I’d ridden the motorcycle part of the way up a small dirt hill, and was trying to simply reverse my way back down when I fell off the machine. As I went down, I tightened my grip, inadvertently pinning the throttle. I soon found myself underneath a pirouetting motorcycle.
It was my first experience with the so-called whiskey throttle —and indeed my first experience of any kind on a motorcycle. Fortunately, that was the worst part of the day, one that saw me go from throttle-throttling noob to trail-shredding seminoob courtesy of the Cake Kalk. This wickedly capable electric motorcycle made for a ride equal parts exhilarating and enlightening—yet at the same time a bit frustrating.
The bike comes from Sweden, the brainchild of entrepreneur Stefan Ytterborn, founder of ski gear manufacturer POC. Ytterborn’s goal was to adapt new electric vehicle technology for outdoor adventurers in a way that makes exploration easy and environmentally friendly. Its first model of the off-roading Kalk debuted last year, and an on-road version is set to be unveiled sometime in 2019. The company says its name refers to its desire to make riding a “piece of cake” and the model name is based on a type of limestone found in the area where it tests the bikes. It also smacks of Ikea, and for good reason: Ytterborn played a lead role in the iconic brand’s explosive growth 25 years ago.
For my ride, I headed an hour north of Los Angeles to the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area with Dan Green, a former pro motorcycle and car racer who is now head of Cake’s North American operations. He hauls a pair of bikes out of the back of the van, and they’re ready to go—no oil to check, no fuel to pour. This is where electrics make their ease of use argument. “You don’t have to worry about engine rebuilds or valve jobs. That stuff just doesn’t exist,” Green says. “You come home, spray it off, lube the chain, and charge it up for your next ride.”
I started off at a few miles per hour, standing up on the pegs to handle the divots and bumps the suspension wouldn't swallow. Powering up hills and taking on my first and admittedly hair-raising descents, I established my limits. I was gaining confidence and having fun, along with the occasional fright, including my whiskey throttle lesson. The rest of the time, though, my ride was the best kind of adventure: cruising down straights, whipping through turns, faster and faster as the day went on. (The Kalk tops out at 55 mph; the street version will go a bit faster.)
Is it an answer to all riders’ desires? Probably not. And while Green admits many riders like a loud bike, he thinks they might come to like the Kalk’s electric silence. “When you go back, you're like 'Oh man, these things are really loud,'” he says. “It’s kind of shocking.”
The hard to dodge downside is the Kalk’s $13,000 price point. That’s on par with comparable off-roaders, but out of reach for most recreational users and those who’ve wanted to try out riding but are scared off by things like shifting gears and maintenance. The street version will likely cost about the same, if not more, since it will require extra hardware. Curious riders without particularly deep pockets will have to wait to see if the company produces a more entry-level product.
This gripe points to the final frustration: the overall lack of electrification in motorcycling. I’ve long been itchy to try riding, but have been scared off by maintenance and the vagaries of operating a manual internal-combustion engine with an assortment of levers and twisty bits at every extremity. Few companies have attempted to crack the mass-production market prior to Cake’s arrival. Zero Motorcycles produces both street and off-road bikes with excellent performance and comparable pricing to Cake, including models priced below $9,000—though its off-roaders are several grand cheaper. Alta Motors went out of business a few months ago, ceasing production of its own off-road bikes. Harley-Davidson is moving into the electric space; it will start selling its battery-powered LiveWire bike next year, with more to follow.
That’s not much of an industry effort to make the joys of riding accessible to a wider audience, which seems vital as the number of motorcyclists shrinks year over year. Cake, according to Green, is well funded and enjoying brisk early sales in the US, Europe, and Asia. If it can get more people to have as much fun as I did, the Swedish outfit might just kick-start a new generation of riders who won’t have to kick-start anything themselves.
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