ECONOMY

Back to the Bike Lane: The Cake Electric Motorcycle Just Isn’t It

I really wanted to like the Cake Kalk&. I mean, I had picked it out myself for a test ride last week in Los Angeles.

The all-electric motorcycle looks futuristic and cool, like something out of Blade Runner 2049 or a music video from the Weeknd. Its skeletal frame, slim, knobby tires, and elegant design—you could draw it with about two lines, like a Picasso sketch—indicated a nimbleness and purity I love in off-road motorbikes. 

The Kalk& was “engineered for the outback and your daily commute” with “face-melting amounts of all-electric torque” promised the company website and Digital Trends, respectively. I love electric motorcycles!  I thought to myself as I first parked it in my downtown LA driveway. I’ll be riding it to Hollywood and Venice and everywhere in between for the week I have it! This thing will be a home run I won’t want to give back.

Unfortunately, early indicators proved misleading. Underpowered for highway riding and hilly ascents, the Kalk& is closer to an electric bicycle at best—and with a starting price of $14,000, it is a steeply overpriced one at that.

On principle, electric motorcycles make a lot of sense. The best can cover hundreds of miles on one charge. They recharge quickly—the Kalk& gets to 80% in two hours and 100% in three hours—and allow users to swap out batteries for fresh power even faster. They require little maintenance since they lack gears, a fuel tank, and many of the components that get thirsty for oil. They don’t run hot, like the burning pipes of Triumphs and Moto Guzzis that burn the legs of the uninitiated. Their lack of rumbling, belching engines means they’re quiet and fume-free, which makes for a closer, purer connection to the riding environment, whether on the highway or outback. (Isn’t that the point of riding anyway?) They allow thrillingly instant torque with the slightest turn of the wrist; with electric motorcycles, throttle-on means instant GO.

And they’ve gotten light enough. One of the challenges of using electric technology in cars and motorcycles has been to mitigate the considerable weight of the batteries, but in recent years manufacturers such as Zero Motorcycles have been able to get the balance between riding range and battery load closer to right.

Cake, on the other hand, went too far in the other direction. At 174 pounds, including the 37-pound battery, and with a seat width the size of a Moleskin notebook, the Kalk& is so thin it felt as if I were jumping onto a paperclip when I first swung my leg over last week. I love light bikes—my upper-body strength is not my finest suit—but this felt way too flimsy to take on my planned route along Highway 101 to a secret off-road location where I’d test its dirt-bike mettle. 

I should point out here that the name “Kalk&” is produced just like that. “Kalk is pronounced phonetically, and the & is read as ‘and,’” spokesman Bobby Lea told me when I asked. He said in an email that the genesis of the name came from the first bike Cake produced, which was called the Kalk, a word “from an ancient language that was spoken on the island of Gotland in Sweden, where [company founder] Stefan Ytterborn has his country home.” And here I thought it might be Swedish for “paperclip.”

What’s more, I thought, as I slipped on my gloves and tightened the strap on my helmet, Ducati’s excellent Desert Sled starts at less than $12,000 and feels far better built, solid, and luxurious than this. Paying an additional $2,000 for an unknown product that felt chintzier on all counts didn’t sit well. 

Anyway. I took back roads through Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles to my hilly L.A. destination. I shifted through the three drive modes to urge the 13.5-horsepower motor to keep up with traffic, which on 35 mph roads was doable—but I couldn’t pass anyone. Cake says top speed is 56 mph; I had the throttle open and got to 80 km/h, or about 50 mph.

I arrived at my gravelly off-road course without mishap, although the single rear-view mirror mounted on the left handlebar of the bike could offer only a one-sided perspective when I needed to change lanes or slow down. Those who consider buying the Kalk& should add a rear-view mirror to the right side as well, so they don’t feel dangerously blind when they need to see over their right shoulder. (Cranking your neck to look behind you isn’t ideal; every rider knows that where your eyes go, the bike follows.)

The Kalk& comes with Ohlins suspension and 19-inch dual-sport motorcycle tires; its “Excite” drive mode is touted as perfect for active trail riding with a one- to two-hour ride time and “good” acceleration. (“Excel” mode offers all the power and torque available for max speed and one hour of performance; “Explore” mode limits top speed to 28 mph but offers the longest battery range—three to four hours, depending on how aggressively you ride.)  

It did stand up well to steep dirt trails, pausing just once halfway up an incline as it topped out on power. It danced over deep grooves in Jeep tracks washed-out by heavy rain and backwash. Downhills proved more treacherous. The slender tires were challenged in soft silt and loose rocks as they wobbled and wavered and slid down the (admittedly very steep) inclines I had previously ridden them up.

The sound of the bike proved among the most trying of its foibles; instead of a cool whir or hum, it buzzzzzzzzzed, echoing like a hyper mosquito along downtown L.A.’s graffiti-marked alleys and Pasadena’s verdant hills. 

All told, I rode the Kalk& for about three hours that morning, including some breaks for photos and resting, and returned home with 60% life in the premium lithium battery cells on board. I was glad to get back. By the end of the ride, the screw holding that rear-view mirror in place had come loose, leaving the mirror hanging limp, like a dead bird, from the handlebars. Suffice to say I did a lot of looking behind me as I rode home. Next time, I may just use the bike lane.

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