FLAT TRACK BADASS DALE LINEAWEAVER JOINS TEAM ALTA

FLAT TRACK BADASS DALE LINEAWEAVER JOINS TEAM ALTA

We are excited to announce our latest addition to the team, the legendary Bay Area flat track tuner, developer, and builder, Dale Lineaweaver. For the uninitiated, Dale’s accomplishments span over 38 years of professional motorcycle racing, tuning and building insane racers like thisthisthisthis, and a whole lot more. He also participated in OEM development programs for Husaberg, Suzuki, and BMW in ISDE Enduro, flat track, and drag racing. That includes a Formula USA Grand National championship for a Husaberg team Lineaweaver ran, and on a race bike he personally developed and built. When it comes to developing fast motorcycles for the track, just about any track, this guy is serious horsepower.

Oh, and once upon a time in the Eighties, Dale even sponsored a very fast, cocky punk of a teenaged speedway racer named Derek Dorresteyn.

In other news, our man abroad sends word that Alta’s vendor for manufacturing the RedShift swingarm is now in the final inspection stages for production and delivery to San Francisco.

TORQUE, ACCELERATION, & SPECIFIC POWER – THE PARTS THAT MATTER MOST

My 1985 Godden speedway bike had 70 horsepower at the rear wheel and weighed 165 pounds. A modern superbike is around 450 pounds and 180 horsepower – a very similar power-to-weight ratio with time-warping acceleration. The speedway bike also had enough gobs of torque to loft the front wheel off the line with a 100+mph Ascot gear. The Godden and the Superbike aren’t really comparable in anything else, both being very specialized, but the acceleration is what I really strive for. For me, acceleration is up there with dynamic handling as one of the most inspiring attributes a bike can have.

We got into electric drive because we saw an opportunity to make a better motorcycle. Electric offers real advantages in our ability to tune the bike to different conditions, to have pre-programmed maps for wet and muddy, intermediate to advance, all sorts of things. That's really interesting and being quiet is great, but as we got deeper into this, I identified this other thing that electric could do better that was not completely apparent at first. It starts with examining why motorcycles in the US have been driven to bigger and bigger displacements.

If you live in a city, optimizing a bike for that environment makes a lot of sense. You can put your race-prepped dirt bike on the street in some cases, but you don't do it for very long because the maintenance cycle is too high, the five hour oil changes are onerous, and the engine rebuilds are expensive. I think right now is a really exciting moment in the history of motorcycling, capable of delivering something truly new to the market that really wasn't there before. That’s because we can deliver an experience like the Godden or a full-blown motocrosser in a reliable street legal bike with electric drive.

There are many bikes in the 800 to 1200 cc range. If you look at why bigger bikes make sense, it’s because of the physics of the internal combustion engine. The internal combustion engine, with it’s given set of demands, and a given size and state of tune, delivers more consistent torque, power, and vibrates less when it’s bigger, especially at high speeds. Plus it is generally less stressed the bigger it gets and requires less maintenance.

You can make the same sort of power out of a 600 cc bike in race tune as you can out of a 1000 cc bike that's in street tune, but the knob that you've turned in the smaller capacity now makes the engine very peaky and hair-trigger responsive. It's less rideable, and there's less torque were you want it most of the time because you've optimized the engine to make power at a higher RPM. You're also introducing more vibration, less reliability, and the general consumer is less tolerant of those things than a race team.

So the market makes lots of good big bore bikes and for highway commuting and touring but as we become more urban and our idea of what motorcycling is continues to evolve a little bit, there are opportunities to have transportation optimized for the city, the back roads and trails. That big giant gas bike is a lot more awkward around a city. It's harder to leave the line on, or ride slowly, or maneuver through tight spaces, or park and what not. That’s because the other thing that comes with more torque and less vibration of more displacement is more mass.

What if you had the performance of a motocross bike, but without the vibration and the maintenance? When you look at the specific power of a motocrosser, the power and the weight, it can accelerate with the best of them. It can even accelerate with a 1000 cc bike, because that 1000 cc bike might have three times the peak power, but it's still heavy and there's only so much power you can put to the ground to accelerate. You're compromised on that big bike at anything under 60 miles an hour because there’s only so much traction that you can put to the ground. We increasingly live in a world where most riding is happening at speeds under 60 miles an hour. So the question is: do you want to optimize your motorcycle where you spend the least amount of your time riding, or do you want to optimize around when you spend most of your time riding?

And when I say optimize I’m thinking of having fun and going fast, not saving pennies.

Riding the first RedShift prototype delivered a simpler, purer ride experience. I wasn’t dealing with the transmission, there was no vibration in the handlebar and suddenly I had a complete lack of empathy for the machine, which is weird thing to realize. Gas bikes have a lot of parts, and if you ride race bikes you probably know what those parts look like and how much they cost. On a bike with a internal combustion engine, when I’m revving the thing and working it hard, there's a little timer going off in the back of my head saying, "How long do I have until this thing blows up?" You feel pain for a combustion machine, or at least I do.

The RedShift has a brushless electric drive with a 1000-hour maintenance cycle. You don't feel those sympathetic pangs. You push the machine hard, rev it to peak RPM, and feel no discomfort in doing that because it’s super smooth. There is a huge opportunity with electric to make a product that delivers the things we value – we being performance-oriented motorcyclists, we being sport motorcyclists, racers, enthusiasts. Those things are torque, acceleration, and specific power.

We love a high power-to-weight ratio and torque at the wheel that allows a motorcycle to accelerate briskly, and that make us feel excited when we are riding. Look at the market segments of the smaller high-power gas bikes. They're off-road and motocross bikes, and supermotos, based on single cylinder 250 and 450 cc motors. They have great specific power and a great power-to-weight ratio. They're really exciting, fun things to ride, but they vibrate to pieces and have high maintenance cycles.

There is a lot to first understanding what the internal combustion engine does well, understanding what it means to go around a closed course at a race pace. We accomplish so much with a clutch and a gearbox, lugging the bike, keeping it either in or out of its power band. We have certainly faced a lot of challenges in refining the control of electric drive, but we've found a way to recreate the nuanced control of the gas bike with transmission by constantly breaking down the process and applying our learning to the design of the RedShift’s drive.

We have a system of changing throttle maps on the fly that adds a whole new dimension to riding and competing. It's not simply recreating the power delivery of the internal combustion engine, the aspects of lugging or revving it, it's the ability to have a bike that's optimally set up for a mud track, a sand track, a perfect tacky track, all in one bike, and all available at any time. Every corner you take, you have the right configuration of tractable power. The RedShift’s response to loss of traction allows the rider to have the confidence to enter corners quicker, hit the big jumps and go around the track faster.

We are continuously refining our settings, building our understanding, improving everything from our suspension and bike setup to the nuanced aspects of how the motor delivers power because we want to see the RedShift to go out there and compete. Racing is the quickest path to optimization because it's the ultimate arbiter of good and better, or good and not good enough.

WE HAVE A NEW NAME — ALTA MOTORS.

TL;DR: BRD wasn’t a great name for the company, and now we have a new one we like more: Alta.

BRD was never a great external name. It had important internal meaning to us but for a lot of reasons, we always communicated it to the outside world as either “a secret” or meaningless. It was awkward:

We don’t want to exaggerate the significance here to the heights of ethereal clouds where Zeus profoundly frolics. The typical rebranding sounds something like, “OMG, our new brand is the most amazing and important thing ever with so much meaning and richness.” It's really just a name. Like Bob. Or Sue.

We’ve found a name that fits us well, will be featured prominently at the top of the column in the yellow pages, and carries a lot of meaning to us: Alta. Alta California was also the name of our territory, sitting on top of Baja California. Alta also means other stuff we really like and it looks right on our bikes. So now we are Alta.

LINEAR POWER & HAPPY BATTERIES

Electric transportation feels like the Wild, Wild West – there is no one battery technology that rules them all. Imagine if we were creating combustion engines for the first time and people hadn't decided where the valves went, or whether to use valves at all. There are a hundred different possibilities for electric, a lot of new ideas, a lot of unclear winners, and a lot of chances to innovate and come up with something new. What's the best battery? What's the best motor? The only right answer is: it depends on the application. The “best” battery is still to be made.

If you look at the trajectory of improvement year over year, electric power has a lot of space for new ideas. Battery development is very multi-disciplinary. We generally think of the battery as an electrical system, but on an electrical level the battery is pretty straightforward.

What aren’t so straightforward are the mechanical and chemical issues. Chemical issues create non-linear characteristics, like degradation, hysteresis and temperature dependence. Mechanically, you have a lot of high voltage and insulation concerns, and a complicated web of tolerances and competing design priorities. Then, on top of all of that, you have these kind of corner case safety issues where if something goes wrong, you really have to understand how it's going to go wrong, how to contain it, how to keep it safe at the system level. It's just wickedly complicated.

A battery isn’t so much a bitchy princess as it's the golden child that throws a tantrum if something goes bad. I usually tell people my job is to try to keep batteries happy, because they are naturally sensitive and finicky. No two operating points are the same and a thousand different things are going on. The better the job we can do at managing those instances while adding minimal cost, weight, and size, the better off we'll be. If you keep a battery in its happy place, everything is wonderful. My job is to bracket the battery and make sure that, no matter what, it stays in its happy place.

Size and weight are critical because the best battery cells in the world that are readily available in high volume (which are the ones that we're using) are about one 30th the energy density of gasoline – that's the battle. Gasoline is awesome, 30 times more energy dense than a battery. Fortunately, gas-poweredengines suck, and are only approximately 25% efficient. That means you can divide the battery’s loss to gas by a factor of four, which puts batteries at eight times less energy dense. Therefore, in application, the best cells in the world are about 1/8th as “good” as gasoline.

I tend to think of everything else in the battery as overhead. The battery cells are commodity, then we factor how much weight and volume we’re adding to make the complete pack. The battery is the heaviest and most expensive part of the vehicle. Getting the most out of that battery with as little overhead as possible is hugely valuable, and I think the battery we've got right now is significantly more energy dense than anything else out there.

We know batteries aren’t likely to win in any application that requires a lot of energy. That’s just not a good fight to fight. However, even though the battery cell density is 1/8th compared to gasoline, that's just the cell. Anything we do to build the pack is overhead and damages the ratio even further. Instead of 1/8th, maybe by the time the pack's done, it's down to only 1/10th. The battery pack’s weight is a knob I can turn to help get the Redshift on par with gas. Rather than controlling a gas engine intake’s 200 moving parts upstream of the actual place where the tire touches the road, the electric motor is very closely coupled with where the tire touches the road – two gears and a chain separate the motor from the road. You're flipping a switch to get linear power and digitally control it at really high speeds with absolutely smooth delivery.

There's something about a really well-designed bike or car that it's hard to describe, but there's just this kind of feel that it has the right weight, the right fasteners, the right surfaces, and everything just screams legitimacy. Even with the very first concept, the Redshift already had that. When I came across Alta, they were one of the few companies I'd seen that actually was building something high-end, high-performance, getting the right kind of brand identity, getting the right type of people involved, and the right kind of customers who were excited about the product, but still saw potential for a larger market effect. Alta had a very clear vision how to start at the top end and boil it down to a technology that made sense through the whole spectrum.

Considering what we've developed, the performance potential, the sales potential, and the appeal to the customer, I think we've totally nailed it. I’m really proud of the bike and really excited about it. We've done a lot and it’s easy to forget day-to-day that we've built something substantial. We’ve had riders on the prototype faster by a long shot than the best gas bikes in this class, but now the Redshift is 20 pounds lighter, and it revs faster.

As this phase of testing progresses, we have more refined designs, more accurate results, and those results are all trending in a positive direction. We're getting better and better and better. If we're looking at the evolution curve, we're not on the end, flatlining on the curve’s asymptote; we're just now at the beginning and every year can be another 10% better. We're making significant leaps and bounds as we iterate because all this stuff is so new. We have so much more to learn, and I really like that part.

MR. SKEPTICAL SEES THE LIGHT

Much of the time I'm a facilitator between Derek and Jeff and a translator between them and the rest of the team. This is very much the role I honed at Frog, and one of the things I was more successful at there: building empathy between people. I trust the two of them and their product intuition, especially for the Redshift, more than I trust my own because even five years in, off-road is still very much their space. They have decades steeped in that sport, that culture, and those riders, that I don't have. Plus, they're both just naturally really strong designers.

Six months of us working together passed before we knew we had chemistry as a workable team, that they wanted to work with me and that I wanted to work with them. It also took that long for me to absorb what Derek and Jeff were doing, and to realize just how brilliant and unique the two of them are. I've never met anybody like either of them. I've never worked with an engineer or a designer of their talent, their breadth and their humility, and the two of them share the combination of all three attributes.

I was still a new rider when I met Derek and Jeff, and probably didn’t have much more than between 20,000 and 30,000 miles under my belt. This was summer, 2009. I’d ditched my very practical BMW 650 commuter and had my R6 for year and a half. I had done my first track days (and scraped up my leathers at least once) when friend and colleague Catherine Sun, a brilliant associate creative director at Frog who had worked with Jeff at Switch Snowboards, told me, "You've got to meet these two guys. They're working on an electric motorcycle."

At the time, I was really skeptical of anything electric. I‘d paid attention to the early Zero bikes, the Tesla Roadster was out at that point, and so was the first Mission motorcycle. I looked at the numbers and none of them offered a compelling product that stood on its own right, that wasn’t sold on the basis of technology but on the basis of functionality and design. All of those products were asking their customers to pay more to get less, and that isn’t a disruptive product. When I looked at how far the gap was from those products to the gas incumbent, I told myself we were years and years away.

Catherine, who was not prone to hyperbole, talked up Jeff and Derek pretty heavily - how great they were, how talented they were. I had a huge amount of faith in Catherine, and told her I’d go meet with them. Who doesn’t want to go check out a cool machine shop and some motorcycles? I said, “Okay, but I'm going to tell them it’s a terrible idea and that they shouldn't do it." The first thing I said through the door was, "Look, guys, if you want to build this for fun go for it, but I don’t think you have a product here and I don’t think you have a business. It's not a real product unless it's better than the gas equivalent, and the technology just isn't there."

They nodded their heads and they smiled, but not like a, "haha, got ya.” They were smiling because they shared the same philosophy. I thought I was telling them something they didn't know yet, but they knew something I didn't – they'd found a space where the numbers worked. Frankly, I was so used to fighting this battle with designers and engineers on my other projects, I took it as a given that these guys weren't thinking that way, and they were just in love with the design or in love with the tech.

They pulled up the CAD on Derek’s screen and I immediately realized that I had gotten two things wrong in my analysis that it was too early for electric. The first thing was I had never seen a beautiful electric vehicle at that point. Jeff's design was beautiful. Even in that first swing, the bike looked proper. It was a motocross bike, but it didn't look like any motocross bike I had ever seen.

My second error was that I wasn’t a dirt biker and hadn’t paid attention to the motocross space. In fact, I hadn’t paid attention to off-road at all. Being an R6 and BMW rider, all I knew was sport and touring. I looked at those challenges and kept telling myself, "We're years away." But I didn't look at enough segments to realize that there were opportunities even in 2009 for electric to do it better – not for the sake of being electric but simply being better.

So within 30 seconds of meeting we understood we shared a core product philosophy – I can’t emphasize how rare this is between an engineer, a designer, and a business guy. Motocross offers a vehicle with a very similar customer profile to sportbikes or sports cars like the Roadster: someone who is willing to pay for performance, for beauty, for a rich experience that is about more than getting me from A to B. It's being faster than my buddies, being faster than my competition, being faster than I was, myself, a week ago. And motocross offered something those other segments didn’t…

We knew the Redshift couldn’t be just about the technology, and it couldn't be about some promise in the future. A real, disruptive product with credibility needed to be better than the incumbent according to the rules customers defined and according to the things customers cared about, not the things we told them to care about. A motocross bike has an energy profile that electric can actually hit while staying within the competitive weight and power requirements of gas. That didn't happen in sport bikes. The numbers were not and still are not in electric's favor in those spaces.

The whole market blew open right in front of me with that CAD drawing and the realization that I'd gotten so much wrong. I had to find a little bit of my own humility, because, frankly, I had closed off an entire market disruption that I wanted to happen. For a whole variety of reasons, I wanted electric to arrive. I just thought it was too early, and I was wrong. That’s great news, that's opportunity. The three of us love to be proven wrong. So much of design is narrowing down the opportunities. We love to discover new things, to find out there are things we didn't know, and then have this world of possibilities expand in front of us.

THE DISAPPEARING MOTORCYCLE

Take a pure sport like surfing. That board is just a lump — a foam thing made from fiberglass. The way that a lump of foam board acts as an interface, so thinly between nature and a surfer, is really elegant. Surfing is just a person and a wave connected by a thin, lumpy shape. A machine like a motorcycle can be that pure too when it's stripped down. And the closer you get to connecting man with nature, the artifice - this machine - disappears. Then you're making a magic thing happen where you've transcended the machine. The focus is no longer, "Well, I just need this extra thing to make me go faster. I just need this pipe. I just need this cam.” You're decoupling the machine from the experience. I know this probably sounds whack and abstract, but I really don't think it is.

Motorcycling is freedom. What I mean by that is riding a motorcycle is a transcendent experience. Flying is also defined in racing in a really poetic way. I’m flying through a track, or flying through the forest, when I'm faster than my buddy, and that is always exhilarating and fun. Or, he's faster than me and I want to catch him. That simplicity, to me, is the way these sports need to be, the way we as product designers need to see them. A thing that drives me as a product developer is making the product disappear.

Not having a transmission means not devoting a part of muscle memory or any brain activity at all to the requirements of operating a transmission and a clutch. That's related to what I mentioned earlier about making the bike disappear. Then the focus becomes more about the terrain, and we’ve seen that from the very first prototype. We're getting really close.

I think what we're talking about is making riding more intuitive. If we can make the device more intuitive, we're opening up the chance for good riders to become great, and that's something to build a business around. If we can help a rider make this bike fly effortlessly through the terrain, and more people are having fun, then that's huge.

Then the ride becomes something that allows you to trust the machine and be able to intuitively focus on the things that you're doing instead as you go through a dirt trail for the first time. I think that's really important — making it so that person engages with the task of riding, spending as little brain power on the machine as possible. That goes to the ergonomics and making the bike feel correct in the balance, the center of gravity, the contact points, the rider triangle, all the important stuff.

Part of what I try to do with design is to simplify, simplify, simplify. The design in general, I think, came from me wanting to develop a language: to look at the bike, and maybe see different versions of it, but know distinctly that it’s a Alta. A large part of that language is expressed by the structure of the front and rear bulkheads. Because the Redshift is electric, we have the opportunity, the obligation, to establish a paradigm that's relevant for this drive train.

We don't have a gas tank so we don’t put “gas tanks” on electric bikes; the design doesn’t need a gas tank. Also, the approach to design is important for me to bring attention to every detail on the inside and the outside. I think a lot of motorcycle design is done mainly from a side view even though a motorcycle is a three dimensional object. The Redshift is very three-dimensional and I really want to bring out all of the potential of the three-dimensional object, both structurally and from a utility standpoint, and also from a design standpoint. The underside of the rear fender is an example, because you notice that sort of detail on the show room floor. Part of what I'm trying to do with Alta is to elevate the whole machine.

I'm not doing things to be different, but I'm trying to communicate... well, mostly I satisfy my own desire. I think that a lot of motorcycle design is directed at young males, and there's a lack of sophistication with a lot of modern motorcycle design that I believe is limiting the industry. It's becoming too myopically focused on a very narrow set of opinions. I see our brand as trying to open that up again.

I came up as a skateboarder, pro skateboarder, had skateboard store when I was in high school, and built skateboard companies. Those experiences informed the way I look at upstart brands as a David and Goliath proposition. How can you do with a little what has to be a lot? What can you do with a dime to make it behave like a dollar? Design is a good place to do that because you can communicate to a broader audience. I think we would be really unsuccessful if we imitated what KTM does or imitated what Honda did. If you imitate, you are only going to be second at best, because everybody senses it right away. Buyers want the real thing; why would they want the imitation?

There's a real fine line between doing something great and being ahead of your time, or being dismissed as being not relevant. We have to pay attention to the vernacular of the consumer, but we can't just do what everybody else is doing. It's a lot harder than just talking about it sounds like it might be.

We’re trying to come up with a new language. It's not easy, but it can be totally done, too, right? People who like motorcycles want the purpose to inform the object. When I look at the Alta, I think, "Okay." When a pro rider came in to test the bike, I asked, "What do you think of the design?" He said, "Well, it looks like a motocross bike." He said it's got motorcycle wheels and motorcycle suspension, and he didn't say shit about the design. To me, I was like, "Fuck yeah." I'm so glad, because what he's saying is it looks correct and that's what I was shooting for.

BIG PROMISES

Part of motorcycle racing is like ice fishing. You're in a car or a van going to the local track and you talk with your friend, just chat, so the drive doesn’t end up being a drag. It's a feature of the experience. We were driving to the local track and Derek's telling me, "Yeah, I'm thinking. I've been studying electrics, and I think I can make an electric vehicle."

I said, "First of all, it's a tiny industry. The development cost is just overwhelming, and as soon as there's any advantage, the big four, Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, are going to get into it. Building a brand, and building a distribution network; it's high product costs, high inventory costs," and I just couldn't think of a good reason to do it.

Then, there was a mental breakdown at one point between him talking about what it could do, and me thinking, "Well, let's just give it one evening a week, to see if it has any potential." Part of my interest in doing it was born out of the culture that we came up with. If I had an idea, I would pitch it to somebody and then we’d build a team. I would have, say, seven people. I built a snowboard company that way; I had an idea and I told one of my skateboard buddies. He was working for a skateboard company and he said, "I hate my job. Have you got that idea yet? I want to quit and I want to work with you." That's the way these brands, these projects, would emerge.

In this case, this one was Derek's idea and it was me supporting him. For me, there's no difference between my buddy supporting me in an endeavor and me supporting my buddy in an endeavor. It's really that basic notion of what we do. That's this area. That's all I knew. I'd been from one project, to another project, to another project, and Derek and I are pretty similar. We didn't go to Ivy League Schools. We went to San Francisco State, and we put ourselves through college. All we know is to do it ourselves.

If you come from a family that doesn't have a bunch of means, the only way to make something of substance is to do it yourself. Part of it is driven by that really basic thing, "Oh, you've got a house to build? I'll help you build it." I had some reservations — this project, electric motorcycles, is a hell of a house. I'm not claiming that it was the smartest move, but I would be lying if I said anything different. That's where Alta came from.

I don't think we’re there yet as a company. My view on business is there are constituents that make something successful. We put a lot of those constituents in — smart people, good design, right timing. It's a tough project and a huge engineering endeavor because modern gas bikes don't leak oil anymore. They don't really do anything wrong anymore; you can go into the showroom, buy a bike, and it's freaking going to work. The thing's probably not going to need anything for five years, except for chains and tires.

The expectation for a new bike is enormous, so what we're doing is nuts, for sure. The bike has got to deliver on its promise: 40 horsepower, 250 pounds, 30 minute moto race. It delivers on that stuff, and there's a business. Then you get a foothold in it and you establish a brand. This is the time where brands can be made, because if Honda and Yamaha and everybody else have an electric bike, you ain't getting in that door. We're basically creating a portal, a door, into an industry by our own chutzpah, saying, "We can do it." Part of that is NorCal and this area we live in, where the heroes of this area are Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk — these guys with gigantic balls who just fucking do what they say.

Coming up in a working class environment, that's how we operate — you do what you say and if you say it's going to deliver on those numbers, you probably got a shot at it. Hopefully, everybody is working hard to make it happen, because that's what succeeding takes. It's like racing. If we let up a little bit, somebody's going to pass us. If we let up a little more, the whole peloton is going to pass us. We have to be on it, totally on it, all the time.

SEARCHING FOR THE BIG, FAT, PERFECT CURVE

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.

WHEN HANDLING BEATS POWER (HINT: ALMOST ALWAYS)

Last November, a thread popped up on our local motorcycle message board Bay Area Rider’s Forum (BARF) that caught our eyes and then captured our souls. A forum member, Brandon Matthews (handle: “thenewwazoo”) shared a rebuild of a modern classic, the Honda NC35, aka the RVF400, aka “baby RC45,” a 400cc V4 screamer that is possibly the greatest small-displacement four-stroke sport bike ever built. Small, agile bikes hold a special place in our hearts at Alta, and there is something magical about them that has been lost in the last 20 years as bikes have developed to be more powerful, and consequently, heavier. In a write-up of his first ride, a trackday at Laguna Seca, Brandon describes this magic just about perfectly...

Fuck. I guess I'm doing this.

I don't always do shakedown rides, but when I do, it's at 6:15 AM and I’m on my way to the track.

Holy shit. I was ready for the track.

New track, new tires, new bike, rusty rider: The Fear. Yep, I had it. On my first session, I wondered every time I opened the throttle if the ass was going to step out (you can laugh now). I wondered if the brakes were going to sink to the bar and I was going to end up in the gravel. I wondered if the engine was going to spit a piston out the tailpipe. I wondered if, if, if.

And then in the middle of the second session, I started to let it go. And the bike thanked me. I didn't know what the RVF wanted, but I was relaxing enough to explore.

I let my friend ride it for the third session, and I rode his VFR750F. I'll skip over the part where I forgot that his VFR doesn't lean like the RVF does, and nearly Gibernau'd his bike right into the kitty litter. Oops. Once I got back on pavement and he had got in front of me, I couldn't match his braking or corner speed. And keep in mind that he was riding timidly and I was riding aggressively! Here's what he had to say later on:

“Don't tell Brandon this, but that bike is way over the top of magnificent fun. I expected ‘hey this is rare and cool’ but it's more like ‘why are there even bikes that aren't this.’”

The bike rides like nothing else I've been on. It's not razor-sharp. I don't have it set up that way, and probably won't ever do. But it turns in so nicely. And once it's leaned over, it might as well be straight up and down for as much correction as you can give. Mid-corner line changes are a dream. I also didn't find it rewarding to toss the bike around. Not like a big bike in that way. It's all about smooth. Brake late because you can (and you can brake so, so deep), trail brake as much as you want and it won't bite you. Roll the throttle on early - torque is flat like Kansas and predictable like sunrise. There's a rush of power at about 12,500 but it builds so gradually all the way up from about 6,000 that you can scream out of an exit or lug it and it won't care.

By the fifth session, I was really starting to get a feel for the bike. The bike is sublime. Life is good.

I am a golden god.

Why is there an S1000RR in my way? Why won't he fucking let me by? Quit shutting the door in the braking zone so I can get around you! Goddamnit,,  another straightaway. I'll catch you again in two turns. Caught! Brake just a little bit deeper this time, and not as much. Throttle on sooner. Dance on the shifter and keep it on boil, and I'll pass this guy. Pass a modern monster supersport bike with more than twice as much engine, more than twice as much horsepower? Almost got him on the outside but can't pass him on the throttle. Damnit. Up the hill and he's pulling away again. See you into 7! Show him a wheel through the corkscrew. Oh, trying harder now? I can do that too.

Faster is effortless. Faster is rewarding. The bike will teach me, if I let it.

I had been worried that I would get it onto a track, having spent months restoring it, and it would be merely acceptable. Fun enough to enjoy, but not meeting the expectations I'd built over hundreds of hours of work and thousands of dollars. They say you should never meet your heroes, because they’ll only disappoint you. And yet…

…I saw God on Friday. He lives at the top of 4th gear over the crest into Turn 1. He says, "keep it pinned."

WHY ELECTRIC WILL MAKE MARQUEZ (AND YOU) FASTER

Over the last decade, the top levels of motorcycle racing, both on- and off-road, have revealed that performance isn't just a function of power and weight; it's a function of control, of HOW that power is delivered. Both formats took a weight penalty to move from 2 strokes to 4 strokes, and while we can argue over politics, lap times dropped when they did. And now in MotoGP, we are seeing major advantages from engine management that not only smooths the torque curve but smooths the gaps created when the vehicle up- and down-shifts.

The same problems that Honda has spent millions on in motoGP, lumpy torque output and gaps between shifts, electric solves naturally (and for slightly less than the cost of a GP bike). THAT is why Alta went electric, the promise of superior control, balance, and traction.  Electric motors have come a long way from Nikola Tesla’s laboratory in 1888, occupying everything from your smartphone to your washing machine to that Tesla Model S in the driveway. Ignoring the question of energy storage for a moment (i.e. battery vs fuel), an electric motor is vastly more powerful than a combustion motor of equal size. It also delivers that power differently, so the ways we think about and measure vehicle performance are inadequate in articulating that difference. 

 

The bench-racer’s old standbys of power and weight don’t do a good job of telling the story of electric vs electric, let alone gas vs electric. Additionally, a collusion of English majors in marketing departments and editing rooms have conflated peak torque vs. delivered torque by repeatedly describing electrics as having “100% torque off the line.” 100% of what? If it’s the same torque as a Vitamix, I’m unimpressed. So for those of you that don’t have the luxury of being able to test ride the upcoming swathe of electric options, we wanted to deconstruct the mechanics of fast.

For this comparison, we’re taking a simplified look at a 40hp 250cc single cylinder four-stroke gas motor, the kind you’d find on a modern Lites motocrosser, and some equivalent 40hp electric motors. Read on as we break it down.

 

1.     Typical ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) Torque Curve

With an internal combustion engine (ICE), available torque depends on where you are in the rev range, and the usable rev range is limited. 60% throttle at 4000rpm delivers a different amount of torque than 60% throttle at 8000rpm. And below 1,000 rpm it stalls out and dies.

 

2. Available Torque of an Electric Motor vs. ICE motor

 With an electric motor, you have 100% of peak torque available at any point in the rev range. “Available” isn’t the same as “delivered” – we hear a lot of folks worried about light-switch torque delivery. What this really means is that a given amount of throttle input will always give you a consistent response, and you don’t have to “hunt” for the torque.

 

3. Torque at rear wheel for ICE

Torque at the crank doesn’t tell the whole story. Torque at the rear wheel is what accelerates a bike and is the curve you really want to see to understand what is fast. In response to the limited usable rev range of a gas motor, the industry developed selectable transmissions to make more rear wheel torque available at low speeds, and to increase the top speed of the vehicle. You get a layup of curves like this, where a line drawn from crest to crest to crest shows the peak 40 hp, and as a rider you are constantly shifting and slipping clutch to keep the bike up there.

 

4.  Torque at rear wheel, ICE vs. Electric

An electric motor can have more usable range, but not infinite, so with a fixed gear ratio, the available rear wheel torque curves look something like this, with the electric having less torque off the line and a lower top speed.

 

5. Relationship between gearing and rear-wheel torque

Similarly as with a gas-powered motorcycle, if you gear an electric bike for better off the line performance, you lose top speed; gear it for higher top speed, and you lose rear wheel torque.

 

6. Alta’s Advanced Drive Tech

Alta’s motor and controller technology delivers a different curve of available torque than a typical electric motor by staying in the “constant power” zone for much longer, and revving to 14,000 rpm using an internal gear reduction to achieve conventional sprocket sizes and anti-squat characteristics. This allows the motor to be geared much shorter without sacrificing top speed and allows it to deliver more torque earlier in the rev range. Thus, compared to another electric bikes of equal peak power,  Alta is delivering both more low-end torque and a higher top speed.

Proprietary, water-cooled motor housing. Made in house

 

7. Alta vs. ICE Torque Delivery

This also means that Alta can deliver torque in a manner very similar to a gas motor, just much more smoothly. The RedShift is designed to deliver torque like a 250cc bike that is perpetually in the sweet spot of the powerband. You’ll notice the gas bike does have a torque advantage in 1st gear, but we dare you to try to put peak torque down in 1st gear – njoy ur loopz.

 

Conclusion:

Bottom line, gas motors deliver a lumpy torque curve and shifting gears upsets balance and traction, two real challenges on the trail, track, and street that electrics solve. Couple that with rapidly evolving tech on the battery front, and advanced electric powertrains can deliver a pretty incredible riding experience. Done right, electric is not an "alternative" to gas motorcycles, but a natural evolution of them.

Alta has been rabid and unrelenting about our pursuit of building bikes that will make you faster, smoother, better. This has forced us to extremes of elegance, efficiency, and technical innovation to realize the full current potential of this emergent technology, and there’s more to come in the future. We're looking forward to sharing the journey.

THE RIDE

Our VP of Sales, Victor, is an Aerostich posterboy. A lifelong motorcyclist, a pioneer in mountaineering, mountain biking, and more recently electric two-wheelers, to name a few, the guy has lived several lives more full than most folks single shot at it, and continues to wear the rest of us down with his zeal. He commutes from Portland. To San Francisco. By motorcycle. The long way. Every chance he gets.

His last ride had him headed back home on an unusually perfect November weekend. Myself, I racked up about 200 miles ripping up HWY 1, across wine country and back to the coast, and I was pretty proud of myself. Victor logged somewhere between 50 and 70 thousand miles that day. Upon his arrival home, he shared this, and I have to share it with all of you.

 

My ride home was particularly beautiful. Somehow it did not rain. Winter on the Redwood Coast is amazing. The mists are like Japanese prints, the ocean gray and and roiling. The more agitated motion of the Winter seas bring up the strong scent of sea weed and salt. The change from the calm blue of summer to the gray of winter is startling, The mist cause the tops of the Giant Redwoods to disappear and they seem to be even bigger and taller. Oregon is about half evergreen and half deciduous. There is a short window of time between Fall and Winter, before the deciduous tree leaves fall, when they erupt in a riot of yellows, golds and reds. It doesn't last long. Usually the rain is insistent and constant, and pulls the colorful leaves off the branches quickly. Occasionally there is a break in the rain, and on even rarer days there is brilliant sunshine to illuminate the colors and cause the countryside to gleam in a way that takes the breath away. Anyway, that is what happened on my ride home.

That is one of the reasons that I ride. It is not the same in a car, or airplane.

As the weather gets worse I will have to rely on more conventional transport. But then I'll begin to look forward to riding again in the spring.

Our team loves motorcycles and I love our team. Ride safe, my friends, every chance you get.

Stay fast,
Marc

RETROMOTO: INSIDER'S ARCHIVE, NOVEMBER 2010

Amazing how far this company has come in the 18 or so months since we first shared pictures of the soon-to-be-beating heart of our demonic offspring.

____________________

November 11, 2010

Subject: ”Prototype Gestation”

Rapidistos,

This fast little bun is in the oven... aluminum, copper, rare-earth elements, and steel are being cut, molded, cast, wound, and gently messaged in the wombs of top-secret, underground fabrication facilities by an ancient cabal of go-fast monks as I write. Now we just let the wonders of nature take their course, and our bouncing demonic bundle of joy will emerge wheelie-ing and screaming. Like any pregnancy, this is where it gets awkward, ungainly and painful, but also beautiful in that miracle-of-creation-and-mood-swings way. Jeff has had wicked morning sickness and Derek is developing a taste for pickles and chocolate.

 

First sonogram:

(editor's note: a fun game is to play Mad Libs with the redacted portions. E.g. "Jupiter" "pudding")

Like any proud parents-to-be, we've been practicing in advance. We built a full scale model of the bike to get the ergonomics and design juuuust right. With cross testing between team tall (Derek and Dave) and team not-so-tall (Marc and Jeff), we've now got a design that isn't just so hot that feral cats instinctively yowl when they see it, but that lets the rider smoothly drop back properly for a nasty rocky descent then slam forward to weight the front wheel in a handlebar-to-the-ground corner.

I still can't share the coolest stuff, since we haven't filed a meaty chunk of the patents yet. There's a whole lot more to this bike than just being really really ridiculously good-looking and electric. I have to treat it as trade secret, which means the only way I can tell you about the awesomeness is if you come to the studio, sign an NDA, and swear on an ancient cursed talisman to not tell a soul what you've seen or heard. It's like Mission Impossible 3 up in this rig. But in due time, I'm looking forward to sharing all of the little details that add up to this being one really special ride.

Until next time, stay fast,
- Marc

RETROMOTO: INSIDER'S ARCHIVE, OCTOBER 2010

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Origins of the RedShift species.
For context, up until this email a year and a half ago no one, not even insiders, had any idea what the hell we were building in there. For all they knew from the noise, we were trying to extract enemy intelligence from Wall-E.

____________________

October 7, 2010

Subject: ”Private Showing”

Rapidistos,
You've been patiently tolerating my obtuse and esoteric emails, and we at Alta appreciate that immensely. It's been our firm policy from the start that we not make any public claims about what we're creating until we know them to be true... Here in Silicon Valley, we've watched too many startups (not to mention big, established companies) over-promise and under-deliver. That said, we want to clue you in on what we're really up to and why we think it's something special. So keeping that in mind, and silently promising to keep this to yourselves, this is what Alta Motors is about.

 

We love motorcycles. The best ones make you tingle when you look at them, giggle when you ride them, and scare you just a little bit (i.e. score a 90 or above on the Tingle-Giggle-Scream Index). We love going fast. And we love finding new ways and new places to go fast. Our goal from the beginning was to create motos that are faster and easier to ride fast than anything else out there. We think we can do that with electric drivetrains. It's not about "good enough for an electric;" we are building what we expect to be the first electric vehicle that can beat a gas-powered vehicle in an existing mainstream race format - motocross. Because that's what we, ourselves, would want to ride. Because we want the next bike we purchase, gas or electric, to be faster than the last bike we owned. Then we plan to take the take the face-ripping performance of that race bike directly to recreational dirt riders and urban commuters (hooligans?) who can suddenly benefit the power:weight of a race bike while never stalling, never having to feather a clutch, never skipping a ride because they haven't changed the oil, and being able to slip out for backyard laps and midnight runs without getting the cops called for noise complaints.

So here it is, no more teasers, the Alta RedShift*
obviously, this is an outdated rendered circa 2010. Sweet hangar though, right?

This bike has been designed to take on the best 250cc four-stroke race bikes at a professional level... to be up to national supercross and motocross standards. It uses everything the big guys have learned about handling, suspension,and rider position over the last 40 years of racing, then drops in a drivetrain and chassis built from scratch to reset the bar on the Tingle-Giggle-Scream Index. To achieve this, we had to create our own powerplant that is half the size and twice the power of what is being used in other electrics, shoehorn in a battery about a third larger than the biggest electric dirt bikes, and engineer a chassis that integrates it all into a package that properly centers the mass, maintains the rider position, and is actually slimmer than a gas bike. We also think it's damn sexy.

We hope that gets your juices flowing, and we hope that keeps you hanging in there while we continue to build thing.

Until next time, stay fast,
-Marc

BORN IN THE DIRT

Dirt bikes make great street bikes. Better street bikes. Counter-intuitive, no? Let’s have a history lesson...

Meet Kenny. Kenny is from Modesto California and grew up riding dirt bikes. Kenny changed motorcycle racing forever. In the dirt, a motorcycle is always slipping, sliding, moving. Getting the rear tire to hook up and keep the bike upright is a constant challenge compared to a road bike on grippy tires that is self balancing as long as the tires stick. When Kenny took on Grand Prix road racing in a era when motorcycle motors were a lot better than the chassis and tires that carried them, he became dominant by being more comfortable on the bikes at and past their limits of traction than any of the riders that had come up without the dirt ((flat track, to be specific) background. He changed the way road racers position their bodies on the bike, getting off the inside of the bike to improve the tire contact patch and using his knee for stability and lean angle reference like a dirt rider’s boot. He changed the way racers steer their bikes, breaking the rear tire loose and spinning it through the corners (a prospect that was terrifying to road racers but natural to flat track dirt racers) to line up the straightaway and accelerate out of a turn as soon as possible.

All of that because dirt taught him techniques, throttle control, and comfort with a “loose” bike that couldn’t easily be learned on the street. From 1983 to 1999, every 500 cc world championship was won by a rider with a dirt track racing background (1). Eventually, chassis and tires caught up to power, and more importantly electronic traction control enabled the bikes themselves to manage traction  instead of the rider. The fine throttle control developed from dirt riding is no longer the advantage it used to be in road racing... but on the street, in a real world of rain, sand, gravel and potholes there’s still a lot to be learned from the dirt.

Just like dirt riding pushed pilots to develop additional skills and comfort, dirt riding pushes our engineers to develop the RedShift for more than a swept road race surface. If our bike can communicate to the rider the changing traction of dirt to mud, if we can manage the way the tire spins up moving from a jump face (high traction) to the air (no traction), if we can tune the chassis for no headshake accelerating out of a loose loamy corner and into a rutted straight, the street bikes will be that much better, that much more controllable, when they encounter pea gravel spilled across a corner, car-swallowing potholes, an icy patch or standing water, and the odd air off of frost heaves and cross streets.

REDSHIFT IN ACTION: TRACK DAY AND FIRST JOURNALIST RIDES

We hauled our precious out to Infineon's kart track last Sunday for a day of supermoto with new resident Fast Guy, Drew Dickson, and a pair of journalists from Asphalt & Rubber and Hell For Leather Magazine. We had some gorgeous, crisp blue weather and a dry, swept track and a wonderful hostess named Becky who was extremely tolerant of our antics.

 

Before boring you with the details, how about some pretty (moving) pictures, courtesy of Wes Rowe (you'll want to view in HD, 1080p if you can):

We brought my personal KTM 250 XCF-W out for comparison testing, loaded with Derek's factory kit (dunlop slicks on 16.5/17 wheels and a monstrous front brake setup by Braking). We sent Drew out for a couple of sessions on the RedShift to shake it down, provide some good photo ops, and show the journos how it's done. Then we sent the journos out one-by-one on the KTM first ("this is the bike you're allowed to crash") followed by the RedShift ("If you crash this, you're never invited back again. And we will hunt down your family").

Despite the stern warning, the skinny street rubber on the Alta, AND a artificial top speed limit of 56mph on the RedShift (for their own safety) both of them were significantly faster on the RedShift. Jensen from A&R settled into 1:12s on the KTM and ran 1:08s on the Alta. Sean of HFL settled into 1:09 even for the KTM, and was turning that time on the RedShift by his second lap. On his third, he got cocky and tried to back it in with a touch of rear brake... everyone's heart stopped for a solid 2-count while he barely saved the resulting highside. That shook him up and soon after a challenging lurch that had appeared for the first time that day got worse, so we decided to pack it in. That's the way it goes with prototypes sometimes.

The good news is, these guys had a chance to see and feel how much more powerful the RedShift is than the KTM, AND how much more manageable it is in the corners. With the artificial speed limit on the RedShift, these guys were making all their time in the tight sections despite the KTM being on much better rubber. We're feeling better and better that our goal of building a bike that isn't just faster, but is easier to ride fast, is within reach. We all can't wait to see how this translates to dirt.

Stay tuned and stay fast...

CLASS CONTINUED (ALTA 102)

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Alta 102 - Intro to Batteries
My last post explained why electric motors are the shizzle, producing outrageous power out of a tiny package, with little to no maintenance.

Okay, so why don’t electric motors already rule the world? It’s because of the front side of that “energy in, power out” equation. Unfortunately, today’s batteries have nothing on a tank of gas. For the same weight, gasoline holds a magnitude more energy than the best batteries commercially available. Even with brushless electric motors being 3-4X more efficient than the best gas motors, that means it takes many times as much battery (by weight) than gas to go the same distance. And gas is cheap. Batteries are getting better and are finally (with Li-Ion tech) durable, reliable, and safe, but pound for pound they are no match for mother nature's hydrocarbon magic and won't be for awhile.

 

Hard to blame her. If you were creating a universe, would you store energy in that battery?

Or here?

So at present, technology has an amazing power output device (electric motor), but a mediocre energy storage device (battery). As soon as batteries improve sufficiently, electric motors will take over rapidly and almost universally, but that may not happen for a decade. Where can we take advantage of these amazing motors right now? Anywhere in the world of gas technology that is using a high-output gas engine hooked to a wee little gas tank. Alta found that in motocross and supermoto, where there is a premium for lightweight, high power bikes, but as off-road and short course specialists (respectively) they never hit the 120mph (let alone 200mph) top speeds nor road-trip distances of a highway- or long course-optimized vehicle. It's a rare space where we think we can go faster on an electric than gas vehicle (and tire out the user before we tire out the battery). And going faster is what it's all about.

CLASS IS IN SESSION (ALTA 101)

Alta 101 - Intro to Electric Motors

This is part of a little series we’re going to do to help the layperson understand electric vehicles, how they compare to gas vehicles, and how they compare to each other. Henry Ford did the same thing on his blog when his Model A was replacing horse and carriage. If you’re a professional or even an armchair engineer, you may want to skip it.

Vehicles, both gas and electric, can be split into two parts: input and output. In a gas vehicle, energy input is stored in your fuel tank and energy output comes from burning that fuel in an internal combustion (gas) engine. In an electric vehicle, the energy input is stored in a battery and energy output comes from an electric motor. Simple, right? Bear with us here.

In 101 we’ll look at energy output, aka the “fun side.” At Alta, we separate of electric drivetrains in two types, economy or performance, generally defined by their voltage and their motor technology. Systems that run on less than 100V or use brushed motors are generally simple and inexpensive to build, and are fairly reliable. Brushed motors are called such because they make a mechanical connection between the two moving parts of an electric motor which brush against each other to transfer electricity. This is a very simple way to make sure each part knows where the other part is, but it causes friction and the brushes wear out eventually. You’ll find these in your blender, your cordless drill, and in most electric scooters and golf carts. The basic technology has been around for 130 years and constitutes what we call the economy category. However, this technology doesn’t quite cut it for high-power applications like electric cars.

To get the power output needed to match the gas engines in modern cars and motorcycles, electrics require voltages well over 100V. For efficiency and low maintenance, they need brushless motors. Brushless motors don’t have a mechanical connection between the two moving parts, so they are more efficient and lower maintenance, but require sophisticated systems of sensors and controls to make each of the two moving parts know where the other one is. As an analogy to the gas world, you can think of it as the difference between your pull-start lawn mower and your car. Both run on gasoline, but the car requires some serious brain power and delivers considerably more power and efficiency as a result.

A lites-class (250cc four-stroke) gas race bike puts out around 35hp in stock trim, though usually up to about 40hp after tuning. To put it in perspective, with the rider on them these bikes have the power:weight ratio of a modern Porsche 911 Carrera.  To compete, Alta has had to develop a high-voltage, brushless, liquid-cooled drivetrain from scratch.  This allowed us to create a motor that is about twice as powerful and half the size of off-the-shelf electric motors like the Agni 95.  From initial testing, we can say, the thing absolutely rips and if you look at the chart of rear wheel torque of the RedShift vs. a lites class motocrosser below, you can see why. Rear wheel torque is what actually pushes you and the bike forward. In the chart, you’re seeing that the gas bike matches our top end in 1st and second gear, but only for a moment at its peak. The rest of the time, and in the rest of the gears, anywhere the red line is above the blue one the RedShift is pulling ahead. In fact, even in first gear, the gas bike isn’t winning because it’s traction limited – you can’t actually use all of that torque without spinning up the wheel, which is why racers start at the gates in 2nd gear.

Why the RedShift gets the holeshot every time.

Size matters, and in this case, smaller is better because as you’ll find out in class 102, we need as much space and weight for the battery as possible. The Alta motor is about 4″ in diameter by 9″ in length – about the size of your fancy new water bottle. In bench testing, it cranked out about 46hp with a bit of headroom left to go, though for production we’ll keep it at about 40hp. It’s the most advanced motor ever planned for a production electric motorcycle, but that’s what it takes if the goal is to be better than what we already have in gas bikes.

Next up, Alta 102 – Intro to Batteries. Stay tuned…

REDSHIFT WALLPAPER

More office-friendly than the porn you are currently stealing glances at, we're providing some fresh wallpaper for your workstation. My favorite is the one styled by our own multi-talented engineer, Dave. 

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TEAM ALTA IN ACTION - PROTOTYPE BUILD VIDEO

As we were ramping up to build the pre-production prototype and prep it for the launch, a young filmographer from Bozeman, MT by the name of Sam Erickson asked if he could capture the process on video. We checked out a few of his short ski vids and, amid visions of silver screen famedom, said "why the hell not?"

I mean. Come on. No. Seriously. That is some good $#!@. I've watched it at least 43 times. I cried twice. To be fair, I'm both vain and emotionally fragile, but you should watch it at least 5 or 6 times and then call your mother. She misses you.