First ride: Alta Motors RedShift SM

The electric Redshift SM will make a believer out of any oil-stained gearhead

The Redshift SM can do it all; just don’t forget a backup battery

As a lifelong gearhead with an aversion to change, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I received an invitation from Alta Motors to try out one of their electric motorcycles. I walked into the Classic Car Club in Manhattan, where floor-to-ceiling garage doors opened to views of the Hudson River. My eyes were immediately drawn to the exotic metal, which included offerings from Japan, Germany, and the U.S., but after a few minutes, Alta Motors CEO and co-founder Marc Fenigstein glided in on a red and white bike. It was then I got my first glimpse at the Redshift SM.

The Redshift SM is one of the company’s first products, and it makes a bold statement. It cuts a striking profile, but form follows function. The SM — short for supermoto — is lightweight and narrow, making it easy to ride. Low speed maneuvering is key for these types of bikes, and according to Fenigstein, you can keep both feet on the pegs at a pace slower than walking speed.

You can generally expect to get 50 miles of range, though it really depends on how you ride. With its Brembo brakes and adjustable WP suspension, this bike was built for racing, and it has plenty of range for that purpose. The 5.8 kWh battery was developed in-house, and it takes three to four hours to reach a full charge. Battery packs, however, can be swapped out in as little as 10 minutes.

Something’s missing

It was time to saddle up. Fenigstein was to lead me on a ride through midtown Manhattan, which encompasses everything you can expect to find in a busy city: traffic, bad roads, pedestrians, roadwork, and sudden stops. Though it was still early in the day, this part of the city is eternally stuck in rush hour.

Alta Motors Redshift SuperMoto
Albert Khoury/Digital Trends
Albert Khoury/Digital Trends

Throwing my leg over the bike was easy enough, but at 5-foot-10, I wasn’t able to lay my heels flat on the ground. The thin saddle was a welcome feature though. In front of me on the left handlebar were toggles for the turn signals, high beams, and horn. A kill switch and ignition were on the right, where I expected them to be. As was the front brake lever. The rear brake pedal was by my right foot. So far, so good.

Missing was a clutch lever and shifter.

When my hand moved toward the ignition, I was told that the motor was already switched on. It was completely silent. I gave the throttle a slight twist and the bike crept forward with a whine not unlike one of my childhood RC cars, but louder.

A center-mounted LCD screen indicates speed, charge, and other stats, but it also shows which level of performance mapping the bike is set to, ranging from 1-4. I was advised to stick to the first level then find my way into the higher ones. Fair enough.

Let’s ride

I followed Fenigstein out of the building at a walking pace. We shared the roads with cars, people, and as we approached the West Side Highway, bicycles. I couldn’t believe how slowly I could crawl along with both feet set firmly on the pegs.

It’s remarkably easy to steer the bike around potholes, people, and aggressive cabbies

We turned onto the highway and I gunned the throttle. My first impressions included, “Damn, that’s fast,” and, “Damn, that’s quiet.” It wasn’t completely silent, however. I could hear the gearset meshing in the 14,000-rpm water-cooled motor and I could hear the chain. It was a unique sound, though I think the low volume would take some getting used to.

We turned off the highway and headed into the heart of the city. Now I had moving and stationary obstacles to deal with. It was remarkably easy to steer the 275-pound bike around potholes, people, aggressive cabbies, and ubiquitous NYC dogs. When I did hit bumps in the road, the supermoto absorbed the impact nicely.

The 30 kW Redshift motor weighs just 15 lbs and puts out 40 horsepower and 34 pound-feet of torque at the rear wheel. A gear reduction of 3.5:1 delivers 122 lb-ft at the counter shaft from zero rpm. The power is always there, and it came in handy when an errant bus drifted into my lane and I had to goose the throttle to speed past it.

Alta Motors Redshift SuperMoto
Albert Khoury/Digital Trends
Albert Khoury/Digital Trends

Our bikes drew attention at every red light. In a city of millions who have seen it all, that’s no easy feat. Hot dog vendors, employees on their lunch breaks, and tourists stopped what they were doing to stare. One construction worker strode out into the middle of the street to discuss the bikes. Pedestrians as well as other motorists were asking if the bikes were electric. I guess the lack of noise gave it away.

Traffic kept most of the Redshift’s power bottled up, but during brief  clearings, I was able to push it. After dialing up the throttle map to level two, I did feel a difference in the powerband and engine braking. On one wide open street, I got the front wheel up and I’m certain that passersby heard me whooping with joy inside my helmet. Being that this was a supermoto, I could also see myself hopping curbs, though I refrained from doing so.

Hooked on that electric feeling

Fenigstein, a more experienced rider than myself, weaved in and out of traffic, but I had little trouble keeping up. I learned to ride on a Suzuki 250 many years ago, and I wish I had this bike back then. Beginners should be able to hop on and do slow figure eights without worrying about stalling, and those who want to kick things up at the track or on back roads should thoroughly enjoy themselves. It’s hard to believe that anything this fun could be street legal!

“This is just the beginning,” the Alta Motors CEO told me. “It’s a performance statement, and the potential is really broad.”

The Redshift line consists of race bikes with firm suspension and seats, though you can dial that down some. The company also offers a track-only motocross bike, the MX. We’re looking forward to seeing what Alta comes up with next, and I’d personally love to see their take on a more street-focused bike.

Conclusion

Though the Redshift SM wasn’t designed as a commuter, it felt well suited for my excursion through the city. The seating position was comfortable and pretty much what you would expect from a sumo. At $15,500, the bike isn’t cheap, though the build quality should stand up to any skeptic. These are not prototypes, but fully developed performance machines. Whether you want one or not, know that the SM is backordered for months, stretching well into summer.

“You know that sweet spot in second gear?” Fenigstein asked before we set out. “That’s how it feels all the time.” He was right.

Highs

  • No more oil changes
  • Instant torque
  • Easy to ride
  • Supermoto construction can take abuse
  • Adjustable motor dynamics

Lows

  • 110-volt charging only
  • Low range
  • High price
  • Quiet operation takes some getting used to
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