June 20, 2005 Our recent story on the inevitability of the electric motorcycle brought a number of reader emails pointing out projects we’d missed. One stood out head and shoulders above the rest. The rMOTO electric superbike concept was developed by ROBRADY design to showcase the technologies and expertise of several of its clients but when the first design sketches were released on the company web site in April, so great was the interest that the project has been given the green light and a prototype is to be constructed for unveiling in January 2006. In terms of design pedigree, no studio could be more appropriate than ROBRADY which has worked on an array of relevant notable projects such as the Vectrix electric and fuel cell scooters, a number of Segway scooters, Parker Hannifin’s Fuel Cells, regenerative braking systems and on a number of motorcycle designs for various companies. See inside for an exclusive interview with ROBRADY principal, Rob Brady.
Florida-based ROBRADY design is one of the elite design studios used by the likes of Yamaha, Polaris, Segway, Vectrix, Suzuki, Volvo, Dell, AT&T;, Evinrude et al. Here, ROBRADY principal, Rob Brady discusses the coming rMOTO electric superbike the company will produce.
Tell us about the origins of rMOTO?
“We I’ve had that RMOTO sketch in one form or another for a couple of years and I was really captivated by the thought of an electric superbike when we were researching two wheeled markets in Europe for the Vectrix project.
“I thought about with all the technology we have available to us with our technology partners at the studio and thought wouldn’t it be a great vehicle to showcase everybody’s work on a single product.
“The concept behind it isn’t – the performance and expectations – we have a lot of people wanting to buy it and all those things are actually secondary to wrapping it all together - the technological feat of putting it into a single cohesive package, the battery the battery management system, all the electronics, illumination, all the different components and systems of the bike are existing items today from the different people we do business with so what we’re trying to do at rMOTO is put it into a single product – LED headlights, the recharging systems, fuel cell from Parker Hannifin.
“Vectrix has really been the cornerstone of Robrady for the last few years and we’ve been developing products for Vectrix and it’s all about electric transportation and a new way fo doing things without excessive noise or pollution and renewable energy and … just a better way, a much better way.
“Vectrix have all the electronics and the battery management and regenerative braking system and it has a lot of the IP to optimise everything for a motorcycle such as this, so we feel we’re starting with an enormous head start. “It would be very easy to take an existing motorcycle and slip a motor and a lot of batteries and I think a few people have done that already and it’s kinda disappointing and it becomes a gas bike that morphs into an electric bike and we’d like to do it as an electric bike from the start … from day one.
“It would be easy to ride something like this – you twist the throttle, and hang on. When you want to slow down, just roll the throttle past zero, depending on how fast you’re going of course (laughs), and the regenerative braking starts turning the momentum back into energy and storing it into the battery.
So how long will it take before we can see a finished prototype in carbon and metal?
“Probably five or six months at a minimum and maybe a few months longer. The point is that it’s all do-able – we’re working with many companies such as Yamaha and Polaris and Vectrix and we have a full crew that’s very suitable for developing and building a bike like this. We have the rapid prototypers, the designers, the technology, industrial designers, the fabricators and so on.
“It’s not whether it can be done, it’s how well it can be done. We have to do some more conceptual homework to finalise the background on the layout of the components – once we’ve done that we’ll go to full-size clay.
“We’re really focussed on the Vectrix scooter right now – maybe next January we’ll have something in metal and carbon that works. But the progress of the development will be well documented and we’re going to keep posting images on the site to keep people up to date with what we’re doing. We’ll also be involving people in the process – we want interaction and opinions and ideas and we’re very receptive to hearing what the motorcycle fraternity wants.
So just what sort of performance can we expect from the rMOTO?
“It’s kind of a balance we need to resolve. We can get a 100 miles an hour, 120 miles an hour bike but then the range of the bike suffers so it’s a matter of starting and knowing that the technologies and different battery chemistries will evolve in time, and probably not very much time at that.
“As battery technology progresses, as it inevitably will, the rMOTO will be a kind of a test bed for the technologies for the Vectrix scooter.
You’ll be incorporating some of the Vectrix regenerative braking system in the rMOTO?
“Yes, the Vectrix regenerative braking is awesome. You don’t need to take your hands off the throttle to get on the brakes like you normally do – it’s one continuous movement and you just roll the throttle back past zero.
“When you’re at a standstill, it also provides you with reverse which is a great idea on a bigger scooter or on a motorcycle where you want to be able to manoeuvre the bike around without having to wrestle it – really handy when you have a pillion on board.
“On a motorcycle it’s a unique feature. It’s a Vectrix patent and they hired us to develop it with their electrical guys – it’s super smooth – it has springs which are bi-directional and it feels very sure and robust. I don’t want to downplay it by saying that it feels typical but it feels like what it should feel like in the normal mode and has that same type of feeling once you go past the detent in the centre and begin decelerating quickly and harvesting the energy.
“What happens is that it changes the electrical fields and starts to charge the battery. It takes the momentum of the motorcycle and effectively harvests the energy contained, or at least some of it, and puts it back into the battery.
“It’s all about conserving energy, because the battery capacity with current battery technologies is limited and we need to make it as efficient as possible.
“The thing about electric motorcycles is that we can make it as fast as you like but the flip side of that is that the range of the motorcycle is severely compromised if we unleash all the power potential.
“If you think that in touring through a populated downtown area – this is an ideal bike. It will look fantastic, with that big electric motor sitting right on the rear wheel, it will have tremendous acceleration. It’s not going to be like having a big gas motor that you need to get it into maximum torque zone before you pop the clutch and then fight to keep it there so you can get maximum acceleration. This baby will have maximum torque at zero sitting right there inside the rear wheel ready to go – I can’t emphasise how fast this bike will accelerate.
Will it be heavier than a normal superbike?
“It depends on what we use and we have some calculating to do before we finalise the first cut of this bike. We are in the infancy of electric vehicles.
“Right now, people look beyond the nearest powerpoint and they don’t know how they will refill an electric motorcycle quickly and efficiently. There are a few but not many hydrogen fuel stations to recharge the fuel cell so it looks kinda barren out there for keeping an electric or fuel cell vehicle mobile, but that will change. I can imagine that the very same thing happened 100 years ago – you can imagine people looking at the first gasoline-powered cars and saying, “ah, it might be alright for downtown, but if you want to go any distance, you need a horse.”
So fuel cells are an option?
There’s every chance we could have a fuel cell on board so that can be topped up without needing to get to an electrical outlet.
“I think in the beginning when the rMOTO is first shown to the market and we’re still in the experimental phase, we’ll see nickel metal hydride batteries. I think at this stage they will be the first batteries we use, but things are happening so rapidly. Working with our partners at Vectrix we’ve seen new technologies that are two-thirds the weight and equal power and less price than what we were using a year ago.
“As a designer and trying to imagine where I can extrapolate this technology, is to build a vehicle like this rMOTO that we can initially we’ll probably put Nickel metal hydrides and then we’ll probably put lithium ion batteries and then who knows what we’ll use in a year or two or three – each time we change the power is going up and the cost and the weight is going down.
“I’d love to see this bike have a consumer version that will get you 100mph and an evening of running around downtown and then there’ll be a version of this thing that’s going to be the exotic superbike and that might have a limited production custom lithium ion batteries and we might see the horsepower of such a motorcycle going off the charts – you could see the Exotic rMOTO running incredible lap times at motorcycle races showcasing the power available from intelligent electronic design.
“I could easily see a fuel cell being used in the RMOTO – it depends on how exotic we want to be – the Vectrix scooter that comes out in the spring of next year is an all electric vehicle but hot on its heels is the fuel cell version. And those things are being worked on today – right now
“In a 12 month period we’ve seen the power go up and price cut in half, the size cut in half. There are so many people in the fuel cell business right now. I think we’ll see fuel cell price performance improvement similar to computer chips (editor: Moore’s Law) for the next few years.
“There’s very interesting opportunity here in showcasing what can be done with electrical power in a two wheel vehicle. You’re not fighting the big powerful automotive companies for attention in this market and a motorcycle is an ideal showcase for the performance.
The RMOTO will be special – this is not just seen as a concept but one we can see developed and manufactured – maybe at the beginning of its life it’s an exotic – but we can see a time when bikes such as the rMOTO are producable and available cost-efficiently for everyone.”