An electric bike from Brooklyn

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The pretty cafe racer you’re looking at is based around a downsized-version of a Norton Featherbed frame and fitted with brushed aluminum bodywork. But, the motor isn’t an ancient parallel-twin, it’s electric. It’s the first prototype from a new startup that’s trying to design the perfect electric motorcycle for New York, then build and sell it in Brooklyn.

We sat down with Jim Carden and Wes Cox of Brooklyn Motorized to discuss their vision for New York’s two-wheeled future.

Photos: Grant Ray

Wes: “Do you acknowledge the electronicness of your motorcycle with the aesthetics and just totally embrace it and make it plasticy and CPU-looking or do you say no, we’re going to try and keep the grease and the gasoline smell about this thing somehow?”

Jim: “We saw an opportunity to do a motorcycle that was really geared towards ubran use. Something that was really catering to riders in the city. People who are running errands and commuting. Something a little different that what was already out there.”

“The original idea was not electric. We were going to do an ICE motorcycle that was much small, much shorter, with a much lower seat height. Just something that was more nimble for getting in and out of traffic, but had an aesthetic that was different from the scooters that were out there. That was the very original impetus. Then we realized there was an opportunity to do something that was electric.”

Wes: “I think electric is something a lot of small companies are jumping on because you can do things with electric motorcycles that you couldn’t do with internal combustion engines.

Jim: “When we looked at the competition and what was out there, we realized that no electric motorcycle would work in an urban environment because you have to plug in in a garage. The vast majority of people that live in urban areas are not going to have a garage. So, that’s when we had the idea to have a portable, removable battery pack.”

There’s a removable battery pack on each side. Each weighs 20lbs, meaning it’ll be easy to carry them into your apartment for charging. Wes wants to find a better visual solution for the motor, something which aesthetically makes it a stronger mechanical component.

Wes: “I do think there’s a sort of East Coast/West Coast mentality with this as far as the opportunity to use something like the Brammo Empulse. Maybe not in San Francisco maybe not in Portland, but in a lot of West Coast cities I wouldn’t want removable battery packs because they’re sprawl cities. But, in dense cities like New York or Boston, the removable battery pack is really attractive.”

“It’s always been puzzling to me why there’s not a lot of small city bikes compared to what there was historically and what there is in the rest of the world. You’re really kind of stuck with vintage bikes if you want something small. Now, you only have scooters or stuff that looks like the Ninja 250, which doesn’t really look like what a bike for the city should look like.”

“We’ve really been pushing the limits of how short we can get this wheelbase. It’s 52 and a quarter inches. That’s going to mean you’re going to be able to cut in and out of traffic and pull S’s through cars in midtown. This thing is designed to lane split.”

“I’m pretty tall, but there’s a lot of people who have a hard time with the tall seats. Ours is 30 inches, you’re going to be able to put both feet down at traffic lights. It’s really light weight too, 230lbs. That’s great because you can just throw this thing around.”

“I think Yamaha’s going to be the one that really pushes it on the electric side. When they come out, I think what they’ll have will be shocking. So, how do we survive when these big companies come out with an electric bike? We’re going to focus on the group of people they’ll leave behind.”

“How do you get to motorcycleness? It’s a funny term, but how do we make this thing really a motorcycle and land there aesthetically? I don’t think you get there with a high-tech approach. There’s already circuit boards in your motorcycle, which is kind of strange. So, to make this thing a consumer electronic transportation device is not what we wanted to do with the aesthetic. We wanted to somehow weave it into the history of motorcycles, to bridge the gap between 110 years of motorcycle history and where we’re going.”

“When I looked at it, I realized that new motorcycle are working in volume. A volume that’s been shaped and articulated in certain ways. But, if you look through the Gugenheim’s Art of the Motorcycle book, what you see in all those motorcycles is that they’re a collection of parts. Instead of being a slab sided volume, you have this part and this part and this part, often coming from different suppliers. That collection of parts has been put together in an artful way and that’s what makes the motorcycle that we think of when we think ‘motorcycle.’”

“Look at the Brammo Enertia, which is about voume, then look at the Brammo empulse and you see them tracing back to a collection of parts, there’s more of a distinct identity which makes it look more like a motorcycle. That’s what I think Ducati has done so beautifully, they’re still a collection of parts with the steel trellis frame and you can see the motor.”

“But, we don’t have an exhaust pipe, we don’t have carbs, we don’t have a cylinder head. We’re working with so little.”

The “tank” is actually a glovebox that has room for, well, your gloves as well as the fusebox and any other frequently accessed service items. Sitting on the bike, it’s very short and impossibly slim. But, even at my 6′ 2″ height, it still feels comfortable.

Jim: “There’s a lot of iconic elements that just aren’t available. So, we’re sort of forced to make a decision — do you sort of go off on a tangent and create something completely its own aesthetically or do you weave in the past? That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Wes: “We plan assembly here in NY, in the same facility that will sell the bikes, here in Gowanus.”

“We live here and we want to keep control of it. What we see with a new product line like this is that there’s a huge value in having the engineers shoulder to shoulder with the salesmen that are dealing with the guy they sold it to last week. If he’s got a problem, then the engineers can see the problem.”

“From an evolutionary standpoint, our product will benefit from from that close relationship. The engineers, salesmen and customers will all be in the same spot, having the same conversation. What that will enable us to do is go from a good motorcycle to a really great city motorcycle really quickly. Really hit the niche perfectly.”

“We are in a bit of a niche, targeting this urban consumer. If we were engineering it and styling it and selling it somewhere else or all in different places, then our ability to evolve and innovate would really diminish.”

“Electric motorcycle are relatively easy to design. As we mature, we’re going to discover that we have the ability to come up with new bikes very quickly. That’s really exciting, because we have this freedom to come up with a product that only needs to sell a couple thousand instead of tens of thousands. So maybe we can have a product family of a moped, this bike and all different types that all fit Brooklyn and other cities really well.”

“Designing a bike for the city, we’re addressing safety as much as we can. We’re going to have a headlight modulator, a strobe, which is something that was just recently legislated in New York. We’re also going to have a noise maker that you can active and deactivate.

We’ve been kind of debating the baseball card in the spokes concept. Can you make tis noise mechanically or do you make it electronically? We haven’t decided, but I think we will probably have just one sound. It’s not going to be like a ringtone. When you here a Volkswagen Bug coming, you know what it is. I think there’s something really great in that.”

Wheelbase: 52.25 inches
Weight: 230lbs
Wheels: 17 inch
Seat Height: 30 inches
Battery packs: two, 20lbs removable battery packs
Charge time: one hour at 110v for 80 percent charge, 3-4 hours for 100 percent
Range: 35 miles
Top speed: 60mph
Battery capacity: 2-2.75kWh
Price: $5,999 plus a 10 percent New York tax credit
Availability: Summer, 2012

Brooklyn Motorized

  • Felix

    So how do you stop people from stealing it?

    I wouldn’t leave a $6k bicycle chained up outdoors in front of my building, and this is going to be just as easy to steal since it’s going to weigh nothing with the batteries removed…

    • BeastIncarnate

      I’d assume the same way you stop people from stealing any smaller bike or scooter. Weight isn’t much of a deterrent.

      What the answer to that is? I’m not sure. Locks galore, chains all over the place, perhaps a hired guard.

    • Case

      If it’s going to weigh ‘nothing’ with the batteries removed, why not take it inside? I understand you can’t haul it up 8 flights of stairs, but unless your building has a no-bikes rule you could bring it inside.

    • aristurtle

      A loud-as-hell alarm powered by a small auxillary battery? I dunno, I’m just throwing ideas out there.

      I’m guessing the battery packs are at least half the cost of the whole bike anyway. Figure a replacement for the remainder of the bike is $3K, that’s generally the theft insurance amount provided with most heavy-duty bike locks.

    • Wes Siler

      Well, with the battery out, think about how easy it’s going to be to get a heavy duty chain through the frame. Can’t do that on a sportsbike.

  • BeastIncarnate

    I didn’t realize until the end that the “Wes” quoted here is not the HFL author. I kept thinking, “Geez, he didn’t even bother to designate when the other guy is talking. And why does his side of the conversation come off like a commercial?”

    Reading comprehension. It’s not just for kids anymore.

    • Mdynamic

      I was in the same boat. haha

      • Wereweazle

        Agreed. Confusing as hell.

        • ike6116


    • Wes Siler

      It’s alright, I always find it bizarre to meet anyone else named Wes. There’s really not many of us.

  • Glenngineer

    Decent idea, execution is making me through up in my mouth…a lot.

  • JonB

    Hell yes. Subbed to their email list.

  • Mark D

    $6k? $6k?! For an honest-to-goodness American made electric that looks like a Norton and rides as easily as a scooter?

    Shut up and take my money.

    • Taco

      Oh hell yes. Loving this bike.

  • Brammofan

    I’d be a little concerned that I’d look like a giant on it. I’m already a little concerned about that on my Brammo Enertia, but I’ve asked disinterested third parties and they assure me everything looks good and proportional. The wheelbase of the Brooklyn is 52 inches and damned if I can’t find the wheelbase of the Enertia. It’s 81.5 inches overall, with 18 inch wheels on the front and 17 inch wheels on the back… but the overall length includes the tires so do the math. The Enertia seat height is 32 inches.
    Anyway, I like the looks of the Brooklyn. Glad they’re finally showing it off.

    • noone1569

      My XB12R has a wheelbase of 52, and I am no little guy. However, I don’t look like a giant on it.

  • Myles

    “I think Yamaha’s going to be the one that really pushes it on the electric side. When they come out, I think what they’ll have will be shocking.”


  • casey

    if it does well and they can afford to R&D it down to 4k I could see this thing selling like hotcakes. the charge time isn’t bad, the distance is decent, and the aesthetics are there.

    Heres to early adopters, and the hope that this gets better with age.

  • skadamo

    I would pay for the customer/salesman/engineer relationship. That would be a huge selling point for any motorcycle. Nice change from “10 levels of handwashing” between CEO and customer for most mc brands.

    I just hope they plan a good customer education class because there are a lot of not-so-savey folks out there. 2 words… idiot proof. (no offense, this demographic includes me)

    • skadamo

      …also, that will build a very valuable sense of community and being part of a group. Many customers love to help build something. MFR’s just don’t give them a chance. (see levels of handwashing)

  • james

    which part looks like a Norton?? Seriously the only thing this resembles is a FS-1E maybe.

    • HammSammich

      I don’t think that they were saying it “looked” like a Norton, but rather that it was based on a Featherbed-style frame, which seems fairly accurate when you compare the two frames side by side.

      • Wes Siler

        Indeed, it’s a downsized Featherbed design.

      • Surj

        Hmm… it’s a simple frame that shares some basic characteristics with the Featherbed design, I guess. But the whole “based on a Featherbed” thing seems like name-dropping to create buzz. Unless I’m missing something. It’s an interesting bike, but the name-dropping bugs me. This thing has nothing to do with old Nortons.

        • Wes Siler

          They actually took a featherbed frame design and scaled it down a little bit. It’s not name dropping, it’s what they did.

          Look at this image of a featherbed, paying particular attention to how the headtube is attached. That’s the big deal on the featherbed.

          The big difference is that they added some angle at the rear to accommodate the motor and the subframe is a bit simpler.

          • Surj

            Thanks for that clarification – it makes more sense now. That’s not really visible in the photos – it just looks like a “scaled down version” of any number of simple double loop frames, and as you said, the subframe is pretty different.

          • Felix

            What’s the advantage of this arrangement?

            • Wes Siler

              The downtube at the front of the featherbed frame is very far forwards and very upright, maximizing space inside the frame.

              It’s that internal volume which made the featherbed such a popular base for custom bikes, it could fit virtually any engine or, in this case, a bunch of batteries.

              • gregc

                Awesome. New motto:
                “HFL: Our comments section is more informative than your whole blog”

                • Wes Siler

                  Such is life.

  • HammSammich

    Aesthetically, it kind of reminds me of my dad’s rusty old ’67 Bridgestone 350.

  • Peter88

    After seeing the Deus 225 Scorpio I was thinking that an electric bike should have that type of aesthetic. And viola! Here it is. It looks cool.

  • Mattro

    i really like the instant-upgradeability of the modular battery packs. obviously, upgrading the power supply is possible with all electric motorcycles, but the ease of doing so is intriguing.

    maybe even a point when having a set to charge and a set to run on if scale leads to that being economically feasible.

  • Emmet

    very interesting, but is this an early prototype? The way the front brake line is zip-tied to the fork leg and the front turn signal brackets seem a little rough…

    btw the brushed aluminum looks RAW. Thumbs up!

    • Wes Siler

      Ha, it’s a prototype that’s done a bunch of miles.

  • Mattro

    kind of interesting that right after i read this article, i stumbled upon a short video interview/feature on the guy who invented the digital camera, steven sasson. something he said was very applicable, here:

    “the key, i think, to dealing with a new idea is to understand the culture you’re dealing with, first and foremost. put everything very much like the culture’s used to and then put only the essential elements of your idea out there so that it doesn’t get confused; doesn’t become something that might complicate the concept.”


    • Wes Siler

      Great video.

  • BuellDoc

    Could HFL do an article on the Sora by Lito Green Motion? This is an Electric Bike on Steroids..Size,Weight and looks.

    • Wes Siler

      Ha, no. We don’t report on vaporware.

  • stempere

    Wait where are the comments dubbing it the hipstermobile or something?

    This is exactly the kind of bike i’m looking for: small, removable battery, cheap (sub 4.5ke is a really good pricerange) to commute in paris (i have a 2.5 miles commute so range is no issue) and keep my corsaro for the weekends.

    Bring it to europe! I’d buy one cash today.

    I have a question also, not the first time i was wondering about buying an electric and bringing it here. We have 230V here, does it mean charging time would be cut in half (with some modification obviously)?

    • HammSammich

      I’m no electrician, but I beleive the charging time could only be affected by the available amperage and although the European Electrical systems operate at higher voltage, I’m doubtful that they have significantly more current. Realstically, you would probably have to use some sort of converter for the charger anyway.

  • Gene

    That looks pretty sweet, and it could get me to work and back in Florida.

    How do the electrics deal with rain?

    • Wes Siler

      Electric motorcycles aren’t affected by rain and/or other weather. You can take Zeros through water crossings or whatever same as you can a normal bike.

    • Brammofan

      I’ve ridden my Brammo in the rain. My wife told me not to drive, but I made it home alive. So she said “that only proves that you’re insane.”

      • BeastIncarnate

        She may be wrong for all you know.

        • Brammofan

          Yeah, but she may be right.

          By the way, would this be the appropriate bike to ride through somewhere dangerous, alone? For example, Bedford-Stuy? I’ve heard that walking through there alone is a sign of madness.

          • Wes Siler

            All of NY is sanitized now. Harry, you could wander around in a giant “I am a white man from the midwest who’s a corporate lawyer for the federal government t-shirt” and people would probably give you a wide berth as a fringe element. Just don’t get pulled over by the cops, they’re really the only risk you run here.

  • Ed

    I think these guys did a nice job balancing the “parts” and the whole — tricky to do when there are fewer parts. I’d buy one.

    As for anti-theft, I’m no city dweller, but a bike this small could be taken upstairs in the elevator and parked in the Apartment like a bike, no?

    • Wes Siler

      Bringing a bike inside an apartment isn’t a reality for most people. Seriously though, with its batteries out, this thing will be insanely easy to lock up securely. Just run a chain through the frame.

      • Brammofan

        You, of course, are not “most people.” Care to comment on the ease of bringing the Zero into your apartment?

        • Wes Siler

          Even then, I had to grease some palms.

      • Kim Scholer

        And who will want to steal it without the batteries anyway?