The bike you see here is the Mugen Shinden, a prototype electric race bike that will compete at this summer’s TT Zero, racing bikes like the MotoCzysz E1pc. Mugen is a japanese race team and tuning company that’s long existed as sort of a Skunk Works-like, external R&D company for Honda. There’s no public link between Honda and the Shinden. But, now that we see the bike, it’s evident that it does share some major parts with the Honda RC-E. Like that motor, which comes out of the Honda Insight hybrid car.
Here’s the Honda RC-E. A really nice-looking, retro-futuristic concept bike unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show last November. It uses a modified version of the Insight’s DC brushless motor. No specifications for the RC-E have been given, but, in the Insight, the motor develops a seriously weak 13bhp and 58lb/ft of torque. That motor is used as a stressed member, connecting the aluminum frame to the aluminum swingarm, the latter pivoting on the motor’s center.
The Shinden, “Electric God,” uses what appears to be a very similar motor and locates it identically. This arrangement is unique to the Shinden and RC-E, other electric superbikes like the Mission R and MotoCzysz E1pc position the motor in a similar location, but don't use it as the swingarm pivot. Having said that, the race bike develops a far healthier 121bhp and 162lb/ft. The Mugen also uses that motor to connect the swingarm to the twin-spar frame, with the swingarm pivoting on the motors center. But here, that frame and swingarm are carbon fiber. Bodywork and suspension are unique to the Mugen, but, extrapolating the motor’s size, the whole package appears to be in similar proportion to the Honda concept.
Mugen has also announced that TT legend John McGuinness will be riding the Shinden in the TT Zero. That’s funny, because McGuinness is contracted to the Honda TT Legends team and will be competing aboard the company’s bikes at this year’s TT. In addition to the Mugen, that is.
If Honda is using Mugen as a front to enter the TT Zero, it does so with some precedent. Way back in 1954, Soichiro Honda announced his intention to enter the Isle of Man TT, thereby proving his company’s ability to compete with the world. Honda didn’t actually enter until 1959, when it knew it could win, campaigning in many smaller, regional races in order to build that expertise. Electric motorcycle racing is still in its fledgling stages, but Honda is entering the game after teams like MotoCzysz and Mission have established themselves. If the Shinden breaks down or fails to start or loses to MotoCzysz or other teams at this year’s race, it’ll be Mugen, not Honda that loses face. Whether a Honda-badged bike can eventually overcome that deficit will indicate the future of motorcycling over the next 58 years. Will it be Honda that, again, innovates and changes the world, or will it be some plucky upstart with big ambitions?