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.