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Electric motorcycles have important part to play in transport decarbonisation

James Scoltock

Triumph Motorcycles, Williams Advanced Engineering and other partners have developed a prototype vehicle to accelerate expertise in areas including battery safety and regenerative braking
Triumph Motorcycles, Williams Advanced Engineering and other partners have developed a prototype vehicle to accelerate expertise in areas including battery safety and regenerative braking

There has been an enormous focus placed on both passenger vehicles and public transport as the world looks to reduce emissions but maintain people’s mobility. And, while research budgets swell to produce vehicles that emit less CO2 and governments invest more heavily in infrastructure projects, one mobility option has flown under the radar. Powered two-wheelers.

Scooters, mopeds and motorcycles are an enormous part of the shift to decarbonise transport systems. There are more than 200 million powered two-wheelers on roads around the world, making them incredibly important to the future.

But, compared to the fanfare surrounding the launch of the latest battery-electric car rolling off the production lines at BMW, Volkswagen or Hyundai, there seems little future planning taking place by the largest motorcycle manufacturers. That isn’t true.

Electrification is as important to powered two-wheelers as it is to passenger cars, and that’s been proven by the creation of the Swappable Batteries Motorcycle Consortium.

Standardised specs

The consortium brings together Honda, Yamaha, KTM and Piaggio as they look to develop swappable battery systems with common technical specifications and to make those specifications standardised for European and international standardisation bodies.

As Stefan Pierer, CEO of Pierer Mobility, parent company of KTM, said: “We’ll work to deliver a swappable battery system for low-voltage vehicles (48V) up to 11kW capacity, based on international technical standards, ensuring that powered two-wheeler vehicles maintain their role in the future of mobility.”

And the wider industry is also working towards an alternatively powered future. Kawasaki wants to introduce at least 10 electric-powered two-wheelers by 2025, and the technology will transition across other vehicles the company produces too. The company is aiming for electrification in ATV vehicles, with five models relying in some way or other on electric motive power by 2025. Add to this the fact that the company is establishing a hydrogen power supply chain from source to delivery and the appetite to change direction from solely combustion power is definitely there.

Urban concept

BMW is also testing the water of an electric future. Its CE 02 concept unveiled at the IAA Mobility Show squarely looks at how powered two-wheelers can help transport people in urban environments. The 120kg bike has been developed for urban use, offering 11kW of output (equivalent to many 125cc combustion bikes) and all the torque available from standstill to allow for fast acceleration at traffic lights. It has a top speed of 90km/h and a range of 90km.

With greater emphasis placed on two-wheeled mobility, there’s more space for smaller firms to get involved. British start-up Maeving worked with Bosch to develop the hub motor technology that powers its RM1 electric bike.

But, while many of the current projects focus on small-capacity machines, there needs to be halo projects in development, otherwise it will be difficult to gain traction and excitement for this new electric future. Thankfully the collaboration between Triumph Motorcycles, Williams Advanced Engineering, Integral Powertrain and WMG at the University of Warwick, funded by the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles through Innovate UK, was set up to create something more exciting than 11kW urban bikes.

The project began in 2019 to accelerate expertise in the packaging and safety of batteries, optimum electric motor sizing and packaging, the integration of braking systems including regenerative braking, and advanced safety systems. The results will be included in Triumph’s future electric motorcycle strategy.

The project has now finished phase three, the reveal of the prototype machine, and it’ll soon start six months of live testing. The prototype bike drew on the expertise of each member: Triumph developed the final chassis, including frame, rear sub-frame, cockpit, panels and wheels, and final drive system including transmission. Gates Carbon belt drive and electronics were used, along with Öhlins USD cartridge forks, unique prototype Öhlins RSU, Brembo M50 monobloc calipers, and Triumph motorcycle control software. Williams Advanced Engineering created the final iteration of prototype battery pack, incorporating dedicated cell packaging for optimum centre of gravity, vehicle control unit, DC-DC converter, integrated cooling, charge port, and styled carbon covers. 

Integral Powertrain developed the final prototype powertrain with scaleable integrated inverter and combined motor with silicon carbide switching technology and integrated cooling. WMG at the University of Warwick conducted the final pre-live trial simulation.

There are numerous challenges to electrifying these vehicles. But the powered two-wheeler sector is facing up to the challenges to help reduce our environmental impact while maintaining the levels of mobility we expect.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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