The divide between the motorcycle and scooter communities has long been deep, as illustrated in the classic 1979 rock flick Quadrophenia, which depicted the strife between the scooter-riding mods and the motorcycling rockers.
Today, there probably aren’t any actual brawls, but you don’t see a lot of crossover between people who ride scooters and those who ride motorcycles. I’m evidence of that because after decades of motorcycling, BMW’s innovative CE 04 electric scooter is my first scooter ride. It was worth the wait to ride the 2023 model, after the bike debuted for the 2022 model year.
The transition is eased by the fact that the CE 04 looks more like a spaceship than a scooter. Think of it as your dainty beach rental scooter augmented by Star Trek tech. Its size and bodywork fooled a good many motorcyclists into giving me the wave as they passed, an acknowledgement not generally extended to pilots of mere scooters.
There are other aspects of the CE 04 that make it much more than a Bermudan rental ride. There is the price tag, which starts at $11,795, as much as two or three times the cost of conventional scooters. And there is the curb weight, which at 509 lbs. is hefty as two or three beach scooter playthings.
To aid with that bulk the CE 04 has a reverse setting, making it easy to back out of the garage or parking space. The CE 04’s low-speed power metering means that twisting the grip only a little in such circumstances makes it easy to move the scooter microscopically. Seriously, it is possible to move the CE 04 a millimeter at a time.
The CE 04’s top speed and range
Fortunately, on the road, it covers ground a bit faster. BMW says the CE 04 is not intended for highway travel, but curiosity got me onto the interstate with it to see what it would do, and when riding in sport mode the CE 04 easily zooms up to 70 mph and holds that speed effortlessly. BMW says the top speed is 75 mph, but I have reason to believe it can actually go a bit faster than that.
Of course, the faster and further you go, the more you’re going to burn through the battery’s storage. Much distance at that speed will have the rider testing the CE 04’s Level 2 240-volt charging speed to refill the depleted 8.5 kWh battery pack. The battery is mounted at the very bottom of the frame for a lower center of gravity. It uses air cooling through the attached finned heat sink on the pack’s underside, benefiting from airflow beneath the scooter.
BMW says it will take about an hour to reach an 80-percent state of charge from a completely dead battery pack using 240-volt charging, and more like 3.5 hours for regular 120-volt household current. The bike’s charging display said that charging from 40 percent state of charge to 100 percent using my ChargePoint Level 2 charger took two hours. The SAE charging port is just below the handlebars, on the right side.
Normal riding range is 80 miles, but low-speed cruising around town will do better than that and of course, those 70 mph highway blasts will leave you looking for a charging station much sooner. This distance is not so different from that of an internal combustion engine Harley-Davidson Sportster motorcycle with the tiny “peanut” gas tank. Riders have tolerated that for many years, though a Sportster did leave me walking to a gas station one time.
Another difference between the CE 04 and typical scooters is the absence of the noisy, smoking, two-stroke motor providing the accompanying soundtrack of a leaf blower everywhere you ride. While those scooters deliver more sound than fury, the CE 04’s 42-horsepower permanent magnet EMP 156 electric motor blasts the BMW to 60 mph in 9 seconds.
Riding in ECO mode extends the riding range while making the CE 04 feel sluggish. It also increases the regenerative braking when the rider releases the twist throttle. Rain mode has the opposite effect, providing less braking so the bike coasts more freely to avoid inadvertently breaking traction. I rode mainly in Road mode on dry pavement.
It does not cruise as silently as expected—there’s a pretty constant electric whine at all speeds. More surprisingly, there’s a pretty loud gear whine during steady-state neighborhood-speed riding.
BMW’s motorcycles have historically employed a driveshaft rather than the usual chain, but the CE 04 follows Harley’s example with the kind of belt drive as seen on those American cruising machines. The belt’s benefit is that, unlike a chain, it never needs to be lubricated or adjusted.
That belt spins a rear wheel that, as a solid black-painted 15-inch disc, looks like nothing so much as a stamped steel temporary spare wheel for a car even though it is actually lightweight cast aluminum.
Starting the CE04—it’s wireless
Riders start the CE 04 with a press of a button thanks to the wireless key fob that can remain safely zipped inside the rider’s protective jacket. Twist the grip and the machine scoots effortlessly away, leading me to squirt up to speed and slow down a few times to get a feel for the electric power delivery. Pretty cool.
Regeneration slows the CE 04, making it easy to start and stop using the throttle, but there are regular brakes there too, in case a squirrel darts out directly ahead. BMW has developed a two-wheeled equivalent to its iDrive infotainment input device, with a scrolling wheel on the left handlebar that riders can also press inward to click a menu selection. BMW has named this the Multicontroller.
The Multicontroller for the CE 04’s 10.25-inch color display screen is a clever solution to the challenge of operating a computer with gloved hands while riding. However, it takes practice to master the menu system, and I didn’t have enough saddle time to get comfortable trying to use it while in motion.
The compact electric motor and underslung battery pack leave space beneath the seat to securely stow your helmet on arrival, relieving riders of the hassle of carrying their helmet with them or worrying it will get stolen while away from the bike.
For urban riders who are the CE 04’s target market, this setup seems ideal. They probably won’t even consider whether the CE 04 is technically a scooter or a motorcycle as long as it provides another piece to their urban mobility puzzle—along with ride-hailing services, taxis, and mass transit that all allow them to eschew car ownership.