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Hero's 2WD diesel-electric RNT radically rethinks the motorcycle as an all-purpose utility vehicle


February 11, 2014

Hero Motocorp suddenly seems more than capable of replacing Honda's technology, it also seems capable of producing machinery better suited for the emerging market it currently serves, but also of producing truly ingenious solutions that existing long term manufacturers with deeply-rooted R&D structures could simply never envisage.

Hero Motocorp suddenly seems more than capable of replacing Honda's technology, it also seems capable of producing machinery better suited for the emerging market it currently serves, but also of producing truly ingenious solutions that existing long term manufacturers with deeply-rooted R&D structures could simply never envisage.

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Hero Motocorp’s presentation of the RNT hybrid turbo-diesel-electric motorcycle prototype at Auto Expo in New Delhi last week might well begin a whole new phase in the development of the motorcycle as an all-purpose utility vehicle. Most significantly, the RNT offers a range of life solutions well beyond mobility – it's designed to pull a plow or a harvester, carry heavy loads safely and adapt to play a practical role, particularly in rural areas and the developing world.

The RNT has an ultra-frugal 13.5 hp, 150 cc diesel engine which produces 35 Nm of torque at just 1600 rpm, with an optional turbocharger which will more than double both those figures. There’s also an optional front wheel hub motor producing 1.3 hp, giving the bike two-wheel drive. Even more significantly, the RNT’s powerful generator can output 1500 W of 230 V electrical power continuously, making it ideal as a portable power source, and the LED headlight unclips to offer a portable and powerful light source. Large flat loading surfaces front and rear plus numerous mounting handles indicate a long overdue rethink of how the scooter is used in many parts of the world.

The low-cost, cheap-to-run, step-thru scooter has become the default family transportation in many developing countries due to its light weight, low running costs and ease-of-use. While the cost of a scooter in these areas often represents many months, sometimes years of wages, it is still a relatively affordable form of transport and has become an enabler in many ways, playing the dual role of family car and all-purpose haulage vehicle for goods.

In many parts of Asia, Africa, South America and India, the scooter represents more than 90 percent of two-wheel sales, with two-wheelers significantly outselling cars, which are the domain of the wealthy elite.

Hence, Hero Motocorp’s ingenious rethink of the scooter form factor offers significantly more practicality than the existing scooters in the marketplace which have, until now, been adapted from their western design for the many needs of the markets they serve.

The 150cc diesel engine is a first in that it uses a commonly available fuel which is much cheaper than petrol in India, and will likely produce remarkable fuel consumption figures in such a small capacity engine, especially when used in a motorcycle weighing just 136 kg. It’s no coincidence that the only diesel motorcycle which has ever been produced in real numbers was produced by Royal Enfield in India.

The low-grade technology employed by Royal Enfield in making the bikes resulted in noxious halitosis and the model was discontinued some 12 years ago, but the need remains, and with more than a billion people, the Indian Government is in no position to subsidize fuel prices as governments do in the rest of the world. A little known fact is that globally, governments collectively subsidize fuel prices to the tune of half a trillion US dollars annually. This is a machine designed to have a low environmental footprint, not just because it's good for the planet's respiratory system, but because as fuel prices rise, it will offer the lowest possible practical running costs.

Diesel engines are also extremely durable and reliable and the very few examples of diesel motorcycles that have made it to commercial production (see prior examples below) are surrounded by tales of ultra-low running costs and extreme high mileage.

Rural roads in developing areas rarely have good surfaces, so speeds beyond 35-40 mph (60-75 km/h) are often impractical or unsafe, and the further you get from big cities, the worse those roads get. So the RNT’s modest 13.5 hp is entirely adequate for these environments, even though it gives the bike a top speed of just 70 km/h. As scooters in such places are often pressed into service for carrying ridiculously heavy loads, the RNT’s diminutive but torquey motor is again ideal, producing 35Nm of torque at just 1600 rpm. That's a level of torque that sports bikes of double the capacity make at four to five times the RNT's engine speeds.

For places where more power and torque is required, there will be an optional turbocharger for the RNT which will more than double both those figures. Hence, the turbo option is, in effect, a larger capacity version of the same bike, much as traditional manufacturers once produced both a 250cc and 350cc version of the same machine, or a 350cc and 500cc version in earlier times.

The RNT was also announced as having an optional electric front wheel hub motor producing 1.3 hp horsepower, effectively giving the RNT two-wheel drive for slippery unpaved roads – diesel running using rear wheel drive only for less challenging conditions, or electric-only running with front wheel drive for places where silent, economical or emission-free running is important. Research on two-wheel-drive motorcycles done by Yamaha and Ohlins suggests around 10 percent of the rear wheel horsepower is ideal for the front wheel in a two-wheel-drive motorcycle, so the 1.3 hp hub motor seems to reflect that Hero has been keeping up with the Joneses (and Yamahas in this instance).

This enables the RNT to adapt to the particular needs of the moment. In much of the bike’s intended market, this combination of drive options will enable the RNT to cover a range of territories that the traditional scooter, with its internal combustion engine, cannot.

Many of the other design features of the RNT indicate a degree of thought about real world usage of scooter that is well beyond anything in the marketplace. One of the key themes for the RNT is that it offers solutions for life beyond mobility.

The first and most significant is that the RNT’s powerful oversized generator can continuously output 1500 W of 230V electrical power. This enables the RNT to double as a portable diesel generator on wheels – a practical power source for the vast remote tracts of land in the still-developing world that don’t have grid electrical power.

A further ingenious twist is the RNT’s LED headlight which can be easily removed from the bike to serve as a powerful and portable light source – another feature sure to appeal to people who do not have electrical power connected at home, or who wish to work, camp or play somewhere off-the-grid. It also means that whatever you're doing, wherever you're doing it, you can keep doing it after the sun goes down.

Perhaps the most interesting change evident in the RNT is that its low-speed, low-fuss, economical motor is also designed as a workhorse – the RNT is a two-wheeled “iron horse” beyond the loading surfaces front and rear designed to carry lots of things.

Amongst the many features of the RNT is that the frame has been designed to be easily extendable with multiple built-in mountings for attachments to suit the user’s needs and there is provision for the bike to attach both a plow and a harvester – Hero is obviously thinking well outside the purview of current motorcycle manufacturers in addressing the needs of the developing world.

Why has the diesel motorcycle been so long in coming?

Considering the virtues of Rudolf Diesel’s famous variant of the internal combustion engine, and the recent massive advances in overcoming its previous shortcomings, it is quite astonishing that there have been so few diesel motorcycles built.

Royal Enfield is the only company to have ever produced a series production diesel motorcycle, with Hayes Diesel technology of the United States and the Russian-made Dnepr vying for a distant second in total numbers produced.

Hayes has only ever sold its Kawasaki KLR 600/650 mutants to the American Armed Forces, so that might offer some idea of the miniscule number of diesel motorcycles produced to date, particularly in comparison to the hundreds of millions of two-wheelers powered by the internal combustion engine that have been sold to the public in the last 125 years.

Hayes also has a production diesel motorcycle planned for civilian use named the Bulldog, which like its military cousin, will be based on the Kawasaki and use a 667 cc diesel engine producing 35 hp at 5400 rpm and offering 43 ft-lbs of torque at 3300 rpm. The bike has been delayed because military needs keep increasing, but if you're in the market for an off-road diesel, you can sign up for information on the Bulldog when it becomes available at the HDTUSA web site.

Of all the diesel motorcycles we’ve ever mentioned in 12 years of producing Gizmag, we can only find one other marque still operating: Kiel-based Neander Motorcycles produces a 1340cc air- and oil-cooled twin producing 112 hp at 4200 rpm and a whopping 214 Nm of torque at 2600 rpm – that’s the sort of grunt that was until recently only associated with a V8 automobile engine. Despite the heavy metal nature of the beast, it still delivers fuel economy of 4.5 liters per 100 km from its turbo-diesel engine which uses twin counter-rotating cranks to sooth its inner demon.

Rudolf Diesel’s native Germany is still the undisputed heartland of diesel motorcycles with a number of small boutique manufacturers producing handfuls of hand-built motorcycles. We're not sure if this concentration of diesel manufacturers is because the practicality, durability and frugality of the diesel somehow appeals to the Teutonic mindset, or if it's some by-product of the German education system which quite rightly eulogizes the genius of Rudolf Diesel.

The best-known of the German boutique brands are Dieselwiesel and Sommer which have respectively produced 200 motorcycles and 130 motorcycles to date.

Current offerings from Dieselwiesel are all based around a 7 kW, 406 cc single weighing 149 kg and costing under EUR10,000.

Sommer diesels are still available, but don't plan on getting one any time soon. The company has produced around 130 motorcycles and has unfilled orders for the next 80 machines it produces, so the waiting list already stretches well into 2015 production for the company's 8 kW, 462cc machine, which retails for EUR9200.

Sadly, the Star Twin ThunderStar 1200 TDI is no longer in production. The bike used a heavily modified 1.2-litre Volkswagen diesel engine producing 70 hp and 160 Nm torque.

One machine that has the potential to replace the Star Twin ThunderStar 1200 TDI on your wishlist if you are a superbike enthusiast with a penchant for something very different and diesel is the Dieselfighter – essentially a Volkswagen Golf 1600cc diesel engine in a Kawasaki GPZ 1000 RX frame and running gear. Once again, the bike is of German manufacture, and orders are built upon customer request, though the company that produced the Dieselfighter will build you anything you wish, using the frame and motor of your choice.

The Dutch-built Track Diesel is another that might cease to exist, with a final production run of 800 cc three cylinder diesel motorcycles having been recently completed. The company web site states that it is not producing motorcycles any more, but there are also indications of the coming of a diesel electric hybrid motorcycle.

When we contacted Track Diesel to enquire, the reply was equally as noncommittal: "On the E-TRACK we cannot give more info. And maybe never will. We now build only on special customers request. No production planned whatsoever!"

Which brings us back to the original question. There doesn't seem to be a logical reason why the diesel engine hasn't found its way into many more two wheelers. Diesel engines are now in the majority of new cars sold in Europe, yet only a few hundred diesel motorcycles are produced in the entire world each year. Perhaps it's that motorcycles are significantly more fuel-efficient than cars and the oil crisis hasn't materialized as yet. Readers are welcome to share their views on this matter in the comments section below.

Finally, the Hero RNT is not a definite production machine at this point in time, but it represents such a quantum leap in motorcycle design that its production and proliferation seems inevitable.

For Hero Motocorp, it's a coup of considerable magnitude. The company that just four years ago was faced with the herculean task of replacing the design and manufacturing expertise of the world's largest and most technologically-sophisticated motorcycle company by the end of 2014 when its relationship with Honda broke up, now seems more than up to the task.

Indeed, Hero seems also seems capable of designing and producing machinery better suited for the emerging market it currently serves than its former partner, but also of producing truly ingenious solutions that existing long term manufacturers with deeply-rooted R&D; structures could simply never envisage.

Bravo Hero Motocorp for thinking outside the square.

The company's promo video for the RNT concept is below.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon

theres also the altuis scimitar (which seems to have disappeared), that was actually reviewed by a motorcycle magazine. the market is there for an offroad diesel production bike, and it still surprises me that one hasnt materialised.

Rowan Brown

Too bad they went with the expensive electric system for the hybrid especially for the third world.


What a lovely read, thank you very much for this awesome article!

Great project and concept. However: One does have to realize that all this effort of having a dual drive (Diesel and electric) only has one advantage over a pure electric, solar-charged drive: Range. For now.

But that range comes at the expense of having to buy fuel, and having to deal with a considerably iffier system (combustion engine) than with a solar powered battery system. Helping rural communities lastingly means getting them of that infusion of outside energy, aka oil.

The solar cell power price is getting real lower and lower, we are approaching a dollar per watt (for small consumers, large have long passed that) and that means the 1500 watts this hybrid produces can be permanently supplied with a one-time $1500 investment (I'm really simplifying things here but you get the point). Those 1500 bucks will be recouped by savings for (hard currency) spendings on fuel, which would essentially never stop. Being dependent on buying oil is economically deadly, the poorer the people, the deadlier. It's the gun on their head that never goes away.

Within a few battery generations (I say 10 years) we will see a new situation for these kinds of things: Solar electric is easier, cheaper, more versatile, and longer lasting than everything else. Not there quite yet, but mark my words. It's quiet. It doesn't stink. No seizing pistons. No issues from dirty fuel. I could go on and on...


I would like to second BeWalt's sentiments and thank Mike Hanlon for a very informative article. I learned a lot from reading it, as I am sure will many others.

Mel Tisdale

Diesel work bike plus generator: not a new concept,


The Eco-Rider failed because it was positively dangerous to ride. After a go on it on a farm I refused to get back on it.

The Hero looks a bit more rider-friendly!

Doug MacLeod

I've seen a lot of working motorcycles, and the Hero does address many real issues, but traction is not one I've noticed. KISS.

Bob Stuart

Good concept, particularly the racks and mounts. Some thoughts: * 1.5 kW is nice to have, but really not big enough. Need 3 to 5 kW option.

Need direct mechanical power take-off for farm machinery. A high-capacity water pump add- on would be perhaps even more useful than plow and harvester. (Could be used for amphibious conversion, too.)

The headlight needs to be removable only with the key. A small, marginally-adequate permanently built-in headlight is needed in addition; the vehicle will certainly sometimes be operated without the main headlight at night.

Two or more transverse mounting holes connected to the frame at the bottom of the bike and running all the way through from one side to the other would allow pipe or pole racks to be attached. The mounts should have cross - bolts or other means to lock the pipe frame pieces in place. A couple other pieces of common hardware would allow connecting outrigger/ lengthwise pipes to the cross pieces which run through the bike. This would allow carrying truckloads of material on the bike.


I'm pretty sure Hayes Diesel has given up production of the Bulldog, regardless of what their website says. They've had that "production delayed" statement on their website for years.

Keith Lamb

Having owned two undependable lead-acid battery-powered electric scooters (I was an optimist), and reading about the problems Nissan Leaf owners and Boeing have with their far more sophisticated batteries, I'm convinced that batteries are just not durable enough to replace internal combustion. Hybrids are better since the combustion engine acts as a generator to protect the batteries from overly deep discharge. Capacitors or fuel cells (or some radically new battery design) may offer a better solution in the future, but until then, hybrids are a great way to reduce oil consumption.

I was really interested in the Bulldog back in 2005, but when I contacted Hayes I was put off by the high price - around $15k, which is more than double what a donor KLR 650 costs.

I'm very impressed with this new Hero design. Having spent some time in India and Vietnam, I've seen how people use scooters to transport loads that boggle western minds, simply because cars and trucks are too expensive for most locals to own.

I recall reading that Hero Motorcorp and Erik Buell Racing formed a partnership in 2012. Not to take anything away from Hero's role, but was EBR involved in the RNT's development? This new design is so radically out-of-the-box it practically screams "Buell!" :)

Suman Subramanian

I can see having a wide front end (3 wheel version) with carrying capacity, perhaps electric assist... especially if it would regenerative brake and charge batteries.


how much does it cost?

seems like would be about 4x what a 2 cycle would be

also 1500 watts is only 2 horsepower seems like any gas engine could drum up 10 or 15 with no problem

plus i also think batteries never really work for anything :) or if they do, they cost 4x what anything else would replacements, short life, low range, power , etc

Larry English

As readable as this article is the author overlooked something rather important: The ability of the company and it's product to sustain themselves in the marketplace after all the ooowing and aaahing have ceased. If you would like to see what this bike will become, should it ever become anything at all then take a ride on a Rokon. The machine has been around for more than 50 years and just keeps getting better. Playing to the low end market may sound like a good idea but someone has to carry the freight, and you wont find that person in under developed countries.


I think it's a great idea, but try carrying 3 or 4 people on a motorcycle in the U.S. and you'll get busted by the cops in about 1 minute!


The batteries are coming! A good way to harness impatience is to start designing motorcycles and scooters for small, powerful, safe batteries now, so the designs are otherwise ready to go in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, in cultures which use a lot of cooking oil, the diesel engine can run straight used, filtered vegetable oil in hot climates, and biodiesel in colder climates. Better than free, because it avoids a waste to manage, and carbon neutral.

Mark Roest

An important part of a vehicle like this is mechanical simplicity, the user must be able to tinker with/service/repair. Will see what reading I can find on the engine, as that's possibly the weak link. Otherwise if you've seen what scooters are used for this would be one PIMPED and PRACTICAL version and I'm a big fan of 2wd for 2 wheels. Nice article Mike :)

Craig Jennings

Thanks Mike for another superb article. You deserve a Walkley. Still waiting for a decent production diesel touring bike. You've summarized the state of play perfectly.


Just goes to show how right Honda got it with the CT90 aka Aussie Postie bike !

Martin Hone

Given that a motorbike is already 200 times more polluting than a car, due to its lack of a catalytic converter etc (see http://josiah.berkeley.edu/MiniProjects/MotorcyclePollution.html and http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/30/mythbusters-on-cars-vs-motorcycles-which-is-greener/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0), creating a DIESEL bike seems like an even worse idea, environmentally. Diesel cars are starting to produce lower pollution than earlier diesel vehicles, thanks to strict US emission controls (vs more lax European ones). But that is thanks to lots of extra technology that won't fit on a bike.

So a diesel bike seems a fairly unsustainable choice, based on current technology.


What an interesting concept! I would love to buy one. Power source built-in for emergency need and Diesel engine with electric motor assist are awesome. I would probably attach extra 2 wheels I. The back for more traction when pulling a small trailer.


The battery-alone idea supported by some of the previous posters is not that practical - yet! The problem remains of battery capacity plus battery carrying capacity of the bike. It is no good getting a few kms out of a town only to find the remote village has no power, so no means of charging up again to get back! Solar panels are too slow. Diesel power, even with small instillations like this (no room for urea injection process or catalysts) cannot be more polluting than the millions of two-stroke machines in 3rd world countries. Add to this the probable use of cooking oils when plain diesel is in short supply and they should sell well.

The Skud

This would be a great farm bike with knobby tyres! 2WD for creeks and you can take your power tools


13.5 hp from 150cc naturally aspirated diesel? I don't think so. 35 Nm torque from 150cc? That's a BMEP of 29 Bar - I don't think so.

Perhaps the 150cc is a misprint?

Tony Morris

I dunno much about motorcycles but a Diesel electric hybrid motorbike sounds like a good idea. A 1500 watt generator is ideal for rural homes during power cuts or disasters. Good amount of load can be carried. I see this vehicle used by pizza delivery people due to its fuel economy as well as partially lit villages in India. I am sceptical about its applications in farming but 1500 watts can run a decent sized water pump during emergencies. It is also one hell of a survivalist's motorcycle. Fit two pontoons on either side and a propeller to an electric motor and you have a decent motorboat to use after floods or hurricanes. I almost can't believe that this concept originated in India.

Vikas Vimal

Excellent article. Very informative. Very Well written. ThanQ ! I have some experience of Diesel bike having owned one for two years. Bike was made by Royal Enfield India, the makers of the iconic Bullet motorcycle. I think it was @ 350/400 cc diesel engine, an Indian made Greaves- -Lombardini engine if I am not mistaken, mounted on a Bullet chassis. Top speed was 80 kmph and fuel consumption was 80 km per liter, at a time when diesel was Rs.8/- per liter. Pickup was slower than a bicycle for the first 150 meters. Even a person on foot could outrun it for 70 meters. But the fuel economy was fantastic. The headlight was the most powerful of all bikes at that time - 45 watts if I remember correctly. My test report was published in Auto India magazine at that time. The design was invented by an engineer named Pradeep Dani, who still runs a motorcycle workshop off Law College Road in Pune India.

Dilip Bam

Love the idea. It'll never make it to the US shores. Would be easy to run it on bio-diesel here in the US.


I think Mark Roest saw the obvious advantage of the diesel motor cycle.

Bio diesel is something even small villages could pull off to make them partially or even wholly independent on Big Oil. This place is so full of battery heads that are ready to write off the internal combustion engine. Folks the ICE is going to be around for a VERY long time so stop writing it's obituary.

We are at least 30 years behind on electrical powered vehicles that I read were "just around the corner" 50 years ago. They have gotten somewhere but not far. The other thing is where does that power come from in the US? Much of it from coal and petrol power plants. With the inevitable line loss it is not as economical as just pouring the petrol in the tank! Frankly I think the present state of electric vehicles is embarrassing. We keep getting promised so much and yet it is a mess.

I follow Formula One closely. In the past two years you could count the number of these highly stressed engines on one hand. At the same time there are problems with the "KERS" electric systems in every single race. These are the best engineers in the world working with nearly unlimited budgets and they can not get these things right yet.

As unlikely as it is to appeal to me the Hero is a very good step towards independence of the societies that use scooters for pick up trucks. Add in Bio Diesel and suddenly it looks even better.


"In many parts of Asia, Africa, South America and India..."

You do realize that India is not a continent, and that it actually is a part of Asia? On an east to west map, smack dab in the middle? It's OK, I forgive you, common mistake that Americans make, equating "Asia" with "China".

That said, excellent article. Obviously, some of the concepts will not make it to production, and others will need to be fine-tuned, but as Mike Hanlon notes, it's nice to see a major motorcycle manufacturer think outside the box, especially in terms of the emerging markets' needs. One of the readers mentioned that 1500W is less than 2 hp, but in India's rural hinterland, many farmers use 1-2 hp motors, and with the iffy power supply, it's nice for them to have a potential backup. Wouldn't do to have your crops withering in your 2-acre vegetable patch because power was diverted to run the jacuzzi motors of the wealthy in the big cities.


Will the Hero be available in Canada?


Small diesel bike! A workhorse for poor folks! my question: can it run on home grown bio-diesel? huge advantage for the very poor nations and breaks the u.S. Petro Dollar "Skim' on fuel? Even give some independence?

Bruce Miller

Nice article Mike! I want one!

@Vivek Our revered Gizmag founder is not American, he's Australian. Or maybe Australasian would be more correct.

But it's always humourous to see how many Americans automatically think gizmag is their creation. It's not.

Matrix Key Systems

We. Will. NEVER. Be. Allowed. To. Buy. One. In. The. U.S.A. :( Our government can't afford the loss of sales tax dollars to people who would buy these and make their own fuel, building their own trike/truck tuktuks around the power source. Fuel tax and sales tax is a massive source of revenue for state governments. We biatch like hell when taxes or fees are raised, but no one says "boo" to the massive raise in revenue the states got when the prices of gas double in the last five years! Anyone here want to calculate the sales tax revenue produced for the state of california when gas went from $1.89 to $3.89 a gallon? Times the number of gallons sold per year? Shush . . . Shush . . . Back to sleep . . .

PickleMan Pickles

I think the key isn't to try to sell the Hero as the Hero in the US -- that involves building up distributor chains, dealerships, etc. Instead, they should license the design to a company that already has a reputation for building small, tough equipment for rural use. The first company that sprang to mind is John Deere, partly because they have a factory close to where I live, and partly because they not only produce things like lawn mowers and tractors, but also the Gator and Mule utility equipment. Something like the Hero, marketed as "very small farm/utility vehicle" would be right up their market alley.

A growing market sector is the "prepper" (emergency preparedness) community, which would love to have something like this available. Being able to use it as a portable electric generator AND a transport AND a high-powered light source would appeal to emergency responder services in a number of the smaller communities around here.

So I think this could be a really big item here in the US. It all depends on the marketing.


Never ridden a motorbike in all my life, just curious to see if a diesel bike actually existed, to my amazement I find this little bute.

with a gene on board and a bigger engine, how about a side car combination, ideal for touring and a survival pod for sleeping.

get the production lines rolling send em over to UK theyl sell like hot cakes.

kind regards and good luck.

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