Introducing the Gizmag Store

Interview: Britain's newest electric motorcycle, the Agility Saietta

By

February 6, 2011

Production prototype of the Agility Saietta

Production prototype of the Agility Saietta

Image Gallery (21 images)

Agility will never be accused of sticking to tradition for tradition's sake. Freed from the constraints of complicated combustion engines and all the associated tackle, designer Lawrence Marazzi has unveiled a brand new, fully electric British motorcycle that turns the rules of motorcycle design on their head. The Saietta features a hossack-inspired front end, an eye-popping fairing design and a crazy degree of mass centralization that could only be achieved with battery cells. Billed as a guerrilla commuter, it promises to be a very exhilarating ride. See the video after the jump to hear Marazzi talk about the design process, the future of electric motorcycles and the unique properties of the Saietta.

Electric motorcycles are as common as petrol-powered scooters in places like Shanghai, where motorcycles are seen purely as cheap transport. In the west, where motorcycles are more a pleasure purchase, we tend to demand a lot more from our machines in terms of performance and handling.

And it's coming. As Agility's Lawrence Marazzi points out, the automotive industry is small and stagnant when viewed against the massive consumer electronics industry, and all those consumer electronics companies are working to develop the cheaper, smaller, longer-lasting, higher-energy battery cells that will soon push electric vehicles into the mainstream.

Still, for now, most electric motorcycles are limited to around a 100-mile (161 km) range per charge – and that's more than enough for the average daily commute. So companies like Agility are looking at how to pack as much giggle factor as possible into a daily ride.

The company's first bike is the Saietta, unveiled on Thursday in the UK. Specs are scarce and Agility is a little cagey about revealing them at this point – but two models will be available, one with an approximately 50-mile (80.5 km) range, another with a 100-mile range. The only difference between these bikes will be the battery packs.

The Agility Saietta

How much power do you want?

Horsepower is not yet stated, but as Marazzi points out, "it's kind of like deciding what homepage you want on your computer … we've got a certain amount of flexibility there, and we've designed for an envelope that covers both ends of the spectrum."

What he means is that, using downloadable power map options, you can more or less choose your own horsepower rating and power curve. It will be up to the owner how much power they wish to use, or if they'd prefer to conserve battery for additional range. But as a guideline, the Saietta will be released with the capability of hitting 60mph (96.5 km/h) in 4 seconds, roughly the equivalent of a midrange naked.

Of course, that doesn't tell the whole story. Like all electrics, there doesn't have to be a power curve in the way that we're used to with petrol bikes. So when a user decides to select a setting that enables full power from a standing start, it's very easy to flip the Saietta and land on your backside, as one test-rider found out early on in the process.

The Agility Saietta

Making it handle

Handling has been a key focus for Marazzi in the bike's design; the odd-looking hossack-inspired monoshock front end and short wheelbase have been used to target the light, fast urban flickability of a motored or middleweight naked bike.

Crucially, Marazzi points out that the bike's appearance has been built around its handling capabilities, and not the other way around. Agility engaged top suspension designers from four major suspension companies very early in the design process and gave them free reign to design their dream suspension setups without regard for traditional looks.

This means there's no mechanically ugly suspension linkages that hide the shocks away, sacrificing performance for looks. Instead, the damping experts have been given free reign over the bike to manage traction in the most effective way possible.

Agility has not finalized commercial arrangements with suspension suppliers yet, so Marazzi is unwilling to disclose who he's been working with in this regard, but he says that in addition to the base suspension supplied with the stock machine, each of the companies will offer uprated shocks with higher specs to customers that want to push the handling further. Also, because the front and rear shocks are the same unit, he expects customers to benefit from economies of scale.

Charlie Boorman checks out the Agility Saietta

Humpback 'tanks' and mass centralization

Of course, a great suspension setup isn't the only thing to think about when designing a bike with razor-sharp handling. Mass centralization has been a mantra for the motorcycle industry as a whole – especially the sportsbike segment – for the last ten years or more.

With mass packed more tightly around its central point, and that point kept at the optimal spot on the bike, it becomes easier to flick the bike from side to side and change directions.

Marazzi believes electric bike manufacturers will have a huge advantage in this area – they simply have to place an engine and a number of flexibly-shaped battery packs, where a traditional motorcycle designer has to find room for an engine, gearbox, cooling system, airbox, exhausts and all the many other accoutrements of a gasoline motor.

Faced with a clean sheet, Marazzi was able to study the center of mass and mass centralization of a number of leading sportsbikes, and then place his battery packs in such a way as to give the Saietta exactly the same center of mass, but achieve significantly more mass centralization – hence its exciting flickability factor around town.

The petrol engine and its hangers-on have contributed in no small way to the accepted shape of the modern motorcycle. Telescopic forks, for instance, might not be the most efficient way to manage front tire traction, but they're small and easy to design around when you have a radiator and a set of header pipes to fit between the engine and the front wheel.

Marazzi had no such things to worry about, freeing him up to use the hossack-like front end, while still maintaining an exceptionally short wheelbase.

Where did the battery cells end up, then? Well, they actually became the central structure of the bike, replacing a traditional frame to a large degree. And while this meant they had to rise up significantly higher than a traditional petrol tank, Marazzi points out that riding the Saietta is much like sticking a tank bag on a sportsbike – it doesn't get in the way, and the space in front of the rider's chest is more or less wasted up until the point where you're dealing with very high speeds.

The looks of the Saietta are not going to appeal to a lot of people straight off, but then we're looking at a whole new category of motorcycle; the electric powercommuter, and if its handling and urban-guerrilla fun factor live up to its billing, the design may well grow on people.

Downloading upgrades

Marazzi sees gasoline bikes of today as almost comically inflexible due to their basic engine characteristics.

His plan is to make simple plug-in upgrades easily available, and have the bike management software easy to tweak through downloadable options.

Power curves and throttle maps are just the beginning; Marazzi says you'll be able to setup your own regenerative braking, ABS, wheelie control, traction control and even the sound the engine makes if you don't like the turbine-like roar of the bare electric engine.

While there are patent claims blocking him from elaborating further, he says there's definitely going to be the option to program the machine to sound like a range of petrol vehicles if a rider needs the noise factor to get the adrenaline glands pumping – although in my experience, the wonder of quick, near-silent acceleration is its own thrill.

The Saietta pictured is only a production prototype, but Agility isn't sitting on its hands. First customer deliveries are planned for as soon as April 2011, and test riders should be available earlier than that in the UK.

Prices will be around US$16,200 for the 50-mile version and US$22,650 for 100 miles, reflecting the harsh reality of current lithium battery prices – but we're still on the leading edge of the electric wave here in the Western world, and the Saietta offers a glimpse forward into a world where traditional bike design principles can be left behind.

We wish Marazzi and the team all the best, and look forward to taking the Saietta for a spin. Lots more photos in the gallery, take a look!

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz loves motorcycles - at the age of two, he told his mother "don't want brother, want mogabike." It was the biker connection that first brought Loz to Gizmag, but since then he's covered everything from alternative energy and weapons to medicine, marital aids - and of course, motorcycles. Loz also produces a number of video pieces for Gizmag, including his beloved bike reviews. He frequently disappears for weeks at a time to go touring with his vocal band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
9 Comments

We wouldn't want mechanically ugly suspension linkages spoiling those fabulous good looks. 

Neil
7th February, 2011 @ 03:18 am PST

So if going electric means you get new freedom in the design why is everyone still stuck in the traditional designs with a fairly upright sitting driver.

I'm still waiting/hoping for the recumbent design that has considerably less drag and therefore wastes less power and makes the batteries last longer.

Conny Söre
7th February, 2011 @ 05:15 am PST

Conny is so right. The basic failing in modern motorcycle design is aerodynamics, not aesthetics. Engines have long been able to deliver massive improvements in consumption, but not while they're ties to the `bicycle with a man on it` concept. Recumbent and flow-managed designs allied to the poor-endurance electric storage are the ONLY way forward, and as the majority of drag in a motorcycle comes from the rider and the flow breakaway at the rear of the vehicle, it makes this concept look rather silly.

And Tony Foale should sue over the shape...

snave
7th February, 2011 @ 08:00 am PST

Are you guys forgetting if its to aerodynamic then other people might not see them and they will be run over haha.

Ryein Goddard
7th February, 2011 @ 11:50 am PST

I'd be a bit concerned qabout where your hands go when you're at lock. Also, the inability to tuck at all, for either aerodynamic or dynamic/stability/traction benefit is something that would put me off it.

@Conny&snave, recumbants aren't a great idea for city riding and simliar, or to ride quickly, the inability to move around on the bike and the reduced situational awareness would badly compromise both/either.

Drew__1
7th February, 2011 @ 01:38 pm PST

To be properly aerodynamic it would need some sort of nose fairing & tail fairing, at least. Given that recumbent bikes tend to be longer than the traditional upright sort, the fairings would have to be larger, therefore more conspicuous - so it ought to be easier to see. Conventional motorbikes frequently get hit by other vehicles because they aren't seen, anyway.

axelowtl
7th February, 2011 @ 02:04 pm PST

Maybe if there was no traffic or road hazards to deal with... Fact is, sitting up high above the traffic is one if the most effective safety tools a rider has. Also, aerodynamics don't really become an issue until over 80kmh or so, becoming much more important over, say 160kmh. The Saietta is an urban bike first and foremost, a power commuter if you will.

Agility is currently producing super high speed aerodynamic fairings for Agni motors, runaway winners of the first TTX electric bike races. So Marazzi knows plenty about wind efficiency, it's just not a primary design goal for this machine.

Loz
7th February, 2011 @ 04:31 pm PST

Don't forget that new designs are not only limited by the designer's imagination/ability but also by the customer.

This bike has been designed for production to market. Most biker's out there (the customers) want a bike to look like a bike. Take the design too far from what they know and they won't buy it.

New more modern ideas about what a bike could look like need to be accepted by the larger population and that takes time and needs to be phased in gradually.

Personally, I think the bike is a good balance between new concept and traditional look. Of course, although sitting upright is more comfortable, without a windshield or the flexibility to lower your profile at speed, it probably won't make it to my xmas list.

interested kiwi
8th February, 2011 @ 01:31 am PST

How come nary a shot of a rider onboard?, I would think that it's pretty damn basic, just so we can grok ergonomics, unless it's "autonomous". So is there storage under the bulbous-cowling a'la Aprilia's 850 "Mana"?. . . Why no swept-back windscreen?

Rob Bell
9th February, 2011 @ 07:14 pm PST
Post a Comment

Login with your gizmag account:

Or Login with Facebook:


Related Articles

Just enter your friends and your email address into the form below

For multiple addresses, separate each with a comma




Privacy is safe with us because we have a strict privacy policy.

Looking for something? Search our 26,500 articles