Wednesday, February 04, 2009


A very good friend of mine is intimately connected with the future of motorcycling, and has today unveiled his newest project, a totally electric sportbike. The company is called Mission Motors (formerly known as Hum), and the design was carried out by Fuseproject, industrial design savant Yves Behar's studio here in San Francisco.

I've been speaking with Yves and his business partner, Mitchell Pergola, for over a year about their concept of a zero-emission sports motorcycle with better performance than a gasoline engine. I was certainly intrigued by their vision, and expected something very interesting; Fuseproject makes some of the most advanced industrial designs in the world, their work has been exhibited in many museums - but they have never before worked on a motorcycle.

Other high-profile industrial designers have dipped a toe into the motorcycling world, with varying success; on my best-results list goes Phillipe Starck's Moto 6.5 collaboration with Aprilia, and my worst-case has to be Guigiaro's ruination of the lovely Ducati bevel-drive twin - the 860GT of 1975. Behar's affinity for organic and unusual shapes seems to fit well with contemporary motorcycle styling, and the result is as forward-looking as it needs to be to sell a new concept and technology.

And, on the technical side, I knew that the project included members of the Tesla Motors design team, who helped develop the engine and, most essentially, the battery technology to be used on the Mission bike. The motor develops 100ft-lbs of torque @ 6500rpm, and is a liquid-cooled 3-phase electric motor. And of course, unlike a mechanical engine, 100% of this torque is available from standstill to top speed, which is targeted at 150mph.

The onboard computer has a data acquisition capacity, meaning you can plug your laptop to your motorcycle and retrieve all your riding data, and 'tune' your bike with your computer. The engine management system is ultra modern, and indeed shapes the power curve and throttle response to varying conditions of load and traction and road speed. It's not simply an electric motor, it's a managed power delivery system.

The chassis is perhaps the most standard aspect of the bike; top-shelf components like Ohlins inverted forks with TiN coating on the fork tubes, Ohlins rear shocks, Marchesini wheels, Brembo 4-piston monobloc calipers, etc. The brakes have a regenerative charging system - when applied, they send electricity back to the batteries. Recharging takes 2 hours from a 220v outlet, and costs under $2. The goals of the project aren't just performance-oriented, although to be competitive in the real world, the bike must go as well as any available sportbike.

The first major test of the Mission will be June 2009 in the Isle of Man, at the TTXGP races for zero-emissions motorcycles. An American racer with much experience on the Island will pilot the machine, whose identity will be revealed in the coming weeks. And I can't imagine a more appropriate testing ground than the oldest race course in the world, to compare and develop a totally new branch of motorcycling. The Tourist Trophy was established in 1907 for exactly this reason, 'competition improves the breed'; finally, the concept is coming full circle.... and now you begin to see why The Vintagent is interested!

The Mission One is intended to be as 'green' as possible, with regards to the materials used in its construction, and how they are dealt with after use. Lithium-Ion batteries are the most 'friendly' available, and can be chipped and recycled, or the materials can be recaptured and reconfigured into new batteries. The bodywork materials are still being investigated - there is a new type of organic panelling under test, which uses feathers from the poultry industry rather than carbon-fibers, embedded in soy-based resin. The quills are hollow, making the material extremely light. It's intended that as many other components as possible are fully recyclable - no horrid blown foams for the seat or pvc bits; according to Forrest North, one of the development engineers on the project, they're hoping the only non-green materials on the bike are the brakes and tires; quite a lofty goal. Even the coolant for the electric motor will be low-impact, and they are currently researching organic/biodegradable oils which can do the job. Castrol R, anyone?.

I spoke with Yves just two weeks ago, and as the motorcycle was to be unveiled at last week's T.E.D. conference, it seemed a good time to break the news here as well - good timing, as their website has just gone live online. Take a look, and leave a comment. And remember,


Frank Sider said...

Hi Paul
i was reading that this morning on :
what a bike ... your post is great about it.
Of course its not my cup of tea but as a designer i respect.
have a good day

J said...

Brilliant! As someone whose office is just three doors or so up the street, I have to wonder if I there will be any neighbor beta-riding test programs that I can help spearhead!
Now the parrallel development of an electric supermotard for the urban rider, with a similar angle towards performance would be a fantastic addition!

Anonymous said...

I'm still hoping for a breakthrough in producing low cost hydrogen for fuel cell use. But an efficient & fast, electric sport bike is a step in the right direction. However, I doubt it will ever be very affordible. The sillouhete view is great, the shape looks right but in full view it will take some getting used to. It's a bit odd though, a bike with no pipes? Bring it on.

C-ya, Jerrykap

david said...

I thought i'd gone somewhere other than the Vintagent when i saw todays post!

Anonymous said...

Hello Paul,

the Electric Bike is a fine step into a direction which is not yet explored.That alone deserves great respect.They are already making headlines in the most influential websites and publications in Europe.

I am still enjoying your Blog every other day,can't live without it-completely addicted!!!
Kindest regards


Anonymous said...

They say 150 mile range, in a normal EPA mileage testing sort of driving. Obviously it will be considerably less at a steady 150MPH...
Doesn't say weight, but the LIP batteries are pretty light, we're not talking golf cart batteries here.
You can dial in how much "engine braking" (electrical regenerative braking in this case) you want, think electronic slipper clutch! You can dial back the power to learn or get more range, traction control, all kinds of things that are synergistic when you have an electronically controlled drive.
Hopefully it won't get stalled like the Tesla, which is not yet for sale, I believe.

Anonymous said...

When someone comes out with an electric motorcycle equivalent
performance and pricewise to a good 250 supermoto bike - that goes and
handles good, plugs in to recharge, and its batteries can be recycled
- I'll try to buy one if I can afford it. It should make for a decent
city bike. They might actually sell a fair amount of them if gas
prices rise again.

Only bummer will be how quiet electric vehicles are. We all may have
to adopt DayGlo riding gear, bicycle handlebar bells, and more body armor.


Anonymous said...

Whoa... I was on the site yesterday and didn't see the design yet. I know Yves pretty well. I'm excited to see something like this. I'm a little worried about how heavy it will be and what the range will be. There are some former Tesla guys behind this bike and I think motorcycling is a lot different than commuting in a fun/fast car.

Electric for a scoot makes sense since distances typically are much shorter. I'm holding my comments for now on what will come of this bike.


Anonymous said...

Very cool and very interesting. Thanks Paul

Anonymous said...

What good is a bike that does not thump, leak oil or have electrical problems.

Suggested improvements:
Some type of reciprocating weight geared to the drive, which could add some
character and sound. Also, an oil reservoir could be incorporated with a relay
operated electric valve to properly distribute oil on the bike, and therefore
onto its operating environment.

As to the electrical problems, We will have to wait and see, as a lot of modern
electrical devices have been proven to have mystery problems. (that can beat
Lucas on their worst day)

John Stanley

DAN_DAN said...

After I saw the electric drag bike, i'm down to ride one for sure

Conchscooter said...

I'd rather a Norton/BSA/Matchless single thank you. I wasn't much enthused when they promised us telephones in our watches and my scepticism had some grounds, it turns out. An electric crotch rocket probably portends an electric hack in my old age. Sounds a bit grim. I'd still rather the Rudge canoe combo.