Take a Formula One driving position, three wheels, a high-power 550cc v-twin engine designed for motocross, put an additional electric motor into each wheel, and an ingenious tilt system. Finnish student Heikki Naulapaa designed this vehicle as the main project in his design degree at the Royal College of the Arts in London. It landed him a dream job in the design department at Aprilia and maybe, just maybe, the adventurous company might build this excitement machine. With specs like that and a low aerodynamic profile, the hybrid would match any 1000cc superbike in performance and blow a Ferrari into the weeds.
"The Magnet was more a concept study, but it could be produced. There are some technical aspects which may need to be changed in order to keep the manufacturing costs down, but they wouldn't create major problems to production," said Naulapaa. "We'll see what happens."
Naulapaa's degree project at RCA started from his research dissertation during 2002. In his dissertation he questioned "why people ride motorbikes". As a result of numerous interviews with riders in preparing the dissertation, he created a vehicle based totally on riding sensation.
"I wanted to create a vehicle, which offers a new kind of emotional experience while riding," said Naulapaa, adding, "I mixed the motorbike's leaning characteristics with a Formula One driving position and the feeling of a small sports car feeling and being half-inside the vehicle." "That's the main feature of the concept. The rider sits very, very low in order to amplify the feel of the speed and pedals and handlebar work as in a sports cars. The most unique thing is that your legs are positioned really high and the seating position is similar to a Formula One car, but the vehicle leans at the same time. It is like high-speed floating just couple of centimetres from the ground!"
"Designwise, my influences came more from the aeroplane industry, racing cars and contemporary art than motorbikes. I wanted to create a fresh concept with a strong motorbike connection, but with different form language and styling."
The main power source for the Magnet, named after its innovative auxiliary electric motors in each wheel, is a larger 550cc version of the 4.5 Aprilia motocross and supermotard engine. "The bored out 4.5 engine is ideal, because it has a lots of power, but it is light and small," said Naulapaa.
Supplementing the eight-valve, 14,000rpm 77° V-twin's 85 horespower are the electric motors inside each wheel. This offers extra power for acceleration, creating a machine with the performance of a 1000cc motorcycle due to the extra torque and the low aerodynamic profile of the Magnet.
"The rider can also switch off the combustion engine and glide silently through the landscape," he said.
Naulapaa's tilting mechanism was inspired by the Mercedes Life-Jet concept of 1997.
"The shock absorbers are located differently to the Life-Jet concept vehciles , but the basic technical layout is very similar to the Mercedes, because it was the most suitable for my purpose."
Now working in the Aprilia design studio in Noale, a small town 25km from Venice, the globe-trotting Naulapaa has found himself in one of the most exciting design environments possible for a motorcycle enthusiast and former competitor. Aprilia has been responsible for some very innovative designs in recent years, most notably the company's ultimately unsuccessful but very powerful MotoGP bike, an Electric-assist bicycle, the very successful Mille 1000cc roadster, and the RS250 v-twin two-stroke roadster.
With performance to match a supersport 1000cc motorcycle such as the Aprilia Mille, and the ability to carry a pillion too, the Magnet could be expected to gather a loyal following, perhaps not even drawing on the growing-band of Aprilia devotees.
Heikki Naulapaa's web site includes movies and all the design background on this concepot machine plus much more.