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.