When it comes to electric motorcycles, I am not interested in saving the manatees. I don’t stand around in Starbucks parking lots debating the finer points of offsetting my carbon footprint. It is perfectly fine if that is your calling in life, but when it comes to motorcycles, I am really only interested in one thing: going fast. I am not going to berate someone for wanting to save the environment, or decrease our dependency on foreign energy reserves — those are both worthy and important sentiments that I share as well, just not when it comes to my two-wheel decadence.
The only political debate I am interested in hearing during a discussion about motorcycles is the politics of the apex. If you want to talk about “the green movement” on a ride with me, it better be in regards to your Kawasaki, which is why I have a love/hate relationship with the electric motorcycle community. There are two types of operators in this space, and they are seemingly at odds with each other. One group is convinced that petroleum is an imperfect fuel source, while the other thinks that petroleum-burning motorcycles are imperfect machines.
We can reconcile both these factions with the notion that they are both correct in the big picture, but when it comes to adoption of electric vehicles, only the Steve Austin principle applies: better, stronger, and most importantly faster. The modern sport bike is an analog machine, and the electric superbike is its digital successor.
Over one hundred years of riding on the vinyl scratches and distortions of gasoline motors has blinded us to the future. We use words like warmth and character to justify our resistance to the inevitable change coming, but make no mistake that the mainstream will readily adopt the MP3 riding movement once it hits its critical moments in price and performance parity. This does not mean the death of internal combustion, after all you can still find audiophiles with tube amps and vast LP collections — a certain amount of the demographic has to be frozen in time, right Harley-Davidson?
There is this idea though that motorcycles can be better than they currently are now. They can be integrated machines, from fuel source to wheel-spin. Road inputs don’t have to be muted by engine vibrations, throttle adjustments can happen at the speed of light, and fine…we can also save the manatees in the process. The concept being discussed here is the Digital Superbike, and the man who coined the term is Michael Czysz.
Traveling to Portland, Oregon to see Czysz’s latest creation, I got see first-hand how the MotoCzysz E1pc was progressing with its digital revolution. Read-on for that account.
Digital vs. Analog:
Our venue is Portland International Raceway, which is conveniently nestled across the highway from the airport. Five miles from the city center, the “roll out of bed” proximity of PIR to Portland more than makes up for the fact that the track has really only one left-hand turn to speak of, and let’s not get started about the provisions regarding the local fauna and their mating seasons within the track’s premises.
Tongue out of cheek, Portland is sort of a motorcyclist’s dream, hosting a fun race circuit in such close proximity to the city’s limits, and several other more technical courses within a few hours’ drive. It makes sense then that Michael Czysz would start his MotoGP program in this area, and continue his electric motorcycle project in this very eco-conscious area. Of course, the idea behind the MotoCzysz E1pc isn’t to save the planet — it is to find the pinnacle of what motorcycles can offer enthusiasts.
It should make sense then that development of the 2012 MotoCzysz E1pc can trace its roots back to the MotoCzysz C1 MotoGP project. A conventionally powered motorcycle that was anything but conventional, MotoCzysz challenged a number of status quo conceptions in motorcycling with the C1′s design, and developed a number of innovations in the progress. While you won’t find any technology from the C1′s 990cc 15° V4 engine in the E1pc, a number of the GP bike’s chassis components remain, and have been further improved upon.
Looping back and framing the conversation correctly, Czysz and his crew are striving to build an electric race bike that provides performance parity with gas bikes, and then exceeds those benchmarks — just as the group strived to do with its MotoGP project. The idea isn’t to build a motorcycle that meets the high-water mark currently set by modern sport bikes, but the hope is to be the flood tide that raises that mark to a new level.
Until now, that progress has been measured by the stopwatches held by the racing stewards at the Isle of Man TT.
Helping us here assess the progress of the 2012 MotoCzysz E1pc is the latest bullet from Bologna, the Ducati 1199 Panigale S, which was kindly lent to us by the good folk at MotoCorsa, Portland’s go-to Ducati shop. Our hosts for the track time are the fine men and women of Pacific Super Sport Riders (PSSR), who were more than accommodating to our needs, even when I broke the passing rules through the final chicane (I missed the riders’ meeting).
It seems only natural then, that in order to talk about where the 2012 MotoCzysz E1pc stands, we must first start with the Ducati.
Ducati 1199 Panigale – Long Play Microgroove:
Highly anticipated and well-received, the the Ducati 1199 Panigale S is the lightest mass-production superbike on the market according to Italian brand, and tips the scales at 414.5 lbs when fully fueled. Add to the mix that the all-new Superquadro engine puts out 195 peak horsepower, and that the Panigale comes with a venerable alphabet soup of systems and rider aids, and it is easy to see why the Ducati 1199 Panigale has become the superbike of the 2012 model year. Ducati has struck all the right chords for the fan boys and spec-sheet racers, and with good reason — the Panigale is a superb machine.
Former Ducati Supebike owners might have a tough time adapting to the Panigale though, as in the company’s quest for outright maximum horsepower, the Panigale loses some of that mid-range grunt that is such an integral characteristic of Ducati’s machines. When I rode the Ducati 1199 Panigale S when it first came out, I was able to do so with a Ducati Superbike 1198 available for comparison. Two bikes cut from the same cloth, but very different in character.
On the 1198, there is a meaty bit of torque waiting for you in the middle of the rev-range, which not only gives you a nice broad powerband to work with, but also it effectively connects the rider to the machine. While the 1198 might not be as potent up top as an inline-four, the outgoing Superbike had plenty of pep, and could more than make up for the deficit with its superior drive out of the corners. Conversely, the Ducati 1199 Panigale acts in many ways like the machines it is not.
Though it spools up quickly, both times riding the Ducati 1199 Panigale S it was noticeable how little room one has to work with when it comes to getting the power down. Living in the top of the tachometer, riding a Panigale is a lot like riding any modern four-stroke four-cylinder liter bike. Producing smooth power delivery all the way to its redline, it is easy to get lost with the Ducati 1199 Panigale’s gearing, as you don’t get the same feedback from the revs and torque as you would on the Ducati Superbike 1198.
That being said, rolling out onto PIR for the first time in my career, I probably couldn’t have asked for a better machine on which to learn the Oregonian track. Light, nimble, and still plenty powerful, riding the Panigale on a race course is a very effortless experience, which afforded me the extra mental bandwidth to learn the turns of PIR, and to correct my bevy of mistakes in the opening session.
Home of a three-quarter-mile long front straightaway that dumps you into a double-apex right-hander, PIR’s faster corners at Turns 1, 2, & 3 flowed well on the Panigale, but the Italian bike’s frankly anorexic design brilliantly shined on the two chicanes that bookended the sweeping back straight that truly starts at Turn 4. While catching riders down the 155 mph+ drag strip at PIR highlights the superquadro motor, it is when you are leaned over going through the 140 mph back straightaway section showcases the “frameless” chassis on the Panigale.
Hard on the brakes into Turn 7 and the start of second chicane, a quick flick left-to-right brings you onto Turn 9, and back onto the drag strip for another go of things. Since we rolled the Ducati 1199 Panigale S right out of MotoCorsa and onto the track, the suspension settings we used were stock to whatever they were when the bike left the showroom floor. Using the Panigale firstly to learn the track, and secondly to set at least a basic benchmark for a comparable ICE machine, we didn’t develop the Panigale beyond the way it arrived, street tires and all. Even so, the Panigale abides.
My best lap on the Ducati was a 1’21 which isn’t going to do anything for my amateur racing career, but for three morning sessions on an unfamiliar track, I was reasonably happy with the pace the Panigale afforded, while maintaining a comfortable safety margin that meant no $23,000 checks would have to be written that day. Maybe I could have broken into the teens had I rode the whole day on the Ducati, but that is just backseat lap-timing, with an excuses garnish. With three sessions on the Panigale in the can, onward I went to see what the 2012 MotoCzysz E1pc could offer in response.
2012 MotoCzysz E1pc – 0100010101010110:
With the morning sessions over, the good folks at PSSR let us run the MotoCzysz E1pc during the lunch break, giving the entire track over to the electric superbike. Essentially the same bike Michael Rutter rode to victory at the Isle of Man TT, MotoCzysz has made some strides on the E1pc’s suspension since that June race. While the chassis was an improvement over its TT form, the battery pack had not aged as gracefully, and as such the E1pc’s regenerative braking was turned down (read: off) to spare the pack the unnecessary stresses and added heat from recapturing the kinetic energy from the rear wheel.
On a short track like PIR, the system gains from the re-gen would have been negligible anyways, but the lack of “engine braking” was noticed as I barreled down the front straight and into the apex of Turn 1. Giving what I thought was a comfortable amount of stopping distance into the first Turn 1, the free-wheeling nature of E1pc was readily apparent. Calibrated to the copious amounts of engine-braking on the Panigale, something that suits my riding style greatly, it was a stark contrast to hop onto the E1pc and contend with the complete lack of deceleration when you close the throttle.
Trailing the brakes deep into the first apex, two things were readily apparent with the MotoCzysz E1pc: despite its considerable weight over the Panigale, it has tremendous braking potential (slicks + top-shelf Brembo race kit), and the chassis was extremely well-sorted for weight transfer. Riding through the bumpy fast sweepers of T1, T2, and T3, the MotoCzysz E1pc was astonishingly supple, and provided heaps of feedback.
It is worth noting that it is next to impossible to coax a wheelie out of the 2012 MotoCzysz E1pc, not because of any sort imbalance fore to aft in the bike’s mass, but because of the extensive work MotoCzysz has put into the E1pc’s chassis and its anti-squatting characteristics. Transferring weight seamlessly left to right, as well as front to rear, it is the E1pc’s overall balance that is its most defining feature, though 200+ hp doesn’t hurt much either.
Riders don’t realize how much feedback from a motorcycle is lost through the combination of an internal combustion motor and transmission system, but on a vibration free electric motorcycle with an electric throttle, the link between your right hand and the rear tire is seamless — and the MotoCzysz E1pc brings an added level of sophistication to this process. Benefiting from the gains first made on the MotoCzysz C1, it is clear the MotoCzysz team has refined that basic design, and only made further enhancements to it with the latest iteration of the MotoCzysz E1pc.
Where it took several sessions to begin to crack the code on Panigale, and to begin to feel comfortable on the 1199cc machine, the E1pc spoke a language that translated into my native tongue in just a lap or two. If I entered the first turns of my out-lap short on confidence, I left them with a refined trust in what the MotoCzysz E1pc could accomplish.
Certainly, part of the difference is due to the fact that while I was on the Panigale, I was learning both the bike and the course, whereas on the E1pc the track at that point was a known entity, and only the bike provided riding intrigue. However, spooling down the back section of PIR, and into the final turns, the MotoCzysz E1pc felt like a very familiar machine, sans the lack of engine braking of course.
There is no traction control on the 2012 MotoCzysz E1pc, which is interesting considering the digital superbike platform that we discussed earlier. Traditional riders, who are trained to feel the level of grip between the bike and the road, would find such a system to be superfluous, and as such would welcome the clear signals that the E1pc sends as you reach its limits.
If there is one thing that the MotoCzysz E1pc exudes, it is rider confidence in the machine. However, it cannot be denied that when there is so much power and torque available from a machine, extracting every last ounce of potential from the E1pc likely means some sort of addition of rider aides, like traction control, for the future.
Slipping across the drag strip slag as I exited Turn 9, my first proper go down the drag strip / front straight ensued. It is worth mentioning that MotoCzysz designed the E1pc to be ridden in a very “Moto3/GP125″ style when tucked into the machine. Ass all the way to the back of the seat, knees and elbows in, the E1pc’s areo fins do the rest of the work while you grin and pray. Almost instantly forgetting the proper posture I was shown in the pit lane for the front straight, blasts of wind on my elbows reminded me where to stick my arms, and I was rewarded with an almost instant loss of pressure against my body.
I am an educated man. I hold four degrees in social science. Accordingly, this means that when it comes to complex concepts of aerodynamics, I just nod my head and agree. The MotoCzysz E1pc’s aero package comes from a bevy of detailed computational fluid dynamics simulations (CFD) in SolidWorks, which minimizes the air pressure on the front of the motorcycle, while maximizing the air pressure behind it. Or so I’m told.
The result of all this work is that the 2012 MotoCzysz E1pc, with all its fins and ducts, looks like something similar to the bastard child that was consummated when the art deco movement got drunk late one Thursday night and made sweet love to a neon-clad Buck Rogers.
Talking to Michael about his design, he readily admits that visually it is a bit much, but in order to ensure that his team broke the 100 mph barrier this year, and took home the £10,000 check from the Isle of Man, function had to come ahead of form for the 2012 bike. For next year, he promises something a bit more visually appealing for fans, though it will retain many of the gains the team found this year.
Be that as it may, a quick 160 mph pass affirms all the hard work that went into the E1pc’s fairings and design — the bike seems to effortlessly cut through the wind. Now, there has been plenty said about how quiet these machines are at speed, and you can easily spot the antagonists who have never seen a proper electric motorcycle by their use of the word “silent” when referencing a bike like the MotoCzysz E1pc.
There is nothing “silent” about the jet turbine-like, Tie Fighter-esque, turbo-spooling electric motor’s whine as it shoots past you at triple-digit speeds.
I have been on several of these high-power electric motorcycles now, and they all sound roughly the same as they scream past you, but only the E1pc has a unique sound when you are crouched-in and riding it. The experience is like sticking your head inside a waterfall — there is so much wind rushing effortlessly past you as you break 100 mph and go onward — it is like the motorcycle is tuned to a dead channel on a television, with the volume turned up all the way.
Breaking from the bubble as I return to the first turn of PIR, my body is like a giant air brake as it liberates itself from the protection against the aerodynamic forces at play on the machine. Maybe there is something to this madness after all? Heading back into my first of six right-hand turns, there is little time to contemplate the merits of Czysz’s trade-off in aesthetics, but each corner confirms the resolute chassis I am attached to on this ride.
Where the Panigale needs a more flowing corner entry in order to keep the bike’s speed going through the apex and out of the corner exit, the MotoCzysz E1pc lends itself to a more point-and-shoot riding style, where the electric motor’s tugboat amount of torque can be used to rocket out of each corner. The chassis seems to be of a different mind though, and begs to be ridden hard into the corner’s entry. With the major rotating masses being the wheels and chain, the E1pc, like other electrics, benefits from having less force to overcome when making a mid-turn correction.
Combine that fact with the benefits of a motor that pulls like a freight train and a chassis that moves like a ballerina, and the MotoCzysz E1pc proves how competent of a race bike it can be on a closed circuit. Moving through traffic and dicing with opponents, often times the optimal line is not an available option, which is where a bike like the E1pc has the advantage. Equally adaptable to favoring either side of the apex, a rider has multiple options when it comes to making a passing move through a turn.
One of the big drawbacks to the MotoCzysz E1pc is understanding at a glance what is going on with the machine’s systems. With battery voltage and amperage playing such an important role in the E1pc’s abilities, the amount of information streamed to the rider, in addition to the usual bits of information like engine speed, machine velocity, lap time, etc., is overwhelming. During our test, I had to stop twice in order for the MotoCzysz crew to assess the E1pc’s state, and to confirm all systems were go for another set of laps.
Needing to pre-plan the use of every electron for the 37+ mile course at the Isle of Man, it is easy for TT racers to go outside of the bounds of their energy consumption plan, and while staring at the columns of numbers on the MotoCzysz E1pc’s dash as I headed down PIR’s front straight, I can understand why — the most useful piece of information, how many more laps can I do, is not displayed.
At the Isle of Man TT, there is no pit crew with a waiting laptop, and the riders have to read the bevy of information on the dash — all while lapping at triple-digit speeds — on city streets. One of the big gains the MotoCzysz team will be working on over the winter break is how it conveys information to the rider, and in what manner that information is provided. This is what the whole “digital superbike” thing is about.
DAT vs. Compact Cassette?
Coming back into the pits and reviewing my laps, it is clear that with each pass I was getting faster and faster, and my best lap in my single-session ride on the MotoCzysz E1pc was a 1’24 — noticeably slower than my time on the Ducati 1199 Panigale S, but not by an overwhelming amount. I would hazard a guess that a good part of the difference in pace is surely due to the considerably less seat-time I had on the E1pc, when compared to the Panigale, but one has to also factor in the obvious differences between the two bikes.
The MotoCzysz E1pc has well over 100 lbs of extra heft than the Ducati 1199 Panigale S, and while the monstrous amounts of torque on the E1pc helps the bike overcome that deficit, the amount you can twist the throttle on a bike without traction control is limited. Also, for as good as the MotoCzysz E1pc’s chassis is, the Panigale’s is no slouch either. Coupled to a considerably powerful motor, a Christmas tree of rider aids, and the E1pc has some stiff competition…but we already knew that.
Whether you measure the results by the stopwatch, or by the fact that after 20+ minutes on the MotoCzysz E1pc, my torrid track day affair was over, and the Ducati surely comes out ahead, if you so insist on declaring a winner. However, I think the better take home message here is how competitive the 2012 MotoCzysz E1pc is as a package, despite being made by only a handful of people in a small Portland facility.
While the MotoCzysz crew might be operating on a larger budget than most of its competition in electric motorcycle racing, the amount of money and resources put into the E1pc pales in comparison to what Ducati has in the Panigale, and yet MotoCzysz has built a machine that is as compelling to ride, if not more so. As such, the time is rapidly approaching when track day enthusiasts will have an intriguing decision to make between electric and conventional motorcycles.
Is the digital revolution here? Not quite. The 2012 MotoCzysz E1pc is not yet disruptive enough to supplant its analog predecessors, at least not in the way CDs and MP3s were to tape and vinyl. Instead, I liken the E1pc more to digital audio tape (DAT), clearly superior to what is available at the consumer level, but still lacking the criteria necessary for mainstream adoption. Though, just as DAT showed what was capable with digital audio recording, the MotoCzysz E1pc paints a clear picture of what we can expect from its progeny, and from a true digital superbike.
Interestingly enough, this month marks the 30th anniversary of the compact disk (CD), and the start of the digital music dynasty. So, where do you think motorcycling will be in thirty years?
Photos: © 2012 Ryan Phillips / 360° Photography – All Rights Reserved