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Saietta R electric motorcycle

I’ve never really given much consideration to electric motorbikes. The ones I’ve seen have far too often looked somehow cobbled together, probably a necessity due to the size of the batteries, needed for a sensible range, being shoehorned into a conventional bike shaped package. Add in the fact that there’s a general perception that electric motorcycles are slow and can’t be ridden far before they need a recharge and you can see why I wouldn’t be that interested. Sound familiar, perhaps?

It was therefore very surprising to catch sight of a Saietta R being put through its paces on the hill climb course at the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed, a petrol head’s heaven, looking like no other motorbike I’d ever seen, nor for that matter sounding like one.

Having seen it charging up the hill, I made a mental note to myself to try and find out some more about the strange looking bike that was making a subdued whirring noise while posting impressive times. I didn’t have to wait long either as I soon found one on display among all the new cars and accessories on show on trade stands around the perimeter of the course.

A quick conversation ensued which led to me discovering that I had seen a Saietta R from Agility Global being ridden up the hill and would I like a test ride sometime?

A few weeks later I found myself outside an anonymous door in a central London mews, my leathers and helmet on, ready to ride, while looking at an electric motorcycle; the same one I’d seen at Goodwood.

Pre ride check out

Every other test ride I’ve ever done normally goes along the lines of: here’s the keys, enjoy yourself and please don’t crash. Not this time. Yes, the bike was there, ready and waiting for me just like normal, well as normal as if every other test bike had been campaigned at Goodwood, and was still replete with data logging equipment and scrutineering stickers. Before I could head off and enjoy myself, Lawrence Marazzi, the CEO of Agility Global, the company that is behind the design, development and production of the bike, wanted to check I could ride it. Surely some mistake? Hadn’t I explained that I’m a motorcycle journalist with years of experience on all things two-wheeled?

Lawrence talked me through the controls and then asked me to gently pull away, barely opening the throttle. That’s when I discovered why the cautious approach. The slightest twitch of the throttle and the bike pulls and there’s no clutch to slip as the power comes in. Wow, that was surprising. This may be an electric motorbike but it feels more like a two-stoke with a power valve. No throttle lag, just instant power. However, unlike a two-stroke, there’s no need to keep working through the gearbox to carry the speed. Heck, there isn’t even a gearbox. That’s one of the big advantages of electric vehicles; the power delivery is such that a gearbox is redundant. The biggest implication of this on the Saietta for me, at least, was the aforementioned lack of clutch. Or, to be more precise, a lack of clutch lever. Usually in urban riding situations I’ll spend a lot of time with the throttle set and then control the power delivery with the clutch. Time for a rethink on that while riding the Saietta.

The ride

Once my brain had come to terms with the fact that there was not only a complete lack of clutch but also no gear lever to concern myself with, nor a foot operated rear brake for that matter, I began to relax and started to enjoy the ride. It was just a case of going back to my days riding scooters where the right bar lever pulls the front brake and the left the rear and my feet just idly sit there.

What was immediately noticeable, once I was out on the streets of London, was just how stable the bike felt, which was again something unexpected given its extremely short wheelbase. Apparently, the bike’s wheelbase is similar to that of a 250cc GP machine and while it was quick to turn in, it also felt very stable at the same time. How is this possible? Well, it’s down to the front end set up. Described by Lawrence as a wide, double-wishbone, it looks remarkably similar, to me at least, to a Hossack set-up and is said to offer adjustable geometry, rake below 24 degrees (the exact figure was not revealed despite my questioning) and, most interesting, no trail. It’s certainly different, and a quick twist of the throttle lets the bike simply pull away with no reaction from the suspension.

Design freedom

The unusual design of the front suspension came about because the engineers were given free rein to do what they deemed to work best without any styling constraints being placed upon them and that in turn led to the striking styling of the bike’s bodywork as it covers the linkages and single shock with its hunchback like looks.

Like the suspension, the bodywork has been developed especially for the bike. Built from a secret composite materials (again, I asked but was not told), it’s a monocoque structure that not only acts as mounting point for the suspension and electric motor but also acts as an integrated housing for the batteries. All of which works to keep the bike’s overall weight as low as possible.

I would tell you all about the technology used in the Saietta but I can’t! Due to the time spent developing the new technology used not only in the batteries, but also the suspension and bodywork, there are a significant number of patents in place and Lawrence wants to keep it exclusive for as long as possible to protect his investment and so he was very guarded about what he would and wouldn’t tell me.

While I don’t know what the bodywork is made from, it’s claimed to be very strong. Strong enough that the steel subframe that supports the seat is just there for show. Apparently, the steel tubing was originally needed but composite material development now means the monocoque of the body is strong enough to be self supporting and the subframe simply remains as customers feel reassured to see it there.

Back to the riding. It was at first difficult to concentrate on what was happening underneath me with the bike because every time I stopped at traffic lights or a junction I would have pedestrians and other road users alike asking me questions about the bike, simply because it looks so unlike anything else on the UK’s roads.

However, once I was able to see clear road ahead of me, the real joy of the electric motor became obvious; twist the throttle and feel the acceleration. No grabbing gears, no stuttering as variable rollers do their thing, as on a conventional twist and go scooter, just a feeling of power. Then there is the realisation that it’s really quiet. There is noise from the motor but with a helmet on it’s so muffled that I had to really listen for it to notice it.

If I was to be critical of one aspect it would be that way the power is delivered, but then again I’m coming to the bike with a set of expectations brought with me from years of riding regular motorcycles. Due to the very sensitive nature of the throttle, when I reached for the front brake I would move my hand, slightly upping the power output! Once I’d adjusted my grip on the bars the issue was solved. Later talking to Lawrence about this he told me that the bike’s power delivery can be changed simply and easily using a computer interface. If you want more engine braking or slower throttle response, these and more options can be dialled in.

So does the Saietta R make sense? In the right environment without a doubt it does. The ability to turn quickly and not having to slip the clutch makes it a great ride around town. Not forgetting the claimed 0-60mph time of four seconds. There is of course, though, the issue of range, which is quoted as currently being 112 miles for the R model and 60 miles for the S version. So it’s not a bike to go touring on but in a city such as London, where there are numerous, free electric vehicle charging points, it starts to look like a real alternative option. Providing you can get on with the unconventional appearance…

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