Now this is COOL: "Electric Motorcycle" leaves Noise, Fumes in dust:

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by tigerhonaker, Sep 30, 2006.

  1. tigerhonaker

    tigerhonaker Platinum Contributor

    Posted on Fri, Sep. 29, 2006

    Cal Poly grad an electric innovator

    Electric motorcycle
    leaves noise, fumes in dust

    New Lithium Power

    Matt Nauman

    San Jose Mercury News

    SAN JOSE – As Neal Saiki explains it, his career progression makes perfect sense.
    He designed a human-powered helicopter in college at Cal Poly in the 1980s, then worked at NASA and then helped develop a high-altitude airplane (to be used to confirm global warming and as a spy plane) for another employer. Next, he became a famous mountain-bike designer, and now he’s making electric motorcycles.

    The common themes? Innovation.

    The use of lightweight, high-strength materials. And, of course, Saiki, 40, whose Electricross opened in a small Scotts Valley shopping center in July.
    This month, one of his bikes, the Drift, competed against gasoline-powered motorcycles in a race near Sacramento.

    He’s convinced of the inevitability of electric transportation, and knows that dirt-bike riders face growing pressure from people who don’t like the pollution (noise and smoke) they produce.

    The Drift, is hand-built. Saiki designed it and uses shops in Soquel, San Jose and Santa Cruz to make the parts. He starts with aircraft-grade aluminum and does final assembly in his 1,140-square-foot workshop in back of the store’s display area.
    Two models exist. The all-terrain version sells for $5,500. The motocross-ready one, complete with shocks from Fox Racing, now based in Watsonville, is $6,300.

    He’s talked to potential investors, and knows he’ll need their help to turn his small enterprise into a successful business.

    But, he said, he wants to do more than make money.

    "Electric vehicles have a horrible image problem – that they’re slow, they’re not powerful and they’re not fun," he said. "I’m really trying to change that image."

    Many young people love off-road bikes, especially those built for motocross activities. Events such as the X Games and the recent Dew Action Sports Tour in San Jose have become popular. His store is right next to Scotts Valley’s middle school, and every other kid he sees is wearing a Fox Racing T-shirt, Saiki said.

    "The kids these days love to see all the motorcycles jumping, doing flips," he said.
    That’s why the Web site has videos that show the Drift flying through the air, and taking hard turns. He said it shows the bike is rugged, capable and comparable to gasoline models.

    It weighs 140 pounds, including the 60-pound battery. A motocross bike such as the Honda CRF250R weighs 215 pounds and sells for $6,199. Similar models from Kawasaki and Yamaha are just a bit cheaper.

    "It weighs a lot more than a mountain bike, but weighs about half the weight of a motorcycle," said Saiki. To preserve that combination of lightness and strength he had to design most of the parts, including the frame, wheel, rim and spokes, rather than buy off-the-shelf parts.

    The secret is in the Drift’s electric motor, made in China by Briggs and Stratton. It’s lined with strong, rare-earth neodymium magnets. They’re strong and efficient, Saiki said.

    "If you set one on a table, you almost have to use a screwdriver to pry it off a table," he said.

    They allow the bike to go about 20 miles on a charge using about a dime’s worth of electricity, Saiki said. Top speed is 45 to 50 mph.

    The bike comes with a choice of three powerpacks, ranging from one that costs $210 to $2,200 for one with a lithium-ion battery. "It’s half the weight. It doubles the run time, and it’s very expensive," Saiki said.

    Two charging units also are offered – one takes 30 minutes, the other takes two hours. But, Saiki said, the bike is designed for a fast change of batteries so riders can ride one and charge another at the same time.

    As a student at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo in 1989, Saiki headed a group that created the Da Vinci IV, a 97-pound helicopter that took a short ride into history. With a world-class bicyclist pedaling, it left the ground for a few seconds.

    That fascination with transportation – he has a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering – eventually led him to design work as a consultant for championship mountain-bike teams. And advances in electric-motor technology convinced him of the potential for a powerful, efficient electric motorcycle.

    The Drift competed in American Motorcyclist Association Formula 100 race on Sept. 16, but a problem with the drive sprocket prevented it from finishing, according to the company’s Web site.

    Dal Smilie, chairman of the 250,000-member AMA, characterizes the demonstration of an electric off-road motorcycle as a "pretty radical departure" for the AMA.
    "It is pretty exciting to see alternatives to traditional fossil-fuel vehicles being tested, examined and used," Smilie said. Innovations in racing often eventually show up in street vehicles, he noted.

    "All this will help engineers perfect alternative methods of propulsion which will make motorcycles more efficient and more useful than they already are," said Smilie, a government lawyer who lives in Montana.

    Although intended for off-road use, the Drift comes with a toggle switch that reduces the power and allows it to be driven on roads as an electric bicycle.

    Tony Watson, and his 10-year-old son, Andrew, are happy to be among the first owners of a Drift from Electricross.

    Watson, who lives in the woods in Scotts Valley, noticed that new neighbors can be more sensitive to noise. "Before, the kids could go putt-putting down the street and nobody made a fuss. People moved in, and that changed."

    He saw a newspaper advertisement for Electricross, and went to check it out. Impressed with the quality and engineering of Saiki’s bike, he bought one.

    It’s for Andrew – he has five dirt bikes in the garage. But when 280-pound Watson brought it home in his truck, he was tempted to try it out.

    "Two and a half hours later, I finally retired it to the garage for the night," said Watson, who sells recreational vehicles. "It’s the biggest spectacle around."

    So far, he said, the bike has held up well to off-road use, the kind of tough-terrain activity that shreds a back tire. In fact, Watson said, he’s thinking of getting another one.

    Saiki admits that "a lot of Americans have a real love affair with the noisy motorcycle." Still, he said, "even if you love it, your neighbor doesn’t love it."

    Founder: Neal Saiki

    Where: Scotts Valley

    Product: Drift, an electric dirt bike

    How much: $5,500 to $6,300, including battery and charger

    Dealers: Four (two in Southern California, one in Virginia, one in South Africa)

    Event: Race this weekend vs. gas motorcycles near Sacramento.

    Quote: "This is the future of motorcycles."

    Web site:

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