My whole life my father would say, “That rides like it’s got an electric motor. That motor feels electric!” And he meant the bike’s engine had a really broad powerband, like the difference between a highly tuned 2-stroke and a detuned 4-stroke. One of them is super narrow with a peaky power band that you’re always shifting to stay in the middle of, the other one is, well you can be in second or fourth gear, it’s kind of all the same, right?
I was recovering from the ACL tear during winter between two supermoto seasons, working with Dale Lineaweaver. He’s my old speedway sponsor who’s a successful engine builder/tuner in the East Bay who’s got a couple of dirt track national championships credited to his machinery. So we take my poochy stock KTM that was 45 horsepower and we make it 55 horsepower, … and now it’s fast. It rips! But it’s a lot harder to ride because I have to keep the thing spinning. We do all this work to develop a cam shaft, port the cylinder head, put in over-sized valves, put the high compression piston in, put in a new ignition, new ignition maps, jet the carb and make a new intake track... That’s like 3,000 or 4,000 bucks, right? Marc talks about the Control-Z moment, but we can’t undo any of these mods on the KTM. Once it’s done, it’s done. And we can’t undo any of this.
The KTM’s not nearly as rideable as it was. The whole process makes everything a little less fun, and the bike is a little less fun to race in a surprising way. It doesn’t work as well around the whole track, it only works better on the fast parts of the track. That’s what happens when you tune things narrowly.
So the big aha moment happens on a car ride back from Metcalf Motorcycle Park down in San Jose. Jeff and I finished a session on the motocross track, and riding back I’m talking about this KTM motor. I’m telling him all the work was a waste of money, it was ego driven, I can ride just as well with a stock motorcycle, and there was no reason to go mental on all the engine mods. Then we start talking about electric motors.
Dad’s analogy and the electric motor drive on the dirt bike means a lot more than just a broad power band. It becomes a whole new way of riding and tuning the motorcycle. The electric motor made a lot of sense to let us do that all the tweaky changes we like to do to bikes. Motorcycle nuts are constantly turning knobs on their vehicles. We go do a test session, change the suspension 20 times, different springs, adjust air pressure, drop the forks and the clamps, change the sag, and we’re just constantly tweaking stuff. The idea for the electric motor gelled over the next year with Jeff and I screwing around at nights and weekends trying to understand what was really possible.
The work we were doing in the beginning was real, but we were only focused on building this concept to see if the world’s interested. We weren’t really getting serious about building a company, we were just focused on creating this concept. At some point of that process we realized we needed to hire Dave Drennan, our first mechanical engineer, as an intern. This project was his first job out of finishing his graduate program, and he was working here with me in this office while Jeff worked out of his design studio.
We hadn’t built anything yet, it was all CAD and Excel spreadsheets, but we had a watershed moment when the simulations pointed to a superior vehicle, a better motorcycle, and we realized, wow, this is going to be a business. We’re going to need to raise capital if we want to build a proper prototype. That’s when we sucked Marc in to lead fundraising and be the CEO, because Jeff and I decided that we weren’t the best guys to do that.
Building that first prototype was a wonderful, defining experience for all of us. The design and engineering work was intense, but there were these big, satisfying moments when we built the first prototype parts, when it started to become real. We knew the thing wouldn’t be perfect. As designers and engineers all you see are the flaws. But we built it anyway and the first complete prototype was just so sleek and modern.
The bike was very highly integrated in two ways — as a design and as a system. As a design all the parts “talked” to each other and as a system most parts did several jobs. This was new territory and Jeff absolutely nailed the design. So over the weeks following the build we brought the electronic systems up and tuned them until we were ready for our first proper test, in Alameda at an abandoned air strip. We brought along a KTM 250 as a performance reference and rode both bikes back to back, side by side.
The big surprise that day was that the electric, which by then we were calling the Redshift, was just… so good. It was quicker, more nimble, and easier to ride — it was flat out better. We even staged a little drag race, 0-60. The electric was a bike length ahead in the first test of the first bike we ever built! It’s one thing to stare at a model on a screen for years and think you know something, what to expect, but as we put it all together for the first time we realized we had done something very, very special.