: Electric and alternative-fuel bikes are the future of individual transportation not because of their fuel efficiency but because they are extremely cool. That's right. Creators of eco-friendly motorcycles are pushing the limits of their designs to make them desirable to a biking community that sees little difference between their (relatively) efficient gas engines and the new-fuel wave of alternatives. Riding bikes is all about the cool factor, so the crazier and more technologically advanced they get, the more people will want to ride them, clean fuel or not.
Gaze upon the alt-fuel bikes most likely to break the mold of motorcycle design in the near future. Left:
The ENV Fuel Cell Bike
Intelligent Energy's ENV Bike is on track to become the first available hydrogen-powered motorcycle when it's released next year. The zero-cylinder ENV runs on a removable fuel cell (stored where a conventional gas tank would be) and runs peacefully quiet. The fuel cell uses a proton-exchange membrane that pushes a full 6 kilowatts of peak-load power, resulting in a nice high torque. And one hydrogen tank will last about four hours without a charge, or about 100 miles.
The ENV is also supposed to offer a fairly gentle ride, since power is distributed evenly through a single gear, avoiding the regular gear-induced kickback of a gas bike. But the best part is that instead of CO2, the bike emits water. Not so pure that you could bend backwards for a little midride drink, but better than adding to the global carbon load.
: Technically, a tesseract is a four-dimensional analogue of a cube. To us, it's a bike design that looks just a like a Praying Mantis Predacon Transformer come to life.
Yamaha's Tesseract is a four-wheeled motorcycle powered with a liquid-cooled V-twin engine and an electric motor. It's designed with a dual-scythe suspension for slick turns, allowing the wheels to adapt individually to uneven, rocky terrain independently of one another.
Similarly to other new-wave, multiwheeled green bikes, the body is built up instead of out, so that the body width is more equivalent to regular-size bikes. That leads to above-average handling and stability. Add the thin-but-durable body frame and expect to ride this one fast. Just don't wait up for it -- it won't come out until after 2010.
: This is a superhero's bike. Suzuki's slick Crosscage prototype uses a fuel-cell block developed by Intelligent Energy, which creates power from hydrogen gas. According to IE, its fuel designs are based on thin metallic bipolar plates and make the fuel block small, compact and cheaper to produce. To the lay reader, this means that it's more likely to come out sooner rather than later. With blue neon V-shaped flares on its rims -- and a look that the Silver Surfer would envy -- PEM fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries are just icing on the cake.
: If you drain your wallet every week at the pump, the relief promised by Yamaha's FC-Dii fuel-cell prototype bike will be as refreshing as the water it runs on. Well, partially.
The FC-Dii, available for ogling at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, runs on a methanol-fuel-and-water build, with a new type of cell stack that promises the "highest levels of power density in the 1-kilowatt class." It also features a detachable lithium-ion battery for recharging, and a model 30 percent efficiency standard for a direct-methanol-fuel-cell system. Plus, you can look into the insides of the bike's cellblock, and that's just too future-cool for us.
: The design of the Enertia electric motorcycle from Brammo smartly resembles the classic lines of the 1961 Triumph TR6 Trophy Bird from the movie The Great Escape. And what's more fantastic than the thrill of Steve McQueen racing away from the Nazis? Nothing.
The Enertia uses lithium-ion phosphate batteries with power settings that let the user trade off performance for range. At 12 to 25 horsepower (19 kilowatts) in its "performance" mode, it's on the same power level as the Kawasaki Ninja 250 gas bike (though its speed tops out at 50 mph).
Better still, the carbon-fiber chassis enables lightweight maneuverability, and its six lithium-phosphate batteries reduce its emissions footprint to close to zero. If you live in a small city, you won't find a more viable commuting vehicle. McQueen would have plugged it in himself.
: The Killacycle is the fastest electric drag bike in the world. Unfortunately, its name almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy at Wired's NextFest conference last September. During the conference, owner Bill Dube crashed into a minivan while attempting a burnout on a narrow sidewalk.
The inventor had barely ridden the beast before but knew the massive stats: 0-to-60 in 0.97 seconds, 400 horsepower, and a top speed of 158 mph. The bike's 619 pounds (100 pounds more than regular bikes) make it difficult for a rookie rider to maneuver safely. Dube ended up in the hospital with a few body nicks. Afterwards, he came out with his head high and -- believe it -- promised to push his machine to even greater speeds. Currently, his team is working on a 1,000-horsepower drag bike that will attempt to break the land speed record on salt.
: The VentureOne looks like a car and is legally classified as a three-wheel motorcycle, but -- copy Blue Leader! It looks just like a Tron Light Cycle come to life. Carver Europe's VentureOne superbike features an automatic balancing system that stabilizes the body and allows it to tilt into a turn like a motorcycle without fear of wipeout.
The bike is scheduled to come out in hybrid build (with a 350-mile range) and two all-electric propulsion models (up to 125 miles). It'll cost between $20,000 and $30,000 and will include GPS navigation and an entertainment system to provide as much distraction as possible.
We think this car-bike mashup could push out its identity crisis and make a name for itself, and we can't wait to (legally) race our Venture Ones out on the grid.
: The Piaggio Vespa scooter is as intrinsically connected to the Italian experience as cannoli from Mozzicato's. Now, the Vespas are growing with the times by introducing the lithium-ion-battery-powered Vespa M3 Hybrid. With a 125-cc engine, the M3 will ride just like any other Vespa but will latch on tighter to the pavement with the addition of the third wheel. The added rubber won't extend the width of the scooter -- in fact, the wheelbase at the front is still narrow enough to maneuver tightly, just like the classic.
The M3 has four different performance modes at the flip of a switch: all-electric, low-charge hybrid, high-charge hybrid and standard hybrid. In its all-electric mode, the hybrid turns off the combustion and becomes beautifully silent. But this is sadly lame: At electric-only power, it's supposed to last only 12 miles. The other options push the scooter to a more city-friendly range of 25 to 50 miles on a full charge.
: A hybrid motorcycle can't promise the same raw power and performance as a V-Twin Harley, can it? That would be like the Hell Angels going green and Al Gore becoming cool. Well, it's about to happen.
The Gen-Ryu Hybrid bike is the future eco-friendly Harley, with a lightweight 600-cc engine and a high-output, high-efficiency electric motor. And it has awesome features you will not find in a regular hog: noise-canceling system to reduce wind noise, voice-navigation function and hands-free music player and cellphone. Plus, it'll have our favorite feature from recent smart cars -- the rear-view monitoring camera to make sure you can fit in those ridiculously tight urban parking spots.
The prototype includes a cornering light system that makes it easy to see around curves at night. The balance will prevent you from popping a wheelie in the street, but the wide-ish tires will give you a comfortable, smooth ride -- perfect for the trip from the dusty fields into the nanotech-laced asphalt of the future San Angeles.
: The Silence PT2 is another car-bike tweener. The electric-powered PT2 has a range of 125 to 250 miles and a high speed of 125 mph due to its smallish size at only 13 feet long, 6 feet wide and 900 pounds. That's about one-third of the 2008 Mini Cooper Clubman S, and 400 pounds lighter than the minimum weight of an F1.
As the wild child from the unholy union of a Go Kart-making company and another that built high-speed three-wheelers, there's a childlike sense of fun in this design. With a wide-open top frame, large front wheels sticking close to the ground, and an aerodynamic front screen to cut the wind, you could easily place it on the track next to Racer X, and it would feel at home. Just wear a helmet.
The Silence PT2 is scheduled to be available in early 2009 for close to $50,000.
: Industrial designer Sam Jilbert hit upon a great concept while creating his final-year project at Britain's Northumbria University: Take a past success, tweak it for the present, and fill it with technology from the near future. Voilà
! A new design for us to drool over.
The Honda Cub Concept updates the 50-year-old (and 50 million-selling) Honda Super Cub by adding a hydrogen-fuel-cell case. The resulting design resembles a giant LifeSaver mixed with a collapsible bike. Though Honda hasn't endorsed it, its concept has sparked many consumers' imaginations, which could eventually land it on city streets. Like other fuel cell-based bikes, expect to sacrifice a high torque for a slim riding range -- probably close to 50 miles at first.
: The Vectrix is the first commercially available electric bike on the market designed like a mullet in reverse: all business in the back and party on the front. The nickel-metal hydrate, battery-charged engine sits in the back of the bike for controlled, efficient acceleration, and the front resembles the angular shape of a ravenous one-eyed wasp. That's hot.
It's expensive at $13,000, but it'll save you money on the back end: It takes three hours to charge the bike fully (at about 1 cent per mile), and has a 40-to-50-mile range at 25 mph. There's also no clutch and no transmission, forcing down the maintenance fees. But it's the ingenious regenerative breaking system that rounds it out: Twist the throttle in a radial backwards motion and the bike will slow down, while cooling and charging the engine at the same time.
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