This $15K Electric Motorcycle Made Me Love Riding in NYC
I’ve spent decades riding motorcycles, and have twisted the throttle of just about every type of street bike you can find. That includes electrics, from Zeros to Brammos, prototypes to production models. But finding a two-wheeled EV that feels “normal”—let alone great—after years of riding gasoline-powered bikes borders on miracle territory.
And that’s where Alta Motors’ battery-powered RedShift SM plants its flag. Alta co-founder and CEO Marc Fenigstein says that while it’s nice the bike doesn’t spew CO2, the company chose electric power for performance. “The idea was to build a bike that is faster than the ones we already owned,” he says. Applying 40 horsepower to a bike that weighs just 275 pounds is good for an 85 mph top speed, but even that is hardly enough to stand out in a market where superbikes flirt with 200 horses and accelerate to 60 mph in two seconds.
No, the RedShift, which looks and rides like a 400-cc off-road enduro machine, comes with a subtler upside that it reveals not on the track, but during a ride around Manhattan in midday traffic.
Alta spent 10 years designing this bike for urban riding, where it will take on commuter bikes ranging from the budget-minded Suzuki TU250 and Kawasaki KLR to high-enders like the BMW R1200GS. The RedShift’s advantages include a narrow chassis that slips easily through traffic and a high seat for a killer view of errant taxis, device-distracted pedestrians, and other hazards. If you ride aggressively, the 5.8-kWh battery pack is good for an average range of 50 miles. That’s not much for a car, but Alta’s going after city-dwellers for whom that range will prove plenty.
Performance isn’t everything, but I can’t deny loving the RedShift’s seemingly instant acceleration, thanks to the torquey electric motor. While 40 horsepower is major muscle for a lightweight bike, it’s the 34 pound-feet of torque that really matter. That’s more than enough to leave cars and most other motorcycles in the dust, at least for the first few blocks, which is all that matters in the city.
Then there’s the price: At $15,000, the RedShift proves small doesn’t equal cheap. For that price, you could take home any number of larger, more powerful machines like the BMW K1300s and Yamaha Super Ténéré, and piles of stylish entry-level models including the Triumph Street Twin, Moto Guzzi V7, and Ducati Monster 821.
The RedShift justifies its price with specialization: If you’re looking for an urban runabout, it beats all the others. On my ride around New York, the stout suspension, with a full foot of travel at the front and rear, didn’t completely smooth out the city’s crater-like pot holes, but took enough off the nastiest bumps to keep me confidently in control both at highway speeds and creeping around obstacles on congested streets. I quickly felt at home perched on its long, comfortable seat, and after a few minutes stopped looking down at the dash and controls, and rode by feel, treating the bike as a bodily extension.
Yes, motorcyclists tell that “extension” story all the time—and I doubt they experience it in full. I don’t think you can get that feeling on sofa-sized bikes like the Honda Gold Wing or Harley-Davidson Road Glide. As long as I kept my head up, the light and precise Redshift disappeared as I rode, leaving me to imagine I was floating down the street at the speed of traffic.
And unlike other electric bikes I’ve ridden, the Redshift delivers a surprising amount of mechanical feedback, a reminder that I’m on a complex machine, not an two-wheeled appliance. Twist the throttle and the motor responds with a muted clicking, crackling vibration before the power kicks in completely. It feels like someone is feathering the clutch after shifting into first gear, but there is no clutch to operate, no gears to select. As much as I enjoy shifting the six-speed transmission on my old Ducati and hearing the engine’s response, I can’t deny loving for how eliminating the chore leaves more time to concentrate on getting where I’m going.