How do you build a superbike?
Electric motorcycles are the future. But the technology still has a long way to go before this new standard is adopted. As in the automotive industry, the innovation process often starts right on the racing track. Bram Norp juggles his day job as an engineer at PCV Group with an exciting extracurricular project: he and a team of ambitious students are developing the Electric Superbike Twente. What’s even more impressive is that they have designed virtually everything themselves.
Job and teamwork
‘Our objective is to build a superbike, and my job was to design the bodywork, also known as the fairing. This was a bit of a challenge, as we had set a deadline for late December – the so called ‘design freeze’ – but the design specifications were determined really late,’ Bram says. ‘Furthermore, there were also many other factors at play, including the rider position, aerodynamics, the movement of the suspension, the space budget of components, the air-cooling system and, of course, the design.’ Hence, close collaboration with the other team members was absolutely necessary in order to come up with a proper design.
‘The challenge for the production stage began when the design freeze date arrived last December. There were many tradeoffs to be made between time, costs and performance. For example, we wanted to make use of light weight material for the bodywork but were also restricted in both time and money. Hence the team chose to use glass fibre with aramid reinforcements rather than carbon fibre. ‘The benefit of lots of trial-and-error and working under high pressure is that it triggers your creativity. The biggest challenge during the production stage was creating the mould. We used techniques common in the yacht-building industry, which enabled us to meet our second deadline at the end of May.’
Now that the team has presented the fruit of its labour to its sponsors and the media, it’s time for the testing stage. ‘I started motorcycling at the age of 22, and I’m a member of my university’s Motor Sports Group (MSG). But racing is a different ballgame altogether, particularly when you’re dealing with superbikes – let alone electric ones! There’s no need to use a clutch or switch gears – and you can’t even really use the expression “step on the gas.” In other words, it’s an all-new design and an all-new way of driving.’ That’s why electronics play a key role in keeping control over the bike, and why we have an experienced motorcycle racer to drive the bike. ‘The great thing about our team is that we challenge and complement each other. We all learn so much over the course of a year, including, of course, from each other.’
Day job and volunteer
We ask Bram if he can combine this project with his day job. ‘Absolutely. PCV Group is actually a proud sponsor of our project, and I’m given all the freedom I need. I’ve cut back my hours to four days a week, and will be combining my annual leave with the races abroad.’ Besides inspiration and challenges, this project has also led to some valuable new insights: ‘A lot of the designs I create as an industrial designer are for mass production, whereas our motorbike is a unique product – there’s only one in the world. I find that contrast to be quite inspiring, since, even though it’s all based on a systematic approach, you make different decisions because the objectives for single-unit production are different from those for serial production.’
Once the testing stage is completed, the students will be taking part in four races as part of the motoE challenge (http://motoeracing.com). ‘It’s going to be an exciting summer. Our bike looks cool with a few distinctive design elements and, above all, has the technology to win, so I’m satisfied. Now we’re going to have to show some results.’ Even if those results don’t live up to expectations, it won’t be their name holding them back: the team opted for the apt ‘Liion-GP’, a nod to the 1,500 lithium ion batteries that fuel their superbike.
For more information, please visit https://electricsuperbiketwente.nl