It’s the stuff of entrepreneurial start-up legend – Apple, Google, HP – one or two (or three) very smart, talented, and imaginative people start a fledgling company in a garage with little more than an idea and the vision of how it could change the world.
The founders of Mission Motors – Forrest Deuth, Edward West, and Mason Cabot – haven’t created the next computing breakthrough or internet sensation, but what they have done is taken an idea, combined it with a mission to help make a better, more sustainable world through innovative design and progressive engineering, and stuck with it until their dream became a reality. They’ve done it by designing and building the Mission One – the fastest production electric motorcycle in the world.
Really? All that with a motorcycle? A logical and reasonable question. The founders of Mission Motors believe that “riding a Mission Motorcycle is making statement”. A statement of performance and technology, yes. But one of sustainability as well.
What started as dream, combined with some entrepreneurial savvy (initially pursued in the obligatory garage), came to full fruition last Wednesday when the Mission One was unveiled at the TED conference in Long Beach, California.
There’s been plenty of reporting done in the past couple days on the “gee-whiz” aspects of the bike, I’d like to focus a little more on Mission Motors itself.
Chasing the sun
The dream to build an electric motorcycle began to germinate in Forrest North in 1998, when he led the Stanford University Solar Car Team. North went on to work for Tesla Motors, not too surprisingly with several of his teammates from the Solar Car Team , which helped fuel North’s dream to build his own electric motorcycle.
Tesla’s vision to build a high-performance electric car using advanced lithium-ion batteries mirrored North’s idea for motorcycles – to make an electric vehicle that rivaled the highest performing gasoline-powered bikes in the world. By creating a model of sustainable design with high-end performance, North hoped to undo the myth that the two could not coexist in the same machine.
North enlisted the help of his friends Edward West and Mason Cabot. Ed, an old friend from the Yale College Solar Racing Team, was just finishing up his MBA program in Sustainable Management at the Presidio School of Management. Mason was an IT and electronics genius with 10 years of experience at Intel.
The three started “Hum Cycles” in July of 2007 inside Mason’s garage in San Francisco’s Mission district.
California Cleantech Open or bust
The first goal of the team was to take an old 1994 Ducati 900, strip out the engine, and convert the bike to an all electric drive. Within two months, the team had taken the old classic and rebuilt it into what they claimed as the “highest performing street-legal electric motorcycle in the world”.
Oh yeah? Prove it!
And so they did. North and his team now had the vision, the business plan, and the proof of concept, which they rode to 2nd place in the 2007 California Cleantech open. Hum Cycles was on a roll.
By 2008 Hum Cycles had grown to 14 people, and the three founders decided to rebrand the company as Mission Motors. Their next step was to build an all-new prototype cycle that reflected their design and engineering vision: Zero emissions with zero compromise in performance
Mission One is born
Teaming up with world-famous designer Yves Behar and his group at fuseproject, the newly-minted Mission Motors set out to design and build the prototype Mission One electric motorcycle, based on the following design and engineering concepts:
- Use the most energy-dense lithium-ion batteries available. Combine them with a patented battery cooling and management technology that allow the Mission One to safely draw more power from the cells to increase acceleration.
- An induction motor that seamlessly delivers 100 foot-pounds of torque throughout the speed range of the bike, without the use gears. 100% of the torque is always available with no no shifting
- Regenerative braking. “Tunable” regenerative braking converts kinetic energy into electrical energy for storage in the battery, increasing the range of the Mission One
- Wireless enabled. Riders can download ride data, check bike status, and update bike settings quickly and easily through an onboard wireless interface. Combine that with realtime data acquisition to analyze bike performance and efficiency, and you have a vehicle that interacts and responds to the riders like no other bike built.
- Plug-in, recharge, and go. The Mission One’s onboard charger allows riders to recharge the battery from any standard 110 or 220V wall socket. Going from “empty” to full charge takes about 2.5 off a 220V line, 8 hours from a 110V line. In California, with the 11th highest electricity prices in the US, a full charge costs around $1.96.
- Speed and range: 150 mph, 150 miles on a single charge
Proving that clean tech has arrived
There is no doubt that the Mission One is not a bike for the masses. It’s a luxury item of the sort where asking how much it costs probably means that you can’t afford it. At least in its first production cycle.
The point of building a high performance electric vehicle like the Mission one is to prove that clean tech doesn’t mean slow and heavy, and, conversely, high performance need not demand an unacceptable environmental footprint.
While motorcycles are generally more fuel efficient, they lack the emissions reduction equipment found on modern cars. New gasoline powered motorcycles can produce up to 15 times the emissions per mile as a new car or SUV.
But fuel source is only one aspect in designing a vehicle in line with the principals of sustainability. Recycled or reused materials must be used, toxins found in industrial compounds must be eliminated or reclaimed responsibly.
Mission Motors’ vision is to adhere to these principals. To prove that sustainable design does not mean compromise – and in fact means better. Through the engineering and design concepts proven in a high-end vehicle like the Mission One, North and his cohorts hope to show the world that clean tech has arrived.
He sums up his vision thus:
“Our mission is to build an electric motorcycle uncompromised in every aspect of performance: speed, acceleration, range, handling, reliability, and impact on the environment. By starting with that vision for a vehicle, we want people to realize that the day has come where clean, electric, and sustainable no longer mean a compromise.”