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.