Like many riders, my introduction to motorbikes was through a scooter, a humble small Honda that dutifully carted my collegiate corpus around before I upgraded to a full-size motorcycle that could actually do highway speeds. I’ve owned dozens of motorcycles since but I’ve always had a soft spot for scooters, and own two at this time, a rare Yamaha Morphous and a stylish Vespa GTS. Both get ridden regularly. But recently, they’ve had to share space with a most unusual cousin, a 2023 BMW CE 04, an all-electric scooter that looks like it dropped out of a dystopian science fiction epic or perhaps even an 80’s Japanese anime classic.
Electric scooters are not exactly new; Vespa has had the Elettrica for sale for several years now and electric scooters are common in Asian markets thanks to a mature quick-swapping battery system that effectively gives them unlimited range. But the BMW CE 04 is a completely different experience from the city-street restricted Elettrica – and from most any scooter for that matter. Plus, it looks like nothing else on the road.
CE 04 Tech and Design
The odd name comes from mashing up BMW’s “C” scooter series, plus “E” for Experimental (or perhaps Electric?) and “04” as it is designed to compete in the 400 cc gas engine performance range. But the drivetrain doesn’t use a drop of gas, of course.
Instead, an 8.9kWh 148-volt battery powers the single mid-mount electric motor, which is rated for 20 horsepower as nominal output, but can jump to over twice that – 42 horsepower – for short bursts. Torque is rated at a stout 48 pound feet at just 1,500 rpm. For comparison, the 400cc – class Suzuki Burgman 400 – a direct competitor – makes about 30 horsepower and just 26.5 pound feet of torque.
That power flows to the exposed back wheel via a likewise exposed single-speed carbon drive belt (above) instead of an enclosed CVT transmission as is found on most gas-powered scooters these days. Charging times vary from an overnight session when plugging it into a wall outlet, to about three hours to get it from flat to 80 percent using a Level 2 charger able to output 7 kilowatts at 230 volts – about average for many Level 2 home chargers such as I have installed for my electric car. A 100% charge takes about four hours. BMW claims a full charge gives the CE 04 80 miles of range in mixed riding. The CE 04 also features regenerative braking for recouping energy, and a reverse feature that moves the scooter backwards at walking speed is standard.
Up top, the CE 04 borrows a wide range of tech bits from other BMW motorcycles and even cars. A standard side-loading locking compartment that will barely fit a size large full-face helmet is below the seat on the right side. Base price for the CE 04 is $11, 795 and BMW says it weighs in at 509 pounds.
On my well-equipped CE 04, which was wearing $2,150 in extras, the add-ons included heated grips and a heated seat, adaptive (corner peering) LED headlights, ABS “Pro,” tire pressure monitors and an additional ride mode called Dynamic. There was also an optional centerstand at the ready.
Saddled up, the rider is greeted by a massive 10.8-inch horizontal color LCD screen that sits just behind a mostly ornamental rectangular bug screen, although BMW has larger screen options available.
Screen data is switched up by BMW’s trademark left grip rotational controller, same as on many BMW motorcycles. The seat on my review bike was the “pro” option; a thin, long two-tone plank with a small hump. Passenger pegs mean the CE 04 can transport two people, and the seat had decent comfort despite its thin profile. Numerous other seats, panniers and accessories are available from BMW, of course.
Style-wise, there’s not much else out there that looks anything like the CE 04. The large battery sits in the bottom of the long frame, clad in plastic panels leading to two curved and angled front vertical canards/airfoils. The rear wheel, rear monoshock and belt drive sit out largely exposed on the rear single-sided swingarm.
The solid black disc rear wheel (above) is stylishly unstyled, and from the right side it looks like BMW stole a donut spare tire out of an economy car and then forgot to do anything with it. It was a common topic of conversation and debate. Brake lights and turn signals are one and the same and ride on the rear wheel fender.
Storage space, a point of pride among scooter makers, is marginal but the side-loading cargo box will (barely) hold a size large helmet and locks when the scooter powers down. BMW does have a color-matched right side pannier as an option, as well as a large tail box, but go that route and you’ll muck up the good looks. I usually wore an appropriate hard-shell backpack for any needed additional carrying capacity.
The cast but spoked front wheel’s twin disc brakes hide under utilitarian black cowls that also seem designed to not impress. Panels at the rear stick out from the chassis a bit, as if they were air intakes on a low-orbit shuttle.
The parts may sound odd, but as the photos show, as a whole, the look is very clean and cohesive, both sci-fi purposeful and minimalist. My CE 04 arrived in the “Light White” color-way, which only amplified the stark design. Several people asked me if the scooter had been styled by NASA. Reaction from other scooter riders and people in general was very positive, although some were put off by the futuristic design. Despite clearly erring on the side of futuristic simplicity, the CE 04 attracted questions and interest everywhere it was parked.
With the wireless key fob in my pocket, I hit the Start button in the cockpit and the big widescreen display came to life showing speed, power output, regen level and numerous bits like a tripmeter and ambient temperature, but otherwise there was silence. I pushed “R” for reverse on the left grip and tip-toed the CE 04 backwards up a slight grade, then set the ride mode to Road, eased on the power and joined traffic. A slight whir could be heard but as speed built, it disappeared into the wind roar, tire noise and traffic cacophony.
One immediate impression: The CE 04 is lonnnnng, as in 90 inches – nearly 8 feet – tip to tail. I expected handling to suffer due to the sprawling wheelbase, but I should have known better: BMW’s engineers somehow made the CE 04 balanced and neutral when turning, and while it’s no sportbike, it was unexpectedly easy to ride quickly and has excellent cornering clearance. That’s helped by the more motorcycle-like 15-inch wheels, but I was still impressed with the agility of the CE 04. I was even more impressed with the power.
BMW specs show the CE 04’s maximum velocity as capped at 75 mph, but my review unit didn’t hit the limit until 79 mph indicated. It gets there in a hurry, especially if popped into the costs-extra Dynamic ride mode. Pro Tip for BMW: The speed limit in the U.S. is 80 and even 85 mph in some (Texas) places, so maybe rethink that top end limit. It certainly feels like the CE 04 would have no trouble touching 90 mph.
BMW doesn’t say what the 0-60 time is, but 31 mph arrives in 2.6 seconds, and 60 not long after. Suffice to say it will absolutely bury any other scooter – and most everything else – in a stoplight race. With double the torque of a top-line Vespa 300 Super Sport and no CVT sapping power, the CE 04 is a hot rod scooter by any measure. Even Yamaha’s domestic superscooter, the very sporting TMAX 560, barely tops it with a 560 cc twin-cylinder 47 horsepower gas motor, but still makes far less torque than the CE 04. The Yamaha’s belt-and-pulley CVT then eats some of the power. Not much is lost in the BMW’s simple single-gear setup.
On the highway, passing power is immediate and the CE 04 keeps pulling until you run into the limiter. Motorcycle riders and car drivers often sped up to get a closer look after getting passed. In town, the CE 04 squirts through traffic with alacrity despite its long backbone. Hit the brakes and the CE 04 stops quickly, the triple discs with ABS providing good feel and copious power. The regen rate is also variable, adding some “automatic” braking when the throttle is closed and zapping the battery with a bit of free juice. With regen on, it rides like most any other big scooter – just much faster.
The widescreen cockpit display can show GPS prompts and pages of ride data, all controlled though the knurled control ring on the left grip, but the system does take time to learn. BMW’s app expands the CE 04’s capabilities as well and allows for some fine tuning. But the CE 04’s biggest appeal to this long-time rider is that meaty, silent wave of torque and horsepower that easily trounced most any vehicle from a stoplight and made passing a snap on the highway. Pretty impressive for a scooter.
All the while, the CE 04 is composed and comfortable, at least in the city. Highway riding puts a bit of wind pressure on the rider’s chest at higher speeds, but freeway jaunts were usually short so it really isn’t an issue. Seat comfort was a bit of an issue as the “pro” seat’s tiny wedge of foam was just a tick too far forward for my long legs and tailbone, but it was a minor annoyance and a non-issue while riding in the city. If I were buying the CE 04, I’d stick with the completely flat stock plank of a seat.
I rode the BMW every chance I had as dry summer weather rolled over Oregon. It was a hoot to ride and since I kept to the city or some twisting roads on the outskirts, range was never really an issue since local charging options are plentiful. Since BMW has placed this scooter in the “400 cc” category which means it’s highway legal, I blasted down the local superslab many times. Keeping up with freeway traffic and passing slowpokes up hills, which can be a challenge on my 250 and 300 cc gas-powered scooters, was never an issue with the torque-rich CE 04. However, riding long distance is not the CE 04’s forté, unless you like waiting at charging stations. A lot. However, the CE 04 was ready to ride every morning after sipping electrons while I slept, ready for another day of fun – or errands – no gasoline required.
I never had any issues with the CE 04 and enjoyed riding it whenever I could. As noted, it’s fast – really fast for a scooter – and has miles of style if a bit on the sci-fi cinematic side. Operation was straightforward and having a reverse mode was unexpectedly convenient. And it got a lot of attention.
If I was going to buy a CE 04, I’d opt for the completely flat seat for maximizing the ability to move around. I’d love to see more range, even if it means more weight. But the real question is: Would I buy one? Absolutely – if I had $14,000 laying around uncommitted. As it sits, that’s likely still a lotto win/ stonks rally away, or not, seeing as I have a college-bound teen and a house with a long list of needs and wants. Also, my 300-series Vespa was nearly half the price yet can muster up essentially the same top speed while carrying a fair bit more cargo. It’s not as fast off the line as the CE 04 (few things are) but it’s no slouch either – for a scooter. And beyond that, long trips on either of my ICE scooters are just an $8 fill-up away at a gas station instead of a long wait at a charger. For now.
The BMW CE 04 is a great fit for anyone wanting a fast, capable and very different form factor in a scooter, cost be damned for the most part. It is a BMW after all, and impressed me as I expect anything from the German motoring icon should. Like most BMWs, the CE 04 is a luxury item – and certainly an aspirational one. I suspect that in the near future, descendents of the CE 04 will cost less, go farther and also go faster. The future of the scooter is looking good – and electric.