Will the remarkable Ola S1 be the most important motorcycle of the 21st century?
India's Ola Electric is mounting a huge assault on the motorcycle market with the clever, cheap, high-tech S1 scooter. Talk about volume; Ola's building the world's biggest motorcycle "Futurefactory," capable of producing 10 million bikes a year.
Put another way, that's a bike every two seconds. Put yet another way, when this 500-acre, carbon-negative, 10 production line, 3,000-plus robot behemoth starts manufacturing at full capacity, it will be making more than one-seventh as many motorcycles as the entire global industry does today.
There are ambitious plays, and then there's this kind of thing. It could be genius, staking India's claim as the world authority in high-volume, all-market electric vehicles. It could be pure hubristic megalomania.
Either way, if your goal is to instantly carve yourself out a massive 15 percent share of the world's motorcycle market, you'd better bring your A game on the product side and make buyers an offer they simply can't refuse. And in that regard, folks, Ola is swingin' for the fences.
Ola is launching with one scooter, in two models. The S1, and the S1 Pro. We'll concentrate on the Pro model here, as it's got the full kitchen sink worth of features, as well as the best performance and range.
In a basic sense, these are simple, clean-looking, belt-drive electric scoots with 36 liters of storage under the seat – enough to fit a helmet. Suspension is single-sided at the front and rear, and so are the disc brakes; tire changes should be super simple. Ola attempts to protect key moving parts from the dust, grit and grime of developing-world dirt roads with plastic covers over the drive system and front suspension; the rear suspension should be reasonably well protected itself where it sits on top of the drive unit.
Performance-wise, the S1 Pro can probably best be compared to a 135cc 4-stroke. Its 8.5 kW (11.4 horsepower), 58 Nm (43 lb-ft) electric motor will get you to 40 km/h (25 mph) in 3 seconds, 60 km/h (37 mph) in 5 seconds, and all the way to a top speed of 115 km/h (71 mph) given time and encouragement. This is indeed feisty for the enormous commuter markets Ola is targeting.
Range is likewise pretty impressive, maxing out at 181 km (112 miles) – although Ola's website doesn't say whether that's NEDC, WLTP, or pulled out of its backside. Financial Express reports the S1 Pro gets there with a 3.97 kWh battery, which charges overnight in six and a half hours on a wall plug, or fills half its battery in 18 minutes at a fast charge facility.
So far, so practical. But Ola has packed in a delightful pile of fruit that will separate the S1 from anything else out there. It starts with the bike's brain, a 1.8 GHz octacore processor with 3 GB of RAM, Bluetooth Low-Energy, WiFi and LTE connectivity, GPS and a 7-inch touch screen.
So, you get a very pretty full-color dash interface that's customizable to a ludicrous degree. You can pick between a range of dynamically changing "moods" to personalize the look of the dash, the way it functions and even the sound the bike makes as you ride. You can set widgets (each designed to fit the moods) on your screen to give you one-touch access to everything from performance metrics to live weather and wind updates, the built-in turn by turn navigation and one-touch media management for whatever you've got playing on your connected smartphone.
It looks and sounds terrific – and it can all be customized for several riders if it's a shared bike – but it doesn't end there. There's also keyless ignition and locking, which will greet you with a "hi (your name)/bye (your name)" audio message I'd be eager to abuse. It'll sense your presence when your smartphone's within a few feet, or can be unlocked through the screen.
Ola takes advantage of the S1's brain to provide tamper and theft alarms, location tracking and the ability to do things like turn the lights on, lock/unlock the bike, pop the trunk, or set performance or geofencing limits through a smartphone app. If somebody calls or texts while you're riding, and you don't want to talk, it'll give you some one-touch potted responses to send back like "I'm on my way," "running a little late," or even a live-tracked map blip so they can watch your location as you ride.
There's also voice-control through a "Hey Ola" assistant using AI speech recognition and a multi-mic noise-cancelling array. I'm not aware of any other motorcycle attempting this thus far. The bike talks back to you – and plays music and other audio – through its own built-in speaker system. Heck, you can even make phone calls through it if you don't have a headset. It's the kind of thing cars have had for years now – but this is a freakin' scooter.
A predictive maintenance system will tell you if you ever need to get a mechanic involved, and Ola won't ask you to ride your bike in for a service. Instead, you'll book it through the app, and the technician will visit you at home to do the work. Oh, and there's reverse mode to get out of tight parking spots and a hill hold feature so you don't roll back taking off on an incline. And cruise control! We love cruise control, however out of place it might look on a commute-scoot.
So the S1 Pro boasts impressive performance and practicality for its class, plus a range of next-gen smart features that are hitherto unmatched in the motorcycle world. Better still, much of it actually looks useful, and it's probably the sort of thing we'll be expecting from two-wheelers within five years. This is indeed a pioneering machine.
And the price? The S1 Pro's retail price will be 129,999 Indian rupees, equating to US$1,750. State subsidies will bring that substantially lower in some areas of India.
The standard S1 costs 99,999 rupees, or US$1,345. It's a little slower, topping out at 90 km/h (56 mph), and its 2.98 kWh battery gives you more like 121 km (75 miles) of range. It doesn't get the voice control, the cruise control, hill hold or the top "hyper" riding mode.
The top selling scoot in India today is fairly representative of what floods the roads throughout Asia and the developing world. The Honda Activa 6G is a 110cc, 7.8 horsepower, 8.8 Nm, cheap 'n' cheerful single-cylinder scoot. It sells for around 69,000 rupees (US$930) and tops out at 85 km/h (53 mph) flat stick.
So Ola is definitely still asking riders to pay a premium to go electric. But it's not a huge premium – indeed, it's about equal to India's average monthly salary of 31,900 rupees. Both the S1 and S1 Pro will soundly out-perform the Honda, while offering next-gen digital style, smarts and connectivity, and virtually never needing maintenance. And to anyone living in a developed country, this thing looks like an absolute steal at those prices.
Ola is calling for India to ban combustion bikes from sale as soon as 2025, and trying to gee the country up to be a global leader in electrification. The former is unlikely, and the latter will be an uphill battle against China, where electric scooter uptake hit the big time nearly a decade ago. NIU alone, for context, sold 412,809 electric scooters in just the first six months of 2021.
But the product looks terrific, the price is great, the company is shooting for the moon with construction already well underway on its enormous Futurefactory ... And who knows? You might just be looking at the 21st Century's electric Honda Cub right here – a bike which sold a hundred million units in the 59 years between 1958 and 2017. At full capacity, Ola plans to produce a hundred million S1s every decade. Good lord.
Check out the launch video below.