If you want to go adventuring into the woods on two wheels, there are more choices out there than you might think. For many, the answer is to charge or fuel up a traditional motorcycle and hit the trails. For others, the answer is a set of two narrow wheels and pedals. The motorcycle and the bicycle have been around for over a century, but now there’s a third option. A Sur-Ron Ultra Bee is light and nimble like a bicycle but capable like a motorcycle and legally, somewhere in no-man’s-land. Let’s see how they compare!
We’ve covered a lot of electric motorcycles here from the cheap and cheerful to the ostentatious. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, regardless if you like your bikes powered by dead plants or by juicy electricity, there’s something out there for everyone. Still, a surprising number of you have asked for some coverage on the little machine we’re going to talk about today. Sur-Ron seems to be making a name for itself among riders and reviewers alike.
For today’s Autopian Drive-In, we’re taking a look at these sort of but not really motorcycles through the lenses of Fortnine, a retailer of motorcycle parts and home of high-production quality motorcycle videos hosted by Ryan and friends. Recently, Fortnine uploaded a shootout between a Sur-Ron Ultra Bee, a Suzuki DRZ-400, and an eBike.
Like many of the brands I’ve covered before, Sur-Ron isn’t exactly a household name. The brand was founded in 2014 in China by a trio of motorcycle enthusiasts. The company scored $30 million in funding to build what it called an “e-dirt bike.”
Sur-Ron’s approach to this idea is a bit different. Its engineers designed a skeletal machine that blends the best parts of a motorcycle and a bicycle into one unit. The company launched its first electric bike in 2018, immediately straddling universes of eBike and motorcycle. The first Sur-Ron Light Bee bike had a 2kWh battery, a 50-mile range, an 8 HP motor, and a 50 mph top speed all wrapped up in a dirt bike frame and weighing in at 110 pounds. See what I mean when I say a Sur-Ron is more than an eBike, but not quite a motorcycle?
Well, Sur-Ron has continued to develop this concept and it has gotten even better, so let’s see how the scrappy electric dirt bike thing competes against the categories it straddles.
Sur-Ron vs Everyone Else
At the start of Ryan’s test, we meet up with Fortnine’s mechanic 44, a new character in the YouTube channel’s universe who is often seen reviewing gear and showing you how to do DIY projects. Our lovable 44 takes the Suzuki while a cyclist takes the eBike.
The first test is something I’m sure a few motorcyclists have encountered before. You’ve hauled your bike out to the trails in the back of your truck but oh no, you’ve left the ramps at home! Which of the three two-wheelers is easiest to load?
While Ryan is explaining the test, the cyclist gets the eBike in and out of the truck bed in three seconds. It’s an easy win owing to the fact that eBikes are still lightweight bicycles. What will be interesting will be seeing how the two bigger rides perform.
Ryan and the Sur-Ron are up next. As he pivots the front wheel into the truck bed with some relative ease, Ryan explains the Sur-Ron has a battery density of over 200 watt hours per kilogram, roughly similar to a Tesla. This translates to some impressive stats. The Sur-Ron Ultra Bee packs a 4.07 kWh lithium ion battery pack (74V/55Ah) yet it weighs just 187 pounds. Helping the bike shave weight is its forged aluminum frame, forged aluminum swingarm, and other lightweight parts. In other words, the bike is light, but still as strong as it needs to be. The Ultra Bee’s balance is also a desirable 50/50.
To put this weight into perspective, Ryan points out that the Sur-Run weighs 22 pounds less than a Yamaha YZ125 motocross bike. Heck, it’s lighter than both Ryan and myself! As another example of the Sur-Ron’s abilities, Ryan gracefully rides out of the truck bed, getting some glorious hangtime along the way.
Last to the tailgate is 44 and the Suzuki.
Getting the traditional motorcycle in was an immediate challenge. Depending on the configuration, a DRZ-400 weighs about 322 pounds wet. Fortnine’s 44 tried a clever trick in getting the motorcycle into the truck by lifting the front tire onto the back of the tailgate. He then attempted to throttle the motorcycle into the bed, which didn’t work.
Our next challenge is a steep hillclimb featuring loose dirt. Mechanic 44 explains that how far each bike makes it up will determine how much power each bike puts down. It would seem to be a good test of traction as well.
The Suzuki is up first, and it’s bringing some respectable power to the table. It comes with a 398cc single cylinder and new ones are rated at 39 HP and 29 lb-ft of torque. In the test, 44 makes it about halfway up before the rear tire starts digging in.
Ryan is next and the Sur-Ron starts with a kick and a wheelie. The little bike is rated for a peak of 16.7 HP, a top speed of 56 mph, and Sur-Ron says that motor can do 325 lb-ft of torque. Things look great until it gets to about where the Suzuki failed. Then the Sur-Ron starts losing traction and Ryan falls down not far from where the Suzuki calls it quits. Ryan explains that its not the fault of the Sur-Ron’s 37mm inverted fork or the monoshock in back. Both of those are adjustable and both ends have 9.4 inches of travel.
Instead, Ryan believes it was the 19-inch tires that did the Sur-Ron in, explaining that a taller 21-incher would have performed better, but Sur-Ron likely chose the smaller wheel and tire setup to maintain the bike’s 87-mile maximum range. Still, Sur-Ron developed the bike with larger wheels in mind so if you want more off-road capability the decision is up to you.
Lastly, we have the electric bicycle, which doesn’t even make it to where the Suzuki does.
The Black Diamond Enduro Trail
It’s now the cyclist’s turn to choose a challenge and he chooses what is called the “Widowmaker West,” a black diamond enduro trail that just so happens to be a kilometer loop. The challenge here is to complete as many laps as possible before running out of fuel, juice, or leg-power.
The cyclist explains that this one should be an easy win for the eBike as he’ll just pedal until he gets tired, then switch on the eBike’s power. By then, both the Sur-Ron and the Suzuki have to be out of the game, right?
This test will also show how quickly each vehicle and their rider can get through the forest terrain. It’s here where Ryan explains that Sur-Ron gives you a ton of different settings for crafting the perfect ride. You can adjust motor regen, brake regen, throttle response, brake-motor cutoff, power modes, and traction control. Ryan explains that the traction control is a marvel. See, dirt can support only so much power, so traction control limits wheelspin so the bike puts down just the right amount of power to go as fast as it can.
The Suzuki is old-school, of course, relying on its rider’s brain to find maximum traction and a 3.9-gallon fuel tank for range.
Fortnine’s video of the test show that the motorcycle and the Sur-Ron were made for this sort of thing. Both vehicles blaze through the narrow and obstacle-filled trails. The Suzuki is shown getting stuck, but only for a brief amount of time.
At the end of the enduro, the Sur-Ron put down 44 laps, or 44 kilometers (27 miles) over about two and a half hours. The test stopped only when the Sur-Ron went into limp mode with 44 behind the bars. Speaking of the number 44, that’s how many laps the Suzuki completed, but it’s notable that the Suzuki still had plenty of fuel while the Sur-Ron was dead.
Despite that, both 44 and Ryan felt they were faster on the Sur-Ron because they were always in the right “gear,” their feet were always in the right place, and the traction control is working at a blink of an eye to keep as much power down as possible. Of course, the Sur-Ron is also narrower and lighter, both great attributes.
As another show of the Sur-Ron’s abilities, Ryan and 44 play a game of HORSE. Really, it’s just Ryan showing off what the electric enduro could do. The instant torque allows the Ultra Bee to wheelie while its light weight allows Ryan to hop over obstacles. The Ultra Bee also pulls an easy 180, reverses under its own power, and does donuts. The Suzuki couldn’t do any of it.
The eBike was also no match, having completed only three laps in the time it took the Sur-Ron and the Suzuki to do 44 laps.
Next, the channel substitutes the eBike for a Sur-Ron Light Bee. As Ryan explains, the original Light Bee mixes the strong electrical components with bicycle parts. It didn’t take long for people to figure out how to crank up the power and as Ryan explains, some modded Light Bees beat sports cars off of the line. In a demonstration of this, the overpowered Light Bee wins a drag race between the three.
Different Strokes For Different Folks
A new Suzuki DRZ-400S costs $7,000 while the Sur-Ron Ultra Bee is $5,830 ($7,999 CAD). The eBike was also roughly $6,000. So, really, you just choose your style of riding and go for it.
Only the Sur-Ron Light Bee X is for sale in the United States for $4,400. For that price, you get about half of the battery, half the range, half the power, no lights, but just 123 pounds of weight. Or, as Ryan explains, you can find them for much cheaper online at sites like Alibaba. However, the Sur-Rons from unofficial retailers will have scratched out VINs, ensuring that, depending on where you live, you won’t get an ORV sticker or a plate. You’ll also have to trust that you’ll actually get your bike from the unknown retailer on those third-party sites.
Fortnine’s 44 does point out that Sur-Rons sit in this weird sort of legal no-man’s land. As 44 points out, neither the Ultra Bee nor the Light Bee are street-legal, and Sur-Ron’s American distributors are quick to point that out. So, they are relegated to sharing bike lanes and are treated like bikes. But, because they have motorcycle performance, Sur-Rons can be seen storming down bike lanes and bike trails at crazy speeds.
At the same time, the Sur-Ron also has a load limit of just 220 pounds. So, it can do more than a motorcycle, so long as you’re nearly as lightweight as the Sur-Ron itself.
In the end, while the Ultra Bee reigned supreme in Fortnine’s tests, Ryan concludes that really, all three of the guys are the same. They all just want to have the most fun for the least money and each person has their own way of doing it. The Sur-Ron is a great alternative to an eBike as it packs a ton of power and capability in a lightweight package for the same price. It could also be a good alternative to an electric motorcycle if you don’t care about legality. Really, it seems to be just plain fun, too. Just, be nice to the other people in the trails and bike lanes.
(Screenshots: Fortnine on YouTube)
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