Let me say one thing right out of the gate: The BMW CE 02 looks cool. It’s upright without being stiff, industrial yet playful. With a few deft lines, it evokes the classic motorcycle silhouette, setting it apart from scooters and e-bikes. The suspension and drive belt are left plainly in view; at a glance, you can understand how the CE 02 works. The stylized elements are laid atop an inherently honest design.

But if we’re shooting for honesty, I have to be straight with you: I don’t think the CE 02 makes sense for most Americans.

I recently had the chance to sample the CE 02 as part of a multi-day BMW media event in Lisbon, where journalists got to drive the latest four-wheel offerings from BMW and Mini. BMW Motorrad brought the CE 02 along, offering us the chance to sample this “icon of the new Urban Mobility scene,” as the company calls it.

Gallery: Bob BMW CE 02

Motorrad insists the CE 02 is undefinable. It’s neither an e-bike nor a moped nor a scooter, the company says, but an eParkourer that “moves through the city like a traceur.” This is the kind of linguistic weirdness that happens when a company built on obsessive engineering tries to play it cool.

Leaving parkour aside, what we have here is an 11 kW (roughly 15 horsepower) motor, powered by a 48v battery and sending up to 40.5 lb-ft of torque through a belt drive. It’s charged either by a standard 120V wall charger or a “quick charger” that also plugs into the wall and will go from dead to fun in…210 minutes. Inverted front forks and beefy tires (120/80 R14 up front, 150/70 R15 in back) give the CE 02 a serious stance. 

On the beachside roads and narrow city streets of Cascais, a resort town about an hour west of Lisbon, the CE 02 was a natural fit. The motor comes in a little soft at first, so novices don’t wheelie into a telephone pole, but it ramps up to full torque before you’ve reached the other side of the intersection. From there, power is nice and linear, with the quickest acceleration happening from about 10 to 30 mph and steady power all the way to the top of the speedo.

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Standard bikes have two riding modes: Surf has a gentler throttle response and minimal regenerative braking, and Flow is slightly more aggressive in both categories. An optional package adds Flash mode, which maxes out throttle response and regen. This setting felt a lot like a small-bore combustion bike, and it’s where I spent most of my time during my hour-long test ride. Top speed and full-throttle acceleration are the same in every mode.

ABS is standard, but only on the front brake—which is good news for those of us whose left hands will occasionally strangle the rear brake lever looking for a nonexistent clutch. The brakes are strong and precise, with a firm, progressive lever, but with regen set to max, you’ll barely need to use the friction brakes. Automatic Stability Control and Recuperative Stability Control are always active, the latter keeping the rear wheel from sliding under regen.

The 29.5-inch seat height is optimized for someone a little shorter than my six-foot frame, but the long cushion and double foot pegs give you lots of ways to adjust your riding position. The 291-pound bike slings its weight down low, and the handlebars are wider and taller than what you’d get on a step-through scooter. The result is a bike that confidently darts through city traffic, feeling more stable and sure-footed than any step-through scooter. 

Bob Sorokanich_020

More than anything, the CE 02 feels like a slightly shrunken motorcycle—one that emits nothing more than a faint whine from the motor and belt drive, and demands no clutching or shifting. So many e-mobility offerings feel fragile and toy-like, unfit for the abuse of a potholed road, and yet BMW made this thing burly enough to shoulder nearly 400 pounds of passengers and cargo. It’s a bidirectional stepping stone, great for piston-heads tiptoeing toward electric power or first-time riders climbing the ladder to highway motorcycling. 

But it’s not a motorcycle

Motorrad says the CE 02 is good for up to 56 miles of battery range, with a top speed of 59 miles per hour. I suspect that final number will put it out of the running for a lot of Americans, whose daily commute includes a highway jog that would leave a CE 02 rider eating dust in the slow lane. BMW basically designed this for young riders in European cities, and while some US folks fit that bill, it's a rather limited set.

And then there’s the price: $7,599 for the basic CE 02 in black, rising to $8,474 for a High Line model with the tri-color decal package you see here. That’s enough to buy a real-deal motorcycle—or a Vespa that can break the speed limit.

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