If you want an electric motorcycle designed right, you’ve got to design it yourself

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Ever since I saw the first modern electric scooters in the middle of last decade, I’ve felt the time was right to start approaching motorcycle design like that of an airplane, integrating the body, frame and battery into the same structure. Doing so can drastically reduce size, weight and complication, all of which I hope I’ve achieved with this, the Amarok P1. Unlike the giants it will race against in the TTXGP series this year, it’s the size and weight of a 250GP bike. I’m hoping it goes like one too.

Photos: Arash Moallemi

The Amarok concept has been long in coming. It started forming in my head when as a 23 year old I arrived in Europe and discovered that small, lightweight motorcycles were far more fun to ride than big, powerhouse superbikes, and ultimately made for better riding and riders. It continued while I worked for GK Design, where designing for Yamaha meant being educated by masters and the virtues of balancing power with agility, handling, economics and safe operation. It culminated in late 2007 when I witnessed and had an opportunity to ride the Vectrix scooter, the first modern electric production motorcycle, and saw for myself the enormous potential that electrification held for an industry trapped by involution; a long and enviable heritage but one that ultimately enforces technical traditions and dogma.

After I left Bombardier Recreational Products in 2009, I searched for something to do that would have meaning for me personally, but also something that would make an impact in the industry that I love. Amarok Consultants is my avenue for channelling my years of experience into a business that is often unforgiving of risk, but at the same time searches for the new.  With electrification in the news on a daily basis; with start-ups popping up everywhere; and with the mainstream OEM side still recovering from the crushing effects of recession, the only answer was to be bold, and produce a vehicle that showcases my beliefs in what a motorcycle can be.  Not another foam and body filler “concept” model, high on flash and thin on substance, but a real living motorcycle that is designed from the ground up, from a white paper into reality using a mission-centric approach.  Not just a new electric motorcycle, but a new architecture for a new technology paradigm.

The Amarok P1 began as a rough schematic sketch made in a notebook in 2007, a week after that year’s EICMA motorcycle show. My partners and I had poured over a cutaway of the Vectrix electric scooter, and were surprised by the radically re-imagined internal package. Being sport bike people, we toyed with what possibilities lay ahead, but were shut down by the cost, poor range and vitally, the disproportionate weight of the Nickel Metal-Hydride batteries. The idea was forgotten until I rode the scooter in Barcelona the following spring, and was completely taken by the ride quality, acceleration and silence of electric drive. Only two things could save the electric motorcycle, I thought:  newer and better batteries; and a radically lighter vehicle system.  When Lithium battery chemistry proved the viability of the modern EV, I felt that the former had finally come, so I drew this sketch to try and deal with the latter.  It laid dormant for years, until last winter when misfortune met opportunity. 

Archetype Thinking

Batteries are the great constant in EV design. Regardless of supplier, they comprise the largest, heaviest and bulkiest component in the vehicle system, which makes them awkward to contain. Traditional motorcycle architecture places all powertrain components within a frame, roughly hanging off of a bridge-like structure that spans the beam from the steering head down to the swing arm pivot.  Whether steel tubes or aluminium spar, it consumes space and leaves a roughly vertical hole in the middle.  Forcing batteries and electric motors into this space is difficult, inefficient and requires lots of additional structures to hold them. All of this adds weight.

Today’s electric motorcycles, both mainstream and prototype, all use some form of beam frame to support the bike, and another to support the batteries. Nearly all of them attempt to match, or in some impressive cases, exceed the performance of gasoline superbikes. To achieve this goal they must employ a vast number of batteries – over 10 kWhs worth – and therefore a vast amount of material to support them, all of which adds a tremendous amount of weight. The lightest weigh 220kgs (485lbs), while the heavyweights can reach as much as 250kgs + (550lbs). The toll this mass takes on suspension, tires, brakes and structures forces compromises in design, leading to high speed instability or an inability to turn easily in corners, a traditional motorcycle strength.  Every kilogram of battery you add multiplies because you need to add strength in other areas to compensate. The solution seems to be to bludgeon physics with technology and high cost materials, in an effort to band-aid the problem of excess weight.  We see it another way.

Amarok Thinking

Our Prototype 1 takes the simple approach that less, particularly in EV design, really is more.  Less batteries means less bulk, less support and a lot less weight. Smaller chassis dimensions means a tight handling package and a smaller frontal area, reducing aerodynamic drag. Less means lower costs to build and, using high performance common metals instead of exotic alloys and composites, means simple tooling, hand fabrication and ease of repair and modification.  

Less battery capacity ought to mean lower performance and less range, but it depends on how much work it needs to do. Using the ubiquitous Agni 95 powerplant, due to it’s excellent power-to-weigth ratio and proven history as the most successful motor in electric motorcycle racing, may put us at a significant disadvantage to others with high power outputs, but the total vehicle system weighs less than theirs. Physics is physics and less mass means that a 70hp, 150kg bike is as fast as a 120hp bike weighing 240kgs, but handles better and is cheaper to produce. Amarok thinking means using the rules of physics to advantage, not fighting it like an enemy.

The P1 is the size of a 250cc grand prix motorcycle, with similar dimensions and similar performance. It is our goal to demonstrate the viability of lightweight thinking; that clever use of materials, innovative construction methods and, above all, a clean sheet methodology that keeps design decisions concentric with the mission, reduces weight, waste and time in designing a motorcycle.  

Like its namesake, the Arctic Wolf, the Amarok P1 is not the fastest, most powerful or radical beast out there, but rather a long range, strong and diligent hunter which uses intelligence to overcome enemies many times stronger. It is, we hope, a lightweight, flickable, true trackday scalpel that can dive on the inside line of The Corkscrew and never lose its composure. An intuitive racer’s machine.  In other words, an uncompromised racing motorcycle.

Hell For Leather readers are getting an exclusive first look at the Amarok P1, look for it to be unveiled in full next week, when more pictures and more information will be available.

  • http://theprojectbeta.com/ andehans

    Exciting! Really look forward to follow this project. Looks good as well :)

  • protomech

    All “mainstream” electric motorcycles are light-ish weight because big battery packs are very expensive.

    Native S: 375-450 lbs, 2.9-7.2 kwh
    Zero S: 300 lbs, 4.7kwh
    Brammo Enertia Plus: 324 lbs, 6.0 kwh
    Brammo Empulse 10.0: 420 lbs, 10.0 kwh

    The TTXGP bikes are often 10-12 kwh, so perhaps I mistook that comment.

    A 40 kw / 150 kg bike with an 80 kg rider running in to 8 kw of drag is going to be substantially slower in a straight line than a 75 kw / 240 kg bike with an 80 kg rider running into say 10 kw of drag (7.2 kg/kw vs 4.9 kg/kw). It might be faster in the corners to make up for the straight line speed, of course.

    I’d love to see more posts on this bike, and more posts like this. Good reading : )

  • http://twitter.com/hagus Luke

    Bravo. Hopefully the move from Grand Prix 250cc 2-strokes to 600cc diesels will be short lived thanks to engineering marvels like this.

    Bring on the electrics! The sparkies! The zappers! Sorry, do we have a pithy nickname for these things yet?

    • Felix

      lightcycles?

  • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

    Can’t wait to hear more about this. Rear brake didn’t make the cut during cost/benefit analysis?

    Bike looks gorgeous. Great job.

    • kidchampion

      I’m curious about the rear brake too. Regeneration?

    • JaySD

      What if the rear brake is done through the drivetrain as regenerative energy? Then it would not make sense to have a stock type rear brake

  • http://plugbike.com/ skadamo

    Awesome Michael, can’t wait to see what’s inside and hear more about it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate BeastIncarnate

    Bravo, Michael. I’m excited to follow this.

  • Eric

    Michael, I have Been around Electric Bikes for a while now. I own a Quantya, and have raced them. Great ideas just think when the “Battery Material” can be incorporated into the body work. The body work can be the battery. Good work.

  • Steve

    Nice Friday afternoon tease. Starting Monday morning I’ll start hitting the web page refresh on my browser like a monkey looking for a pellet, looking for the promised info and pictures.

    Mean time the weather is nice so I’m going to skip out of the office early and burn some hydrocarbons on my old tech bike.

  • T Diver

    Very nice. Do you think the batteries on other electric track bikes needlessly too big? (Meaning a race only lasts about an hour)

    • JaySD

      From the stuff I have been reading about Chip Yates the batteries can only last about half way through a normal GP race currently

  • Glenngineer

    So who engineered it?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      design = engineering. We’re not talking about styling here.

  • Your_Mom

    The photos appear to show an FFE which is a good thing. The front axle and caliper mounts appear to be made from welded tubing. I love the ideas in this…I wish them success.

  • http://mdynamic.tumblr.com Mdynamic

    Looks fantastic, great read, and can’t wait to read more!

  • Ducky

    Good luck Michael, I look forward to seeing how your design concept does!

  • Gingerbeard

    Very cool. Its good to see a new TTXGP entry, especially one with a unique approach.

    One thing I still haven’t seen, though, is anyone taking advantage of the aerodynamics rules and using anything more than a MotoGP fairing. For an example of what is allowed, see http://www.craigvetter.com/pages/470MPG/TTXGP%20Fairing.html

  • Terry

    It’s beautiful and I’d like to own one.

    Then again, I say that about everything… But I mean it this time!

  • http://rohorn.blogspot.com rohorn

    Didn’t Christian Amendt try the “More speed through less power (i.e., less battery weight)” design approach with the Epo-Bike last year?

    • http://www.brammofan.com Brammofan

      Yes, he did. Perhaps the two class system for the TTXGP this rule will help these smaller bikes do well against comparably-sized bikes.

  • Andy Keech

    awesome, Canadian pride.

  • Dr. Gellar

    Like many others here, I too am excited by this new e-racer. Definitely looking forward to learning more about the bike as more info becomes available.

    Curious though…part of the philosophy behind this project (more speed through less power/less weight, as rohorn mentions above) also appears to be used by the Italian eCRP racer that currently competes in the FIM e-Power series. The eCRP bike is probably similar in power and weight to the Amarok P1. While it is very competitive in the FIM e-Power series, the eCRP machine would likely get smoked (or is that “zapped”) by the MotoCzysz e1PC and the Lightning Motors racer, just like the other bikes that the eCRP generally goes up against did at Laguna Seca last season.

    Still…I wish Michael and Amarock the best of luck!

  • Toby

    A bit off topic, but this article illustrates a usability issue with HFL. The article is written in the first person, and begins “Ever since I saw…” Trouble is, there’s no indication of who the author is until the post meta block at the very bottom. That means I have to scroll all the way down to find out who’s talking, then back up to continue reading. I would suggest including the author’s name at the top somewhere.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      It follows the first para on the front page.

      • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate BeastIncarnate

        The RSS feed goes direct to the article. It’s a minor thing, but it would be nice to have it up top, too.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Alright, well we’ll look into it.