Just like in the world of cars, electric propulsion is coming to motorcycles, except bike makers are skipping the “hybrid” stage and going straight to all-electric operation.
While major players like Honda, Yamaha and BMW have yet to jump into the game with production models, smaller outfits like Zero, Brammo, Mission Motors and MotoCzysz have all debuted polished, powerful and tech-laden models either for public consumption, as racing machines or as highly advanced prototypes. We’ve ridden the “R” version of the Brammo Empulse and came away impressed.
Now it’s Mission Motors’ turn, and it’s taking a similar tack to Brammo’s two-tier approach with two new models, the R (above) and RS (down yonder), except you’d better get in line now for the top-of-the-line RS as only 40 will be built. Mission is located in San Francisco.
In an interview with Digital Trends, President Mark Seeger, who has been mucking about with electric vehicles since his youth according to his bio on the bike’s website, said the Tesla Model S helped inspire some of the engineering involved in making the bikes. More on that in a bit.
Seeger said about 18 to 20 people will build the bikes while the company as a whole employs about 50 in total. Some of the folks who worked on designing the bikes will also help build them. There are no production partners due to the complexity of the bike, quality-control concerns and the need to protect software and hardware secrets, Seeger added.
While the Brammo’s Empulse machines sell for less than $20,000 at any trim level, the Mission website indicates their bikes will start at a buck under $32,500 for the base R model with a 12kWh battery, and can be optioned up to $42,499 with the 17kWh battery. The price soars to over $72,000 for the halo high-zoot RS with a “GP package,” making the garden-variety RS a positive bargain at $56,499. All prices are before you get $2,500 back from the gubmint for being an upstanding citizen and buying one of these green machines. Remember: no gas bills, either.
Seeger said Mission will begin delivering the first completed production bikes on the first days of summer in 2014 and production targets, while he would not give specific numbers “are much higher than anticipated” and they are expanding their production facilities to meet demand. He also said about half of the top-of-the-line RS production run was already spoken for as of June 6, just hours after their announcement the bikes were for sale. A $10,000 deposit is required to hold one. Plus, buyers of any of the bike models will receive personal delivery of their bikes from Mission.
So what do you get for those wallet-emptying sums? Quite a bit, actually.
As you can see from the photos, the bikes are nicely styled full-fairing sport machines. Mission’s site says the chassis was designed by James Parker (of RADD alt-suspension fame) and overall industrial design is by Tim Prentice of Motonium, who had a hand in designing the Honda Rune power cruiser and several other bikes, according to the Motonium website. And Mission has slathered on no small amount of tech and performance goodies, including Brembo brakes, Ohlins suspension and a multi-mode color LCD instrument panel that would give anything from NASA a run for its money. The colorful display can show speed, rpm, voltage, battery charge, motor performance, GPS maps, track day lap time data, and much more.
Mission is claiming 105 miles of “real world range” and 170 miles of city riding for the base R model with the base 12kWh battery pack, but claims even that basic bike is good for 140mph and a 0 to 60 time of 3 seconds. Add more money, and the next model up adds a 15kw battery, 150mph top speed, 120 miles of range (200 in the city) and the same 0 to 60 time. The top R model holds a 17kw “UltraPack” battery, extending range to 140 miles overall and 230 in the city.
Just like electric cars, electric motorcycles get better “mileage” in city riding due to the on/off nature of using the throttle and the recapture of energy using regenerative braking, which the Mission bikes also make use of. Out on the open road, range is lower because the motor is in constant use to maintain highway speeds and constantly draining the energy reserves.
All of the R models appear to be identical in appearance and each gets motivation from an electric motor putting out 120kw (that’s 160hp at the wheel!) and a massive 120 foot-pounds of torque. That’s top-shelf horsepower on par with many 1000cc sportbikes, coupled with more torque than most big-bore power cruisers (or even some small cars) put out – and all from a standstill as well. Depending on which battery option you choose, bike weights (empty or fully fueled) will be 480 pounds (12kw), 550 pounds (15kw) and 585 pounds if you choose the 17kw power pack. Those numbers are on the heavy side for sporting machines, a 2012 Honda CBR1000RR makes 178hp and tips the scales at about 440 pounds full of fuel.
But Seeger says his motor weighs one tenth of what a gasoline engine making the same power would weigh, which is a good thing considering the weight of the batteries. He was keen to point out that the overall way the bike is designed and using mass centralization (all the heavy stuff near the center and down low), the bike does not have a “heavy” ride characteristic. “When you’re riding it, you don’t feel it at all,” he said. Part of his inspiration to make the weight disappear while riding? The 4,800-pound Tesla Model S, which Seeger says he owns. “When you drive it, it handles better than a 5-Series BMW, which is two-thirds of the weight. They’ve accommodated the weight in their engineering of their entire chassis,” Seeger said. “We’ve done exactly the same thing.”
Seeger said the only time riders might realize the full weight of their machines is if they happen to fall over.
He also said the motor, which was designed and built by Mission rather than being an off-the-shelf unit from a third party, is actually good for well over 200 horsepower but at this time, the bike can’t pack enough power in the battery compartment to drive the motor to those output levels – at least for now. The motor and most of the bikes major systems, including the frame, are made in America. Brembo brakes and Ohlins suspension components are made overseas.
“What we found out was that a lot of the motors you can buy commercially are designed for four-wheel electric vehicles, like cars and stuff,” Seeger said. “They didn’t have the right power density in mind, they weren’t very space efficient, they weren’t very electrically efficient.”
“For a motorcycle, it’s totally different, because you’re weight constrained, but you’re also space constrained and you have to have your mass – your weight – as dense as possible. So that means you have to have the smallest components you can and as powerful as they can be, and no one produced a motor even close to performing the way it needed to be for what we wanted to do,” Seeger explained.
“The only way to do what were doing, literally the only way, is to make the motor part of the frame,” Seeger said. “So our motor, which is about the size of a very small watermelon, is part of the chassis and is a stressed member, which meant that the housing of the motor had to be very customized.” The liquid-cooled motor design is so unique Seeger said Mission has patented it.
Unlike Brammo’s 6-speed Empulse, the Mission bikes have no gearbox and one forward speed. “The perfectly linear power delivery of the InfiniteDrive powertrain allows us to relegate the clutch and gearbox to the past,” Mission says on its website. Brammo’s initial development of the Empulse was also a one-speed affair, but the company said it decided to add a clutch and tranny after feedback from riders in its target demographic.
Seeger made no bones about his strong aversion to adding a mutli-gear transmission to the Mission bikes, saying it was never a consideration from the start. “That was the most obvious thing in the world,” Seeger said. “The only reason why gearboxes exist is because gas engines are not very efficient at different rpm, so you have to keep the engine at it’s peak efficiency and in order to regulate speed, you have a transmission. Transmissions are heavy, they’re expensive, they break, they require maintenance, they’re noisy, they take up a lot of space, they are the worst piles of shit I’ve ever seen in my life when you think about a powertrain.”
Using the single-speed approach has it’s advantages as well, mostly in terms of simplicity, efficiency and weight savings, since no clutch and gearbox are used. Time will tell if riders will adjust to the gearless, clutchless approach after many spent years polishing their gear-change techniques. But Seeger is definitely a single-speed convert. “Electric motors don’t need [a transmission] at all. They have a flat torque curve, they deliver the same power regardless of rpm,” he said. Electric motors “are the simplest machine in the world. They have one moving part. Why on earth would you corrupt that beautiful symmetry with a transmission?”
Seeger said adding a transmission to any electric vehicle was like marrying old technology to improved new technology. Indeed, the Tesla also makes do with no transmission, unless you count one gear forward as a transmission. “Our motor is so powerful, we don’t need it,” Seeger said. He also said it was possible to run the motor in reverse just using software and that a “parking assist” reverse-drive feature will be included to help riders park their bikes – or back out of that downhill spot, something that’s been the bane of many a rider.
The Mission bikes are available with other snazzy tech options as well. The R models can also be had with a “tech package” that adds turn-by-turn GPS to the color display, a built-in HD camera, a heads-up display in the rider’s (compatible) helmet and faster charging ability. Yours for only an additional $2,750 if you call now (fastchargeravaialbleforonlyanother$1,200additional).
If you can get in line fast enough to plunk down $10 grand to put a hold on an RS model, the spec grows ever higher and buyers can also opt for the “GP Package” which adds higher-performance Brembo brakes and Ohlins top-line TTX bits along with lighter wheels and all the other options including the big 17kw battery pack – all for a total of about $73,000. Tuning ticks up a bit as well as the 0 to 60 speed of the RS is quoted as “under 3 seconds.” Listed top speed remains 150mph.
Mission’s site says its bikes can be tweaked by riders in terms of throttle response, traction control and other parameters and that software updates and other options are set for the future. Additionally, the batteries are modular and while not exactly hot-swappable, Seeger said the bike is designed for relatively quick replacement of the battery pack for upgrades as battery technology improves. He said more details on that aspect of the bike are forthcoming in a few weeks but the bike was designed from the start with battery upgrades in mind.
Mission has a winning history in ebike racing, and Seeger also said that more competition is on the horizon, including possibly the high-profile Isle of Man TT TTXGP electric bike race, which has been dominated the last four years by the Oregon-based MotoCyzsz Ep1c racebike, which is not street legal or apparently headed for mass production (so far as we know). “Racing has always been part of our heritage and always will be part of our heritage,” Seeger said. “We will start racing again but right now, you want to commercialize your design and mature it, and that’s what we’re focusing on right now. This year is truly about commercialization. Next year, we’ll see.”
“Our ultimate objective… is to be able to produce a kit, a bike platform that other people can race,” Seeger said. “It can be our prototype technology, the latest stuff, then we can work with other teams to race. It can be our latest tech with their execution.” Seeger said they will be looking at racing as a collaborative effort with Mission providing the hardware and race teams providing back the at-speed data needed to improve the bike’s technology. “Because at the end of the day, everyone wants something that is faster, better, lasts longer, cheaper, lighter. We all want the same thing, so we want to get more people involved with [racing], we don’t want a singular effort of just us behind closed doors doing stuff and racing and viola, that’s it. We’d rather work with people.”
Mission looks to be positioning itself as the Ducati or Tesla of the ebike sphere, going for low volume and high quality over music for the masses. A few years ago, with the economy in the tank and range anxiety looming over anything with an electric-only powertrain, I would have considered Mission’s approach a shortcut to a bankruptcy filing, but after seeing the success of Tesla and the economy gaining steadier legs, the company’s timing – and these two new bikes – could be just right.
Bikes like the Mission R and RS, the Brammo Empulse R and offerings from Zero and other small start-up bike makers are forging the way to fuel freedom. If Mission’s power and range claims hold up and the bikes prove to be reliable, it’s another step forward for ebikes – at least until major players like Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, BMW, Piaggio, and possibly the Chinese get serious about it.
Then, the electric motorcycle arms race will truly be on.
DT is hoping to get some seat time on a Mission R or RS soon. In the meantime, here’s a ridealong video from Mission Motorcycles shot at the Thunderhill racetrack facility:
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