorrad offers a bevy of fun accessories for the CE 02, including a top case, rear case, and several side case options, so anyone wanting to add a tad more utility can do so.  But out of the box, the CE 02 is very much a “toss on a backpack or messenger bag and scoot” sort of proposition.

Customization and Accessories: Personalizing the CE 02

The machine is primed for individualization.  Our test bikes came in “Cosmic Black 2” finish  and included the “Highline Package” that brings various fun and helpful goodies (including enabling the Flash drive mode), so the bikes were far from strippers. The “Price as Tested” was $9,069 when all the various packages were added up.

Our test bikes had both front and rear foot pegs, the rear ostensibly for passengers, but our group generally favored those rear foot pegs for a “Speed Racer” mode of riding, legs bent backwards with weight over the handlebars.  The negative about this position was that the seat edge tended to cut into your inner thighs a bit, so I hope some enterprising after-market firm will create a “Speed Seat” for the CE 02 that resolves this.  (The positive about this position was that it was flippin’ fun.) In fact, the entire bike seems primed for an R nineT motorcycle type of after-market accessory ecosystem, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see such a seat and many other items appearing soon.

Market Positioning and Potential: Is the CE 02 a Lifestyle Revolution?

This points to a real marketing question for the CE 02: Is BMW prepared to segment the machine into the “lifestyle brand” space, as Ducati did with their Scrambler line?  This little bike cries out for just that sort of special treatment and would help it to avoid the rather “meh” response received by the CE 04 in the US.  (On a recent visit to Paris, I saw more CE 04s in one day that I have in the entirety of the States since their launch.)

The folks who seek out a BMW Motorrad shop for a stately K 1600 GTL or uber-serious GS or go-fast S100RR are not the folks who will accessorize a CE 02 with their latest sneaks.  The CE 02 needs to be seen and played with to be really appreciated, and I hope BMW’s marketing and branding folks are busy exploring various tie-ins with non-traditional outlets.  If Yeti can make ice coolers into an upscale hipster totem, BMW certainly has the making for such a branding hit with the CE 02.

Designed in Germany, built in India, with a motor from France, not to mention a design that looks like the lovechild of a Brooklyn coffee shop and the Venice Beach boardwalk, the CE 02 has genuine global bona fides.  That in itself is cool and plays into the “Global Citizen” vibe of the hipster set.

Is BMW up to the task of positioning this unique machine?  And maybe more importantly, is the US urban market ready to adopt such a premium electric scooter?  Time will tell, but for all fans of pure joy, I sure hope so.  How much did I like the new BMW CE 02?  I haven’t had that much fun since I stopped putting playing cards in my bicycle spokes.