It’s been 13 years since a bike came out with the famous Bultaco thumbs-up logo on its side. By 2001 the once-glorious road racing days of this Spanish motorcycle company had ground to a halt, and only retro off-road two stroke enthusiasts and trials riders really heard the name. But that’s set to change, as the brand is about to resurrect itself as an electric motorcycle manufacturer, starting in 2015. Bultaco today revealed two prototypes that point the way forward – the Rapitan and Rapitan Sport. Both feature 53 horsepower, 92 lb.ft electric motors, Hossack-style front end suspension and enough battery storage to get over 200 km (125 miles) in town.
Founded by MotoGP star Sete Gibernau’s grandfather back in 1958, Bultaco built a series of successful road and road race bikes through the 60s and 70s, peaking in the late 70s when Spanish rider Angel Nieto rode the brand to two 50cc world Grand Prix championships, and multiple wins in the 125cc Grand Prix class.
Between the 1970s and when the brand name was last used in 2001, Bultaco was best known for its two-stroke off road and trials bikes.
But Paco Bultó, Bultaco’s founder, wasn’t himself a fan of the peaky two-stroke powerband. His son Paco Bultó junior remembers that his father "always said that the ideal scenario would be a constant torque engine with the same response as any system for a motorcycle without gear shifts… And at the end he said: as if we had an electrical engine."
Bultó senior might not be around to see it, but it seems the brand is ready to go in just that direction. The electric motorcycle segment feels like it’s right on the edge of a tipping point, ready to relegate petrol-powered motorcycles to long-range touring duties, and the Bultaco brand is being resurrected with some very sexy looking new prototypes.
The Rapitan and Rapitan Sport are the first glimpses we’ll get of the 2015 launch, an extremely handsome roadster and a retro-electric flat tracker. At the heart of both bikes is a custom-developed powerplant, the Bultaco Powercore eMK1, which makes some 40 kW (53 hp) and 125 Nm (92 lb.ft) of torque.
Apart from the bikes’ unique and funky looks, they aim to differentiate themselves in two key ways. Firstly, with a Norm Hossack-style front end suspension similar to the Telelever system BMW uses on many of its road bikes. This kind of suspension system does an outstanding job of controlling brake dive, and separating braking from turning forces, keeping the bike’s geometry much more constant as you’re braking into corners than a traditional telescopic fork.
Secondly, Bultaco believes it has found a more efficient way to use regenerative braking to put energy back into the bikes’ batteries. "The Bultaco Drive Train System (DTS), unlike other electrical two-wheeled vehicles, enables the maximum energy performance to be yielded from regenerative braking. This is possible because the technology applied to the chassis maximizes the rear wheels’ adherence during braking, which enables a considerable electrical braking torque to be applied.”
Certainly, our recent test of the Zero SR found that even with regenerative braking turned up to maximum levels, motor braking was extremely weak, so it’ll be interesting to see how much difference the Bultaco system can make, both in terms of usable regen braking and battery range extension.
The bulk of the 189 kg (416 lb) weight is kept low, which should make these two very quick-steering bikes. It also opens up enough free space where the Rapitan's tank would normally be to store a full-face helmet. Anyone who ever owned a Suzuki Across will know exactly how handy that chunk of storage can be.
By the time the new Bultaco bikes launch in 2015, they’ll be well behind the curve if they don’t beef up the power and torque output, but they’ll sure have a heck of a presence on the roads. We look forward to riding the next chapter in the Bultaco story, and wish the new owners a big thumbs-up!
Source: Bultaco (Spanish)