I own, ride and love one of swoopiest, sleekest and, sure, sexiest sporting motorcycles ever made: The Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird. Even though it’s over 20 years old, most non-riding people who see it assume it’s new (I do keep it up) and riders who do know what it is shower me with praise and offers to buy it (sorry, not for sale). Honda sculpted, massaged, ducted and payed attention to every little aerodynamic detail (within reason) to create the infamous Blackbird, which was the fastest bike you could buy for a short spell in the late 1990s when the “horsepower wars” and “speed wars” and “bullet bike wars” were raging as the new millenium approached.
But let me let you in on a dirty little secret of the Blackbird and the sport bike world in general: My bike, and really, any of the angular, sleek bikes it competed with, are really about as aerodynamic as a brick. Why? Because of the basic underlying form factor of almost every motorcycle made and sold in the last 120 years: A heat-generating engine that needs massive airflow for cooling (either by air, oil, or liquid cooled radiators) surrounded by a frame topped by a gas supply ahead of seating quarters. Dress it up almost any way you want, it’s still just a big lump you have to push through the air, and the faster you want to go, the harder it is to move all that air out of the way. Except for the short-lived “dustbin” racers and the streamliners plying the salt at Bonneville, motorcycles (and cars to a certain extent) are, in general, just not easy to make slip through the air on a mass production level. That big hot lump of a motor has to be cooled and fed air.
Until it doesn’t.
And that’s how we get to fresh design ideas like the White Motorcycle Concepts’ WMC250EV, a weird-harold but also striking electric motorcycle prototype that aerodynamically beats every gas burner out there by virtue of a brilliant but simple tactic: It has a big tunnel for air to move through the motorcycle rather than around it, running down the middle of it where the gas engine would normally be. The designer, Robert White, who comes from a motorcycle and auto racing background, claims that wind tunnel testing indicates the unusual design reduces the bike’s aerodynamic drag by a massive 70 percent over even the most aero bikes on the market today, and I have no reason to doubt him. On top of that, White says they’re going after the electric motorcycle flying mile land speed record and he projects the machine can hit 250 miles an hour. The current record is 228mph. Here’s two minutes well spent:
The machine is powered by batteries, of course, and uses a two-wheel drive system that makes just over 130hp that will push it toward that record. Currently, to even approach just 200mph (let alone 250) on the sleekest of sport bikes, at least if not more than 200hp is required. And lately, bike makers have taken to adding “winglets” to their fairings to add downforce to the front end of the bike, since they can sometimes get a little light up front at those higher triple-digit speeds. Problem: Those little wings pushing the front end down also add drag, which multiplies as speed increases. That’s not a problem on the WMC250EV: White claims the bike’s shape is designed to add massive downforce to the front end with no wings required.
The bottom line is this: As I’ve said before in my review of the Cake Ösa + and the story about the NAWA Technologies unusual machine, the dawn of the electric motorcycle era is giving designers a fresh palette, a clean slate and a blue sky to work with. It would be very easy (in my opinion) to take the WMC230EV and lightly modify it for street legal production. Think of it: Here’s a motorcycle design with a drag coefficient so low that it would immediately enable huge range increases since it could easily incorporate a larger battery and use a smaller, more efficient motor – or motors – and net essentially the same performance marks or better than current electric motorcycle designs. There are enormous future potential gains available to designers who think way outside the box when it comes to the electrification of motorcycles, cars and aircraft. The WMC250EV and the bikes it will inspire will ultimately make my sleek Blackbird look like a museum piece.