Electric Voltra concept paves the way for sexy next-gen motorcycle design
By Loz Blain
December 1, 2009
As we wrote in last week's article about the ECOS Harbinger, one of the best things about electric vehicles is that they're much simpler in many ways than a petrol vehicle to build. Freed from the necessities of fuel tanks, airboxes, cooling systems, exhausts and the bulky combustion motor itself, designers are going to be able to start with a pretty blank sheet when it comes to designing tomorrow's electric motorcycles. Take the Voltra, a design study by Aussie student Dan Anderson - with its low-slung, bulldog looks, a seat unit that looks like it's floating on air, detachable dash and an engine-mounted swingarm pivot. It's a filthy sexy bike - and yet unlike anything we've seen before; a blue-sky reinvention of the motorcycle based on the new rules the electric age is going to bring in.
Electric transport has captured the imaginations of the eco-minded among us, but if you're going to sell electric motorcycles in any decent numbers, you're going to have to give them a serious injection of desirability.
Performance in itself can make a bike desirable, but electrics won't be able to offer the stratospheric power-to-weight ratios of modern sportsbikes until battery technology has taken another few strides forward. And while electric will offer immediate practicality in a commuting sense, motorcycles are still viewed as toys by most western consumers, so they'll need to be able to comfortably run a 600km day before most riders will see them as reasonable options for sporty scratching.
But one thing they'll certainly be able to compete on is design. Removing all the dirty, complicated trimmings that a combustion engine requires can open the door for a range of design options the bike world has simply never seen before. In performance terms, mass centralization and targeted mass distribution will take huge leaps forward, which should pave the way for sensational handling, but there's every chance that first- and second-generation electrics will be able to sell themselves on looks alone.
Dan Anderson's Voltra is a great example of the kind of electric that's going to start light bulbs going off in the minds and loins of even the staunchest petrolheads. From any angle, this thing is absolutely stunning.
Without a fuel tank, Anderson was free to bolt the entire subframe to the front end of the bike, leaving the seat and tail unit floating in air above the rear wheel, and making the sharply angled rear shock uniquely accessible through the gaping space in front of the seat.
The engine drives directly to the front sprocket, and its casing appears to rotate as the swingarm pivot. The "tank"-mounted dash is removable, doubling as the bike's ignition key and storing a decent range of information - as well as offering control over selectable power modes that let you choose between giggles and mileage at the throttle.
The batteries, the bulkiest part of any electric, are slung low and forward in the bike's belly, and are kept out of sight by a beefy plastic side fairing - which begs the question, what would you call this thing? With no front fairing, it's not a sportsbike - but then, despite the sharp front headlight unit, with those plastic side covers it's not a naked or a streetfighter.
Whatever label you'd put on it, this is one clean design and one hot ride that would turn heads at any bike meet. We applaud Dan's efforts on this bike and hope he gets a chance to build it one day - for the moment it's just his final year thesis project in an Industrial Design degree. But it's eminently buildable, and a great example of what the electric era might bring to bike design. Bring it on!