Hands on with the MotoCzysz Frame

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Ending our two-part series that looked at the the MotoCzysz E1pc, we ask ourselves: why do motorcycles look the way they do? Probably the best answer to this question is that motorcycles today represent an amalgamation of 100 years of design evolution centered around the internal combustion engine. When we look at motorcycle racing, we see the design in its purest embodiment of function over form. While surely some semblance of aesthetics remains, the ultimate goal is to shave the next tenth of a second off a lap time. Each minor improvement adds up, and these aggregated can translate into substantial improvements when racing the clock and the competition.

So it surprises us when we look at electric motorcycle racing and see so many teams approaching their designs with the same ideas and concepts that were born out of this century of internal combustion engine (ICE) racing. While the two offshoots of the same branch carry over with them many similarities, the fundamentals of attaching wheels, suspension, and seat to a running motor has changed, and with that change surely there would be a large movement to rethink the way we build motorcycle frames. The fact of the matter however is that many electric motorcycle designers choose to pursue cramming an electric motor and batteries into a frame, and ultimately into and architecture, that was refined for a gasoline pumping motor and doesn’t fully integrate the chassis’s from with its function.

In an industry that rethinks motorcycles from the ground up, the biggest paradigm shift has been left out by all but a few teams and manufacturers. Looking for the next generation in motorcycle chassis design, Asphalt & Rubber recently got to sit down with Michael Czysz to get an up-close look at the 2009 MotoCzysz E1pc electric motorcycle, and also got a sneak peak at the 2010 frame and chassis. As one of the few entities to rethink how a motorcycle should be design and produced, Czysz’s insights into his design give a glimpse as to what the next 100 years of motorcycle evolution will look like.

Conventional motorcycles have to contend with how a frame should attach and work around a combusting motor. These twin-spar/deltabox/trellis frames all contend with the same problem, there’s a big piece of metal (the motor) at their center that they must go over, around, or under in order to make a complete motorcycle. This basic problem is what every mechanical engineer has to contend with when making a motorcycle frame, and from this complication has come the need for people looking to improve and refine this coupling.

With electric motorcycles however, all of this goes out the window. The powertrain component of an electric motorcycle is its batteries, motor, and controller. Connected by wires, and not with some simple mechanic machine (in the gear, lever, pulley sense of the word), electric motorcycles have the ability to have their propulsion components split apart rather than be centralized together. Centralized mass still of course is a part of the equation, but the subtle difference between an ICE unit and electric one allows us to see a new generation of frame design and understanding.

You have probably by now seen the MotoCzysz eDD chassis, or “suitcase” as Czysz calls it. This is in essence what future motorcycle frames will look like it. Made of pieces of welded aluminum, the suitcase frame functions more like an anatomical backbone, than the exo-skeleton of its ICE counter-parts, and was made with the purpose of housing hot-swappable battery packs.

Instead of trying to adapt a feat of engineering that was designed with a different goal in mind, Czysz explains that “the frame was designed to accommodate that function (hot swap batteries), and trying to insert something where there was no ground clearances to do so, or having to jack the bike up didn’t make any sense. The obvious solution was to bring batteries on, and take batteries off.”

“That then opened up a couple strategies on the best way to hang a relatively important, expensive, dangerous component that could come off real quick when you intended it to,” continues Czysz. The batteries are the largest and heaviest component on an electric motorcycle, and with their suitcase frame design, MotoCzysz has made their successful integration of this ‘relatively important’ component into the machine mission one for the company.

Looking outside of the cubical suitcase design, one has to realize that everything about the E1pc is built off this single unit. Connecting the front-end of the motorcycle to the suitcase is a carbon fiber subframe that also incorporates the tank and dash. Similarly, hanging off the rear is another carbon fiber piece that consists of an integrated tail and seat design, sans any need for a metal subframe.

These pieces can be virtually changed at will to suit the preference of the designer or customer, without making modifications to the suitcase frame. Czysz places his controller and motor within close proximity of the battery packs, and needs only a few wires to connect these three essential pieces together. The result is a basic frame that sits about one half of the size of your conventional motorcycle frame.

Perhaps the most inspiring part about the suitcase frame is how easily it could be translated into new applications. Adding new mounts and components could just as easily make the eDD a dirt bike or street-tourer, all with zero core-frame revisions.

Over the past 100 years, the goal of designers has been to make the most integrated and effective motorcycle design possible. Watching others retrofit a motor and batteries into a (insert liter-bike name here) frame has created a dichotomy in the industry, with those who are pushing forward with an integrated motorcycle design, and those who are still trying to push a square peg through a round hole.

Despite this trend some relics of past designs carry on, such as the fuel tank’s no defunct role of carrying combustible liquids. In our closing moments with Czysz we looked at the tank design on the E1pc and postulated why such a design was still needed. Explaining that the shape was necessary for rider grip and positioning, Czysz also hinted that the now vacant space could be used for other purposes like storage. Then of course there is a the possibility that without the tank design, electric motorcycles might venture too far from the preconceived norms we have about what a motorcycle should look like.

At the end of the day, it’s the marketplace that will determine what is successful and what is not. MotoCzysz hopes to make available its eDD to racing teams, and it’s telling indication that companies like Brammo and Mission Motors use similar back-bone style frame architecture. Enjoy some never before seen views of the E1pc frame courtesy of Peter Lombardi Kustom Photography below.

Photos: © 2010 Peter Lombardi Kustom Photography